Everything you need to know about next week’s trade deadline


July 31 is the major league baseball trade deadline. Well, a deadline for certain kinds of trades anyway. Because as far as deadlines go, it’s a pretty soft one.

What it is a deadline for is straight-up trades between two teams into which no other team has a say and no other procedures must be followed. Players can still be traded after July 31, but it gets a bit more complicated. Let’s break it down:

  • July 31 is the “non-waiver” trade deadline, meaning teams don’t have to put players’ named through the waiver process before a deal can be done. Anyone can be traded for any reason whatsoever.
  • August 31 is the waiver trade deadline. Until then, players can be traded, but they first must be placed on waivers, giving other teams the chance to simply claim him — contract and all — if they want him. If a team claims a waived player that player’s current team can either let him go for free (something they may want to do with an expensive player they don’t with to pay anymore), work out a trade with the claiming team or simply pull him back since August waivers are so-called “revocable waivers.”  If the player is unclaimed by every team (i.e. he “clears waivers) he can be traded to anyone, just like it was before July 31st.
  • Players can still be traded via waivers after August 31, actually. The only thing is, if that happens, they are only eligible to play in their new team’s regular season games. They cannot play in the playoffs for their new team.
  • Got all that? Good. Even if you don’t, just know that just because a big name isn’t traded before the deadline on July 31 doesn’t mean he won’t be traded.

Now, let’s look at a few of those big names who might be traded– just a few, as dozens and dozens are at least shopped every year — and the teams who might be the most active:

David Price: Clearly the best starting pitcher available. Or at least perceived to be available. When he was first rumored to go the Rays were 15 games out of first place. Since then they’ve gone on a tear and are now only four and half games back in the wild card hunt. It may be hard for Tampa Bay to pull the trigger, but moving Price now, when he would still have a year of team control attached to him after this, would bring them the biggest haul.

Cliff Lee: A much harder deal to make for two reasons: (1) he has been injured this year and his first start back of the disabled list the other day did not go well; and (2) he is owned $25 million next season and has a $12 million+ buyout for 2015. Given his price tag he’d certainly clear waivers in August, thereby allowing teams a chance to see if is still the Cliff Lee we have all come to know and love before making the commitment.

Ben Zobrist: A good hitter who can play almost anywhere on the diamond, almost any team in contention might want him. However, the same considerations that attach to David Price regarding the Rays being contention apply here. Also: he’s not going to become super expensive like Price will over the next year or two, so the Rays may just decide to keep him.

Joaquin Benoit: He has closed and set up before so any team looking for any kind of bullpen help would love to have him (and there are ALWAYS) tons of teams looking for bullpen help. His old team, the Tigers, seemed like a great candidate until they traded for Joakim Soria last night, but the Padres are apparently open for business so it would not be at all surprising to see him moved.

Chad Qualls: A much cheaper option that Benoit for teams needing closers but, actually, a guy who is performing even better. Of course he is performing over his historical norms right now whereas Benoit has done what he’s doing now in he past. Benoit also strikes out a lot more guys, and that’s pretty important, especially in the playoffs.

Jonathan Papelbon: And here’s a much more expensive closer option. Like, really expensive. If you have the money to blow, however, Papelbon has finally figured out how to be effective despite his reduced velocity posting his best season since he was in Boston. He could greatly bolster a bullpen, even if he doesn’t do so in a cost-effective fashion.

Jake Peavy: The Sox are in last place and while they may be reloading as opposed to rebuilding, they probably got the best work out of Peavy they’ll ever see last year. He’s not having a great year and has been shopped openly for over a month now.

Marlon Byrd: Offense is hard to come by these days and Byrd does have 19 homers on the season. Some team will probably overpay for him.

Jorge De La Rosa: A good start on Wednesday night reminds us that, for all of his struggles this year, De La Rosa has probably done a better job of pitching at altitude in Coors Field than anyone. Taking Rockies starters down to sea level with the hopes that they’ll greatly improve has always been a dicey affair, but the Rockies should probably take advantage of that impulse.

Bartolo Colon: The venerable Colon keeps on keeping on, continuing to be an efficient and effective starter into his 40s. The Mets have grown to love him, but they probably realize that he is not a part of their long term plans, even if they signed him to a two-year deal before the season.

Josh Willingham: A perpetual trade deadline candidate, he has probably stuck in Minnesota a bit too long. But if Chase Headley can be moved after several years of rumors that he would be, so too could Willingham. His average and homers are down, but he’s still getting on base at a good clip. He probably has a good half-season in him pending a change of scenery.

Carlos Quentin: Same story here. He’s having a down year and he has a full no-trade clause. He’d also have to be a DH. But some team may see what he did the past few years and think that getting him away from the vortex of awful that is the offense in San Diego could do him good. Of course, he’s been a notable contributor to that vortex.

There are several others who could go — especially a lot of relievers whose names many people don’t know — but these are most of the name-brand candidates.

Now, which teams are on the market? Well, the short answer is “almost everyone,” as the second wild card and greater overall parity in baseball have made far more teams buyers than sellers. But let’s categorize them.

