This is not a collection of rumors. Though some rumors turn out to be true, the method here is to look for the biggest holes on teams that are headed to close battles down the stretch. Add in a nod to the team’s finances and past strategies, you might hit on a few likely trades ahead of this week’s deadline. Of course, it makes sense to run these things by people in front offices, for believability, but in the past, we’ve been able to get pretty close to real-life trades by matching supply with demand in this fashion.
1. Oakland Athletics: Bidding for the marquee piece
Take the race that’s projected to be closer than any other race in baseball this year: the second wild card in the American League. This is how FanGraphs’ projections have that battle ending:
After all the hand-wringing in New York (and, sure, that team is underperforming peripherals and expectations in a big market, so the clamor is fair), it’s remarkable that the Yankees are still projected to be right there at the end of the season. Given their situation, and the Athletics’ general budget, though, you’d expect both teams atop this leaderboard to try to add without spending too much in terms of prospects or money. The wild card is nice, but it’s one game.
Both the A’s and Yankees are decent teams, but while they have exactly the same outfield value by depth chart projections, the Athletics are due to get almost exactly half the value from their middle infield as the Yankees. Only the Pirates have an inferior situation at shortstop.
This is screaming ‘Trevor Story to the Athletics,’ but it’s possible the $6 million or so left on his contract is too much for Oakland, even though the A’s currently sit around $15 million below their pro-rated 2020 outlay. The alternatives — trading within the division for a marginal upgrade in José Iglesias (a deal which one exec said would have to be approved specifically by owner Arte Moreno, which seems unlikely), or trading for defense-first Andrelton Simmons — aren’t all that exciting either. Maybe the money thing is just posturing. Find the $6 million, or maybe pay a better prospect to get the salary paid down. So that leaves us with:
The deal: Trevor Story to the Athletics
Story’s bat is down a little this year, but he barrels the ball almost four times as often as the current shortstop in Oakland even at this reduced level. Don’t focus too heavily on his road splits, either. Because pitchers throw all fastballs in the altitude in Denver, Rockies hitters often have a harder time than they should on the road. A sort of hitter hangover effect happens when they encounter a ton of breaking pitches on the road. Jeff Zimmerman, a FanGraphs’ analyst, has shown that a decent rubric for Rockies hitters once they leave Coors is to weight their road splits at twice the value of their home splits. For Story, that spits out a dynamic .262/.342/.528 line that could do wonders for that A’s lineup.
2. Oakland Athletics: Bringing in the unicorn
The rumors say that the Athletics are looking for relievers, too, and that makes sense because the Yankees are projected to get three times the value from their bullpen. But everyone wants hard-throwing shutdown healthy relievers, so expect the A’s to think outside the box. Maybe they could get a back-end starter with some gas and convert him to relief if the market is valuing relievers that highly. Or maybe they could get a rental reliever due about another million dollars who once said his coaches called him a ‘unicorn’ because he had such a unique combination of hand and arm slot that added deception to his lively fastball.
The deal: Mychal Givens to the Athletics
Givens is in the top 30 among relievers in strikeouts in the last three years, and a big part of that is the fact that he gets on top of the fastball from a sidearm arm slot. The A’s would be taking Givens out of a hitter-friendly situation, which he’s seen his whole life, and putting him into a division that has not faced him very often. That’s a good recipe for short-term success.
3. New York Yankees: Dipping a toe in the water
What do you get a team that’s projected to be the third-best club in baseball over the last two months but that seems to be underperforming to an extent that makes you doubt that projection? The Yankees don’t seem like they’re poised to make a big buy for a player who has some team control, but if they wanted to match up with the Marlins for Sandy Alcantara or the Indians for José Ramirez, they probably could and those players would make their team better.
But for a wild-card game, with a team that many feel is fundamentally flawed and may need some sort of offseason overhaul, a toe in the water might make more sense.
