It’s almost July, which means fireworks are approaching – MLB fireworks trade deadline. The deadline is August 2 this year, giving the baseball candidates just over a month to shuffle their cards and play their best hands.
There are also a few twists and turns that can make this deadline particularly unpredictable.
With just over a month left until the deadline, we now have real questions. Until the dust settles on August 2, the answers to these seven dilemmas will fuel the conversation and set the stage for the stretch run.
1. Top teams, top salaries: how much more will? Yankees† Mets and add Dodgers?
The New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Dodgers have the three largest payrolls in baseball. In Monday’s games, they also have … the three best records in baseball.
That correlation doesn’t always work in MLB, and it’s not guaranteed to be the case this season, but it’s safe to say the big players have great incentive to go for it in 2022. All three are already gone. the competitive balance tax base threshold, where they will pay extra for every dollar of payroll they add† The Dodgers and Mets are already threatening to exceed the highest bar where they would pay their taxes plus a 60% surcharge.
TL; DR: This trio has invested in going for it. There probably won’t be too many financial hurdles in looking for necessary additions.
What do those necessary additions look like?
The Yankees, who could threaten the all-time record for wins if they maintain their current pace, predictably fail to do so with a slew of glaring holes. Their top priority should probably be adding an outfielder to count on defensively in the midfield. Other than that, another reliable bullpen arm would be helpful. It is worth noting that their rotation was very healthy after they started the season with a lot of worry about injuries. It wouldn’t be a surprise if GM Brian Cashman added an upgrade or insurance preemptively.
The Mets are more in a race with the attacking Braves and have more obvious reasons to be concerned. Max Scherzer prepares to return soon, and Jacob deGrom tosses, but neither will have the time to completely eliminate the health problems in August. Tylor Megill is on the shelf. Mets GM Billy Eppler will almost certainly be scouring the phone lines for a starting pitcher.
The Dodgers — who have made a habit of smashing, shocking deadline deals — may have reason to close another one. Their rotation was bolstered by the great performances from Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson, but will Andrew Friedman trust those arms to keep it up? With Walker Buehler out for a long time and Mookie Betts hurting now, almost any kind of big addition seems possible.
2. Will more playoff spots mean more or less trade deadline activity?
The third playoff spot in each league was designed to encourage more competition. It was also captured after spring practice was due to begin, meaning it didn’t really affect this offseason’s strategy. Will it change the trading deadline calculations?
It feels like we have to wait for that next year too.
Each league currently has eight teams in a post-season spot or within five games of one. One of those teams – the Phillies – has just lost its best player, and two of the AL’s bubble teams are the famously frugal Rays and Guardians. The other teams on the outside looking in now are the San Francisco Giants and the Snakebits Chicago White Sox† The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers are present at the moment, but could get into that mix.
There may be more heated competition for the top two seeds – who get byes in the division series – but even that is already largely confined to NL.
When Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein asked Erik Neander, Rays president of baseball operations, about the incentives of the larger playoff fieldhe called the top places a “meaningful advantage” but identified making the playoffs the biggest hurdle to overcome.
“When you come in, you get a chance,” he said. “And I think the biggest divide between having a chance to win a World Series and not, is simply getting into the playoffs or not.”
3. Is there a star big enough to cause a real blockbuster?
There is currently no apparent Max Scherzer or Trea Turner around, to say the least. The best player to most likely actually be traded is Willson Contreras, the tough Chicago Cubs who lead all catchers this year with 12 home runs.
However, Contreras will move to free agency after this season. Rentals don’t lead to blockbusters unless they’re MVP talents. So you’re looking for a star with several years of control left.
The most enticing batter with any chance of movement is probably Pittsburgh Pirates midfielder Bryan Reynolds. (Hey, I warned you there wouldn’t be any glitzy names.) His numbers are a little lower this year, but the 27-year-old combines on-base skills with some pop in an MVP voting package that would put a pursuer under three more seasons. have team control.
Reynolds is more of a stretch though. A starting pitcher will likely get the greatest return from this deadline.
The top contenders are A-starter Frankie Montas, Reds starter Luis Castillo and Marlins starter Pablo Lopez.
Montas and Castillo are obvious candidates, given everything else their teams have done to strip talent from their major league teams. They each have one full season under contract after 2022.
