Let’s Look Ahead to the Trade Deadline by Dan Szymborski June 3, 2022 © Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports It seems like almost yesterday when, amidst the lockout’s flurry of recriminations and constantly shifting arbitrary deadlines, we weren’t quite sure if there was even going to be a 2022 season at all. But Opening Day arrived after a short delay, and now we’re just about a third of the way through the season. The trade deadline is just two months out and as we saw last year, the elimination of the August waiver-trade period served to increase the stakes. While we don’t know the exact contours of what the pennant races will look like or which destinations make the most sense for potential trade candidates, the basic outlines of the season have been drawn. Short of some major surprises, we can start speculating about a few of the more interesting players likely to be available. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals The official position of the Washington Nationals is that they aren’t trading Juan Soto, no way, no how. I’m not sure I actually believe them. Soto will be a free agent after the 2024 season and has already turned down a 13-year, $350 million extension offer from the team. Plus, the longer they hang onto him, the less mega of a mega-package they’re likely to net in return for their superstar. It’s tempting to compare Soto’s situation with Bryce Harper’s, but as he approached free agency, the Nationals were fielding a team they had reason to think was competitive. This year’s squad is looking up at the Reds, and the farm system doesn’t have anywhere near the talent needed to quickly salvage the situation. The possibility of a sale and Soto’s age complicate the calculus – if Washington was able to convince him to stick around, he’s young enough that he’s likely to still be very good the next time they are. Soto isn’t posting his normal numbers, but ZiPS sees little reason to worry; it thinks that Soto’s hit data should have resulted in a BABIP closer to .320 and a slugging percentage well in excess of .500, similar to his xBA and xSLG. It would stink for Nationals fans, and putting together a deal worthy of netting Soto is its own challenge, but a trade could be a possibility come August. J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox I think it’s too soon to completely write off the Red Sox. Yes, the current math makes a serious run at the division title unlikely, but it isn’t completely impossible, and if you don’t believe me, ask the 1978 Yankees, who were in fourth place and 14 games back with much more of the season in the books. ZiPS agrees with our standings page, giving the Sox about a one-in-three chance of grabbing a playoff spot, almost always a Wild Card. But given the team’s recent behavior, I think they’ll be more willing to retool even with a playoff shot than a team like the Royals would be. Martinez isn’t the club’s only pending free agent, but he’s the one having the best season, and not every NL contender has nailed down their DH spot. Nathan Eovaldi is another soon-to-be free agent who could finish the season in another team’s uniform, and he’s bounced back from that brutal five-homer start against the Astros, but I think JDM will garner more interest this summer if Boston decides October is out of reach. Frankie Montas, Oakland Athletics Montas kind of falls into the category of unfinished business, as he’s one of the last players left standing after Oakland’s winter purge of anyone nearing a big payday. He’s pitching nearly as well as he did last season when he picked up the first Cy Young vote of his career, and the A’s have little practical need for an ace starter right now. While the A’s don’t necessarily have to move Montas this summer, this franchise doesn’t usually wait until the last minute when it comes to trading talent. Montas will almost certainly be one of the top pitchers available. Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds The Reds confuse me. The last time they started a rebuild, they waited far too long and traded practically every bit of talent well after the peak of those players’ value. This time, they started way too soon, eviscerating a team that was a realistic playoff contender, though not one of the NL Central favorites. Six months ago, I’d have been advocating for Cincinnati to sign Castillo to a long-term extension, but after the vivisection of the team’s core, I don’t see much point in keeping him away from a better team. After the offseason trading frenzy, the Reds did announce that they weren’t trading Castillo or Tyler Mahle, but at that point, they were attempting to maintain the façade that they were still trying to win and Castillo’s sore shoulder would likely have complicated trade talks anyway. Castillo has since returned from his injury without missing a beat and Reds fans are already more interested in the Bengals than their last-place home team, so there’s no point in pretending. I expect Mahle will follow this winter. Martín Pérez, Texas Rangers The Rangers are hanging around the edge of the playoff hunt, but I don’t think they are as likely to stay there as the Red Sox are; the rotation is quite shallow and the lineup is very top-heavy. The team’s ongoing rebuild means that it’s unlikely to be a major selloff, but I suspect they’ll be willing to trade players on short-term deals. We’ve seen Pérez get off to a hot start before, most notably in 2019, the season he picked up a cutter from Jake Odorizzi. That year, the pitch saw decreased effectiveness as the season went on, and he went from being a solid No. 2 starter in the first half to falling so out of favor that the Twins left him off their ALDS roster. His cutter’s been a bit different since, with more vertical dip, and he’s not relying on it as heavily this time, with his effective sinker being used more, well, effectively. Perhaps this time the magic will last the entire season. Andrew Benintendi, Kansas City Royals While the Royals are often hesitant to trade off their well-performing veterans, that approach generally applies more to players who have been part of the franchise for a long time, such as Salvador Perez or Whit Merrifield. Benintendi hasn’t been one of Kansas City’s core contributors for very long, and the franchise’s record is so bleak that I think this could be a case where the Royals are willing to move a veteran. And if Benintendi still boasts a .400 on-base percentage in July, they might get a surprising haul in return for the free-agent-to-be. Of the team’s other pending free agents, Carlos Santana is more likely to be designated for assignment than fetch anything in a trade and Zack Greinke’s second go round in Kansas City has yielded mixed results. In Greinke’s case, after returning to his first team, he might just walk away rather than get traded to a club he disapproves of. David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks The other NL West also-ran, the Colorado Rockies, is unlikely to shift philosophy and trade players at the deadline, but I don’t think Arizona shares that tendency. Offense is at a premium thanks to the Humidorian Reaction, and Peralta is hitting the ball harder than he has in years. I’m also inclined to think it will stick — in the short-term, at least, as he’ll turn 35 this year — in that it reflects a change in approach. In the past, even when he was having his greatest success, Peralta was always content to hit a lot of grounders, but this time around, his launch angle stands at just under 19 degrees, quite far from his sub-seven career number. More useful power, without giving away his plate discipline gains, has helped him fight back Father Time for a bit longer.