The MLB trade deadline looms with the seconds ticking away ahead of the 3pm central deadline on Wednesday. A market filled with fewer names than we have seen in some time, at a time where teams have to make their decisions now instead of waiting for the waiver deadline come August. With so many teams still having to make a decision on if they are buyers or sellers, getting a clear picture of what could come over the next few days is nearly impossible. We have seen a few players moved already and watched a team everyone thought would sell in the New York Mets, become buyers for now after the trade sending Marcus Stroman from Toronto to Queens on Sunday.
Of the few things we know, the Astros are on the list of teams looking to buy ahead of Wednesday's deadline. So first, let's try to decide who lands on each side of things. We start with the American League.
1) Houston Astros
2) New York Yankees
3) Boston Red Sox
4) Minnesota Twins
5) Oakland A's
These teams feel like locks to make additions as they jockey for positioning in the AL down the stretch. There are currently six teams in the American League with at least 60 wins this season, with the Boston Red Sox sitting at 59 ahead of Monday's action across the league. You're probably looking at this list and saying, well, this genius left some obvious buyers off this list, so let's get to how I would categorize the obvious that were left off.
Teams That Could Be BUYERS and SELLERS:
1) Tampa Bay Rays:
Right in the mix of the AL Wild Card race and everything about them says they should buy, buy and buy again. But this is the Rays we are talking about, a team that despite having everything about them that says contender that plays in a market that says they should forever be sellers. We have seen them ship out big league names already in a Sunday trade that sent out Christian Arroyo and Hunter Wood to the Indians, while also sending out Ian Gibaut to the Rangers. Those are not moves that say this team is selling, those pieces are not significant big league pieces that change their outlook this year, but are all guys that have played for them in the majors this season. For me, it tells you the story of the Rays. They might send out pieces that are contributing for them in a season that they should feel they are contending in to shuffle around finances or spots on their big league and forty man roster. While selling off minor pieces like that for either the reasons of finances or current health situations on their club, they made a buyers move by shipping out a couple prospects to the Blue Jays for veteran utility man Eric Sogard. Overall they will be in the buyers market given how real their chances are to make a deep push in the postseason, the question with them as it always is, how far will they be willing to go to buy a big significant piece for the stretch run?
2) Cleveland Indians:
The way 2019 started for Cleveland, it felt like a lock that they would be sellers. Their turnaround has not been talked about enough. Saving their season without Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrassco for a big chunk of it, while getting nowhere near the normal level of production out of Jose Ramirez, is downright impressive. They have had many guys step up and made this season not feel like a loss for a team that was playing in the World Series back in 2016 and winning the AL Central with ease both years after that. While they should absolutely be in the buyers category, money puts them in this weird spot for me. Are they just so fed up and done with Trevor Bauer that they move on now and possibly get the type of return that can help them retool for the future while still contending now? Would they consider after just a year ago landing Brad Hand, shipping him out for a bigger return than what they sent out to get him? With the Twins struggles in July and their surge back into the division race, I would be surprised if they did any selling and land in the buyers category even with some of their financial constraints.
The American League should not have teams stuck in that middle like the two I listed above, but for me it is something you have to ask as the deadline nears given how tough it will be to be the one that comes out on top of the superior league. Now to the last category for the American League.
1) Toronto Blue Jays
2) Baltimore Orioles
3) Chicago White Sox
4) Kansas City Royals
5) Detroit Tigers
6) Los Angeles Angels
7) Texas Rangers
8) Seattle Mariners
Of these eight teams, we know for certain that the Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals, Tigers and Mariners are already all in on selling off pieces. The White Sox are closer to contending again than most of this list, but they have many pieces teams will covet and should ship some of them off. The Angels are above the .500 for now, but we all know that at best that's where they land with this current group. They do not have many pieces that teams will jump all over, but a few names worth keeping an eye on. The Rangers overplayed their level of talent in the first half and have trended back to earth over the last month. They would be silly to not shop all of their pitching in a very thin market and with the way things have gone of late, it would not be smart to hold onto any player with value even with the thought of fielding at least a comparable team when they open their new ballpark next year.
Now to the other league that has a lot more volatility outside of the clear top dog once again in the Los Angeles Dodgers. So let's dive into it and figure out who is going where in the National League.
1) Los Angeles Dodgers
2) Atlanta Braves
3) Chicago Cubs
4) St. Louis Cardinals
5) Milwaukee Brewers
6) Washington Nationals
7) Philadelphia Phillies
We know the top five listed here are all in and would be silly not to be. Maybe the Nationals think they have no chance at overcoming their dumpster fire of a bullpen and consider selling off a couple of pieces while buying at a smaller level. The same could be said about the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East....teams that technically are contenders, but most likely on the outside looking in come October even if one of them is currently tied for a Wild Card birth while the other is just a game back. To the next obvious category.
1) Miami Marlins
2) Cincinnati Reds
3) Pittsburgh Pirates
4) Arizona Diamondbacks
5) Colorado Rockies
The Marlins no doubt sell, the Pirates have already started by shipping off Jordan Lyles to the Brewers earlier today, Arizona would shock the world if they did not sell off their assets and the Reds might not be fire sale type of sellers, but should ship out a few of their pieces of value. The Rockies are the interesting one of the group. A team that started so poorly, completely turned it around and went back into the tank after making moves to improve over the winter. They will not be returning to the race again in this lost season and should find themselves shipping out some pieces to start their re-tooling for the 2020 season. Now to the next category.
Should Be SELLERS But Probably Won't:
1) San Francisco Giants
The classic case of the team that does not want to piss off a loyal fan base in what is the final year for a historic manager. They should sell. Period, end of story. They are not good and if they buy, it goes against everything that bringing over Farhan Zaidi from the Dodgers to run things said they should be this year. They have a very depleted system and a limited number of actual assets to move. Not trading Madison Bumgarner and letting him walk in the winter would be one of the worst baseball decisions a team has made in the last few years. Ask the Kansas City Royals how things are going after being duped into not selling off their pending free agents ahead of the 2017 deadline. It can be summed up in two words...not good.
2) New York Mets
They should honestly have their own category...the, "What the hell are they smoking?" category. Their winter made no sense at and it started with their hiring of an agent to be their General Manager in Brodie Van Wagenen. While not to knock Van Wagenen, if you believe everything that has been written, Mets ownership was only looking for one thing this winter in their next GM...a yes man. Ownership wanted someone to come in and retool and not strip it down like a smart team would, something all the candidates with experience in baseball operations said they should do. The doubled down on the hire of Van Wagenen by letting him go out and pull off the disastrous trade with the Mariners for the crippling contract of Robinson Cano. While they did land Edwin Diaz in the move, there is one things bad teams do not need and that is a closer. They gave money to a former Van Wagenen client in Jed Lowrie who has not played this season and brought back Jeurys Familia in free agency after shipping him away to Oakland in July last year, on a three year deal for thirty million. Familia has rewarded their spending with an ERA over seven on the year. There might be just one team that is a bigger laughing stock in all of sport because of how they are run, that team happens to play in the same market as the Mets, in the New York Knicks. Trading for Marcus Stroman should not shock anyone. The Mets are dumb and made a move that dumb teams make. They shipped out two of their top ten prospects in the rankings of their farm system for a guy that has just one more year of control. I understand why many teams, possibly even the Astros, would be skeptical of spending time talking trade with this team. They think too highly of players they have and will more than likely end up wasting your time by holding onto their players while screwing up the rest of the market by going too far to trade for players they have no true need for. You do you, Mets...you are officially the new Baltimore Orioles of Major League Baseball.
Let's wrap up the National League with this final category.
Could sell a guy or two while also being BUYERS for the future:
1) San Diego Padres
This franchise should be a monster sooner, rather than later. One of the absolute best farm systems has them in a position of power. While they have taken another step forward with the emergence of youth this season that they have supplemented with big spending on Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado in each of the last two winters, they very well could move a few guys who are at their peak value now, while trading for pieces with control for their very bright future. Overall it could be a very quiet deadline for San Diego, but for a team that will not be their this October, they have the ammunition to win this deadline and set themselves up to be real contenders in 2020.
With the lay of the land all taken care of now as the deadline looms, what does this all mean for the Houston Astros? This is a market that very well push Jeff Luhnow out of his comfort zone if he truly feels this team needs a big fish in the rotation now, while also finding an arm with control given that this very well could be the final season in Houston for Gerrit Cole.
The Astros operate in the world of having rich people problems. With health now back on their side in the lineup, there might not be a lineup in all of baseball that can be as great as theirs. The same can be said about the top of the rotation. Verlander and Cole are as good as it gets and they are setting themselves up for an epic race between each other for who might take home the Cy Young Award in the American League this season. Wade Miley is getting the credit he deserves on a local level. From the national standpoint, his name does not bring him the respect he deserves. While he does not put up the massive strikeout numbers that JV and Cole do, there are very few contenders that would mad about having to start him the third game of a playoff series. Despite the recent blips from Osuna, the back end of he and Ryan Pressly, like Verlander and Cole in the rotation, might be the best one-two punch of any bullpen in the game right now. While they absolutely would benefit from an addition or two to ease the burden on getting to those guys, the current state of the bullpen should not have you up in arms wondering how on earth will this team survive any game once the starter leaves in a postseason game.
When the Astros enter a series against any team, the on paper game will make them the favorite in most matchups, even with concerns behind their current top three in the rotation. Call me crazy, but if you tell me the club gets four starts in a seven game series that goes the distance from Verlander and Cole, my money would be on them in each of those games. Of course they will not both go undefeated in every October start, but right now, all we can do is play this silly on paper game. So with what we know about this current market and the state of things for the team right now as the deadline nears, the intrigue for what could go down is at the forefront of all of our minds. If there is one thing that can be said about this market and how it might affect the Astros now and down the road, there is one thing that I feel certain of...buyer beware, this deadline is as risky it gets.
Sex appeal. It exists in every walk of life. We are naturally drawn to it and it exists in the world of sports as well. The sexiest names always bring the most excitement. Under Jeff Luhnow, the Astros have never feared making a move that lacks sex appeal. They did it when they landed Justin Verlander and again when they landed Gerrit Cole. While they would not be where they are today without those moves, it is the ones that do not fall in that category that tell us the complete story of where the franchise is today. Think about last year. There was nothing about Ryan Pressly that geeked up the fan base. He was the definition of the unknown to anyone that is not a complete baseball junkie. Roberto Osuna in terms of production should have landed in the Verlander and Cole category, but with the mess surrounding him at the time, the baggage outweighed the thought of baseball production. The names that have mattered and played pivotal roles in the Astros rise to the elite of the elite are countless. But when you go back and look at so many of the names still here or those that have come and gone, you find a trend with so many...the lack of sex appeal at the time of acquiring them. It is what makes the Astros the elite of the elite. They have found guys that to their credit have worked their butts off to elevate their status in in the league to those of sex appeal, but so many were just afterthoughts when they landed in an Astros uniform.
I bring all of that up because I think it tells the story of this trade deadline. There are more players that should be on the move that will not move the needle for fan bases than the players that do. This type of market is where the best of the best evaluators and decision makers should stand out. Good news for Houston, this is a place where the man making the calls for your team has stood out so many times before.
The names the Astros have been linked to so far have landed in both categories. There was an early pipe dream of the Nationals making Scherzer available to the most recent rumors of the club checking in with the Mets on Noah Syndergaard. We as fans live a fantasy land when it comes to playing the role of general manager from our couches. We think of the now and disregard the future ramifications of any moves that could be made. While I try to keep a level head on all the possible scenarios, I too, like all of you, sit back and dream of the easy trades we all pull off on our video games at home.
The absolute worst case scenario has hit for the Astros to enter a market that truly is so thin when it comes to top of the rotation pitching. The club passed on overextending themselves to retain Charlie Morton in the winter. As we sit here today, I like you and maybe even Jeff Luhnow, wish there could be a do-over button on that decision. From a logical business decision what they did makes sense. Morton broke down at the end of the year and is closer to 40 than he is 30. Locking into a guaranteed two years at 30 million dollars total was not a smart move given that they had Verlander and Cole's free agency looming. Locking up JV for two more years after 2019 eased the pain. I do not care what a single person says, locking into an aging Verlander was what you had to do. The dude has not slowed down one tick and you would be silly to bet against him even if father time is undefeated. The club had to get one of the two in Verlander locked into an extension before the season and they did just that.
The situation for Gerrit Cole was going to play out this way 99 out of 100 times. He will be 29 when he hits the market, has Scott Boras as his agent and after all of the potential big fish next winter locked up extensions, there was no way that he and Boras were not going to bet on themselves this year and in free agency where getting a huge deal is no longer the norm for even the best of the best. All hope should not be lost that the Astros can keep him long term, but it playing out exactly how it has was always the massive favorite.
