Buy, Sell or Stand Pat for Every Team at MLB Trade Deadline
Each MLB team must study the standings and evaluate its roster before reaching an important decision.
As July 31's non-waiver trade deadline approaches, contenders will prepare for the playoffs while less fortunate squads scheme for future power. Even sitting out is a choice—and not always the wrong one.
Not all buyers and sellers have the same intentions. Some playoff hopefuls will seek one or two minor upgrades. Others may see a perfect opportunity to strike and sell the farm for major win-now acquisitions.
Note that all designations indicate each team's likeliest path rather than the one it should take. For those who have already finalized trades, the ruling only accounts for future dealings. So someone who has made a move may stand pat in the upcoming weeks.
With the deadline almost upon us, let's label every team's trade status.
Almost all other teams of the Arizona Diamondbacks' caliber are resounding buyers. Yet one of 2017's most pleasant surprises has few needs and fewer top prospects to engineer a blockbuster.
Already enjoying top-10 occupancy in both runs scored and allowed, the 53-39 Diamondbacks boast a well-rounded lineup that will make the National League Wild Card Game without any assistance. They could, at most, use another outfielder with Yasmany Tomas sidelined.
This could all change if injuries rear their ugly head. Let's hope that doesn't happen, as the Diamondbacks don't tout a single prospect on Baseball America's midseason top-100 list.
In spite of Fernando Rodney, Arizona wields a potent bullpen, led by Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin. Yet it's an area where the title contender could modestly improve with its limited trade assets. According to Sirius XM's Craig Mish, Arizona is "showing significant interest" in Miami Marlins reliever David Phelps.
That's the extent of the Diamondbacks' buying prowess, so they're mid-level spenders at best. Don't be shocked if they maintain the status quo and play their first postseason game since 2011 without making any upgrades.
The Atlanta Braves wouldn't have acquired so many veterans if they were interested in a full-fledged teardown. Nevertheless, they have a chance to deal a few experienced players on expiring contracts who don't factor into their future plans.
General manager John Coppolella hasn't observed traditional seller practices, trading for Matt Kemp last summer before adding R.A. Dickey, Brandon Phillips and Jaime Garcia in the offseason. He has assembled a respectable roster in chasing the .500 mark without sacrificing one of baseball's most promising farm systems, which boasts seven prospects in ESPN Insider Keith Law's midseason top-50 list.
Don't be surprised if Atlanta goes against the grain and targets younger, controllable major leaguers, such as Sonny Gray, who could help expedite its return to contention beyond 2017. Coppolella could leverage an armada of pitching prospects while keeping rising outfield star Ronald Acuna.
He could simultaneously attain some extra young talent by flipping Phillips and Garcia, who will both enter free agency this winter. The Braves could immediately replace Phillips with Ozzie Albies, a 20-year-old hitting .289 with 21 steals and a sharp glove in Triple-A. While most of their top pitching prospects need more seasoning, they could use the final months to give Matt Wisler or Aaron Blair a second chance after underwhelming 2016 results in the majors.
Although Jim Johnson has another full year on his deal, non-contenders typically view 34-year-old relievers as trade chips. Every contender can use another bullpen piece during the stretch run, especially if it overlooks his 4.02 ERA and instead admires his 2.35 fielding independent pitching (FIP).
Verdict: Sell (while also looking for long-term buys)
No American League team can write off a postseason possibility, but the Baltimore Orioles shouldn't anticipate a second-half surge behind baseball's worst pitching staff. Seth Smith is their most appealing pending free agent, so they're not in position to buy or sell.
According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Orioles "have yet to decide" their deadline stance. Although Rosenthal called Orioles owner Peter Angelos "philosophically opposed to selling," the hot stove has caught fire with Zach Britton rumors.
Per FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman, the Los Angeles Dodgers called about the star closer's availability. They have a deep farm to test Baltimore's resolve, and the club would have to consider moving the 29-year-old if he could yield a return on par with what Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller fetched last summer.
Then again, injuries have limited Britton to 14 innings pitched this season, so Baltimore should give him the chance to raise his value before exploring a deal this offseason or next summer. Aside from moving Smith for a low-level prospect, look for the Orioles to sit out the summer trade season.
