Predicting 2019 MLB Trade Deadline's Big Winners and Losers Post-All-Star Break
The MLB All-Star break is over, and the summer trade season is now in full swing.
While we haven't seen any early blockbusters like the trades that sent Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Brad Hand to the Cleveland Indians prior to the start of the second half last year, it's only a matter of time.
With the elimination of August waiver trades, contenders should be even more motivated to buy, and non-contenders should be pushing even harder to cash in their top trade chips before the trade deadline passes.
Before what promises to be a flurry of July activity, we've made predictions for who will walk away as the biggest winners and losers of this year's trade deadline.
This is all purely speculation, but it will also serve as a preview for what to expect in the days leading up to the July 31 deadline.
Loser: Nicholas Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
Nicholas Castellanos and the Detroit Tigers are in an interesting position.
It sounds like the two sides won't come to terms on an extension, so he's all but certain to be departing in free agency. In fact, things seem to be a bit contentious, stemming from the team's willingness to move on.
As such, the Tigers can present him with a qualifying offer at season's end and be fairly confident he won't accept. For a trade to make sense from the Tigers' perspective, the return will have to be better than the value of the qualifying offer compensatory pick.
Since the Tigers are now a revenue-sharing recipient, that pick would come immediately after the first round as long as Castellanos signs elsewhere for more than $50 million. Given his age and productivity, that seems likely.
If no team is willing to offer up a return equivalent to the value of that late first-round pick, the Tigers have every reason to hold on to Castellanos this summer.
The 27-year-old is a solid offensive player with a 111 OPS+ and 41 extra-base hits on the season, but he's a defensive liability in right field (-5 DRS, -6.5 UZR/150), and his value was always going to be limited by the fact that he's a rental.
It all adds up to Castellanos playing out the season on a last-place Tigers team, making him one of the biggest losers of the deadline.
Winner: Andrew Cashner, Baltimore Orioles
Who will be this year's Nathan Eovaldi? In other words, which upcoming free agent will get traded to a contender at the deadline and then boost his stock with a strong finish, setting himself up for a nice payday?
How about Andrew Cashner?
Before you scoff at the idea, take a look at how he's pitched since the beginning of June:
- 5 GS, 5 QS, 3-1, 1.41 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 4 BB, 18 K, 32.0 IP, .168 BAA
The 32-year-old has been effective in the past with a low strikeout rate, so the lack of punchouts is not a huge concern. A major uptick in his ground-ball rate (8.8 percentage points higher than 2018) is a good sign for a guy who pitches to contact.
He has a $10 million vesting option for 2020, but he'll need to pitch 90.2 innings the rest of the way for it to vest, so there's a good chance he'll be hitting the open market.
While talking with Dan Connolly of The Athletic, Cashner hinted that he might be willing to walk away from the rest of his 2019 salary and retire if he's traded. However, it was far from definitive, and his tune could quickly change if he's presented with the chance to play for a contender.
With a thin market for starting pitching next winter behind Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler and Madison Bumgarner, a strong finish on a contending team could land Cashner another lucrative multiyear deal.
Loser: Milwaukee Brewers
Last summer, the prevailing assumption was that Milwaukee Brewers couldn't be legitimate contenders without adding a front-line starter to their rotation.
A lights-out bullpen and an aggressive approach to handling the pitching staff by manager Craig Counsell proved that assessment wrong, and they reached the NLCS.
The foursome of Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress and Joakim Soria did a phenomenal job slamming the door in the late innings, while rookies Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes proved to be invaluable weapons in multi-inning roles. If the starter could get through three or four innings, the Brewers had a chance to win.
That hasn't been the case this season.
Knebel is out for the season, Soria is in Oakland, Jeffress (3.82 ERA) and Burnes (8.00 ERA) have been far more hittable, and Woodruff is now anchoring a starting rotation that ranks 19th in ERA (4.82) and a dismal 29th in quality starts (22).
It's the same storyline, just with a different, less effective bullpen this time around.
With a farm system that is lacking top-tier talent behind Keston Hiura (who figures to be untouchable), the front office may again settle for a few mid-level additions while hoping for the best from the incumbent staff.
If that's how things play out, a return to the postseason is far from guaranteed.
Winner: San Diego Padres
The Pittsburgh Pirates took a forward-thinking approach to the 2018 trade deadline, swinging major trades to acquire starter Chris Archer and reliever Keone Kela with an eye on them contributing to a postseason push in 2019.
Don't be surprised if the San Diego Padres follow a similar blueprint. After all, it's no secret they have long been searching for a top-of-the-rotation arm to anchor their young up-and-coming staff.
They recently inquired about the availability of New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network. They've been working the phones since the offseason, when they were linked to Cleveland Indians starters Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer.
The Padres were also in talks to acquire Marcus Stroman from the Blue Jays this past winter, per Morosi. They could revisit that idea with Stroman now clearly on the block.
The Padres could take a number of different paths as they search for a staff ace, or at least an ace-in-waiting while top prospect MacKenzie Gore continues his rapid ascent to the big leagues.
Some team could also present them with an offer they can't refuse for All-Star closer Kirby Yates, similar to the deal that convinced them to send Brad Hand to the Cleveland Indians last summer.
With the No. 1 farm system in baseball and a good young core in place, the Padres are on the cusp of contention and are in excellent position for the future.
