- Let's make a deal for each of the division leaders before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
For all the jostling around the two wild-card spots in both the American and National League, there are a number of teams firmly supplanted atop their divisions. Of the six leaders, five are at least four games ahead of the second-place team with just over a week to go before the trade deadline.
Unlike in years past, though, there will be no waiver deadline come Aug. 31 for those first-place sides to shore things up if their lead narrows or for October. That means now is the only time to bring in the pieces to lock up a division crown and set the stage for a potential postseason run.
At this time last year, the Red Sox led the AL East by 4.5 games—but they still needed Nathan Eovaldi to push their rotation over the edge. In 2016, the Cubs were in first by eight games, yet a trade for closer Aroldis Chapman made the difference as they won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.
Here is the one perfect trade for each of the six division leaders:
NL East: Atlanta Braves (6.5 games up) trade for Tigers SP Matthew Boyd
Pitching, not hitting, is what Atlanta really lacks. Mike Soroka has anchored the rotation with a 2.24 ERA that is second in all of baseball—yet the rest of the team has combined for a 4.45 ERA, which would only be slightly better than league average. Plus, with young arms who have never before had to endure this many innings, it’s not unreasonable to think guys like Soroka and Max Fried could fatigue as toward the end of the season.
Boyd, then, would be an ideal pickup for the Braves. At 28, he’s slightly older than most of their rotation, and he was a sixth-round selection for current Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos when he held the same role for the Blue Jays. The Braves wouldn’t want to surrender No. 14 overall prospect Cristian Pache. They could, however, deal Double-A outfielder Drew Waters, their second-round choice from 2017, who is hitting .333 through 94 games this year.
NL Central: Chicago Cubs (2.5 games up) trade for Royals 2B Whit Merrifield
This one is going to cost a lot—not that Theo Epstein hasn’t been willing to sacrifice prospects in July before. Whit Merrifield is currently fourth in WAR among all second basemen and his .312 average pairs nicely with his 15 stolen bases. The Cubs have gotten plenty of good defense from Addison Russell since he returned from suspension, but Russell isn’t hitting and Kyle Schwarber isn’t the ideal leadoff man.
With Merrifield up top, Schwarber would slide down to anywhere between fifth and seventh in the order, and centerfielder Albert Almora Jr. would give the Chicago a threat at the bottom of the lineup. Of course, the cost could be prohibitive—the Royals reportedly want “MLB-ready players.” And they may not even deal him at all after signing him to a team-friendly, four-year deal worth $16.25 million this offseason. However, in a perfect world for the Cubs, this would be their perfect move. Merrifield would be the ideal replacement for Ben Zobrist.
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers (14.0 games up) trade for Giants RP Will Smith
The Dodgers don’t need much to round out a team that has been by far the best in the NL all season long. They can absolutely mash and have three elite pitchers in their rotation. That means the place to add is the bullpen.
Los Angeles’ 4.17 ERA by relievers isn’t actually all that bad, but they've had to pitch the third-fewest innings of any bullpen in the league thus far, which has taken at least some of the load off them. An extra arm, such as lefthander Will Smith would add another weapon to a dangerous arsenal. Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly and Pedro Baez are all righties, so the Smith would give the Dodgers a late-innings option from the other side as well as a potential bridge to Jansen. Are the Giants definitely selling? Maybe not anymore, after their recent surge into wild-card contention. Would they be willing to help a division rival? Unclear. But with Smith being a free agent after the year, San Francisco would be wise to take a decent prospect and walk away better off for its rebuild.
AL East: New York Yankees (9.0 games up) trade for Blue Jays SP Marcus Stroman
A deal sending the Toronto ace to the Big Apple has felt like it’s been in the cards for a while now. Marcus Stroman, a Long Island native with a feisty attitude on the mound, would give the Yankees a truly fearsome rotation. Neither J.A. Happ nor James Paxton has lived up to expectations this season, but a top-of-the-rotation starter like Stroman would take a lot of pressure off that duo as well as Domingo German, All-Star Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia.
The only wrinkle is that Stroman is under team control for next season, and the fact that he’d be pitching for another AL East team means that the Yankees would probably have to pay a premium. Clint Frazier has been downright awful in the minors since getting demoted, so maybe a change of scenery helps him. Plus the Yankees have a number of high-level pitching prospects that Toronto could target as well.
AL Central: Minnesota Twins (lead Indians by 3.0 games) trade for Rockies RP Jake McGee
This probably isn’t the blockbuster move that Twins fans would be dreaming of, but Minnesota shouldn’t necessarily fork over all of its chips for an elite-level starter like Noah Syndergaard. The best bet for the Twins would be to bolster their bullpen, ride out what they’ve got, and hope to sneak into the ALCS, since they almost certainly don’t have the firepower to top the Yankees or Astros.
Taylor Rogers is the only lefty Minnesota has in relief, and with the 2012 11th-round selection as the team’s primary closer, they could use another southpaw. McGee’s numbers aren’t overwhelming—he’s only struck out 19 in 22 1/3 innings and his WHIP sits at 1.25 through 23 appearances. He would, however, benefit from getting out of Coors Field, and the Twins could control him for two years beyond this season after he signed a two-year deal with a team option this past winer.
AL West: Houston Astros (lead Athletics by 5.5 games) trade for Mariners C Omar Narvaez
Starting pitching is the primary need for the Astros. Beyond Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, there is reason to be worried about Houston’s rotation. But how about adding about another bat? Of the 18 position players to hit for the Astros this season, catchers Robinson Chirinos (.216) and Max Stassi (.165) have the 15th- and 16th-best averages.
So what if Seattle would be willing to sell off one of its best sluggers to get some more prospects for its reconstruction? Omar Narvaez has been one of baseball’s top hitting catchers, and although his defense isn’t great, Chirinos’ is not really any better (36th to Narvaez’s 37th among all catchers with 300 innings played this season). Houston wouldn’t have to give up much and they’ll need to hit to keep pace with the Yankees come October.