Baseball's trade deadline is exactly one week away, so we're entering the point when front offices go from information collection to substantive action, although plenty can change before 6 p.m. ET on Aug. 1 -- especially this summer.
At least a half-dozen teams are still unsure of how aggressively they will approach their deal-making over the next week. One general manager lamented not just the opacity of the market itself but his team's muddled, wait-and-see status, telling ESPN: "This is the best sellers' market of my lifetime. I almost wish I could commit to it and take advantage."
The lack of clarity has led to a sense that even if there is a flurry of deals -- and there always is -- the quality of players expected to be moved is the lowest in recent memory. Good players will be traded, yes, but nobody around the sport expects a deal with stars like Juan Soto in 2022, Trea Turner and Max Scherzer in 2021, Trevor Bauer in 2019, Manny Machado in 2018 or Yu Darvish in 2017.
The kind of blockbuster that would transform this deadline rests on the whims of Arte Moreno, the Los Angeles Angels' owner, who will either rubber-stamp a deal for two-way star Shohei Ohtani or spend the next two months praying the baseball gods smile on the Angels and grant their first playoff appearance in nearly a decade. For all of the other sure-it-could-happen deals -- the New York Mets move Scherzer or Justin Verlander, the St. Louis Cardinals ship out third baseman Nolan Arenado, the Chicago White Sox go full punt and trade Dylan Cease -- Ohtani is the sun around which baseball orbits, this week especially.
And although winning five of their past six has thrust the Angels back to at least the precipice of postseason contention, they still need to leapfrog Boston, New York and the current owner of the third American League wild card, Toronto, to secure a playoff spot. If they decide that's likely, hold onto Ohtani and then watch him leave via free agency, the Angels could end up with nothing to show for it but a pick between the second and third rounds of the 2024 draft. On the continuum of outcomes, that ranks somewhere between unconscionable and dreadful.
That logic is why executives with contending teams are holding out hope that Moreno reconciles that the pain of trading the best player in the world for a cornucopia of prospects is far more palatable than that of losing him for a million bucks in amateur draft bonus pool money. But until there's a clear sign from the Angels that Moreno is serious about moving Ohtani -- for context, last summer, the Nationals started putting out feelers on Soto in late June, and the Angels have not been nearly as proactive -- most teams are operating like he's staying put.
Which leaves the rest of the sport angling for the next best things -- which in this case means a disproportionate amount of attention trained on a pair of cities separated by 300 or so miles of I-55. Here is where the market stands -- and where it could go.