The MLB trade deadline is coming up on July 30. It’s arriving a day earlier than the typical deadline; this year, July 31 falls on a Saturday with many day games that make trades logistically tricky. A few transactions will probably filter through the league in August, but for the most part, baseball’s contending teams will see the deadline as their last chance to get their rosters situated for the pennant chase.
This year feels like a buyer’s market. Only 12 teams have 30 percent odds or better to make the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. It would seem ill-advised for any team outside that bubble to trade a valuable prospect package in exchange for major league help, especially if that help is on a contract that expires just a few months after the trade deadline. But this stretch of the season is often full of surprises, and there’s no reason 2021 should be any different.
At any rate, I’ve highlighted eight players who should, ideally, find new homes by July 30—both because baseball fans deserve to watch them play meaningful October games, and because they’re not a whole lot of use to their current (and generally bad) teams at the moment.
Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals starting pitcher
The seven-year, $210 million deal the Nationals gave Scherzer before the 2015 season will go down as one of the best free agent signings any team has ever made. He has given the Nats a sub-3 earned run average over his seven seasons, he has nabbed two Cy Young Awards, and he was a dependable workhorse in the franchise’s 2019 World Series win. He has been dominant in 2021 as well.
But the Nationals are just barely on the fringes of contention, and Scherzer can only help the team once every five days. If some team wants to give the Nationals future value in exchange for Scherzer’s last few stats of the year, it’d be nice to watch him pitch in October again.
Adam Frazier, Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman
Frazier has been a breakout star this year, so much so that he earned the starting second baseman nod for the National League in this year’s All-Star Game. He was more or less an average hitter for his first five years in the bigs, but he’s turned into a hit machine this year.
Still, it’s not totally clear that Frazier’s rise is sustainable; he’s not hitting the ball much harder this season. But that’s the beauty of acquiring a player for the stretch drive: The hot streak only needs to last a few months in order for the trade to pan out well. The Pirates are one of the worst teams in the game, and Frazier would be a fun late-summer addition for a club looking for some offense. He’s also a year away from free agency, which means his time with the tightwad Pirates is ending soon anyway.
Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs third baseman
I don’t like having Bryant on this list. It’s embarrassing for the Cubs—and a snub to Cubs fans—that they haven’t already extended their former MVP and World Series hero, who remains one of MLB’s premium players. But at this point, the Cubs have chosen their path. They didn’t extend Bryant’s contract any time in the last five years; they’re probably not going to do it in the next few months. Cubs owner Tom Ricketts should be ashamed that he let Bryant get this close to departing. Internal politics aside, Bryant is a great player, and it’d be nice to watch him rake for a team that appreciates him properly.
Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners outfielder
Haniger has been a consistently above average hitter for the last four years in Seattle. He hasn’t been quite as good the last few years as he was in 2018, when he generated 4.5 wins above replacement and hit 26 home runs. But strictly on power terms, Haniger is actually hitting the ball harder now than he did then. He homered every 26 at-bats in 2018 and has homered about every 19 at-bats in 2021. He’s not much of a defender in right field, but a contending team could try to hide him out there or just use him as a designated hitter.
Haniger isn’t all that useful to the Mariners, who are above .500 but stuck in an American League West that is cluttered with good teams. The Mariners also have several strong corner outfield prospects coming up through the ranks.
Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies outfielder
The 2013 National League MVP isn’t the player he used to be, but he has been a pretty good, under-the-radar hitter the last three years in Philadelphia. The Phillies gave him a three-year, $50 million deal before 2019, and that has turned out to be a decent investment.
But the Phillies’ playoff odds are hovering around 17 percent. They sit in a National League East that the New York Mets are highly likely to win, and they probably aren’t getting a Wild Card spot, either. McCutchen is one of my favorite players, and I’d like to see him get a shot at a World Series before he moves further into the twilight of his career. Given that he’s a few months from free agency, it’s possible the Phillies give him that chance by dealing him.
Eduardo Escobar, Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman
The D-backs are the worst team in baseball and look well on their way to notching over 100 losses this season. The club faces a long rebuild, and one of the first steps should be trading Escobar, who has been their most valuable position player this year while second baseman Ketel Marte has been in and out of the lineup.
Escobar is 32 and in the last year of his contract; there’s no chance he plays on the next competitive Diamondbacks team. A contending team that needs help at third base (or a utility infielder) could really put him to work, however. The Chicago White Sox would make sense and might like to play Escobar at second base, where he has experience.
Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles first baseman
The Orioles might not want to trade Mancini, who is both an inspirational story and under team control for another year after this one. But the Orioles are really bad. In addition, they only have so many players who’d bring back anything of real value in a trade, and it might cause an all-out fan mutiny if they traded center fielder Cedric Mullins II in the middle of an MVP-caliber breakout season.
Mancini hit 35 home runs in 2019 and might get somewhere close to that number again this year. He’s a first baseman now, but he has outfield experience and could be a designated hitter, too. Baltimore doesn’t have to move him, but it would be a lot of fun if Mancini found himself in the hunt for a pennant.
Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies shortstop
The Rockies have horribly mismanaged their roster over the last few years, squandering a promising core of young players and producing one of the worst teams in the league. It seems natural that Story joins former teammate Nolan Arenado in heading out the door while the Rockies continue their descent into ineptitude.
Story’s power has declined the last two seasons, and he is not hitting nearly up to his own standards in 2021. But he’s a great defender at a difficult position, and it’s hard to believe there isn’t any pop left in his bat. Story is a free agent after the year and deserves to ride out his contract playing somewhere other than Denver.
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