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, Mets, Phillies, 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.