MIAMI — From showcase stage to sales rack, the transformation of Marlins Park was nearly instantaneous the second that Cleveland relief ace Andrew Miller fanned Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger to end the 88th All-Star Game Tuesday.
The Miami Marlins are for sale in more ways than one. While owner Jeffrey Loria works to sell his team, the baseball operations side has sent word to the industry that it is intent on selling its players. The Marlins, nine games out of the second wild-card spot, are talking with multiple teams about multiple players, sources with knowledge of the talks tell B/R, including second baseman Dee Gordon, closer AJ Ramos, third baseman Martin Prado and reliever David Phelps.
"They've told us that they're prepared to dump," an executive with a rival club tells B/R. "They're working on it and talking to clubs. But the conversations always end with one caveat, that they don't know that the owner won't bail at the last minute."
Trade talks always are fluid in the days leading up to baseball's always wild and frenzied July 31 deadline, but they are those multiplied by 10 where the mercurial Loria is concerned. And where the Marlins Meter lands in trade talks could influence everything from the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees race in the AL East to what might be the Washington Nationals' last, best chance to win a World Series with Bryce Harper.
The Red Sox and Yankees both can use an upgrade at third base and both have engaged the Marlins in conversations surrounding Prado, multiple sources say. More than 10 clubs have contacted the Marlins about Phelps (2-4, 3.68 ERA) and at least two or three are serious about Ramos (2-3, 3.51 ERA, 17 saves), according to sources. The Marlins are thinking that some of those interested in Phelps will swing over to Ramos if they deal Phelps first. And Gordon's solid comeback (.295/.342/.358 with 32 steals in 38 attempts this season) has sparked some phone calls. Gordon is in the second year of a five-year, $50 million deal that includes a $14 million club option or $1 million buyout for 2021.
The whopper, of course, is slugger Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million deal that is guaranteed through 2027 and jumps to $25 million or more annually beginning next season (he's at $14.5 million this summer). Potential ownership groups talking with Loria are said to be not thrilled at all with that deal, while the feeling in the industry is that nobody will even consider taking that contract off Miami's hands until the Marlins accept that they will get zero good prospects back. It would be a straight salary dump.
The Marlins, who along with the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners are considered to have one of the worst farm systems in the game, are desperately searching for young talent.
As for everyone else, the July goals range from robust to modest. The 30-by-30 skinny:
Angels: Nobody can figure out how the Angels are just two games under .500 at the break with that broken-down rotation. L.A. had been watching the White Sox's Jose Quintana, among others, but Quintana went to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday. They're also interested in Miami's Gordon, according to Jon Heyman of FanRagSports.
Astros: Add one more starter and one more reliever, and maybe Houston becomes invincible. Quintana was a good option, maybe now Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole comes into play.
Brewers: In a perfect world, the surprising Brewers would add a starter and a reliever. "Mark (Attanasio, club owner) and David (Stearns, general manager) have a lot to talk about," Milwaukee closer Corey Knebel said. "I'm hoping they see something. They're in there every day with us. They see how it's coming together." They won’t spend much in prospects or cash, so someone like Cincinnati's Scott Feldman makes sense.
Cubs: Their starting pitching has been a wreck and they wasted no time in acquiring Quintana from the crosstown White Sox practically as soon as the All-Star Game was finished. You knew president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer wouldn't sit still for long. Prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease are high prices to pay, but the Cubs needed to make a bold move as sluggish as this year's team has been. They also need a catcher after Miguel Montero's release or they'll risk grinding Willson Contreras into hamburger meat.
Diamondbacks: Comfortably ahead in the NL wild-card race, the Snakes need bullpen help. Or do you trust 40-year-old closer Fernando Rodney? They may also need a shortstop after Nick Ahmed suffered a broken hand. Cincinnati's Zack Cozart would be a great addition.
Dodgers: There's more fiction on the Dodgers' disabled list than on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, but this savvy team is exploiting the new 10-day disabled list rule to its advantage by moving starting pitchers on and off it to increase their rotation's depth. Losing Julio Urias (shoulder) was a blow because they were counting on him to be their second-best starter behind Clayton Kershaw in October. Adding another starter like Cole from Pittsburgh to help in 2018 as well as this year would be a coup.
Indians: The biggest thing Cleveland needs in the second half is a healthy Terry Francona, and hopefully the heart procedure he had last week will do the trick. All the best to one of the nicest (and funniest) men in the game. On the field? They spent their cash last winter acquiring Edwin Encarnacion, but with Danny Salazar hurt and Trevor Bauer disappointing, they can use another starting pitcher, even if it is a low-level guy like the Padres' Trevor Cahill.
