MLB Trade Rumors: Predicting If Your Team Will Be Buyer or Seller at Deadline
Plenty has changed since I last tackled this question over a month ago, most notably the addition of a second wild-card team in each league.
I expect, as many do, that the extra playoff bid will encourage more teams to take a buyer's approach at the July trading deadline.
The impact should be especially profound in the National League, where an absence of truly elite teams figures to create widespread parity.
The much-heralded PECOTA projection system estimates that no NL team will register 90 victories but that nine—or more than half of the league—will win between 84 and 88 games. With five playoff spots available then, we could see a scenario where 10-to-12 NL teams want to add pieces at the deadline.
That's exactly what commissioner Bud Selig and MLB brass wanted out of this rule change, and it appears that's what they'll get.
Philadelphia Phillies: Buyer
If one of the three aces goes down, I'll start to worry, but the injury setbacks incurred by Ryan Howard and Chase Utley don't push the Phillies out of playoff contention.
In other words, the championship window remains ajar and we should expect another spirited deadline push by GM Ruben Amaro Jr.
The big question management must address: Is this the year they finally trade former top prospect Domonic Brown, or do they re-call him from Triple-A and finally give him regular time? Or does he spend another year in prospect purgatory?
Brown, despite his recent struggles, remains the team's most attractive trade chip. How they value him will have a notable impact on their deadline ambitions.
Atlanta Braves: Buyer
Atlanta's stagnancy this offseason indicates that management feels good about this team's chances.
As long as Atlanta stays within striking distance, I expect the front office to have a similar attitude come mid-July. GM Frank Wren likes his core and he won't consider major changes.
Last year the Braves added center fielder Michael Bourn for the stretch run, and I foresee a similar-style move this year. Left field needs a boost and shortstop could too, depending on how rookies Tyler Pastornicky and Andrelton Simons perform.
Atlanta, stocked with some of the best minor leagues in baseball, has the resources to make a much bigger splash. But seeing the team's approach this offseason, that seems unlikely.
Washington Nationals: Buyer
I'm not sold on the offense, but Washington's pitching staff should keep them in contention all year.
And it's not just the starting rotation, though that group should excel. The Nationals also have a stellar bullpen headlined by flex man Tyler Clippard, back-end ace Drew Storen and hard-throwing righty Henry Rodriguez. Assuming Storen can put early-season health woes behind him, Washington should win scads of close, low-scoring games.
On offense, the Nats need table-setters at the top of the order. Shortstop Ian Desmond seems to have plateaued and second baseman Danny Espinosa, while adding nice pop for his position, doesn't get on base nearly enough.
At the deadline, Washington should and will look for an everyday centerfielder or shortstop who can improve the top half of their lineup.
New York Mets: Seller
The Mets will be bad, even in a best-case scenario. The rest of the division is simply too competitive for this team to entertain optimism.
So instead of debating whether or not the Mets will sell at the deadline (they will), a more trenchant mind might wonder what kind of selling they'll do.
Will they entertain an offer for third baseman David Wright? How about a young first baseman Ike Davis?
Or do they play a lower-risk game and dangle Mike Pelfrey?
Miami Marlins: Buyer
The Marlins are notoriously fickle when it comes to team building, but even they wouldn't abort a rebuilding effort without giving it a full season.
Trading away a key big-league player would inspire a round of "same old Marlins" laments and nullify the momentum created by their offseason makeover.
At worst—and this is assuming they are many games under .500 by July—Miami will stand pat. Ownership can't risk showing weakness in the first year of what is supposed to be a new era.
Milwaukee Brewers: Buyer
Short of overspending on Prince Fielder, the Brewers did everything in their power to remain competitive this offseason.
GM Doug Melvin wouldn't have courted veteran free agents like Aramis Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez if he didn't have his sights set on short-term success. Those investments compel Milwaukee to take a win-now approach at the deadline.
Even more compelling, the Brewers have almost no impact talent at the top end of their farm system. If they feel they need to improve, they'll have to work a trade.
St. Louis Cardinals: Buyer
I'm not given to quoting myself, but in this case I'll make an exception.
Here's what I said about the Cardinals a month ago:
The Cardinals set a clear precedent last year when they bought in the face of a large wild-card deficit. That gamble resulted in the franchise's 11th world championship, and there's no reason to think the calculus has changed in St. Louis.
St. Louis' calculus hasn't changed, and neither has my opinion.
