The 23 best players potentially available at the 2023 deadline

We are only two weeks away from MLB’s 2023 trade deadline. And as the narrative dust swirls around Shohei Ohtani, every team is strategizing about what direction to go before the Aug. 1 cutoff and which players can best help them get there.

A market that recently looked to have an extreme dearth of confirmed sellers is starting to take a more normal shape. The Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals have confirmed that they are selling. The Chicago Cubs look headed that way, while the San Diego Padres and New York Mets are bumping up against the simple math of contenting in 2023 vs. reloading for 2024.

Acknowledging that much could change before the buzzer sounds, let’s run down the 23 most notable players who will be rolling through the rumor mill.

I don’t know if Ohtani is getting traded. You don’t know if Ohtani is getting traded. Frankly, Angels GM Perry Minasian doesn’t know if Ohtani is getting traded. The Angels are 47-48, 5.5 games back of the last AL wild-card spot. FanGraphs gives them only an 8.1% shot at making the playoffs. Mike Trout is hurt. Ohtani is on pace for 60 homers, 237 strikeouts, Cy Young votes, a runaway MVP triumph, history-twisting WAR numbers and a very expensive partridge in a pear tree.

There’s a lot to consider for Minasian, and most of it will probably be decided at the ownership level with Arte Moreno. There’s the very real possibility that the Angels miss the playoffs and then lose Ohtani to another team in free agency for nothing except a middling draft pick. Also worth weighing is the likely deleterious effect of moving him if the Angels harbor any hope of re-signing him.

Everybody wants Shohei Ohtani on their team. Someone besides the Angels might finally get to experience that come Aug. 1. Even with only two months of his services on offer, it would be one of the most momentous trades in recent memory.

Blake Snell, San Diego Padres starter

One theme you’ll begin to notice is an extreme imbalance between seemingly available pitchers and available hitters. The lefty Snell (2.71 ERA) and right-handed Stroman (2.88 ERA) both rank in the top 10 among starters in park-adjusted ERA-. They have been two of the most successful pitchers in the big leagues this season, and it looks increasingly likely that they’ll both find new homes for the stretch run.

The Padres’ Snell is in the final year of an extension he signed with the Tampa Bay Rays and has not allowed more than two runs in a game since May 19. Over the 10 starts since something clicked, Snell is running an absurd 0.62 ERA. Small-sample theater? Yes, but no other qualified starter has done better than a 1.70 ERA in that stretch, nor has anyone topped Snell’s 40.1% strikeout rate in that span. He has dealt with bouts of inconsistency throughout his career, but if the still-stagnant Padres decide to dangle their rental players, Snell might be the most dominant player who actually moves.

Stroman achieves his numbers in an extremely different fashion — far fewer strikeouts, way more weak grounders — but is nonetheless posting one of the best seasons of his career. Perhaps more importantly for potential suitors, he seems mostly impervious to external factors. Since 2019, Stroman has pitched for four different teams, churning along to a 3.16 ERA with barely a blip on the radar. Expect that tally to reach a fifth team. A lot of very good clubs could use a pitcher this reliable, and the Cubs are careening toward selling.

Speaking of the Cubs, barring a major surprise, Bellinger will be the best non-Ohtani hitter traded. On the surface, it looks like the change of scenery worked for the former Dodger. He’s batting .305 with 12 homers and 12 steals and running a 137 OPS+ that would be by far his best since his 2019 NL MVP campaign.

Under the hood, though, things are a bit more confusing. Bellinger has cut his strikeout rate back to 2019 levels (17.6%), which is great. He has also apparently compromised his top-level power potential, which is not great. His average exit velocity now ranks in pesky middle-infielder territory, but so far he’s making it work by improving dramatically against breaking balls and offspeed pitches.

The puzzling turnabout might make teams skittish in the offseason, but it probably won’t diminish Bellinger’s market for deadline dealers. Even during the bleak recent years with the Dodgers, Bellinger was valuable for his (still terrific) defense in center field. If he’s also hitting like this — however unfamiliar the shape of it — he’s a very good player to add.

Josh Hader, San Diego Padres reliever

David Robertson, New York Mets reliever

Two teams that very much expected to be in the postseason this year are very much not in the picture right now. At least one will probably wind up trading away short-term pieces, which Hader and Robertson are, with each set to reach free agency at season’s end.

Neither can be blamed for his team’s failures, as they rank second (Hader) and 12th (Robertson) in ERA among qualified relievers. Hader, almost a decade younger than Robertson and among the game’s most unhittable arms, would likely require a larger return if he goes.

