Deadline Preview: Sensible Edition

How sensible can we get?

Ever since the Seitz decision, the July trade deadline has brought an uneasiness between players approaching free agency and their teams—those playing well on bad teams start to wonder where they might end up, and those playing badly on good teams start to wonder if they might be heading the wrong way in a blockbuster. The truth is that ballclubs, even good ones, often cannot afford to lose good players for nothing.

MLB does relatively well at managing this reality (for a counterexample, dip your toe in the water of the Kylian Mbappé PSG transfer saga), but qualifying offers and compensation picks will never match up to the kinds of prospects you can get in a good July transaction. And so what happens on and around July 30th, hype or no hype, speculation or no speculation, really does matter.

Every year, too, there are trade rumors that seem obvious. Yes, the Red Sox will probably trade Kenley Jansen. Yes, the Athletics will probably, against all reason, trade Mason Miller. Yes, the White Sox are probably this year’s fire sale team. Yes, Erick Fedde looks like a good addition for a postseason contender in need of pitching.

There are usually interesting rumors, too. I’d find it fascinating if, say, Bo Bichette or Vlad Guerrero Jr. were traded, though I doubt it will happen. One big move already happened on May 4th, when Luis Arraez was dealt from the struggling Marlins to the Padres. For Miami, the deal made sense—the earlier they moved Arraez, the better return they could expect; they were likely out for this year anyway. The Padres, never shy about a big move, got my favorite hitter in baseball.

So while we all wait for the stove to reheat in July, and as it becomes clearer who the buyers and sellers might be, let’s do something no one ever asks for: think up three sensible trades with the goal of making important but modest gains at the margins. Welcome to the hype-fest.


Tyler O’Neill to the Guardians


If anyone says they knew the Guardians would be 40-20 in their first 60 games, they’re lying to you. But Cleveland looks like the real deal, and in some ways, they’re the perfect case study of a team that could improve greatly at the deadline—even they, I suspect, weren’t expecting to be this good. Payroll currently stands, according to FanGraphs, at just under $100M, so there may be more than a little wiggle room at the deadline to add salary, especially in the very short term.

Trading for Tyler O’Neill, though, wouldn’t even require much financial flexibility; the Red Sox outfielder is making $5.85M in arbitration this year, according to Spotrac, and is a free agent in 2025. Though he’s regressed significantly since recording one of the hottest power-hitting starts in recent memory, including a two-week stretch in April in which he hit six home runs and recorded a 1.218 OPS, some of his recent troubles may be due to a concussion he suffered during a collision with Rafael Devers in late April. In the month afterward, O’Neill struck out 37.5% of the time and posted a comparatively concerning .707 OPS.

But, after another IL stint for knee inflammation, O’Neill may be fully healthy again. And he’s more than just tradable: unless they want to lose him for nothing, the Red Sox absolutely must deal O’Neill at the deadline. Even without him, the Sox have one too many outfielders, most of whom are younger and more controllable, and all of whom have a less dramatic injury record.

Why trade for a guy who has slowed down so much? If O’Neill had kept up his April pace (or even cooled down to a more believably elite level), this might have been a huge deadline trade. But the bloom is off the rose, a little, and although the Red Sox still need to trade him away from their bourgeoning outfield traffic jam, Cleveland may be able to get him for relatively little in return. One mid-level prospect and some cash might get this done.

On the upside for Cleveland: roster expansion looms fairly quickly after the deadline, and O’Neill has all the makings of a fascinating postseason bat, especially in pinch-hit situations against lefties, against whom his OPS is still an unbelievable 1.122. The comparison here is to Steve Pearce, who had one of the greatest post-trade postseasons ever in 2018.

O’Neill is a free agent next year, so the Guardians wouldn’t have to worry about the injuries that have often hampered his ability to get hot and stay hot. They’d get to watch him take lefties deep to right for a couple months. This is about as sensible a trade as there is.


