With time running out until MLB‘s non-waiver trade deadline, nearly half of the league is sandwiched together atop the standings.

Fourteen teams have accumulated at least 50 victories. Shortly before the non-waiver trade window shuts on Aug. 1, a clear line divides the contenders and pretenders. Given the parity at the top, every playoff hopeful can convince itself that one or two shrewd moves will catalyze a championship run.

Such a climate could create chaos over the next 10 days. Some of the most popular trade candidates remain on the rumor mill, even if all of them aren’t veterans on expiring contracts.

Their availability might be only for show, but let’s examine the latest buzz on some of baseball’s best players on the market.


Chris Archer

If there’s a player a small-market seller shouldn’t shop, it’s a 27-year-old ace, especially not when he’s on the books for a team-friendly contract through 2021. And especially not during a down year.

A year after registering a 3.23 ERA and 252 strikeouts for the Tampa Bay Rays, Chris Archer has posted an inflated 4.60 ERA in 2016. He’s on the hook for an MLB-worst 13 losses, only two of which qualified as quality starts.

It’s a poor time for Tampa Bay to move a struggling franchise centerpiece, but an anonymous team executive expressed confidence that the Los Angeles Dodgers would land him, per ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark:

Even if the Rays deal Archer, don’t expect them to sell low. Stark clarified their high asking price, which makes a move feel less certain than the previous source suggested:

Will the Dodgers pay up? Per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, an executive said they “have almost no choice but to overpay for a controllable starter such as Archer or [Chris] Sale,” with ace Clayton Kershaw possibly needing surgery. Another source previously told Rosenthal the Chicago White Sox turned down a “king’s ransom” for their rotation anchor.

If motivated to stay in playoff contention without Kershaw, the Dodgers have a deep enough farm system for an aggressive move. Top pitching prospects Jose De Leon, Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas could grab Tampa Bay’s attention. The crown jewel of their young talent, 19-year-old Julio Urias, would especially force the Rays to consider a blockbuster move.

Despite his 2016 struggles, Archer remains a top-shelf arm who has punched out 147 batters over 123.1 innings. Unless the Dodgers make a Godfather offer, he’ll stay put, with Matt Moore or Jake Odorizzi potentially moving instead.


Jonathan Lucroy

Milwaukee Brewers teammate Ryan Braun is a flashier household name, but Jonathan Lucroy stirs more excitement among contenders. The 30-year-old catcher is hitting .301/.357/.484 during a bounce-back year, and few peers garner more respect for their defensive work.

A $5.25 million club option for 2017—chump change for an elite two-way catcher—fortifies his trade value but allows Milwaukee the flexibility to stand pat if no offer whets its whistle. As a cheap upgrade for every team besides the San Francisco Giants, he’ll draw plenty of eager admirers before Aug. 1.

On Wednesday, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported the Cleveland Indians are one such suitor:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Tom Haudricourt added that the two sides will expand those negotiations to include relievers: 

Contrary to Olney‘s tweet, Cleveland.com’s Paul Hoynes reported Michael Brantley’s latest setback won’t intensify Cleveland’s pursuit of offensive help. Yet it’s reasonable to expect the American League Central leaders to address the worst catching production in baseball. 

Yet Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball dampened the likelihood of a transaction. 

“While an Indians person confirmed they talked about Lucroy, that possibility was downplayed, which makes sense since the Indians probably want to save their bullets for pitching,” Heyman wrote.

The Indians boast one of baseball’s premier rotations, but their bullpen is a sore spot, aside from Dan Otero and closer Cody Allen. Baseball Prospectus gives them an 97.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, so they should give serious thought to obtaining Lucroy and bullpen help from Milwaukee.


Jay Bruce and Josh Reddick

Not every maneuver needs to set the baseball community ablaze. For teams needing an offensive boost in a corner-outfield slot, Jay Bruce and Josh Reddick represent sensible choices who shouldn’t command top-flight prospects in return.

Since they fit the same role, it’s natural for their markets to intertwine. According to Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi, a few teams are eyeing both sluggers:

Boasting a .528 slugging percentage and 19 homers, Bruce represents the grander offensive upgrade. A $13 million club option for next year also tacks on more future worth than Reddick‘s expiring contract. Yet any buyer must consider the defensive repercussions.

Because of his minus-12.3 ultimate zone rating, the worst mark of any outfielder, Bruce grades out as a replacement-level player despite his demonstrative power. The Dodgers might be desperate enough for the power, and the Cubs could mask his shortcomings with baseball’s best defense. Heyman tossed the Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals into the mix as well.

Reddick is no defensive wizard, and he has delivered significantly less power, with six long balls for the Oakland Athletics. The 29-year-old also, however, wields a higher weighted runs created-plus mark (121) than the Cincinnati Reds bruiser (117) thanks to his keen batting eye.

Per the San Francisco Chronicle‘s John Shea, Reddick indicated he “would love to” remain in Oakland. 

“It’s kind of disheartening something hasn’t been worked out so far, and we’ve been four months into it. It is what it is,” he said.

Oakland has rarely shown loyalty to its tenured players, so expect Reddick to go when the last-place franchise unloads before the deadline. He’s a two-month rental who can help a handful of contenders.


Note: All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Contract information obtained from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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