MLB trade deadline: These 3 long shots could turn into real contenders with big moves

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Baseball’s trade deadline is coming up fast. With a relatively slow start to the moves — Nelson Cruz is the biggest name moved so far — executives reportedly expect a frenzy of activity between now and Friday’s deadline.

The condensed timeline reflects the uncertainty of the key races — mostly the AL wild card hunt and the NL East. Several teams could have their stances on buying, selling or standing pat change between Monday and Thursday.

That fluidity is also clear in the World Series and pennant odds at BetMGM, where several teams are locked on the path to October, but many more could see their chances change drastically based on how aggressive or passive they are this week. Someone with appealingly long odds entering Monday’s games could be remade as a real contender — with much shorter odds — by Friday evening.

These are the teams who have the most potential to flip the script this week.

Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) bats against the San Diego Padres during a baseball gameTuesday, July 20, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Freddie Freeman anchors a Braves lineup that might get reinforcements this week. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Atlanta Braves 

+600 to win NL East, +3000 to win NL pennant

The Braves looked like a powerhouse coming into 2021, despite some projection systems’ skepticism, but have been decimated by injury. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Mike Soroka are gone for the season and Marcell Ozuna is extremely unlikely to be back after a domestic violence arrest.

But GM Alex Anthopoulos is unlikely to concede. Atlanta is still just four games behind a New York Mets team also plagued by injuries, with serious upgrades very feasible. Right now, the lineup revolves around reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman, star second baseman Ozzie Albies and the powerful Austin Riley. Beyond that, they are running out a series of journeymen and Quad-A fill-ins. 

Anthopoulos already snagged Joc Pederson from the sinking Cubs, and a couple more similar acquisitions of even average big leaguers could pay serious dividends for a club giving way too many at-bats to Abraham Almonte, Orlando Arcia and Ehire Adrianza.

Replacing those names in the everyday lineup with Starling Marte and a versatile hitter like Eduardo Escobar could bring the Braves much closer to even with New York.

Philadelphia Phillies 

+400 to win NL East, +2500 to win NL pennant

This is basically a different version of the same story. Dave Dombrowski, a Going For It extraordinaire, is at the helm in Philadelphia and likely to add in hopes of boosting a stars and scrubs roster.

The Phillies suffer less from injuries than from top-heavy roster construction. Lineup anchors Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto are performing as expected, and Zack Wheeler has leveled up as one of the best pitchers in the NL. That adds even more urgency to fill the gaping holes around them.

Once again, the bullpen is the most urgent need. They have been rumored as suitors for Craig Kimbrel, who represents just about the biggest upgrade you can imagine. They will need more to really pose a threat, though. They could find themselves bidding against the rival Braves for Starling Marte to boost a flailing center field spot. 

Dombrowski’s shoot for the moon style may also put them in the running for Kris Bryant, likely the best hitter available. He could offer relief at third base if Alec Bohm’s struggles continue, or try his hand at any outfield spot.

Seattle Mariners

+10000 to win AL pennant

Look, the Mariners probably aren't winning the pennant. But they are way, way too close to the race to be taken lightly. And that's starting to be reflected in the rumor mill. After the San Diego Padres dealt for Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier Sunday, reports emerged that the Mariners are aiming even higher and going after the Royals’ Whit Merrifield.

Merrifield, a perennial contender to lead the league in hits and stolen bases, is precisely the type of player that could make sense for Seattle. After a slow start, Seattle is suddenly just a game and a half behind Oakland for the second AL wild card spot — ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees.

GM Jerry Dipoto will not go all in on 2021. This was supposed to be more of a ramp-up year to get new talent like Jarred Kelenic, Cal Raleigh and Logan Gilbert ready, rather than a time to go for it, but players who can help in 2022 also are worth pursuing. Merrifield is under contract through at least 2022, with an option for 2023.

If the Mariners scoop one or two contributors in that vein, they could swing the playoff race in their favor. Any team that gets a foot into October would have a far better chance of making a run than +10000 would indicate.

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