Verdict: Stand pat
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox don't need to make a major splash. They already sent shock waves through baseball by acquiring Chris Sale last winter.
But they need a new third baseman.
Even though they still must pay Pablo Sandoval around $49 million for his contract through 2019, the Red Sox designated him for assignment Friday. His abysmal 58 weighted runs created plus (WRC+)—a metric where anything below 100 indicates below-average offensive production—is largely responsible for the team's AL-worst collective wRC+ at the hot corner.
An offense light on power still must fend off the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East before worrying about October. They're also better served seeking a temporary solution, as Rafael Devers—who should be off limits this summer—can take over at third next year.
Todd Frazier is a perfect fit. Boston may agree, as USA Today's Bob Nightengale said the team is "moving closer" to acquiring the Chicago White Sox slugger. As long as they're not moving Devers or top pitching prospect Jason Groome, the Red Sox would also benefit from adding closer David Robertson.
Team president Dave Dombrowski shouldn't engage the Yankees or any other contenders in an arms race, but he will likely make one or two meaningful mid-scale purchases.
The Chicago Cubs already bought, sending four minor leaguers to the White Sox for Jose Quintana. After parting with Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, they no longer possess any of Baseball America's 100 best prospects.
Nevertheless, they're reportedly still shopping. The day after the Cubs snagged Quintana, Fox Sports' Jon Morosi said they're interested in Gray, another starting pitcher years away from hitting the open market. Given their depleted farm, the defending champions would probably have to cough up someone from their major league roster.
As Kyle Hendricks inches closer to a return, also adding Gray would be an excessive luxury they likely can't afford. He would likely cost Javier Baez, Ian Happ or Kyle Schwarber, and trading a potential offensive cornerstone would especially sting after shipping Jimenez across town.
Still 4.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central, the Cubs also must beware adding the type of short-term upgrades in their diminished price range. They already made their major deadline move. Don't expect them to strike again.
Verdict: Stand pat
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox, on the other hand, will keep dealing.
General manager Rick Hahn has assembled a stacked farm system by turning top contributors into Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning, Jimenez and Cease. Not one of his remaining trade candidates will yield a blue-chip prospect, but he still has some intriguing players to deal.
Frazier's bat would offer an instant power boost down the stretch. Unless the Orioles seriously entertain offers for Britton, Robertson is the highest-pedigree closer available. Sporting a 2.47 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 43.2 innings, Anthony Swarzak would arguably be a better acquisition.
Melky Cabrera, Mike Pelfrey and Derek Holland are all expiring contracts worth peddling. If Hahn is feeling bold, he could even sell high on Avisail Garcia, who earned an All-Star bid after years of subpar results. Then again, it's perfectly reasonable for a 26-year-old with raw power to piece it all together.
The White Sox clearly aren't deluding themselves into thinking they're involved in the AL's wide-open playoff picture. After already opening the floodgates by dealing Sale and Adam Eaton last winter, they began another exodus by trading Quintana with the first of many July deals for the retooling club.
With the Cincinnati Reds out of the playoff hunt, the answer to this question boils down to Zack Cozart's contract negotiations.
After beating Corey Seager in the All-Star fan vote, earning a donkey in the process, the shortstop will turn a breakout season into a massive raise. While he has expressed interest in staying with the Reds, the 31-year-old acknowledged the likelihood of getting shopped around this summer, per FanRag Sports' Heyman.
"I know I'm going to be out there, being where I am in my career, and where the Reds are," Cozart said.
Outside of Cozart, the Reds don't possess any movable veterans. Heyman said they will entertain offers for 27-year-old closer Raisel Iglesias, but his trade should require a grand offer they can't refuse.
If the Reds ink Cozart to an extension by July 31—or if they're close enough in discussions to keep him on board before the deadline—they will stand pat. Since they more likely won't reach an agreement in time, they will move the shortstop, who is tied with Seager for second in wRC+ at the position, for a sizable return.
The Cleveland Indians won't make a deal as grand in scope as selling the farm for Miller. They shouldn't need to.
Although a narrow AL Central lead begs for extra reinforcements, Cleveland should vanquish its divisional foes without any outside help. Its plus-63 run differential laps the field in a grouping where no other squad carries a scoring margin above minus-25.
Danny Salazar can return to bump Josh Tomlin from the rotation or bolster the bullpen, leaving the pitching staff with no holes to fill. Two fresh injuries, however, may send Cleveland general manager Michael Chernoff on a quest for another bat.
With Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall on the disabled list—manager Terry Francona said both will miss "a few weeks," per MLB.com's Jordan Bastian—the bottom of the batting order looks light. Yet it's too early to panic. Tyler Naquin, who hit .296/.372/.514 with 2.5 WAR during last year's unheralded rookie campaign, offers a fine in-house outfield replacement.
As long as Kipnis is back for the playoffs, Cleveland remains in good shape.
The AL champions could add an insurance hitter and perhaps an extra pitcher depending on Salazar's health, but the Indians are tame buyers on a budget after moving so much young talent for Miller.
The Colorado Rockies' once insurmountable wild-card lead is fading. A 6-15 stretch has dwindled their edge to 5.5 games over the Cubs, who could force the Milwaukee Brewers into the play-in picture with a second-half rally.
Colorado can't take its first playoff appearance since 2009 for granted. Even if the underdog advances, it doesn't look like a formidable threat with its plus-33 run differential and regressing pitching staff.
Leveraging depth into an ace is the glitzy but risky move. Coors Field can turn an expensive starter into another struggling hurler unable to significantly move the needle. Yet a spiraling Adam Ottavino should compel Colorado to seek bullpen upgrades for a unit that entered Saturday with a 4.43 ERA.
The Rockies will have plenty of offensive depth, with Ian Desmond back and David Dahl working toward his season debut. If they have no patience remaining for Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez, they could move Desmond back to shortstop and flank Charlie Blackmon with Dahl and Raimel Tapia in the outfield.
Or they could acquire Cozart, a far superior defender than Story and Desmond whose bat won't decline when moved to Coors. Fox Sports' Morosi recently linked the Rockies to Detroit Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez, who'd be an unstoppable force in Colorado.
Although the Rockies shouldn't put all their chips on the table for a 2017 title run, they need an extra push toward the finish line.
A 6.5-game wild-card deficit is deceiving for the Detroit Tigers, who are also tied for the AL's second-worst record (41-49) with the Oakland Athletics. It's unclear how much they will successfully sell, but they will try to shed salary this summer.
According to Bleacher Report's Scott Miller, the Tigers "must cut payroll" as Christopher Ilitch, son of late owner Mike Ilitch, is less open to spending.
With Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, Victor Martinez and Jordan Zimmermann owed over $122 million combined next season, new management seems less likely to also write J.D. Martinez a mammoth check. The outfielder with the same wRC+ (145) as Anthony Rizzo and Josh Donaldson since 2014 should command a monumental return on the trade block.
Verlander will prove tougher to move. The 34-year-old will make $28 million in each of the next two years, and his 4.66 ERA and 1.50 WHIP don't come close to justifying that salary.
But the Tigers aren't desperate to unload his contract. Sources told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand they aren't shopping him but "could be talked into moving him." The persuasion seemingly requires more than "We'll take him, and you won't have to cover the contract."
Alex Avila and Justin Wilson are also alluring sell-high candidates, so Detroit should augment a barren farm system before July 31.
The Houston Astros could already waltz to the AL West title and the Junior Circuit's premier record, but another high-quality starting pitcher makes them a juggernaut.
It's also not imperative to their title chances. Charlie Morton mounted 10 strikeouts in his second start off the disabled list, and Brad Peacock has a 3.12 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 45.1 innings as a starter. Despite his home run woes, Mike Fiers has notched a 3.75 ERA.
Perhaps Houston would consider standing pat if it didn't also boast baseball's best offense and a stacked farm system. Led by outfielder Kyle Tucker, five of its prospects reside among Baseball America's top 60. Not listed among them, outfielders Teoscar Hernandez, Ramon Laureano, Daz Cameron and Gilberto Celestino all have "50" grades—on an 80 scale—on MLB.com.
The Astros bottomed out for this precise moment. They're loaded with young talent in the majors and minors. Like the Cubs last year, they need to parlay their surplus into an impact arm.