Luhnow and the Astros, like every single team in sports, have to take calculated risks. Letting Morton and Keuchel walk before even locking up Verlander was just that. They were able to do so because, again, the Astros have been playing with rich people problems over the last few years. There was no reason to bet against them and the ammunition they had in the system when it comes to starting pitching. Unfortunately, the worst case scenario has hit for the club this season and possibly for the long term. Forrest Whitley entered the year as the without a doubt best pitching prospect in baseball. He was not just handed that designation, he earned it. From the struggles on the mound early to the lengthy amount of time missed due to injury, 2019 has become a complete loss for a guy that absolutely should have made his debut this year. Corbin Martin was the next man up. He earned his shot and after his first big league start on Mother's Day, it felt like just another big time prospect that was going to just continue the trend of guys coming up and never going back down. We know what happened, he lost his command and had to be sent back down and now the rest of this season and all of next season are now lost thanks to the need for Tommy John Surgery. JB Bukauskas was thought by all of us to be the next guy in line after those two, but his struggles have pushed him out of the thought of making his debut anytime before the middle of next season, if he is not included in a package before the deadline.
With that worst case scenario actually playing out when it comes to their internal options, they needed someone to really grab ahold of the fourth spot in the rotation and hope you can piece together the fifth spot until outside reinforcements arrived. Brad Peacock has had his ups and downs and is now hurt, Collin McHugh struggled after a fast start and dealt with his own elbow issues, all of these things putting a huge strain on the pen and the top of the rotation to shoulder the load over the last couple of months. They have done very well to overcome so much this point, staying near their win pace of each of the last two historic seasons for the franchise. They played a month of the schedule with three-fourths of their lineup being the Triple-A squad and pieced together as best they could starts out of Framber Valdez, Rogelio Armenteros and Jose Urquidy. Just from the standpoint of eating some serious innings the rest of the season, this team needs at least one addition to their starting rotation.
If the Astros want sex appeal to add to the rotation, Noah Syndergaard is the man for the job. Much like Gerrit Cole when they landed him from the Pirates, he is a guy you feel you should take to the next level given how high octane his stuff is. He should absolutely be in the stratosphere of the likes of Cole and Verlander when it comes to strikeouts, but he just is not. With the tweaking of pitch usage and the likely ditching of his two seam fastball, if you find his best of his best, this is a guy that can anchor your rotation for years to come and make the potential loss of Gerrit Cole easier to stomach. On top of all that, this is the perfect guy for the Astros and their rich people problems. They might only need a fourth starter in a playoff series two or three times and they can afford to target players with specific matchups in mind. Syndergaard represents the perfect addition because he has the stuff to mow teams down without having them put the ball in play, specifically, your biggest potential threat in the American League...the New York Yankees. This all sounds nice and perfect but if you read what I said about the Mets, you know there is no reason to feel good about getting a deal done with that dumpster fire of an organization.
The Astros have rarely made moves for rental pieces under Luhnow, Scott Kazmir in 2015 being the exception to this rule. While adding a left handed starter to the rotation for the stretch run is not the perfect addition given that your biggest threats are very right handed at the plate and with the market having more left handed starters available than right handed pitchers, I do think the Astros would very much be interested in Madison Bumgarner as a rental if the Giants made the smart decision of moving him. With the rumors being that the Giants are going to end up buying, it might be the proper thought to eliminate him from our thoughts for now, but of course not completely. Of the remaining starters that could move, Robbie Ray is the most intriguing option for them in my view. With another year of control and his pitch usage being in line with what the Astros love to go along with a very big strikeout rate, for me this is the name they should be the hottest after over the next couple of days. Taking Syndergaard and Bumgarner off the list, here is how I would rank the names available when it comes to starters.
1) LHP Robbie Ray- Arizona Diamondbacks
Read what I said about him above, my favorite of the names we have heard outside of the two that I am not listing here ahead of these guyes.
2) RHP Trevor Bauer- Cleveland Indians
I do not want him. You do not want him. The Astros could want him. Strictly from a baseball standpoint, a perfect fit for what the Astros like. All the other garbage that comes with him has me wanting to kick him off the list. Another year of control, when he is great he is great, when he sucks...we know what happens. Questioning his mental makeup is very fair. While I do not think the clubhouse would love it on paper, I have do not have much worry that they would let him ruin chemistry. They would probably give him the Giles treatment and act like he is not there and root like hell for him on the days that he pitches. I do not think the Indians move him and if they did, he lands here.
