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MLB trade deadline: Red Sox, Giants among baseball’s most interesting potential dealmakers

Sporting News — (Dan Bernstein)

When the Red Sox fell to 11-17 in late-April with a loss to the Rays, they forced themselves to spend much of the first half playing catch-up in the AL East. Boston has somewhat recovered from the slow start, but it remains 5 1/2 games out of the AL East and in far worse shape than Tampa Bay or New York.

Even with the jolt rookie Michael Chavis has provided the Red Sox (38-34), they'll likely add reinforcements over the next month and a half in an attempt to take control of at least a wild-card spot. Plenty of other contenders will join the chase for midseason boosts, while bottom-dwellers will set their sights on franchise-altering prospects in return.

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Much can change before July 31, but by now we have a general idea of how teams may approach the upcoming trade season. Here's our take on how things stand:

MLB's most interesting potential dealmakers

• Red Sox — BUY: As discussed, Boston stands in an unfamiliar position: looking up at its rivals in the AL East. It also has a strong motivation to go all in that might not have been so omnipresent for previous contending rosters. In 2016, the 93-win Red Sox held onto revered prospects such as Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers to ensure a prolonged contention window. They didn’t need to be aggressive midseason buyers because their immediate future was firm. Right now, though, the franchise doesn't have a consensus top-100 prospect, and it's barreling toward tough free-agent decisions over the next two seasons. The Red Sox must capitalize on the talent of this core, which will require a proactive mindset by typically aggressive general manager Dave Dombrowski.

Free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel signed with the Cubs this month, but Boston could still turn to the trade market to assist an 11th-ranked bullpen missing a clear No. 1 option. There will be prospect-expensive relievers such as Kirby Yates (San Diego) and Will Smith (Giants) available, but also buy-low possibilities like Joakim Soria (A’s) or second-tier options like Alex Colome (White Sox) and Shane Greene (Tigers). The consistent play of the rival Yankees and Rays could place added pressure on the Red Sox to go big.

On the table: P Darwinzon Hernandez, 3B Bobby Dalbec (Double-A), P Tanner Houck (Double-A), 3B Triston Casas (Single-A)

• Diamondbacks — BUY: The Diamondbacks appeared to crush their 2019 draft, but most of their MLB roster won’t be around see those future returns. This year, meanwhile, Arizona (35-33) has maintained a winning record and performed well against teams above .500, indicating it might have the endurance to stick around in the playoff hunt. It’s obviously a long-shot for manager Torey Lovullo’s squad to get to the postseason, but with a roster in transition, the franchise might as well try to squeeze out one more October appearance by exchanging its few upper-minors pieces for additional veterans.

Where could Arizona use the most help? Probably in its lineup depth, which could endure regression from Adam Jones and Jarrod Dyson down the stretch. One more middle-infield or corner-outfield bat could open up day-to-day flexibility for Lovullo while giving an already above-average group of hitters an extra boost. A bullpen addition might also be necessary for the Diamondbacks given Archie Bradley’s down season. The right-hander has a 4.71 ERA — his worst since 2016 — and no longer can be counted on for high-leverage success because of a ballooning walk rate.

On the table: SS Jazz Chisholm (Double-A), C Daulton Varsho (Double-A)

• Nationals — HOLD: Despite its disappointing season, Washington should be fine in the long term thanks to young outfield fixtures Juan Soto and Victor Robles, as well as a pitching staff locked down for the foreseeable future. The Nationals have shown an ability to develop position players and pitchers at a high level, so more breakthroughs could follow soon, including from Triple-A phenom Carter Kieboom.

This year could go two ways at the deadline depending on how Washington performs before July 31. The Nationals have been trending in the right direction of late, and if that continues the Nats might choose to add to a roster that does boast big-time offensive and defensive stars. More likely, though, there will be a sell-a-thon of veteran assets. It may be a matter of how far they go with that route, and whether it includes dealing closer Sean Doolittle (unlikely), third baseman Anthony Rendon (less likely) or ace Max Scherzer (the least likely). Rendon, of course, is set to become a free agent, though the Nationals are keen on retaining him and could be hesitant to break with him just months before he hits the open market. Scherzer’s contract is likely too large to move midseason, and even if it wasn't, he's probably too important to the team's success to send elsewhere.

