With about two-thirds of MLB teams in contention for a playoff spot, here's what each club should do before the July 31 trade deadline.
With six weeks to go until the trade deadline, the league is gradually shifting into buyers and sellers. But who falls into which category? Here’s a look at where every team falls, as well as what the buyers need and what the sellers have to offer, plus a look at the teams in the middle, and whether they should be looking to add at the deadline or getting ready to move pieces.
All stats and records are as of Thursday, June 20.
Milwaukee Brewers (40–34)
New York Yankees (46–27)
The Yankees and Brewers are basically copies of each other: brawny lineups, strong bullpens, rotations that need help. Of the two, Milwaukee has less to work with, depending on how you feel about Zach Davies and Chase Anderson, whereas New York has more talent and will get Luis Severino back around the All-Star break. Nonetheless, a starting pitcher is probably top of the list for both teams. Milwaukee may also be in the market for an extra late-innings reliever, as Jeremy Jeffress simply hasn’t looked right. You can also add Atlanta and Philadelphia to this group, though they have higher priorities than a starter.
Atlanta Braves (44–31)
Boston Red Sox (41–35)
Los Angeles Dodgers (50–25)
Minnesota Twins (48–25)
Philadelphia Phillies (39–34)
This quintet needs relief help, varying from “Another arm wouldn’t hurt” in Milwaukee to “Please, anyone, please” in Atlanta and Philadelphia. Expect all of them to be actively searching for depth at the least. The Braves, Phillies and Red Sox will probably be looking at the higher end of the market, hoping to land a setup arm (or, in Atlanta’s case, perhaps a closer if the team isn’t sold on Luke Jackson in the ninth).
Chicago Cubs (40–33)
The winners of the Craig Kimbrel sweepstakes, the Cubs addressed their biggest issue by signing him to a three-year deal. And assuming Kyle Hendricks’ injury is nothing serious, the rotation should be fine. The issue in Chicago right now is the lineup, which is uneven, particularly in the outfield and at second base. Ben Zobrist’s absence has robbed Joe Maddon of his most versatile tool, and the likes of Daniel Descalso and Addison Russell aren’t cutting it at the keystone. This would be a perfect landing spot for someone like Whit Merrifield if the Royals are inclined to move him. Regardless, if the Cubs are buying, then offense is probably highest on their list. Other contenders who could use some bats: Boston (on the bench) and Philadelphia (at third base).
Houston Astros (48–27)
Tampa Bay Rays (43–31)
Both of these contenders are well set at the moment, with deep rosters and no obvious holes. Tampa could probably use a bench bat or two, and Houston may want to add a veteran starter to eat innings at the back of the rotation. The former is never particularly active on the trade market, though. As for the latter, a starter or another team’s underappreciated bullpen asset, ala last year’s deal for Ryan Pressly, would make sense. But among contenders, these two are the least likely to make a big move.
Detroit Tigers (26–44)
San Francisco Giants (31–41)
Here are your favorites to make the most impactful moves of the deadline. The Tigers and Giants have aces (Matt Boyd for the former, Madison Bumgarner for the latter) and top-flight closers (Shane Greene in Detroit, Will Smith in San Francisco) they could move should they choose. San Francisco also has older relievers like Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and Sam Dyson who’ll likely be available. Both will be involved in a lot of rumors between now and July 31.
San Diego Padres (38–37)
Toronto Blue Jays (26–48)
The Blue Jays are more obvious sellers than the Padres, who are in the wild-card chase but don’t look like a real contender. Both offer some intriguing veterans and power options for the offense-needy buyer. Toronto can shop Justin Smoak to teams looking for thump at first base. San Diego, meanwhile, could get a nice return on Hunter Renfroe and his 23 homers. The Blue Jays also have one of the better relievers who could be dealt in Ken Giles, while the Padres would have the best if they opt to trade Kirby Yates. The former is more likely to be pitching for a new team on Aug. 1 than the latter, though.
Baltimore Orioles (21–53)
Kansas City Royals (25–49)
Miami Marlins (26–46)
Pittsburgh Pirates (33–40)
You’d expect these four last-place teams to be burning up the phone lines trying to move players, but none of them have much to offer. The O’s, Royals and Marlins already traded everything of value over the last year-plus, and Pittsburgh’s roster is devoid of expensive veterans or pricy high-end talent. Baltimore and Miami do have some older players they could deal—Jonathan Villar, Mychal Givens, Neil Walker and Starlin Castro come to mind—but they’re unlikely to bring much back. Don’t be surprised if these teams stay quiet on July 31, though Kansas City could shock if it makes Merrifield available.
Seattle Mariners (32–46)
The marching orders for Jerry Dipoto in Seattle are apparently to get rid of anyone making money. To that end, he’s dumped Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnación, but there’s not much left beyond that. Mike Leake and Dee Gordon are the best bets to go, but will there be much interest in a back-of-the-rotation starter and an aging slap-hitter earning seven figures this season and next? Kyle Seager—owed roughly $50 million over the next two-plus seasons—would be an even tougher sell. Omar Narvaez could draw some calls, though.
IN THE MIDDLE
A third of the league resides in this gray area, still alive for a playoff spot but not a favorite or a division leader—or, in some cases, teetering at .500. I’ll run them down from those that should be buyers to those who should consider packing it in for 2019.