THE OBVIOUS SELLERS: The Red Sox, Twins, Astros, Rangers, MetsPhillies, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres.

THE NON-OBVIOUS SELLERS: The Cubs have already done most of their selling dealing two starters to the A’s. The Rays are that special case we talked about. The White Sox and Marlins aren’t playoff bound, but nor do they have a ton of guys they’re likely to shop.

THE OBVIOUS BUYERS: Everyone else to some extent, but the teams with clear needs who are likely to make moves are as follows: the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles in the AL East (starting pitching is a need for all three); the Angels (they filled a bullpen void but could probably still use a starter); the Mariners (they could use a bat and have been linked to Marlon Byrd and they have also been mentioned prominently in David Price rumors); the Braves (they’re always looking for bullpen help and have had starters drop like flies); the Cardinals (a starter) the Brewers (a first baseman or, at least some bat); the Reds (a bat); the Dodgers (a bullpen arm, though they’ve been rumored to want yet another starter despite starting pitching being a strength); the Giants (bullpen; second base if the Dan Uggla Experiment doesn’t pan out).

THE NON-OBVIOUS BUYERS: The Tigers already made a move to fill their biggest need in acquiring Joakim Soria. So too the Athletics in bolstering their rotation in that trade with the Cubs, but they do have the best offense and best pitching in the game, so the needs are limited. They could still use a second baseman and maybe an arm. The Indians and the Royals both need help, but don’t have the ability to add much payroll. Same with the Pirates, who could use a starter but don’t have the financial flexibility. The Nationals are likely to stand pat, as they’re finally getting their health back. Even with Ryan Zimmerman’s hamstring injury, they have starters for every position. Maybe they look for a situational reliever.

So that’s where things stand today. Keep an eye on HardballTalk for whatever happens over the next week — and, as I noted above, the next month — as general managers start to wheel and deal.

2018 Preview: Oakland Athletics

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The A’s have finished last in the AL West for three straight years. If you believe the folks at Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus and anyone else who makes projections, they’ll either finish in last again or come within a game or two of it. There’s not a lot of suspense to my prediction here — I’ll end up picking them to finish fifth — but the prediction is not really what a preview is about. It’s about the shape of the team and what we can expect in broad brushes.

While I can’t foretell greatness for the 2018 Oakland Athletics, I can’t say the broad brushes are bad. At least if you grade on a curve. It won’t be a good team, but they’ll be worth watching because they have a lot of good, fun and interesting players who are likely to be on that next good Oakland A’s team in the way Stephen Vogt and Brett Lawrie were not.

Their lineup is pretty spiffy for a second division team. Khris Davis, Matt Joyce and new acquisition Jonathan Lucroy are known commodities both inside and outside A’s fandom, but people who don’t pay much attention to the goings on in Oakland may not be fully aware of just how good and promising Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are. Olson hit 24 homers in 59 games last year. That’s not a sustainable pace — the league will figure him out to — but even regression from that will be fantastic. Chapman hit 14 in half a season and played superior defense at third base. He also struck out 92 times in half a season but who’s counting? [editor: everyone counts everything in baseball]. Hey, look, dingers! Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healey are gone from last year’s crew and Stephen Piscotty is new in town. Marcus Semien is a decent bat for a shortstop. All-in-all that’s a lineup that will play, and play very, very well if Chapman and Olson are what they’ve shown themselves to be thus far.

At the risk of criminal understatement, allow me to observe that the starting pitching is not as promising. Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are at the top of the rotation. On good teams they’d be in the middle or the back. The rest of their rotation options — Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn, who will miss the start of the regular season with a sore forearm — are less-than-impressive. They just signed Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson from the scrap heap hoping, I guess, to recreate some of that, uh, 2010 magic? 2010 was a long time ago!

Jharel Cotton would’ve been in the mix but he’s now out for the year for Tommy John surgery. A.J. Puk, the A’s top prospect would be a nice midseason upgrade, but he’s hurt. Not seriously, but the A’s will probably be more careful with him now than they would’ve been, which still would’ve been careful. All-in-all, there was a lack of quality arms to begin with, but with the injuries mounting, starting pitching could be a trash fire for the A’s.

The bullpen has a new look with newcomers Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit and Emilio Pagan joining 2017 in-season additions Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher. That’s a pretty good and pretty interesting group which was going to see a lot of innings as it was in our new bullpenning era, but now that the rotation looks shaky as hell, they’ll see even more. If you’re curious about the limits of leaning on a bullpen, postseason-style are, Oakland will be running a pretty fun experiment to that end in 2018.

I look at this club’s bats — especially the young guys upon whom its so very easy to project so much promise and optimism, because I’m a sucker for hitting prospects — and think that they can outperform those statsy projections and be better than the Rangers and Mariners. Then I think about how the upside — UPSIDE! — for the rotation is 380 innings from Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson and I sorta wanna cry.

If the A’s get some breaks and some unexpectedly good (or average) pitching performances, they could certainly finish above the cellar. Perhaps well above the cellar. For now, though, I’m guessing that they’ll be in 80-win territory at best and finish last in a division that does not have any teams totally punting, making for a competitive and, subsequently, tough year.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL West