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Will Nationals trade Juan Soto? Best available pitchers? Bowden’s MLB mailbag

There are 75 days until the MLB trade deadline, which falls on Aug. 2 this year, and readers already have plenty of questions about potential deals. Let’s get right to Part 1 of my first mailbag of the season and answer subscribers’ questions about trades and early-season takeaways. Look for Part 2 next week.

Note: Questions have been edited for clarity.


Will the Nationals shop Juan Soto at the deadline? What’s the likelihood he’s traded by this year’s deadline?  — Jonathan S.

Let me be clear: The Nationals will not trade Soto by this year’s trade deadline under any circumstances, according to my sources. Even if they are offered a big prospect package or significant salary relief by offloading an expensive contract such as Patrick Corbin’s, Soto won’t be traded this season, I’m told. (Also, read Ken Rosenthal’s latest on why now is not the time to trade Soto.)

With Xander Bogaerts (expected to opt out after the season), I can’t see a scenario in which the Red Sox let Rafael Devers walk at the end of 2023. Do you agree they absolutely have to (sign him to an extension)? — Adam R.

The Red Sox must extend Devers, and the sooner the better. It should be their No. 1 priority. They’ve lowballed Bogaerts to such an extent it makes me believe they are preparing for Trevor Story to take over as the starting shortstop in 2023, which is mind-boggling considering Bogaerts is the leader of this team. However, in their defense, the free-agent market for middle infielders will be loaded after this season, with players such as Trea Turner and probably Carlos Correa (if he opts out) as well as outfielders like Aaron Judge, so perhaps the Red Sox prefer to invest in other big names. I don’t get it. What I do know is this: If they haven’t extended Bogaerts by the trade deadline and are no longer in contention, they’ll have to move him, no matter how unpopular it will be with their fan base.

Do you think the Mets will make a trade for a catcher given the lack of offensive production they’re getting from the position? — William M.

Although the Mets are off to a good start, their bullpen concerns me. Other than Edwin Díaz, they have no consistency. Whom might they try to add? — Bob W.

In Steve Cohen, the Mets have an owner who wants to win at all costs, literally. So, yes, I think they’ll pursue a trade with the Cubs for Willson Contreras. In terms of the bullpen, I could see them targeting relievers such as the PiratesDavid Bednar, the RockiesDaniel Bard and the DiamondbacksMark Melancon before the trade deadline.

What’s a realistic trade return for Willson Contreras, provided he stays healthy and productive? — Jason A.

Alternatively, what would a palatable Contreras extension offer look like for both sides? — Peter M.

Contreras is in his free-agent walk year, so the return would probably be something like two top-15 prospects from a team with a solid farm system. In terms of a potential extension with the Cubs, let’s review some recent comps: Salvador Perez got four years, $82 million last year; Yasmani Grandal got four years, $73 million in 2019; James McCann got four years, $40 million in 2020. Based on those catchers’ contracts, I’ll predict Contreras, 30, would get close to four years, $78 million.

Could you see a Jo Adell-for-Dinelson Lamet framework coming together? In-season trades between contenders are rare but this feels like something that could work for both (the Angels and Padres). Who has to add in this scenario? — Kenneth N.

If I’m the Angels, I’m not trading Adell for Lamet, a 29-year-old pitcher who is an injury risk. However, I would dangle Adell to teams like the Marlins and Nationals for young pitching, and I’d consider moving Adell if I could package him for Bogaerts or Correa at the deadline. Bottom line: I’d think bigger with Adell, who’s only 23. Despite the slow start to his major-league career, I still think he can develop into an All-Star-caliber player.

Considering the Braves’ slow starts the past two seasons, and the boost that trades gave them in the second half last year, do you believe they need to make similar roster upgrades this time around? — Jon V.

The Braves’ offense will come around; a lot of their stars have underachieved, and that will correct itself. Last year, the Braves needed outfielders because of Ronald Acuña Jr.’s season-ending injury and Marcell Ozuna’s suspension, and they needed bullpen help. This year, they’ve already built up their bullpen in the offseason, and Acuña and Ozuna are back so there’s less of a need to add in the outfield. I think their biggest need this season will be a mid-rotation starter, along with more starting pitching depth in general to protect against injury and underperformance.

Can you rank the best relief pitchers who could be on the move before the trade deadline? And starters? — Bryce D.

I prefer to wait to rank them, but here are some of the best relievers who could be dealt before the trade deadline: David Bednar, Pirates; Daniel Bard, Rockies; Joe Barlow, Rangers; Dany Jiménez, A’s; Mark Melancon, Diamondbacks; Mychal Givens, Cubs; Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks; Steve Cishek, Nationals; David Robertson, Cubs; Jake Diekman, Red Sox; Kyle Finnegan, Nationals; and Dillon Tate, Orioles.

In terms of starters, here’s my early list: Luis Castillo, Reds; Frankie Montas, A’s; Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox; Chris Sale, Red Sox; Madison Bumgarner, Diamondbacks; Kyle Hendricks, Cubs; Tyler Mahle, Reds; Zach Davies, Diamondbacks; Michael Pineda, Tigers; José Quintana, Pirates; Martin Pérez, Rangers; and Drew Smyly, Cubs.

