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Narrow Wild Card margins may lead to a hectic MLB trade deadline

Commentary

In a world obsessed with the transaction just as much as the action, the next two weeks will be quite the whirlwind for fans of Major League Baseball. The All-Star break has passed and now, the impending trade deadline on July 31 has taken center stage.

While in recent years the addition of the second Wild Card spot per league has made even more teams become buyers at the deadline rather than sellers, this year another rule change will impact the trade scene. When in previous years the date of July 31 (or Aug. 1 as it was in 2016) signaled the end of trading in the traditional sense, it in fact was only the non-waiver trade deadline. In previous years, teams could still trade players well into the month of August, but the waiver process played a part in where those said players could wind up. In recent years, the most notable trade during the month of August was that of former Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros on Aug. 31, 2017. Verlander led the Astros to a World Series title later that season.

Now, the MLB trade deadline of July 31 applies to all trades, meaning the biggest moves in the league will all come by the end of this month. With the way the standings are at the moment, all but a select few teams across both the American League and the National League are in contention for a postseason spot.

In the American League, eight teams entered play on Monday either currently in the playoffs at the moment or within three games of a Wild Card spot. The best record in the AL belongs to the New York Yankees, who appear poised to add a starting pitcher over the next two weeks. The Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins are the other teams currently leading their respective divisions in the AL, and each have their own needs, as well. Houston’s starting rotation needs help at the back end, with Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley as the only reliable options at the moment. Minnesota, a surprise across the league with a 58-34 record entering play on Monday, could use a back of the bullpen arm to solidify its chances of winning the AL Central. Tampa Bay and Oakland entered play on Monday as the two Wild Card teams in the AL and both small market teams are on the look for cost-controlled talent. Meanwhile, three teams that are right on the heels of those two teams in the Wild Card race — Cleveland, Boston and Texas — all could make moves to take a shot at the postseason, as well.

In the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the clear front-runner, with a 62-33 record entering play on Monday. Though the Dodgers have the best record in baseball, that doesn’t mean they will be quiet around the deadline — in fact, they are likely to be one of the more aggressive teams, especially in search for bullpen upgrades.

The Atlanta Braves, with a clear lead over the rest of the NL for the second best record in the league, will likely target bullpen help, like the Dodgers. The Braves have been utilizing Luke Jackson as the team’s closer for the bulk of this season, but with only one save to his name before this season and six blown saves this year in 22 opportunities, the Braves could upgrade from Jackson in a year with plenty of big-name relievers on the trade market.

The rest of the NL is less clear of a picture, as entering play on Monday, the Chicago Cubs lead the NL Central by less than three games and both the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies have narrow leads in the Wild Card race. In terms of the NL Wild Card, only the Miami Marlins entered Monday more than six games out of the final playoff spot, with the New York Mets — despite a record of 42-51 — only six games back of the Phillies in the Wild Card race.

In terms of the American League, there are six teams who can be viewed as sellers already — the Baltimore Orioles, the Detroit Tigers, the Kansas City Royals, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Seattle Mariners and the Chicago White Sox. Baltimore, Kansas City and Seattle have already made trades to signify they are selling this deadline season, with Andrew Cashner, Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion among the names already dealt. Among those six teams labeled as clear sellers, there are attractive trade pieces among them. Detroit closer Shane Greene has been one of the most effective relievers in baseball this season and will likely be moved to a contender before the end of the month. The same can be said of Toronto’s Ken Giles and Chicago’s Alex Colome. Expect Greene to command the biggest haul of prospects in return, though all three could possibly close out games this October and will command hefty returns because of that. Toronto is also rumored to be shopping starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, who has already publicly welcomed the idea of a trade. As a young, cost-controlled starting pitcher, Stroman will demand a solid return for Toronto, if he were to move. In terms of offense, Toronto’s Justin Smoak, Detroit’s Nick Castellanos and Chicago’s Jose Abreu could all be available. Of the three, Abreu is clearly the superior player and would fetch a sizable return for the White Sox.

Among the National League trade targets, the biggest names available will become clear over the next two weeks. Miami has a few veteran pieces that may entice contenders, such as Starlin Castro, Neil Walker or most notably reliever Sergio Romo, but the big names are on teams that are not completely out of it yet. Zack Wheeler of the Mets may be traded, but he was placed on the injured list on Monday with right shoulder fatigue, which could scare off any interested team. The San Francisco Giants are likely to trade starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, along with relievers Will Smith and Tony Watson, barring a strong showing over the next two weeks to convince management otherwise. The same can be said about the Arizona Diamondbacks with starting pitcher Robbie Ray and closer Greg Holland — it all comes down to management’s decisions.

With so many teams within reach of the postseason with just over two weeks remaining until the trade deadline, the next two weeks will be crucial for the teams on the bubble to establish themselves as either buyers or sellers — especially in the National League. With so much uncertainty, one thing is for sure — there will be plenty of action before the deadline passes on July 31.

Twitter: @bradencarmen

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