The MLB draft will conclude Tuesday, and thus, so will the pretense that an organization is too distracted over the selection process to concentrate on the trade deadline.
The All-Star Game will be waged Tuesday, as well. And with that will vanish any delusion that “it is still early.” Roughly 55 percent of the 2023 schedule will have been waged when the regular season resumes Friday, 18 days from the trade deadline.
So there is not much time to keep tabling big decisions.
The new rules have worked particularly in lowering the time of games (from 3:03 to play nine innings last year to 2:38 this season) and increasing offense, though not seismically — batting average, for example, has climbed from .243 to .249; scoring per team is up from 4.28 to 4.58 runs per game.
But six teams that began the weekend at .500 or better were below average in scoring: the Yankees, Marlins, Twins, Blue Jays, Mariners and Phillies. That does not include the below-.500 Mets, Padres and Guardians, who still view themselves as contenders. And that does not include teams scoring above the league average, such as the Astros, who already have publicly proclaimed they will be looking for a hitter, and the Dodgers, who are fourth in MLB in scoring, but have a lineup pockmarked with soft spots.
That indicates a lot of teams will be trying to add hitters. But one AL executive who has been trying to keep a pulse of the market said, “A lot of clubs are going to hope they are the 2021 Braves.” Translation: There is a decent chance that impactful hitters are going to run the gamut from scarce (and thus, extremely high priced) to obsolete. Thus, clubs are going to hope they strike gold on the secondary market, as the champion Braves did two years ago with Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler.
A few key issues that will impact the market:
The teams who are sellers now are so bad that it is difficult to find desirable bats. The Nationals have third baseman Jeimar Candelario in a rebound season and his walk year. But it is hard to find tempting hitters on the Athletics, Royals and Tigers.
So the market will wait to see if the Mets, Padres, Angels, Red Sox, White Sox, Cubs or Cardinals make a late concession speech and change the complexion of the market. Which brings us to the …
Those who crave action want to see the huge names in play. But the odds do not look great.
That is led, of course, by Shohei Ohtani. My colleague, Jon Heyman, reported that injuries to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, combined with falling playoff odds, have created a glimmer of hope that Ohtani will be available. Yet, it still remains difficult to find executives who believe the Angels’ Arte Moreno will ever agree to be the owner who trades Ohtani — even if it is arguably in the best long-term interest of the club.
More probable is that the Angels will move walk-year Hunter Renfroe or perhaps Brandon Drury (signed through next year, but currently on the IL).
The Mets and Padres were playing each other to close the first half. Both teams clearly have put so many resources into this season that they do not want to surrender. Pete Alonso and Juan Soto have club control through next season, so the teams are not pressed to trade the hitters who would create the greatest frenzy.
The Cardinals also control Paul Goldschmidt through next season, and rival executives think he is more likely to be extended than dealt. But the question is this: Will the Cardinals take their last-place status as a time to thin the herd of their positional glut by moving the likes of Dylan Carlson, Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbar or Tyler O’Neill? Or will they be gun-shy considering a first-round Home Run Derby matchup is Randy Arozarena versus Adolis Garcia, a pair of outfielders for whom the Cardinals received nothing and too little, respectively, when they moved on from them?
The White Sox have told clubs they are not open to trading star center fielder Luis Robert, which makes them far less interesting position-player-wise should they sell at the deadline. It is with walk-year starting pitchers Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn, plus Dylan Cease (free after next season), that they will have suitors.
The Red Sox have walk-year hitters such as Duvall and Justin Turner (who has a player option for 2024) if they veer toward selling in the coming weeks, while the Cubs have walk-year Cody Bellinger.
This is the time of year when lots of ideas and permutations are discussed. For example, the Reds have begun to show their bounty of positional prospects with more on the way. Would they use an outfielder, such as Jake Fraley or TJ Friedl, to obtain a controllable starter who can help them try to win the NL Central this year?
Has Christian Yelich rebounded sufficiently in his age-31 season that any club would be willing to absorb some, most or all of the five years at $135.5 million he is still owed beyond this season? And would the Brewers, after taking such abuse for trading Josh Hader while contending last year, agree to deal Yelich, even though they would probably like to be out of the contract? Also, Yelich has full no-trade rights.
Would teams believe Jeff McNeil’s first-half slump is an aberration for 2022 NL batting average champ and want to obtain him with three years at $43.75 million left after this season in exchange for the controllable pitching the Mets so badly need? Do the Mets believe they could plug Ronny Mauricio into second base in that scenario?
The same question can be asked about the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu, who has struggled for the equivalent of a full season now, has three years at $45 million still due after this season and has a limited no-trade clause.
Would the Dodgers decide that a young position player they hoped would break through this year, such as second baseman Miguel Vargas (79 OPS-plus) or center fielder James Outman (.540 OPS in his past 43 games after a strong start), be better utilized now as chips to upgrade their depleted rotation or improve lineup length?
After both teams found success in the Pablo Lopez-Luis Arraez deal between the Marlins and Twins this past offseason, would Miami use another starting pitcher, perhaps Edward Cabrera (close to returning from the IL) to add another hitter?