How MLB Contenders Can Still Make Impact Moves Ahead of 2021 Playoffs
It used to be that Major League Baseball's trade deadline was a deadline in name only, as teams could still make trades via the waiver system in August. Alas, that ceased to be the case in 2019.
But lest anyone think that teams can't still make impact moves, they can do things such as:
- Claim players off waivers
- Sign free agents
- Recall players from the minors
- Activate players off the injured list
With all this in mind, we identified one significant move each contender might make in the days and weeks leading up to the 2021 playoffs.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
1. Tampa Bay Rays (64-44): Promote Shane Baz
The Rays have been living large in recent weeks, winning 17 of their last 25 games and netting veteran slugger Nelson Cruz ahead of the deadline. But especially now that ace Tyler Glasnow is likely ticketed for Tommy John surgery, there's a question as to whether the Rays have enough pitching for the stretch run.
This is where Shane Baz might help. Before jetting off to Japan to play with Team USA in the Olympics, he had posted a 2.26 ERA in 12 starts at Double-A and Triple-A. With a deadly fastball-slider combination, he has the goods to make an immediate impact just in time for October.
2. Boston Red Sox (63-45): Activate Chris Sale
Though the Red Sox did well to buy low on slugger Kyle Schwarber, they did nothing at the deadline to fulfill their oh-so-obvious need for starting pitching. But if a good solution to that problem is recalling prospect Tanner Houck, the best simply involves activating Chris Sale.
The ace left-hander had Tommy John surgery in March 2020 and is now almost two years removed from his last major league appearance. On the plus side, he's racked up 27 strikeouts in 15.1 innings during his minor league rehab stint. He may only be one more outing away from rejoining Boston.
3. New York Yankees (57-49): Activate Corey Kluber and Luis Severino
Rather than carry on with a lopsided offense, the Yankees did what they had to by adding the left-handed bats of Joey Gallo (here) and Anthony Rizzo (here) ahead of the deadline. Yet they're still another contender with questions looming over their pitching depth, particularly on the starting side.
Fortunately, they have not one but two aces who could return from injuries soon. Corey Kluber (shoulder) just threw a batting practice session Monday, while Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery, strained right groin) made a rehab start at Double-A on Tuesday. Both pitchers should be ready before September.
4. Toronto Blue Jays (55-49): Recall Nate Pearson
The Blue Jays made a huge addition to their rotation when they landed Jose Berrios, but they arguably didn't do enough to solidify a bullpen that's been an issue all season. Their biggest get was Brad Hand, who made a less-than-good impression Monday in his second outing.
Though he'll ideally be a starter in the long run, top prospect Nate Pearson could be reincorporated as a reliever. He just first needs to fully recover from a sports hernia and get back to hitting triple digits with his fastball, in which case he'll be just what Toronto needs.
American League Central
1. Chicago White Sox (63-44): Activate Luis Robert
There isn't a contender that's sitting prettier right now than the White Sox. They have the largest lead of any first-place team and just super-powered an already excellent pitching staff by acquiring ace closer Craig Kimbrel. Meanwhile, their closest pursuer didn't exactly load up for the stretch run.
What's left for the White Sox to do? Not much, frankly. They'll have about everything they need for a deep playoff run as soon as Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder Luis Robert is back from a strained right hip flexor. That should be in a matter of days.
2. Cleveland (52-52): Promote Nolan Jones
Even if Cleveland is the only other contender in the AL Central, it just traded two lineup mainstays (Cesar Hernandez and Eddie Rosario) and is operating without future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona. If the team's sights aren't already on 2022, they should be.
To this end, it's about time Cleveland called up top prospect Nolan Jones. He's been humbled as he's split time between third base and right field while posting a modest .747 OPS at Triple-A. But if nothing else, a cup of coffee in September should be in order for the 23-year-old.
American League West
1. Houston Astros (65-42): Promote Hunter Brown
The Astros had something of a weird trade deadline, as they added bullpen arms (including Kendall Graveman) yet also traded everyday center fielder Myles Straw. They also got some bad news Sunday when star third baseman Alex Bregman (right hamstring) had to press pause on his rehab assignment.
The Astros are nonetheless on solid ground heading into the stretch run. So if it's a question of how they might further steel themselves for October, one idea would be to give Hunter Brown his shot. The 22-year-old righty has impressed throughout 2021, including with six one-run innings in his Triple-A debut Sunday.
2. Oakland Athletics (60-48): Recall A.J. Puk
Though it was far from the biggest, the Athletics pulled off perhaps the most shocking trade of the deadline when they rented Starling Marte for formerly elite prospect Jesus Luzardo. Marte should boost what's been an up-and-down offense, but now they're missing a lefty.
Luckily for the A's, they have another one of those in A.J. Puk. His own prospect stock has fallen quite a bit amid frequent injuries, but he's recently ripped off a 1.35 ERA with 23 strikeouts and only four walks over his last 20 innings at Triple-A. He could be a huge addition to the Oakland pen.
3. Seattle Mariners (58-50): Work the Waiver Wire for Pitchers
It didn't go over well in the team's clubhouse when general manager Jerry Dipoto traded Kendall Graveman to the rival Astros. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Mariners have lost four of their last six games. And since things don't look promising on the injury front, they'll have to find help elsewhere.
