Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (2024)

  • Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (1)

    Jeff Passan, ESPNJun 25, 2024, 07:00 AM ET

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      ESPN MLB insider
      Author of "The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports"

Five weeks before Major League Baseball's July 30 trade deadline arrives, the murkiness of the landscape remains its defining feature. The National League remains a muddled mess, with sub-.500 teams directly in the playoff picture. The American League isn't much better. This summer, all it takes is a week to pivot from contention to concession -- and vice versa.

The Toronto Blue Jays, losers of seven consecutive games and sporting the 12th-best record in the 15-team American League, still aren't willing to put players on the trade market, even if teams ahead of them in the AL standings are. The Houston Astros, winners of five in a row, have climbed enough to transform from a potential off-loader to one of the most intriguing teams looking to add.

And while Houston might yet falter and Toronto could still climb, their unresolved statuses are forcing general managers of teams planning on adding to curate their wish lists carefully. With July less than a week away, definite contenders don't want to spend too many hours pursuing what could ultimately be dead ends.

So consider the following exercise -- finding a single perfect trade match for each contending team -- written in pencil and not ink. For now, Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette aren't going anywhere, so they're not included. Another long losing streak could change that. Tampa Bay and Detroit, meanwhile, have discussed potential deals that would move veteran players, according to sources. A stretch that thrusts them back into contention might change that, too.

With that in mind, we've defined the "contenders" as the 12 current playoff teams and one more to account for every team with a better-than-500 record. The biggest omission is the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers, who, barring a total collapse, are expected to bolster their roster before the July 30 deadline. As for the seven NL teams within five games of .500, some of their players appear on the list because logic dictates they'll recognize that in a distinct sellers' market, pragmatism invites more on-the-bubble teams to join the fray.

In order of record, here are teams and their ideal targets.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (2)

Philadelphia Phillies

52-26, first place, NL East (lead by eight games)

Weakness: Center field

Best match: Luis Robert

Everything here lines up. The Phillies are a juggernaut. They've scored the fourth-most runs in baseball. They have the best ERA in baseball. They've made deep playoff runs the past two seasons without winning a ring. And they have one clear vulnerability: center field. Johan Rojas wasn't the answer. Cristian Pache isn't. Robert, the 26-year-old center fielder for the Chicago White Sox, is under contract through 2027, giving the Phillies four potential postseason runs. His injury proneness is understandably worrisome, but his ceiling is tantalizing enough to see past the concerns.

Philadelphia president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has never been afraid to deal top prospects, and good thing: It will take a steep haul to land Robert because so few impact bats are on the market. Chicago could reasonably ask Philadelphia for Aidan Miller, who dropped to the 27th overall pick in last year's MLB draft and could end this season as a top 25 prospect. The Phillies' system is as deep as it's been in years, thanks to the emergence of fireballing right-hander George Klassen and shortstop Starlyn Caba, who have joined Andrew Painter (recovering from Tommy John surgery) and Mick Abel near the top of Philadelphia's prospect rankings. Plenty of clubs want Robert. But if White Sox general manager Chris Getz does choose to move him -- Chicago could always wait until the winter -- no team makes sense like Philadelphia.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (3)

Cleveland Guardians

50-26, first place, AL Central (lead by eight games)

Weakness: Starting pitching

Best match: Erick Fedde

Cleveland entered 2024 hoping to ride its young rotation to playoff contention. Well, Shane Bieber went down with Tommy John surgery, Gavin Williams hasn't thrown a big league inning, Logan Allen is sporting a 5.23 ERA and Triston McKenzie leads MLB in walks and home runs allowed.

Fedde, 31, might be the signing of the offseason, joining the White Sox for two years and $15 million after winning the Korean Baseball Organization MVP award in 2023. The right-hander is eating innings (his 94⅓ are among the top 10 in the AL), generating ground balls (47.6%) and striking out four batters for every one he walks.

