Answering the Most Pressing Questions Ahead of 2021 MLB Trade Deadline
Dominoes are going to fall between now and the passing of Major League Baseball's trade deadline on Friday.
But how many? In what order? And when?
In and of themselves, these are doors to too many questions than can be answered in one sitting. Yet we've speculated on the likely answers to eight big ones which, to some degree or another, will determine what happens before 4 p.m. ET on Friday.
Starting with the fate of a certain star in Cleveland, let's get to it.
Could Jose Ramirez Be on the Table?
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Cleveland doesn't plan on moving Jose Ramirez unless it's "overwhelmed" by an offer. Apropos of that, it wasn't surprising when Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported there "aren't active talks" right now.
Even still, the prospect of Ramirez playing elsewhere come July 31 can't be ruled out.
The 28-year-old was a top-three finisher in the American League MVP voting in 2017, 2018 and 2020, and he's now having yet another strong season marked by a .252/.342/.511 line, 20 home runs and 3.1 rWAR. After 2021, he has contract options for 2022 and 2023 that would pay out only $24 million.
That's to say Ramirez is a hugely valuable trade chip just on the surface. And because this year's market seems to have more buyers than sellers, Cleveland could perhaps cash him in for an above-market price.
The tricky part, of course, is that Cleveland isn't in need of a full-on rebuild amid a campaign that's seen it go 49-48 so far. It would presumably take an offer of both established major leaguers and top prospects to pry Ramirez loose. Even in this market, not many teams have that kind of depth to spare.
Best Guess: Ramirez stays in Cleveland long enough to become a Guardian.
How Available Is Joey Gallo?
Assuming Ramirez merely stays on the periphery of the trading block, the best combination of talent and control among position players actually on the block belongs to Joey Gallo.
Though the 27-year-old hasn't taken the most direct route to stardom, he's definitely putting it all together in 2021. He has a .380 OBP and 24 home runs among his offensive inventory, and he co-leads right fielders with six outs above average.
Factoring in how Gallo is earning only $6.2 million in his penultimate year of club control, and he's a mighty shiny trade chip.
Yet Gallo has also been open (see here and here) about wanting to stay with the Texas Rangers, and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported that they're trying to make it happen with a contract extension.
They could be sincere about that...or it could be a thinly veiled effort to make rival front offices even more desperate to trade for Gallo. The interest is surely there, and the Rangers absolutely need prospects for their 18th-ranked system, so pardon us for [/puts on tinfoil hat] buying into our own conspiracy theory.
Best Guess: Gallo is no longer a Ranger on July 31.
What Will Remain of the Cubs?
Remember when the Chicago Cubs were in first place in the National League Central? That was as recently as June 24, but they've since slumped their way to fourth place.
The Cubs effectively committed to selling by dealing Joc Pederson before the All-Star break was even over. In the days to come, still more Cubs figure to be on the move.
Most notably, eight-time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and three core offensive stars—third baseman Kris Bryant, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Javier Baez—could move. Kimbrel has an option for 2022, while the other three are pending free agents.
As he's easily the best reliever on the market, Kimbrel is almost certainly a goner. As of July 20, however, ESPN's Jeff Passan was reporting that Bryant was seen as more likely to get dealt than Rizzo or Baez.
Since then, ESPN's Buster Olney (via MLB.com) has speculated on the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets as fits for Rizzo and Baez, respectively. But speculation only goes so far, especially knowing that the Cubs might recoup more for those two this winter via the qualifying offer than they can through trades now.
Best Guess: So long, Kimbrel and Bryant. Stick around, Rizzo and Baez.
How About the Twins?
The Minnesota Twins were supposed to chase a third straight AL Central title in 2021. Life has come at them fast enough, however, to knock them down to last place.
The Twins have already made one big trade, sending veteran slugger Nelson Cruz to the Tampa Bay Rays last week. Right-hander Michael Pineda, a fellow pending free agent, is now unsurprisingly drawing interest, according to Morosi.
As for players the Twins control beyond 2021, Olney tweeted on July 17 that the Twins aren't inclined to move any of them. If so, neither ace starter Jose Berrios nor All-Star closer Taylor Rogers nor veteran third baseman Josh Donaldson nor electric center fielder Byron Buxton will be going anywhere.
Yet the winds are changing with regard to Berrios, as Morosi reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres are but two of multiple teams interested in him.
