Top of the Order: Depth Trades May Rule the Deadline

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Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Tuesday and Friday I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

The Austin Slater-for-Alex Young swap that the Giants and Reds made late Sunday night wasn’t going to grab many headlines. Slater is a platoon outfielder who’s struggled to mash lefties this year the way he had in the past, and Young is a funky, somewhat fungible lefty reliever; the Giants immediately sent him to Triple-A Sacramento upon completing the trade. That said, the notable thing about such a minor move is this: Because there are a bunch of teams trying to win, but few that have actually separated themselves from the pack, trades like this could rule the rest of the month.

Entering Monday, 11 of the 30 teams had playoff odds between 10% and 60%, bubble teams that could convince themselves to buy, sell, or do a little bit of both ahead of the July 30 deadline. That doesn’t even include the Reds, who may yet buy, as evidenced by their addition of Slater to add outfield depth. These teams almost certainly won’t go all in by the end of this month. Why risk trading away useful prospects only to miss out on postseason play anyway? Instead, the ones that decide not to punt on this season could elect to trade from positions of depth to patch up the holes in their roster.

The Giants could afford to move on from Slater because they have Luis Matos and Tyler Fitzgerald, two righty batters who are better defensive options than Slater in center field. Meanwhile, Slater should provide the Reds with much-needed outfield depth and allow them to option 25-year-old prospect Blake Dunn, who could benefit from getting regular playing time at Triple-A. On the flip side, Cincinnati could spare Young despite his strong Triple-A performance because it already had lefties Sam Moll, Brent Suter, and Justin Wilson in its bullpen. Conversely, San Francisco could use Young to share some of the load in the most-used bullpen in baseball.

On a larger scale, we may even see something analogous to the 2022 trade that sent Josh Hader from the Brewers to the Padres. Both teams were in a playoff position at the time of the deal, and the Brewers were actually in the better spot despite being the “seller” in the trade; they held a three-game lead in the NL Central when the trade went through. San Diego got a struggling Hader back on track and advanced to the NLCS, while Milwaukee missed the playoffs altogether. However, two years later, it’s become clear that the Brewers also improved because of the move. Robert Gasser, one of the two prospects they received in the trade, made his big league debut in May and was excellent across five starts before he went down with a season-ending elbow injury; he’s a key part of the Brewers’ future. The other prospect, outfielder Esteury Ruiz, ended up as Milwaukee’s most valuable return piece, even though he played just three games for the team. The offseason after acquiring Ruiz, the Brewers flipped him to the A’s in a three-team trade for All-Star catcher William Contreras, then with the Braves, and a solid reliever, Joel Payamps, from Oakland.

Trading major league players like Hader always contains the risk of upsetting the apple cart and messing with team chemistry, but if better fits come in return, that certainly can soften the blow of losing an All-Star. The Orioles’ surplus of position players naturally comes to mind, with Cedric Mullins, Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad, and Austin Hays all jockeying for playing time in the outfield, and Ramón Urías and Jorge Mateo blocking prospects Connor Norby and Jackson Holliday. Baltimore could choose to move any of these position players (excluding Holliday) considering it is in dire need of controllable starting pitching; Corbin Burnes is a pending free agent, and Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells are out of commission until at least the middle of next season.

Contenders with expendable pitchers are tougher to find, though the Mariners are the obvious exception. They have five solid starters and sorely need to upgrade their offense. It’s hard to imagine they would trade any of their top three guys (Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby), but Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo could and should be available for an impact bat. Seattle’s rotation depth beyond Miller and Woo is uninspiring, so if needed, president of baseball operations and master trader Jerry Dipoto could ask for a replacement fifth starter in the trade or swing a separate deal to get one. Perhaps the Mariners could swap strength for strength with the Orioles and also acquire lefty Cole Irvin in addition to a hitter.

More teams could use starting pitchers than the Mariners have to offer, though. Fortunately, fringier contenders like the Cubs, Mets, Blue Jays, and Rangers have a few possible trade pieces. Luis Severino, Jose Quintana, Yusei Kikuchi, Max Scherzer, Michael Lorenzen, and Andrew Heaney are all free agents after the year, and we might even see some non-rentals move, such as Jameson Taillon, Tylor Megill, Chris Bassitt, and Jon Gray. Giving up controllable starters likely would allow these teams to net a stronger return, and if they are worried about giving up starters who are under contract beyond this season, they could always replace them through free agency during the offseason.

That’s not to say teams won’t trade major leaguers for a package of prospects, because, as always, they certainly will do that! The White Sox and A’s, for example, won’t want major leaguers in return for anybody they trade. But teams who go right down to the wire in deciding whether to buy or sell almost definitely will try to contend again in 2025. For that reason, they probably won’t simply deal controllable players for anything other than controllable players who fit their roster a little bit better. And that sure could lead to some fun trades over the next three weeks, ones that are more impactful than swapping Slater for Young.





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sadtrombonemember
15 days ago

Everyone seems to want the Mariners to trade a pitcher but every one I have seen proposed so far are big long shots. Gilbert and Kirby would require an enormous return, I don’t think they are going anywhere. For Woo or Miller I think they would trade for Jordan Westburg, but the Orioles would never make a gamble like that. Maybe they could work out a deal with the Rays (for Arozarena and/or Lowe). My personal favorite idea would be one of those pitchers for Bogaerts with the Padres eating a ton of money but with the Padres’ cash flow problems that may be touchy. All of these deals seem a lot less straightforward than just dealing prospects, especially if the Rays are moving into a more straightforward seller position.