This would not be a sexy move, but then sexy isn't part of the vocabulary of the Guardians, whose precision and discipline keep them competitive almost every season with tiny payrolls. As nice as it would be to land a catcher -- Colorado's Elias Diaz would be a delightful fit -- a starting arm to shore up the rotation would serve as a spot-on complement to Cleveland's best-in-baseball bullpen.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (4)

New York Yankees

52-28, first place, AL East (lead by two games)

Weakness: Infield, bullpen

Best match: Tanner Scott

This might not be what Yankees fans want to hear, but the headliner moves just don't make a ton of sense. A trade for Guerrero would be fun. Same with one that sends Pete Alonso across the Triborough Bridge. Likewise acquiring uber-reliever Mason Miller from Oakland. All are long shots for different reasons. Guerrero has said publicly he never wants to play for the Yankees, and Toronto loathes the notion of seeing him in division games for another year. Alonso going crosstown -- even months before he hits free agency -- would require an overpriced return to mitigate the grief of actively choosing to send a franchise icon to an in-town rival. And the acquisition cost for Miller is astronomical.

The Yankees, who were the best team in baseball even before reigning AL Cy Young Gerrit Cole returned, are also a club with infield flaws the market simply doesn't meet, unless Colorado releases its grip on Ryan McMahon. New York could get Luis Rengifo from the Los Angeles Angels, sure, but the void Scott fills is more acute. He could be a dominant left-handed reliever for a team without one, and while his walks this season are alarming, the Marlins' 29-year-old closer has worked around them to the tune of a 1.64 ERA. As much as the Yankees' offense has holes, Aaron Judge and Juan Soto paper over plenty, and as long as Giancarlo Stanton's hamstring heals well -- never a sure thing -- they'll have ample offense.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (5)

Baltimore Orioles

49-29, second place, AL East (first in AL wild card)

Weakness: Starting pitching

Best match: Garrett Crochet

The Orioles showed this winter that they have the gumption to deal from their surfeit of young position players, and Corbin Burnes has been nothing short of magnificent since coming over from the Brewers. Will they do it again, though? Tommy John surgeries for Kyle Bradish, John Means and Tyler Wells have gnawed away their rotation depth.

Unlike when the Orioles went big for Burnes in the offseason, this is a deadline without a true headlining ace. Jesus Luzardo's back injury that landed him on the 60-day injured list has shrunk an already-limited supply of available front-line starting pitching. Which leaves Crochet, who has been one of the best starters in baseball for the White Sox this season -- and, in his first year as a starter, has already exceeded his innings total from the first four seasons of his career.

Baltimore's restraint is among the organization's best qualities, but without a World Series appearance in more than 40 years, the Orioles can stand to take a risk on Crochet, whose fastball-cutter combination should launch him to his first All-Star appearance. Crochet leads the AL in strikeouts, sports a 3.05 ERA and shut out the next team on this list over 5⅔ innings Monday. If it's not Baltimore, another contender is bound to land him.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (6)

Los Angeles Dodgers

49-31, first place, NL West (lead by 8½ games)

Weakness: Outfield

Best match: Randy Arozarena

There's an argument to be made that the Dodgers go full Death Star: Get Bichette from Toronto to play shortstop, move Mookie Betts back to right field upon his return from a broken hand, slide Teoscar Hernandez to left and mash. Or they could take the risk on Arozarena -- in the midst of the worst season of his career -- and figure joining a lineup with Betts, Hernandez, Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith would help him find his mojo.