That doesn't mean the Twins have to move him, but it is reflective of how desperate teams are for starting pitching right now. And since Berrios himself doesn't seem interested in an extension with free agency looming after 2022, now is undeniably a good time for Minnesota to get something for him.
Best Guess: The Twins give in on Berrios, hold on Rogers, Donaldson and Buxton.
What Are the Nationals Selling?
As of last Tuesday, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was hardly committed to selling even though his team was under .500.
Well, now they're on a five-game losing streak and 8.5 games out in the NL East. Rizzo hasn't officially changed his tune yet, but Rosenthal isn't the only one thinking that he and the Nats need to concede that this just isn't their year.
Even though he was scratched from his last start with a sore triceps, the club's most obvious trade chip is three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. He's in the last year of his contract, and he might just waive his 10-and-5 rights if it means a chance to play for a contender.
More interesting, though, is Heyman's report that the Nats are willing to trade anyone not named Juan Soto. That would include dynamic shortstop Trea Turner, who's coming off his first All-Star selection and not due for free agency until after 2022.
Good luck with that, though. Even if the Nats cut their losses by dealing Scherzer, a trade of Turner would be a tacit admission that next year won't be their year either. It's not typically Rizzo's style to punt on one season, much less two.
Best Guess: Scherzer goes, but Turner stays put.
What Will the Yankees Do?
Though the New York Yankees opened the season with roughly a 70 percent chance of winning the AL East, FanGraphs now has that chance down to just 3.4 percent in conjunction with the team's 51-47 record.
Between that and the club's particularly gut-punchy series loss to the Red Sox over the weekend, it's worth revisiting what GM Brian Cashman told reporters on June 29: "If we fall like a stone, obviously then you have to regroup and reassess."
Rather than to sell, however, the Yankees are sending out signals that they're ready to buy ahead of the deadline. They've been linked to a handful of high-profile trade chips, including Gallo (here) and Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story (here).
As for which is the best path forward for the Yankees, dare we say...maybe neither?
Unless they were willing to blow it all up, they wouldn't have much in the way of pending free agents to offer as a seller. As a buyer, they're not in a position to pay hefty prices for rentals and maybe not rich enough in expendable prospects to chase after big controllable fish. As such, the winter might be the best time for a reassessment.
Best Guess: Clay Holmes is as exciting as it gets.
For That Matter, What Are the Mets Up To?
Elsewhere in New York, the Mets have already made one notable deal by acquiring Rich Hill from the Rays. Will that be it?
Uh, no. Probably not.
Even though other teams are rightfully skeptical that they can get him, Andy Martino of SNY reported the Mets have their eye on Scherzer. According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, they're also scouting the Cubs. That could mean Bryant, but might just as easily mean Kimbrel or Baez.
If there's a catch here, it's that the Mets are already bumping up against the luxury tax. With an estimated tax payroll of $197 million, they can only add $13 million in average annual value before they trigger the $210 million threshold for penalties.
Of course, new owner Steve Cohen's pockets go plenty deep. Another thing that goes deep is the team's farm system, which we have ranked as the seventh-best in baseball. Between all this and the sense of urgency emanating from their crowded injured list, it's easy to dream big about the Mets' deadline prospects.
Best Guess: Bryant headlines a huge haul on July 30.
What Will the NL West Look Like When This Is Over?
Last but not least, we come to what should be the most active division in baseball this week: the NL West.
As sellers go, the Rockies have not only Story but also starter Jon Gray and Mychal Givens among their possible rentals. To that end, the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks at least figure to cash in All-Star infielder Eduardo Escobar.
At the top of the division, meanwhile, are three premier contenders in the San Francisco Giants, Dodgers and Padres. All three will be buying, though the Padres could take the most interesting approach to doing so.
After adding All-Star Adam Frazier on Sunday, Rosenthal and Dennis Lin say they might deal Eric Hosmer to free up payroll. That could be their ticket to adding Gallo (here), though Berrios is also in play if the Dodgers don't get him first. If the Dodgers pivot to Danny Duffy, they'll have to fend off the Giants.
One wrinkle in all this is that Story could actually stick in Colorado by way of his diminished value and an apparent shortage of shortstop-needy teams on the market. But even if that's the case, everyone can rest assured that the NL West is going to look very different on July 31.
Best Guess: Out go Gray, Givens and Escobar; in come Gallo, Berrios and Duffy.