How will this year’s trade deadline activity compare to last year’s? Will it be more or less active with the lockout in the rearview mirror? — Steve A.

I believe there will be a lot of activity between the All-Star Game on July 19 and the trade deadline on Aug. 2. With expanded playoffs, more teams will be in the postseason race, which will lead to more buyers than normal. And with so many teams on pace to lose 100 games, there are clear sellers who won’t have to weigh whether to sell or buy — they already know what they have to do. Put on your dancing shoes and get ready for fireworks on Aug. 2 that could be more spectacular than the ones on July 4.

What kind of move do you see Farhan Zaidi making to shore up the Giants‘ anemic offense? Also, do you think San Francisco is a realistic landing spot for Aaron Judge in free agency? — Timothy C.

I think Zaidi and the Giants will continue to acquire undervalued players they can mix and match with players who fit their analytic schemes and game strategies. As for Judge, I think he will re-sign with the Yankees in free agency.

The Tigers were supposed to be somewhat competitive, but they have the third-worst record in MLB. What’s going to happen with them ahead of the trade deadline? Are they sellers or buyers? — William A. 

Should the Tigers trade some of their young pitching for offense? — Spencer M.

The Tigers are in rebuild mode and although their 13-25 record is not encouraging, it has more to do with injuries than anything else. Their top prospect, Riley Greene, fractured his right foot, and then starting pitchers Casey Mize and Matt Manning went down with injuries. Their other top rookie, Spencer Torkelson, got off to a slow start, but he’s only going to get better.

The Tigers need to add more offense, whether it’s at the trade deadline or in the offseason, but every move they make should be about how to contend in 2023-27. Therefore, listening to trade deadline offers on veterans who won’t be part of that window will make them sellers, and trades for long-term solutions on offense will make them buyers. So the answer is both. Should they trade some of their young pitching for offense? No. They should keep their pitchers and try to get hitters through the MLB Draft, trades for position players (like the Isaac ParedesAustin Meadows swap) and in free agency.

How much has Bryan Reynolds’ stock fallen? I see the Pirates as potential major sellers (shocking, I know) but reliever David Bednar feels like their most intriguing player. Would someone blow away the Pirates with an offer for Bednar, a guy who won’t even be arbitration-eligible until 2024? Or is the track record too small? — Dan B.

Reynolds’ stock has not fallen. There are several teams still calling the Pirates about him, hoping his slow start would lower the asking price. It hasn’t. In terms of Bednar, contending teams will need relief help at the trade deadline, and the fact that Bednar has been so dominant with the Pirates (1.90 ERA in 77 appearances since 2021, 0.90 ERA in 20 appearances this season) gives him enough of a track record to yield a significant return — say, two of an organization’s top-20 prospects — if he can maintain his stellar form.

What kind of return could the Orioles get for Cedric Mullins? — Thomas G.

A lot of teams could use an athletic center fielder such as Mullins. The Marlins are the perfect trade match because they’re desperate for a center fielder. Their farm system is loaded with high-end pitching prospects, and the only way the Orioles will ever contend in the AL East is with pitching and defense. I think Baltimore could get two of Miami’s best pitching prospects plus a corner outfielder if they dealt Mullins.

As someone who has been critical of Byron Buxton’s contract extension given his history of injuries, what is your take on (the Twins giving) him scheduled rest days, not even using him to pinch hit in extra innings? — Karl T.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll repeat myself: In Buxton’s first seven seasons, he played more than 92 games once, never had 500 at-bats in a season, and played fewer than 100 games every year except 2017. So why do people think he’s going to stay healthy over his seven-year extension? I don’t. But I think the Twins are doing the right thing by taking care of his brittle body. Schedule consistent rest days and aim to play him about 130 to 140 games, building up his strength and endurance for future years. However, I do think using Buxton to pinch hit, pinch run or play late-inning defense on his scheduled off days should be part of their plan.

Who will win AL MVP? — Vape M.

My top three candidates are Judge, Mike Trout and Devers. If Judge stays healthy and keeps putting up these types of numbers, he has to be the front-runner because the Yankees are the best team in the AL and he’s a major reason why. However, I hate to bet against the best player on the planet (Trout), and Devers was my preseason pick for the award. Right now I’ll go with Judge.

What’s the deal with Marcus Semien? Will he get back on track? How long do the Rangers keep playing him? — Tom W.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a player have a career year, enter free agency and then be a bust in his first season with a new club. Those players have to get used to new teammates, new organizations and new communities along with newfound wealth, and often it’s not until the second year with their new team that they get back to playing at their accustomed level.

Look, I felt there would be regression with Semien after his phenomenal season, but not to this level (.175/.236/.231 with no home runs and eight RBIs). But I expect him to turn things around, get on base at a 33 percent clip the rest of the way and finish the season with 15 to 19 home runs. Then in 2023, he’ll probably get back to being a 25-home run hitter. However, I never liked the seven-year, $175 million contract he signed in the offseason, and I don’t think the back end of it ends well for the Rangers.

(Photo: Mitchell Layton / Getty Images)

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