Lopez, like Reynolds, isn’t necessarily moving, but there’s a chance. The 26-year-old change-up artist runs a 2.61 ERA for the Marlins, who have developed an assembly line of strong starting pitchers. Given the chance to really improve their offensive outlook, they might be tempted to give up on Lopez, even though he won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season.
4. What about Juan Soto?
No, he has not signed a long-term extension with the Washington Nationals. And yes, they are in the middle of a renovation. But GM Mike Rizzo has said they are not trading the precocious superstar who regularly ranks among the game’s best hitters.
Add to that an uncertain ownership and management situation and you get a franchise that just won’t pull the trigger on a deal of this magnitude.
They have to find a way to re-sign him. They have over a year to do that. They are not giving up in July 2022.
5. Who are the best hitters in the trading bloc?
Contreras, Cubs Catcher: The 30-year-old has long been one of baseball’s top scoring backstops. A slew of contenders could seriously use him in the lineup, but some may be reluctant to change any part of the equation at catcher, a position closely linked to the success of a pitching staff. Count the Astros and Yankees as two teams that would consider Contreras a huge offensive upgrade, but may be adhering to organizational priorities regarding their defense-first catchers.
Ian Happ, Cubs Outfielder: Happ has significantly improved his strikeout percentage and has a career-best .376 on-base percentage. He will not be a free agent until after 2023.
Josh Bell, Nationals first baseman: He’s not a bit consistent, but when Bell is good, he’s really good. We seem to be in a very good Bell year. He stamps with a .308 batting average with 11 home runs and nearly as many walks as strikeouts.
Sean Murphy, the catcher of A: Murphy is almost comical for the Rays of Guardians, or really any team looking for a boost without putting all of their chips specifically at 2022. As one of the last stars in Oakland, Murphy hasn’t even taken arbitration yet. He hits for some power, albeit very low average, and is one of the best defensive catchers.
Andrew Benintendi, Royals Outfielder: The southpaw Benintendi has rediscovered some of his early Red Sox form in Kansas City. He will be flirting with .300 after this season, playing solid left field and hitting free agency.
6. Who are the best pitchers in the trading bloc?
Montas, A’s appetizer: Consistently excellent since a rough 2020, Montas will be joining his former rotation mates on a contender soon enough. The burly righty keeps ramping up the use of his splitter and hitters keep missing it. He has a 3.21 ERA in 2022 and averaged nearly six innings per start.
Castillo, Red starter: The pitcher with the best record of all trade aces to come in the season, Castillo missed April due to injury problems. He hasn’t missed bats as he usually does since his return, but expects someone to bet on the proven talent.
Martin Perez, Rangers starter: The 31-year-old lefty who has been perfectly mediocre for nearly a decade, took off in 2022 with a 1.96 ERA. He has a one-year contract of $4 million. The Rangers will have to decide whether he’s a revelation worth keeping around or a mirage to sell while things are going well.
Merrill Kelly, Diamondbacks starter: Kelly originally revived his career in Korea, but this spring he once again raised eyebrows by increasing his speed. He has logged well limited home runs and a 3.64 ERA.
Someone in the Orioles bullpen: Here’s a true fact I swear I’m not making it up. The Baltimore Orioles have an MLB-high FOUR pitchers with a minimum of 20 innings and an ERA under 2.00 this season. The four are Jorge Lopez, Felix Bautista, Cionel Perez and Dean Kremer. Probably at least one will move. The best bet is Lopez, who has served as a dynamite closer with a 0.75 ERA.
7. Is there a surprising seller lurking who could shake up the market?
A universal truth about things a month away: things can change. In the spring, there was speculation that the Twins could make an offseason takeover of Carlos Correa by surprise. Back in May, we talked about a Red Sox sale.
Now both seem unlikely, but other teams could sink into a sales stance.
The Phillies, in Harper’s absence, seem like a logical possibility, although they don’t have many players with short-term commitments who are likely to meet this deadline unless they decide to dangle Aaron Nola. The White Sox are similarly underwhelming and battered by injuries.
Perhaps the most interesting addition to the seller’s bucket are the Giants. They’re basically a whole team of easily tradable contracts – solid veterans with short-term commitments. There is no indication that they are moving towards a sell stance, but if the wind were to blow them that way, there would suddenly be a whole lot more options on the market, including ace Carlos Rodon and perennial playoff terror Joc Pederson.