Winner: Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays have perhaps the most valuable trade chip on the market in Marcus Stroman, who comes with an All-Star pedigree and team control through the 2020 season. He's a good bet to be moved, and the return is going to be substantial.
They also have an attractive rental bat in switch-hitter Justin Smoak, who has a 110 OPS+ and 14 home runs on the season and is owed less than $4 million over the rest of the season thanks to a team-friendly $8 million salary this year. If nothing else, he should bring back a few mid-level prospects.
However, Toronto's trade chips don't end there.
Closer Ken Giles has regained the form he showed early in his career with the Houston Astros, converting 13-of-14 save chances with a 1.45 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and a career-high 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings against only 2.6 walks per nine innings.
Aside from perhaps San Francisco Giants closer Will Smith, Giles is the best reliever on the market, and he's more valuable thanks to another year of arbitration control. He should bring back at least one top-tier prospect.
The Blue Jays even have a few scrapheap finds that have emerged as viable trade chips.
Utility man Eric Sogard is having a career year offensively with a .294/.364/.478 line and nine home runs in 261 plate appearances while serving as the team's everyday second baseman.
Veteran reliever Daniel Hudson is making only $1.5 million this year after settling for a minor league deal, and he's posted a solid 2.72 ERA and 9.1 K/9 with seven holds in 37 appearances.
The Blue Jays were one of the biggest losers of last year's trade deadline when they had to face the music for their decision not to trade Josh Donaldson during the offseason. This time around, they're poised to give their rebuild a major shot in the arm.
Loser: New York Mets
Almost every year, at least one team lets delusions of a second-half turnaround get in the way of what could be a productive trade deadline.
This season, expect it to be the New York Mets.
After a busy offseason that included the blockbuster deal to acquire Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, along with the free-agent signings of Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie and Jeurys Familia, the Mets entered 2019 looking to contend.
Instead, they carried a 40-50 record into the All-Star break. That left them 13.5 games back in the NL East and seven back for the second NL wild-card spot.
And yet, there's still no guarantee they'll sell. At the end of May, SNY's Andy Martino described how other teams viewed the Mets:
"They are also doubting that the Mets would actually pull the trigger on becoming sellers because of the way that the new GM came in, and talked up the season and talked about 'Win now,' and sold that not only to the owners who decided to hire him, but to the fanbase. It would be tough, it would be a real reversal."
He isn't wrong. In Brodie Van Wagenen's first year as general manager, it would be tough for him to go all-in on contending during the offseason only to pivot and sell in July.
Upcoming free agent Zack Wheeler and fellow starter Noah Syndergaard are both hot commodities on the trade market who would fetch a sizable return. Flipping them would go a long way toward rebuilding a gutted farm system.
Don't hold your breath on that happening, though.
Winner: Atlanta Braves
The NL East was expected to be a four-team battle royale this year.
Instead, the Atlanta Braves have been the clear cream of the crop with a six-game lead and a 22-14 record against the rest of the division.
At the same time, the Braves front office has some clear needs to address.
Atlanta already made a splash by signing Dallas Keuchel to a one-year deal, but disappointing seasons from Mike Foltynewicz (6.37 ERA) and Kevin Gausman (6.21 ERA) have created the need for another starter to join Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Julio Teheran and Keuchel on the starting staff.
The bullpen would also benefit greatly from a proven late-inning arm.
Luke Jackson (14/20 SV, 2.66 ERA) has done an admirable job in the closer's role. He's even been a little better of late, with a 2.12 ERA and 7-of-9 saves nailed down since the start of June.
However, he's far from a known commodity. Adding someone like Ken Giles or Kirby Yates who is controllable beyond this season would make a lot of sense for a team whose window is wide-open.
The time has come for the Braves to turn some of their prospect assets into proven talent that can help the MLB team win now. They seem to have a leg up on the rest of the NL East, but this team is talented enough to be eyeing a World Series run.
Expect a flurry of activity from the Braves in the weeks to come.
Winner: Minnesota Twins
The Cleveland Indians took a conservative approach to the offseason, and the Minnesota Twins pounced.
Free-agent signings Nelson Cruz (142 OPS+, 16 HR), C.J. Cron (115 OPS+, 17 HR), Jonathan Schoop (104 OPS+, 14 HR) and Marwin Gonzalez (96 OPS+, 10 HR) have helped transform the offense, while Blake Parker (10/11 SV, 7 HLD, 3.77 ERA) has been a vital addition to the bullpen.
After an 84-loss season a year ago, they carried a 56-33 record and an AL-best plus-116 run differential into the All-Star break.
That gave them a 5.5-game lead over the Indians, and there's no reason to believe the two clubs won't approach the trade deadline the same way they did the offseason.
The Twins have a terrific one-two punch atop the rotation in Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, and Kyle Gibson is a reliable middle-of-the-rotation arm, but adding someone like Madison Bumgarner to the mix could push this team over the top.
As good as their patchwork bullpen has been this season, anchoring the relief corps with a proven closer would improve their outlook substantially, too.
With one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, the Twins should be able to avoid parting with top-tier prospects Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff and Brusdar Graterol while still making a few splashy additions.
After all, a trade package built around outfielder Trevor Larnach or Futures Game participant Jordan Balazovic would still be awfully appealing to a rebuilding club.
The Twins have a golden opportunity to win their first division title since 2010, and they've given every indication that they intend to seize that opportunity.