With Quintana gone, Gray stands out as the perfect candidate. Per the Houston Chronicle's Jake Kaplan, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow sees Athletics executive vice president Billy Beane as a willing trade partner despite their divisional ties.
"I think it's because Billy Beane and I have the same philosophy, which is we want to make win-win trades," Luhnow told the Chronicle in June. "And if there's a trade that helps your club and helps the other club, even if it's a division rival, it's not worth putting it aside just because it's a division rival."
They could also add to the strength with another reliever, but obtaining a significant starter alongside Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel must be their top priority.
Kansas City Royals
Despite climbing back in the playoff hunt, the Kansas City Royals should disband their core before watching them walk in free agency. Since that's a difficult decision to make, they almost certainly won't.
Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas both grew up in the team's farm system. Lorenzo Cain joined the mix in 2011, and the trio led the Royals to a 2015 championship. Royals general manager Dayton Moore will understandably feel loyalty to this group and try to at least keep one or two around beyond 2017.
Yet the Royals don't have the money to maintain most of their stars. They also don't have the prospects to shift into buy mode, a suspect plan for a 45-45 team with a minus-27 run differential.
They're more likely to make clearance purchases than break up a longstanding nucleus during a playoff chase, even if it's the prudent choice. Consider this a soft buy for an organization that will regret not selling.
Los Angeles Angels
While the Los Angeles Angels have lost nine of their past 13 games, a returning Mike Trout may fuel their playoff aspirations. As of Sunday, FanGraphs gave them a 12.6 percent probability of making the postseason.
The Astros are dominating the AL West, so the Angels will have to at best settle for a wild-card spot, and they must surpass four teams to play in the winner-take-all bout. Their pitching needs a complete overhaul in order to contend, but Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked their farm system as MLB's second-worst after that of the Royals.
Although Heyman reported the Angels' interest in Dee Gordon, they don't have the assets to buy in a summer with the slimmest of title hopes. If their slump persists through July, they should see the writing on the wall and move Cameron Maybin, Bud Norris and Yusmeiro Petit for young talent.
They don't sound like a franchise in the selling mindset. Close enough to stubbornly fight for a wild-card ticket, they will stand pat after failing to buy.
Verdict: Stand pat
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are hotter than Drogon's flames, winning 29 of their past 33 games to soar 10.5 ahead of the Diamondbacks in the NL West. On the verge of another postseason visit, they can keep distancing themselves from the NL's other contenders with one or two strategic moves.
Like the Astros, their main adversary for the distinction of World Series favorite, a young nucleus is fueling their dominance while another batch of premier prospects waits its turn. If Alex Verdugo, Willie Calhoun and Walker Buehler aren't used as trade chips, they could rise to the big league ranks this summer.
How can Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi improve a loaded roster? According to Heyman, adding a left-handed reliever is on his wish list. Besides Britton, they're also interested in Justin Wilson and Brad Hand.
Landing Martinez or an ace is not as necessary. Fourth among Dodgers position players in WAR, Chris Taylor deserves to keep playing. If they move him to second in place of an underwhelming Logan Forsythe, Verdugo could get a crack at left field. Or a returning Adrian Gonzalez could push Cody Bellinger back to the outfield.
As for the rotation, Alex Wood has a 1.67 ERA and Rich Hill has rebounded to relinquish six runs over his past five starts. They're thus unlikely to outbid the Astros for a front-line starter, which is why complementing Kenley Jansen with another stud reliever is an appealing avenue for Zaidi.
Onlookers who expect a fire sale may be disappointed to see the Miami Marlins instead move a couple of spare parts.
Because of their past, rumors are running rampant that the Marlins will clean house. Yet a source told the Miami Herald's Clark Spencer that Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto, Justin Bour and Dan Straily are off limits.
The focus should shift to more feasible targets, David Phelps and A.J. Ramos. Heyman, who also reported the names above as unlikely to move, said the two relievers "are both drawing serious interest."
Both will go into arbitration this winter, but the rebuilding Marlins would be wise to dangle them during a summer with a high demand and low supply of game-changing relievers on the market.