Oakland Athletics (39–36)
The A’s have been a disappointment but should see some needed reinforcements coming soon in the rotation. Top prospects Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk are currently rehabbing injuries, and last year’s ace, Sean Manaea, isn’t far behind. Oakland still has a strong lineup with plenty of power, and even though this year’s bullpen is a step down from the 2018 shutdown version, it’s still one of the better ones. An extra reliever, or perhaps another starter, could make a big difference.
Texas Rangers (39–35)
Texas is just outside of a playoff spot at the moment—an unexpected place for the Rangers to be. Still, it’s legit; by Pythagorean record, they’re bang on their actual record. The conundrum for Texas is that the team is succeeding thanks to some unlikely veteran production (Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Hunter Pence, etc.), but that those veterans now have more trade value because of how productive they’ve been. Still, why not go for it? The AL wild-card race is crowded, but it’s not impossible for the Rangers to hang on, especially once Joey Gallo is back. On the other hand, the Rangers have a lot of issues: the right side of the infield, the outfield save Gallo, and the back of the rotation all need improvement, and some bullpen depth wouldn’t hurt either.
Los Angeles Angels (38–37)
Any team with Mike Trout shouldn’t be allowed to give up, and this year’s Angels are for once not fully wasting his talents. It’s not even that hard to envision Los Angeles climbing the wild-card standings if it makes starting pitching and bullpen help a priority. The Angels’ offseason additions of Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill to the starting five were disasters, but they’re easily replaceable ones. Similarly, Cody Allen was a huge mistake as the closer, but with Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey excelling in the late innings, all they have to do is find another capable setup arm to add some depth, and they’ll be much better off. If only for Trout’s sake, the Angels should buy.
Cleveland Indians (39–34)
Things are looking up for the Indians, who just got Mike Clevinger back this week and will see Corey Kluber hopefully return from the injured list before the summer is out. To become true contenders, though, Cleveland needs to upgrade its offense everywhere aside from Francisco Lindor at shortstop and Carlos Santana at first base (and, weirdly, Roberto Perez at catcher). Worse, the only realistic path for the Indians going forward is the wild card, as the Twins have run away with the Central. With that pitching staff, though, even a league-average lineup—and the Indians, with a collective 88 OPS+, don’t have that—could do some damage.
St. Louis Cardinals (38–35)
The Cardinals should be better than they are, but a lot of their struggle is due to established veteran pieces not performing up to expectations. With that being the case, there’s not much St. Louis can probably do on the trade market to liven things up. The players already there need to perform better; if they don’t, the Cardinals will probably be soft sellers, though their path to the playoffs isn’t impossible, just crowded.
Arizona Diamondbacks (38–37)
Colorado Rockies (39–34)
I’ll lump these NL West teams together, if only because they’re nominally contenders but only for one spot, as the presence of the world-beating Dodgers atop the division limits Colorado and Arizona to wild-card hopefuls. I’m more bullish on the Diamondbacks, who have a better lineup and a true No. 1 starter in Zack Greinke, though the Rockies have the more reliable bullpen. Then again, Arizona sold this winter, so I’m hard-pressed to think it’ll buy this summer. Either way, it’s too soon to tell either way for both.
Cincinnati Reds (34–38)
Cincinnati is under .500 with underperformance up and down the lineup, but it should be better than that. Pythagorean record says the Reds are more like a 41–31 team. Does the presence of a good team somewhere in there make them buyers? It’s probably too early to tell. Ripping off a long win streak might do it. So would the likes of Yasiel Puig, Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker playing better. They’re firmly in the middle for me.
Washington Nationals (35–38)
Left for dead after a brutal month of May, the Nationals have shown life in June, going 11–5 to crawl to within 7 ½ games of the division lead and four games of a wild-card spot. That’s still a lot of ground to make up with several teams in the way, but Washington can at least feel like not all hope is lost. Then again, the prudent thing for the Nats—who were in a similar situation last summer, did nothing, and fell apart down the stretch—might be to explore the seller market, especially given that they could get a ransom in prospects for Anthony Rendon, a free agent at season’s end. Ultimately, I don’t expect Washington to sell because its ownership group never wants to run up the white flag. Should the Nationals be buyers, though? The jury is still out on that one.
Chicago White Sox (35–37)
Somehow, the White Sox are within spitting distance of both .500 and a wild-card spot despite being a rebuilding team full of projects and disappointing veterans. Are they for real? Pythagorean record says no, giving them a 30–42 record. There’s also the matter of just how much Chicago would have to add to get to the level of wild-card contenders like Boston, Texas, Cleveland and Oakland. The rotation requires a total overhaul (minus Lucas Giolito), and the bullpen is dreadful. I’d bet that Chicago’s front office recognizes this first half for the mirage it is and opts to cash in on a useful veteran like Alex Colomé—or perhaps shake up the market in a big way by making Jose Abreu available.
New York Mets (35–39)
What reason is there to be positive about the Mets? Their bullpen and defense are awful, half of the lineup can’t hit, Noah Syndergaard is on the injured list, there’s no rotation depth, and the manager and general manager seem in over their heads. Only by virtue of proximity to a playoff spot and this winter’s spending spree (relative to the Wilpons’s usual cheapness, anyway) can the Mets consider themselves still in it, and that’s not much of a reason to throw away future pieces in what would be a futile chase. New York may not be a set-in-stone seller, but this is the likeliest team on this list to fall into that group by the All-Star break.