With Offense Down, Hitters Will Be In Demand During Baseball Trade Talks
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Because hits and runs are down dramatically this year, the trade value of veteran hitters has gone up. Like a rocket.

Several teams seem likely to make significant swaps before they sink out of the playoff picture – and long ahead of this year’s Aug. 2 trade deadline.

Last year, a record 10 players who were All-Stars had new addresses when the deadline hit two weeks later.

With 12 playoff berths at stake this year, as opposed to 10 in 2021, general managers of disappointing teams have to decide whether they will be sellers or buyers.

Last year, the Atlanta Braves hit the Mother Lode at the trade deadline by landing four veteran outfielders to replace injured superstar Ronald Acuna, Jr. The quartet of Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, and Adam Duvall cost little but produced a lot, leading to the team’s first world championship in 26 years.

Without Soler and Pederson, who went elsewhere via free agency, and Rosario, lost for half the season after eye surgery, the Braves figure to be active traders again. They might even move slick-fielding but strikeout-prone shortstop Dansby Swanson, an Atlanta native eligible for free agency this fall.

Like the Braves, the Boston Red Sox, considered a contender before this season began, deny they’re in sell-off mode but they also don’t want to lose players to free agency when they can get something solid if they trade them over the next two months.

That’s how Mookie Betts, a former American League MVP, wound up with the Los Angeles Dodgers just before 2020 spring training.

Current Sox who could be moving are shortstop Xander Bogaerts, third baseman Rafael Devers, and outfielder-DH J.D. Martinez.

Bogaerts can opt out of his contract at the end of this season, opening the position for former National League All-Star Trevor Story, now stationed at second base for Boston after signing a six-year, $140 million pact as a free agent.

Bogaerts, whose bat is better than his glove, has no-trade protection in his Boston pact but will waive it for the right offer.

Martinez, meanwhile, is earning $19.375 million and can block trades to three teams. But such issues shouldn’t preclude a deal, especially if it brings Boston much-needed pitching help.

Other sluggers facing free agency this fall may also be on the move.

Consider Nelson Cruz, at 41 the oldest player in the National League not named Albert Pujols. The Washington Nationals gave him a one-year, $15 million pact so that budding superstar Juan Soto would have better protection in the batting order.

Washington first baseman Josh Bell started well this season and is striking out less and enjoying it more. He’s a free agent likely land with a contender within the next couple of months.

Another NL first baseman who might as well be wearing a FOR SALE sign on the back of his uniform is Miami’s portly but powerful Jesus Aguilar.

The Fish will also have multiple suitors for Jorge Soler, who was playing for the Braves when he was named Most Valuable Player of the 2021 World Series. He’s on the first year of a three-season, $36 million pact and has roots in South Florida but such considerations never stopped the budget-conscious Marlins before.

Need a catcher? The Cubs are listening to offers for veteran Willson Contreras, a backstop with a potent bat and proven track record. Plus he hasn’t reached his 30th birthday yet.

Two versatile infielders, Adam Frazier (Mariners) and Brandon Drury (Reds), are on the market too, along with outfielders Andrew Benintendi (Royals) and Tommy Pham (Reds), according to the website www.MLBtraderumors.com.

Like the Reds and Royals, the Pittsburgh Pirates hope to pare payroll by trading a veteran or two for prospects. That means Ben Gamel, a pending free agent paid a relatively modest $1.8 million this season, should keep bags packed. He’s an outfielder who hits left-handed.

Another Pirate has attracted even more attention. Switch-hitting Bryan Reynolds, a 2021 All-Star, can’t become a free agent until the fall of 2024 but he’s already attracted considerable attention in trade negotiations. He’s the best player in Pittsburgh and would command a haul.

With Dave Dombrowski the chief trade-maker in Philadelphia, lots of movement is a given. The team is desperate to improve its defense in the outfield, where sluggers Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber would serve better as designated hitters, and in the middle infield, where neither Jean Segura nor Didi Gregorius has dazzled in the field.

Segura has no-trade protection plus a $17 million option for 2023 so it may be hard to move him.

In the American League, the Texas Rangers will be looking for pitching after spending a fortune on free-agent hitters who haven’t made a difference in the team’s standing.

Money will be a factor in the rebuilding plans of the Oakland Athletics, who traded Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, and Chris Bassitt during the off-season.

Like the Rangers, the Colorado Rockies seem to have a perennial pitching problem but may be willing to move veteran slugger Charlie Blackmon, an All-Star last year. Also in the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks have pitched well but hit poorly thus far. Trades might help.

The combination of struggling team and expiring contracts usually make players expendable. As more teams fall out of playoff contention, more possibilities will open.

Also to be considered are veteran free agents who went unsigned. After the amateur draft, they can be inked without the signing team surrendering a draft pick as compensation. Ex-Met Michael Conforto a left-handed hitter with power, could find a new home then.

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