MIAMI — Giancarlo Stanton grew progressively more peeved by the relentless questions about fellow behemoth Aaron Judge during All-Star festivities. But Stanton caught a break in one key respect: At least he didn’t have to worry about fending off trade rumors.
While speculation over a Miami Marlins fire sale is overblown, according to multiple sources, chances are a few of Stanton’s less-heralded teammates could be on the move between now and the July 31 non-waiver deadline. (Looking at you, Martin Prado, Brad Ziegler and David Phelps.)
Several other players at Marlins Park this week also will be subject to trade rumor-mania over the next two and a half weeks. They just happen to be members of the NL and AL All-Star teams who played in the Midsummer Classic at the Miami ballpark.
The list of candidates to switch teams before the end of the month includes Philadelphia’s Pat Neshek and San Diego’s Brad Hand — veteran relievers who could help stabilize contending clubs’ bullpens down the stretch.
Infielder Josh Harrison might be obtainable if the Pittsburgh Pirates fail to improve significantly on their 42-47 record after the break. He’s a versatile, team-oriented player whose $ 10 million salary in 2018 could motivate general manager Neal Huntington to shop him if the Bucs decide to go young.
Oakland Athletics first baseman Yonder Alonso could elicit interest from a team in search of a left-handed power bat. And then there’s Cincinnati shortstop Zack Cozart, the soon-to-be-proud donkey owner. He’s eligible for free agency in November, the Reds are 39-49 with an NL-worst 5.05 ERA, and general manager Dick Williams needs to take advantage of every opportunity he can to add young arms to the system.
Cozart, 31, nearly went to the Seattle Mariners at the 2016 deadline, so he knows what it means to deal with uncertainty. But the constant rumor-mongering can still chafe on a player’s nerves.
On Tuesday, Cozart was taking in the Miami scene (and heat) from a truck cab during the All-Star Game parade, mingling with the NL elite in the clubhouse, and signing wave after wave of souvenir baseballs. But soon enough, he might parachute into an unfamiliar clubhouse because his contract status no longer jibes with the Reds’ long-term vision.
“At this point in your career, when you don’t have a long-term deal or you’re gonna be a free agent at the end of the season, you kind of know those talks are going to happen,” Cozart said. “The good thing about getting traded at the deadline is you should be going to a contender. Winning is the best thing in baseball.”
Cozart changed his setup at the plate during spring training — resting his bat on his shoulder in his stance, following the lead of teammate Joey Votto — and Cozart is enjoying what is by far his most productive MLB season yet. Cozart’s highest OPS was .769 in his first five years. Now, through 66 games this season, he ranks second to Houston’s Carlos Correa among major league shortstops at .941.
Alonso, similarly, has made adjustments to his approach and joined the launch-angle brigade. He’s 10th in the majors with a 48.7 percent fly ball rate, and he broke through with 20 first-half home runs after failing to crack even 10 in any previous season. He had a significantly better first half than his more acclaimed brother-in-law, Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado.
Alonso is under contract for $ 4 million this season, which makes him a very reasonable stretch-run rental. The A’s already have parted ways with Trevor Plouffe and Stephen Vogt, so the front office is clearly in listening mode. But Alonso has no plans to obsess over hypothetical scenarios.
“I’ve seen a lot of people think about it and stress over it, and then you don’t even get traded,” Alonso said. “So why even worry about it? Then I see other people that don’t really care, and they get traded and they’re like, ‘All right, now I’ve got to make my next move.’ I think that’s the way I want to go.
“I worry about nine innings, and that’s hard enough. For me to worry about who I’m facing that day and competing and winning a game, that takes my whole day — from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to sleep. To worry about things that aren’t even true makes no sense to me.”
In an alternate scenario with a happy ending, the A’s would decide Alonso is worth keeping and entertain signing him to a multiyear deal. After drifting from Cincinnati to San Diego and eventually landing in Oakland before the 2016 season, Alonso would welcome the stability.
“I feel like I can bring a lot to the table with those young guys, teaching them the way,” Alonso said. “I’ve been almost non-tendered. I’ve been released. I’ve been hurt. I’ve had surgeries. I’ve been a first-round pick and now I’m an All-Star. There are a lot of ways I can relate to our guys. But it’s not up to me.”
Alonso has done his part by resurrecting his career and making himself a desirable commodity at age 30. During his visit to Miami, he found that an All-Star Game appearance carries a lot of perks. But security isn’t necessarily one of them.