Every MLB Team's Nightmare 2018 Trade-Deadline Scenario
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline just weeks away, every team in Major League Baseball has its priorities for the heart of the summer trade season.
What would it look like if none of them get what they want or need?
We're going to answer that by diving into each team's nightmare trade-deadline scenario. For contenders, this means missing out on specific players or failing to address major needs. For noncontenders, it means failing to cash in valuable trade chips. For teams in the middle, it involves inaction.
We'll go in alphabetical order by city.
Arizona Diamondbacks: They Whiff on Manny Machado
The Arizona Diamondbacks already hold first place in the National League West. But according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, they're among the "most motivated" clubs to swing a deal for Manny Machado.
Arizona's offense could indeed use another impact hitter alongside Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. And because the team's championship window could close in a hurry after 2018, it has an excuse to go all-in on a rental like Machado.
However, there's the question of how well the D-backs match up with the Baltimore Orioles. Because of how thin their farm system has become, they may not be able to make the best offer for the slugging shortstop.
If the D-backs fail to score Machado, their slim lead in the division over the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants will be on thin ice. And even if they make the playoffs, they could lack the offensive firepower to realize their World Series aspirations.
Atlanta Braves: They Fail to Upgrade Their Bullpen
The Atlanta Braves could prioritize any number of targets in the lead-up to the trade deadline, but the one area where they truly need reinforcements is in their bullpen.
Atlanta's relievers were solid in the beginning, but they've wilted as the weather has warmed up. They finished June with a 5.30 ERA. Only four teams did worse than that.
This wouldn't be the biggest threat to the Braves' NL East supremacy if their starters were capable of downplaying the role of the bullpen. But that's not the case. The Braves lack even one starter who averages six innings per outing.
All told, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is right to suspect that the Braves will seek "multiple relievers" ahead of the trade deadline. Anything less than that, and they may not be able to run away with their division.
Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado Doesn't Bring Back a Haul
To be sure, Machado probably will bring back a haul in a trade.
Judging from the rate at which his MLB Trade Rumors page is updated, the interest in him is there. In theory, the Orioles can leverage that into a bidding war that results in a dandy of a trade package.
And yet, one rival executive recently told ESPN's Buster Olney, "I'm not convinced [the Orioles] will actually trade him because I don't know how attractive the offers will be."
It sounds like a hot take, but it's plausible. Machado's value has been compromised by his poor defense and, more recently, by a prolonged offensive slump. Beyond that, his rental status gives his suitors some leverage. The urgency is on Baltimore to trade him before it loses him to free agency.
It's a fine line the Orioles are walking. If they waver, they'll miss a good first step into a rebuild.
Boston Red Sox: They Fail to Upgrade Their Bullpen
The Boston Red Sox have racked up an MLB-leading 59 wins for a simple reason: They're a good, well-balanced team with few glaring weaknesses.
But if there's one thing that threatens to undermine their trek to the World Series, it's their bullpen. Specifically, the bridge that connects to Craig Kimbrel.
None of its core setup men (i.e., Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree and Hector Velazquez) makes the grade as a shutdown reliever. Given that he hasn't pitched since 2016 because of an array of shoulder problems, Tyler Thornburg probably won't either.
This may not cost the Red Sox a shot at their third straight American League East title. But if they fail to have any urgency to upgrade their pen at the deadline, they may regret it when it comes time to match wits with the New York Yankees and/or Houston Astros in October.
Chicago Cubs: They Stand Pat While the Brewers and Cardinals Load Up
Inasmuch as any contender ever is, the Chicago Cubs might be safe standing pat at the trade deadline.
They may not be in first place in the NL Central, but their NL-best plus-104 run differential hints at how strong their roster is. And they know it.
"I think we still feel as though this team is really capable and has a chance to be really good, and we feel like the answers are internal," general manager Jed Hoyer said on the Mully and Hanley Show in regard to the deadline.
What could change the equation, however, is if the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals are emboldened by the Cubs' inaction and make all sorts of moves.
