By Joel Sherman
Theo Epstein exclaimed, “If not now, when?”, and the mindset/motto for last year’s trade deadline was formed.
The Cubs’ president of baseball operations was explaining why he gave up an elite prospect, Gleyber Torres, to land Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees. An Indians executive could have offered the same sentiment in explaining all they surrendered for Andrew Miller.
Of course, Brian Cashman could have stated the same, in the opposite direction, in trading Chapman and Miller – “if not know, when” to seize the best opportunity for a renovation? I wonder if this is setting us up for this July’s main explanation for major moves: “If the Yankees can be sellers, why can’t we?”
In the last betting lines offered by Bovada before the season, the top seven over-under win totals belonged to the Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox, Indians, Nationals, Astros and Mets.
The next five were the Giants, Mariners, Cardinals, Rangers and Blue Jays – between 84.5 and 87.5 wins. Going into Thursday, those teams had five of the majors’ worst nine records. Yes, it is still early, enough time for a few of those teams to reverse toward expected contention (Seattle, for example, won five of six after a 2-8 start). But all five? That seems unlikely when each already has demonstrated shortcomings that are not easily fixed.
I think all, if motivated to sell, would behave like the Yankees – deal in the short term to improve the long term, but without going into a total rebuild. But think about what their presence could mean to the trade deadline marketplace:
Their history is to go for it (but so was the Yankees’). They have an older roster, a tepid farm system, the Dodgers looking like an NL West monster for years to come and the Rockies and Diamondbacks possibly being factors as early as this season. Their most intriguing trade piece would be Johnny Cueto, who is in season two of a six-year, $130 million contract, but who can opt out after this season.
There is risk that a team acquires Cueto and he doesn’t opt out — then either declines or gets injured. Or, perhaps, there are teams that hope Cueto would stay instead of wading into the free-agent market. How would the Giants even know how to properly assess value for a player who can stay or opt out? Might the Giants consider dealing Matt Moore or Jeff Samardzija instead?
Versatile Eduardo Nunez is in his walk year and would draw interest.
No one has made near as many trades in the past 12 months as Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto. But that has been with eyes on ending the majors’ longest playoff drought (since 2001). Thus, the Mariners are the least likely on this list to sell. Also, they do not have obvious pieces that draw a lot in return. Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez have too much owed on their contracts, in years and dollars, while in their 30s to garner a big return. Perhaps Nelson Cruz ($14 million owed in 2018) would be appealing.
They lack prime stars and have too many similar types jamming the roster, leaving them unable to create a fearsome lineup or strong defense. They can better position themselves for next year, when Alex Reyes should be back after Tommy John surgery to top the rotation with Carlos Martinez.
Would they deal Matt Carpenter? He would get far more in return than more expendable infielders Matt Adams, Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong. Lance Lynn and closer Seung-hwan Oh are in their walk years.
They have expended a lot of farm system assets in recent years to shoot for their first title (unsuccessfully). So, they could use a reboot. They would love to re-sign Yu Darvish, but if they don’t, would they move the free-agent-to-be? Catcher Jonathan Lucroy also is set to become a free agent, as are Carlos Gomez and Mike Napoli. Cole Hamels has just one more guaranteed year after 2017, but with his 2019 buyout, he still would be owed $28.5 million. But he is a lefty with tons of playoff experience.
5. Blue Jays
They have the majors’ worst record and oldest roster, not a good combo when you also lack upper-level minor league difference-makers. Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki are expensive declining pieces. Would they ever consider dealing Josh Donaldson (a free agent after 2018) to recoup some of the elite prospect base surrendered for him, Tulowitzki and David Price? Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano are both free agents after the season, and J.A. Happ after next season, so all could become available.