It was a memorable All-Star Weekend, but the MLB calendar waits for no one. In just one more day, all 30 teams will be back in action — and a couple weeks after that, it’s trade deadline season. The deadline is always wild, with clubs deciding whether they’re in or out and stars getting sent packing. But with just about everyone still plausibly in the hunt in mid-summer and one of the best players in baseball history on the trading block, this one figures to be among the wildest ever.
So which teams are buying and which are selling? Who will be on the move? We’ve compiled a list of the ten most likely trade deadline targets over the next two-plus weeks.
2023 MLB Trade Deadline targets
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
This seemed scarcely conceivable even at the start of the year, especially so when the Angels got off to a promising start. But now they’re five back of a Wild Card spot, losers of nine of their last 10, with Mike Trout and most of their starting infield on the IL. Maybe they can hang around enough to convince Arte Moreno that a postseason berth is still possible, but if not, the only thing worse than trading the best player on the planet is losing him for nothing this winter. When push comes to shove, I’m betting that the Angels will be far enough from contention to make a move.
What would a package for Ohtani look like? It’s hard to say; if L.A. got to this point, they’d likely have little leverage to push for a megahaul — and teams like, say, the D-backs might be wary of giving up the farm for a guy who’s going to leave in two months.
Potential suitors: Everyone
Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
At a woeful 38-54, the White Sox have come to terms with the fact that they’ll be sellers. And while the team has reportedly (and understandably) labeled Luis Robert Jr., Dylan Cease, Eloy Jimenez and Andrew Vaughn as untouchable in trade talks, that still leaves plenty of pieces for Chicago to deal to interested contenders. Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn and a bevy of bullpen arms could also be on the move, but the list starts with Giolito, who’s set to become a free agent at the end of the season at age 29.
The righty has settled in as something less than the ace that was promised when he was the top pitching prospect in all of baseball a few years, but he’s still a very good pitcher: He has a 3.45 ERA so far this season, and has come in at 3.53, 3.48 and 3.41 in three of the last four years (2022’s blip notwithstanding). He’s also been highly durable, clearing 170 innings in each of the last five full seasons, and any number of pitching-needy teams — from Baltimore to Texas to Cincy and beyond — figure to be interested in his services.
Jeimer Candelario, Washington Nationals
The Nats have to be thrilled with the Candy Man’s great first half — not for their own purposes, but because it’s juiced his price on the trade market. Washington is going nowhere, and they signed Candelario to a one-year flier over the winter with the hope of flipping him at the deadline, so he’s a mortal lock to get moved.
And the 29-year-old third baseman seems like he could help a contender; he’s hitting a very solid .261/.337/.478 on the season, with a .586 SLG so far in July. Candelario has gotten hot at the right time, and he’s a reliable bat who plays a decent third base. That counts for a lot, and he could be a good fit for corner-needy teams like the Yankees, Marlins, Phillies, Brewers and D-backs.
Potential suitors: Phillies, Brewers, Twins
Jordan Montgomery, St. Louis Cardinals
There are a number of Cardinals you could go with here: Is someone willing to take on Nolan Arenado’s contract? What about a buy-low on Tyler O’Neill? Paul Goldschmidt is a free agent after next season, at which point he’ll be 37; could a team that won’t be contending this season want to sell high while it can? What about pending free-agent Jack Flaherty?
In the end, though, we’re going with another free-agent-to-be who’s been just about St. Louis’ only reliable option on the mound: Montgomery. The lefty was just acquired by the Cards at last year’s deadline, but with St. Louis buried in the standings and his free agency looming, don’t be surprised if Montgomery gets flipped again. He eats up innings, and he’s pitched to a 116 ERA+ over the last three seasons — including a tidy 3.18 mark this year. There aren’t a ton of starting options that figure to be available, and Monty should fetch a solid return.
Potential suitors: Dodgers, Orioles, Phillies
Cody Bellinger, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs appear to be caught in between a bit. Underlying metrics suggest they’ve been much better than their 42-47 record suggests, but they have obvious holes on their roster, and they’ve been unable to string together consistent play. They feel like a team that might try to split the difference, making a move with an eye on the future that also doesn’t hamstring them in the present, which is where dealing Bellinger comes in.
Chicago took a chance on the struggling former MVP, signing him to a one-year, $17 million deal this winter with a mutual option for 2024. And it’s worked out pretty well, as Bellinger is hitting .298/.355/.491 with nine homers and 11 steals in 58 games. So why would he be on the trading block? Look under the hood: The 27-year-old hit just .237/.284/.301 across May and June, and his Statcast numbers (specifically a 6th-percentile hard-hit rate and 33rd-percentile xwOBA) don’t back up his top-line numbers. If a team is willing to give up real value for Bellinger, why not sell high, continue to stock the farm for an ascending young core and roll with a perfectly fine Seiya Suzuki-Christopher Morel-Ian Happ outfield?
