MLB trade deadline eve primer: Top storylines, rumblings, best-available players

Happy MLB trade deadline eve! Only a few major deals have happened, but that’s about to change. As is always the case this time of year, general managers are busy, working the phones and angling for the best trades. Make sure to follow The Athletic’s trade deadline live blog for full coverage of all 30 teams.

Before the expected flurry of activity leading up to Tuesday’s deadline at 6 p.m. ET, here’s a primer with what you need to know, including the top storylines to watch, the best-available players on the trade market, the teams I’m watching most closely and the latest rumblings I’m hearing in conversations with executives across the league.

Top storylines

1. Soto sweepstakes

The Juan Soto sweepstakes are rounding third and heading for home with the Padres and Cardinals in the lead and the Dodgers somehow staying in the conversation. The Padres have made all of their top prospects available, including outfielder Robert Hassell III, shortstop C.J. Abrams and outfielder James Wood. The Cardinals are ready to part with outfielder Dylan Carlson and infielder Nolan Gorman to headline their package. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are still engaged in conversations with Washington and have no untouchables in their farm system, including right-handed pitcher Bobby Miller, catcher Diego Cartaya and outfielder Andy Pages. So, will one of those three teams pull off a blockbuster deal for Soto? Will a last-minute mystery team such as the Blue Jays jump into the fray? Or will the Nationals change course and decide not to trade Soto until the offseason? Regardless, we’ll all be watching this storyline above all others as the drama builds.

2. Shohei time

The Angels have been listening to offers for Shohei Ohtani, but it’s highly unlikely they will trade their multi-talented star before the deadline, sources said. However, that could change. A team that loses out on Soto could pivot and come for Ohtani, who will be a free agent after next season. Despite being five years older than Soto and having one less year of control, Ohtani has similar trade value because he’s a two-way star, and could bring back a similarly valued package. It appears the Angels will need to revisit the Ohtani situation in the offseason. At this stage, I think he stays put, at least until the winter, but you never know. The Yankees, Dodgers, Padres, Blue Jays and Cardinals would be the most likely destinations if Ohtani is somehow traded before the deadline.

3. Next man up

With Luis Castillo traded to the Mariners, the A’s have the best starting pitcher on the trade market*, Frankie Montas, especially if his medicals check out as expected. The Yankees have made Montas their top trade target, according to sources, but they have plenty of competition for the 29-year-old right-hander, including the Twins, Cardinals and White Sox. When Montas is moved, Tigers lefty Tarik Skubal and Marlins righty Pablo López will become the best-available starters. (*Note: Lefty Carlos Rodón is arguably the top starter who could be traded, but it’s unclear if the Giants will deal him. For more on the Giants’ Rodón situation, read this story from The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly.)

4. A package deal?

It’s only a matter of time before the Cubs trade All-Star catcher Willson Contreras and righty reliever David Robertson. But will they be packaged together or traded separately? The Mets, Padres, Astros and Rays are all in play for Contreras, with the Mets and Padres more likely to acquire Contreras and Robertson in a package deal than the Astros or Rays.

5. Want real relief? It’ll cost you

Most of the contenders that seek back-of-the bullpen arms have targeted the Pirates’ David Bednar, the Royals’ Scott Barlow, the Diamondbacks’ Joe Mantiply and the Tigers’ Gregory Soto. None of those teams are looking to move their elite relievers, who all have at least two additional years of control, but if a buyer offers multiple everyday position-player prospects for one of them, a deal will probably get done.

6. Ring my Bell

In Washington, the question is, who will get traded first — Soto or Josh Bell? Although Soto has dominated the headlines, Bell’s market has been fascinating as well. The Astros, Blue Jays, Rays, Brewers and Red Sox have engaged with the Nationals on the switch-hitting first baseman/designated hitter, at least to some extent. The team that lands Bell will add his middle-of-the-order thump but also a clubhouse leader who is a great teammate.

7. Can the Marlins catch a center fielder?

The Marlins have been trying to find a long-term solution in center field for several years. Right now, they’re trying to decide if rookie JJ Bleday can be the answer. They will deal López only if the trade brings back a controllable position player who can hit and field, preferably one who plays above-average defense in center field.

8. Buy, sell or both?

The Giants, Red Sox and Orioles are the teams on the border between “buying” and “selling” that stand out. All three are within striking distance — four games back or less for a wild-card spot — but none look like playoff teams. The Giants have some big trade chips if they decide to use them, namely Rodón, who is expected to opt out of his contract after this season, but also All-Star outfielder Joc Pederson, who will be a free agent this winter. The Red Sox could deal J.D. Martinez, Christian Vázquez, Nathan Eovaldi, Rich Hill and/or Michael Wacha, all of whom are soon-to-be free agents. The Orioles might move Trey Mancini, their most popular player, who would be a valuable rental. Of course, these three teams could instead, or also, “buy” at the deadline. They will be interesting to watch.


