July 31st is fast approaching and that means the MLB trade market is about to rapidly heat up. Here are the biggest stories and questions we expect to answer over the next 45 days.
Where does Cole Hamels end up?
Obviously Hamels is the biggest prize of the trade deadline. The 31-year-old has been in the thickest of all baseball rumors back to at least December and there are plenty of teams interested in the Phillies ace. He has pitched very well for a bad Phillies team, going 5-5 with a 2.96 ERA in 14 starts.
Adding Hamels would help every team in baseball, but the high price tag associated with him has kept teams away. He is owed $70.5 million through 2018, and will cost a team some higher end prospects as well. That said, the Phillies are rumored to be willing to pay down some of that salary to make him more movable.
The Dodgers are one team that could have interest, as well as the Astros if they go for it all this season.
What about Johnny Cueto?
Very quickly, Johnny Cueto has become one of the more appealing options for winning teams in need of starting pitching. Cueto is a free agent at the end of the season, and the Reds are looking to get value out of him. Cueto has also pitched well with a 4-4 record and a 2.85 ERA in 12 starts this season. The secondary question here is how much a 3-4 month rental is worth to a contending team. My guess: a lot more than you think.
The Yankees, Tigers and Giants have all been seen scouting Cueto recently and once again the Dodgers are always in the mix for these big name starters. The Astros could be a dark horse here, too. Speaking of which...
Are the Astros for real? What can they do?
The Houston Astros are 36-28 and have a 2.5 game lead in the AL West. They are most definitely for real. The biggest reason for their success has to be the turnaround of their bullpen from worst in baseball in 2014 to top five this season.
There are still things they can do to get better. They could add another starter. Cole Hamels is even on the table if they want to go for it all this year. Building on their strength in the bullpen is another area they could explore, perhaps with someone like Tyler Clippard.
Is anything real in the AL Central?
Here's a division with many questions and not a whole lot of answers. The Royals and Twins sit atop the division at one and two respectively, with the Tigers and Indians behind them. And all of the above have very real questions about their teams that could surface (or regress to the mean) at a moment's notice.
The Twins have been the surprise of this group. What do they do? Are they buyers or sellers? Because as we know there are no fence-sitters. What do the Royals do for their rotation? Mike Leake and Scott Kazmir were candidates a while back.
What about the Tigers, who are -- at least currently -- disappointing? David Price is available, and he is a backup option for teams that miss out on Hamels and Cueto. They may want to hang on to him if they feel they can make up the ground in the division. It really feels like the right moves and a couple good weeks from any team here could change the entire race.
The winner of the NL East could easily be the NL World Series rep. But who?
The Mets are in first place in the National League East. STILL. The Washington Nationals have had trouble putting anything together and injuries to Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister have made it hard for them to play like the World Series contenders that we all thought they were.
Getting those two back should be a huge boost. Them being out forces the Nats to hold on to Jordan Zimmermann for now and limits options, at least in theory. One interesting rumor has the Nationals and the Reds talking about Aroldis Chapman.
Speaking of those first place Mets, they do appear active in the trade market. With David Wright out for an unknown amount of time, the team is looking to add some offense to go with their great pitching. One area they have explored is trading with the Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee has Aramis Ramirez, Jean Segura, Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez all as attractive options. The Mets could go for one of them, or explore for other external options, but they will almost certainly need something in order to stay atop these standings.
Do the Dodgers do anything?
As always, the Dodgers are in the mix to make a big splash in the trade market. Jordan Zimmermann is atop their list of starting pitching candidates, with Cueto and Price right behind him. Zimmermann is probably not getting moved, as the Nats are dealing with injury problems.
What the Dodgers could do is trade Andre Ethier, who is hitting .291 with a .372 on-base percentage this season. His .898 OPS is very attractive to those teams needing another bat or an outfielder. Either way, the Dodgers will be a team involved in a number of different rumors as we get even closer to the deadline.
Will the Cubs go for it all this year?
The Chicago Cubs are a very young team. Five of their starting eight position players are age 25 or younger. Even with that youth, the Cubs are 34-27 and are competing for a wild card spot in the National League. There are a number of directions that the Cubs can go in as July 31st roles around.
They could address their starting pitching and use their minor league talent to trade for Cole Hamels or David Price. Or they could get a closer. They have discussed trading for Jonathan Papelbon, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Even though they signed Rafael Soriano, the Cubs are still going to be active in pursuing relievers like Papelbon, Tyler Clippard and the Brewers Francisco Rodriguez.