Predicting the Biggest Buyers and Sellers at MLB's Midway Point
The 2014 All-Star Game is still a few weeks away, but don't let that distort your vision of the 2014 season. By the start of play on June 30, almost every team in baseball will have reached its midway point. With 81 games in the books, ample time has been provided to determine buyers and sellers in the upcoming trade market.
In theory, at least.
Due to factors such as the second wild card, revenue sharing, cable television dollars and regional sports networks, more teams are in the race than ever before. The days of only five or six teams truly having a chance to win the World Series are long over. With that, market factors shift.
Over the next five weeks, don't expect more than a handful of true buyers and true sellers to emerge and complete deals. With teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins teetering on the edge of contention or acceptance of lost seasons, the landscape could shift quickly.
At this moment, only 10 teams are operating with clear goals in mind. With five buyers and five sellers clearly emerging, here are the teams to watch.
Buyer: Los Angeles Dodgers
When taking a look at the Los Angeles Dodgers, avoid the urge to talk about payroll and a glut of immovable contracts, especially in the outfield. Instead, focus on a franchise intent on making a run through October and winning a World Series this season.
In theory, the Dodgers could be buyers and sellers. If anyone would take Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford in a deal, general manager Ned Colletti could free up even more cash to make a run at another highly paid star.
Heading into play on June 27, the Dodgers rotation owned a 3.09 ERA, per ESPN. Led by the great Clayton Kershaw and resurgent Josh Beckett, starting pitching is the strength of manager Don Mattingly's team. Yet with Dan Haren and Beckett representing injury risks due to recent history, the idea of the Dodgers inquiring on a deal for Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price isn't crazy.
Seller: Chicago Cubs
When surveying the landscape of every team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs may be the easiest to read over the next six weeks. With a dismal record, a smart, forward-thinking front office and an abundance of talent ready to emerge from the minors over the next two years, the Cubs are the most obvious seller in the sport.
Furthermore, with high-end starting pitchers such as Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the Cubs own assets that many contending teams are looking for down the stretch of the season.
Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, recently talked about how the parity around the sport could create more buyers, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago.
"The parity creates more potential buyers," Epstein said. "A lot of teams are out there that could be one or two players away from getting into the playoffs and doing some damage."
For those potential buyers, the Cubs may have the one or two players that represent the ideal that Epstein was referring to in the quote, buoying the chances of a deal commencing in Chicago over the next few weeks.
Buyer: New York Yankees
When the New York Yankees spent over $500 million on players last winter, an edict was delivered out of the Bronx: Missing the postseason in back-to-back seasons isn't an acceptable fate.
After a dark October in New York last year, the franchise is committed to making the postseason this season.
Through 77 games, the Yankees have looked like an average team. In fact, when using run differential to compare New York to other AL contenders, a dark picture is painted. Heading into play on June 27, only the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers and Houston Astros owned worse run differential marks than New York's minus-34.
If the Yankees are going to chase down the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East, reinforcements are needed, with starting pitching and infield help most pressing. Perhaps that's why general manager Brian Cashman was so blunt recently about his strategy as the deadline approaches, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post.
“We usually make moves every year," Cashman said, “so I expect to make moves.”
Seller: Tampa Bay Rays
Prior to the start of the season, the Rays looked poised to make another run to October and potentially capture the first World Series title in franchise history. Half of a season later, the team is in the basement of the AL East and is on the verge of selling off veteran parts.
Chief among the potentially available players: 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price.
With a 144-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the dynamic lefty can bring back a franchise-changing haul for a team always in need of young stars under team control.
In Tampa, general manager Andrew Friedman always seems to operate with multiple scenarios in mind and at play. If the Rays somehow ran off 10 or 11 wins in a row, the preseason contenders could conceivably reverse course and go for it this summer. Barring that type of miracle, though, the Rays are too smart not to sell off parts like Price and Ben Zobrist before the non-waiver trade deadline.
Buyer: Toronto Blue Jays
It's time to go for it in Toronto. For a franchise that hasn't been in the postseason since Joe Carter rounded the bases in the 1993 World Series, sitting in first place entering July is an awfully tempting and intriguing situation to be in.
While general manager Alex Anthopoulos was burned by dealing young prospects like Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and Henderson Alvarez in blockbuster deals prior to the 2013 season, redemption is staring him and Toronto's front office squarely in the face.