The organization's bell-weather deal this offseason was its decision to sign Carlos Beltran. Even after they lost Pujols, there were never plans to start from scratch. St. Louis wants to win with the team they have now.
Cincinnati Reds: Buyer
The Reds tipped their hand this offseason when they traded for Padres ace Mat Latos.
Management wants to take two full-throttle runs at the NL Central crown before Joey Votto reaches free agency, perhaps convincing him to take an under-market extension in the process.
With two of their best prospects, including Votto's presumed replacement, now in San Diego, it's hard to see how they can change course.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Seller
Pittsburgh took a novelty dip in the seller pool last July, but the focus remains long-term.
As top pitching prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon incubate in the minor leagues, the Pirates will keep a close eye on young hitters like Pedro Alvarez, Tony Sanchez and Jose Tabata. If that bunch doesn't show progress, Pittsburgh will look to part ways.
The Pirates locked Andrew McCutchen into their future plans with a generous extension this offseason, and now it's time to see who joins him and who hits the trading block.
Chicago Cubs: Seller
The Cubs should have great leverage at this year's trading deadline, and I expect the new regime to take full advantage.
With so many projected contenders, Chicago should be able to drum up a nice return for bit players like Marlon Byrd, Ryan Dempster and, in a perfect world, Alfonso Soriano.
Then there's the big piece, Matt Garza. If the Cubs make him available, he'll be the most sought-after pitcher in a historically competitive market.
Garza, who is under team control through 2013, should command at least two top prospects. If the market is as active as I'm thinking it'll be, that ransom could climb even higher.
Houston Astros: Seller
In a roundabout way, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and Carlos Lee are the future of this forlorn franchise.
If that trio performs well early this season, Houston can swap them for much-needed prospects at the deadline.
And in phase one of a lengthy rebuilding process, that's where the Astros' focus lies—prospects, prospects and more prospects.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Buyer
Based on last year's success I'd label Arizona a deadline buyer, but a cautious one.
This team has a bright future built around incredible minor league pitching talent. They won't mortgage that future for a half-year rental.
The Diamondbacks could, however, flip a lower-tier prospect for infield depth if a tight division race demands it.
San Francisco Giants: Buyer
The parts are in place for San Francisco to have a bounce back year, but I imagine they'll tread a bit lighter around the deadline than they did in 2011.
Overpaying for a half year of Carlos Beltran and Jeff Keppinger did nothing to resuscitate a flawed team. If GM Brian Sabean takes a similar approach this year, he's a fool.
The Giants should, and I believe will, focus on maximizing production from within. Keeping Buster Posey healthy is paramount, as is finding some way to get Brandon Belt involved.
If the team needs a mini-jolt down the stretch, they should take a page from their 2010 script and think smaller. That way they can keep what remains of their farm system in tact.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Neither
The Dodgers in 2012 remind me of the Marlins in 2011.
Last year, despite assumptions to the contrary, a struggling Marlins team retained their big-league core at the deadline. The rationale behind that move became apparent when Miami, using its new stadium as motivation, ran roughshod through free agency.
Looking back, it's clear the Marlins envisioned a quick turnaround. Though their profile suggested seller, the front office didn't want to lose any players who could help them in 2012—even glue guys like Omar Infante and Juan Oviedo (né Leo Nunez).
And while the Dodgers don't have enough talent to compete this year, they do have good young players and the resources needed to dominate the next free agent market.
Under new ownership L.A. will seek high-priced playmates for Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw in next year's free agent market. And like last year's Marlins, Dodgers management will keep any players they believe can contribute to a winner in 2013.
Colorado Rockies: Buyer
After sifting through some intelligent commentary on the matter, I've done a 180 on the 2012 Colorado Rockies.
While I'm still not a fan of their offseason, Colorado has enough offense to keep pace in a pretty balanced division. Just give their projected line-up the old eye test and you'll see what I mean:
1. Dexter Fowler
2. Marco Scutaro
3. Carlos Gonzalez
4. Troy Tulowitzki
5. Todd Helton
6. Michael Cuddyer
7. Ramon Hernandez
8. Jordan Pacheco
If you look at one through eight, it's the best group in the division—and it isn't even close. The rotation makes me nervous, but it's not so bad that Colorado can't compete. With enough depth to relegate poor performers, the Rockies should find a solid top five.