Last edited 15 days ago by sadtrombone
Bufordmember
15 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

There is no way Seattle would trade a quality SP like Woo or Miller straight up for a 31 year old Bogaerts with his 70 WRC+ who is currently on the IL with a shoulder problem regardless of any salary relief.

sadtrombonemember
15 days ago
Reply to  Buford

If Bogaerts is still hurt then yes, that’s not going to be an in-season trade. For some reason I thought he was back.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
15 days ago
Reply to  Buford

What is the definition of “quality” here? Woo and Miller seem “average”. I’m not seeing why that’s untouchable? Maybe not for Bogaerts but if they could get something like Cowser, Hjerstad, Mateo and Irvin from Baltimore from Miller, Raley and Moore or something similar I’d do it. None of those guys on either side seem to be serviceable today and not much upside thereafter.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
15 days ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

“for Miller…” and “All of these guys…”.

sadtrombonemember
15 days ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

The problem is that any player that can help the Mariners can also help the Orioles, and vice versa. Nobody is blocked on either side.

SucramRenrutmember
15 days ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Average? Both guys throw 95+, are top 75 in xFIP and top 50 in Pitching+. That’s at least top-tier 3rd starter, pushing number 2, level at least.

Sculpin
15 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The Mariners are sitting at .533 this morning with a measly +4 run differential. They can spit a watermelon seed to their goal of .540, yet do not look like a team that will make a long postseason run. So there won’t be any trades involving top prospects, nor are they likely to trade from starting pitching which is short already.

The Mariners have defied crazy odds by keeping their starting pitching healthy for years now (only Woo has had any issues). If they could keep defying those odds, yeah, they might have one starter to trade. Barring finding another Woo at double A, nonprospect Jhonathan Diaz might be the next guy up, but they are fervently hoping they won’t have to expose him to major league pitching this year.

What might they actually do? The same thing they usually do, trade from their bullpen even though they don’t really have spare arms there either.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
15 days ago
Reply to  Sculpin

The lightning in a bottle that is healthy pitching that could crack any minute is a very good reason to not waste it in 2024. They really have nothing indispensable outside the Top 3 starters, Muñoz, Raleigh and Rodriguez. Everyone else should be fair game to get the rest of the lineup up to at least an average level preferable for 24-26. The .540 stars and scrubs plan is silly.

darrenasu
15 days ago
Reply to  Sculpin

I would say at this point the Mariners have showed that their scouting and development of starting pitching is a real skill. So they absolutely should be the kind of team willing to send a promising starter to aI would say at this point the Mariners have showed that they’re scouting and development of starting pitching is a real skill. So they absolutely should be the kind of team willing to send a promising starter to a team like the Orioles for a young impact bat.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
15 days ago
Reply to  darrenasu

I’m not sure Hjerstad and Cowser are really “impact” bats but at least they’re averagish. Impact would be someone like Robert, but I’d still trade 3 of their top 10 prospects for him.

steveo
15 days ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Since May 1st, Colton Cowser has hit .185/.281/.339 with a 78 wRC+. I’m not sure he’s even an average hitter. I like Kjerstad a bit more, but I get the sense that the Orioles won’t move him unless they get a top player back.

cartermember
14 days ago
Reply to  steveo

I’m only sort of joking w a sad face when I say that’s like an average mariner hitter. But, it actually is

BirdStackmember
14 days ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

They’re both rookies

Mitchell Mooremember
15 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I do not get this notion among Fgraphs writers and readers that the Mariners are going to do a deadline trade from their starting rotation like they’re buried in 4th place 10 games out, either. Yet I suspect the concept will continue to get a lot of air until July 31.
If/when they trade it will be to add talent to the 26 man roster, like every other team with high odds of making the post-season.
Trading from the rotation to re-allocate assets is an off-season type deal.

PC1970
15 days ago
Reply to  Mitchell Moore

I agree with this. Trading a current starter would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

& knowing their luck, if they did trade one of their current SP’s, then one of the remaining 4 (Kirby, Castillo, Gilbert, 1 of Woo/Miller) would get hurt & then Seattle would be left with 3 healthy starters & no decent replacements in house.

cartermember
14 days ago
Reply to  PC1970

Wouldn’t it make sense that maybe the mariners results in starting pitchers are the type they target? Good cambio. Not elite velo. Maybe they have a type and are riding their “type”

sadtrombonemember
15 days ago
Reply to  Mitchell Moore

It’s just weird how the Mariners have five real starters when everyone else’s elbows are falling off. People seem to think that for some reason this means that someone is blocked but pitchers are virtually never blocked, and they are not blocked here.

The other part is that Dipoto is infamous for trading and people imagine he would do “outside of the box” trades like this. But that requires a trade partner who is similarly adventurous and there aren’t many anymore.

cowdisciplemember
15 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The Twins still match up well with the Mariners. Their infield is overflowing with guys hitting well. Correa, Royce Lewis, Brooks Lee, Willi Castro and Jose Miranda are all hitting the crap out of the ball, and they have Julien in AAA as well. I’m going to be forced to retract my stated belief that Carlos Santana is cooked.

They kind of already tried that trade in the offseason and it didn’t work out for anybody, though. And they need one of those guys at DH and another will be hurt, so there’s really no urgency.

BirdStackmember
14 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Likely with the Os it would be for multiple “blocked” bats. The article mentioned Norby but there is also Stowers, Cowser, Kjerstad. More likely an off-season move, but the Os could part with Mountcastle who could thrive with a shorter LF, and make 1B/DH work with O’Hearn/Santander/Adley/Mayo