With a deep, powerful lineup capable of slugging with teams like the Oakland A's and Detroit Tigers in October, the Jays need to find a top-tier starting pitcher to complement Mark Buehrle atop the rotation. If that means surrendering the young, hard-throwing Marcus Stroman or top pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez, Toronto's rare status as a contender may be an overwhelming factor in becoming a buyer once again.
Seller: San Diego Padres
Directionless is not a word any franchise would be happy to see associated with its name, but it's the only way to describe the current situation in San Diego. After relieving general manager Josh Byrnes of his duties this month, the San Diego Padres are without the man who built this roster, farm system and future.
On the surface, that might be a good thing. Since Byrnes arrived after the 2010 season, San Diego has continued a run of missing the postseason that will soon become eight years old. In fact, outside of back-to-back postseason berths in 2005-2006, the Padres have zero October appearances since a trip to the 1998 World Series.
As the team searches for a long-term replacement for Byrnes, it's time to shake things up with the current roster. With veterans such as closer Houston Street and third baseman Chase Headley looming as potentially valuable additions to contending teams, the Padres should be expected to sell before August 1.
Buyer: Baltimore Orioles
From 1998 to 2011, the Baltimore Orioles were one of the most inept franchises in professional sports, let alone baseball. During that span, the team finished below .500 in every season and never rose above third place in the AL East.
Over the last three years, however, the Orioles have turned a corner. After winning 92 games and taking the Yankees to five games in an American League Division Series in 2012, the team won 85 games last season. Through 77 games in 2014, another contender is emerging at Camden Yards.
In order to capitalize on the best run of baseball Baltimore has seen in decades, expect general manager Dan Duquette to be aggressive on the trade market. The AL East is up for grabs, and the Orioles could be a starter away from taking control of the division.
With stars like Chris Davis and Adam Jones in their respective primes, the time is now for a major run from this franchise.
Seller: Texas Rangers
Much like the Rays, the Texas Rangers entered the 2014 season with high hopes. Unlike their 2013 wild-card playoff counterparts, the annual AL West contender remade its roster with highly paid stars. Over the winter, Texas imported Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo to play with a nucleus that included Yu Darvish and Adrian Beltre.
While stars often lead to big production and high win totals, few could have predicted the injury issues the Rangers would soon face. From a slew of injuries to starting pitchers to Fielder's season-ending neck surgery, this roster has been decimated, leaving the team closer to the Houston Astros than the top of the division.
If the Rangers find health in 2015, there's little reason to believe the team won't compete. Thus, expect the front office to sell in July but avoid a total rebuilding project. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Rangers will listen to offers for veterans not named Darvish or Beltre—two franchise cornerstones for 2015 and beyond.
For teams in need of help at shortstop or in the bullpen, names like Elvis Andrus or Joakim Soria could be the answers.
Buyer: Los Angeles Angels
Causal baseball fans might know that the Athletics own baseball's best run differential. With a staggering plus-129 mark, Oakland has dominated and bludgeoned opponents all season. The team directly behind Oakland in run differential is the same team chasing it in the AL West: the Los Angeles Angels.
At this point, it's time to recognize what the Angels are: a team that's very capable of making the postseason, even if it's in one of the two wild-card spots.
With that established, the Angels need to use their resources to add to a good team. On Friday evening, the team swapped relief pitchers with the Pittsburgh Pirates, netting former All-Star closer Jason Grilli. That, while a start, can't be the end for general manager Jerry Dipoto.
Entering play on June 27, third baseman David Freese owned an ugly 69 OPS+ mark, holding back an offense that has the potential to slug it out with the Athletics, Tigers and Blue Jays. If the Angels can find an upgrade on the trade market, expect a move.
Seller: Arizona Diamondbacks
From the moment the 2014 season started, the Arizona Diamondbacks were destined to end up on a list like this under the "seller" category. After a 9-22 start through the end of April, the damage was done in Arizona. Despite a respectable 24-26 record since, the team is buried in the NL West with little chance of meaningful baseball on the horizon.
Unlike most bad teams, the Diamondbacks aren't built to sell. While veterans like Aaron Hill and Miguel Montero could net decent returns, the only marquee, franchise-changing player on the roster is first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Thus far, there's been no indication the team would even entertain a conversation for its best player.
With Tony La Russa on board as a franchise czar, expect changes to happen in July, but it's hard to believe this team could make a big enough move to generate major headlines.
Who do you believe will be the most active team leading up to the trade deadline?