MLB Teams That Are Foolish to Consider Themselves Trade Deadline Buyers
No team likes to consider itself out of contention, especially when the standings say that, with a hot streak and a bit of luck, a team could find itself leading in its league's respective playoff race.
Only seven of MLB's 30 teams sit at least 10 games out of a playoff berth, and with so many clubs still believing that they've got a chance to play meaningful baseball in October, even the most astute and experienced general manager can fall victim to poor decision-making.
For the teams on this list, adding veteran pieces to the puzzle as the July 31 trade deadline approaches—and jettisoning younger talent to acquire them—would be prime examples of smart people making bad decisions.
Yes, the Cleveland Indians won 92 games in 2013 and sit only 3.5 games out of a wild-card berth in the American League. But going out to acquire the front-line pitcher or big-time bat that would put the team over the top in the AL playoff race simply isn't worth the cost of doing business.
The conversation between general manager Chris Antonetti and any of his counterparts is going to begin—and likely end—with the other club asking for shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor, outfield prospect Tyler Naquin and/or 24-year-old starter Danny Salazar.
Cleveland isn't about to trade any of them.
The players whom the Indians could acquire without surrendering some of their young talent are good but not great—the same description you could stick on practically every member of the club's current 25-man roster.
Antonetti and Co. are best served by moving some of their pending free agents and looking toward 2015, when Lindor will replace Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop, Salazar should be a full-time member of the rotation and, perhaps, Naquin will be a member of the team's outfield configuration.
Late last month, Miami Marlins general manager/vice president Dan Jennings, in an interview with Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio, indicated that the Marlins would be looking to add to their roster as the trade deadline nears.
Sources told Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe as much, with Cafardo reporting that the Marlins were one of the more aggressive clubs in scouting other teams, with the upstart team looking for additional arms to add to its rotation.
To be sure, Miami could put together as attractive a trade package as any team for anyone, whether it be the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price, Philadelphia Phillies' Cole Hamels or any other established starter who could become available.
But at what cost?
Miami has an excellent foundation of young talent to build a team around, especially in the outfield, where Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich—along with Jake Marisnick—could potentially be baseball's most dynamic outfield trio in a few years.
That the Marlins have managed to hover around .500 and stay in contention as long as they have without the ace of their rotation, Jose Fernandez, is as remarkable as it is commendable.
But mortgaging part of what looks to be a promising future only to ensure an early exit from the playoffs, in a season where finishing with a .500 record would be viewed as a rousing success by nearly everyone associated with the game, would be a terrible move to make.
New York Yankees
In case you missed it, the New York Yankees are making moves, trading a player to be named later to the Oakland A's for Jeff Francis in the hope that he can solidify their starting rotation.
That's the same Jeff Francis who hasn't been relevant since 2007, when he won 17 games for the Colorado Rockies. That's the same Francis who, since that 17-win season, has gone 23-46 with a 5.22 ERA and 1.45 WHIP.
Chances are, that player to be named later is going to be more valuable to the A's than Francis will be to the Yankees.
With Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and now Masahiro Tanaka all sidelined due to injury—and Nova, along with perhaps Sabathia and Tanaka, out for the season—the Yankees simply don't have the starting pitching that it takes to make a deep playoff run.
Throw in the team's inconsistent offense, which has scored as many runs (371) as the offensively challenged Seattle Mariners, and their defense, which, whether you're a fan of UZR/150 (minus-3.1, per FanGraphs) or DRS (minus-23), advanced metrics agree is pretty bad, and the Bronx Bombers are fighting a losing battle.
Any season in which the Yankees fail to reach the World Series is viewed as a failure, but to expect that adding a high-priced veteran—such as Philadelphia's Cole Hamels or his injured teammate, Cliff Lee—is going to result in an appearance in the Fall Classic is insane.
Buying at the trade deadline would only add to the insanity.
Don't you dare walk up to Ryan Howard and tell him that Philadelphia isn't a contender—because he's not having any of it, as he told Jason Wolf of The (Delaware) News Journal after the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves last month:
I don't think we've ever really been out of it. We've played hot and cold, but we've been six, seven, eight, nine games out of it. You want to definitely handle these types of games against the division rivals. This is a step in the right direction.
The Phillies have gone 10-13 since that June 18 victory and are currently riding a five-game winning streak, one that includes a four-game sweep of the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers. But they still reside in the NL East basement, eight games back of first place and 8.5 games out of a wild-card berth.
We've been saying for years that the team needed to sell pieces off—not continue to add to its aging roster—a sentiment that ESPN's Buster Olney echoed in his latest Insider-only post (subscription required):
Whatever the thinking was behind the Phillies' decision to hold together their core group of expensive veterans -- while adding more older players to the mix -- it is playing out to be a debacle, on the field and in the eyes of the Phillies' faithful. What this really means is that there is clear opportunity for the Philadelphia front office, should it choose to take it: The Phillies have nothing to lose and everything to gain in the last 20 days before the trade deadline. They have hit rock bottom, and they have a chance to move forward from here.
There are teams looking for pitching right now, whether it's the Yankees or the Los Angeles Angels or the San Francisco Giants or the Los Angeles Dodgers, so the Phillies have potential suitors for Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon. There are teams in need of power, and Marlon Byrd's muscles could be a coveted resource in the marketplace. The Oakland Athletics would be a perfect fit for Chase Utley, as would the Giants. The St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates, all hit by injuries in the past week, will be looking for help. The market is defining itself.
Whether it's general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. or ownership that refuses to acknowledge what everyone else sees, buying at the trade deadline is only going to prolong the suffering of the team's fanbase—and dig the club a deeper hole that it needs to climb out of before it can be a legitimate contender once again.
Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay heads into the All-Star break playing some of its best baseball of the season, going 11-4 (.733) over its past 15 games and looking very much like the team we thought the Rays would be.
It's led to some folks thinking that the Rays may be a move or two away—say, the return of a healthy Wil Myers, for example—from making a serious run for a playoff spot. That's manifested itself on the rumor mill in the form of fewer trade rumors involving David Price, Ben Zobrist and the like.
Even owner Stuart Sternberg got caught up in the team's recent success, telling MLB.com's Bill Chastain earlier this month that the Rays might look to add, not subtract, from the roster:
People had a full expectation for the month of July that we were going to do some relatively dramatic things at the end of the month with some players, both for money purposes and what not, and none of that happened. We made some decisions then.
A lot will depend on how the team is playing, what's happening around us. What other teams are looking to do to improve or even something we can do to improve. We could go the other way in a couple of weeks and say, 'What are we missing?'
But to believe that the Rays should be adding at the deadline is to believe that nearly every other team in the American League is going to implode—all at the same time.
For all of the Rays' recent success, they still sit nine games out in the wild-card race, 10.5 games out in the AL East. They'd need to jump over four teams to take the division, at least nine to grab ahold of a wild-card spot.
The odds of Tampa Bay being able to play better than .733 baseball for the rest of the season are astronomical—and even if the team did, it's probably not going to be enough to get ahead of all those other teams.
*Unless otherwise noted, all standings and statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through games of July 11.