The MLB trade deadline is just days away, and we’re all waiting for a Juan Soto blockbuster or another splash that will change the course of the rest of the season — and beyond.
There’s a big difference between what’s going to happen and what we think should happen, so we asked ESPN.com’s Bradford Doolittle and David Schoenfield to figure out the best possible trades for the biggest names we’re hearing could move.
Doolittle: Here’s the part where we reemphasize these are trades we personally would like to see, not trades we think will happen. Nevertheless, when I imagine Soto on the St. Louis Cardinals, I do so knowing they have been termed one of the clubs that match up best with the Nationals’ trade asks.
I don’t think it will happen because the ever above-average Cardinals just don’t do this kind of in-season splash. But to see Soto lead the way through a postseason run that will send Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols into the twilight would be an amazing baseball story. The Cardinals certainly could use Soto’s bat in the outfield, though he would weaken St. Louis’ elite defense out there in the grass. With Paul Goldschmidt signed only through 2024, maybe St. Louis even could make a run at giving Soto the $500 million deal he wants.
The package going back to the Nats would be headlined by either Nolan Gorman or prospect Jordan Walker as a starting point. While GM Mike Rizzo said that Washington isn’t going to fold Patrick Corbin and his upside-down contract into a deal if it dilutes the prospect return, perhaps if the Nationals include some cash, that could expand the deal even more. That is if the Cardinals’ scouts see something fixable in Corbin, because St. Louis needs the pitching. But the Cardinals also need Soto, or at least I need them to need Soto.
Schoenfield: You all are loving the Soto trade rumors, dreaming up scenarios, I’m sure, where he lands on your team. I hear you; as a long-suffering Mariners fan, I’d love to see Soto hitting behind Julio Rodriguez. It’s all good and fun and innocent … until Soto is inevitably traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. I say this knowing GM A.J. Preller of the Padres will end up offering MacKenzie Gore, C.J. Abrams, Robert Hassell and three orcas from SeaWorld. The biggest deadline names, however, almost always go to a team already in first place.
Think Justin Verlander to the Astros and Yu Darvish to the Dodgers in 2017, Manny Machado to the Dodgers in 2018, Zack Greinke to the Astros in 2019, Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers or Javier Baez to the Mets in 2021. Note that the Dodgers were just mentioned three times.
Executive Andrew Friedman loves the trade deadline and he’s staring at a lineup that features Max Muncy hitting .158 and Cody Bellinger .205. With Chris Taylor injured, the Dodgers have been playing Trayce Thompson in the outfield and DHing lightweights like Hanser Alberto and Jake Lamb. Plus, let’s face it: In this era of great Dodgers teams, they haven’t won a World Series in a 162-game season. They want a real title, not a COVID-19 one. Soto in Dodger Blue. Not so fun anymore, is it?
Doolittle: Why should big markets get to have all the fun? The Minnesota Twins are all-in after signing Carlos Correa. They need a No. 1 starter but also could use an everyday DH to plug into the middle of their lineup. This move, along with additional moves to deepen the bullpen, would make Minnesota a very dangerous team in the playoffs this season and next. Of course, the Twins need to get to the playoffs first, and with Ohtani on board, that would help them finally gain some separation in the AL Central race. After next season, when Ohtani hits free agency, then the big-market teams can get another crack.
Minnesota has good depth in the pitching prospects the Angels need (Josh Winder for starters) but can also offer up near-ready position talent like Alex Kirilloff and the currently injured Royce Lewis from position groups where the Twins have decent coverage. Maybe they can expand the prospect pool just a little and get Noah Syndergaard from the Halos as well. I need to see this happen.
Schoenfield: This is the best New York Mets team since at least 1988, a team with a chance to win 100 games, a team that is not going to collapse in the final two months like last year, a Mets team that actually plays good defense and has the most dominant closer in the game in Edwin Diaz, a team that absolutely can go all the way.
Now imagine this team with Shohei Ohtani and a playoff rotation with Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Ohtani, Taijuan Walker and, if you need him, Chris Bassitt (and you will probably need him, given Ohtani requires more than four days of rest between starts and deGrom might as well). And picture Ohtani serving as the DH when he’s not pitching — the Mets do need more power, with 58 fewer home runs than the Braves, the team they’re trying to hold off in the NL East (which is important as well, so you can skip that first-round best-of-three series).
The Angels will want Francisco Alvarez, arguably the best prospect in the minors. It’s Ohtani. Make the trade. Then sign him to a huge extension.
Doolittle: The Seattle Mariners are in position to end a 21-year playoff drought. They have baseball’s itchiest texter in GM Jerry DiPoto, who began this season with supreme optimism that Seattle was ready to break out. It’s a mindset that has to only amp up his eagerness with the deadline approaching. The starting pitching has been middle-of-the-pack, but it projects to regress in the wrong direction from here on out.
Adding Castillo to the top of that group puts the Mariners on track to host a first-round series, and if he stays as hot as he has been in recent outings, Seattle can do some damage once it gets to October. Send the Reds Matt Brash and another prospect, maybe take on Mike Moustakas’ contract, and get ready to roll.
Schoenfield: The Twins are the one first-place team where Castillo can step in and become the team’s No. 1 starter, which is all the incentive the Twins should require to make a move. Aside from that, Sonny Gray and Chris Archer are averaging less than five innings per start and Joe Ryan isn’t much over five. This is a rotation that not only is solidly mediocre (17th in the majors in ERA), but also rarely goes deep into games, tied for 26th in quality starts. Obviously, you want to make sure Castillo is healthy after recently missing two weeks before his start on Wednesday, but one additional incentive: The rival Guardians are a strong landing spot for Castillo, as well.
