We’re almost in the stretch drive of Trade Deadline season, and there’s still so much that teams need to figure out before deciding to become buyers or sellers (or stand pat). What will the Cubs, Blue Jays, Yankees and Mariners do? MLB.com observers gathered to discuss.
Alyson Footer, editor/moderator: Given where the Cubs are in the standings, and that they’ve lost 10 in a row, it would seem they would have to be leaning toward being sellers. But beyond that, we have to be realistic about what kind of chances this team has, as it is constructed, to go on a run and make a substantial second-half comeback. When you look at their roster right now, do you see this team as one or two pieces away from really being able to put it all together? I still see this division as winnable, even with the Brewers soaring.
Jon Paul Morosi, reporter, MLB.com and MLB Network: The division is winnable, yes, but the Cubs need to consider the context. If they weren’t good enough to advance in the playoffs last year, and they’re experiencing a sharp downturn now, they need to be realistic.
The Cubs should sell, and I believe they will.
Mark Feinsand, executive reporter, MLB.com: It’s definitely winnable, but executives can only go by what they see on the field. Given the way the Cubs have played of late, it’s hard to envision Jed Hoyer having much faith that this team can make a big run given the quality of teams in the NL.
The Cubs have some pieces that will draw plenty of attention. If good offers come in, it’s going to be difficult for Hoyer to stand pat.
Morosi: Does that mean they trade all of Craig Kimbrel, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras? Not necessarily. But I could envision scenarios where each of those players is dealt.
One key consideration is that The Big Four, as we can call them, are all performing well — or even very well, in the cases of Bryant and Kimbrel. The losing streak has given Hoyer and the front office greater clarity about the true level of this team.
Feinsand: Think about it this way: When the Cubs were thriving, we were still wondering whether they would buy or sell. Now that they’ve hit the skids, it certainly should sway them in the selling direction.
Morosi: The great hypothetical here is how they’d be responding if they hadn’t come back to win Game 7 in 2016. That would make this decision much more difficult. I have a hard time imagining that Cubs fans will say, “We shouldn’t sell. This team is too good.” I think they realize where this team is in its competitive window.
Feinsand: Hoyer should think about who he might want to extend or re-sign, make an effort to do so, then assess the situation from there. If he knows that Bryant isn’t coming back, the opportunity to get a solid prospect or two should be a no-brainer.
Morosi: One example: The Cubs and A’s have made trades before. Could you imagine the lift that Bryant would give that lineup in a close race with Houston?
Footer: The Mariners, at the time of this conversation, are five games over .500 and 3 1/2 games out of the second AL Wild Card spot. What’s going right? Are they sellers? Or do they stand pat and save the big push for 2022?
Feinsand: Seattle has become one of the most fascinating teams for me. Three weeks ago, I would have said that Mitch Haniger was a goner for certain. Now, I’m not so sure. He’s under control for one more year, and given how the Mariners are playing, there’s no reason to think they can’t contend next year — or this year, for that matter.
That said, they also have two stud outfield prospects, so if there’s an area of depth from which they can trade, that’s it.
Morosi: The quick answer on Seattle is that they will make trades, because Jerry Dipoto is their GM. And I believe that is accurate, to an extent.
Feinsand: Dipoto almost can’t help himself when it comes to making trades, but he also hasn’t had a team in contention at this point in the season.
Morosi: But here is the catch: It’s difficult to imagine them spending major assets to get a rental. I think it’s much more likely that if there’s a significant trade to be made, it’s going to be someone with multiple years of control (e.g., Luis Castillo, José Berríos). But I don’t think Haniger for Berríos or Castillo will happen. In a Mariners context, I’m thinking about someone like Justin Dunn at the time they acquired him.
Feinsand: Haniger, Yusei Kikuchi and Kyle Seager would all be valued assets for contenders, for sure. But what kind of message would it send to the fan base to trade them when the team is playing so well? Kikuchi’s contractual situation makes him the most interesting of the bunch.
