The 2021 Major League Baseball Trade Deadline is next Friday at 4 p.m. ET, and make no mistake, it is the trade deadline. By that, we mean that the August waiver period, the one that once sent Justin Verlander to the Astros in the waning moments of August, no longer exists. If you’re an executive, you’ll make your trades now, or not at all.
It is, of course, absolutely impossible to predict what’s going to happen by the end of the day on July 30 … so let’s go ahead and try to do exactly that. There are dozens of players who will either be discussed or actually moved, even if, as MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported, executives predict a quiet week ahead before “a frenzy” on the last day. Where will the most interesting ones land?
We’ve done this a few times in the past, and all we can guarantee is this: Most of these predictions won’t come to pass … but one or two will, as written. They always do.
All stats entering play on Thursday, July 22, and originally included Nelson Cruz to the Rays before that actually happened, so we're counting that as a win. As a reminder, we’re predicting some of the trades, not all of them. If your team isn’t mentioned, that doesn’t mean we believe it'll make no moves.
Trevor Story, SS, Rockies
Aside from the Cubs, who we’ll get to in a second, Story has been the most obvious trade candidate from the moment Nolan Arenado was sent to St. Louis, though the front office turmoil in Colorado and Story’s own unimpressive season (91 OPS+) has made this all even more complicated. Interim GM Bill Schmidt claims, correctly, that the club will not be forced to trade Story, and might just hang onto him in hopes of recouping Draft pick compensation when he inevitably departs this winter via free agency.
Perhaps so. But most suitors won’t be scared away by Story’s line this year, since there’s not much evidence of any particular decline in skill, and he’d spent the last five seasons being one of the five best shortstops in baseball. (Nor will teams fret about his home/road splits, given the post-Coors successes of Arenado and DJ LeMahieu.) It’s not just teams in need of a shortstop, either; there’s some thought Story could play second or third in the right situation, and at least one club is considering him as a center fielder.
There’s a fit with the Yankees, who could stand to move Gleyber Torres back to second, but the best answer here has always been with Oakland, which has received little from Elvis Andrus. Perhaps, as a way to balance the books and rosters, Andrus and some salary might head to Colorado as part of the deal, just as the Rockies once received Jose Reyes when trading Troy Tulowitzki.
Jon Gray, SP, Rockies
Sticking with the Rockies for a second, they should, in theory, be holding a second incredibly valuable piece in Gray, given the complete dearth of starting pitching available. But Gray has reportedly indicated he’d like to stay, and when you can find a successful pitcher at altitude who isn’t desperately trying to escape, you probably want to try to hang onto that guy. We’re not sure how many big deals the short-handed Colorado front office can juggle at the same time, anyway. (Though we would expect 36-year-old reliever Daniel Bard to find a new home.)
Just about all of the Cubs
Let’s just group all of these guys together, because the Cubs roster is likely to look all but unrecognizable a week from now. Joc Pederson is already gone. They probably can’t or won’t trade Jason Heyward and Kyle Hendricks, and they still need someone around in 2022, which is why we think Willson Contreras sticks around. Everyone else, though ...
Javier Báez, SS -- Prediction: Stays
Anthony Rizzo, 1B -- Prediction: Yankees
Kris Bryant, 3B/OF -- Prediction: Giants
Zach Davies, SP -- Prediction: Mets
Craig Kimbrel, RP -- Prediction: Dodgers
Andrew Chafin, RP -- Prediction: Mets
We do not envy Jed Hoyer and his cell phone plan, to be honest.
Báez has said that he’d like to be a lifelong Cub, and his inconsistent performance the last two years might limit his market, especially since Story is a better all-around player and Andrelton Simmons is at worst an equal defender, though a lesser bat. That said, Báez might welcome a trade since that would prevent him from going into a deep shortstop market wearing a Qualifying Offer.
The same might be said for Rizzo. Everyone on the planet knows the Yankees badly need a lefty bat, and while Joey Gallo checks off a ton of boxes, we also don’t believe that deal will actually happen. Instead, Rizzo would be a perfect fit in terms of roster, stadium, need and experience, and if the question is “What about Luke Voit?” we might ask what about Luke Voit, because as talented as he can be, he’s played just 29 games and is currently out with a knee problem. “Too many good players” is a nice problem to have, much more so than starting Rob Brantly and Chris Gittens at first, anyway.
Bryant’s hamstring injury might give suitors pause, but it’s not expected to be serious, and injured players can be traded anyway. His versatility makes him a fit in most any situation, which makes a prediction tough. We’ll guess the hot Mets offense lets them focus more on pitching; we’ll guess the Braves aren’t replacing Austin Riley or trading for a second Cubs hitter. Instead, we’ll take the Giants, who are squarely in the “it’s very real” category of contenders, and could use Bryant to cover for injuries to Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria at the infield corners now, and reinforce an underperforming left field spot later.
So far as the relievers go, there’s a little bit of “throwing darts” here, because it’s easier to name contenders who don’t need bullpen help than ones who do, and if you’d rather argue that the Phillies or Blue Jays or Astros have a stronger need for Kimbrel, well, we can’t really argue against that.
But to at least explain our thinking here: Chafin to the Mets, because as good as Aaron Loup has been, he’s their only lefty reliever, and no contending team has had fewer bullpen pitches coming from lefties. (Davies hasn’t exactly been stellar, but the Mets badly need rotation depth.) Plus let's also say Ryan Tepera, who’s really been quite good, to the Phillies, because Philadelphia will revolt if nothing is done to improve one of baseball’s weakest bullpens.
Finally, the resurgent Kimbrel to the Dodgers, because their desperate need for rotation help is likely to run into the fact that the starter market is weak -- they aren’t the type of team to talk themselves into a Kyle Gibson type -- and if you can’t strengthen the front, strengthen the back, especially with Kenley Jansen having a rough pair of games in an otherwise strong season.