Best fits for Luis Robert? Yankees dilemma? Red Sox buyers? 5 burning MLB questions

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The White Sox are rumored to be shopping arguably the best position player and pitcher on the trade market. The Yankees have a decision to make with top prospect Jasson Domínguez. 

The Red Sox are in the thick of the wild-card race. The Mariners have separated themselves in the AL West. Reigning World Series representatives Texas and Arizona have underwhelmed. So have the Cubs and Cardinals. 

With all eight teams appearing on FOX channels on Saturday — Cardinals-Cubs at 2:20 p.m. ET on FS1; Rangers-Mariners at 7:15 p.m. ET on FOX; Yankees-Red Sox at 7:15 p.m. ET on FOX; White Sox-Diamondbacks at 10:10 p.m. ET on FS1 — FOX Sports MLB experts Deesha Thosar and Rowan Kavner tackle these topics and more in this week’s roundtable.

1. Which of the Cardinals and Cubs is the more legitimate playoff contender?

Thosar: The Cardinals. They’re hungrier than the Cubs to forget last year’s sub-.500 finish, which was the first time the franchise stooped that low since 2007. St. Louis expects playoff baseball every single year, and that kind of pressure from the city and the fan base helps to keep a team focused on contending — no matter what it takes. Plus, there’s the Nolan Arenado of it all, a player who only cares about winning, and after 12 years in the majors, he’s running out of time to win that elusive championship. With reinforcements expected to come via the trade deadline, the Cards seem like they’ll return to October baseball again.

Kavner: I’ll take the Cubs, mostly because I trust their starting pitching more, but it’ll depend on which of these teams decides to buy at the deadline. The Cubs will need help if they’re going to make a run. Their hitters rank 19th in OPS. Their bullpen is 24th in ERA. They’ve had guys in and out of the lineup, but they’ll need some guys beyond just Seiya Suzuki, Cody Bellinger and Michael Busch to start hitting. Dansby Swanson has displayed more positive signs at the plate of late, but they could use another impact bat — a catcher or corner infielder, preferably — and some bullpen help. Can I just go off the board and take the Reds instead here?

2. With top Yankees prospect Jasson Domínguez finished with his rehab assignment, what would your approach be with him over these next few months?

Thosar: Firstly, I’d weigh the balance of how much his development is actually benefitting from playing at Triple-A. It seems like the disparity between major- and minor-league pitching has never been wider, particularly the difference in velocity, and Domínguez already has experience hitting in the big leagues after playing in eight September games last year — he crushed four home runs in 31 at-bats. 

So, unless the Yankees are being extra cautious as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery, they should be finding ways to get him onto the major-league roster around the All-Star break. He can split time in the outfield and at DH, giving Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, and Giancarlo Stanton days to get off their feet and stay fresh for October. It’s just hard to believe he wouldn’t benefit more from seeing major-league pitching, even if he won’t get regular at-bats.

Kavner: I think the Yankees are handling it correctly. Domínguez will help them at some point this year, but it might not be until the final playoff push (barring any injuries before then). At 21 years old, he needs to play, and there just aren’t many at-bats available for him in the New York outfield the way Aaron Judge, Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo are performing. For the next few months, Domínguez just needs to keep doing what he’s doing now. The Martian can look at Evan Carter last year as a model for what’s possible. Carter didn’t get called up until September, but the Rangers wouldn’t have won the World Series without him.

3. Should the Red Sox be aggressive at the deadline, or would you be inclined to let the season simply play out if they continue hovering around .500?

Thosar: The Red Sox are in a tough spot with their top prospects, in that it would be shocking if they traded away their best three players — shortstop Marcelo Mayer, outfielder Roman Anthony and catcher Kyle Teel, in that order — for reinforcements to the 2024 roster. To even consider parting ways with one player in that trio, the Red Sox would need to be a better team than they have been this season, with a brighter outlook down the stretch. Instead, they’re fluttering around .500, with a chance to make it into the postseason via the wild card, and even that dream scenario would require a big push from the club between now and late July. 

At the same time, it’s important for new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow to use the trade deadline as an opportunity to make his mark on the future of the organization. So, while it seems unlikely that Breslow will just stand pat, it’s hard for me to believe the Red Sox will be aggressive, as they’d plausibly have to give up one of those three prospects. I think their best course of action would be to try to improve for now and the future, without giving up too much — in other words, every executive’s dream.

Kavner: I’d let it play out, which I know is probably not what Red Sox fans want to hear after this offseason’s frustrating inaction. That was the time to go do something more substantial. At this point, the Yankees and Orioles have already separated in the division, and as much as Boston’s pitching has outpaced expectations, the club still finds itself right about where everyone would have thought.

Let’s see what the offense can do when Wilyer Abreu and Triston Casas are back. Maybe top prospect Marcelo Mayer will get his chance before season’s end, and maybe the Red Sox sneak into a wild-card spot. But this doesn’t feel like the year to invest too heavily given the current circumstances within their division and with their injuries (the Trevor Story one was the real backbreaker). Conversely, I do wonder with Liam Hendriks possibly returning later this year if the Red Sox might make rentals Kenley Jansen or Chris Martin available. Let’s see if something changes over the next month, but at this rate I’d be more surprised if they go all-in than if they do some light selling.

