I don't like to use hyperbole ... OK, fine, I do. But I mean every word when I say that I can't think of a similar status of the trade market at any time in my (admittedly short) lifetime.
Why exactly is that? There are so many buyers in this market that have established, productive major leaguers available as trade pieces. We could see more major leaguer-for-major leaguer swaps in the next two weeks than we've seen in the past decade or more.
The only mid-season one in recent memory that I can think of was Boston and Oakland's swap of Jon Lester for Yoenis Cespedes. (There are ones that come close -- for example, David Price was traded for Nick Franklin and Drew Smyly, among others. But Smyly had been starting for only half of a season, and Franklin hadn't put up any useful MLB numbers.) But even in the Lester/Cespedes deal, those were older players that came with little team control. In this current market, we have young, controllable, and established players that may be on the move, and it's rather unprecedented.
There are two main reasons why MLBer(s)-for-MLBer(s) trades are so rare during the season. (And when I say that, I'm referring to needle-shaking moves, not bullpen guy for platoon outfielder.)
1) This one is obvious, but buying teams are looking to improve, not just move sand around. A team looking to acquire talent is rarely interested in dealing talent from its major league roster.
2) Most sellers are looking to acquire building blocks for the future. A player already in the major leagues is sapping away his service time and value to the rebuilding team before the team's window of contention begins. This is especially important for players who aren't in their rookie or sophomore seasons.
So it's clear that there is a niche market for young, controllable, and productive players that a contending team is selling. Obviously, those are the types of players that every team covets. However, because of the reasons mentioned above, a team has to offer enough value for said player for it to be worth it for the owning team. With that being said, there are three different types of trades that we could see this month involving these players.
1) Deals between two contenders -- This would happen when two teams have players from the list of said criteria, and it would make sense for both teams to redistribute talent among their roster. An example would be a Jurickson Profar-for-Gerrit Cole trade. (Note: I'm not here to piece together exact trade scenarios. Everything here is just a basic framework.)
2) A contending team dealing with a selling team that expects to contend next season -- This scenario is most likely, and these types of sellers are the ones who value a young, established major leaguer for currency the most. Teams that may sell but definitely have 2017 plans for contention include the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Pirates (if they decide to sell), Royals (ditto Pirates), and White Sox (ditto Pirates). Teams that may or may not fit into this description include the Mariners, Angels, Rockies, Twins, and Rays.
3) Unusually creative trades -- We may see more convoluted, multi-team deals than usual this month. A possible framework, off the top of my head, would be a three-team trade between a contender, a seller, and either a second contender or a team from scenario #2. For example, let's say the Mariners are interested in Jonathan Lucroy, but the Brewers don't like any of the Mariners' prospects because Seattle's farm system is weak, or the Mariners don't want to trade any prospects. But the Mariners do have James Paxton to offer; however, Milwaukee may not be that interested in Paxton, who will be a free agent after 2019. The Brewers may get one or two years of him when they're actually contending. So Seattle could swap Paxton for prospects and use those prospects to acquire Lucroy. Something along the lines of (and please don't kill me; I'm just spitballing) Paxton to Baltimore, Lucroy to Seattle, and a Chance Sisco-led package to Milwaukee may make more sense.
Having covered all of that, here are some of the young, quality major leaguers that may be available from buying teams at this summer's deadline:
Jurickson Profar - Texas Rangers
With Mitch Moreland, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus, and Adrian Beltre all starters in the infield and Ryan Rua, Ian Desmond, Nomar Mazara, and Shin-Soo Choo in the outfield, not to mention Joey Gallo waiting in the wings, there just isn't enough room for Profar to make as huge of an impact as he's capable.
Profar has been mentioned in countless rumors over the last few weeks, and with good reason. His bat is good enough to play at any position, but don't forget that he's more than capable of starting at either middle infield spot, which would magnify his value exponentially. Texas may not have a spot for him there, but tons of other teams would love him.
There are two concerns with the potential acquisition of Profar, however. The first is his health -- if you want hours worth of reading material, go look up his injury history. The second is his service time -- Profar has very, very limited MLB experience, but he comes with much less team control than you might expect. Despite the fact that he's played only 135 career games in the majors, a team acquiring Profar would have him under control for only three more seasons after this one. These two reasons aren't enough to prevent the Rangers from getting a massive return should they choose to move him, but they are worth considering.
