This is AJ Preller’s world, and the rest of the baseball industry lives in it.
OK, maybe that’s overkill. But true to form, Preller is chasing a dizzying array of deals and looks virtually certain to make at least one major move before Tuesday’s trade deadline at 6 p.m. ET.
Will it be with Nationals for right fielder Juan Soto? The Cubs for receiver Willson Contreras, left fielder Ian Happ and maybe even reliever David Robertson? Athletics for right-hander Frankie Montas and maybe catcher Sean Murphy or outfielder Chad Pinder, all of whom played for Padres manager Bob Melvin in Oakland?
At this point, even Preller probably doesn’t know. To some degree, he is exploring each of the above possibilities, according to major league sources. He also made a run at the Angels for Shohei Ohtani, not that anyone in the industry expects the two-way star to move.
Other GMs are keeping their pulse on the overall market, but few are as creative and aggressive as Preller. Some teams might act on the players he’s interested in first and close some options for the Padres. New avenues could open up for some clubs depending on the path taken by Preller.
Preller has trade prospects, shortstop CJ Abrams and outfielder Robert Hassell III for starters, but also two high-cap players from the 2021 draft, shortstop Jackson Merrill and outfielder James Wood, both hail from Maryland, making them relative venues for the Nationals. Preller also has contracts he would like to transfer, including that of Eric Hosmer, who is owed the balance of his salary of $20 million this season and $39 million from 2023-25.
The Padres and Cubs have talked about different concepts over the past 12 months, including one last summer that would have sent first baseman Hosmer and a top prospect to Chicago for an unspecified return. If the Padres land Contreras, it could force the Mets to switch to a JD Martinez-Christian Vázquez package from the Red Sox. The Mets, however, are exploring many other possibilities, sources said.
Besides the Padres, Montas is a target for the Twins, Yankees and Blue Jays (MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi first noted the Jays’ interest). The Astros, looking for a receiver, are among several clubs fetching a high price on Contreras. According to a source, they are focusing more on Vázquez.
The last hours will be intense. And Preller, as always, figures to be in the middle of the action.
Mookie, Trea, Freddie… And Soto too?
Don’t rule out the Dodgers on Soto. They’ve been in touch with the Nationals, and if the Padres make a splash elsewhere, it could create the opening LA needs to pull off another stunning delay.
This all assumes that Preller is willing to concede Soto (unlikely, especially if he fears the Dodgers are in on it) and that the Nationals are indeed willing to trade him (which no one will know until 6 p.m. Tuesday). ).
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman keeps tabs on all the big names, a routine he followed even during his days with the budget-conscious Rays. A year ago, the Dodgers seemingly came out of nowhere to beat the Padres for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. A bigger package would be needed to land Soto, but imagine the Dodgers adding him to a roster that already included Turner, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. Scary.
Brewers’ Hader: Really available or not?
The Brewers are again listening to openings for closer Josh Hader. Conversations could be little more than due diligence. But as the Brewers head to their fifth straight playoff appearance, their motivation to trade Hader could increase.
• Hader’s $11m salary will likely rise to $16m next season in his final year as a referee before becoming a free agent.
• His preference for limiting his appearances to one inning limits his value to the club and would be of particular concern in the playoffs.
• Devin Williams, who has produced 30 consecutive scoreless appearances, striking out 47 in 28 2/3 innings, could replace Hader as the Brewers close.
Hader, 28, has allowed just one point in his last four appearances, recovering from a tough six-game streak that dropped his ERA from 1.05 to 4.50. Trading him would only make sense if the Brewers could acquire a hitter they desire or young players who could help them meet various needs.
For the Blue Jays, a diminished need
Despite all the talk about the Blue Jays needing a left-handed hitter, Sunday entered the majors second in OPS against right-handed pitchers and third in points per game. They don’t appear strongly in Soto’s mix. They might not add a left-handed bat at all, instead focusing on relievers with swing-and-miss stuff.
Adding any significant left-handed hitter would likely require the Jays to trade a right-handed bat, a complicated two-step process that would likely be difficult to pull off. The Jays are also keen to disrupt their chemistry. Their right-handed corner fielders, Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., are among the most popular players in their clubhouse.
Don’t get caught up in labels
Neither the Giants nor the Red Sox are likely to be pure sellers. Both teams will be reluctant to concede when their playoff odds hover around 20%, and both will want to bounce back quickly in 2023.
Thus, the Red Sox are looking for major leaguers in exchange for rentals such as designated hitter JD Martinez and catcher Christian Vázquez. And the Giants, even as they move some of their own rentals — including southpaw Carlos Rodón and outfielder Joc Pederson — think they’re focusing on improving their major league athletics and defense in the near term.
The Rays, following their usual practice, are another club considering all angles. For example, at a time when they need offense, they might actually trade a hitter such as first baseman Ji-Man Choi.
The Astros, sources say, are interested in Choi as a possible alternative to their apparent starting No. 1 pick, Josh Bell of the Nationals. The Rays are currently playing shorthanded with shortstop Wander Franco and outfielders Manual Margot and Harold Ramirez on the disabled list. But if they traded Choi, they would make other moves to recoup the offense they lost, trying to create the best 13-man squad possible.
around the horn
• Bell, from Irving, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, told me over the weekend that he wouldn’t mind a trade to Houston. Bell and his wife, Lia, welcomed their first child, a daughter named Noa, in December. Houston is about a 3.5 hour drive from Dallas, and Bell’s parents would be in a better position to help with the baby if he were to spend the final months of the season with the Astros. He is a potential free agent.
• Reds infielder Brandon Drury, who is attracting interest from several clubs, is not certain of being traded. The Reds may be interested in exploring an extension with Drury, who turns 30 on Aug. 21 and hit his 20th career homer as a hitter on Sunday. Of course, the Reds could always trade Drury and re-sign him as a free agent. But if they move him, they would lose their right to trade exclusively with him until the market opens.
• The Guardians are among the teams to express interest in the Athletics Murphy, but a deal remains more likely in the offseason than at the deadline. The A’s will only move Murphy in the next two days if they have enough motivation. Otherwise, they prefer to wait until the offseason, when more teams are open to adding a receiver.
• And finally, Nationals infielder Ehire Adrianza could one day be in the middle of deadline action, but not as a player. Adrianza wants to become a general manager, and to that end, he’s taking online sports management courses through Miami-Dade College’s Honors College.
Classes take place during the school year on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. While those hours can be tough for a major league player, Adrianza says the job keeps him from thinking about baseball.
(Willson Contreras top photo: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)