When you are one of the foremost figures of the Trade Deadline, everybody wants a piece of you. It’s not just the teams that are actually interested in your services. It’s the family members, the media members, the teammates who all want insight into what might or might not be happening. It’s not at all unusual for a big trade chip to be hit up with text after text from players from other clubs, making their pitch, even if the player is not at all involved in the deal discussions. This time of year heightens curiosity, awareness, attention and — for the player in the center of it all — stress.
Zach Britton has never really been through any of this before. Drafted by the Orioles when he was 18, his value on the trade market has been discussed in conceptual terms in many an internet article as his arbitration value has climbed, but it wasn’t until this month — and particularly when MLB Network Insider Ken Rosenthal reported that the O’s are open to offers for their high-end relievers — that he became a legitimate source of Trade Deadline intrigue.
Frankly, Britton could do without it.
“I think it’s a lot of noise, and there’s other things you want to focus on,” Britton said. “But you come in the clubhouse, there’s MLB Network on and that’s what they are talking about. The media in here, if you are on social media, it’s tough to avoid it. But you’ve got to go out there and play and try to ignore it. And if something happens, you just deal with it.”
Britton is, oddly but understandably, thankful to be coming off an injury right now — he was activated July 5 after missing roughly two months with a left forearm injury — because the process of trying to get back to the historic heights he hit in a sensational 2016 is a welcomed distraction to the trade talk. But the talk is going on around him, especially in his own home. His wife, Courtney, has been keeping tabs on the trade market as much as any rabid fan would.
“We have two kids [a son, Zander, and a daughter, Zilah], so obviously, if we go to another city [Britton is under team control through 2018], it’s not ideal,” he said. “Anytime someone says a team might be interested, she’s looking into where we would live there. Where’s a good area for the kids? So it does affect my family, maybe even more than it does me.”
The Club on the Cusp
Largely in spite of themselves, the sub-.500 St. Louis Cardinals have remained in the National League Central race this season. That’s led to a strange vibe around a proud club with so much October history but one that so far hasn’t shown much proof it will be postseason-bound.
The Cardinals aren’t typically summer sellers, and the division dynamics do present an argument for simply staying the course and seeing what happens. But veteran starter — and pending free agent — Lance Lynn presents a particularly complex situation, in that trading him would hurt the 2017 picture but possibly improve the farm system. Lynn jokes that he’s “not much of a reader,” so he’s not paying attention to the rumors surrounding him. But it’s hard not to pay attention when president of baseball operations John Mozeliak calls Lynn over to one end of the dugout before a game to discuss his future and to let him know that he will keep him abreast of any deal developments.
“This is a very fluid period,” Mozeliak said afterward. “The thing for the Cardinals and my role with the Cardinals is to try and figure out what’s best for the short-term but also the long-term. Where Lance plays into that, it can be a little muddied at times. He knows where we stand, and, if nothing else, at least he has the peace of mind with that knowledge.”
Mozeliak has been frustrated by this Cardinals’ season. Newly promoted to the president role, he has expressed concern about the “attitude and culture” of the clubhouse, and it’s something he wants to address at this Deadline and/or in the offseason.
“There’s no denying that the type of baseball this team has displayed over the last year and a half is not what our fan base is accustomed to seeing,” Mozeliak says. “And I will assure you that’s frustrating from [principal owner] Bill DeWitt to myself, all the way down. We can talk about frustration and disappointment, but it’s our responsibility to find a way to change it and fix it.”
Words like that don’t take long to reach the ears of the players. Unmet expectations have created unease in the Cardinals’ clubhouse. As the clock ticks down to Deadline day, they wonder what this “fluid period” has in store for them.
The Family Man
For another window into how the Trade Deadline can affect a family, consider Jay Bruce.
To him, the Cincinnati Reds were family, the only baseball home he had ever known. Getting dealt from that home at last year’s Deadline would have been an emotional experience even if Bruce didn’t have a family of his own. But when he was traded, his wife, Hannah, and his newborn son, Carter, were basically dealt to the Mets along with him. To say it initially didn’t go so well is an understatement.
It wasn’t just that Bruce struggled on the field down the stretch last year. Away from the field, there was also great difficulty. In the whirlwind of the move to the Mets, he scouted out Manhattan apartments online and settled on a spot on the Upper East Side. But when Bruce got to New York and visited the place in person, well, let’s just say the online pictures weren’t an accurate representation of reality. The floors were buckling, the water was brown, the window air conditioner unit was ineffective and the place was filthy. Bruce deemed it uninhabitable for Hannah and Carter. And with little time to nail down something better, he wound up spending the rest of the season checking into several different Manhattan hotels during homestands while his family stayed at their offseason home in Texas.
Bruce has since had time to get his family settled in with him in New York, but he knows, with free agency approaching and the Mets certain to be sellers, that they can be uprooted again at a moment’s notice. At least this time, the ties to the team aren’t quite as strong as they were in Cincinnati — something Bruce readily admits.
“In all honesty, there’s not as much emotion tied to it anymore,” he said. “When I was with the Reds, it was a team that I was drafted by and kind of raised me as a baseball player, did a lot of winning with them. When I got traded, it was a little more emotional, because it’s all I’d known. But at the same time, I was a little older, and I wanted the opportunity to win, because I knew what that had felt like. I think that’s what it all boils down to. You know that if you do have the opportunity to go somewhere, the likelihood of you going and getting into some type of race, whether it’s a pennant race or the Wild Card race, is high. At the end of the day, that’s why you play the game, and you’d like to experience something like that.”
But a proper place to live makes for a better experience, too.
The Package Deal
In the age of social media, players almost anticipate learning of their involvement in a trade via text or Twitter before their own teams let them know what’s up. But Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter were all surprised when they were summoned — together — into the manager’s office at Petco Park and told they were all heading to the Royals in a six-player swap.
“This is kind of a unique case of getting caught off guard,” Cahill said.
It was also an unusual case of three teammates all headed to the same, new place. The Royals have a great and welcoming clubhouse, but handling the sudden upheaval of changing teams, cities and leagues is a lot easier when you have a couple buddies alongside you.
“It definitely helps out a lot, just as far as moving families,” Cahill said. “If we’re at a hotel, we can Uber together and stuff. We can sit on the same flight.”
Trevor Cahill discusses him, Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer getting traded to Kansas City. #Padres pic.twitter.com/0z3dxTzwVh
— Nathan Ruiz (@NathanSRuiz) July 24, 2017
Watch Cahill talk about the trade, and you’ll take note of something happening in the background: Buchter packing up his locker.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. Reporters Brittany Ghiroli, Jenifer Langosch, Chris Bumbaca and Nathan Ruiz contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.