Having said all that, Choo has also been placed on the DL, and the Fielder injury looks like it could be season-ending. The Rangers claim that Profar will be playing regularly, starting at DH and occasionally at other parts of the diamond. In my opinion, this changes the availability of Profar, but only slightly. The entire Rangers infield is still intact, as is Desmond in center field, so the Rangers will still be forced to deploy Profar at non-value-optimizing positions, especially DH. I still believe Profar can be acquired for the right return, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him moved.
Yasiel Puig - Los Angeles Dodgers
Puig is available under a different set of circumstances from the other guys on the list. Most of the other guys are potentially available because their team can afford to lose them, and the upgrade they could acquire would more than offset the downgrade from said player to the team's next closest replacement.
However, Puig is an outfielder, and if you believe the rumors, the Dodgers are in the market for an outfielder. Huh? The only reason that makes sense is if there are off-the-field circumstances that might warrant that, and in the case of Puig, there might be. Andrew Friedman was known in his Tampa days as someone that would often look past off-the-field issues when he was acquiring players, and he'd use that as a sort of market inefficiency, or reason why they might be undervalued.
However, he's completely flipped the script in Los Angeles. According to reports, the first thing he did in his first offseason with the Dodgers is interview Don Mattingly, Clayton Kershaw, A.J. Ellis, and Adrian Gonzalez, asking them who the problems were in the clubhouse. He then immediately traded Matt Kemp and neglected to re-sign Hanley Ramirez, while he opted to keep the third guy named, Yasiel Puig.
Obviously, there were baseball reasons why Kemp's and Ramirez's services were no longer needed, and the level of criticism that Puig has received from hearsay is incredibly unreasonable. He has nowhere near the problems that, say, Josh Lueke had, and he's not even in the same category as Yunel Escobar either, both players that Friedman signed or traded for while with the Rays. But it's also ignorant not to acknowledge that usually where there's smoke there's fire, and in any other situation, Puig is the type of player that the Dodgers would be looking to acquire.
Amidst all the criticism of Puig, it's often lost that Puig is a really good player. Yes, he's gotten worse every season, and yes, he hasn't put up production anywhere near his first two seasons. However, in his supposedly "miserable" season last year, Puig still put up a .255/.322/.436 (111 wRC+) while adding value on the bases and in the field. In other words, he was above-average in every facet of the game, and he produced 1.5 WAR in less than half of a season.
He has regressed again this season, which is a major cause for concern, but he has been much better since his return from the DL, and there's a good chance that his 1.8 combined WAR in 155 games over the last two seasons represents his floor. When you combine his high-ish floor, team control through 2019, and potential to be the superstar that he was over 2013-14, it would behoove almost every franchise to make an inquiry on him.
Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco - Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates aren't doomed yet this season, but it's not looking good. They're only three games out of the second wild card spot, but they'd have to jump three teams. FanGraphs gives them an 8.3 percent chance of making it to the NLDS.
They're not going to completely tear it down, though, nor should they. There's a chance that they partially sell and retool for next season. This could mean dealing Mark Melancon, John Jaso, and one of their outfielders. Although all three members of their vaunted outfield are incredibly valuable to the Buccos, they'd also be incredibly valuable to another team, and there are legitimate reasons why each one should be the one moved.
Austin Meadows is almost ready, and they will either have to move him or move someone to make room for him. They could also semi-contend this season by using Josh Bell there for the rest of the year then transitioning him to first base and replacing him with Meadows in 2017.
Just looking at contracts and age, basic logic indicates that McCutchen should be the first one traded. But he's also the face of the franchise with a combination of both the highest floor among the three and arguably the highest ceiling. Logic indicates that Gregory Polanco should be the one absolutely staying put, but the Pirates may feel inclined to sell high on his breakout season, as his value will likely never be higher.
Starling Marte is an interesting combination of the two. His underlying numbers paint him a strong candidate for regression, making him a good sell-high option like Polanco. But he also has the age and contract more similar to Polanco while having the track record and floor more similar to McCutchen.
Any team that's looking at Ryan Braun or Jay Bruce should absolutely jump at the chance to acquire one of these outfielders, and the Pirates could take advantage of this market by making one of them available. Any of the three would immediately become the top piece available at the position.