That would make it much more challenging for the Cubs to coast to a third straight division title. And by the time they realize they have to respond in kind, it could be too late.
Chicago White Sox: Nobody Takes James Shields off Their Hands
If the Chicago White Sox fail to find takers for Jose Abreu or Avisail Garcia, so be it. Both are controlled through 2019.
James Shields is a different story.
The veteran righty looked like dead weight coming into the final season of his four-year, $75 million contract, but he's looked good in posting a 3.42 ERA in 13 starts since May.
According to Bruce Levine of 670 The Score, contenders were interested in Shields as of early June. If that interest holds, the White Sox may be able to offload the remainder of his contract and possibly get some young talent back too.
This is far from guaranteed, however. Shields can't measure up against trade chips like Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Fulmer, J.A. Happ and Cole Hamels. If contenders are too distracted by them, the White Sox may be stuck with Shields for the rest of 2018.
Cincinnati Reds: They Fail to Cash in Matt Harvey
The Cincinnati Reds are similar to the White Sox in that they're a rebuilding team that's short on trade chips. Heck, they only have one pending free agent to think about offloading.
That pending free agent, though, happens to be Matt Harvey.
Harvey was a reclamation project when the Reds took him off the New York Mets' hands May 8. A couple of months later, he looks reclaimed. The right-hander has steadily been gaining fastball velocity, and he's parlayed that into a 2.31 ERA over his last four starts.
According to Jon Heyman of Fancred, the Washington Nationals are one contender that's interested in Harvey. There may be others who see him as a low-risk, high-reward play for the stretch run.
Unless, of course, the Reds get greedy and alienate interested parties by demanding too much. If that happens, their reclamation of Harvey may amount to nothing beyond a feel-good story.
Cleveland Indians: They Fail to Upgrade Their Bullpen
The Cleveland Indians don't need to worry about losing their AL Central lead. But if they want to get back to the World Series, they do need to worry about competing with the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros.
For this mission, any and all upgrades can only help. But at the least, they must address their bullpen.
Although Cleveland's relievers turned a corner with a 3.41 ERA in June, their ERA for the season stands at 5.04. Even if Cody Allen and Andrew Miller get on track in the long run, the Indians are going to need some impact arms around them.
For this, they must not be too picky. That is to say, they may have to deviate from their plan, per Olney, to add only a quality reliever they can control beyond 2018.
That's a situation in which their reach could exceed their grasp and leave a major problem unsolved.
Colorado Rockies: They Find Themselves Standing Pat
What to make of the Colorado Rockies' situation ahead of the trade deadline?
Good question. They're neither out of it nor, due to a 14-18 record since May 30, truly in it anymore. Their pitching staff is a mess, and their offense just isn't good enough to carry the load.
If things continue in this fashion, the Rockies have to sell. To that end, they could fetch good prices for pending free agents DJ LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino.
If Colorado suddenly gets hot, on the other hand, it should buy. To this end, it'll need as many arms as it can get its hands on.
What will be unacceptable either way is if the Rockies do nothing and just let the rest of the season play out. They must not resign themselves to being stuck in place when they should be doing something to move forward.
Detroit Tigers: They Fail to Cash in Nicholas Castellanos
The Detroit Tigers had a nice run for a while, but Miguel Cabrera's ruptured biceps tendon and their 11-game losing streak between June 19 and 30 put an end to it.
The Tigers don't have a ton of trade chips to cash in at the deadline, but the two that will be on many radars are right-hander Michael Fulmer and right fielder Nicholas Castellanos. And according to Jason Beck of MLB.com, GM Al Avila is open to dealing either of them.
The one who should go is Castellanos. Whereas Fulmer is controlled through 2022, Castellanos is due for free agency after 2019. He's also boosting his trade value with a career-best .309/.358/.525 batting line.
Of course, the Tigers could always trade Castellanos later. But since their rebuild still needs plenty of work, trading him while his value is at a peak is the best thing they can do.
Houston Astros: They Whiff on an Impact Reliever
Frankly, it's hard to find fault with a reigning World Series champion that boasts 57 wins and an MLB-best plus-173 run differential.
