Two World Series contenders avoided procrastination by completing major trades with weeks to spare before MLB's non-waiver trade deadline. With July 31 lurking, everyone is running out of time to finish their summer shopping.
Acquiring Jose Quintana provided immediate dividends for the Chicago Cubs, as the pitcher stockpiled 12 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings in Sunday's team debut. On the same day, the Washington Nationals addressed baseball's worst bullpen by landing both Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Oakland Athletics, who announced the deal on Twitter.
With the floodgates open, look for activity to intensify over the next two weeks. The hot stove has run amok with rumors. Some, although unlikely to manifest into reality, would carry major implications for the second half of the season.
Let's examine some of baseball's juiciest gossip after the All-Star break.
Sonny Gray Market Intensifies
With Quintana off the table, all eyes have diverted to Sonny Gray as the next young ace potentially on the move. Fresh off moving Doolittle and Madson, Oakland reportedly has several suitors for the 27-year-old righty.
After a tumultuous 2016, Gray has repaired his value by posting a 3.72 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 14 starts. Although never a top-level strikeout pitcher during immensely successful 2014 and 2015 campaigns, he has compiled 79 strikeouts over 84.2 innings while maintaining an elite 54.9 ground-ball rate, per FanGraphs.
A day after Gray carved up the Cleveland Indians with six scoreless innings, ESPN's Buster Olney threw the American League champions into the mix:
Buster Olney @Buster_ESPN
Sources say that the Indians are among the teams evaluating Sonny Gray. Cleveland overcame rotation injuries in '16 to reach Game 7/WS.2017-7-15 20:01:40
Starting pitching isn't quite a pressing need for Cleveland, especially if Danny Salazar can successfully return from the disabled list. Yet it's even more surprising to see the team who beat them in the thrilling seven-game World Series, the Cubs, remain linked to him after adding Quintana.
Per Fox Sports' Jon Morosi, the reigning champs—who could lose Jake Arrieta to free agency this winter—remain in pursuit of another ace under team control:
Jon Morosi @jonmorosi
Sources: #Cubs continuing to show interest in Sonny Gray, even after Jose Quintana trade. One reason: Vacancy still remains in '18 rotation.2017-7-14 16:04:57
FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman added the New York Yankees to the fold, but he suggested they're unwilling to move the top prospects necessary to land him. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, meanwhile, said the Milwaukee Brewers are eyeing Gray.
To everyone's surprise, they hold a 4.5-game lead in the National League Central over the Cubs. Many onlookers keep expecting the other shoe to fall, mainly because of a middling rotation, but countering Quintana with Gray would make a major statement that Milwaukee means business.
And don't forget about the Houston Astros, who have a deep minor league reserve and a clear need for another starter to join the postseason rotation alongside Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers. Gray looks poised to spark a bidding war.
NL West Rivals Looking at J.D. Martinez
No offensive rental will make a bigger impact than J.D. Martinez, an unheralded star batting .308/.389/.636 for the Detroit Tigers. His sterling bat would reach even greater heights playing in Chase Field or Coors Field, two of MLB's most hitter-friendly parks.
That could happen by August. According to Morosi, both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies are interested in acquiring the corner outfielder:
Jon Morosi @jonmorosi
Sources: #DBacks showing interest in J.D. Martinez, among other available bats. Talks are not serious yet. @MLBNetwork @MLB #Tigers2017-7-15 13:30:31
Jon Morosi @jonmorosi
Sources: #Rockies interested in J.D. Martinez, who is especially valuable in NL West due to high number of LH starters in division. @MLB2017-7-16 14:23:58
While the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers have left both National League West foes in the dust, the Diamondbacks and Rockies hold sizable leads for the two wild-card spots. Both rank within the top 10 in runs scored because of their home environments, but knowing the other potential playoff opponent is interested may only augment each club's desire to add the slugger.
Per Cafardo, the Dodgers are also pursuing Martinez alongside the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals.
Such a blockbuster move seems far-fetched for Arizona, which doesn't possess any top-100 prospects in Baseball America's midseason rankings. Colorado, on the other hand, could give Detroit an immediate and long-term outfield replacement in David Dahl or Raimel Tapia.
The Dodgers acquiring Martinez would be unfair to the rest of the league, but it's feasible considering their stacked farm system led by Alex Verdugo, Walker Buehler, Yadier Alvarez and Willie Calhoun. An expensive rental, meanwhile, makes little sense for the Cardinals or Royals.
Martinez, meanwhile, may prefer to stay put. At the end of June, per the Detroit Free Press' Anthony Fenech, he expressed optimism that the Tigers could remain in the playoff race and keep him around:
"Now it's like, 'Well, are the Tigers still selling? Are they still in it? What are they doing?' Now all of a sudden, we get hot and we go on—what did we lose, eight games in a row?—we go on an eight-game winning streak. Now all of a sudden you look up and we're a game out, two games out. You can be tied. You don't know what everyone else can do. So to me, it's like, July 31, a lot can happen."
Yet only the Athletics and White Sox, who both started selling, are below the 41-49 Tigers in the American League standings. Someone will pay a premium for two months of Martinez, so the Tigers would be foolish not to trade him.
Braves Trying to Trade Julio Teheran
The Atlanta Braves are not contenders, but they're also not traditional sellers.
Last year, they absorbed Matt Kemp's contract at the deadline, and he has since hit 25 home runs in 133 games. They then spent the offseason collecting veterans on short contracts (Brandon Phillips, Jaime Garcia, R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon) before moving to their new stadium.
All the while, they maintained a farm system ranked No. 1 by ESPN Insider Keith Law at the start of 2017. According to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, they're looking to leverage some of their minor league depth into an ace:
Jeff Passan @JeffPassan
Atlanta is not done looking for major league starting pitching. Goal is to use organizational depth to find a frontline, under-control type.2017-7-15 00:51:08
At the same time, they're trying to trade a 26-year-old starter under team control who entered the season as their staff ace, per Olney.
"Rival executives say that the Braves are very open to offers for Julio Teheran, who is under contract for at least two more seasons beyond this year," Olney wrote.
Olney added that moving Teheran, who has struggled mightily with a 4.79 ERA this year, is contingent on acquiring another starter. Dealing the slumping righty, who sports a 3.54 career ERA, would replace the prospects lost seeking a front-line starter elsewhere.
The Braves have naturally also inquired about Gray, according to Olney. They're eyeing Tigers starters Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer, as reported by MLB.com's Mark Bowman:
Mark Bowman @mlbbowman
The Braves have a top scout in Detroit this weekend. Verlander last night and Fulmer tonight. They'll continue to look for starting pitchers2017-7-15 23:06:07
Detroit is unlikely to move Fulmer, who is following a Rookie of the Year campaign with a 3.06 ERA. The 34-year-old Verlander would only make sense in a scenario similar to Kemp's acquisition where Atlanta avoided moving top prospects by paying his bloated salary.
Selling low on Teheran is risky, especially since he bounced back from a shaky 2015 with a marvelous 2016. The Braves can instead pick up more prospects by flipping Phillips, Garcia and Dickey, steady veterans who have already served their purpose by generating excitement for SunTrust Park's opening.