Keep an eye on whether the Nationals can crack .500 before mid-July to have a chance of competing for a tough NL East, or bottom out once again. That result will have a major role in determining the trade momentum of the league.

On the table: C Kurt Suzuki, 2B Howie Kendrick, CP Sean Doolittle, 3B Anthony Rendon, SP Max Scherzer

• Padres — HOLD: Like Arizona, San Diego moves through June with almost no chance of catching the Dodgers for the NL West and an unlikely path to a wild card. Its situation is completely different, though.

General manager AJ Preller did not build his roster to the brink of heavyweight status to knock it out himself before it reaches its peak. He knows that closer Kirby Yates could fetch a huge trade deadline haul similar to Brad Hand, and that he has plenty of hard-throwing relief pitchers waiting behind Yates should a deal go through. San Diego’s glut of outfielders could be thinned to address other positions of need, such as starting pitching and second base help. The Cardinals dealt Tommy Pham for three prospects last summer despite planning to compete this year, though that might be more of a cautionary tale given Pham’s recent production. The Brewers exchanged Domingo Santana and Khris Davis for other pieces in recent years. So, there is precedent for massaging an emerging roster until everything fits together, even if it means getting rid of promising players.

The Padres are just close enough to a playoff run to be tempted to keep this young, exciting roster fully intact rather than offloading key parts. It’s been 13 years since they reached the postseason, and there is organizational urgency to do it all now — evidenced by the Opening Day debut of Fernando Tatis Jr. and the way the clubhouse discusses its 2019 ambitions. Even so, San Diego will most likely sell barring a significant surge over the next month, forcing its fans to wait at least one more campaign for October baseball.

On the table: CP Kirby Yates, RP Craig Stammen, 2B Ian Kinsler, OF Hunter Renfroe, OF Franchy Cordero

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• Giants — SELL: This one is simple: Do the struggling Giants trade starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, a franchise icon on an expiring contract? Everything else at the deadline for this team — and perhaps the league — is secondary given the kind of postseason performer Bumgarner has been, what he could add to another organization and the haul he could bring back to San Francisco. The Giants' front-office has leaned toward sentimentality since 2010, but under the new leadership of president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, perhaps this July will mark a shift in philosophy.

Aside from Bumgarner, Zaidi can flip bullpen pieces to try to bring depth to his lean system. Closer Will Smith (2.19 ERA) in particular is capable of garnering a strong return.

On the table: SP Madison Bumgarner, CP Will Smith, RP Tony Watson, OF Kevin Pillar

• Angels — SELL: As another year of Mike Trout’s prime ticks by with more free-agent signings failing to contribute (Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill), it’s again time for Los Angeles to address its perpetually barren farm system with meaningful action. The problem for the Angels, as usual, is their absence of tradable assets. The ones they have this time likely won’t fetch top prospects. Nonetheless, it’s important for them to acquire whatever minor league lottery picks they can. Kole Calhoun? Sell. Tommy La Stella? Sell. Jonathan Lucroy? Sell. It's all about reaching a point where Trout is surrounded by a playoff-ready squad, and there's no more time to waste on transactional mishaps.

On the table: OF Kole Calhoun, 2B Tommy La Stella, C Jonathan Lucroy

• Reds — SELL: Cincinnati always intended this season to be one where it could be a primary deadline seller if things didn’t work out for a crop of offseason additions, and at 29-36 that will almost certainly be its approach next month. Unlike the Angels, the Reds should actually be able to bring in significant prospects to build around youngsters José Castillo and Nick Senzel. Outfielder Yasiel Puig, shortstop Jose Iglesias and starter Tanner Roark are all on expiring contracts. Others, such as closer Raisel Iglesias, are potentially worth moving if the front office gets adventurous.

Cincinnati’s system is already pretty deep — minor leaguers Tyler Stephenson, Jonathan India and Taylor Trammell are showing promise, and right-hander Hunter Greene remains a long-term asset. The Reds also made two picks in the top 50 of the 2019 MLB Draft, presumably bolstering their farm even further. So, any moves in July will probably be aimed at making a bright future even more compelling.

On the table: OF Yasiel Puig, SS Jose Iglesias, SP Tanner Roark