MILWAUKEE — The unusual circumstances surrounding the abbreviated baseball season are creating plenty of questions for teams looking to upgrade their rosters before Monday’s trade deadline.
The expanded playoff format reduces the number of teams eager to write off the season and make moves aimed at the future. The lack of minor league games makes it tough for teams to decide which prospects to pursue from other organizations.
“This is going to be a really unique deadline, I think, in a variety of different ways,” said David Stearns, Milwaukee Brewers president of baseball operations. “I don’t know that anyone knows for sure how it’s going to play out in terms of volume of transactions and what types of transactions.”
A big question looming over the trade deadline is the uncertain status of the season itself. Why should a team risk its long-term future and trade top prospects to pursue a title when the pandemic could put the entire postseason at risk?
“If you would have asked me that question two or three weeks ago, I would have thought it would have been a little quieter than I think it’s going to be now,” Daniels said. “And I think the biggest piece of that is, it really speaks to the confidence level across the industry that we’re successfully playing out the season, and the confidence level that we’re going to be able to crown a champion at the end of the postseason.”
The unique nature of this postseason could reduce the number of teams interested in trading established players to build up their farm systems.
Eight teams from each league will make the playoffs this year. Heading into Wednesday’s games, the National League had only six teams with winning records. The AL had seven teams above .500.
“There are very few teams right now that I think look in the mirror and say, ‘We don’t have a chance at making the playoffs,’” Stearns said. “So that is going to limit the type of conventional conversations that you can have.”
There’s another issue hindering trades of prospects. Without any minor league games, organizations will have a tough time getting an accurate measure of prospects from outside their own systems.
Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ben Cherington noted that MLB does have a data sharing plan among teams that gives teams some access to what prospects at other organizations are doing at alternate training sites.
“It’s a little bit different from team to team just because every team’s player group is a little bit different and every team’s setup is a little bit different,” Cherington said. “It does help us confirm — you can confirm quite a bit through the data in terms of, for a pitcher, velocity and spin and things like that compared to what we’ve seen in the past. … Likewise for other teams, other teams are getting that on our guys, too.”
Some established players on struggling teams who could be mentioned in trade talks:
KANSAS CITY ROYALS P TREVOR ROSENTHAL
Contenders often are looking for relief help. Rosenthal, a former Cardinals star, signed a minor league deal with Kansas City in December and has posted seven saves and a 1.46 ERA.
TEXAS RANGERS P LANCE LYNN
Lynn’s 4-0 record and 1.59 ERA make him one of baseball’s best pitchers this season. He’d be the top available starter if Texas chooses to shop him. Lynn remains under contract through 2021, which may entice the Rangers to keep him unless someone makes a huge offer.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES P KEONE KELA
Another guy who could appeal to teams looking to boost their bullpens. Kela has a solid track record after posting a 2.12 ERA last year and recording 24 saves in 2018. Kela left the Pirates’ game Friday with forearm tightness, which could scare off some suitors.
BOSTON RED SOX DH J.D. MARTINEZ
Boston already sent relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to Philadelphia last week, but more moves could be on the way. Martinez has struggled so far this season but posted an OPS over .900 every year from 2016 through 2019.
DETROIT TIGERS 2B JONATHAN SCHOOP
He’s on a one-year deal and could interest any teams looking for a power-hitting infielder. Schoop hit over 20 homers every year from 2016 through 2019. He hit a grand slam Tuesday as his OPS improved to .833.
SEATTLE MARINERS P TAIJUAN WALKER
After injuries limited him to a total of four games in 2018-19, Walker has bounced back and emerged as a reliable starter. He’s on a one-year deal and could help any team looking to boost its rotation.