Doolittle: It’s pretty clear teams like the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays don’t assign value to the catcher position with the same methodology that goes into the calculation of WAR metrics. Because both of those teams seem to always have a glaring hole behind the plate according to WAR and yet they win and continue to be considered among the smartest organizations around. With that caveat: An Astros lineup that has the potential for near perfection ranks dead last there, according to any kind of consensus WAR measure.
With recent rumors suggesting Houston might be willing to move a controllable starter like Jose Urquidy, the Astros and Cubs start to match up nicely. This assumes Houston really does feel like it can do better than Martin Maldonado behind the plate.
Schoenfield: OK, I know I already added Ohtani to the Mets. Well, they should trade for Contreras as well. Does owner Steve Cohen want to win a World Series or not? He very much does. You want to know what Mets catchers are hitting? Entering Wednesday, .199/.245/.266. That’s the same OPS as Mario Mendoza, the symbol for offensive futility, and ranks 29th in the majors. There are other teams that will want Contreras — the bottom five teams in catcher OPS are the Rays, Astros, Guardians, Mets and Cardinals, all playoff contenders — so a trade, even as a rental, will require a couple of good prospects in return.
Contreras rates on par with James McCann as a framer, so you shouldn’t lose much on defense, at least once Contreras gets comfortable with the pitching staff; he’s a veteran, so that shouldn’t be an issue. How about this lineup: CF Brandon Nimmo, RF Starling Marte, DH Ohtani, 1B Pete Alonso, SS Francisco Lindor, C Contreras, LF Mark Canha, 2B Jeff McNeil, 3B Eduardo Escobar. That’s a lineup to make even a multibillionaire happy.
The Washington Nationals should trade Josh Bell to the …
Doolittle: Bell also makes a lot of sense for the Astros, but I’m trying to spread things around, so I’m sending him to the Cleveland Guardians. Any team acquiring Bell has to go in with its eyes open, knowing it is more likely to get the player Bell is likely to be going forward than the player who had an All-Star-level first half.
For Cleveland, Bell is an upgrade at first base in either scenario, and the Guardians would not have any trouble in meeting Washington’s asking price. And if Bell is actually able to replicate his first-half production, that could be enough to get the Guardians over the top in what figures to be tight races for the AL Central title and/or the sixth playoff slot in the AL.
Schoenfield: I’m not against the San Diego Padres going for Soto, who might prove to be too irresistible for Preller — no matter the cost. What I’m saying: Don’t stop at Soto. The Padres are 18th in the majors in OPS at first base, but that includes Eric Hosmer’s torrid April, which was completely out of line from all his other months the past two seasons. Since the beginning of May, they’re 26th in OPS at first base. They’re also just 16th in OPS from their DHs, with a collective .231/.318/.379 line that leaves plenty of room for improvement. Bell can slot in at either position and suddenly a 2-3-4 of Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Bell looks like a championship middle of the order.
The Chicago Cubs should trade Ian Happ to the …
Doolittle: The Padres have to do something at the deadline and I love the idea of them going heavy after both Happ and David Robertson. Taylor Rogers is a solid end-of-the-bullpen guy, but the Padres need depth down there. Meanwhile, Happ is just a flat-out roster upgrade. You can use him at first, fill in at second, anywhere in the outfield or pencil him at DH whether there is a lefty or righty on the mound. There isn’t a roster he doesn’t fit into.
San Diego has the prospect depth to deal from, with Class A outfielder James Wood a possible fit for Chicago as someone who has been moving up the prospect charts and could school the Cubs clubhouse on literary theory. The time is now for the Padres and a deal like this reflects that. Make this trade, get Tatis back in the lineup and look out, Dodgers and Mets.
Schoenfield: This is more from the files of “It makes too much sense not to happen,” but with Adam Duvall out for the year and Eddie Rosario still struggling (16 strikeouts and no walks since his return from eye surgery), the Atlanta Braves really could use a left fielder. Happ is under team control for another season, so the Cubs don’t have to trade him — but they are also still deep into their rebuild and Happ should net a nice return. He’s also a good fit for the Braves as a switch-hitter in a lineup that features just two lefties in Matt Olson and rookie Michael Harris II.
Doolittle: More than anything, I just want the Baltimore Orioles to behave like a team that is trying to make the playoffs. After four seasons of .326 baseball entering 2022, their fans deserve that. And I wouldn’t stop at Montas: Baltimore should try to pry Paul Blackburn away from Oakland, as well. The Orioles’ bullpen has been *great* but without more consistent work from the rotation, I’m not sure that group can maintain this pace for the rest of the season. Obviously the Orioles can’t empty the prospect tank at this point, but maybe a couple of their guys in the 11-to-30 organizational range paired with a controllable big leaguer can get it done?
Schoenfield: The Toronto Blue Jays are hardly locked into a playoff spot and could use a starting pitcher — especially as they navigate all those games against AL East opponents the final two months, including 15 against an Orioles team that can score some runs. Montas would likely replace Yusei Kikuchi in the rotation. Or they could move Ross Stripling into a bullpen role. Don’t forget that Kevin Gausman’s ERA ballooned in the second half last season with the Giants and he has a 4.43 ERA over his past nine starts. And while Jose Berrios has been a little better of late, he still owns a 5.20 ERA.
It’s possible that Montas, who is under team control for another season, could slide into a playoff rotation as the team’s No. 2 starter behind Alek Manoah. But the Jays have to get there first.