Most contending teams will add pitching in some manner before the July 31 trade deadline -- a reliever or a starter -- so while the Marlins probably have no idea where or when they might trade Kyle Barraclough, they can feel reasonably confident they’ll get some decent offers. Similarly, the phone will ring for the Blue Jays if they make veteran left-hander J.A. Happ available.
But there is a lot more uncertainty for teams that might have position players to take into the market -- and this might be the case for any club that looks to move a third baseman this summer amid a lot more supply than demand.
Manny Machado will be the top consideration at third base and at shortstop for any contender willing to entertain Baltimore’s inevitably enormous asking price. He’s having a phenomenal season, with an OPS of about 1.100 and the promise of defensive impact.
But there should be plenty of alternatives to Machado. Such as Josh Donaldson, the former AL MVP. Or Mike Moustakas, who returned to the Royals on a one-year deal and could be on the move again before he reaches free agency in the fall. Or, if you want a third baseman under team control beyond this year, you could probably call the Yankees about Brandon Drury, given that Miguel Andujar seems to have seized the third-base spot in the Bronx. The Rays are always willing to listen to offers, and they’ve got the 27-year-old Matt Duffy, who is off to a good start. Or how about Adrian Beltre, the future Hall of Famer who is in the last year of his contract with the Rangers and is always a productive player when he’s not on the disabled list?
Lots and lots and lots of solid options.
The problem for the sellers is that there might not be much in the way of attractive offers because of the potential scarcity of buyers. “That’s the problem with having a rental position player,” one official said. “It’s so team-specific. It’s the worst market to be in, the rental position player market.”
Rival evaluators think it’s possible the Indians could look for a third baseman, and if they land somebody, they could slide Jose Ramirez over to second base. The Braves have been trying different ways to fill third base, from Charlie Culberson to Ryan Flaherty to Jose Bautista, and if the Braves remain in contention and prefer to leave prospect Austin Riley in Triple-A, they could pick through the market options for a veteran. The Cardinals talked with the Orioles about Machado during the winter, as did the Cubs (although the Cubs seemed more focused on him as a shortstop).
Beyond that, however, there might not be many contenders in need of a third baseman. The Cubs have Kris Bryant. The Giants: Evan Longoria, with three years left on his deal. The Dodgers are struggling, but even if they were willing to trade for help, it wouldn’t be at third; they have Justin Turner locked up for a couple more years. The Red Sox seem intent on establishing Rafael Devers. The Mets signed Todd Frazier to a two-year deal. The Diamondbacks field Jake Lamb. Houston has Alex Bregman. The Angels have a three-year investment in Zack Cozart to play third.
Injuries can quickly alter the trade landscape, but it’s also possible the teams with third basemen could find themselves in the same position the Mets were in with Jay Bruce last year. Bruce was playing well, in the last year of his contract -- and yet there was almost no interest in him, either before the trade deadline, or after. Bruce passed through waivers in August, unclaimed. The Mets finally settled on a deal with the Indians in which the greatest value to New York was some salary savings.
And some mitigating circumstances might affect bids for this group. The 32-year-old Donaldson had 33 homers in just 113 games last season, but he’s making $23 million this year and has been dealing with a shoulder issue. “Part of the selling point of Donaldson a couple of years ago was that he was a guy who always posted [in the lineup],” one rival evaluator said. “He’s been banged up.”
Officials with other teams wonder if the Jays’ best option for extracting value in Donaldson might be in extending him a qualifying offer in the fall, setting themselves up to get draft-pick compensation if he signs elsewhere.
Beltre already has been on the DL twice. The Marlins' Martin Prado is making $13.5 million this season and is owed $15 million for next year, a contract that makes him untradable, at age 34 (and Prado is hitting .167 with no homers). The left-handed hitting Moustakas is reasonably priced, for a $6.5 million salary, and has hit well overall, but he struggles against lefties; his .640 OPS vs. lefties is almost 400 points lower than against right-handers.
The conditions developing in the third-base market appear ideal for buyers, and perhaps very disappointing, and very frustrating, for sellers.