Following a dreadful April and May, Arozarena has looked like his typical self in June, and with Tampa Bay open to exploring deals, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman could turn to his old stomping grounds to round out a team that even without Arozarena looks the part of World Series contender.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (7)

Milwaukee Brewers

46-33, first place, NL Central (lead by five games)

Weakness: Rotation depth

Best match: Jack Flaherty

As pleasant a surprise as the emergence of Tobias Myers over the past month has been, Milwaukee doesn't want to go into October without fortifying its rotation. Crochet would also make sense for the Brewers to address that need -- and they certainly like him -- but Milwaukee can make the case that Flaherty is every bit as good of a fit at a fraction of the trade return. The 28-year-old right-hander has been brilliant for Detroit this season, with the third-highest strikeout rate and the fourth-lowest walk rate in baseball. Flaherty is back to throwing first-pitch strikes, and his stuff getting swings and misses is reminiscent of the heater he went on during the second half of the 2019 season. He leads every starter in xFIP, a predictive metric that accounts for his elevated home runs per flyball. Unlike last deadline, when Baltimore dealt for Flaherty, he's far more than a complementary piece.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (8)

Atlanta Braves

43-33, second place, NL East (first in NL wild card)

Weakness: Outfield

Best match: Lane Thomas

Ronald Acuna Jr.'s season-ending ACL tear left the Braves facing the same quandary they did in 2021: How do you replace the superstar outfielder? The answer then was: You don't. President of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos went with the group approach that year, dealing for Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson and Adam Duvall, and wound up winning a World Series. Thomas, the 28-year-old right fielder for Washington, is this season's all-in-one solution. As painful as it would be for Washington to send Thomas to a team it trails in its division by only six games, he is a free agent after next season. Atlanta could either keep him as an Acuna insurance policy or move him again in the winter. For the time being, the Braves know that even with their offense struggling, it's bound to turn around at some point, and a rotation with Max Fried, Chris Sale, Charlie Morton and Reynaldo Lopez, a bullpen with six solid relievers and that lineup plus Thomas makes them every bit the October threat of the three first-place teams in the NL.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (9)

Seattle Mariners

45-36, first place, AL West (lead by 5½ games)

Weakness: Offense

Best match: Pete Alonso

Deep down, the Mets are grimacing at their recent run of success. They're too inconsistent to warrant adding players at the deadline if the cost is in prospect capital, and they're good enough that divesting themselves of a player such as Alonso would send a bad message to their woebegone fan base.

For Seattle, Alonso would represent the middle-of-the-order bopper its current lineup currently lacks -- and desperately needs. So if it's not Alonso, perhaps Tampa Bay third baseman Isaac Paredes. And if not Alonso or Paredes, Angels outfielder Taylor Ward or Detroit outfielder Mark Canha qualify. The point: Seattle's pitching warrants the team's brain trust making an aggressive play before July 30, even if it's not for Alonso. If it is, there are plenty of DH at-bats going to waste for Seattle, which could entice New York with a far better return than the fourth-round draft pick they're set to receive if Alonso leaves in free agency this winter.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (10)

Minnesota Twins

43-35, second place, AL Central (second in AL wild card)

Weakness: Outfield on-base skills

Best match: Mark Canha

The return of Royce Lewis from the injured list has helped amplify a Twins offense that already features a resurgent Carlos Correa, a breakout year from Willi Castro and solid production from Jose Miranda, Ryan Jeffers and the ageless Carlos Santana. The Twins are eighth in MLB in runs scored, their rotation headlined by Pablo Lopez and Joe Ryan features five starters with strikeout-to-walk ratios of better than 3-to-1 and their bullpen -- used adeptly by manager Rocco Baldelli -- is a weapon.

The 35-year-old Canha is getting on base more than 35% of the time for Detroit, and while his defense leaves something to be desired, he would be a practical choice for a practical organization, a complement to its excess of left-handed-hitting corner players. The Twins aren't inclined to pursue anything of the blockbuster variety, and because he's a free agent this winter, Canha could come relatively cheap for the production he provides.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (11)

Boston Red Sox

43-36, third place, AL East (third in AL wild card)