3) RHP Zack Wheeler- New York Mets
We have already gone over how difficult it will be getting something done with the Mets. He fits the Astros profile and I do know that are some in the organization that absolutely would love to get him here. Of course he has been hurt and the Mets are praying teams do not have issues with his medicals. He should probably be at the top of this list. The health concerns and again, THE METS, have pushed him down to four here for me.
4) LHP Matthew Boyd- Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are selling high here and are very smart to do so for a guy with a ton of team control left. They want a ton in return if reports are true. With this being his first big breakout season, there is not a big enough track record of success for me to love the name given what it should take.
5) RHP Tanner Roark- Cincinnati Reds
Rental, innings eating, veteran arm that would help get you through rest of regular season. A nice arm but clearly not better than your fourth. Will not get anyone excited and that is okay. If you are landing him, you have to think the Astros are pivoting to beefing up the pen for the postseason over landing a bigger name starter.
6) LHP Mike Minor- Texas Rangers
The Rangers would be dumb to rule out aiding the Astros run at another title. Business is business and if the Astros package is the best you can get, that is what you should take. Feels like other teams might be hotter for him than the Astros and I am completely fine with that playing out. Let the Twins or whoever reach a bit here for a solid but not great arm. Yes he made his first All-Star team this season, but go look at how he has done since the break...not All-Star level quality results.
Those six names are the some of the most talked about available names and that is how I would line them up in terms of ranking with fit, performance and control in mind. If I was to throw a dart at the board today, the Monday of deadline week, I will guess that they land either Robbie Ray or Zack Wheeler. Now time for more of this waiting game.
If you have made it this far into this post, first off, thank you. I found myself sitting on my butt this afternoon and thought, what the hell, let's just throw up a blog on it all. Little did I know, five hours after starting it, I would just be wrapping it up.
The ramifications for the Astros this week are massive for the rest of the season as well as their plan this winter and the winters to come. I have already here and plenty of times on the air throughout the season. The Astros have rich people problems and that is a great thing to have when you are looking for upgrades before a trade deadline. While they have needs yes, they do not have a massive hole at the moment that is going to keep them from winning it all or being the favorites to do so. Look at the Yankees and the situation with their starters. Calling it a hot mess is being kind. Same can be said for basically every other contender in baseball at this moment. While the Astros have a depth issue in the rotation at the moment, what they have is what others do not. They have two of the top ten and probably five best pitchers in their rotation at this very moment. There is no one-two punch better than what they have. That is why them playing at the high end of a very thin market is tough to see unless it is the perfect scenario. While most of us only see one guy fitting that mold in Syndergaard, they very well might not. Potential is awesome and fun but they are not in a spot risk future success based off of it. Taking the bias and name value he brings, how much better are the Astros chances to win it all with him, compared to what they are right now without him? For me, the difference this season for playing at that level in this market is a risk that I really do struggle to fall in love with. While I have no doubt in my mind they will get the best out of a starter like a Syndergaard, what if he comes here and is exactly what he has been? A guy with amazing stuff and the name value and raw fear factor when he stands on the mound, but the results do not match what the potential says he is. It is all a massive risk and that is why Jeff Luhnow is in the position he is and not you or I.
At the end of the day, my guess as of today is going to be that they land a middle of the market type of starter and supplement that by making a couple of additions to beef up the bullpen, with one of those moves being of major significance. I think we should keep our eyes on Felipe Vazquez of the Pirates and Rasiel Iglesias of the Reds. Add one of those two guys along with another arm to bridge the gap to the back end of your pen, I am ready to strap it up and watch them get after it with the top three of the rotation they have now.
Whatever way the Astros go, this I know, I will trust the road they decide to go down. As an organization they have earned that from all of us. They will screw up, just like every team does, and we will criticize them when it is appropriate to do so. What Jeff Luhnow is weighing now is whether or not there is a guy available worth mortgaging some of their future for. Whether you like Kyle Tucker or you don't, it is silly to decide what he is going to be long term. The fact is, the Astros could lose all three of their starters in the outfield after next season. While you and I might think that is an easy decision to make, when building a team, that is no small matter. They believe Tucker will match the hype that comes with him. I again will trust their belief. That is what they have earned from me. If we get the news that they trade their best prospect before Wednesday, I will trust them with that as well. I will guess that Wednesday comes and goes and Tucker is still in the organization. My guess is as good as yours however, there is never any telling what Jeff Luhnow might have up his sleeve.