The summer brings separation to baseball. MLB's contenders separate themselves from the rest of the pack, and the great players separate themselves from the good ones as the heat of the division races mimic the heat outside.
Summer also means the trade deadline. It's more than just a deadline to move players. As the date gets closer, teams have to decide whether they have enough firepower to justify loading up for a title run or determine whether it's best to address their deficiencies now or later, and the best route to addressing to do so.
The 2021 MLB trade deadline is July 30, so teams have already had more than a month to establish themselves and will have a couple more. A lot can happen between now and then, so let's pull out that crystal (base)ball to look into the future and make some predictions for what kind of chaos could ensue around the league before the trade deadline.
The Washington Nationals Will Be Forced to Trade Max Scherzer
The 2019 World Series champs have been trying to keep their championship window open for a run at a second title. The Nats finished last in the NL East last season with a 26-34 record (it tied the New York Mets for the worst record in the division, but the Mets held the tiebreaker), but it was a strange, coronavirus pandemic-shortened season. The Nationals were without Stephen Strasburg for most of the season (he made two starts), and it was difficult for a lot of teams to get into any sort of rhythm.
But the Nationals have gotten off to a terrible start in a winnable division. Washington is 14-19 and five games behind the division-leading Mets. Even more troubling is the 3-7 record in the last 10 games. At the end of April, the Nats strung four straight wins together, but that's their longest winning streak. It shows some serious inconsistency.
FanGraphs gives the Washington Nationals a 9.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. Is the championship window closing sooner than anticipated? Maybe, but it would benefit the Nats to try to keep it open a little longer.
Strasburg and Juan Soto have been injured for portions of this season, which hasn't helped matters, but they aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Strasburg is signed through 2026 and has a full no-trade clause in his contract. Soto is under team control through 2024 and is due for a big payday and a long-term contract on par with his peers in Atlanta (Ronald Acuna Jr.) and San Diego (Fernando Tatis Jr.). Patrick Corbin will likely be in the rotation through 2024. Trea Turner has another year of team control before he hits free agency.
So, how do the Nationals keep the window of contention open in order to capitalize on their homegrown talent? They trade Mad Max.
Trading Scherzer would expedite the retooling process. He'll be a free agent following this season, he's 36 years old and his 1.1 fWAR suggests he's valuable enough to command a prospect package that might have some MLB-ready talent.
A Favorite Will Fade in the AL East
The hottest teams at the start of the season inevitably cool off at some point. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers, the defending World Series champs, have hit a rough stretch after starting the season 13-2. They sit in third place in the NL West, a position few would have predicted at the start of the season.
Teams have to ride the ebbs and flows of the season and make the necessary adjustments or risk falling behind.
The AL East is primed for some summer shuffling.
The Yankees righted the ship after their cold open, though they still could use some rotation reinforcements. The Toronto Blue Jays have a legitimate MVP candidate in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., plus they will be getting outfielder George Springer, the prize of the 2020-21 offseason, back from a right quad strain at some point. The center fielder has been limited to five games this season because of the injury, but he hit two home runs in 15 at-bats.