The fun of Trade Deadline rumors, to me, is imagining big stars in uniforms they’ve never worn before. Mark McGwire in a Cardinals uniform? Randy Johnson as an Astro? Cliff Lee to the Phillies? Mark Teixeira to the Angels? CC Sabathia to the Brewers? A good Deadline deal makes your eyes pop a little bit. These teams are all trying to get better, but let’s not kid ourselves: The Star Factor matters.
There are many, many names being tossed around as we approach the July 30 Deadline, but not all of them have that wow effect, the ones who, if they were traded, you’d stand up and take full notice. Which ones have that effect? Here’s a ranking of the 10 biggest Wow Factor stars who could be dealt. It doesn’t mean they will be dealt: Some of these surely won’t. But these are the ones who would make the biggest headlines. Here are the ones who would create the most chaos.
Are the Nationals really going to do it? In a vacuum, it almost seems obvious: You’re in fourth place and five games out in the NL East — and even further back in the Wild Card race — four games under .500 and Scherzer is a free agent at the end of the year. Of course, he has a no-trade clause, but he could always tell the Nats, “Trade me to a contender, I can re-sign this winter and you can add more talent in the process. Win-win!”
All that said … the thing about trading away a three-time Cy Young Award winner with a 2.83 ERA, one who’s one of the most recognizable (and intimidating) players in the game, is that it makes a big statement if you do it … a statement perhaps your organization isn’t ready to make. Scherzer instantly makes any team dramatically more formidable in the postseason: Acquiring him is a clear sign that you are trying to win it all, this year, right now.
Bryant was the 2016 NL MVP, a four-time All-Star and, oh yeah, he’s the guy who fielded the ball that led to the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in more than 100 years. You tend to remember guys who do that. He’s also having an excellent year, and considering the frustration he’s had with his organization over the years, he’s highly unlikely to re-sign this offseason. Bryant’s an instant big bat and one who can play several positions. He’s the best hitter available and an upgrade to any team in the sport. It will be really weird to see him in a uniform that’s not a Cubs uniform, but that’s how this works, after all. And he’s hardly the only one in that regard.
Gallo is having a terrific season, both at the plate and in the field, and he also is signed through the 2022 season, which gives the Rangers more incentive to trade him … if they can’t sign him to an extension. He’s a logical fit for the Yankees, if New York is going to floor it like that, and he’d instantly change the dynamic of that team. But he’d do that for lots of teams. And if you haven’t been watching Rangers games the past few years, you might not realize just what this guy is capable of.
On the surface, it seems absurd that the Twins would trade away a player with this sort of five-tool talent: When he was healthy for the first month of the season, he might have been the best player in baseball. But there’s that “when he was healthy” thing again. Buxton’s inability to stay on the field makes the Twins see him as a buy-low candidate, but that sure doesn’t seem like how Buxton sees himself. (And honestly, who does?) If Buxton — who is eligible for free agency after 2022 — can get on the field down the stretch, he’s the ultimate difference maker for any team. But hey, look: There’s that “if he can get on the field” one more time.
Story, an impending free agent, has long been assumed to be leaving by the Deadline. Most predicted before the season that he wouldn’t sign a long-term contract with the team and that the Rockies would be long out of the playoff chase by the Deadline. Bingo on both! The problem now is twofold: The Rockies are currently working with interim GM Bill Schmidt, and Story actually isn’t having the best season of his career. Still, Story has real explosion potential for a team in a pennant chase, and he could even give a theoretical team a leg up in signing him in the offseason. He’s gotta get traded at some point, right?
Cruz will always be a big name, even when he is 55 years old, which, uh, is actually not going to be that long from now. The minute Cruz takes his first at-bat for his hypothetical new team, he’s going to be a fan favorite, because, jeez, he’s Nelson Cruz. Who wouldn’t want Nelson Cruz on their team?
It sure feels like a long time ago now that Kimbrel had the worst stretch of his career after signing with the Cubs in June 2019. (He may have been singlehandedly responsible for the Cubs missing the playoffs that year.) He’s now Vintage Kimbrel again and the best closer on the market, and he comes with a reasonable club option for 2022. He’s a little lower on this list because, well, it can’t be that much of a shock or chaos when a reliever gets traded at the Deadline. Sometimes it feels like the Deadline exists for the sole purpose of relievers changing teams.
One of two MVPs on this list — along with one of two oft-injured Twins, for that matter — Donaldson is back healthy and hitting just as consistently as he always is. (He may be a 132 OPS+ guy when he’s 90. If he can walk.) The problem with Donaldson, other than the injuries, is that he’s signed for big money through 2023. How much of that will the Twins have to eat? How much will they want to trade him?
Of the Tradeable Cubs, Bryant and Kimbrel seem most likely to go, and Anthony Rizzo seems unlikely to be dealt. (Though he’d rocket up this list if he were.) Báez is somewhere in the middle. He’s inconsistent, by nature, but there are times when you watch him do something amazing and you think, “Man, this guy could be the best player in baseball.” Those moments have been few and far between of late, though. But Báez, if he gets hot, can carry a team. And you can play him almost anywhere.
The Marlins traded for Marte at last year’s Deadline hoping he’d be a veteran piece to help them contend, but while that hasn’t happened, it’s certainly not his fault: He’s been terrific, and generally an underappreciated player for nearly a decade now. And he’s also a blast to root for. He’s going to make someone’s October considerably more exciting.