WASHINGTON -- During the All-Star Game festivities this week, players throughout the game spent time mingling in the clubhouse while signing box after box of baseballs. The game's respective starting pitchers, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale, called it an "honor" to represent their leagues on the biggest stage.
And in another bow to tradition, Brad Hand sat and addressed media inquiries about his next career stop beyond San Diego.
Hand, 28, has 280 strikeouts in 213 innings as a Padre since 2016, so he's attracting lots of attention as a potential trade acquisition. The Cubs and Indians are among several contending clubs that like him for his 94 mph fastball and a reasonably priced contract that keeps him under team control through 2021.
The flurry of attention is reminiscent of last summer, when Hand attended the All-Star Game in Miami and addressed a wave of trade speculation that amounted to nothing.
"I feel like I've been getting asked my thoughts on getting traded for the past year and a half now," Hand said. "Nothing happened last year, so I don't think my mindset is really going to change. I was designated for assignment out of Miami [in 2016] and nobody really wanted me, so obviously it's a good thing to have teams really want you and talk about you."
The All-Star break often puts a slight crimp in trade deadline speculation, but two days off have merely heightened the sense of anticipation this time. The Baltimore Orioles stoked Manny Machado buzz when they pulled him from Sunday's game because of a wet infield after a rain delay and that buzz turned into full-steam trade momentum with the Dodgers now on the verge of landing the star shortstop.
As the rumors continued to grow, everybody waited out Machado Watch at All-Star media day. While Machado might have preferred talking about baseball, he spent part of his time speculating on how he might enjoy the relatively tame off-field environs in Milwaukee. Naturally, reporters from Los Angeles and Philadelphia solicited reaction on how he might embrace life in their respective markets as well.
"It's hard," Machado said. "I mean, it's tough. A couple guys have reached out and told me how to handle it a little bit. But at the end of the day, it's always hard. Getting microphones in your face every day and cameras, it's not easy. You've just got to deal with it and try to handle it as best as possible."
Among the other All-Stars who've been deluged with trade speculation or can expect to see more of it between now and July 31: Mets starter Jacob deGrom; Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo; Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ; and Rays catcher Wilson Ramos, whose market might have been scuttled by a hamstring injury last week that might force him to the disabled list.
Oakland infielder Jed Lowrie was also considered potential trade bait several weeks ago. But the Athletics' surge up the AL West standings has nudged the front office into "buy" mode, so Lowrie is most likely staying put.
DeGrom provides an interesting case study for the Mets. He's a prime Cy Young Award candidate, with a major-league-best 1.68 ERA. But New York has faded from contention in the National League East, and the front office is in a state of flux as ownership looks for a replacement for general manager Sandy Alderson.
DeGrom's agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, ran some interference Monday and said the Mets might want to consider trading deGrom if they have no interest in signing him to a long-term contract. It was a coordinated strategy to help frame the debate in a bigger-picture light.
"I like it in New York, and I would like to get back to winning here," deGrom said. "I figured there would be a lot of questions about trade stuff, and this was our way of getting ahead of it. Brodie and I talked about it, and it was something we felt like we needed to do.
"I have a good relationship with the Mets. We were just expressing that I'd like to stay and be a part of the future. But if they don't see me in the future, I think Brodie was saying, 'Get what you can.'"
While deGrom won't be eligible for free agency until 2020, the short-termers in the trade market are dealing with emotional fluctuations on a daily basis. Happ, a free agent this winter, is a potential trade target for the Yankees, Phillies, Cubs and several other clubs. He's 0-3 with a 9.75 ERA in July, but he declines to use his unsettled status as a crutch for his recent poor performances.
"If an unknown number pops up on my phone, I wonder sometimes," Happ said. "There's a little anxiety that comes with that. But I'm certainly not going out there while I'm pitching and worrying about being traded."
For some lucky players, circumstances can change in the span of a single conversation. Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett was the subject of trade rumors until general manager Nick Krall approached him recently with a comforting declaration: The team had no plans to trade him and might be interested in discussing a contract extension soon.
Gennett rolled into the All-Star break as the National League leader with a .326 batting average and secure in the knowledge that he's not going anywhere. That's doubly gratifying given that he was born in Cincinnati and grew up a Reds fan.
"There were times earlier this year where after the game I was like, 'Am I going to get called in? Am I going to get traded?'" Gennett said. "You don't want that on your mind. I think they recognized that and kind of put my mind at ease in that sense.
"From the fan reaction and the guys in control of these decisions, I just feel like they want me here. They like what I've been doing. I think they like the way I play the game and approach the game. To hear that feedback is an honor for me, because that's all I ever wanted."