Shane Bieber, Cleveland Guardians
Having climbed all the way back into first place in the dismal AL Central, the Guardians clearly aren’t going to be sellers at the deadline. So why is their former Cy Young winner on this list? The answer comes down to strengths and weaknesses. Namely: Cleveland’s biggest strength (developing young starting pitching) and its biggest weakness (scoring any runs at all).
The Guardians’ pitching development program has been the envy of most of the league for years now, and 2023 is no exception, churning out impact rookies like Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen and Gavin Williams in addition to veteran much-improved righty Aaron Civale. Moving Bieber would allow them to add a much-needed impact bat to their lineup while still going at least four or five deep in quality rotation arms, all while possibly selling high on a pitcher in slow decline. Bieber has been good this season, but he hasn’t been great, with a 3.77 ERA and batted-ball numbers that are all trending in the wrong direction. He’ll be a free agent after next season, so if Cleveland doesn’t move him now, they risk getting a substantially smaller return at next year’s deadline or losing him for nothing at all.
Potential suitors: Rangers, Reds, D-backs
Eduardo Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers
One of the most important starts of Detroit’s season came back on July 5, when Rodriguez returned from more than a month on the IL with a finger injury to pitch against the Oakland A’s. The 30-year-old lefty wasn’t particularly good — he allowed five runs on six hits while striking out seven in four innings of work — but most importantly for the Tigers, he proved to prospective suitors that he was healthy.
Yes, Riley Greene and Tarik Skubal look great, and Miguel Cabrera’s contract is finally set to come off the books, but Detroit is still very much in rebuilding mode. This team needs to continue adding impact talent for the future, and dealing Rodriguez is their best path to doing so at the trade deadline. Rodriguez was brilliant over the first two months, pitching to a 2.13 ERA before landing on the injured list. His contract is a bit tricky to navigate — if he keeps pitching like he did earlier this year, he’s likely to opt out of the five-year, $77 million deal he signed with the Tigers last winter — but in a trade market starved for reliable starters, he’ll be in high demand.
Potential suitors: Reds, Orioles, Rangers
Josh Hader, San Diego Padres
I suppose this is a slight hedge against the Padres turning things around after a deeply disappointing first half, but I chose Hader specifically because he represents a sort of middle path for San Diego — a way to acquire talent for the future while not punting entirely on 2023, should they still be in limbo at the deadline. The home run problems that have plagued him throughout his career haven’t been an issue in San Diego, and he’s sporting a microscopic 1.08 ERA and the same elite ability to miss bats. Relievers who are impending free agents are the lowest-hanging fruit on the trade block tree, and A.J. Preller could be tempted regardless of how his team performs over the next couple of weeks.
Potential suitors: Rangers, D-backs, Phillies
James Paxton, Boston Red Sox
Speaking of teams seeking a middle ground: The Red Sox are 48-43, good enough to be leading the Central ... and yet they’re stuck in last place in the AL East and a couple games out of a Wild Card spot. Boston has been playing better of late, and a full sell probably isn’t in the cards, but Paxton, again, represents a compromise approach. The lefty has been sensational since coming off the injured list, with a 2.73 ERA and 64 Ks in 56 innings.
But the injured list is part of the problem here: Paxton has shown flashes of brilliance before, but he’s rarely been able to sustain it without getting hurt, and now he’s about to turn 35 this fall — with a knee that’s began barking over the past few weeks. He’s also about to be a free agent, and his age and injury history would make it tricky for player and team to come to terms on an extension that makes sense for both. The Red Sox are thin on starting pitching right now, but with Chris Sale and Garrett Whitlock hopefully back soon, might they try to sell high on Paxton, making him someone else’s future problem while acquiring young talent and still trying to snag a Wild Card spot this year?
Potential suitors: Reds, D-backs, Orioles
C.J. Cron, Colorado Rockies
Who knows what the Rockies are thinking at any given point in time, but the trade of Mike Moustakas last month shows they’re open to selling — which, at 34-57, would seem to be the right call. Everyone from Randal Grichuk to closer Justin Lawrence could seem to be in play here, but instead let’s focus on Cron, a pending free agent who not so long ago was one of the game’s better sluggers. The big first baseman slashed .265/.343/.498 (118 OPS+) from 2020 to 2022, and while he’s struggled amid injury this year, he’s back in the lineup and has been swinging better lately — with an .807 OPS over his last 10 games. It stands to reason that he’ll get better as he knocks the rust off, and there are no shortage of teams who could use a little extra pop.
Potential suitors: Brewers, Guardians, Giants