Profar, Puig, and the Pirates' outfielders are all high-end major leaguers that I see at least a decent chance of being traded in the next two weeks. However, here are a few more that also fit the bill. I've split them up into two groups because, for this next group, I haven't seen any rumors linking them to trades whatsoever, and it's highly unlikely that their teams are shopping them. But in the case of all of these players, it makes sense for their teams to redistribute talent across other parts of the roster due to value above the replacement, and it wouldn't surprise me to see any of them dealt in the coming weeks.
Taijuan Walker, James Paxton - Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have had just the right number of starting pitchers due to various injuries recently. But with Walker and Felix Hernandez coming back and Paxton, Wade Miley, Nathan Karns, and Hisashi Iwakuma already there, the M's will find themselves with an abundance. Of course, Miley has been awful, and the best course of action might be to just boot him from the rotation. But there are worse fifth starters in the MLB, and if we're looking ahead to a potential playoff series, Seattle would be able to move a starter and still have four more-than-capable guys without Miley.
For a team that's in contention, the Mariners have way more holes than most of the other playoff hopefuls. They could use upgrades at catcher, shortstop, in the oufield, and possibly at first and in the bullpen. If they wanted to target a catcher, like Jonathan Lucroy, a traditional prospect(s)-for-major leaguer swap may be in order. But if they wanted to upgrade at, say, shortstop, the best options may be on contending teams with excess. Jurickson Profar, Alex Bregman, and Trea Turner all could be available, and two of those three teams (Rangers, Astros) need starting pitching upgrades and would love to have Taijuan Walker. This would, of course, require the Mariners to trade intra-division.
If they need an outfield bat and don't want to touch their farm for upgrades or move Walker, a James Paxton-for-Yasiel Puig swap makes sense on some level for both sides.
Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer - Cleveland Indians
This probably isn't going to happen, because usually when teams have five awesome starters, they like to keep all five. But look at it from the Indians' perspective. They're 7.5 games up in their division. FanGraphs gives them a 96 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 92 percent chance of winning the division. In poker, that's called pocket rockets with a third ace showing up on the flop. And what do you do then? You obviously start betting.
The Indians don't have to trade a starter. But they're almost assuredly going to make the playoffs, and they better start planning for it. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin have both been so good that you'd probably feel comfortable starting them in a playoff game. With Mike Clevinger also ready in Triple-A (ignore his small sample size struggles in the majors this year), Cleveland has pitching to deal, all without mortgaging its playoff outlook there.
The thing is that Cleveland doesn't have very many holes. Jose Ramirez has been surprisingly good while playing both third base and left field, but they could upgrade at one of those two. With Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer almost ready, a third baseman makes more sense if they're targeting upper-tier, long-term solutions. They could also use a catcher and maybe bullpen help because everyone can always use bullpen help.
Maybe it's time to call Tampa and see what they think about a Danny Salazar/Evan Longoria swap. Maybe Trevor Bauer for one of the Yankees' relievers makes more sense. Or they could always try to turn Trevor Bauer into prospects into Jonathan Lucroy. Cleveland has a very deep farm as well, and they could acquire two of those three while also not gutting the farm by trading one of their starters and one haul's worth of prospects.
Joe Ross - Washington Nationals
If you haven't noticed by now, I've organized these players in order of likeliness to be moved, and Ross is pretty far down on this list. It's a combination of Ross being a productive MLB starter on a contending team and the fact that the Nationals don't have any major holes on their roster -- they're kind of like the Cubs East.
But if you apply the same logic to Cleveland trading a starter, then the Nationals could afford to live without Ross as well. (They currently are, as Ross is on the DL right now.) Between Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark, if the playoffs started today, Ross probably wouldn't be in the playoff rotation even if he were healthy. And that doesn't even include Lucas Giolito, either. So the next question would be -- what exactly would they want for Ross (with the obvious answer being: "nothing, we'll just keep him")? Well, if the Nationals do decide to move Ross, Andrew Miller strikes me as the most ideal candidate to target.
The point of this article wasn't to predict exactly who will get traded for whom, because that's an exercise in foolishness. But I hope this did illustrate just how many currently productive major leaguers are potentially available, and I truly believe that we will see more MLBer-for-MLBer swaps than we've ever seen at a trade deadline.
I'm just excited for the next two weeks while also praying that there's actually a lot of activity so I don't look like an idiot on August 2.
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Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.