All of that leads me to think Colorado will be active and looking to supplement come July. They're still a notch below the Giants and Diamondbacks in my mind, but with the right breaks Colorado has a good shot at the second wild card.
San Diego Padres: Seller
Help is coming, but not in time to save San Diego's 2012 season. As the Padres wait for their best prospects to mature, they'll dedicate another season to the rebuilding process.
That in mind, they might flip recently acquired veterans Edinson Volquez and Carlos Quentin for more youth. Or they could see what affordable, homegrown contributors like Chase Headley and Nick Hundley command.
However the Pads play it, expect them to act with offense in mind. Already possessed of baseball's best Triple-A rotation, San Diego doesn't need to add many more arms.
New York Yankees: Buyer
If you think the Yankees will sell at the 2012 trading deadline, you haven't been watching baseball for the past two decades.
The Yankees always buy.
Now, the fact that New York has a rotation surplus throws a small caveat into our common assumption.
If New York gets to mid-July with seven healthy starting pitchers, they might roll the dice and trade Freddy Garcia.
But even then they'd be looking for a big-league contributor in return, defying the typical seller profile.
Tampa Bay Rays: Both
As usual, it's difficult to place Tampa Bay squarely in the buyer or seller camp.
Behind one of baseball's best rotations they should be competitive and looking to improve mid-season. But the Rays can also play seller by trading big-league regulars to a fellow contender and replacing said regulars with reinforcements from their typically robust prospect pool.
You could conceivably see a scenario where the Rays trade B.J. Upton to, say, the Nationals for prospects and then flip another set of prospects for a corner outfielder.
All of which is to say that the Rays are tough to read. They're an elite team that, because of their resource limitations, always has to keep an eye on the future.
Other contenders can throw caution to the wind. The Rays do that and it might be another decade before they contend again.
Boston Red Sox: Buyer
The Red Sox are too proud a franchise to pack it in by July. Or perhaps the pressures foisted upon them are too great.
Either way, Boston should attack the deadline like their usual aggressive selves. Though they're a popular pick to miss the playoffs—the first time we can say that in quite some time—the Red Sox should at the very least compete with the Yankees, Rays, Angels, Rangers and Tigers atop the American League.
Boston's deadline target this year is pretty clear—pitching. The Red Sox searched for it all winter and came up only with a patchwork answer.
The search isn't over. Expect to hear Boston's name surface wherever starters and sellers collide.
Toronto Blue Jays: Buyer
No team was happier to hear about the addition of a second wild card than the Toronto Blue Jays.
Few expect them to nab the bonus spot, but they should be in the hunt. If a few favorites incur injuries or suffer poor play, Toronto has the offense to make noise.
And if not this year, the Blue Jays are well positioned for the future. With a good major league corps and a stacked farm system, there's no reason to trade back for more prospects.
If Toronto surges toward the AL's top five, they can make a strong play for extra pitching. If they don't, they have the luxury of standing pat.
Baltimore Orioles: Seller
Sad truth time: The Orioles need to rebuild.
I know that's hard to hear for fans of a team that was supposedly rebuilding already, but the O's current prospect pool won't cut it in the AL East.
Matt Wieters is a keeper, as are Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado, but the rest are fit to be shipped.
That includes Adam Jones, a middling defender with big-time holes in his game. The power is a plus, but his plate discipline continues to lag behind his raw tools. At 26 and entering what should be his prime, that's unlikely to change.
If I'm Baltimore head man Dan Duquette, I find a team that overvalues his counting statistics and I pull the trigger.
Detroit Tigers: Buyer
Most teams suffer an injury and they look for a lower-level replacement, someone who can reproduce 50-60 percent of the injured player's production while the front office looks for small upgrades elsewhere.
The Tigers, on the other hand, responded to Victor Martinez's torn ACL by giving the game's fifth-best first baseman a contract worth $214 million.
That tells you just how deep Detroit has fallen into the win-now imperative. Wrapped in a drunken orgy of myopic indulgences, the Tigers won't bend until they either win it all or go bust.
If Detroit perceives even the slightest weakness by mid-July, they'll make a trade. If they're struggling to separate from a weak division, expect something seismic.
The Tigers and octogenarian owner Mike Illitch won't let bad breaks or poor play deny them a World Series run. They'll dive headlong into the trade market and leave the repercussions for another day.
Cleveland Indians: Seller
I don't like the vibes I'm getting from the Indians' camp.
