MLB trade deadline watch: Upstart Nationals prepared to shift into sell mode and more notes (2024)

MLB trade deadline watch: Upstart Nationals prepared to shift into sell mode and more notes (1)

By The Athletic MLB Staff

Jul 9, 2024

By Ken Rosenthal, Katie Woo and Patrick Mooney

MLB trade deadline watch is a collection of news and notes from our reporting team of Patrick Mooney, Will Sammon, Katie Woo and Ken Rosenthal.

The Washington Nationals are approaching the two-year mark of their blockbuster trade of Juan Soto. The return, a haul of top prospects from the San Diego Padres, served at the time as the jumpstart to a rebuild. But as they approach the end of the first half, the 42-49 Nationals look to be nearing another competitive window sooner than projected.

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CJ Abrams, the Padres’ top overall prospect at the time of the trade and now the Nationals’ starting shortstop, was named an All-Star for the first time on Sunday. MacKenzie Gore, formerly San Diego’s No. 1 pitching prospect, is stringing together a solid 2024 campaign as a left-handed starter in his second full season with Washington. The major-league debut last week of James Wood, another top 100 prospect, last week was the latest exciting development for a Nationals core that is shaping up to be promising.

“We’ve gotten a lot better, especially from two years ago,” Gore said. “The exciting thing is we’re not even close to playing what we’re capable of.”

The Nationals are playing much better baseball compared to last year, when they finished in last place in the National League East and 20 games under .500. Still, they’re 16 1/2 games behind the powerhouse Phillies.

The Nationals are close to contending again, but not this year. So, with the team’s rebuilding program not yet complete, president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo is ready to shift into sell mode, according to sources briefed on his plans.

In addition to entertaining trade offers for two players on expiring contracts, outfielder Jesse Winker and reliever Dylan Floro, Rizzo is open to moving others who have only one additional year of club control remaining — outfielder Lane Thomas and relievers Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey. (Another potential free agent, righty Trevor Williams, is on the injured list with a right flexor muscle strain.)

A year ago, the Nationals traded potential free-agent third baseman Jeimer Candelario to the Chicago Cubs for a two-player package that included left-hander DJ Herz, 23, who struck out 10 or more in two of his first seven starts.

“We’ve got a bright future,” Abrams said. “A lot of young guys and a tight group. There’s good energy every day. I do think we’re going to win, really soon.”

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If Rays sell, rivals will be intrigued by arms

Like a number of clubs caught in baseball’s maze of mediocrity, the Tampa Bay Rays are on the clock. The next two to three weeks are their playoffs — or at least, a critical period in determining whether they will continue pushing for the actual postseason, or continue trading off parts.

After winning five straight series, Tampa Bay (44-46) fell back under .500 over the weekend, getting swept by the Texas Rangers. Entering Monday, the Rays were 5 1/2 games out of the race for the AL’s third wild-card berth, with the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros both ahead of them. Their playoff odds were 14 percent.

The Rays already have made one deal, sending right-hander Aaron Civale to the Brewers for minor-league shortstop Gregory Barrios. That trade, prompted by the Rays’ desire to clear a spot for Shane Baz coming off the injured list, did not fall into the “sell” category. But the next series of deals might.

Right-hander Zach Eflin and left fielder Randy Arozarena are among the Rays’ most attractive — and expensive — trade chips. Rival clubs also are intrigued by a number of the Rays’ relievers, including closer Pete Fairbanks and setup man Jason Adam, both of whom are under club control through 2026.

The Rays are perhaps deep enough in their bullpen to withstand a Civale-type deal with a lesser reliever — club officials are high on righties Edwin Uceta and Manuel Rodríguez, the latter of whom currently is at Triple A. But if the team ends up a seller, virtually its entire roster will be in play.

The buy-sell picture could become clearer after six home games leading into the All-Star Game against the New York Yankees and Cleveland Guardians, then seven coming out of the break against the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. That will take the Rays to July 25. If they still are wavering, they can hold off any decisions until after three games at home against the Cincinnati Reds.

A combination of buying and selling is possible, as it always is for teams that think creatively. At this point, only one thing is clear. To avoid becoming outright sellers, the Rays need to resume winning games.

MLB trade deadline watch: Upstart Nationals prepared to shift into sell mode and more notes (3)

Randy Arozarena would be a valuable trade chip if the Rays go into outright sell mode. (Julio Aguilar / Getty Images)

Phillies searching for role players, bullpen depth

The Philadelphia Phillies already did the heavy lifting when John Middleton spent the stupid money required to lure free agents and revive Citizens Bank Park. Dave Dombrowski kept building a roster that now has a franchise-record seven All-Stars. Rob Thomson, a midseason manager replacement in 2022, has guided the club to a National League pennant, Game 7 of last year’s NLCS and the best record in baseball so far this season.

