Contenders to watch and players to track on trade deadline day

Welcome to trade deadline day. Why isn’t it a national holiday yet?

Here’s a preview of the more important storylines to follow:

Where will Sonny Gray land?

The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers remain the favorites to land Oakland’s right-hander, who is in demand not only because he’s having a solid season with a 3.43 ERA but also because he’s controllable through 2019. The top prospects rumored to be potential focal points of a deal are two outfielders, Estevan Florial of the Yankees and Alex Verdugo of the Dodgers.

Florial, just 19 years old, is hitting .297 with 11 home runs for Class A Charleston. Verdugo, 21, is hitting .330 for Triple-A Oklahoma City with more walks than strikeouts but only four home runs. Verdugo ranked No. 12 on Keith Law’s midseason top-50 list; Florial didn’t make the cut, but he was ranked No. 90 on MLB.com’s midseason update.

What will the Astros and Nationals do?

What makes a potential Gray trade so interesting is that two other division leaders suddenly have concerns about their rotations as well. Stephen Strasburg‘s nerve impingement isn’t being treated as a serious injury, but if the Nationals know something they haven’t let on and there’s concern about his elbow down the stretch, they could be in on a starter. The Astros, cruising to the American League West title and the best record in the AL, might be in even more need of a starter, as Lance McCullers Jr. has a 9.64 ERA in July and Dallas Keuchel lasted just three innings in his first start back from the disabled list.

Either team could be in on Gray, Yu Darvish or Lance Lynn — the top three starting pitchers who could move. The Astros will be reluctant to give up outfield stud Kyle Tucker, even in a Gray trade, but they have three other top-50 prospects in pitchers Forrest Whitley and Franklin Perez and first baseman Yordan Alvarez. The Nationals are unlikely to deal outfielder Victor Robles but maybe will part with outfielder Juan Soto.

Also: Don’t be surprised if a sleeper team such as the Braves gets in on Gray. They need an established starter for their rotation because they hope to start contending in 2018, and they have a slew of prospects to deal from. It doesn’t have to be only contending teams looking to make a big move.

The Zach Britton quandary

The Orioles should trade Britton, but they aren’t going to get the Andrew Miller package for him because he hasn’t pitched that well since his return from the DL. The Orioles did finally pitch him on back-to-back days Saturday and Sunday — but for just one out and three pitches Saturday and two outs and 10 pitches Sunday. The Orioles, with playoff chances of about 3 percent, according to FanGraphs, aren’t going to extract premium value for Britton when teams haven’t seen him go at least an inning on consecutive days.

Still, there’s big upside here if Britton can regain his unhittable form of 2016 or even something close to that. Both the Dodgers and Astros could be in the mix here as well, as neither team has a dominant lefty in the pen (the Dodgers have Luis Avilan, but he’s a LOOGY only with a huge platoon split).

Will Justin Verlander be traded?

Verlander did tip his hat to the fans as he received a standing ovation Sunday, but it seems unlikely that he’ll be traded on Monday, thanks to his prohibitive contract that pays him $ 28 million each of the next two seasons. Maybe a team that misses out on Gray, Darvish or Lynn will be interested during the waiver trade period in August, but the Tigers would likely have to pick up a chunk of that contract in order to get a good prospect in return.

The Royals should make another trade or two

The Royals acquiredMelky Cabrera on Sunday, on top of acquiring three pitchers from the Padres a few days ago, but they should go all-in in this final run with their core group of Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, all of whom are free agents after this season.

Cabrera can play left field for the awful Alex Gordon or DH for the awful Brandon Moss. The Royals could use a shortstop — Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart would be a perfect fit — or even another bat such as Jay Bruce, who could play outfield or DH, giving them two solid bats to add to the lineup. Basically, the Royals don’t have any Grade-A prospects, so no matter what happens in 2017, it’s probably going to be a long rebuild if Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas all leave. Cozart or Bruce wouldn’t be that expensive anyway, but Kansas City should do what it takes to acquire one or both.

Do the Twins sell?

The Twins went from 0.5 games out on July 19 to seven out after they lost eight of 11 games right as the Indians and Royals got hot. So they traded Jaime Garcia after he made one start for them. Will they consider dealing Ervin Santana or closer Brandon Kintzler? Santana is signed for 2018 ($ 13.5 million) with a 2019 team option ($ 14 million), while Kintzler is a free agent. I can see the Twins keeping Santana, but they should deal Kintzler, who isn’t your classic closer, with just 27 K’s in 45 1/3 innings, but he gets ground balls and should interest a contender seeking bullpen depth.

Sleeper candidate to be a guy who pitches well down the stretch

Sometimes the best pitcher acquired at the deadline isn’t one of the big names. In 2015, J.A. Happ went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA for the Pirates. The Pirates struck gold again last year, when Ivan Nova went 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA. How about Marco Estrada for 2017? His 5.43 ERA suggests that he has been terrible, but he owns a 4.51 FIP, and his strikeout rate — 122 in 114 1/3 innings — remains strong to go with a previous pedigree of success. As a fly ball pitcher, he has been hurt by home runs with the lively baseball but could be a good pickup for the back rotation for a team such as Houston, Milwaukee or Kansas City.

How do the Red Sox counter what the Yankees (and Rays) have done?

Boston has made one minor move, picking up utility man Eduardo Nunez, who is hardly a game-changer. Dave Dombrowski has already said that the team won’t make a big trade for a starting pitcher, as it expects David Price to return from his DL stint. Then he said that what the Yankees and Rays have done won’t affect what the Red Sox will do.

Still, the Yankees have added Garcia, Todd Frazier and relievers Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson, and they might yet land Gray. Oh, they’ve also climbed past the Red Sox into first place in the AL East.

Dombrowski has a history of making moves at the deadline, including acquiring Drew Pomeranz last year for Anderson Espinoza. The Red Sox are 29th in the majors in wOBA in July, although there isn’t an obvious candidate to step aside, other than Mitch Moreland, who should head to the bench. Nunez might already be the guy taking that playing time. The main rumor has them going after Mets reliever Addison Reed. Will Dombrowski surprise and do anything bigger?

Relievers will be traded.

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that. And it will make you happy, even if you have to look up the guy’s stats to see if he’s having a good year. Just hope your general manager doesn’t trade a future Hall of Famer in the process — you know, like the time the Red Sox traded a minor leaguer named Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen.

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