For instance, they should keep working the waiver wire after claiming outfielder Marcus Wilson on Monday. While it's always a mystery as to who is on waivers at any given moment, Seattle could especially use reinforcements for a pitching staff that is missing key hurlers Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn.
4. Los Angeles Angels (53-54): Activate Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh
Since they've been hovering around .500 pretty much all season, it's probably a stretch to call the Angels a contender. However, it's worth noting their much-maligned pitching came around with a 3.75 ERA in July. What they've really needed of late is more offense.
With former top prospect Jo Adell back up, the Angels can add even more offensive firepower by activating Mike Trout (right calf), Anthony Rendon (left hamstring) and Jared Walsh (right intercostal) off the injured list. That won't happen all at once, but each of them should be ready to return sometime this month.
National League East
1. New York Mets (55-51): Activate...Everyone
The Mets have been alone in first place in the NL East since May 9, but they've never had more than a five-game lead. That's life when a team can't maintain consistency on either side of the ball because of injuries. So, there's no point in being fancy.
The Mets simply need to start ticking names off their extensive injured list, including ace Jacob deGrom (forearm), shortstop Francisco Lindor (right oblique) and fireballer Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John). If they can at least get healthy by September, they could do major damage in October.
2. Philadelphia Phillies (54-53): Sign Cole Hamels
The Phillies haven't caught up to the Mets yet, but the latter's injury issues and the former's productive deadline point to the possibility of just that happening in the near future. It would help, though, if Philadelphia somehow found another arm for a rotation that's a man short of a functioning fivesome.
How about Cole Hamels? Though the Phillies were but one of 20 teams to attend his showcase in July, their need for him is only one advantage they might have. The other, of course, is the veteran's familiarity with the city and team after he played 10 years as a Phillie from 2006 to 2015.
3. Atlanta (53-54): Activate Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa
Atlanta was dealt a major blow when superstar right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. tore his ACL in July. It's to the team's credit, though, that it subsequently loaded up on outfielders by trading for Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler.
Between those deals and another for relief ace Richard Rodriguez, a fully-loaded rotation might be the only thing standing between Atlanta and a run at its fourth straight NL East title. On that front, the good news is that righties Ian Anderson (shoulder) and Huascar Ynoa (hand) are almost ready to return.
National League Central
1. Milwaukee Brewers (64-44): Promote Weston Wilson
The Brewers started slowly and were four games out of first place through May 22, but they've since gone 42-20 and all but put the division to bed. They're also better now than they were a week ago after adding Eduardo Escobar and others ahead of the deadline.
From here, arguably all the Brewers need to do is experiment with an offense that's been more good than great. So why not call up Weston Wilson? He's played all four infield spots plus left and right field at Triple-A this season, all while compiling a 1.025 OPS against left-handers.
2. Cincinnati Reds (56-51): Promote Hunter Greene
Though catching the Brewers for the NL Central lead is a long shot, the Reds are only four games out in the race for the National League's second wild-card spot. They're also due for some lineup reinforcements with Nick Castellanos (right wrist), Mike Moustakas (right foot) and Nick Senzel (left knee) nearing their returns.
But even after the Reds added Mychal Givens and others ahead of the deadline, their bullpen still doesn't inspire much confidence. Assuming they're comfortable with Hunter Greene adding a few more innings in a relief role, the nuclear option is calling up the top prospect so he can unleash his triple-digit heat.
3. St. Louis Cardinals (53-53): Activate Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas
The Cardinals have been in a funk for months, so it was no surprise that they played it safe with low-risk deals for veteran lefties Jon Lester and J.A. Happ ahead of the deadline. Yet they should provide a boost, and there's still more help waiting on the club's injured list.
If all goes well, Jack Flaherty (left oblique) and Miles Mikolas (forearm) will be ready to rejoin the Cardinals within the next few weeks. The former will be an especially huge addition, as he had a 2.90 ERA through 11 starts before going on the IL in June.
National League West
1. San Francisco Giants (67-40): Recall Camilo Doval
The Giants have gotten to where they are on the strength of their powerful offense, an excellent starting rotation and a bullpen that's been just good enough. The first of those things is about to get even better, as Brandon Belt (right knee), Evan Longoria (left shoulder) and Tommy La Stella (right thumb) are due back soon.
Since bringing back Tony Watson was the only thing the Giants did to help their bullpen ahead of the deadline, they might roll the dice and give Camilo Doval another shot down the stretch. He was hit or miss in April and May, but he recently reached 104.5 mph as he's racked up strikeouts at Triple-A.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (64-44): Activate Clayton Kershaw
The Dodgers made easily the biggest splash ahead of the deadline, acquiring three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals. Yet even despite the former's arrival, the Dodgers still only have three starting pitchers.
Clearly, they need Clayton Kershaw back from his forearm injury as soon as possible. He hit a snag in his recovery after experiencing "residual soreness" following a simulated game July 27, yet the Dodgers haven't shut him down. Barring further soreness, he could be back in a couple of weeks.
3. San Diego Padres (62-47): Activate Dinelson Lamet
Speaking of injuries, the Padres are going to be in trouble if superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. does need season-ending surgery on his troublesome left shoulder. In the meantime, they might look for ways to deepen a pitching staff that's been their saving grace.
That's why they already have it in mind to activate Dinelson Lamet (forearm) as a relief pitcher, which is a fine idea because of how well his fastball-slider combination should play in that role and how a relatively limited workload could keep his compromised arm healthy.