With June winding down and the heat of summer approaching, the July 31 MLB non-waiver trade deadline is shimmering on the horizon.
Inevitably, the question arises: What impact names will be available?
Let's answer that, with a twist. Instead of guys who've churned through the rumor mill for months—such as Chicago White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen—we'll consider players whose potential availability is a bit more shocking.
To put it another way: If you traveled back in time to Opening Day and told fans of any of these teams that the players in question would be dealt by July, they'd have accused you of taking a banned substance.
To be clear, we're not saying all of these players will be dealt, but based on the standings and latest rumblings, it's a lot less far-fetched notion than it was in April.
The New York Mets grabbed the pennant in 2015 and returned to the playoffs last year via the wild card. They entered 2017 in a clear win-now window.
Instead, injuries have decimated the roster and New York sits at 31-37 entering play Monday, 10.5 games back of the loaded Washington Nationals.
Second baseman Neil Walker and right-hander Matt Harvey have joined the ranks of the disabled, and ace Noah Syndergaard likely won't be back until August, per Sports Illustrated's Dan Gartland.
If the Mets see the writing on the wall and shift into sell mode, they have a number of veteran free-agents-to-be who could be offered as rentals, including Walker (assuming he returns healthy), outfielder Jay Bruce and first baseman Lucas Duda.
The most intriguing option, however, might be reliever Addison Reed. Bullpen arms are always in demand come the deadline, and the 28-year-old should draw ample interest with his 2.72 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 36.1 innings.
With closer Jeurys Familia missing time to a suspension and subsequent shoulder surgery, Reed has assumed the bulk of the ninth-inning work.
Now, instead of guiding New York into its third consecutive postseason, he could be locking down saves in a new uniform.
Johnny Cueto, RHP, San Francisco Giants
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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Like the Mets, the San Francisco Giants came into 2016 expecting to contend. A disastrous start has put them on a 100-loss pace and cast them in the unfamiliar role of deadline seller.
Franchise icons such as catcher Buster Posey and injured left-hander Madison Bumgarner are almost surely off-limits.
The rest of the roster, however, could be picked clean, beginning with right-hander Johnny Cueto.
An All-Star and top-six Cy Young Award finisher with the Giants in 2016, Cueto has seen his ERA balloon to 4.57 this season.
Still, the 31-year-old Dominican is a proven commodity with extensive postseason experience who would slot nicely into any number of rotations.
He's got an opt-out clause in his contract after this season, meaning he could be a rental. Then again, unless he improves his numbers, he could decide to ride out his current deal, which pays him $21 million-plus through 2021 with a $22 million team option and $5 million buyout for 2022, per Spotrac.
Either way, he should net enough of a return to help the suddenly hapless Giants bolster a so-so farm system.
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants
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Speaking of those hapless Giants, here's another, more outside-the-box trade target: Brandon Belt.
The 29-year-old has quietly emerged as one of the game's more valuable first basemen by posting the eighth-highest WAR at the position between 2014 and 2016, according to FanGraphs' calculation.
He's also signed through 2021 at $17.2 million per season—not a massive bargain but certainly affordable for a contender with deep pockets.
Like, say, the New York Yankees, who could use an upgrade at first base and have a fertile farm system.
Why would the Giants move Belt over another infielder such as second baseman Joe Panik or shortstop Brandon Crawford?
The simple answer: position. At some point, San Francisco needs to move Posey from behind the plate to save his legs, and first base is the logical landing spot.
While Belt can also play the outfield, he's the member of the Giants' homegrown core most likely to be jettisoned.
Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas Rangers
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Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
The Texas Rangers have won back-to-back American League West titles, but they are mired at .500 and 11 games back of Lone Star State rival Houston Astros.
They're on the buy/sell bubble. If they opt to sell, right-hander Yu Darvish is the shiniest prize they could dangle.
The three-time All-Star and impending free agent has posted a 3.35 ERA with 99 strikeouts in 94 innings. Even as a rental, he could net a nice return from any contender in search of pitching, which is to say nearly every contender.
Texas might sneak into the playoffs, but the club isn't equipped for a deep run. It can trade Darvish now and get something for the future, or ride out the season with him and in all likelihood watch him sign elsewhere.
Rangers fans hungry for another taste of October won't like it, but, as Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News noted, trading Darvish looks like "this team's best option" going forward.
Kyle Schwarber, LF, Chicago Cubs
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Jon Durr/Getty Images
Last year at the deadline, the Chicago Cubs refused to trade Kyle Schwarber to the Yankees for closer Aroldis Chapman, as Joe Giglio of NJ Advance Media reported at the time.
Instead, Chicago sent top infield prospect Gleyber Torres to the Bronx for the flame-throwing reliever.
It's tough to say Chicago should regret that decision, considering it won a championship and broke that 108-year drought. If they had the same choice today, though, the Cubs might ship out Schwarber.