It would count as a surprise if either of these starters moved, but there’s a chance. The 38-year-old Scherzer has battled to retain effectiveness deep into games this season, consequently running a 3.99 ERA (or 98 ERA-, meaning just barely better than average) that would be his worst in a full season since 2011. Still, he is Max Scherzer, and a better team might believe that he could find some of his old form if under less burden to go deep into games. The future Hall of Famer can opt out after 2023, but his performance makes that unlikely to be his decision.

Cease, meanwhile, is under team control through 2025. He has limped to a mediocre 4.18 ERA after a dynamite 2022 campaign that saw him finish second in AL Cy Young voting. He wields serious strikeout stuff and leads the majors in games started since 2020. That means that plenty of teams will ask about him and also that the White Sox will likely decline to move him unless they decide on a more drastic rebuilding tact than has been indicated thus far.

The Cleveland Guardians’ Shane Bieber would fall in this category, too, for the record, but an elbow injury has him on the injured list and likely off the trade block.

Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox starter

Seth Lugo, San Diego Padres starter

Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals starter

More realistically, this group will stand as the second tier of starting pitching available. All of them can hit free agency after the season.

Montgomery and Giolito, bright spots on crumbling teams, represent the steadiest options. Montgomery, the 30-year-old lefty, has a 1.48 ERA since the start of June. Giolito seems to have lost some of the juice that once made his fastball-changeup combo so deadly, but he has compensated more noticeably this season with a solid slider and reclaimed 2021-level results. (Then again, he gave up five runs in the first inning Tuesday against the Mets.)

Rodriguez, who can opt out of his deal after 2023, started the season looking like the deadline’s top arm but missed a month due to injury and hasn’t fully found his footing since returning. A couple of hot starts could boost his stock significantly.

Jeimer Candelario, Washington Nationals third baseman

Tommy Pham, New York Mets outfielder

C.J. Cron, Colorado Rockies first baseman

If you want to make a case for a hitter other than Bellinger being the best non-Ohtani option available, you will probably be making a case for a Nationals player. Thomas — who was once stuck in a similar Cardinals hitter backlog — has been a consistently above-average hitter since he found consistent playing time in Washington. With a greater emphasis on pulling the ball this season, he already has 14 homers, tracking to beat his career-high 17 and post his best OPS+, currently at 130.

Candelario, meanwhile, looks smart for taking a one-year deal to provide evidence that his down 2022 was a fluke. He won’t knock your socks off with any one skill, but he consistently gets on base and plays very strong defense at third base.

Beyond that duo, Pham has been a top-20 hitter in baseball since the start of June, slashing .308/.368/.542 to win playing time on — and perhaps a ticket off of — a flailing Mets team. Díaz just won All-Star Game MVP honors by showing off some of his serious power. Neither he nor Cron is likely to be around for the next good Rockies team, so it would behoove Colorado to deal a couple of sluggers in a weak hitter market.

Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop

Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder

The list says DeJong and O’Neill, but we could easily file this under “assorted Cardinals hitters.” St. Louis has been juggling too many hitters — outfielders and positionless, bat-first types, especially — all season. That might or might not be contributing to the mess of a season unfolding at Busch Stadium, but changing it is almost definitely going to be part of the solution if president of baseball operations John Mozeliak is going to right the ship for 2024. The Cardinals need long-term pitchers in the worst way. That will be their priority in dealing away short-term options such as Montgomery and Flaherty, but upgrades might be easier to find if they draw down their well of young hitters.

DeJong, the 30-year-old shortstop and former Cardinals Devil Magic pop-up slugger, is experiencing a bounce-back season in his walk year after struggling so mightily in recent years that he spent parts of 2021 and ‘22 in the minors. He’s mostly a homer-or-bust hitter, but he can play shortstop.

The more interesting question is which other position players the Cardinals might part with. O’Neill has battled injuries (and his own manager) to stay in the lineup, and he looks to be a less entrenched puzzle piece than Jordan Walker or Lars Nootbaar. Combine that with the tantalizing potential exhibited in a 34-homer, 5.6-WAR 2021 season, and maybe O’Neill finds a fresh start. Other trade options could include Brendan Donovan and Dylan Carlson.

Justin Lawrence, Colorado Rockies reliever

Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals reliever

Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals reliever

Lawrence is both the most intriguing of these arms and the least likely to go anywhere. He has discovered a diabolical sweeper en route to higher-leverage opportunities and an impressive season — Coors Field or not. This being the Rockies, however, they seem predisposed to hang on to a pitcher finding this type of success in those environs.

Barlow and Hicks seem certain to swap uniforms. Both have big stuff and occasionally big walk issues. Hicks, he of the triple-digit fastball, has been solid recently, so look for some team to keep that rolling.

Finally, this list isn’t long enough to list all the relievers who will be shopped in the lead-up to Aug. 1, but also keep an eye on the Cardinals’ Ryan Helsley, the Mets’ Brooks Raley and the Nationals’ Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan.