Now that the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is in the rearview mirror, the next big thing on the calendar is the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. There's already been one blockbuster deal involving Jeff Samardzija, which could potentially open up the market over the next two weeks.
The American League knows that the postseason will run through one of the two big West Coast teams, Oakland or Los Angeles, so it's on everyone else to catch them. With the A's acquiring arguably the best pitcher on the market, the ball is in the Angels' court to keep up.
Over in the National League, nothing is certain. Washington and Atlanta are tied atop the NL East; Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are all within 3.5 games of each other in the Central; Los Angeles and San Francisco are separated by one game out west.
With so much instability in this year's playoff race, trade chatter is only going to increase the deeper we move into July. Here are the hottest rumors being talked about right now.
Cubs Done Trading Stars?
The Chicago Cubs already made one big move this summer, and with few trade-worthy assets left on the 25-man roster, it doesn't seem likely the team will make any more subtractions.
Of the current players who could be traded for anything substantial, which is limited to Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, neither one makes sense to move because they are young and signed to team-friendly contracts.
There was some chatter Castro could be on his way out because the Cubs have so much shortstop depth in the upper minors, especially after acquiring Addison Russell, but David Lennon of Newsday reported that isn't going to happen soon:
Castro is signed through 2019 with a $16 million option for 2020, at which point he will only be 30 years old. He's having a solid season at the plate with a .276/.326/.440 slash line and making the All-Star team for the third time.
You don't trade 24-year-old assets like Castro, so any rumors about him being dealt always seemed foolish. The shortstop hasn't even hit his prime years, yet has 38 extra-base hits in 94 games. There's a bright future in store for this young man, one Chicago needs to build around.
Mets Uncertain About What to Do
Proving how fickle the MLB season can be, the New York Mets have found some playoff hopes by winning eight of their last 10 games before the All-Star break. They have a huge mountain to climb being seven games behind Atlanta and San Francisco for the second NL wild-card spot.
Due to their recent surge, the Mets may have changed their trade deadline philosophy, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post.
In a surprising stat, among non-division leaders in the National League, the Mets have the third-best run differential at plus-19 (fifth overall if you add in division leaders). That indicates they have played under expectations so far with a 45-50 record.
Their biggest problem is lack of power in the lineup. They rank 24th in home runs (74) and 28th in slugging percentage (.369), so a bat would be a huge help, though there aren't likely to be many impact power bats available at the price New York would have to pay.
The good news, if the Mets do opt to make a trade, is they have a surplus of pitching to deal from. Puma mentions no one calling about Colon, who is signed through 2015, but there's also Dillon Gee and Jon Niese to discuss.
Gee and Niese are under team control through 2016, but the Mets will get Matt Harvey back next year and have Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard coming through the pipeline, so there is flexibility to make a move.
Despite their positive run differential, the best move for the Mets would be biding their time this year and try to add another impact bat through free agency (J.J. Hardy, who would also fill the gaping hole at shortstop? Victor Martinez, who can manage first base since there's no DH in the NL?)
That would allow them to hang on to all their young, cost-controlled pitching and build an offense capable of scoring enough runs to win a lot of games.
Mariners Searching For Bats
The Seattle Mariners made a lot of moves last winter with the sole purpose of trying to upgrade their anemic offense. Robinson Cano has been fantastic, hitting .334/.393/.462 thus far, but it turns out that Logan Morrison (.230/.276/.378) and Corey Hart (.214/.289/.339) aren't the answers.
Who could have seen that coming?
Granted, Hart and Morrison aren't the only problems. Mike Zunino is hitting for power (13 homers, .412 slugging percentage) but not much else with a .206 average and .260 on-base percentage. Brad Miller, Dustin Ackley and James Jones all have OPS totals in the .600 to .670 range.
As a result of this offensive ineptitude, the Mariners are scouring the trade market for anything, including Kansas City's designated hitter, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com:
Billy Butler's decline has been rapid for Kansas City. After posting four consecutive seasons with an OPS of at least .822 from 2009-12, the 28-year-old dropped to .787 last year and a paltry .679 this year.
Kauffman Stadium isn't a hitter's paradise, but Safeco Field doesn't exactly favor the offense. Butler's also a one-dimensional player because he can't play a position, putting more pressure on the bat.
The Mariners can't afford to make a move that's just a stopgap thing. They spent a lot of money to add Cano and keep Felix Hernandez in the fold for a long time, so the front office has to believe this team is close.
Butler isn't exactly the kind of hitter who can ignite a stagnant offense, though his .679 OPS would rank fourth among Seattle regulars in 2014.
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