Weakness: Infield versatility

Best match: Luis Rengifo

To be clear, the Red Sox are not yet committed to adding. They've simply played themselves into a situation where not doing so would be a bad look for an organization that has had too many in recent years. Rengifo, a 27-year-old who doesn't reach free agency until after the 2025 season, would bring versatility -- he has played second base and shortstop, both areas of need for the Red Sox -- in addition to a dangerous bat. It would be the steady sort of move that improves them now and gives them options going forward. That said: If Boston continues this run and goes into July in full command of a playoff spot, the Red Sox absolutely should be placing a call to the Mets to gauge the possibility of getting Alonso. Even though first baseman Triston Casas is expected back in early July, the Red Sox have gotten a sub-.300 weighted on-base average from the DH position. Which, regardless of the size of Masataka Yoshida's contract, is worth addressing via upgrades like the one Alonso would provide.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (12)

Kansas City Royals

43-37, third place, AL Central (trail last AL wild card spot by ½ game)

Weakness: Outfield, bullpen

Best match: Taylor Ward

Since June 1, the Royals are 9-18. Whether that's more indicative of their true talent than a 34-19 start showed or just a rough patch, it's bound to reshape the approach of a team that has been vocal in its desire to add a middle-of-the-order outfield bat and relief pitching. Ward would be an upgrade offensively and defensively over left-field incumbent MJ Melendez, and the 30-year-old would offer the Royals some thump either in front of or behind Bobby Witt Jr, Vinnie Pasquantino and Salvador Perez.

On the relief side, Kansas City needs to shore up a bullpen that in June is striking out only 6.91 batters per nine innings and walking 3.98. Beyond Scott and Angels closer Carlos Estevez, the Royals could entertain pursuing right-hander Jason Adam, a Kansas City native who came up through the organization, or Pete Fairbanks, who played college ball at Mizzou. Both have historically posted strong strikeout numbers and would push James McArthur out of the closer's role, where he has allowed opponents to hit .329/.382/.557 since the beginning of May.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (13)

St. Louis Cardinals

40-37, second place, NL Central (second in NL wild card)

Weakness: Clutch hitting, back-end rotation

Best match: Brent Rooker

How does a team whose everyday players are putting up solid numbers wind up with the second-lowest-scoring offense in the NL? Easy: By absolutely falling apart with runners in scoring position. As a team, St. Louis is batting .222/.294/.339 in those situations. It just so happens that Rooker is one of the best hitters this season with RISP, slashing .293/.382/.707 over 68 plate appearances -- a small sample, admittedly, but one that can't be ignored, either. Rooker, 29, might strike out too much, but he also offers massive power, three years of control beyond this season and, best of all, a fair asking price.

Finding him at-bats could prove challenging -- more so with Tommy Edman's return from the injury list imminent -- but St. Louis can't see itself as a real contender if it trots out a lineup that collapses at some of the most important times in a game. Whether or not this is a Cardinals team worth going all-in on, it has shown enough moxie to consider upgrades in the area where they're most needed.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (14)

San Diego Padres

42-41, second place, NL West (third in NL wild card)

Weakness: Starting pitching

Best match: Luis Severino

The Padres are pot committed, and they're a starter -- OK, maybe two -- away from taking control of one of the NL wild-card slots. Severino fits almost all of their needs. He's been very good with a 3.29 ERA over 90⅓ innings in 15 starts for the Mets. His slider is a true out pitch, elite in shape and outcome. And with San Diego's budgetary concerns, he would be coming from an organization that just last year was willing to eat tens of millions of dollars when the Mets traded starters Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. With Yu Darvish suffering a setback in his attempt to return from the injured list, Dylan Cease, Michael King and Matt Waldron are the only three reliable starters in San Diego's rotation. Getting Severino would strengthen the Padres' starting group and allow general manager A.J. Preller to hold on to his top hitting prospects, catcher Ethan Salas and shortstop Leo Devries, who are the sort of return Chicago would seek if Preller went whale hunting and tried to land Crochet.

Passan: The perfect trade deadline addition for each of MLB's top contenders (2024)
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