Giancarlo Stanton represents a massive wild card. The burly outfielder is owed $77 million from 2018 to 2020, when he can opt out of a megadeal that then pays him an additional $208 million through 2027. Yet that reportedly hasn't scared away suitors, as Rosenthal said multiple teams are interested in the slugger.
Rosenthal then described a scenario in which the Philadelphia Phillies would acquire Stanton, Yelich and possibly another bad contract and cover all costs, a deal reminiscent of the Dodgers' receiving Adrian Gonzalez at the price of taking on Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett's bloated salaries. Such a deal is unlikely, and the Marlins will likely wait until Jeffrey Loria sells the team before executing that type of blockbuster.
They'll sell Phelps and/or Ramos before the deadline, but Stanton and other stars will stay put until the offseason.
The Cubs are hot on the Milwaukee Brewers' trail, so staying put will place their NL Central lead in peril.
Drastically exceeding expectations, they're unlikely to make a short-sighted splash. The smart money is instead on their chasing the kind of pitchers (starter and relief) who won't cost Lewis Brinson, Josh Hader or Corey Ray. Unless, of course, they can seize a team-controlled ace like Gray.
Heyman suggested Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson could make them a dark horse to acquire Gray, whom he coached at Vanderbilt. While the Oakland righty would stick around beyond 2017, his signing would require at least one of Milwaukee's aforementioned top prospects. Probably two, based on Quintana's seismic return.
Despite their success, the Brewers rank No. 16 in FIP, and their rotation hinges on improbable breakouts from Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson. A couple of veteran rentals could bolster their credibility as a playoff threat, but they'd still represent a feeble challenger to the Dodgers.
The Brewers won't gently step aside and let the Cubs reclaim the NL Central crown, but expect one or two half-measure buys rather than any marquee transactions.
Yet another AL team too close to sell but not good enough to buy, the Minnesota Twins can't expect their 46-45 record to hold up with a minus-65 run differential.
Having allowed MLB's third-most runs, they need more than one starter to build a legitimate postseason contender. They'd also require another impact bat, and a cheap acquisition or two won't solve these weaknesses.
They could go the opposite direction and trade Ervin Santana before his 2.99 ERA catches up to his 4.77 FIP. Unless someone pays an All-Star price, moving a solid starter under contract next year with a potentially reasonable $14 million club option for 2019 would be bold for an otherwise young squad short on pitching.
Minnesota doesn't have much in terms of expiring contracts besides closer Brandon Kintzler, whose 5.36 strikeouts per nine innings interferes with a rise in stock caused by a 2.23 ERA and 25 saves. Losing out on a mid-level prospect is a justifiable sacrifice for playing out a postseason chase.
Not expected to contend after going 59-103 last year, the Twins are playing with house money. They can let the season ride and regroup in the winter.
Verdict: Stand pat
New York Mets
Clobbering the Rockies could have inspired the New York Mets into envisioning a second-half miracle before surrendering 13 runs Sunday. After promptly falling back to earth, they shouldn't let a brief offensive outburst blind them into sidestepping a major retooling opportunity.
Because injuries derailed their pitching staff, general manager Sandy Alderson could dangle Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce and Addison Reed, all veterans on expiring contracts. Even if they don't lose another game until July 31, the Mets must at least move Granderson or Bruce to ensure regular playing time for All-Star Michael Conforto.
Dominic Smith is tearing up Triple-A and bolstering his case for a 2018 job in Queens, so the Mets are unlikely to keep Duda around. They don't need to leave the Big Apple to find a team in need of a power-hitting first baseman.
Amed Rosario deserved a promotion weeks ago, and Cabrera's glove is no longer fit for shortstop anyway. Reed has a 2.15 ERA with 153 strikeouts to 23 walks since the Mets acquired him two summers ago.
Perhaps the Mets would stand pat, or even buy, with a healthy Noah Syndergaard and semi-effective Matt Harvey, but a battered rotation and bullpen have recorded the NL's second-worst ERA. Any sign of life before July 31 is too late for a franchise handed an easy reset for 2018.
Any major leaguers beside Conforto, Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Yoenis Cespedes should be available for the right price.
