Biggest Potential 2018 MLB Trade Deadline Steals
Alexander proceeded to go 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 11 starts, and the team overtook the Toronto Blue Jays for the division crown. However, the 36-year-old Alexander, who won 194 games during a solid 19-year career, hung up his cleats after 1989. Meanwhile, all Smoltz did was win 213 games and save 154 others as one of the game's best pitchers of the last 30 years.
The bottom line is that this was almost a double steal. The Tigers were the short-term winners, but the Braves were the clear victors long-term.
Smoltz hasn't been the only midseason steal: Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock enjoyed six All-Star Game appearances with the St. Louis Cardinals after being traded from the Chicago Cubs in 1964. He retired as a Redbird in 1979. No one the Cubs received in return (Ernie Broglio, Bobby Shantz, Doug Clemens) was still in Chicago by the time the 1967 season began.
It can be hard to say if a team clearly wins a deal with a steal until years down the road, but franchises can still take advantage of situations to get key veterans for the season's stretch run.
Moving back into the present, here's a look at six players who could eventually be steals. The focus here is on three groups: players who no longer fit on their teams for various reasons and could be dealt; players who have struggled this year after solid 2017 campaigns; and players who could be had on the cheap and provide solid help in utility roles.
St. Louis Cardinals 1B Jose Martinez
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Jose Martinez has amassed 27 home runs, 102 RBI and an .861 OPS since the beginning of 2017. However, the 29-year-old has struggled in the field, accumulating a defensive WAR of minus-2.4 during that span, per Baseball Reference.
Interim manager Mike Shildt has changed team strategy since taking over for Mike Matheny on July 14, and Martinez has hit the bench three times since the switch due to his fielding.
He could be an odd man out in St. Louis, which means a move out of town may be inevitable. Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called Martinez a "designated hitter trapped in a National League player's body," which begs the question as to whether a move to an American League team as a DH could work.
Fredrickson also noted Martinez could return "some depth prospects who can help down the line, or perhaps some bullpen help for this season and beyond." That doesn't seem like a high cost for a slugger, especially one who has crushed left-handed pitching to the tune of a .993 OPS during his career.
Brad Berreman of FanSided believes it shouldn't be an issue to move him, noting Martinez is "not yet arbitration-eligible, and that level of team and cost control will definitely appeal to teams in search of a right-handed bat for the stretch run."
An AL team could get a huge bat at a low cost.
Seattle Mariners IF Ryon Healy
Much like Jose Martinez, Seattle Mariners infielder Ryon Healy is a nice power bat: For the season, the 26-year-old has amassed 20 home runs, 53 RBI and a .740 OPS.
Also much like Jose Martinez, Healy may be the odd man out on his team.
M's second baseman Robinson Cano returns from an 80-game suspension August 14. The problem for Healy is that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto isn't looking to move natural second baseman Dee Gordon, who played center field prior to the Cano injury, back to the outfield.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports noted Healy could be "redundant" following Cano's return. With Gordon at second, Jean Segura at shortstop, Kyle Seager at third, Guillermo Heredia in center field and Nelson Cruz at designated hitter, the only realistic position for Cano is first base.
That leaves Healy, who has played first base 81 times this year, without a spot in the starting lineup come mid-August. However, Cano is ineligible for the postseason as part of his punishment, so it is possible the M's hang on to Healy through the rest of the year.
Passan says the Kansas City Royals have inquired about Healy, who isn't eligible to be a free agent until 2023. A team looking for a power bat could plant Healy at first base for four-plus years and count on 25-plus home runs per season at a manageable price.
New York Yankees SP Sonny Gray
New York Yankees starting pitcher Sonny Gray has had a disastrous 2018 campaign. In 19 starts, the former Vanderbilt star has managed a 5.34 ERA and 1.49 WHIP.
Only seven of his appearances have been quality starts, and he's given up 12 earned runs in 5.1 innings over two starts against the first-place Boston Red Sox.
This isn't the pitcher fans have been used to since he broke into the bigs in 2013.
