MLB trade deadline questions: Four biggest topics — including Cubs, vaccines, more — ahead of July 30

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USATSI

Major League Baseball’s trade deadline is just days away, as it’s scheduled to pass at 4 p.m. ET on Friday, July 30. Unlike in normal years, wherein the deadline falls on July 31, the league pushed the deadline up to prevent it from coinciding with day games. This way, teams won’t have to worry about injuries derailing their deals, or about having to play shorthanded.

If you haven’t been paying close attention, you might feel out of the loop. Luckily, we’re here to help. Below, you’ll find our attempts at answering the four biggest questions looming around this year’s deadline.

1. Who are the biggest names on the market?

We covered the top trade candidates in greater detail a few weeks back. Here, we’ll give you four names to watch.

Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story has been a walking trade rumor since the team traded third baseman Nolan Arenado earlier this year. Story is an impending free agent (albeit one having a down season relative to his norm), and there’s no reason for the Rockies to keep him. 

The Chicago Cubs have two players who seem likely to go, in third baseman Kris Bryant and closer Craig Kimbrel. Bryant is an impending free agent whose split from Chicago has played out in slow motion over the last couple years. Kimbrel, meanwhile, has reasserted himself as a top reliever once again following his first normal offseason in years.

Then there’s Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer. He has a trickier case than anyone else listed here, in part since the Nationals haven’t decided yet if they’re buying or selling, and in part because he has the ability to control his destination. Scherzer, another impending free agent, has 10-5 rights (10 years in the majors, five with his current club), meaning he has the ability to veto any trade. It’s unclear if he would waive such a right to join a contender, or if he would require incentive to do so, perhaps in the form of an extension. 

2. Is there room for surprise?

Certainly. The Padres proved as much on Sunday, acquiring infielder Adam Frazier from the Pittsburgh Pirates for three prospects. As a result of that trade, it’s at least possible the Padres will look to move part of their infield depth chart over the coming days. At minimum, a team that didn’t seem to be in need acquiring Frazier is likely to set off a domino effect, perhaps leading to teams getting creative with their inquiries. 

As MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported over the weekend, Cleveland’s recent slide could cause the club to examine the market for third baseman José Ramírez (his extremely team-friendly contract has him under control for two more seasons). It wouldn’t be too shocking to see other teams without great playoff chances explore similar ideas; or, conversely, for teams on the rise (e.g., the Seattle Mariners) to take this opportunity to stock up for a future run.

3. Who will the Cubs trade?

Publicly, Cubs executive Jed Hoyer has pushed back against the idea that his team is rebuilding — because, you see, clubs who trade veteran pitchers like Yu Darvish for packages composed mostly of teenaged players are trying their best to win right now, gosh dangit. 

Privately, scouts and executives with other teams expect the Cubs to act like what they are, a team transitioning into a rebuild phase. The biggest question is how far the Cubs’ efforts will stretch. Bryant and Kimbrel are obvious candidates to go. Beyond them, Chicago has a number of impending free agents who would draw interest from other clubs: first baseman Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Javier Báez, and right-hander Zach Davies among them.

Over the winter, the Cubs were willing to move catcher Willson Contreras, who won’t qualify for free agency until after next season. No deal materialized, but it would track if the Cubs put him out there again, just to see if someone is willing to pony up. Hoyer would be doing his team a disservice if he didn’t at least listen on offers for Kyle Hendricks as well.

Perhaps the better question regarding the Cubs is an inversion of header: it’s not a matter of who Chicago trades away, it’s a matter of who they keep between now and next Opening Day.

4. Will vaccination status factor into moves?

It’s fair to wonder if or how all the player movement will impact teams’ vaccination rates. Remember, at least 85 percent of tier-1 personnel (a grouping that includes more than players) must be fully vaccinated for teams to enjoy relaxed COVID-19 protocols. That number is dynamic, and changes with every roster move, be it a trade or promotion, and if it dips below the 85-percent-threshold, teams are supposed to revert to the more strict guidelines. 

It stands to reason, then, that teams would have interest in acquiring fully vaccinated players — to better protect against outbreaks and to prevent disrupting the clubhouse. Yet those within league circles do not believe that MLB is tracking vaccination statuses closely enough for it to impact deadline plans. Rather, one executive suggested to CBS Sports that general managers will have to rely upon one another to learn about their players’ vaccination statuses. 

Seeing as how no team has been known to have to reinstall the stricter guidelines — despite logic suggesting that some team at some point has fallen underneath the 85 percent mark — that’s probably a fair assumption.