Best-available players

Position players (Top 15, ranked by trade value)


Willson Contreras (David Banks / USA Today)

1. Juan Soto, RF, Nationals — A 23-year-old generational talent who is under team control for three more postseasons. The Padres and Cardinals are the front-runners to land Soto, but the Dodgers are lurking and another team could surprise and enter the mix. Or will the Nationals wait until the offseason to trade him?

2. Shohei Ohtani, DH, Angels — The Angels are unlikely to trade Ohtani and haven’t received any offers they are seriously considering, but that could change as the deadline nears.

3. Bryan Reynolds, CF, Pirates — It’s unlikely the Pirates will trade Reynolds, a 2021 All-Star who is controllable for three-plus seasons. But if the Padres fall short in their bid for Soto, they could pivot and overwhelm the Pirates with a trade offer they couldn’t refuse.

4. Willson Contreras, C, Cubs — Contreras will be wearing a different uniform by Aug. 3. The Mets, Padres, Astros and Rays are in the mix to land the three-time All-Star.

5. Josh Bell 1B/DH, Nationals — Bell’s switch-hitting ability and power from both sides increase his trade value. The Astros, Blue Jays, Rays, Brewers and Red Sox are all in the mix to some degree.

6. Joc Pederson, OF, Giants — If the Giants trade Pederson, the Brewers, Twins, Rays, Braves and Padres would be solid trade fits for him.

7. Ian Happ, 2B/LF, Cubs — Happ has slashed .279/.360/.436 with 25 doubles and nine home runs. His versatility and switch-hitting ability have contending teams calling. The Braves, Padres, White Sox, Twins, Guardians and Phillies are good fits.

8. Trey Mancini, 1B/LF/DH, Orioles — The surprising Orioles (51-51) are only three games back of the final American League wild-card spot, and I think they will keep Mancini, who will be a free agent after this season. There is no need for the Orioles to take a publicity hit by trading a beloved player unless they are offered so much they can’t say no.

9. J.D. Martinez, DH, Red Sox — The rumblings have persisted: The Red Sox and Mets are talking about a trade that would send Martinez to Queens for Dominic Smith and a solid prospect. That type of deal would benefit the Mets in the short term and the Red Sox in the longer term. Martinez has made two consecutive All-Star teams, but age (he turns 35 later this month) and decline are real factors for the soon-to-be free agent.

10. Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Royals — Merrifield’s ability to play second base and both corner outfield positions increase his value, and his base-stealing ability will intrigue contenders. He’s stolen 15 bases in 18 attempts this season.

11. Brandon Drury, 3B, Reds — Drury has been the Reds’ best position player, slashing .275/.336/.523 with 22 doubles, 20 home runs and 59 RBIs. He can play first, second and third base, along with the outfield. His stock has never been higher.

12. Ramón Laureano, OF, A’s — The A’s have talked with both the Giants and Marlins about a possible deal for the 28-year-old outfielder.

13. Joey Gallo, LF, Yankees — Gallo will definitely be traded by the deadline. I think he needs to go to a small-market team — like the Brewers, Twins, Padres or Rays — to get back on track. He will be a free agent after this season.

14. Sean Murphy, C, A’s — The A’s would like to trade Murphy to clear the path for prospect Shea Langeliers to take over the position, but according to Ken Rosenthal’s latest reporting, a deal remains more likely in the offseason.

15 (tie). Tommy Pham, OF, Reds — Pham has 11 home runs and 11 doubles in 340 at-bats, along with seven stolen bases. He can help a contender if he stays healthy.

15 (tie). José Iglesias, SS, Rockies — The Rockies want to move Iglesias to clear the path for their top shortstop prospect, Ezequiel Tovar. Iglesias is having a strong offensive year (.306 batting average) and is still a plus-plus defender.

Starting pitchers (Top 10, ranked by trade value)


Frankie Montas (Dustin Satloff / Getty Images)

1. Shohei Ohtani, RHP, Angels: The reigning AL MVP is unlikely to be traded before the deadline, but you can never rule out a shocking move. On the bump, he’s 9-6 with a 2.81 ERA and a 2.37 FIP in 17 starts with 145 strikeouts in 99 1/3 innings.

2. Carlos Rodón, LHP, Giants — If the Giants decide to deal him, he’s arguably the best starting pitcher on the market. Rodón is expected to opt out of his contract after this season. He has posted a 3.00 ERA and a league-leading 2.29 FIP and averaged 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He has been worth 3.6 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. (Read more on the Giants’ Rodón situation.)