Over the course of his first three seasons, Gray posted a 2.88 ERA alongside a 3.36 FIP, per Baseball Reference. A rough 2016 season (5.69 ERA) got Gray off track, but he returned to form in 2017 with a 3.43 ERA in 16 starts with the A's before being traded to the Yanks midseason.
It hasn't been working out for him in New York, though. Numerous reports indicate teams are inquiring about Gray, and one has to wonder if the Yankees are listening.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (h/t Adam London of NESN) reported July 21: "There are a couple of teams sending scouts to watch Gray pitch as the second half opens. Are the Yankees trying to move Gray? That's the impression some teams are getting. The feeling seems to be he belongs in a smaller market. The Yankees could turn around and flip prospects for a front-line starter."
Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports also says teams are looking into Gray, although he noted the Yankees' main objective is to add to their rotation, not subtract from it.
Gray's stock isn't nearly as high as it was in 2017, when the Yankees traded a former first-round pick (right-hander James Kaprielian) and two other solid prospects (infielder Jorge Mateo and outfielder Dustin Fowler) to acquire him. Could a team swoop in, get Gray for a lesser cost and hope he returns to his Oakland form? If so, it would be getting a steal.
Baltimore Orioles 2B Jonathan Schoop
Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop broke out in an All-Star campaign in 2017, hitting 32 home runs to go along with 105 RBI and an .841 OPS.
However, like the majority of his 28-win team, Schoop has endured a rough individual season this year, as his OPS has dropped to .684.
The 26-year-old Schoop is only under team control for one more year, and the Orioles may want to move him as part of their rebuild that began with the trade of shortstop Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Per Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports, the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers have looked into Schoop. Like Sonny Gray, it's possible a team will be able to get Schoop without giving too much in return due to his 2018 struggles.
There has been hope lately, though, as Schoop has hit five homers to go along with a 1.009 OPS in 76 July plate appearances. If a team gets the O's second baseman on a fair deal and he continues that hot stretch into the rest of the season, then this could be one of the bigger steals of the trade deadline.
New York Yankees IF Brandon Drury
In two full seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks (2016-2017), Brandon Drury exhibited pop at the dish, hitting 29 home runs alongside a .775 OPS. Drury also showed versatility in the field, seeing time at second, third and the outfield.
The New York Yankees acquired him in a three-team deal this offseason, and it looked like he would be the team's third baseman. However, Drury experienced migraines and blurred vision April 6 against the Orioles, and that has derailed his season. He was out for around a month and had a prolonged rehab assignment in Triple-A.
Miguel Andujar grabbed hold of the third base spot with Drury out and never looked back. A second base role became out of the question when Gleyber Torres did the same.
Drury is back in the bigs, but he's in a logjam on the depth chart. He could be moved, and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports noted the Yankees "are reaching out to teams with controllable relief pitchers" and offering Drury in return.
That could be a small price to pay for a 25-year-old with a proven bat and versatility on the field. He's also under team control until 2022.
Toronto Blue Jays OF Curtis Granderson
The Toronto Blue Jays' future looks bright, especially with the eventual additions of superstar prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, but the present is a bit ugly. The Jays are playing out the string at 46-53, and they may as well listen to offers for players who won't fit into the team's long-term future.
One of those players is outfielder Curtis Granderson, who has enjoyed a stellar career but is in the twilight of his playing days at age 37. It doesn't make sense for the Jays to hang on to Granderson if another team is interested in him. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, that seems to be the case, as the Philadelphia Phillies and Jays are in discussions.
Unless this turns out to be another Doyle Alexander situation, chances are Granderson won't net a future Hall of Famer for Toronto given his age. The Phils could get then a player who can slide into both corner outfield spots and provide pop against right-handed pitchers (.780 OPS this season).
Granderson, who has historically struggled against southpaws, isn't an option against left-handers (he's only had 23 plate appearances against them this season). However, he could help fill an outfield need, especially since Philadelphia sent Aaron Altherr down to Triple-A on Sunday.
It helps that Granderson is a high-character player (of note, he won the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award) with postseason experience who could help lead a young Phillies clubhouse as they make a run to the playoffs. He would be a great addition to the team and could be the difference between a wild-card berth and a division title as the Phils fight the Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown.
All statistics via Baseball Reference and current through games played Monday.