New York Yankees
Here is the good news for the New York Yankees: Matt Holliday and Starlin Castro returned from the disabled list after the All-Star break. With the lineup nearly back to full strength—Aaron Hicks is still out, but Clint Frazier is occupying his spot—they only need a first baseman unless the recently acquired Garrett Cooper pans out.
Now the bad news: Michael Pineda has a torn UCL in his pitching elbow. He is receiving a second opinion after Tommy John surgery was recommended. Also, a bullpen originally deemed their strength has blown four saves in July. A nightmarish stretch expanded Tyler Clippard's ERA to 4.95, and Dellin Betances has issued 17 walks in 11 innings since June 1.
These aren't crushing problems. They can acquire Duda or Yonder Alonso without breaking the bank. If they don't want to trade for a starter to replace Pineda, it's time to call up Chance Adams. And if Betances finds the strike zone, they only require a low-tier reliever.
The Bronx Bombers can address these deficiencies without relinquishing last year's mega prospect haul. Frazier and Gleyber Torres give star power to a deep farm system that was replenished with pitching in this year's draft. They don't need Gray to stay competitive in a tight AL East race.
Besides the White Sox, who jumped to a head start, the Oakland Athletics represent the AL's only other clear seller. Their fellow cellar-dwellers did Oakland a favor by moving Quintana for a massive exchange, intensifying the market for Gray while inflating the price.
Gray rumors have spread like wildfire since the Quintana blockbuster. There's heavy interest for a 27-year-old with a 3.46 career ERA, and Beane has never hesitated to trade someone a year or two earlier than necessary.
He made his first move of the summer by exchanging relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle to the Washington Nationals, as the team announced Sunday.
Even if Gray stays, the Athletics aren't done helping title contenders. Let's not forget about Alonso, whose 146 wRC+ ranks fourth among first basemen behind Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt and Bellinger.
Despite his minus-0.2 WAR, Rajai Davis could entice contenders as a speedster off the bench who homered off Chapman to preserve Game 7 of last year's World Series. The overlooked Jed Lowrie should net a strong return because of a minuscule $6 million club option for 2018.
Gray will surely go if someone extends Oakland an offer similar to the White Sox's bounty for Quintana. There's no reason for them to hold Alonso's expiring contract, so Beane should oversee a busy summer. A's fans will hope to receive at least one chance to use the Moneyball GIF of Jonah Hill slowly pumping his fist after getting the go-ahead to make a deal for Ricardo Rincon.
As baseball's worst team, the 30-60 Phillies seem like an open-and-shut sellers case. Yet Rosenthal's Stanton tidbit suggests the organization is thinking outside the box.
Their fellow NL East laggard, the Braves, are trying to have their cake and eat it too by rebuilding with a semi-competitive squad. Since their only five players earning more than $5 million this year will enter free agency this offseason, they will have plenty of money to spend.
For now, however, general manager Matthew Klentak's main concern remains moving those expiring contracts. Clay Buchholz, Jeremy Hellickson and Joaquin Benoit have pulverized their stock, but the latter two veteran pitchers could yield a low-level prospect.
Howie Kendrick and Pat Neshek, on the other hand, have fortified their utility. Yet they need Kendrick, who was hitting .349/.403/.476 before suffering a hamstring injury in late June, to return from the disabled list before July 31. His high-contact bat and versatility would nicely round out any contender's roster.
Acquired for scraps from Houston last winter, Neshek is dazzling suitors with a 1.21 ERA, 40 strikeouts and five walks in 37.1 innings. Philadelphia will flip him for a greater return and end 2017 with a nearly blank slate.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are stuck in limbo. Tearing it all down may prove their best escape plot.
After appearing in three straight NL Wild Card Games, the Buccos are in danger of finishing below .500 for the second consecutive season. In addition to the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, they also must contest the rising Brewers to avoid another spell of mediocrity.
Unless they're confident in a 2018 revival, it is time to bid farewell to Andrew McCutchen. The franchise cornerstone has salvaged his sinking trade value by batting .396 (53-for-134) with nine home runs from June 1 onward.
Now sporting a .294/.380/.520 slash line and 2.6 WAR, the 30-year-old would summon a significant package. Since he's under contract through 2018, fringe contenders like the Angels, Texas Rangers, Mariners and Cardinals may make a move with next season in mind.