Mariners: If Seattle doesn't get better pitching, it won't be in the wild-card race for much longer. The Mariners are looking for help on that end and can add to their payroll, but they don't have many prospects to deal and are determined not to overpay. Nobody loves to trade as much as GM Jerry Dipoto and more starting depth—say, the Reds' Feldman or Jaime Garcia from the Braves—would help.
Nationals: If they don't acquire a legitimate closer from somebody—Miami's Ramos, Justin Wilson of the Tigers, David Robertson of the White Sox—general manager Mike Rizzo may need to hire a lawyer to defend against a case of criminal negligence for not bolstering a team that may be running out of time to make a deep playoff run.
Rangers: Texas is desperate for bullpen help, and you wonder if those two old buddies, Rangers GM Jon Daniels and San Diego counterpart A.J. Preller, may get together on a deal for Brad Hand. Preller helped bring infielder Jurickson Profar to Texas and always has liked him.
Rays: With the fifth-best record in the AL at the break, they need help getting the ball to closer Alex Colome. Phelps, Hand, Oakland's Sean Doolittle or someone like that would help.
Red Sox: They're in good shape and don't have to do anything, but they'd like to fill the gaping hole at third base, where the Panda briefly roamed. With Pablo Sandoval a bust and Travis Shaw lighting it up for the Brewers, Boston would love to acquire Prado from the Marlins. Failing that, perhaps Pittsburgh's David Freese would work. Todd Frazier's bat, currently in use by the White Sox, could play in Fenway, too.
Rockies: Manager Bud Black thinks the current group of eight starting pitchers will be enough to keep the Rockies going deep into the summer—the returns of Chad Bettis and Tyler Anderson will help. What they really need is a right-handed reliever. And two would be even better. Like the Marlins' David Phelps, and/or the Padres' Brandon Maurer.
Royals: A month ago, their top scouts were scouring the minor leagues and watching top prospects as the Royals prepared to unload impending free agents like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain. Now those scouts are watching major league teams as suddenly hot Kansas City makes a run. The Royals won't pay a lot, but a lower-tier starting pitcher like San Diego's Cahill would fit.
Twins: They started the year hoping Ervin Santana would pitch well enough to command young talent in a trade. Now at two games over .500 to start the second half, Minnesota suddenly is a buyer, keeping Santana and searching for another starter. The Twins are not interested in a rental but someone who can help their team this year and in the future, like Miami's Dan Straily.
Yankees: "I love this team," one rival executive admires. "They're going to be good for a long time." Surprise contenders this year, the Yanks need to make a small move, not a large maneuver that disrupts some of their Baby Bomber core. Bullpen help like Miami's Phelps or San Diego's Hand is what they are focused on and/or a first baseman like Oakland All-Star Yonder Alonso, the Marlins' Justin Bour or the Braves' Matt Adams.
Athletics: Sonny Gray once was the guy who would bring them a big haul but, as a rival executive said, "he's not a slam dunk anymore. There's a difference between where they value him and what he is." Infielder Jed Lowrie probably will follow already-traded Stephen Vogt (Milwaukee) and Trevor Plouffe (Tampa Bay) out of town as well.
Giants: Neither their roster (Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, etc.) nor their attendance (41,574 per home game, third in the majors) suggests to rebuild, and they shouldn't. But they need to explore dealing Johnny Cueto because of his opt-out clause after this year—he's owed $84 million over four years and the Giants are risking losing him for nothing.
Marlins: There's speculation that in addition to everyone else on the market noted earlier, they'll deal 25-year-old outfielder Christian Yelich, who many think is on his way to becoming a superstar. Nobody is untouchable. Not Yelich, not fellow outfielder Marcell Ozuna—no one. But realistically, Phelps and Ramos are the best bets to pack their bags.
Mets: First baseman Lucas Duda and outfielder Jay Bruce are free agents this winter, and there is no reason the Mets shouldn't deal both by July 31. The Bruce rumors have been floating so long they seem to be closing in on Iron Man Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak, aren't they? Uncle!
Padres: No longer considered a rock star GM, the beleaguered A.J. Preller is down to just a few pieces to trade as an awful San Diego team that includes three Rule 5 players plods forward. They will—and should—deal relievers Hand and Maurer and starter Trevor Cahill. They're looking for a shortstop, a luxury they haven't had for years. B/R sources say they've asked the Yankees about several of their top prospects, including Gleyber Torres (not happening).
