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Checking in on the AL East trade deadline rumors

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With the trade deadline approaching, what is going on with the Yankees’ division rivals?

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

Aside from a few days for the Amateur Draft over last week’s All-Star Break, since the end of June we here at Pinstripe Alley have been in trade deadline mode. In that time, we’ve discussed what teams might match up well as trade partners for the Yankees and profiled the players that Brian Cashman might seek to add before the deadline.

The deadline’s activity, however, doesn’t happen in a vacuum, as every team works the market to either add to this year’s squad or improve their organization for the long haul. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what rumors have been swirling around the Yankees’ division rivals.

Baltimore Orioles (31-63, 25.5 GB)

Holding the worst record in the American League East for the fourth time in five years, the Orioles are the division’s sole definitive sellers coming to the deadline. Unlike previous years, however, where the Orioles had some clear assets, there’s a lot of uncertainty with Baltimore. It’s hard to see the team parting with Cedric Mullins and John Means despite their immense trade value, as they’re both young stars who the team hopes could be a part of Baltimore’s next core — ditto with fan favorite Trey Mancini.

The team obviously hoped to turn Freddy Galvis into prospects, but he’s been on the shelf since the end of June with a quad strain and will likely still be out when the deadline rolls around. Ultimately, a reliever or two might get flipped — Paul Fry and Tanner Scott top the list — but chances are, the deadline will pass in Baltimore without anybody noticing.

Toronto Blue Jays (48-43, 7.0 GB)

The Blue Jays have been the most active AL East team this summer, acquiring Adam Cimber and Corey Dickerson from the Marlins before the month of July even began and flipping first baseman Rowdy Tellez to the Milwaukee Brewers. Although they’re six games out of the division, their Pythagorean record (which uses run differential to calculate an expected record) is 54-36 and is second in the division behind only the Rays’ 55-38 Pythagorean record.

They will be buyers at the deadline, and big ones at that. After all, they have six prospects in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 and a general manager in Ross Atkins who has a history of going all-in to turn a borderline team into a true contender (see his plethora of 2016 moves, which powered that ballclub to a Wild Card berth and an ALCS appearance). The question that has persisted is, who will their main targets be? Obviously, they will go for pitching — their rotation outside Hyun Jin Ryu and Robbie Ray has been spotty. They could, however, also bolster their lineup the same way the 2019 Yankees did with the addition of Edwin Encarnación, especially since they lack a regular designated hitter. A package deal of José Berríos and Nelson Cruz seems to fit like a glove, and might just make Toronto the favorites in the East.

Tampa Bay Rays (56-39, 1.0 GB)

If they were any other team, the Rays would be a lock to be major buyers on the deadline. They possess arguably the best farm system in baseball, desperately could use another starter with ace Tyler Glasnow on the 60-day IL with partial tears in the UCL and flexor strain in his right elbow, and could use another bat, preferably via an outfielder, to try to compete with the firepower of Toronto. But this is the Rays we’re talking about, and salary limitations (both due to market size and self-imposed) have meant that buying at the deadline has never been their modus operandi.

Would this be the year that changes? While nobody has explicitly said so one way or the other, they have been linked both to Atlanta’s Charlie Morton and Texas’s Kyle Gibson, but then again, these were both roundtables discussing what the analysts would do, and not necessarily what the Rays would do. Similarly, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has speculated that the Rays would be a perfect fit for José Ramírez if Cleveland were to move him, and while I’m more inclined to trust that Rosenthal has at least some idea that there’s smoke to this idea, we’re still discussing speculation.

In truth, the Rays will probably do what they do best: they’ll make a minor deal that nobody is going to pay attention to at the time, acquiring a player who is either going to go on an incredible stretch and lead them to the playoffs this year, or will be a major part of their team in a few years that will make everybody else go, “why did [insert team here] trade this guy?”

Boston Red Sox (57-38, leading division)

The 2021 Red Sox are an enigma. Projected by many entering the season to have a down year — I myself had them pegged for a second-straight last place finish — they have rebounded in a big way, reminiscent of the 2013 squad that sandwiched a World Series title in between last place finishes. They are known for a high-powered offense, led by the All-Star trio of J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers, but have just a 103 wRC+ on the year, thanks to having six players with 100 or more plate appearances post wRC+ below 100 and Alex Verdugo’s complete inability to hit lefties (.485 OPS against lefties, .892 OPS against righties). Their pitching staff has been surprisingly strong, but lacks a true ace without Chris Sale (expected back mid-August).

Obviously, in an ideal world, the Red Sox would want to go all-in. But thanks to former general manager Dave Dombrowski leveraging the farm a few years back in a series of trades that led to the 2018 World Series, I’d be surprised if they’re not outbid for any of the top players who fit a position of need for them, such as Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo. Additionally, Chaim Bloom has said that his primary goal is not to win in a particular year, but to build a squad that could put together a sustained run of success.

If I were a betting man, I would guess that Boston is going to make a couple of low-risk, high-reward deals at the deadline to try to reinforce a bullpen that has been effective this season but has worn out by usage of late, rather than try to reel in a bat. This is Bloom’s first trade deadline as a contender, however, so it’s hard to get a read as to how he’s going to proceed.