4. The Rangers and Diamondbacks have both disappointed thus far after last year’s World Series meeting. Which team is better positioned to get back to the playoffs, and what is each club’s biggest X-factor?

Kavner: The D-backs should have an easier time sneaking into a wild-card spot given the unsightliness that is the National League right now, but I’m going to take the Rangers here just because of the arms they should get back and the fact that I don’t think their offense can be this putrid all season. It felt like they just had to stay afloat long enough for Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Tyler Mahle to return, and they’ve (sort of) done that, although the Mariners have begun to separate. The oddest part is that the Rangers’ rotation has been the least of their concerns. They have a 4.71 bullpen ERA while the offense, which was one of baseball’s best last year, hasn’t produced.

Getting Josh Jung back should be a huge boost, but because of the offensive mediocrity, I’ll say the X-factor for them is the development (and health) of rookies Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford. It’s been a rough go for both so far, but I have a hard time thinking Langford’s only home run this year will be his inside-the-parker.

Now, if I were to have told you one of these two teams was going to have serious pitching issues the first half of the year, your answer probably wouldn’t have been the D-backs. They employ Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, Brandon Pfaadt took major strides late last year, and they signed Eduardo Rodríguez and Jordan Montgomery in the offseason to try to build on last year’s success. But here we are near the halfway mark, and only three teams have a worse starters ERA than Arizona. Gallen, Kelly and Rodríguez are hurt, so the X-factor for me is the health of their starting pitching.

Thosar: The Rangers. Though they’re half a dozen games behind the Mariners for the division lead, they’re only two games under .500 and right in the mix for the AL wild card. Following them up close during their run to the World Series last year, this is not a club that panics easily, if at all, under Bruce Bochy. And with Max Scherzer and other injured pitchers coming back, they can help stabilize the club before the trade deadline.

It might sound odd to call the reigning ALCS MVP an X-factor, but Adolis García (87 wRC+) needs to get it going for the rest of the Rangers lineup to look like a formidable unit again. Same goes for the D-backs, because Corbin Carroll, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, is so electric when he’s on that he can change the dynamic of the team in the way that only true X-factors can.

5. The Mariners currently have a commanding lead in the AL West. Are you buying them as one of the best teams in the league?

Thosar: If the Mariners are selling it, I’m buying it. They deserve credit for capitalizing on the rest of the mediocre division, which no one could’ve predicted a few months ago. But with the Rangers and Astros more than a handful of games behind them, now is the perfect time for Seattle to continue broadening that gap and leave no doubt about the club’s intentions this season. 

The Mariners are reaping the rewards of their strong pitching staff, but the offense (.667 OPS, 24th in MLB) will need to start picking up the slack for a real shot at a deep playoff race. If the pitching can keep it up, and Julio Rodríguez puts up another strong second half, then they’re right up there in the AL — though perhaps in Tier 2 with the Guardians and Royals — after the Yankees and Orioles, anyway.

Kavner: They’re not better than the Orioles or Yankees, but I’ll buy them as part of that next tier. Having elite starting pitching is a wonderful luxury and should keep them among the most formidable teams in baseball all year. They’re 40-30 and haven’t even had the inevitable “Julio Rodríguez looks like the best player on the planet again” month that is bound to happen at some point in the second half.

Bonus: What teams would you like to see make godfather offers for the White Sox’s Luis Robert Jr. and Garrett Crochet?

Kavner: For Robert, I’ll take the Phillies. Robert is under contract through 2027 (club options in 2026 and ’27) and is Chicago’s most dynamic position player, so if general manager Chris Getz doesn’t get the offer he’s looking for, he can just wait until the offseason. But Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski might be the guy to do it. I can’t imagine there will be too many years in which his Phillies hold a nearly double-digit lead in the division on the Braves in mid-June; why not really go for it and bolster the one position on the field that could use a little more punch?

For Crochet, I’d like to see the Brewers do it. It’s amazing they have such a comfortable lead in the NL Central after dealing away Corbin Burnes, but that rotation could use at least one more elite arm to feel confident in October. Now, who will actually do it? I just assume Padres GM A.J. Preller will find a way.

Thosar: I’d love to see the Orioles go for it by trading for Robert. It’s a move they wouldn’t normally make, but under new ownership could be the type of trade-deadline splash that sets a new standard. As for Crochet, there should be many, many suitors for the hard-throwing left-hander. But it would be exciting if the Braves, known to make eyebrow-raising summer deals, go for him this year, particularly after losing Spencer Strider and Ronald Acuña Jr. to injury, as a way to announce that they’re not out of this thing just yet.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

Rowan Kavner is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the L.A. Dodgers, LA Clippers and Dallas Cowboys. An LSU grad, Rowan was born in California, grew up in Texas, then moved back to the West Coast in 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.

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