3. Frankie Montas, RHP, A’s — In his two starts since missing time because of right shoulder inflammation, Montas has allowed two earned runs in eight innings with nine strikeouts. If his medicals are deemed fine, he’ll be with the Yankees, Twins, Mets, Cardinals or White Sox by the deadline.

4. Tarik Skubal, LHP, Tigers — The Tigers have told teams they are not trying to trade Skubal, who has four-plus years of control remaining. But they will at least listen to offers, and could make a move if they’re overwhelmed by a proposal with position-player prospects.

5. Pablo López, RHP, Marlins — López has one of the best changeups in the majors and really knows how to add and subtract. He could be a difference-maker in the middle of a contending team’s rotation, and not just for this season, as he’s controllable through 2024.

6. Martín Pérez, LHP, Rangers — The Rangers would prefer to extend Pérez, not trade him, but they’re open to both scenarios. He’s having a career year.

7. Tyler Mahle, RHP, Reds — After the Castillo trade, there is no reason for the Reds to keep Mahle. They will probably have to wait until Montas and other starting pitchers are traded, but there is a market for Mahle, who is under team control through next season. (Check the Rumblings section for more on Mahle.) 

8. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Angels — Syndergaard is 5-8 with a 3.83 ERA in 15 starts. He has been worth 1.3 WAR (Baseball-Reference) this season. He’s allowed three runs or less in his last four starts. (Check the Rumblings section for more on Syndergaard.) 

9. José Quintana, LHP, Pirates — Quintana has posted a 3.50 ERA in 20 starts this season. He can help a contender as a fourth or fifth starter type. Quintana is a solid depth play for someone and will be traded by the deadline. (Check the Rumblings section for more on Quintana.) 

10 (tie). Zach Davies, RHP, Diamondbacks — Davies has made 15 starts and has an ERA under 4.00 after posting a 5.78 ERA last season.

10. (tie). Chad Kuhl, RHP, Rockies — Kuhl could help a contender in the back of their rotation, providing five or six innings per start, which he has done 11 times this season. However, his stock has dropped dramatically, as he’s yielded 22 runs in his last 20 2/3 innings. He’ll be a free agent after this season.

Relief pitchers (Top 5, ranked by trade value)


Scott Barlow (Dan Hamilton / USA Today)

1. Scott Barlow, RHP, Royals — Barlow has 16 saves for the second year in a row. In 115 appearances over the last two seasons, he’s posted a 2.43 ERA. He’s under team control through 2024.

2. David Bednar, RHP, Pirates — Bednar has 17 saves this season with 63 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings. He’d be a good fit with the Dodgers, Phillies or Mariners. He’s under team control through 2026.

3. Gregory Soto, LHP, Tigers — The Tigers don’t want to trade Soto unless they’re overwhelmed by an offer, which I could see the Braves, Mets or Yankees doing. He’s under team control through 2025.

4. Joe Mantiply, LHP, Diamondbacks — The Astros and Mets need a left-handed reliever, and Mantiply would be a perfect fit for both. He’s posted a 2.35 ERA in 42 appearances and left-handed hitters are batting .237 against him. He’s under team control through 2026.

5. David Robertson, RHP, Cubs — Robertson, 37, is the most likely to be traded among these five relievers. He will be a strong candidate for National League Comeback Player of the Year. Robertson has 14 saves and a 2.23 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings.

Check out my trade deadline cheat sheet, which was published last Tuesday, for more players who could be dealt by the deadline.


Rumblings


Tyler Mahle (David Kohl / USA Today)

• In addition to being one of the front-runners to trade for Soto, the Cardinals are actively trying to land Montas and Mahle. They are the most intriguing team to watch on the trade market.

• The Padres are going for it, and there are no untouchables in their farm system. San Diego is in the mix on Soto, Contreras and every quality outfielder and reliever who is available.

• The Red Sox have been trying to add a bat for first base or in the outfield, along with middle-relief help. But they’ve played so poorly of late, they could pivot and decide to trade a bunch of their impending free agents, such as Martinez, Vázquez and Eovaldi. According to rival GMs, over the weekend the Red Sox were exploring all of their trade options apart from dealing Rafael Devers or Xander Bogaerts.

• The Phillies have made starting pitching their top priority. Syndergaard, Quintana and Mahle are on their list of targets.

• The Braves, Padres, Brewers and White Sox are all engaged with the Cubs on Happ.

• The Blue Jays are actively trying to acquire Quintana.

• The Giants are putting an emphasis on improving team defense when considering acquisitions.

• The Yankees and Cardinals have talked with the Rockies about Iglesias.

(Top photo of Juan Soto: Nick Wass / Associated Press)



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