But to take it from the Houston Astros themselves, a top-notch reliever would be nice. This is according to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, who reported that the Astros looked into Kelvin Herrera before the Kansas City Royals sent him to Washington and are now focused on Reds closer Raisel Iglesias.
Although Houston's bullpen is doing fine with a 2.54 ERA, this report does shine light on the issues it's had at closer. Ken Giles was supposed to be the man for the job, but the death of his strikeout rate and some high-profile blowouts have taken care of that.
In fairness, Hector Rondon has been quite good since assuming the closer's role. But if the Astros want to compete with the Yankees and their monstrous bullpen come October, they should indeed add a tried-and-true relief ace who can strengthen their pen from the ninth inning down.
Kansas City Royals: They Fail to Cash in Mike Moustakas
Mike Moustakas isn't the only trade chip the Royals have to offer. But relative to Whit Merrifield and Danny Duffy, he's the right combination of readily available and valuable.
He'll become a free agent this winter if his $15 million mutual option for 2019 isn't picked up. He's hitting well with a .784 OPS and 16 home runs. Per the metrics, he's also playing strong defense at third base.
There would also appear to be a robust market for Moustakas' services. To name just a few contenders who could use a third baseman, there are the Braves, Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals.
But if the Herrera trade (which didn't include a single top prospect) is any indication, the Royals might not have the best judgment with trade packages. There's also the possibility they could overestimate Moustakas' value and whiff on a deal.
Suffice it to say, neither would help the team's future.
Los Angeles Angels: They Fail to Add Pitching
The Los Angeles Angels are already fading fast from the American League playoff picture, in part because their pitching depth is eroding on all fronts.
On the bright side, that makes it easy to discern what they'll need to shop for if they're able to stay in the race through July 31.
What kind of pitchers do the Angels need? All of the above. Both their rotation and their bullpen have been ravaged by injuries. And if Shohei Ohtani's wounded elbow limits him to hitting duty the rest of the way, neither will be getting a major solution from in-house.
Given their precarious position in the AL race, the Angels may best be served by targeting upside players in trades. What they must not do is stand pat and hope their problems fix themselves. They won't, and the end result will be yet another year of the Mike Trout era gone to waste.
Los Angeles Dodgers: They Get Overconfident and Stand Pat
The Los Angeles Dodgers were struggling once upon a time. But they've since ripped off 31 wins in 44 games to climb within a hair of the NL West lead.
They couldn't have done this without some real firepower, and they're gaining more as they welcome back various stars from the disabled list. Thus, Rosenthal has a point: The Dodgers don't have any obvious needs and can "be picky" with their deadline shopping.
And yet, they must not be lured into a false sense of confidence and stand pat.
The Dodgers probably have enough to make it to the World Series. But there's a good chance they'll be up against Boston, New York or Houston once they get there. Without any deadline upgrades to their offense or pitching staff, any of the three could overwhelm Los Angeles and extend its 30-year championship drought.
Machado? Fulmer? Iglesias? The Dodgers should be in on them and more.
Miami Marlins: They Fail to Cash in Any Relievers
J.T. Realmuto is the Miami Marlin with the most trade value. He's the best catcher in baseball right now, and he's under team control through 2020.
Trouble is, not many contenders have glaring needs at catcher. That's not good for the Marlins' leverage, so their best play may be to hold on to Realmuto.
What they should do no matter what is capitalize on the interest in their relievers.
Between Kyle Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley, the Marlins have some good ones to offer. According to Heyman and Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, interested parties include the Red Sox, Dodgers and Indians.
The Marlins need to be careful about demanding too much for those three, however. Although they, like Realmuto, have several years of club control remaining, the difference is that relievers have been known to suddenly burn out and lose their trade value. The Marlins would be wise to preempt that from happening.
Milwaukee Brewers: They Fail to Make Some Sort of Big Splash
Of all the leading contenders around MLB, no team may be hungrier for a big splash than the Brewers.