Gerrit Cole, however, has damaged his sky-high worth with a disappointing 4.35 ERA. Yet as a 26-year-old starter with ace upside and two more years of arbitration, he'd still command the "treasure chest worth of prospects" B/R's Miller said the Pirates want.
A McCutchen deal is more likely than Cole's departure, but the safer bet is for third baseman David Freese and relievers Tony Watson and Juan Nicasio to skip town.
San Diego Padres
Let's go out on a limb and say the San Diego Padres won't erase a 23-game deficit to catch the Dodgers. Last in scoring and run differential, they're fortunate to be 40-51.
The Padres are clear sellers with few clear sellable assets. Although Brad Hand still must adhere to the arbitration process—an arcane forum that stupidly values relievers based on saves the setup man receives scarce opportunities to earn—his name has sparked fervent trade chatter all season.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune's Dennis Lin, roughly half the league has expressed interest in the 27-year-old southpaw, who has registered a 2.25 ERA and 61 strikeouts over 48 frames. Rivals reportedly see a Hand trade as a "foregone conclusion," but Padres general manager A.J. Preller denied intentions to move his best reliever under any circumstance.
"We're never going to look to move players just to move players for the purpose of being active," Preller told Lin. "It's got to make sense for us short-term and long-term."
This doesn't mean San Diego will stand pat entirely. Holding a 3.14 ERA and 56.8 ground-ball rate in 10 starts, Cahill could be the deadline's best low-cost pitching acquisition. Clayton Richard and Jhoulys Chacin—whose steep home-road splits could cause some concern—may also play out the final days of their contracts on other teams' rotations.
San Francisco Giants
Nightmare season notwithstanding, the San Francisco Giants won't start from scratch. With a healthy Madison Bumgarner and better returns from their veterans, they could jump back into the fold next year. Or at least that's their hope since several long-term deals are clogging their payroll.
They're consequently in an awkward spot this summer. They're not about to shop Bumgarner and Buster Posey, and nobody will want Matt Cain. An untimely injury knocked their top trade candidate, Johnny Cueto, out of commission.
Just as Bumgarner returned, the Giants placed Cueto on the disabled list with blisters on his pitching hand. He has until July 31 to recover in order for San Francisco to move the 31-year-old ace, who can opt out of his six-year contract this winter.
The Giants' deadline status hinges on Cueto's health. If he doesn't start before the non-waiver trade deadline, perhaps they can instead make a move through waivers, as many smaller-market clubs can't risk paying him through 2021 if he doesn't end his contract.
Otherwise, Eduardo Nunez, who returned from the shelf after the All-Star break, is their top trade candidate. So the Giants may have a quiet deadline.
Verdict: Stand pat
Jerry Dipoto may not know the meaning of "stand pat."
Like a roommate who insists on rearranging the furniture every month for the sake of change, the Seattle Mariners general manager sustained his hyperactive approach last winter. As demonstrated by FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan in January, he had made at least 12 more trades than any other team since October 1, 2015.
He'll keep going if he wants his 46-47 club to make a postseason push. The Mariners need rotation help with Drew Smyly out for the year before making his team debut.
Their farm system will force Dipoto to focus on back-end starters such as Garcia, Cahill and Scott Feldman. With unfavorable odds of making the AL Wild Card Game, he shouldn't spend too much on a rental.
Instead of making a move per minute, Dipoto will instead likely make one or two modest transactions before reassessing the team's standing in the offseason.
St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals certainly don't mind aiming high. Sirus XM's Mish reported their interest in Stanton. In June, Rosenthal made the case for them to pursue Ozuna. Earlier in July, Morosi said they're eyeing former MVP Josh Donaldson.
Good luck with that.
One would think any of those studs would require a superstar prospect, but St. Louis' top young talent, Alex Reyes, is recovering from Tommy John surgery. While their farm system is deep, any of those guys should cost the moon unless Miami is merely looking to shed Stanton's contract.
The rumors indicate their interest in buying, but more for 2018 than 2017. At 44-47, they face an uphill climb to catch the Brewers and Cubs that won't get easier without Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty. They must rely on rookies Paul DeJong and Luke Voit to fuel a below-average offense by continuing to practice Cardinals Devil Magic.