Morosi: I saw the Mariners in person last week, and as one of their people observed to me, it’s likely that they will take a “buy and sell” approach to the Deadline.
Footer: That’s the question — it’s easy to tinker here and there and add to a rebuild. what will he do now, though, when he has to weigh what he can do to improve the team, without sacrificing the farm system that will graduate more players next year?
Morosi: If I’m the Mariners, I don’t think trading Haniger or Seager signals that they are conceding the season, as long as they bring back assets that are young Major Leaguers or close to making their debuts.
Feinsand: Seattle can exercise a series of four one-year options for $16.5 million a year that would keep Kikuchi signed through 2025, or his 2022 deal turns into a player option — which, given how he’s pitching this year, he would likely turn down. So if they’re not going to trigger the extension, it makes sense to move him.
Morosi: As both of you have observed, the outfield prospects are coming. I’d keep Kikuchi. The club options on him are very appealing.
Feinsand: Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez are the real deal. Trading Haniger would not be throwing in the towel for next year by any means. It all depends on what they can get back for him.
Morosi: Exactly, Mark. If you can trade Haniger for a controllable starting pitcher that you really like, you do it.
Feinsand: I wouldn’t say they’re that appealing, Jon. If the Mariners knew Kikuchi would pitch like he has in 2021, then I’d absolutely agree. But remember, his performance in 2019-20 wasn’t anywhere close to this. Which Kikuchi would they be getting from 2022-25? If you can use Haniger in a deal for a Berríos or Castillo, do it right away.
Morosi: I think there were a lot of adjustments he went through in 2019-2020, and 2021 is more representative of the pitcher he is.
Feinsand: That’s the $66 million question, Jon. If the Mariners agree with you, they’ll exercise the options.
I’m not sure Seattle can catch the Astros and Athletics, but they’re only 3 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot, which is well within their reach.
Morosi: The standard caveats apply about teams not wanting to give up young pitchers like Justin Dunn. Which is why the Mariners should set a high price on Haniger.
If you don’t find a match on Haniger, what happens? Well, you keep him for one more season, at a reasonable salary, when you expect to be good. That’s a solid outcome.
Feinsand: Agreed. And if Kelenic and Rodriguez force their way up, Seattle has a great trade piece next year in Haniger. The only question with Haniger is whether he can stay healthy. Nobody questions the talent.
Footer: We’re still waiting for the Yankees to get back on track, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s going to happen. Let me go on record by saying that I do believe Gerrit Cole will make some adjustments that will enable him to pitch better than he has of late, but I also believe the days of that sheer dominance he enjoyed until, uh, recently, are probably behind him. There were always questions around the Yankees pitching, but without a dominant Cole at the top, I’m not sure October is in the cards for them. Do they become sellers at the Deadline?
Morosi: They should. But they probably won’t.
Feinsand: Man, that’s a tough one. Hal Steinbrenner said last week that he doesn’t intend to be a seller. Brian Cashman has said the same. I think things would have to go really bad in July for them to change course.
Morosi: I said this recently: They are a fine team. They are not a great team or a World Series team.
Feinsand: Here’s my question: who would they sell? All of the assets we have discussed are players having bad years. Would Aroldis Chapman bring much back right now? Clint Frazier? Gleyber Torres?
When the Yankees sold in 2016, they had two dominant relievers (Chapman, Andrew Miller) and a solid veteran bat (Carlos Beltran) to move. They don’t have that right now. Maybe Chad Green, but is that even worth it?
Morosi: The players you mentioned would not bring back franchise-changing value.
If this were any team other than the Yankees, with a payroll this big and a superstar not signed, we’d be asking when Aaron Judge will be on the trade market. I should be clear that I don’t think Aaron Judge is going to be traded this month.
Feinsand: Assuming he stays healthy for the next year or two, I think he’s going to sign a big deal to stay in New York.
The Yankees will never go into a true rebuild mode. We know that. So trading Judge makes no sense.
Now, Gary Sánchez? That’s another story. Could Cashman take advantage of Sánchez’s bounce-back year and try to move him? Maybe in the offseason, but trading catchers in-season is always so tough.
