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Why have so few hitters been traded? MLB execs discuss ‘weird’ market

Max ScherzerLucas GiolitoJordan MontgomeryJordan Hicks … with Eduardo Rodriguez, Jack Flaherty and possibly Justin Verlander next in line.

Look at those names, and you’d think: The MLB trade market has been busy!

But that’s not what folks atop a lot of front offices are thinking. They’re looking at those names and asking: When do the bats start moving?

In the five days from July 26 through Sunday, there were 12 significant trades made — and nine of them were for pitching. The only exceptions:

Randal Grichuk and C.J. Cron from the Rockies to the Angels.

Carlos Santana from the Pirates to the Brewers.

Amed Rosario to the Dodgers (but with a starting pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, heading back to Cleveland)

Meanwhile, on the hitters market, all of these names (and more) were still on the board:

Jeimer Candelario
Dylan Carlson
Tyler O’Neill
Tommy Pham
Mark Canha
Teoscar Hernández
Adam Duvall
Jonathan India (though he just landed on the injured list)

So why has that market moved so slowly? Baseball executives surveyed by The Athletic had a few theories.

Not enough sellers: The most obvious sellers — the Nationals, Rockies, Pirates, A’s and Royals — aren’t what you’d call “overflowing” in impact bats to sell. As one exec put it: “If Jeimer Candelario is the best position player to get moved at this deadline — after getting non-tendered over the winter — you know this is a weird market.”

The Cubs and Padres aren’t selling: Two or three weeks ago, the Cubs and Padres looked as though they could be heading for a sell-off. Never mind. The Cubs are on a 10-2 streak. The Padres — who were eight under .500 at the end of June — have climbed within two under, and just swept Texas. And their pivot to the buyer’s market has taken several possible bats, particularly Cody Bellinger, off shopping lists.

The Cardinals expect to win next year: Despite lots of speculation about the Cardinals unloading their excess outfield inventory, teams that have spoken with them say they’re not interested in unloading controllable bats unless the deals bring back equally controllable impact arms. This is a team that still likes its position players but needs to pair them with a staff that can pitch them back into the postseason. So other than Carlson and Paul DeJong, the Cardinals have shown little interest in subtracting offensive pieces.

The Angels decided they were buyers: Forget the Shohei Ohtani part of this equation. When the Angels decided to go for it, it took bats like Hunter Renfroe out of the mix and propelled the Angels into the market for other bats, like Grichuk and Cron.

It’s not exactly The Age of the Hitter: It’s never been harder to hit. Have you heard that lately, for the 912th time? League batting average is up five points (to .248) this season, thanks to the new shift rules. But the deadening (or humidor-ing) of the baseball has made those difference-making mashers harder to find. At this pace, we’ll see over 1,000 fewer home runs this season than were launched in 2019.

“So the supply of hitters is at a shortage,” said an official of another team hunting for offense. “And the ones who are available are being sold as change-of-scenery (types) more than presenting as clearly an upgrade.”

It’s not going to be a great year for free-agent bats: Again, let’s put Ohtani aside, because he’s the only name in the free-agent unicorn market. The biggest free-agent bats who are expected to be available this winter — Matt Chapman, Bellinger, Jorge Soler and Rhys Hoskins — either play for contenders, are coming off a major injury (e.g., Hoskins’ torn ACL) or all of the above. So they’re not in play as deadline rent-a-bats.

So that about sums this up! The result: We might see more contenders trying the buy/sell balancing act than ever before — “and trying to convince ourselves that the net (gain) is beneficial,” one American League exec said.

“I think the hitters market ramps up later,” said an exec from a team shopping for bats. “But a lot of good teams lock up their guys on extended contracts early. So what bats are out there, really? And with so many teams in it and only a few out of it, what offensive players do you like? There just aren’t a ton of names.”


Rosenthal: What I’m hearing ahead of MLB trade deadline as questions surround Justin Verlander


MLB trade deadline: All of The Athletic’s 2023 trade grades so far


MLB trade deadline primer: Top storylines, rumblings, best-available players

 (Photo of Jeimer Candelario: Rich Schultz / Getty Images)

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