What we learned in MLB this week: Time to trade Juan Soto, Max Scherzer and Nolan Arenado?


Every Thursday, Jordan Shusterman examines one thing from each MLB division that we’ve learned from the past week of action. 

AL East: Are we underrating Boston’s offense?

It’s no secret the Red Sox are going to need to acquire some impact pitching at the trade deadline if they are going to continue to gain significant ground in the AL postseason picture. However, let’s not let the concerns on the mound overshadow just how formidable this offense has been for much of this season. Boston’s lineup, which has fueled the team to an MLB-best 14-5 record in July, is a fantastically entertaining mix of hitters, ranging from known superstars (Rafael Devers), to venerable veterans (Justin Turner, Adam Duvall), to young guns starting to make their mark (Triston Casas, Jarren Duran), to a rookie sensation who is proving all the doubters wrong (Masataka Yoshida). Their collective production has certainly been boosted by the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park, but Boston ranks in the top five of all MLB teams in runs per game (fifth), OPS (fifth), and doubles (first).

And the best part? This offense might get even better. 

The trade of utilityman Enrique Hernandez to Los Angeles helped matters on the mound by adding two upper-level relievers in Nick Robertson and Justin Hagenman. It also rid Boston of one of the few regular weak spots on offense in Hernandez, whose 60 wRC+ was the second-worst in MLB among all qualified hitters. More exciting is the impending return of Trevor Story to the infield, which could turn what was previously a black hole into another potential offensive contributor penciled into the everyday lineup. Story doesn’t have to fully return to his 2018-19 peak to make a difference. A mere solid, 110 OPS-plus version of Story would go a long way toward improving this lineup and provide some much-needed right-handed balance beyond just Turner and Duvall. He could also add a speed element on the bases that the team severely lacks outside of Duran.

I still think the pitching will be the determining factor for Boston’s ultimate ceiling, but we’re underselling how far this offense could carry Boston on its own. It’s an awfully fun group.

AL Central: Cleveland‘s deadline strategy will be fascinating

Despite losing some ground to rival Minnesota in recent weeks, Cleveland is still well-within striking distance of another division title and should act accordingly in the coming days. Shane Bieber joining co-ace Triston McKenzie on the dreaded 60-Day IL suggested a more acute need for starting pitching than maybe previously understood, even with the steady emergence of the team’s trio of rookie arms in the rotation in Logan Allen, Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams. The bullpen has been stellar, but still a tick or two below the elite level it was at last season, leaving less margin for error when the young starters don’t go deep into games. 

Bieber and McKenzie’s ongoing absence necessitated an addition to the rotation that can consistently munch on some innings down the stretch as the talented rookies continue to find their footing. Enter Noah Syndergaard, who struggled in Dodger Blue but is likely capable – with a few tweaks from one of the few pitching development apparati with arguably a stronger track record than the Dodgers – to provide some bulk down the stretch. This isn’t someone being brought in to start a potential playoff game; that should still be Bieber or McKenzie once healthy, and some combination of the rookies. But for what they need now, he fits the bill.

Sending Amed Rosario to Los Angeles marked an unceremonious end to his lengthy tenure in Cleveland, but his performance had cratered on both sides of the ball to the point where he was simply blocking younger players more than helping the team win. Chris Antonetti is already on record that the Guardians are looking to add a bat, which should come as no surprise considering Cleveland’s continued lack of impact anywhere in the lineup outside of Josh Naylor and Jose Ramirez. Cleveland’s 79 total long balls are last in MLB by a large margin. 

With Syndergaard in the fold, acquiring someone who can actually hit the ball over opposing outfielders’ heads should be the priority, though that’s much harder to find in the current market. Barring another catastrophic Twins collapse, Cleveland has its work cut out if the team wants to return to the postseason. With the deadline fast approaching, the Guardians need to get better one way or another. Rosario-for-Syndergaard was an interesting start, but it should only be the beginning. 

AL West: What does Jerry Dipoto have cooking this week?

I’m not going to count deal maven Jerry Dipoto out of any trade deadline, but the reality is, no team has been more committed to hovering at or around .500 in 2023 than the Mariners. Don’t believe me? Look at this dedication:

This magnetic pull to mediocrity appears too powerful to truly consider Seattle a buyer. The team’s 81-81 fate might just be sealed. At the same time, back-to-back series wins over postseason contenders Toronto and Minnesota – and Julio Rodriguez starting to heat up in a big way – has this team feeling good as they head to Arizona for an intriguing interleague series this weekend.

As maddeningly inconsistent as the offense has been, the Mariners still boast something that very few teams can: elite starting pitching. This position of strength has allowed Seattle to stay in the mix, despite a lineup that has spent all summer oscillating between lifeless ineptitude and streaky stretches of competence. It also places them in the rare group of teams surveying the market who aren’t in desperate need of competent pitchers sweatily repeating the familiar refrain, “you can never have too much pitching!”

The acquisition of veteran reliever Trent Thornton from Toronto on Wednesday was a reminder that even the lucky few teams who appear deep in the mound can always use another arm, but it doesn’t seem like that is likely to remain the priority in the coming days should Seattle commit to being buyers. The bigger existential question for Dipoto and GM Justin Hollander’s front office: Is there enough to believe in with this roster to make it worth pursuing an impact addition? There doesn’t appear to be an offensive equivalent to the Luis Castillo trade anywhere on the market at the moment, but you have to think Dipoto’s group is exploring all options to improve the roster for both this year and the future. On the flip side, if things go south in the desert this weekend, might the Mariners entertain offers for Teoscar Hernandez? They’ve gotten creative before; let’s not put it past them to come up with an unexpected way to shake this roster up before 6 p.m. ET next Tuesday. 

NL East: What are Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander’s trade value, anyway?

With Shohei Ohtani staying put in Anaheim, allow us to turn our attention in the National League to some of the bigger names that have floated into the rumor mill and could still conceivably shake the baseball world to its core if traded. The Mets’ wayward season has left them in a position where they might have no choice but to sell, though they don’t have too many overwhelmingly attractive trade pieces that would bring in significant prospect returns. In turn, murmurs have begun surrounding the possibility of the Mets trading either Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander.

There’s a reason these two future Hall of Famers are both on the same team in the first place – the Mets were the only team willing to go to such extraordinary financial lengths to secure them as free agents. If the Mets were to attempt to offload either of those gargantuan contracts in the middle of the season, what other teams would realistically have any greater interest in making such a commitment to either of these two now vs. this past winter? It would be one thing if we were watching these two perform at the peak of their powers and they were continuing to defy age in unfathomable fashion, reliably dominating every fifth day. That has not been the case. That’s not to say these guys couldn’t help some contenders’ rotations – they’ve still looked like great pitchers on occasion. But for the cost of the highest salaries in the sport? I don’t think so. And even if New York was to find a taker for these arms, does it make any sense for them? The 2024 rotation is already projected to be in questionable shape with whatever they’d be getting from 39-year-old Scherzer and 41-year-old Verlander. Without one of them, it could be even more dire. I’d love to be proven wrong, but these guys being on the move at this deadline just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Instead, let’s look elsewhere for a potential blockbuster …

NL Central: How far should the Cardinals sell-off go?

If the Mets’ plans remain somewhat unclear, let’s take a look at the Cardinals, who have publicly declared their intentions to trade away several notable pieces before next week’s deadline. The safe assumption is that John Mozeliak and his front office group will focus primarily on offloading pending free agents like Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery, Chris Stratton, Jordan Hicks, and Paul DeJong (DeJong has a $12M club option for 2024). But allow us to dream bigger and wonder if there’s any chance Nolan Arenado or Paul Goldschmidt could end up as targets for a contender looking to make a massive splash in the coming week. 

Under contract only through next season – and three years older than Arenado – Goldschmidt might appear the more sensible candidate to consider flipping for a serious haul at this stage. At the same time, Goldy feels like the consummate Cardinal and one that is meant to be in St. Louis for the remainder of his career. It’s not that Arenado doesn’t fit in across the diamond from his fellow superstar, but there’s at least some logic in committing to just one of them more concretely for the long-haul, especially with the likes of young stars Nolan Gorman and Jordan Walker fitting best in the corner infield sooner rather than later. 

While Arenado has looked much more like himself in recent months, I wonder if his horrid start to this season – and mild regression on defense – might give St. Louis some pause as to his long-term outlook as a certified franchise cornerstone alongside Goldschmidt. Arenado is owed $109 million over the next four seasons after this year, (though $15M of that will still inexplicably be paid by the Rockies). It might sound like a lot at first glance for a player who will be 36 at the end of the deal, but it’s safe to assume he’d command a good bit more than four years and $109M if he hit the open market this winter. In turn, this should also make Arenado’s contract far more reasonable to move, though there’d still probably be a limited number of teams in a strong position to absorb such a contract.

This is where the Dodgers come in. We know they’ve been interested in Arenado dating back to his days in Colorado, and there’s no reason to expect that has changed now, with recent reports suggesting continued interest in pursuing the star third baseman. Furthermore, Arenado would reportedly be willing to waive his no-trade clause in the event a deal was struck with Los Angeles. While I don’t believe the Cardinals are actively pursuing an Arenado deal, I could see the Dodgers overwhelming them with such an offer of near MLB-ready talent on both sides of the ball that it would make too much sense for the Cardinals to pass up, allowing them to build around Goldy and their wealth of younger position talent. This is more of a hunch on how aggressive I’m expecting the Dodgers to be in the coming week than the Cardinals wanting to blow it up further, but we’ll see what happens. 

Ultimately, if the Cardinals do choose to make a drastic move, I think it’s far more likely they flip one of their younger hitters like Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson or Brendan Donovan in exchange for cost-controlled pitching. For the most part, I view any potential trade of Arenado or Goldschmidt at this stage similarly as my next topic …

NL West: Whatever you do, Padres, don’t trade Juan Soto

Finally, let’s turn our attention to San Diego, where AJ Preller’s fantasy team lost yet another maddening series at home to the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates in the lead-up to what could be a chaotic deadline. Reports suggest that no matter the dire position in the standings and complete inability to gain momentum – the Padres have yet to win four games in a row this season – Preller & Co. are rebuffing any interest in lefties Blake Snell and Josh Hader, despite their status as pending free agents. But I just wanted to get on the record here in case things continue to go south in the coming week and Hader and Snell resurface as possible trade bait: Juan Soto needs to stay put.

If the Padres choose to sell and ultimately punt on a season they entered with the highest expectations in franchise history, there is logic to flipping players who are about to hit the open market in an effort to “re-tool” and run it back in 2024 around what is still a star-studded core. 

I understand the temptation to put Soto on the table for what could once again be a borderline historic haul, perhaps not to the level of what he fetched a year ago from his current team, but still a potential package of players we’ve rarely seen moved for one singular star. I also recognize that part of the motivation to move Soto now could be a growing concern that extending him will be an impossible task, so it’s better to get what you can now before he walks in 18 months. However, the logic for including Soto in a trade now would have to assume that what you are getting for him is making you better right away. While the collection of hypothetical prospects and young players sounds exciting, this is not a team that should be banking on youthful potential and optimistic projections. This is a team that should still be all-in next year, regardless of how shockingly poorly 2023 has gone – and being all-in means still employing one of the best hitters on earth, not trying to improve your farm system rank.

I still have a hard time believing the Padres will have the guts to trade Hader or Snell, so all this concern about Soto being on the move will likely end up being moot. But even seeing as much of a hint at the idea of trading Soto as part of a San Diego sell-off was enough to warrant making my stance rather clear here.

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball for his entire adult life, most notably for MLB.com, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan living in the Eastern Time Zone, which means he loves a good 10 p.m. first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_. 


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