Don’t be fooled by the standings — despite the congestion and the number of teams that are just a handful of games above/below .500, several contenders are in position to separate themselves from the pack. All it might take is one simple move.
The nonwaiver trade deadline is still more than 2 1/2 months away, and the second wild card in each league gives struggling teams plenty of incentive not to wave the white flag, but it’s always trade season.
Seven moves (and one wishful-thinking deal) that need to happen sooner than later:
USA TODAY SportsJohn Rieger
Rays SP Chris Archer to Cubs
Chicago’s rotation ranks 23rd in the majors with a 4.62 ERA — a season after it led the majors at 2.96. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey — both free agents after this season — can’t seem to snap out of their funks, and Brett Anderson (8.18 ERA) is back on the DL. Even if two of those three bounce back, it still spells trouble for a team built to repeat.
Archer is under team control through 2021 and would fill a void (see: Lackey’s and Arrieta’s free-agent status) going forward. And there’s an obvious familiarity factor with Joe Maddon. The Cubs certainly have the prospects to finally pry Archer away from the Rays, who can avoid trading their ace to an AL East team.
USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
Rangers SP Yu Darvish to Yankees
New York’s rotation is overachieving — with the exception of CC Sabathia — but it can’t bank on that being the case all season. The offense could use more production from first base, but adding another arm remains the bigger priority — especially since it’s far too soon to give up on Greg Bird. Meanwhile, Texas remains in the AL West cellar and must maximize its return on Darvish, who will be a free agent this offseason.
With money to spend this offseason (CC Sabathia’s $25 million and Alex Rodriguez’s $21 million salaries are coming off the books), the Yankees could consider this is an extended trial run for Darvish.
USA TODAY SportsRay Carlin
White Sox SP Jose Quintana to Astros
This move has been rumored since the offseason, and it makes more sense than ever. Houston has established itself as the clear front-runner in the AL West but needs a strong complement to Dallas Keuchel in the rotation. Quintana qualifies as a terrific 1A.
Although Chicago’s strong start in encouraging, this squad is at least a year away and should capitalize on the chance to collect even more valuable prospects.
USA TODAY SportsDenny Medley
Royals CF Lorenzo Cain to Nationals
Washington’s offense isn’t exactly suffering without the injured Adam Eaton ... yet. Cain is remarkably similar to Eaton in his on-base (.393 OBP) and base-running abilities (nine stolen bases), and is even better defensively.
Because Cain is in his walk year, Washington won’t have to commit long-term (or sacrifice as much young talent to acquire him). And the moment that deal is done, it's time to call the White Sox about David Robertson.
Given their inability to advance past the NLDS and the uncertainty about Bryce Harper’s future, the Nationals must go for it now.
USA TODAY SportsJay Biggerstaff
Royals 3B Mike Moustakas to Giants
San Francisco has dug itself a huge hole — its 11 wins are tied for the fewest in the majors — but still has time to recover, even without ace Madison Bumgarner. There is no time to waste, however, or the Giants soon will be sellers.
Eduardo Nunez, acquired last summer to man the hot corner, is providing no production this season for an offense sorely lacking for power. Enter Moustakas, who can provide the power (eight homers) and spark that San Francisco’s lineup desperately needs.
What makes the 12-win Royals more likely to sell than the 11-win Giants? So many of KC's best players – Moustakas and Cain included – are free agents after this season.
USA TODAY SportsDenny Medley
Twins SP Ervin Santana to Angels
Santana, who has a 2.21 ERA and an MLB-best .560 opponents’ OPS since June 19 of last season, spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Angels. And with Los Angeles’ rotation again decimated by injuries (Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs), it needs reinforcements. The young Twins are making strides, but aren’t ready to contend yet. Sell high on Santana.
USA TODAY SportsKevin Jairaj
Blue Jays SP Marco Estrada to Diamondbacks
A surprise destination for a surprise contender. With the Blue Jays unlikely to recover from their miserable start – especially in the wildly competitive AL East – they should shift from buyers to sellers. Estrada will be in high demand and this is in his walk year, so it makes sense to shop him. Arizona continues to distance itself from a disastrous 2016 season but needs another arm with Shelby Miller shelved for the season.
USA TODAY SportsJeff Curry
Orioles 3B Manny Machado to Red Sox
Just kidding. But that’s perhaps the only way to end this feud, and the Red Sox do need help at the hot corner ...