The calls started Monday. For weeks, teams have danced around the looming July 30 trade deadline -- the ones looking to add not wanting to jump the market, the ones looking to divest abiding by the principle that the best return may come with a ticking clock. Monday served as the unofficially official start to trade season, with communication picking up and teams positioning themselves for a fascinating next 10 days.
Some executives believe it's bound to be frenzied, with enough teams trying to add that the market includes players beyond impending free agents. Others fear that this will be a deadline of enormous posturing and scant action. Almost all agreed: If there is going to be movement, it's unlikely to come in the next few days. Someone who may well be in the middle of it all forecast as much publicly.
That's from Steve Cohen, owner of the New York Mets, about whom there are plenty of questions. We could devote 20 alone to the Mets, but that wouldn't be very fair or equitable, now, would it? In fact, we'll get to the Mets later. For now, let's start with one player who fits on contenders and noncontenders alike.
What's happening with Byron Buxton?
A lot. For a guy who has played three games since May 6, Buxton is on the minds of people across baseball who are awaiting the resolution of his contract extension talks with the Minnesota Twins -- and the possibility he gets traded.
The extension always was, and remains, a long shot. Buxton and the Twins talked during the spring, and the gap was far too big to bridge. Then he went out and put up almost three wins above replacement in fewer than 30 games and illustrated exactly why he sees himself as a nine-figure player. Then he got hurt and showed why the Twins don't. And thus the same issue that always presents itself in any Buxton conversation -- the resplendence of his talent vs. the infrequency with which he is on the field to display it -- had another data point.
The question, should the extension not come to fruition, is whether the Twins actually will trade him. Some are convinced he's gone. Others think they hold him with an eye on 2022, when they can shake off this disaster of a season and rebound like they did from 2016 to 2017. Should the Twins move him, the return, executives said, would be massive.
It's not just that Buxton is expected to return from a broken hand relatively soon. It's the value next season. While most top-tier talent is paid $15 million-plus in the final year before free agency, Buxton, because of how often he's been hurt, never piled up the counting statistics that matter so much in arbitration. He's estimated to make somewhere in the $7 million to $8 million range.
The upshot? Every team is in play -- especially those with lower budgets. Buxton would be a perfect fit for the Tampa Bay Rays, who have an especially deep farm system with major-league-ready talent that would appeal to Minnesota. The Rays rarely have access to star-level talent. Same goes for Milwaukee and Oakland, which, like Tampa Bay, have multiple center fielders but none quite like Buxton.
Don't discount the big markets, of course. Philadelphia would love a center fielder of his caliber -- but would need to deal from its major league inventory to get him because its farm system is almost barren. Imagine Buxton patrolling center for the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets or Giants. Might a big-money team consider taking on the $57 million remaining on third baseman Josh Donaldson's deal to get Buxton and lessen the package returning to Minnesota?
It's July. Blockbusters can come together in a hurry. The sport's eyes are trained on Twins president Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine, and not just because of Buxton.
Where is Jose Berrios going?
Certainly the Twins could deal Buxton and hold Berrios, or trade Berrios and hold Buxton, but rivals expect their fates will be one and the same. The market for Berrios, who, like Buxton, will be a free agent after the 2022 season, is theoretically robust. In early trade discussions, sources said, contending teams especially are coveting controllable starting pitching.
Berrios is the best of those. The teams that match up, then, are the ones in contention, looking for pitching and in possession of top-end young talent, good farm-system depth or both. That list isn't very long: the Los Angeles Dodgers, Giants, Mets, Blue Jays and perhaps the Rays. The Los Angeles Angels certainly could use a pitcher of Berrios' caliber. He'd fit the Yankees well, but they're not inclined to part with their best minor leaguers.
As with Buxton, sources are wildly divided on Berrios' fate, which is the sort of thing that could be advantageous to the Twins. They can hold out for what they want, and if they don't get it, then they can wait until July 30 to truly show their cards.