MLB trade deadline watch: Rays may have arms to move; which teams are eyeing struggling Cubs (2024)

MLB trade deadline watch: Rays may have arms to move; which teams are eyeing struggling Cubs (1)

By The Athletic MLB Staff

Jun 28, 2024

By Will Sammon, Katie Woo and Patrick Mooney

MLB trade deadline watch is a collection of news and notes from our reporting team of Patrick Mooney, Will Sammon, Katie Woo and Ken Rosenthal.

Injuries have hit the Tampa Bay Rays’ rotation hard this season. Health should not be viewed as a given. However, with two key reinforcements on the way, the Rays may end up being a team to watch when it comes to sellers in the starting pitcher market.

Jeffrey Springs and Shane Baz are working their way back from injuries in Triple-A Durham. Club officials view Baz as building himself up now that he’s healthy whereas Springs remains behind in terms of the Rays knowing what to fully expect from him for the rest of the year. If everything goes smoothly — and that’s an important clause here; setbacks happen and another injury for someone else is always a possibility — then the Rays may end up with one of those “good problems to have.”

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They may have to soon create two openings in their starting rotation, which includes Zach Eflin, Aaron Civale, Taj Bradley, Zack Littell and Ryan Pepiot. As things stand, no one deserves to be optioned to the minor leagues. So if things stay on track, a trade becomes probable.

Of the group, league sources suggested Civale and Littell would be the likeliest to be traded. Littell, 28, is making $1.8 million this year and has an additional year to go before becoming a free agent in 2026. Civale, 29, also won’t be a free agent until 2026 and is making $4.9 million this year.

Beyond making sure they get fully healthy, the Rays also have to keep in mind what if any innings limitations their starters like Pepiot may have. That still wouldn’t necessarily stop them trading one of their seven starters, but it will be a factor in the consideration.

Aside from what they could do with their starting pitching, the Rays will have some decisions to make regarding their overall trade deadline strategy. At 40-41, they’re 11 games back of the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles for first place in the American League East, but only four games out of the final wild-card spot. While much can change between now and the July 30 deadline, initial impressions are that the Rays are hesitant to wave the white flag on the season.

July will ultimately dictate the Rays’ fate. However, if president of baseball operations Erik Neander does opt to sell, industry sources believe it won’t come in the form of a fire sale. The Rays intend to be competitive next season and would shy from the idea of a full-fledged rebuild. This could complicate the decisions on a number of players who could prove to be valuable trade pieces — but are also considered assets for next year’s team.

Closer Pete Fairbanks is a prime example.

High-leverage relief pitching is always in demand at the deadline, and that’s often when relievers are at their highest value. Though the Rays aren’t inclined to move him yet, plenty of teams will call about the 30-year-old right-hander, who has a 3.25 ERA and 12 saves in 14 chances.

Fairbanks is in the second year of a three-year, $12 million deal and the Rays have a team option for 2026. He’s both cost-effective and a valuable piece to their roster. Though they’d prefer to keep Fairbanks — at least for now — Tampa Bay could have plenty of choices over the next few weeks.

Yankees, Rangers eye struggling Cubs

There was a stillness to Oracle Park on Thursday morning as Chicago Cubs outfielder Cody Bellinger chatted with San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Chapman. About three hours before first pitch, they stood on the outfield grass where Chapman had brought his dog to run around and play fetch. They are good friends who occasionally train together during the offseason in Arizona. They are also two of the prominent Scott Boras clients who lingered on the free-agent market last winter and eventually signed contracts only after the start of spring training.

But even when it seems quiet, the business side of the game never stops.

With the Cubs struggling to gain traction in the playoff race, teams like the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers have recently had a noticeable scouting presence around the club, a league source said. If the trend continues for the Cubs, Bellinger’s name will likely become a much-discussed name again near the deadline, as it was last season.

Amid those trade rumors a year ago — when the Yankees were involved — Bellinger carried the Cubs with an MVP-level stretch. He’s still a well-rounded, productive player who hits left-handed and creates flexibility by being able to handle first base and all three outfield positions. But he acknowledged that his output (.759 OPS) has not met his own personal standards or the expectations when he returned to the Cubs on a three-year, $80 million contract, which includes opt-out clauses after the first two seasons.

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“I expect to do way more,” Bellinger said. “I expect to play better.”

Buying or selling is always a complex decision for teams on the fence, and executives would have to take into account Bellinger’s contract structure, which could essentially make him a rental hitter or potentially a big-money commitment through 2026.

Bellinger emphasized that he believes a turnaround is coming: “We still got time. We have a good team.”

The Cubs were not designed to sell at the trade deadline. Their front office has been making moves around the edges of the roster, trying to incrementally improve a team that has 19 one-run losses, the most in the majors. But rivals have to be prepared just in case things get even worse and the Cubs change direction.

The Cubs are already six games under .500 and 10 1/2 games out of first place. They narrowly avoided a four-game sweep in the Bay Area with Thursday’s 10-inning win over the Giants, another one of the nine National League teams bunched together behind the Atlanta Braves in the wild-card picture.

Mets on fence after surge

The New York Mets haven’t yet made any directional decisions regarding the trade deadline, according to people familiar with the club’s thinking, and how they continue to play will inform their approach.

Perhaps more than any other team in the National League, the Mets have demonstrated just how much things can change over a few weeks. On June 2, they were 11 games below .500. On Wednesday night, after overwhelming the New York Yankees in the Subway Series, they moved to 39-39.

If they continue to resemble a team that should be looking toward buying at the deadline, bullpen help — even before Edwin Díaz’s suspension and Drew Smith’s elbow injury — stands out as an obvious need. On the selling side, the Mets have a host of players on expiring contracts such as starter Luis Severino, designated hitter J.D. Martinez and first baseman Pete Alonso that could make them busy when the deadline arrives in a month.

And, of course, speculatively speaking, some hybrid style of buying and selling shouldn’t be ruled out, either.

(Photo of Civale: Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

MLB trade deadline watch: Rays may have arms to move; which teams are eyeing struggling Cubs (2024)
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