The deal: Starling Marte to the Yankees
Okay, a relative toe in the water, Marte is a great player — it’s just that his contract is up at the end of the year. If the Yankees have an obvious hole in their projections, it’s really left and center field, where they are 24th in baseball going forward. There’s also been the feeling the Yankees are old (only six teams have an older lineup) and slow (they are below average at at least four positions by sprint speed and have been trying to add in this dimension with the likes of Greg Allen, Estevan Florial and Tim Locastro) and strike out too much (only eight teams strike out more often). Marte isn’t all that young, but he’s still fast, powerful and sports a decent strikeout rate.
He’s also a big name that’ll play well in headlines on the sports section, which might matter some in that big media market.
4. Toronto Blue Jays: Finding a reliable starter
What about Toronto, projected to finish two games out of the last spot? What about improving the starting rotation, easily the worst among probable postseason-bound teams?
The deal: Jon Gray to the Blue Jays
Unless the Jays try to acquire a pitcher who will stick around a while — would the Marlins want to talk about Sandy Alcantara? — the Rockies’ Jon Gray would make sense as a rental. Away from the altitude in Denver, his pitches bend more (103 Stuff+ away from home), and Gray has above-average command, too (104 Command+). Other righties with his combination of pitches and stuff and command include Sonny Gray and Adbert Alzolay, so Gray would probably make Toronto’s playoff rotation, if the Blue Jays make the playoffs.
5. Tampa Bay Rays: Seeking value, as usual
The AL East is also projected to have a super-tight finish at the top, as the numbers say the Red Sox are headed toward 95 wins and the Rays to 93. The Rays’ projections may come with bigger error bars, though, as they’ll be depending on young players with shorter track records — if Wander Franco, Vidal Bruján, Luis Patiño, Shane McClanahan and Shane Baz play to their potentials rather than their projections, the Rays should outproduce that win total. In the meantime, they’re “open to anything,” which might just mean catching a value arm as it falls in the market.
The deal: Chad Kuhl to the Rays
Of course, the Rays will do something weird, and maybe this isn’t a big deal, but it checks a lot of boxes. The Rays seem to love pitchers with extension — meaning they release the ball close to the plate — and Kuhl’s extension is in the top fifth of the league. They like to tell pitchers to throw more of their better pitches and fewer of their poorer pitches, and they might tell Kuhl to throw his excellent slider more often and turf his below-average changeup. Kuhl’s biggest flaw is command (his Command+ is the second-worst among starters) and the Rays have had some success with other wild pitchers by helping them concentrate on fewer locations and miss in the right directions. And Kuhl can come in and help their starting rotation but be more of a playoff-time reliever with the ability to go long.
The Rays will do something, and it will probably be surprising, so call Kuhl a placeholder for that idea if you must.
6 & 7. Boston Red Sox: Taking a swing, but just how big?
The Red Sox will do something, but the size of the swing will be fascinating to watch. Will chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, now freed from the shackles of the Tampa Bay payroll limits, trade some of his prospects away for veterans? Or will he make smaller moves around the periphery? He needs a first baseman either way, but will it be a rental Anthony Rizzo and an expensive veteran reliever? Or will it be something a little more muted and cheaper in terms of prospect cost?
The deals: Carlos Santana to the Red Sox; Raisel Iglesias to the Red Sox
Bobby Dalbec has the power, but without the patience and contact right now, he’s been more than 25 percent worse than league average with the stick so far. Even looking forward, the Red Sox have the worst first base situation in baseball. Carlos Santana is a steady veteran with a great eye who would immediately push the Red Sox into the top half at their worst position. His contract is interesting, though. At $10.5 million next year, it’s not so much that the Royals need to unload it. But it’s also a short-term contract for a veteran on a team that doesn’t seem like it’s a year away.
Fewer than a third of the closers in baseball throw from the left side, maybe because managers prefer to have southpaws on hand for tough lefty bats in the late innings. Adding a shutdown right-handed closer wouldn’t necessarily change that calculus, but it would give Alex Cora more freedom to choose which of his dominant relievers he wants to go to depending on the matchups. The pen has been really good — fifth-best by FanGraphs WAR so far — and Adam Ottavino is having a fine season, but Iglesias throws harder, walks fewer batters and would beef up the options for those tight divisional games late in the season. With Chris Sale coming back and looking good, the ‘pen might be where the team looks for reinforcements.