Projecting MLB's Biggest Buyers and Sellers Entering June
In baseball, the season can be broken down into three stages that form the backbone of each campaign, setting the stage for present and future success.
April and May serve as a tentative, conservative stage in which big moves rarely happen, managers don't sit on hot seats and executives spend countless hours preparing for the June draft. By the time August and September arrive, the work is done and the best teams rise to the top.
During June and July on a yearly basis, however, championships are won or lost. After assessing the strengths and weaknesses of respective 25-man rosters, conducting an entire draft and racking up cellphone minutes with general managers around the league, business commences as the summer kicks into high gear.
With June approaching and every division race up for grabs, the following is a look at projecting which teams will emerge as buyers and sellers over the next few weeks. While more will surely join as performance fluctuates, four teams stand out as examples right now.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted and are accurate through the start of play on May 31. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.
Seller: Houston Astros
After a seventh consecutive victory, the Houston Astros will finish May with a winning month, marking the first time that's occurred at Minute Maid Park since August 2010. While optimism should be high in Houston, don't expect general manager Jeff Luhnow to abandon a long-term view in light of short-term success.
With the Astros, led by AL Rookie of the Year candidate George Springer, improving by the day, a case could be made for holding onto veterans and aiming for a respectable record this summer. Barring a drastic change in approach from Luhnow, don't expect that to happen.
When the June and July trading season arrives, reality will set back in for Astros fans. Young talent is emerging and slated to arrive in droves over the next few seasons, but veterans shouldn't feel comfortable in the Houston-area real estate market.
Prior to Opening Day, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle asked Luhnow if this season would be different when the trade deadline approached. Although the forward-thinking executive tried to convey a sense of moving past the fire-sale stage of his tenure, logic was rooted in his response.
There’s always going to be that temptation, especially if you have an area where you think — if come mid-July we’re clearly not contending, and there’s a club that needs a guy that we have and they’re willing to give up enough to get him. We’re never going to shut that conversation down.
Buyer: New York Yankees
Despite a payroll of around $197 million, the New York Yankees have glaring roster holes. Without answers available through the farm system, baseball's ultimate win-now team must explore the trade market for help over the next two months.
While manager Joe Girardi deserves credit for keeping the team in the AL East race despite injuries to CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Michael Pineda, it won't be easy to continue coercing victories from a rotation that currently includes luminaries such as David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitley.
Last year, the Yankees were in a similar position with a similarly flawed team. The difference: Boston became an AL East juggernaut, rendering the scrappy and upstart Yankees a footnote in the AL East standings. General manager Brian Cashman accurately read his team, foregoing the impulse to trade top prospects for a star player in the midst of a lost season.
This summer, things can be different. Despite a hot month from the Blue Jays, no AL East team looks capable of winning 95-plus games and running away with the East. If the Yankees can acquire an arm like, say, Jeff Samardzija, the balance of power could shift to the Bronx.
According to John Harper of the New York Daily News, the Yankees would love to deal for the Cubs' star pitcher. Furthermore, Teixeira's recent soreness on a surgically repaired wrist caused Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports to speculate, "Why not Kendrys Morales for the Yankees?"
Over the next two months, expect the Yankees to be very active in the chase for a return to October baseball.
Seller: Chicago Cubs
When Theo Epstein agreed to remake the Chicago Cubs, rebuild the farm system and construct a winner through player development, it was clear that time was needed. Nearly three years later, the wait is nearly over.
With potential high-end young stars like Javier Baez (shortstop), Kris Bryant (third baseman), Albert Almora (outfielder) and Jorge Soler (outfielder) nearing big league-ready status, the next contending Cubs team is almost complete. To finish the process, Epstein and right-hand man Jed Hoyer must cash in the remaining trade chips on the 25-man roster.
From Jeff Samardzija to Jason Hammel to Travis Wood to Starlin Castro, Chicago features players who could help out contenders and bring back sizable returns. Making the process easier and more likely to commence without a hitch is the veterans know how this story will end, especially Samardzija, per David Lennon of Newsday:
There really hasn't been any communication, either way, about that. I've just been going out and doing my job and I'm sure they've been busy with the draft and things like that. But no communication really whatsoever.
Before the end of July, it's likely that many of the veterans in Chicago will have one last conversation with the front-office members at Wrigley Field.
Buyer: Toronto Blue Jays
The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays have a rare opportunity to experience a worst-to-first turnaround in one of baseball's toughest divisions. Interestingly, last year's Boston Red Sox did the exact same thing, serving Toronto a blueprint for how to approach the trading season.
As the only team in the AL East with a positive run differential (+25), the Blue Jays aren't winning games by luck. Instead, the design of general manager Alex Anthopoulos' 2013 plan has finally come to fruition. With a deep, dynamic offense and solid starting pitching, the Jays can mash their way into contention all summer.
That, of course, may not be enough for a city that hasn't seen postseason baseball since Joe Carter touched them all in October 1993. If the Blue Jays continue to pace the AL East, expect the front office to act boldly in a move to solidify an area of need in the rotation, bullpen or at either second or third base, allowing Brett Lawrie to focus on one position.
When asked about the possibility of adding payroll this summer, Anthopoulos didn't shy away from the notion, per Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star:
We came into the season with the number that we expected to be at and as the year goes along, depending on how we’re playing and what’s available, I would expect we would re-evaluate it at the beginning of July. But I have every confidence that if we have a need come the trade deadline that we’ll have the resources to do that. I don’t have any doubts about that.
Which buyer or seller will have the biggest impact on the pennant races?