I just don’t see which players Cashman would move that would be impactful as far as the return.
Morosi: There is one other thing that I think should be acknowledged here. What does Cashman want his own future to be? Per reports, he’s signed through 2022. Does he want to sign another contract extension? Is there another job in baseball that he would want? I don’t know.
Feinsand: I believe Cashman will be the GM in New York as long as he wants to be. And based on previous years when his deal was expiring, he does not want to go out on a losing note. He uses that as motivation.
Morosi: The questions we’re asking deal with a multiyear view of the franchise, and therefore Cashman’s role within it is a relevant topic.
The question I posed has more to do with whether he’d want to be a team president elsewhere and if other jobs in the industry might appeal to him.
Feinsand: And can I add one more thing here …
All of the buzz in New York is about whether Aaron Boone and/or Cashman should be fired. Let’s stop this nonsense. Putting 2020 aside because it was a wonky 60-game season, the Yankees won 100-plus games in both 2018 and 2019 under Boone. He hasn’t changed who he is as a manager. The players aren’t performing. DJ LeMahieu was an MVP candidate the past two years under Boone. Gleyber Torres was a two-time All-Star under Boone. The roster — which is admittedly way too right-handed — was also very right-handed during those 100-win seasons. We knew how right-handed the lineup was before the season and most people still picked the Yankees to win the AL East. Aaron Hicks was a bad injury for them, but other than him, the lineup has been what we thought it would be. We didn’t predict LeMahieu, Frazier, Torres, etc. to all struggle the way they have. That’s on them, not Boone and Cashman.
And even in the wonky 60-game season, the Yankees still made the playoffs.
Footer: Last question: What do you think of the Blue Jays now, and how do you envision their second half playing out? If you’re their GM, what do you do?
Feinsand: If I’m Ross Atkins, I call the Twins and do everything I can to deal for Berríos and Nelson Cruz. It’s time for Toronto to go for it.
Morosi: I like your boldness there, Mark!
And as you know, Ross Atkins and Derek Falvey know each other very well from their time in Cleveland. So I would expect those conversations to be as comfortable as any high-pressure negotiation can be.
Morosi: Correct. And a number of them play the infield, where they already have a lot of depth.
Feinsand: There are quality assets there that teams will want. Use them. If you added Berríos and Cruz to the Jays, it would make for some uncomfortable nights of sleep in Boston and Tampa Bay.
Morosi: The way in which Alek Manoah has surpassed Nate Pearson on the organizational depth chart means that Pearson could be in play. I have doubts about Pearson’s durability and consistency, but GMs might see enough there to make him a priority acquisition.
And one other thing about Toronto — and it supports Mark’s notion about going big with a Berríos-Cruz deal — the Marcus Semien signing last winter was one of the best moves by any team. They have four position players in the All-Star Game for the first time since 1993. Semien is one of them.
He signed a one-year deal, and they may struggle to agree on an extension because of how they value all the talent coming behind him. So this is a unique window to win with Semien on the roster, and he’s a huge part of what they do.
Feinsand: I’m not sold that Chaim Bloom is going to be a huge player at the Deadline. And we know Tampa Bay has financial limitations. The Blue Jays have a chance to do what they did in 2015, when they added David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. Go big.
I refer to this all the time, but I love Billy Beane’s philosophy on this stuff. When you see a window open during which you believe your team can contend, you owe it to your players and your fans to go for it. That’s Toronto right now.
Morosi: And let’s note one more crucial detail: It’s possible that by late July or August, the Jays are back at the Rogers Centre. Talk about some momentum: move back home, add a couple players. There could be excitement to rival 2015, which was a pretty special time for this organization.
Feinsand: That place is rocking when the Jays are good. There was no better atmosphere in baseball than Toronto during the final couple months of the 2015 season.
Morosi: Great vibe. Great city.
Feinsand: There are 24 days until the Trade Deadline, and I’m sure these narratives will change dramatically five more times between now and then.