Will MLB's trade market heat up during the season? If so, here's who could be on the move

Fauci cautiously optimistic about return of fans in MLB (2:12)

Dr. Anthony Fauci tells Buster Olney there's a "pretty good chance" of fans returning to the stands if the rate of COVID-19 infections continues to drop. (2:12)

In the days leading up to Friday's podcast interview of Dr. Anthony Fauci, I canvassed team officials about what questions they might ask the infectious disease expert, and one staffer seemed to be looking for some help with the context leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.

When does Dr. Fauci foresee a time, the staffer asked, when fans are again packed into ballparks in crowds of 30,000 or 40,000 squeezing past one another shoulder to shoulder on their way to concession stands on the concourses?

The answer to that question, the team employee added as an aside, might go a long way to determining how aggressive contenders are in adding payroll this summer. If there are more fans in the stands, there will be more income, and perhaps for some front offices, the financial restraints placed by owners will be loosened or removed after a winter in which so many teams have slashed payrolls.

Dr. Fauci was cautious in his response to that question. Similarly, there will be some owners who are just as careful about committing big dollars to midseason additions after more than a year of diminished revenues. Some owners might be more aggressive, knowing that one way or another, there will be a new collective bargaining agreement after the current CBA expires in December. Historically, revenues and spending climb after a deal between the owners and players is signed.

For those teams that look to augment their rosters before July 31, here is a list of players who may well be available:

1. Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants
San Francisco extended a one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer to the right-hander over the winter, a deal that makes sense for both sides. Gausman will be well-paid in 2021, and the Giants -- not expected to contend with the Dodgers and the Padres for the NL West title -- have a valued starting pitcher who could be flipped for assets in the trade market. San Francisco, in fact, could be heavy in trade targets this summer.

2. (and 3). Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
The two veteran infielders, heavily adorned in championship rings, are entering the final season of their multiyear contracts. If they perform effectively, the Giants could either dump the last dollars in their deals, or, more likely, San Francisco could pick up some salary and get prospects in return. For any contender looking for shortstop help, the left-handed-hitting Crawford could be attractive (hello, Yankees). If Belt continues to more effectively handle fastballs the way that he did last year, there will be suitors for a hitter with a long history of patience and power; his slash line in 2020 was .309/.425/.591, with that slugging percentage the best of his career, by far.

(By the way: I asked around about the possibility of catcher Buster Posey accepting a trade to a contender in the midst of what might be his final season, in an effort to win one more championship, and the early perception of Posey is that he might prefer to reach the finish line with the Giants. The fact that he cited family considerations in opting out of last season might have been an indication about how he might feel about waiving his no-trade clause).

4. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Colorado's handling of the All-Star shortstop continues to be perplexing to other teams that have assumed that the Rockies' ownership would eventually give the OK to market Story for prospects before he walks away as a free agent. When Colorado executed its widely panned trade of third baseman Nolan Arenado, the explanation of owner Dick Monfort -- for the frantic inclusion of $50 million in return for a package of prospects from the Cardinals -- was that the team didn't want to see Arenado walk away as a free agent in the fall of 2021 and get only a draft pick in return.

So why would Story be handled any differently? (To date, there is no indication Story and the Rockies will forge a long-term agreement.)