I know it's a month of meaningless baseball, but Grady Sizemore is already hurt, Lonnie Chisenhall couldn't win the third base job from journeyman Jack Hanahan, and Ubaldo Jimenez still looks off.
This is a team that needs a lot of things to go right in order to make the playoffs, and those prospects grow dimmer by the day.
Cleveland has some useful spare parts—Travis Hafner, Derek Lowe, and Sizemore, if he's healthy—and they should move them in order to gear up for next year. None of those players factor into their long-term plans.
Chicago White Sox: Seller
Outside the New York Mets, no team is on a worse trajectory than the Chicago White Sox. They have bad contracts galore, a miserable farm system and almost no chance to compete this year.
You couldn't draw up dimmer prospects.
GM Kenny Williams has already started the rebuilding process by trading away Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos. At some point I suspect he'll deal Gavin Floyd as well, perhaps waiting until school lets out so that the team is at least competitive through the early months.
When it comes to return value, Chicago won't discriminate. Their system needs a heavy talent influx on both sides of the ball.
Kansas City Royals: Seller
The offense is good, maybe even good enough to push .500, but Kansas City's pitching staff lacks the depth needed to support a playoff run.
The Royals lost their best trade chip when Joakim Soria went down for the season, but there are other names worth mentioning. Jeff Francoeur could hit the block if prospect Wil Myers makes significant progress. The same could be said for Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez depending on how younger arms fare.
The Royals are getting there, but they'll spend at least one more deadline unloading assets.
Minnesota Twins: Seller
Between the massive contracts awarded to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, Minnesota doesn't have much financial flexibility. Their trajectory depends entirely on the return they get on investment, and at this point there's no changing course.
If Morneau can stay on the field and top 20 HRs, he becomes a potential trade chip or, depending on how Minnesota's pitching fares, a keeper piece in a quick turnaround effort.
If he can't, the Twins must wait out the rest of his contract and plan for life beyond 2013.
My bet is on the latter, which leaves Minnesota in a rough spot. They can try to sell, but I'm not sure who they dangle and toward what aim.
Bottom line: This team should improve following an injury-ravaged 2011, but not nearly enough to catch the Detroit Tigers. That leaves somewhere within 10 games of .500 and without many avenues toward improvement.
Texas Rangers: Buyer
I imagine Texas' deadline ambitions look similar to last year's when they dealt for set-up men Mike Adams and Koji Uehara.
As in 2011, the 2012 Rangers are a deep team with few, if any, glaring weaknesses. They'll add some bench depth or court a reliever as they see fit, but anything more substantial would come as a surprise.
If Texas falls well behind Los Angeles, I suppose it's possible they make a big splash, but nothing in this franchise's recent history suggests they would.
Los Angeles Angels: Buyer
You don't commit $317 million to two players in one day if you don't want to win now.
The Angels want to win now.
Their recent pursuit of the cagey Roy Oswalt only regurgitates the obvious—the Angels will leave no stone unturned or dollar unspent in their sprint toward a championship.
Whether or not they make a big deal at the deadline depends entirely on how the roster performs and who, if anyone, gets hurt. But if there's a hole to fill, the Angels will fill it. They are in no mood to let the chips fall where they may.
Oakland A's: Seller
In baseball's most stratified division, the A's will be lucky to break 75 wins. That kind of prognosis has positioned past A's teams to sell, and it will again this year but to a lesser extent.
Having done a lot of dealing in the offseason, Oakland goes into 2012 with fewer low-cost veterans than usual. Those one-year fliers—names like Mike Piazza, Hideki Matsui, Frank Thomas and Ben Sheets—don't populate the roster in their typical abundance.
Bartolo Colon could command some attention with a good first half, as could Johnny Gomes and Cliff Pennington. It's possible Manny Ramirez makes waves as well, although the 50-game suspension will limit his exposure.
But more than ever, Oakland will let the youngsters play and look to the future.
Seattle Mariners: Seller
M's fans have heard the refrains before: There are brighter days ahead. Wait until next year. Have patience! Be patient! Patience is a virtue!! Impatience is unvirtuous!!!
On and on it goes.
It's true, Seattle won't win many games in 2012. But at least the Mariners have fantastic talent in the pipeline.
If all goes well, that talent should mature right around the same time Los Angeles starts drowning in back-loaded contracts.
But again, that'll have to wait. This year they'll make whatever minor deals seem reasonable and let the losses accumulate.