July 31st marks the end of the trade deadline, like really, truly ends this time. Teams will no longer be able to make any trades beyond this point in the preparation of the postseason or for some teams, lack thereof any postseason glory. In previous years, teams technically had until August 31st to make any last-minute trades as long as they fell under certain conditions (player first needed to clear revocable waivers in order to be traded). Justin Verlander was traded by the Tigers to the Houston Astros on August 31st, who helped win their first World Series in history. Under the new rules, this isn’t possible. So, July 31st trade deadline wasn’t much of a deadline, until now. The 2019 season will be the first season where July 31st is the hard cutoff, which has made things a lot more interesting.

Before I get into who is likely to be traded to where let’s briefly get into how this changes everything and why it’s caused a lot of teams to sit on their hands so close to the deadline. Due to so many teams in the National and American leagues competing for a playoff spot, teams might be hesitant to trade key players. For example, the NL Central is all kinds of unpredictability. The Cubs only hold a 0.5 game lead over the Cardinals and only two games ahead of the Brewers. As for the NL Wild Card, there are six teams all within striking distance of grabbing the spot, the lowest team only being three games behind. The AL Wild Card has four teams within just two games. I made predictions earlier this month about who would take those spots, and I’m further predicting that I will be wrong on at least one or two of those teams.

Back in June, it was pretty clear what teams would-be sellers and what teams wouldn’t. The Giants, for example, has had two losing seasons in a row and this year was shaping up to be no different. All year there has been constant chatter of where Madison Bumgarner would be traded to, who is a free agent after this season. They also have some attractive bullpen pieces in Will Smith, Sam Dyson, Tony Watson, and Reyes Moronta. Given how poorly the Giants have played the last few years and the overcrowded NL Wild Card race, most would assume they, would-be sellers. But a lot has changed since June and all of sudden the Giants might be pushing for a playoff spot. During the month of July, the Giants are 16-3 and have looked like the best team in baseball over that span. So what does Farhan Zaidi, the President of Baseball Operations for the Giants, do? Is this a hot streak bound to end or are they the real deal?

You could point to a lot of teams in a similar situation. Given how unpredictable the NL Central is, the Reds and Pirates are probably hesitant to trade their pieces, even if they are in fourth and fifth place in the division, respectively. The Twins seemed to be clear favorites to win the AL Central but the Indians have clawed their way back in recent weeks, only three games back and sole possession of the first Wild Card spot. The Nationals seemed to be gunning for another season where they come up short despite looking great on paper like they do every year. From March through May, the team went 24-33 and were far from consistent. However, June and July we saw them go 29-13 and probably a frontrunner for the NL Wild Card unless they can overtake the Brave who have a 5.5 game lead. Still lots of baseball left and nothing is written at the moment. One hot or cold streak could change everything for a lot of teams this season.

Even with all the hesitancy of teams this trade deadline, there are still plenty of players to go around from teams clearly not contending. The Blue Jays, Tigers, and Rangers among the biggest options for teams looking to add to their playoff caliber teams. But let’s take a look at some of the top players who could have a big impact over the next week ahead of the trade deadline.

Madison Bumgarner, SP

Bumgarner, as mentioned before, is the biggest potential trade piece this season. Of course, with the recent success of the Giants this month, who knows if he’ll stay or go. He’s having a great year and could certainly fetch a decent haul if traded and I honestly can’t see him not signing back with the Giants after this season. I think Farhan Zaidi will try and trade him, however Bumgarner as an interesting no-trade clause for several teams. The no-trade clause blocks the Giants from trading him to several clear contending teams such as the Yankees, Cubs, Braves, and several others.

Why block a trade to go to a contending team? Bumgarner wants control over where goes. Maybe he doesn’t care for the Yankees and would rather settle with the Braves. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to be traded, regardless of the direction the Giants front office wants to go. My prediction, I think he stays with the Giants and rejects any trade possible. He strikes me as a guy who wants to stay loyal to one team and not care about any others.

Prediction: San Francisco Giants

Marcus Stroman, SP

Marcus Stroman, in my opinion, one of the more intriguing trade options this season. After a disappointing 2018, Stroman has put up a 3.06 ERA with the Blue Jays but the part teams are also considering is the fact that he isn’t a free agent until 2021. He could help a team out this year pushing for a playoff spot all the while providing another starting pitcher for the following season to come. The Blue Jays are probably a year or two from competing, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to keep him around. His trade value is at its highest and the Jays could certainly get a decent return for an already good farm system.