The 24-year-old owns an anemic .174/.294/.385 slash line, while Torres is hitting .309 at Triple-A and appears ticketed for MLB stardom.
Schwarber has plenty of value in his game-changing power. Plus, his .195batting average on balls in play suggests a degree of bad luck.
Might the Cubbies, who are 34-34 and 2.5 games behind the surprising Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central, consider dangling Schwarber this summer for pitching?
It's a notion Buster Olney and Keith Law floated on a recent episode of ESPN's Baseball Tonight podcast, with New York cited as a possible destination.
"He's a first base, DH type," Law noted. "The Yankees could use him there. I wonder what the Cubs would be looking for. Could they get a couple arms?"
Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
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Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
The Toronto Blue Jays have been to the postseason each of the past two seasons after failing to make the dance every year since 1993.
Now, they're sitting in last place in the AL East at 33-35.
A full-blown fire sale isn't likely. In fact, the Jays could be buyers. But if they don't get their heads above .500 in the coming weeks, the pressure to restock the farm system will grow.
The biggest piece on Toronto's roster is third baseman Josh Donaldson, who has been hampered by injury but remains one of the best players in baseball when healthy.
The Blue Jays control him through 2018, so there's no pressing need to trade him now. At the same time, his price tag might never be higher, as SportsNet's Jonah Keri outlined:
"[Donaldson] can test free agency at the end of next season. He's 31 years old, and will be 33 when his name comes up for bid at the 2018 winter meetings. The longer the Jays wait to trade him, the more his value to other teams will shrink."
If you're betting, put money on the Blue Jays keeping Donaldson through 2017 at least. If a prospect-rich buyer blows Toronto away with an offer, though, the 2015 AL MVP could be flying south for the summer.
All statistics and standings current through games played Sunday, June 18 and courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs.
CHICAGO -- Perhaps losing six in a row on a recent West Coast trip was the best thing to happen to the Chicago Cubs. It seems like it was the quintessential wake-up call, as they're now one game from getting all six of those losses back. They beat the Miami Marlins 10-2 on Tuesday night.
The difference? The offense is playing with a sense of purpose and urgency again.
"We're just trying to do our part," right fielder Jason Heyward said after his three-hit night. "It starts in the clubhouse. It starts in the dugout. It starts with us being together. It starts with the hitters feeling like the dugout and your teammates are with you every at-bat. That's what we want to feel."
That last thought was one uttered a lot in 2016, but it has been slow to resonate this season. After a 7-2 home stand was followed by an 0-6 road trip to close the month of May, no one knew what to think of the Cubs. But a quick team meeting and some home cooking have made the difference at the plate. The narrative Tuesday, for once, wasn't about the long ball -- at least not after Anthony Rizzo's fifth-inning blast.
The three-run shot was enough to secure the win, but the Cubs were far more pleased with what they did two innings later: six hits, one walk, six runs scored -- and not one ball left the yard in the seventh. Their .236 team batting average, good for 13th in the NL coming into the game, got a spike.
Jason Heyward had three hits Tuesday to lead a potent Cubs attack.. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"Just to have some balls land on the grass and score some runs that way was kind of nice to do," manager Joe Maddon said.
For the Cubs to truly be the dynamic offensive team that everyone believes they can be, they need more nights such as this. Six walks and 11 hits will net you a lot of double-digit scoring nights. Every starter save Addison Russell had at least one base knock Tuesday.
"Big nights from a lot of guys," winning pitcher Jake Arrieta said. "Showcasing some slug with the conditions we had tonight is all-around impressive."
Arrieta's two-hit performance shouldn't be forgotten, but when an offense comes alive, as it has for the Cubs the past five games, it energizes everyone. It's the opposite of what happens when a team isn't hitting. Players tend to look lethargic and even uncaring. Perhaps that's why Maddon has expressed an "uptick" in the dugout vibe since the team returned home. That might also be related to the entire team being involved on offense, instead of one or two guys a night via the long ball.
"You can never hit too many home runs," Rizzo said with a smile. "But we knew it was a solid week when someone didn't [just] drive a run in via the long ball."
In other words, they'll take the home runs, but that can't be the main way back to the World Series. The best teams can beat you different ways, even if that is a work in progress right now. As long as the Cubs are moving in the right direction, the division has given them time to find it again.
"It takes time to build," Heyward said. "We have to keep building. We've talked about doing everything with a purpose."
There was purpose in that seventh inning when Kris Bryant doubled. Then Rizzo singled him home. Moments later, Heyward had an RBI double followed by an Albert Almora Jr. single before Javier Baez and Jon Jay had run-scoring doubles. The line kept on moving.
That 0-6 road trip has a rear-view-mirror feel to it right now, and it could signify a true turning point if the Cubs keep it up.
"It increases the sense of urgency a little bit," Arrieta said. "Just maybe trying to get locked in a little more, as far as our mental approach.
"We've been doing that, and it's starting to pay off."