Brent Rooker to the Cubs


Brent Rooker is the kind of player we overlook. Playing on a bad team doesn’t always count against you, but Rooker plays for the Athletics, who are bad because their owner doesn’t care, not bad because of any salacious clubhouse dynamics (Padres) or disorganized spending sprees (Mets). He strikes out a lot, at over a 30% clip in each of his years in the majors. He doesn’t play much defense, and is essentially a full-time DH this year, making 35 starts at DH against 14 in the outfield.

But Rooker is also undeniably good. He holds a .921 OPS this year against a 32.8% strikeout rate, which is a funny kind of efficiency. Besides a truly atrocious 2020 season, he’s been getting consistently better: his BB% has increased each year even as the K% has inflated slightly, and his 30 home runs last year were impressive in a 2023 Athletics lineup that provided him next to no protection. He is cost-controlled through 2027, after which he’ll be a free agent. This is a sensible player, at a sensible price, with a sensible team commitment.

And so this is exactly the kind of guy the Cubs need, not only for the last few months of the year but for the future: a relatively experienced, consistent, and cost-controlled DH who can begin to rebuild alongside an exciting, but underpowered, Cubs team.

The downside of all this is that Rooker would leave a truly fun A’s team that, surely to the horror of their ownership, can suddenly hit a little. It wouldn’t be exactly heartwarming for Rooker to be wrenched away mid-season. But this, too, is sensible.


This One Goes to 11


But what if we turn the sensible meter all the way up? Up past postponing a game for rain before the fans arrive (an 8/10), past signing Curt Casali for his pitch-calling (a 9), even past leaving José Berríos in the game during the 2023 Wild Card (a 10)? The answer might surprise you—in a sensible way, of course.


Braxton Garrett to the Orioles


The Orioles had starters until they didn’t—manager Brandon Hyde had no sooner talked about a six-man rotation than the Orioles lost both John Means and Tyler Wells to elbow injuries. The flashy move for the Orioles would be to trade one of their many prospects for the Marlins’ Jesús Luzardo, but the truth is that Braxton Garrett, who is under team control for two more years than Luzardo, might be a better fit.

Garrett is not a top-end rotation candidate, but the Orioles don’t, frankly, need one—Corbin Burnes has been fantastic. Garrett is, for what it’s worth, having a comparable season to Luzardo: his ERA (4.56) and FIP (3.34) are both lower than Luzardo’s, and his 7.99 K/9 is not far off Luzardo’s 8.36. Garrett is not the better pitcher, and it’s true that Luzardo’s numbers are temporarily inflated by a recent start during which he gave up nine earned runs over four and a third innings. But Garrett may, in this place and time, be the better fit for the Orioles.


Some Final Thoughts: On “Buyers” and “Sellers”

Sometimes, on a lazy July day, as I watch my Red Sox go back to .500 for the thousandth time in three years, it can feel like deadline chatter mostly centers around which teams will be buyers and which sellers. Sometimes, too, it can feel like we talk about the best five teams as buyers and the worst five teams as sellers. In that case, the list this year would go something like this:

Buyers: Yankees, Phillies, Guardians, Orioles, Dodgers.

Sellers: White Sox, Marlins, Rockies, Angels, Athletics.

Maybe we add the Braves to the top list because Ronald Acuña Jr. is now down long-term; maybe we remove the Dodgers because they seem to have everything a team could possibly need. Maybe we remove the Rockies from the below list since they rarely do much at the deadline.

But there is a lot more going on in an MLB front office than a big board with a team’s record on it, and there is a lot more inefficiency in the trade markets than allows for the kind of fun, 3-team trades we all cook up at night when we can’t sleep. Even sensibility might not have much of a place in these discussions. But if you’ve made it this far in an article as devoid of hype as this one, congratulations: when one of the above happens, you’ll be part of this secret, sensible club.


Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on X)

Paul Michaud

Paul Michaud's first memory is David Ortiz's walk-off homer in the 2004 ALCS. Nothing has topped that since. A Brown alum, he's also an editor and fiction writer.

2 responses to “Deadline Preview: Sensible Edition”

  1. Nathan Vanderwest says:

    Pete Alonso doesn’t play for the Cubs. Did you mean Brent Rooker to the Mets?

  2. Doug says:

    Something something something, “write about sensible moves when” something something something “Red Sox fan”


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