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The Phillies don’t have to overpay in the middle of July. Instead, they have the luxury of being able to conserve some energy for October and give certain players more time to develop. Dombrowski recently outlined his , focusing on: “What little thing makes you better at a particular time to win a ballgame versus a certain guy?”

One of Dombrowski’s colleagues marveled at his energy as he approaches his 68th birthday, how Philadelphia’s president of baseball operations still travels with the team on virtually every road trip, giving him a better feel for clubhouse dynamics and a knack for blending old-school philosophies with new ideas.

“There’s a big picture of an organization, but there’s also a picture of why you play the game — it’s to win a championship,” Phillies designated hitter Kyle Schwarber said. “Our guys all know that we have one of the best front offices in all of baseball, the best ownership in baseball, and the best coaching staff. Obviously, we have a really good team. We’ve been close twice now. We all want to get to that finish line. He’s going to do whatever he thinks our team needs to push us to the finish line.”

MLB trade deadline watch: Upstart Nationals prepared to shift into sell mode and more notes (4)

The Phillies’ Dave Dombrowski. (Chris Szagola / Associated Press)

Dombrowski’s track record at the trade deadline is illustrative. Steve Pearce was not a huge name when Dombrowski acquired the right-handed hitter for the Boston Red Sox in 2018. Pearce had been released twice, claimed off waivers twice and traded once before, but he could thrive in certain matchups and add another element to the lineup. Pearce wound up being Boston’s World Series MVP.

Craig Counsell had played in only four major-league games when Dombrowski added the infielder to a Florida Marlins team that was loaded with stars. Counsell sent Game 7 of the 1997 World Series to extra innings with a sacrifice fly and scored the winning run in the 11th.

The Phillies are looking for role players and bullpen depth because they already have MVP-caliber talents and top-of-the-rotation starters who can swing playoff series. Different injury concerns could pop up between now and July 30 and shift priorities. Adding a new player can also be a delicate balance because it means subtracting someone else.

“You always want to bring in the right people,” Schwarber said. “We got a really good chemistry with what we have. We have a standard within our clubhouse that people are going to want to abide by. It’s just how we are as a team and how we operate. We go from there. We have that trust.”

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Tigers could have choices with Jack Flaherty

A year ago, the Detroit Tigers turned four months of Michael Lorenzen into second baseman Hao-Yu Lee, who at 21 is one of the youngest and best players at Double A, entering Monday with an .881 OPS.

Jack Flaherty, the team’s latest one-year free agent starter, should yield an even bigger return — and the payoff does not necessarily need to come in a trade.

Flaherty, 28, is scheduled to rejoin the Tigers’ rotation Thursday after receiving two injections in recent weeks to relieve soreness in his lower back. As long as he demonstrates he is healthy, he could be one of the most coveted starters leading into the deadline. But if the Tigers do not get an offer they deem acceptable, they can keep Flaherty, make him a qualifying offer at the end of the season and potentially receive a draft pick at the end of the first round as compensation.

A trade is the more likely course. Flaherty’s ERA through 89 innings is 3.24. His strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks among the league’s best. If he hadn’t missed a start in June and another more recently, he perhaps would have been an All-Star, like Lorenzen a year ago.

Flaherty did not pitch well after the St. Louis Cardinals traded him to the Orioles at last year’s deadline, producing a 6.75 ERA in 34 2/3 innings. But his performance in the first half was perhaps his best since 2019. And to trade him, the Tigers will want more than the value of the pick they would receive if he rejected a qualifying offer.

MLB trade deadline watch: Upstart Nationals prepared to shift into sell mode and more notes (5)

A healthy Jack Flaherty could be quite valuable at the deadline. (Duane Burleson / Getty Images)

As a revenue-sharing recipient, the Tigers’ selection would be between the first round and Competitive Balance Round A as long as Flaherty signed a free-agent deal for more than $50 million. If healthy, he should clear that bar easily. Entering his age 29 season, he would be one of the youngest starters on the market.

With the 37th overall pick last year, the Tigers selected middle infielder Kevin McGonigle, whom The Athletic’s Keith Law rated at the start of the season as their No. 7 prospect. The compensation pick for Flaherty likely would be a few places higher.

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If Flaherty accepted the qualifying offer, the Tigers also would come out ahead, keeping him for one more year at a salary in the $20 million range. But again, everything would hinge on Flaherty staying healthy. The safest option for the Tigers would be to avoid that risk, and make the best possible trade.

GO DEEPERThree Tigers takeaways: How does the qualifying offer impact the Jack Flaherty trade discussion?

(Top photo of the Nationals’ Lane Thomas: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

MLB trade deadline watch: Upstart Nationals prepared to shift into sell mode and more notes (2024)
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