SAN DIEGO — David Ortiz is in San Diego for a fond farewell and a show of recognition in honor of a brilliant career. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and five teammates are at Petco Park representing the resurgence of the Chicago Cubs. And Johnny Cueto’s 13-1 record and starting berth for the National League validates the San Francisco Giants’ decision to give him a $130 million contract in December.
On Monday afternoon, while the baseball world kept spinning around them, Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce, Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez and Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy spent much of All-Star Game media day sitting at tables in front of name cards and fielding questions about where they expect to be in three weeks.
Major League Baseball’s Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline is approaching, and several newly minted All-Stars are trying to enjoy the stellar designation while acknowledging the business end of the equation: Since they play for non-contending teams, they could be on the move very soon.
The awkward dance between media members and players in trade limbo was personified by Lucroy, a two-time All-Star who could be a prime target for teams in search of a catching upgrade.
“Trade rumors?” Lucroy said to one reporter. “You’re the seventh person to ask me about that. But that’s OK. We’ll go over it again.”
The star power of the 2016 trade deadline crop doesn’t quite compare to July 2015, when David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Cole Hamels, Yoenis Cespedes, Ben Zobrist, Mike Leake, Cueto and Carlos Gomez all changed teams in advance of the deadline. With a weak offseason free agent crop on the horizon, non-contenders don’t have many impact rental players to sell this summer.
Nevertheless, Atlanta’s Julio Teheran and San Diego’s Drew Pomeranz are young, reasonably paid starters who could be in play for a high price. Fellow All-Star Fernando Rodney already switched teams when the Padres sent him to the Miami Marlins for a minor leaguer in late June.
Bruce, 29, and Gonzalez, 30, are impact outfield bats who could have some appeal to the Indians, Giants, White Sox, Royals, Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers — clubs that have at least considered the idea of an offensive upgrade. Oakland’s Josh Reddick, a free-agent-to-be, has been linked to several of those teams.
Bruce and Gonzalez both know the drill. In March, Bruce was at the center of a proposed three-way trade among the Reds, Los Angeles Angels and Toronto Blue Jays. The deal failed to come to fruition when an unidentified player reportedly failed a physical exam. Several months later, the Reds are 32-57 and looking to get younger and cheaper, and Bruce is a candidate to move on as he enters the waning months of his contract.
“I said this in spring training — and I’m gonna sound like a parrot — but the Reds would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t try to better the organization by trading me and getting prospects,” Bruce said. “I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but they have to be open for business. That’s the mode they’re in right now. I get it. I’ve been around a bit and I understand the game and how it works.
“It behooves them to take a look into every situation where they can possibly improve the franchise. I’m 29 and all of a sudden I’m not so young anymore. Every player that plays wants a chance to win a World Series, and I think the Reds are a couple of years away from being in that picture again.”
Gonzalez landed in the middle of a mini-controversy last week when a media outlet reported that he had met privately with Rockies management and expressed a desire to be traded. Gonzalez quickly disavowed the report, and he reiterated Monday that he’s never conveyed a sense of unhappiness to Colorado’s front office.
“When you talk about CarGo and who he is, he’s going to play well for who he’s contracted to play for,” said Scott Boras, Gonzalez’s agent. “He’s going to focus on the team and that situation. That’s just the kind of guy he is.”
Gonzalez’s career was fraught with instability until he arrived in Colorado in 2008. He was 22 when Arizona traded him to Oakland, and 23 when the Diamondbacks sent him to Colorado in a deal for Matt Holliday. In eight seasons with the Rockies, he’s made three All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves and emerged as a foundation player of the franchise. But now he has immersed in the same rumor-mill spin cycle that last season included Tulowitzki, a former Rockies mainstay who went to Toronto in a monster deal last July.
Even teammates aren’t immune from the drama. Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado fielded a few CarGo-related trade questions of his own at All-Star media day.
“It’s always a little tough when you hear those questions,” Arenado said. “I don’t want him to go. He’s my boy. But it comes with the territory. When you lose, the rumors will go up — just like last year with Tulo. It’s definitely weird.”
Sentiment is an inevitable casualty this time of year. As Bruce reflected on his time in Cincinnati during his All-Star media availability, he talked about his friendship with Reds executives Walt Jocketty and Dick Williams and his fondness for the only professional organization he has ever known. He also acknowledged that future events are largely beyond his control.
“I don’t make decisions and I don’t demand anything,” Bruce said. “I just work there.”
For now, anyway.