Phillies: One of these strip-down-and-rebuild projects is going to fail, and you wonder if it will be Philadelphia's. The prospects are not progressing much this year, but at Triple-A, slugger Rhys Hoskins should convince the Phils to deal first baseman Tommy Joseph.
Pirates: Nine games from the last NL wild-card spot, the Buccos are headed down seller's alley, failing a hot start in the second half. Reliever Tony Watson's poor season has diminished his trade value and Cole is popular, but the Pirates want a treasure chest worth of prospects back, so the market will have to play itself out. Best bet: Pirates finally trade outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who has a $14.5 million club option next year (or a $1 million buyout.)
Reds: Rebuilding and owning the worst starting staff in baseball, the more young arms the Reds can scoop up, the better. So it makes sense to pull the trigger and trade closer Raisel Iglesias. And, unless they sign him long term, 2017 All-Star Cozart as well (spoiler alert: Cozart told GM Dick Williams and owner Bob Castellini he would like to stay in Cincinnati, but there has been no contract extension yet).
Tigers: Word in the industry is the sinking Tigers must cut payroll. Late owner Mike Ilitch didn't mind spending, but sources say his son Chris is a Tiger of different stripes. They owe Verlander $78 million, and dealing him would get part of the job done. But their erstwhile ace also has a full no-trade clause.
White Sox: With Quintana gone, Robertson and third baseman Frazier will be peddled hard by July 31. Shortstop Tim Anderson is developing in the bigs. Starter Michael Kopech is developing in Double-A. The turnover continues.
Blue Jays: Disappointing Toronto is ready to retool and could dangle right-hander Marco Estrada, but the heavy lifting likely will wait because the Jays are averaging 39,644 fans per game, fourth in the majors, and are wary of angering their fanbase. They could package third baseman Josh Donaldson in a blockbuster but only if it is a clear win for Toronto in the return.
Braves: This isn't a strip-down rebuild so much as a rebuild-on-the-fly to try to win sooner rather than later in their new ballpark. Teams are calling about starter Julio Teheran, but the Braves could just as easily surprise and acquire someone, too.
Cardinals: Linked to everyone from starters such as Quintana (scratch that now) to position players such as Donaldson, St. Louis definitely has issues. Can those issues be fixed in a whopper of a July? Probably not, but stay tuned.
Orioles: The Baltimore rotation is under a Code Blue. Only Cincinnati's rotation has been worse, which is like saying the measles are worse than the mumps. You don't want either. There's no way owner Peter Angelos signs off on adding a high-priced pitcher like San Francisco's Johnny Cueto, but the Orioles should be investigating everyone from Philadelphia's Jeremy Hellickson to Atlanta's Garcia. They better decide fast, though, because the O's are about a week away from becoming sellers.
FACT OR FICTION?
Fiction: Tigers trade Justin Verlander: They don't want to dump him without getting good prospects, and other clubs don't want to absorb that $78 million price tag. Plus Verlander has a full no-trade clause and may not want to waive it...though the Dodgers are believed to be attractive to him. That would put Verlander and his gal Kate Upton in Hollywood, which likely wouldn't hurt her career. "The last time I saw him he looked damn good," one talent evaluator tells B/R. "They've gotta get rid of some money, and there it is." Finding a taker won't be easy.
Fact: Kansas City becomes a buyer while making one more run: GM Dayton Moore wanted to give this group of Royals one more chance before free agency breaks them up. Now they've played themselves back into position. So if he didn't start the breakup last winter, why would Moore do it now?
Fiction: Yankees make a blockbuster move. No way GM Brian Cashman veers very far from the plan of building a contender with these new Baby Bombers.
Fiction: Phillies acquire outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich from Marlins. It is fact that Philadelphia is thinking about something like this, but alas, it isn't likely to happen because acquiring Stanton's contract isn't just adding a player but the equivalent to buying a corporation. There was some buzz and speculation around this potential wild deal at the All-Star Game, and Ken Rosenthal put it into perspective in a recent column. The basic notion is the Phillies are one of the few clubs who could absorb Stanton’s outlandish deal, they need a star, they need something now because their rebuild isn’t going well and they could absorb Stanton’s salary without giving up any significant prospects in return (in other words, Miami would simply get this deal off of their books so the new owner wouldn’t inherit it after the sale). Something to dream on, but probably not something to plan on.
Fact: The White Sox will deal closer David Robertson and third baseman Todd Frazier. Pulling the trigger on the Quintana deal Thursday simply reminded everyone that GM Rick Hahn remains open for business. That won't be the last of the Sox deals.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.