The 2021 MLB trading deadline ends Friday, July 30th at 4:00 p.m. ET. We have already seen a handful of deals that will shape the development of the playoff image over the next few months.
The Rays traded for Nelson Cruz and traded Rich Hill. The Padres acted for the Pirates’ second baseman, Adam Frazier. The Braves acted for Joc Pederson. On Tuesday afternoon, the Pirates and Phillies sent Tyler Anderson from one end of Pennsylvania to the other.
MORE: Why Max Scherzer’s contract makes him an attractive trading destination
Instead of just evaluating each player who could potentially be dealt in the next few days, let’s look at a few specific categories and see which players best fit those categories. Think of them as superlatives before close of trading.
Best Bat: Kris Bryant, Cubs. You are not surprised I know. We have written about Bryant many times over the past few weeks when the Cubs broke out and it became clear that the club was going to be a seller before the deadline. And yes, Bryant has had a stretch of several weeks not producing like a bat, but his OPS for July is up to 0.900 and that’s pretty solid. He can play five of the eight defensive positions full-time (at least until the end of the season), and of course he can also do DH. Each contender has an obvious place for Bryant in their lineup.
Best Realistic Infield Bat: Trevor Story, Rockies. Well, the non-Kris Bryant option. It’s possible that Story won’t be postponed despite being a post-season free agent and with no intentions of staying with the Rockies. The club should receive more potential return than it sees as the value of the draft pick it would receive if (if) Story declines a qualifying offer. He wasn’t quite the same hitter this year; he had an OPS + of 123 from 2018 to 2020, but that dropped to 89 this year, and his on-base percentage dropped from 0.355 in that period to 0.312 in 2021. He has a massive advantage in getting back into shape with a new club, but will any team meet Colorado’s requirements?
Best Blockbuster Infield Racket: Trea Turner, Nationals. All the headlines around the Nationals revolved around the availability of Max Scherzer, but if Club Turner changes it could have a longer impact on the team taking over. He is under the control of the club until 2022, in his season at the age of 28 and having the best year of his career: .320 avg, 4.0 bWAR, 18 homers, 21 stolen bases, 146 OPS + on leadoff and playing standout Shortstop. It would be worth the massive offer it would take to land it.
Best realistic field bat: Starling Marte, Marlins. Again, the non-Bryant option, although a trade for Marte could almost have an impact on Bryant level. You might not have noticed because he’s playing for Miami (and before that Pittsburgh), but Marte is a damn good player who’s having a damn good season for the Marlins: .303 average, .408 on-base percentage, 135 OPS + , 21 stolen bases, seven homers, 2.8 bwar in 62 games. Like Bryant, he’s a post-season free agent. He is a two-time gold glove winner (he played mostly left field in 2015-16) and has been mostly midfielder since 2018.
Best Blockbuster Campaigner: Joey Gallo, Rangers. Gallo isn’t going cheap, mainly because he won’t be eligible for a freelance agency until after the 2022 season. But he has the kind of power teams crave; Gallo has had two 40-homer seasons, and he has 24 homers this season with a 4.0 bWAR, .380 on-base percentage, and 137 OPS + in 94 games. The team that closes a deal for him needs a deep farm system.
Best player under the radar: Josh Harrison, Nationals. He’s 34 and not at the top of a trading list, but teams could do far worse than a versatile veteran averaging 0.282, 2.0 bWAR, and 115 OPS +. Harrison can play the third or second and any corner outfield spot. He could probably also step in on shortstop or in an emergency.
Best starter mug: Max Scherzer, Nationals. Do you know how many front office people got excited when they saw the recent mini-collapse of the Nationals, which left the club nearly 10 games under .500? Anyone who works for a competitor. I’ve written everything about him and his possible goals here.
Best option in the middle of the rotation: Jon Gray, Rockies. I originally painted Tyler Anderson on this spot, but now he’s off the board, traded from the Pirates to the Phillies. Gray isn’t exactly the type of guy who would start Game 1 of a playoff series, but he could help a team make it to the postseason. He’s a post-season free agent and has spent some time in the IL but has been stellar since his return: 2.57 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 35 innings with six starts. He has completed five full innings in each start, with a pitch count exceeding 97 only once.
Best back-of-the-rotation option: Merrill Kelly, Diamondbacks. Kelly is a unique story. He made his MLB debut at the age of 30; after struggles in youth, he found his way as a reliable starter in Korea. The Diamondbacks signed him to a three-year contract ahead of the 2019 season with an option for 2023 ($ 5.25 million). He had a few rocky stretches in 2021 but he is an efficient thrower who has taken the NL lead with 21 starts and has an ERA of 2.62 in his last seven appearances.
Best rotation option when rolling the dice: Danny Duffy, Royals. He’s been really good this season when he’s healthy – 2.51 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 61 innings – but he’s on the IL with a flexion load and isn’t expected until September. What does a potential trader cost for a guy like that? Difficult to tell. But if he comes back healthy, he’ll be a starting option for a team with big October dreams in September.
Best Contributor: Craig Kimbrel, Cubs. We wrote about him too! Shocking. That was a couple of weeks ago so the numbers have changed, but the basic truths are still true: Kimbrel puts up numbers that rival the best in his career, which really says something. There is also a club option for 2022; It’s not cheap ($ 16 million), but if he’s playing like this and the team has the World Series aspirations, he’s worth it.
Best setup guy option: Ian Kennedy, Rangers. The Rangers gave the veteran a chance after his terrible 2020 season and he was all they could hope for. He is 15-on-16 on defense options, with a 2.59 ERA and right with one strikeout per inning. It is doubtful that he will be asked to close games for every team that acts for him (other than an injury to a closer one, of course), but who wouldn’t want a seasoned arm with closing experience in their bullpen in October?
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