Selling Lance Lynn before his 3.40 ERA expands closer to his 5.01 FIP would clear a rotation spot for Luke Weaver, but St. Louis is too close to sell. Without any realistic targets, the Cardinals will stay the course.
Verdict: Stand pat
Tampa Bay Rays
Remember when Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi drew constant trade speculation? The Tampa Bay Rays have banked the AL's third-most wins (49) behind the Astros and Red Sox, leading the Yankees by half a game for the first wild-card slot.
Tampa Bay has already made one cost-effective buy; Adeiny Hechavarria has hit .229 (11-for-48) since moving across the state from Miami. According to ESPN.com's Buster Olney, they're seeking bullpen reinforcements, particularly a southpaw.
A returning Brad Boxberger, who has yet to allow a hit in 5.1 innings, could redirect their search to a lefty like Watson or Jerry Blevins. Perhaps they can get back in touch with the Marlins regarding Phelps or Ramos. Although Olney mentioned Hand, the Rays are rarely caught exchanging significant prospects for major league upgrades.
With Brad Miller and Wilson Ramos healthy and Kevin Kiermaier nearing a return, no blockbuster is necessary to preserve their AL Wild Card Game seat. They're minimalist buyers, but buyers nonetheless.
Yet another AL West club at a crossroads, the Texas Rangers may overlook their 45-46 record to see a talented roster with a plus-31 run differential.
Barring a brutal run before July 31, they're more likely to fill out the pitching staff behind Yu Darvish than trade the ace, whose contract expires after 2017. According to Morosi, Texas told teams it doesn't plan on selling before taking two of three games from the Royals.
This also presumably means Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Mike Napoli and Andrew Cashner are staying put. Any purchases should focus on back-end starters and a bullpen that needs a stable presence behind youngsters Jose Leclerc and Keone Kela and the erratic Matt Bush.
If Rangers general manager Jon Daniels isn't comfortable sitting deadline talks out, he could make a splash for next year like he did when acquiring Cole Hamels in 2015. Since their bullpen ranks 25th in ERA and the farm is no longer loaded enough to spring for another team-controlled starter, Hand would be an ideal fit.
No other AL team outside the five playoff leaders holds a positive scoring margin, so the Rangers have the strongest justification of the fringe contenders to buy in the face of improbable odds.
Toronto Blue Jays
By selling, the Toronto Blue Jays would place their 2018 chances in jeopardy. Marco Estrada, who has torpedoed his trade value by allowing 34 runs in his last 32.1 innings, represents their only veteran on an expiring contract who will elicit much, if any, interest.
Talks instead circle around Donaldson and J.A. Happ, who each have another full year on the books. Although the 42-49 Blue Jays are fading in the AL standings, that doesn't mean they want to damage next year's plans. Per Rosenthal, it's "highly unlikely" they move Happ because of their intention to compete in 2018.
If they feel that way about a sturdy 34-year-old starting pitcher, it's even more improbable they move a former MVP unless a mouth-watering offer surfaces.
There's no law mandating a baseball team make trades during the season. As long as they stay healthy, Happ and Donaldson will also draw considerable offseason interest. Besides, FanGraphs still gave them an oddly high 30.8 percent chance of making the postseason before Sunday's extra-innings loss to the Tigers.
Verdict: Stand pat
The Washington Nationals took a major step toward winning a playoff series by snagging Madson and Doolittle from the Athletics. Both veteran relievers will work high-leverage situations for a bullpen that held an MLB-worst 5.34 ERA at the time of Sunday's deal.
Acquiring two trustworthy bullpen arms marked a monumental step for a unit needing more than a new closer. However, Washington also relinquished Opening Day closer Blake Treinen. Madson isn't a shutdown hurler, and Doolittle hasn't navigated a full season without any injuries since 2014.
As ESPN.com's Eddie Matz wrote after the trade, "The Nats may not be done dealing."
They have no competition for the NL East crown, and they didn't sacrifice any blue-chip prospects for Doolittle and Madson. After losing Trea Turner and Joe Ross, the bullpen isn't necessarily their only area for improvement either.
Don't assume Washington is closed for business after its recent haul.