This week, Inside the Clubhouse is rounding up the latest MLB trade rumors for Willson Contreras, the Phillies, Blue Jays, Nationals and more.
With Hyun-jin Ryu out for the season, and his status in Toronto going forward in doubt, the Blue Jays’ No. 1 priority before the Aug. 2 trade deadline should be to upgrade the rotation.
Sure, Ross Stripling’s emergence alleviates some of those concerns. But how much can the Blue Jays lean on the right-hander? The most innings he has thrown is 122, which came in 2018, and last year he logged 101 innings. He is already at 43 innings and Shi Davidi of Sportsnet estimates that the Blue Jays will need at least 100 more innings out of that rotation spot.
The extra innings are unlikely to be covered internally, as the Blue Jays lack rotation depth in Triple-A. Entering spring training, Nate Pearson seemed like an obvious candidate to cover those innings. But he missed the start of the season with mono and Davidi wrote that durability concerns had him on track for a bullpen/hybrid role.
“We have to consider deadline opportunities and just trade acquisitions that could bolster our depth there,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told reporters.
With Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausmann forming a dominant 1-2 punch, and Jose Berrios as their No. 3 starter, the Blue Jays are likely to be looking for a low-end starting pitcher rather than a frontline starter.
One more note on the Blue Jays: two rival executives believe that Toronto and the Kansas City Royals match up well in trade talks, with the Blue Jays potentially eyeing one of their left-handed bats.
Phillies bullpen is a slow-motion trainwreck
Stop me if you have heard this before: the Phillies need bullpen help.
In the offseason, the Phillies signed right-handers Corey Knebel and Jeurys Familia to one-year deals to bolster the bullpen. They have done anything but that. Knebel was removed as Phillies closer and will be relegated to low-leverage situations going forward. Familia has posted a 4.50 ERA in 25 games and has been prone to allowing home runs for a second consecutive season.
The Phillies will move to a closer-by-committee approach, though Seranthony Dominguez could emerge as the closer moving forward. But the Phillies are expected to target bullpen upgrades at the trade deadline, which has seemingly become an annual tradition.
There’s also a possibility that the Phillies look to upgrade in center field, where they are platooning Matt Vierling and Odubel Herrera after optioning Mickey Moniak to Triple-A. Center fielders entered Wednesday with a .692 OPS, according to FanGraphs, with the Phillies ranking in the bottom-third in OPS (.641).
Among the options that the Phillies figure to consider include Bryan Reynolds, Cedric Mullins, Michael A. Taylor and perhaps Ramon Laureano, among others. But will president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski go all-in on a center fielder and bet on his internal bullpen options to bounce back or will he go for a short-term fix in center field and prioritize upgrading the bullpen?
Willson Contreras trade updates
The most likely scenario is that this is Willson Contreras’ final season with the Chicago Cubs. While they settled on a $9.6 million contract to avoid arbitration, it doesn’t make a potential contract extension any more likely.
But that doesn’t make the situation any easier for Contreras or the Cubs. Contreras, 30, is a two-time All-Star who has grown into a star in Chicago. He is putting up career numbers, slashing .279/.403/.546 with a .949 OPS, 12 home runs and 26 RBI in 221 plate appearances, and is benefitting from more rest after the Cubs prioritized signing veteran catcher Yan Gomes in the offseason.
If the Cubs move Contreras before the trade deadline, and there are plenty of people who expect president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer to do so, the most logical fit would appear to be with the San Francisco Giants. The Giants recently optioned Joey Bart to Triple-A and their top catcher, Curt Casali, has never appeared in more than 90 games in a major-league season.
“On the field, yes,” one National League executive opined on Contreras’ fit with the Giants. “Scott Harris knows a lot about him and that factors into the equation. He can be very volatile, so that part would be tricky. But man, he makes the Giants better. They would have to be in on him just because of need and how much better he would make them in the short-term.”
The Giants will not be the only team interested in Contreras, of course, with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic listing the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays as other possibilities. But if the Giants acquire Contreras or another catcher, could Bart be a trade candidate? Kerry Crowley, a former Giants beat writer and KNBR radio host, told The Baseball Insiders podcast: “I think it’s a much more realistic possibility right now than it ever was at last year’s trade deadline.”
MLB trade rumors: Nationals trade candidates
In a radio interview with 106.7 the Fan last week, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo had this to say about his expected trade deadline strategy: “I would assume that if we’re playing at the rate we’re playing, we’ll probably be careful sellers and make sure that we maximize the players at least with expiring contracts.”
The players with expiring contracts include sluggers Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell, infielder Cesar Hernandez and relievers Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr. and Sean Doolittle. Cruz and Bell are likely to garner the most via trade — Bell has an .809 OPS and a 135 OPS+ in 63 games — while Edwards Jr., a minor-league signing, has bolstered his value this season enough to net the Nationals a low-level prospect.
But who else could the Nationals trade? Team officials have made it clear, both publicly and privately, that Juan Soto isn’t going anywhere. It’s possible that relievers Kyle Finnegan and Tanner Rainey, who are both under team control through 2025, could draw interest from bullpen-needy teams.
Finnegan, 30, has posted a 3.70 ERA in 24.1 innings and has pitched in various high-leverage situations this season. Rainey, meanwhile, has recorded seven saves and is striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings. As Jesse Doughtery of the Washington Post noted, it could be savvy for the Nationals to sell high on the relievers now considering 1) the lack of wear and tear on their arms entering midseason and 2) that by the time the Nationals are contending, it’s entirely possible that neither are prominent parts of their bullpen.
Of course, trading either player would indicate that the Nationals’ rebuild will take longer than Rizzo has previously indicated. But after trading Max Scherzer and Trea Turner less than 12 months ago in a historic trade deadline selloff, nothing should be ruled out.