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MLB Trade Deadline Preview: NL Central

Manny Machado won’t be coming to the NL Central, so the teams at the top will have to look elsewhere.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The NL Central has progressed about the same as last year. The Brewers started off hot, and the Cubs started off cold. The only difference is that the Cubs worked their way into first before the All-Star break. Only the Cubs and Brewers figure to be buyers at the deadline. The Pirates and Cardinals are caught in the middle without clear trade candidates, and the Reds have pieces they can move for the right price.

After missing out on Manny Machado, the Brewers stand at 7% odds of winning the division according to Fangraphs. Their odds of a postseason berth remain at a coin-flip, however. The Brewers still need help at shortstop if they want to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011. Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports that the Brewers have spoken with the Twins about Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier.

Escobar is on a one-year deal for the Twins, and he’s hitting .271/.327/.507 with a 120 wRC+. He’d make a fine consolation prize after being a runner-up in the Machado sweepstakes, especially since he’d be replacing Tyler Saladino and Orlando Arcia on Milwaukee.

Dozier is in the last year of his contract. He’s having a down year by his standards, .230/.314/.423 with a 100 wRC+, but he’d still be an upgrade over Jonathan Villar. Villar would likely slide to short if the Brewers were to acquire the Twins’ second baseman. Following the Machado trade, Ken Rosenthal reported the Brewers are focusing on Dozier.

It makes sense because Dozier is owed more money and would likely require fewer prospects, allowing Milwaukee to better address another need of theirs: starting pitching.

The Brewers have the prospects to acquire team-controlled starters Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard if the Mets do the right thing and trade them. They have also expressed interest in Nathan Eovaldi, who would be a free agent at the end of the year. Milwaukee should also be kicking the tires of J.A. Happ and Cole Hamels for rotation help. With Brad Hand off the market, they could look to the Marlins and try to work a deal for Kyle Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider, or Adam Conley.

The Cubs were also in the running for Manny Machado, though less aggressively so. Chicago is under less urgency to replace their shortstop or any of their position players. The ten Cubs with the most plate appearances all have a wRC+ of 100 or above going into the second half. They didn’t need Machado, but he would have been nice to have if they got him.

With Yu Darvish hurt and Tyler Chatwood walking as many batters as he strikes out, the Cubs may look for starting rotation help, but most of their focus will likely be on securing bullpen arms to bolster their postseason roster. Brian Duensing is pitching more like the Brian Duensing of old, and he was a major contributor last season.

Though they weren’t able to work a deal with the Orioles for Machado, they could still make a trade for Zach Britton. Britton, who recently returned from Achilles tendon surgery, has had an inauspicious beginning to his 2018. In 14.2 innings he only has a 21.7 K% and he’s walked 15% of the batters faced. That’s a small sample though. Over the last calendar year, he’s still at a 13.1 BB%, but the Cubs appear confident he can return to form and help them through October.

At the bottom of the division lay the Reds, who have three players they could move by the end of the month. Scooter Gennett has been talked about as someone who could go this year, but since he’s under control through 2020, the Reds would need to receive a hefty package of prospects. There might not be a contender who is in need of Gennett’s skills this year aside from the team that released him: the Brewers.

Raisel Iglesias is another player that’s drawn interest from teams such as the Astros and the Red Sox. He’s also under contract through 2020, so if a team wants him, they’ll have to pay through the nose.

Someone who is likely to go, and probably should go, is Matt Harvey. The Reds picked up the beleaguered former ace earlier in the year from the Mets, and since then, he’s put up a 3.64 ERA despite a 6.85 K/9. With as thin as the starting pitching market is this deadline, and with as many teams who need starting pitching help, the Reds could find a buyer for him.

The Pirates are also effectively out of contention, and they don’t figure to be especially active at the deadline. The Pirates could deal closer Felipe Vazquez, but it’s a similar situation to Iglesias. The Pirates would really have to be enamored with the prospect package.

In the middle are the Cardinals, who are another team that hasn’t decided whether they’ll buy or sell. They’ll likely stand pat since it wouldn’t be worthwhile to sell their future for a Wild Card run, as the Cardinals window is perpetually propped open.

Following the Machado trade, the chances of the NL Central being disrupted have been greatly diminished. There’s still a possibility, however slight, of a big move being made for someone under team control.