The Aug. 31 trade deadline is one week away and like every other aspect of the 2020 Major League Baseball season, we have no idea what to expect.
Then again, when do we ever know what to expect from the trade deadline? The range of outcomes always extend from blip on the radar to utter chaos, yet we never see the results coming.
This year, the unique circumstances add yet another layer of uncertainty. The 60-game season is forcing teams to make decisions based on anywhere from 17 to 30 games, depending on much havoc the pandemic has wreaked on their schedules, instead of the usual 100 games.
The extra, extra layer of uncertainty stems from the league’s expanded postseason field. Come October, 16 teams will be vying for the World Series crown. With more teams than ever making a postseason push, buyers should theoretically outnumber the sellers. But with teams saying they’re losing money during the pandemic, how many want to add players for a postseason that sets up as a crapshoot?
We see the possibilities, but we won’t know where we’re headed until we get there. If nothing else, we know there will be no shortage of storylines worth following. Here, we’ll examine which teams and situations could create the most buzz.
Will the Red Sox start rebuilding?
After winning the World Series in 2013, the Red Sox did some retooling just nine months later. Ahead of the 2014 deadline, Boston traded a quartet of impending free agents — Jon Lester, Andrew Miller, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes — before finishing last in the AL East.
Will history repeat itself in 2020?
It’s possible. This time around, Boston is two years removed from winning the World Series. They’re also in last place, behind the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. It’s clear changes have to be made. It’s up to chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom to determine how extensive those changes will be.
Bloom and company already completed one trade, sending relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to the Philadelphia Phillies. Designated hitter J.D. Martinez, first baseman Mitch Moreland, and outfielders Kevin Pillar and Jackie Bradley Jr. are other notable trade candidates. All of them will be free agents this winter.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal has suggested Boston should consider trading star shortstop Xander Bogaerts. On the heels of trading Mookie Betts, that almost seems unfathomable. Then again, if Bloom believes a total rebuild is needed, trading Bogaerts would get the ball rolling. Needless to say, a lot of eyes will be on the Red Sox.
Will Cleveland trade pitchers who broke protocol?
No story fits the "that's so 2020" narrative better than that of Cleveland pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac. Both pitchers are key members of a team with World Series aspirations, yet they could end up traded after breaking MLB's health and safety protocols during a trip to Chicago.
Cleveland's clubhouse certainly seems ready to move on. Teammates have said they felt hurt and misled by Clevinger and Plesac. Reports say teammates’ unhappiness and discomfort led the front office to demote both pitchers to the alternate training site. Now those same decision-makers must determine how or if the pitchers will fit in.
Despite the lapse in judgment, both would likely draw significant interest if made available. At this point, nearly every team is pitching-starved. If one or both are traded, it could change the landscape.
Who are the most intriguing trade candidates?
We’re already mentioned intriguing names like J.D. Martinez and Mike Clevinger. Here are five others that might move the needle.
The Angels might be MLB’s most disappointing team in 2020, but that’s no fault of Bundy. The six-year veteran has given them their long-needed No. 1 starter. That said, his value may never be higher. That’s reason enough to explore a deal.
2020 Stats: 3-2, 2.58 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 10.3 K/9
Less than 140 games into his MLB career, Yastrzemski is already the centerpiece of San Francisco's lineup. The 30-year-old was a late bloomer, but he’s also affordable and could immediately slot into any lineup should San Francisco make him available.
2020 Stats: .309/.429/.645, 7 HR, 23 RBI
Johnny Cueto, starting pitcher — San Francisco Giants
The Giants also have several trade options on the pitching side, including Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly and Tony Watson. Then there’s the veteran Cueto, who finally looks healthy after back-to-back seasons plagued by injuries.
2020 Stats: 2-0, 4.35 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 7.8 K9
Robbie Ray, left-handed pitcher — Arizona Diamondbacks
Though Ray has struggled with his consistency and control this season (25 earned runs and 25 walks in 27 innings), he has a proven background. He's a particularly reliable source of strikeouts, having posted a 11.8 strikeout-per-nine since 2016. It’s possible a change of scenery would revitalize Ray.
2020 Stats: 1-3, 8.33 ERA, 7.77 FIP, 11.7 K9
Whit Merrifield, infielder and outfielder — Kansas City Royals
Merrifield, 31, is one of the game’s most underrated players. He's a .296/.345/.448 career hitter over his five MLB seasons and has led MLB in hits and stolen bases twice each. Merrifield has experience at every infield and outfield position. That means he can fit in anywhere, on any team, at any time.
2020 Stats: .312/.367/.505, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 6 steals
Which surprise contenders could become buyers?
At this point, only three teams are clearly in sell territory. That means some teams that entered the season in rebuilding mode could conceivably change course and make a splash due to their enhanced postseason odds.
Here’s a quick look at the most surprising teams that could end up buying.
Baltimore Orioles: Don’t look now, but Baltimore is hanging around the fringe of postseason contention coming off back-to-back 100 loss seasons. However, general manager Mike Elias has already indicated they will either sell or stand pat.
Toronto Blue Jays: Despite not being allowed to play in Canada and despite losing Bo Bichette to injury, the Jays are finding ways to win. With a lineup that’s loaded, Toronto could be dangerous in October if they add some pitching.
Miami Marlins: The Marlins are another rebuilding team that’s finding ways to win. Miami also has one of MLB’s deepest farm systems, which is always notable around deadline time. Would we bet on a trade? No. Then again, Miami has surprised us all season. What’s one more?
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