Every team could use starting pitching, especially a young, controllable arm like Stroman. I expect several teams to be in on him like the Yankees, Astros, and A’s.

Prediction: New York Yankees

Hunter Pence, OF/DH

In what world is Hunter Pence a legitimate trade option at the age of 36? He was showing typical signs of decline toward the end of his tenure in San Francisco, batting .226/.258/.332 in 2018. But he managed to turn things around after signing with the Rangers and got his first starting nod at the All Star game this season, batting .289/.346/.573 with 15 home runs. The Rangers overperformed this year and were possibly looking to be within striking distance of a Wild Card spot. But as they are currently 6.5 games out, I doubt they make any push. 

I’m guessing a team in need of a DH will be considering Pence before the deadline. The Rays and Indians lack a true DH at the moment, so expect them in the conversation if they want to make any noise in their division or the Wild Card race.

Prediction: Tampa Bay Rays

Will Smith, RP

As far as relief pitchers go, lefty Will Smith of the Giants is the most coveted this season. He holds a 2.44 ERA and 24 saves and is another reason why the Giants might not sell this deadline. Every team needs an above average bullpen if they’re going to go deep into the postseason and Will Smith certainly provide a lot of help. Even if Bumgarner rejects a trade, Smith could certainly land a decent haul for the last half of the season, who is a free agent after this season. 

Where could he land? Throw a rock and you’ll hit a team in need of bullpen help. Anybody looking for pitching help will inquire on Smith, as long as the Giants are committed to selling. I think the Twins could be a surprise bidder on him. The Twins are tops in the league in terms of offense but could really use some pen help as they chase the division.

Prediction: Minnesota Twins

Eric Sogard, IF

Eric Sogard is another one of those names popping up trade rumors that we never thought we’d hear. Last September he was released by the Brewers and later signed on with the Blue Jays. Since then, he’s batting .300/.365/.480, numbers the 33 year old veteran has never sniffed before in his major league career. The Cubs have been linked to him in recent rumors, which might not make the most sense at first since they already have Daniel Descalso, Addison Russell, Robel Garcia, and David Bote as options for second base. The only sure option of the four is Addison Russell, who is more of a defense first type of option instead of a consistent bat. 

Sogard could be a more consistent bat, potentially a leadoff option as well for the Cubs. Still, anyone could use an above average bat who gets on base at a decent clip, so we’ll see. 

Prediction: Chicago Cubs

Ken Giles, RP

Ken Giles had an up and down tenure with the Astros before being traded to the Blue Jays for Roberto Osuna in 2018. He has recorded 14 saves with a 1.59 ERA this season and is among the top relievers that teams will be shopping for. As mentioned before, every single playoff team is always looking to bolster it’s pen, so it’s hard to pick a single team who is in need of another reliever. He also has an extra year of control, so teams might need to pay up a little more in terms of prospects. I think the Nationals will be among the teams looking to bolster the pen since they seem to have their offence and starting pitching mostly locked down. 

Prediction: Washington Nationals

Mike Minor, SP

Mike Minor was another surprise this year much like Hunter Pence is with the Rangers. He has been a top ten pitcher in the AL with a 2.86 ERA. With Bumgarner possibly staying with Giants, more teams will probably be turning their attention to Minor. The Yankees, always in the mix, could certainly use starting pitching help. Luis Severino is still out on the IL and the entire starting rotation all individually have an ERA of at least four. The Yankees will definitely make a move for pitching and Minor seems to be an ideal candidate. He also has an extra year of control and could replace CC Sabathia next year, who is retiring after this season. 

Prediction: New York Yankees

Nicholas Castellanos, OF/DH

The Tigers have been the ultimate tank commanders along with the Orioles this year, so no surprise they want to unload some of the useful talent they have. Castellanos is another player due to be a free agent this year and reportedly the Cubs have been in talks for him, who could use some outfield help, at least offensively. When Jason Heyward is your best hitting outfielder, you should probably find another bat who can contribute more down the stretch. 

Prediction: Chicago Cubs

Of course, with the hard deadline this year, some of these moves might not even be made. Or at the very least some will be hastily made, trying to get some prospects for players on bad teams. There are still a fair amount of options out there, even if some teams will sit this deadline out and instead make a move for the postseason. I wonder if maybe we could see the reemergence of the waiver deadline in August a few years from now, depending on how it goes this year. Regardless, this next week should prove hectic for front offices and fun for us constantly refreshing our computers and iPhones at home.