"We're a team that we believe can and will compete for a playoff spot," Milwaukee GM David Stearns told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "When you’re in that position, you have to be open to any opportunity to improve your ballclub."
Haudricourt goes on to note that while the Brewers are often mentioned as a destination for an ace, they could just as easily go for a hitter. In either event, they have the incentive and the farm system to aim high.
Anything less than a big splash on either front could come back to haunt Milwaukee. While the Cubs and Cardinals are behind it in the NL Central for now, at least one of those teams (hint: the Chicago one) has upside well beyond its performance to this point. The Brewers will need to get better in order to hang on.
Minnesota Twins: They Fail to at Least Cash in Eduardo Escobar
It's just not happening for the Minnesota Twins this year. Time to retool for 2019 and beyond.
They're in a good position to do so because of all the pending free agents they can shop. Among them are Eduardo Escobar, Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, Lance Lynn and Zach Duke, plus a few with 2019 options: Logan Morrison, Fernando Rodney and, if healthy, Ervin Santana.
At the least, the Twins must aggressively shop Escobar. He'd been a solid utility player for years, and now he's developing into All-Star material with an .867 OPS and 49 extra-base hits. He's an ideal Plan B for any team that fails to land Machado.
But from reading a Star Tribune round table on the topic, one gets a sense that the Twins could be hesitant to deal Escobar because of his status as a fan and clubhouse favorite. If so, they would miss an opportunity to get a haul for a player who's not destined to stick around. They can't afford to take that chance.
New York Mets: They Settle for Less in Trades of deGrom or Syndergaard
If anything has become clear during the New York Mets' 23-48 disaster since their hot start, it's that major changes are needed for the franchise to have a bright future.
Hence why trade rumors regarding deGrom and Syndergaard must be taken seriously. They're both supremely talented pitchers with several years of club control left. Just trading one of them could make a major difference for a Mets farm system that, frankly, needs a major difference.
New York has the right attitude about dealing the two star hurlers. According to Olney, it's indicated that it'll have to be "completely overwhelmed" to even talk about trades. That's one way to ensure a king's ransom that either player is totally worth.
The worst-case scenario is one in which the Mets blink and take a package that's merely good enough rather than exactly what they want. If they do that, they'll have effectively sold low on one or two of the most valuable trade chips in MLB.
New York Yankees: They Fail to Add an Impact Starter
The Yankees are a staggering 47-19 since their modest 9-9 start to the season. Any team that hot doesn't need much help.
Still, the Yankees haven't bothered to hide that they desire an impact starting pitcher. And they're right to do so. After Luis Severino and CC Sabathia, the other starters they've used have compiled just a 4.97 ERA.
Due to their financial might and deep farm system, any and all trade targets should be within the Yankees' sights. At one point or another, they have indeed been linked to the big ones on the rumor mill.
But given their luxury-tax standing and their newfound reliance on homegrown talent, a scenario does exist in which they back off from making a big splash in favor of a smaller splash. That could be something they regret when they have to match up against Boston's and Houston's deep rotations in October.
Oakland Athletics: They Stand Pat
The Oakland A's have a better record than the Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Angels, yet they're seven games out of a playoff spot.
If nothing changes, the A's won't have much choice but to listen on guys like Jed Lowrie and Blake Treinen. Even if they're still technically in it, they're an organization that has to prioritize its long-term health over long-shot playoff hopes in the short run.
In the event the A's get hot and close the gap, however, they'd be fools not to add talent and go for it.
After all, the only thing standing between them and the AL's second wild-card spot is a Seattle Mariners club that's riding a string of luck in one-run games that could vanish. If it does, the A's will have a legit shot at a come-from-behind success story.
Either way, the A's must not let the trade deadline simply come and go.
Philadelphia Phillies: They Whiff on Manny Machado
The Philadelphia Phillies might not be the most aggressive team in the Machado sweepstakes. But relative to every other team in there, they need him the most.
Machado has spent 2018 putting up a .937 OPS and 21 homers out of the shortstop position. That's where the Phillies have gotten just a .622 OPS, third-worst in MLB.
Before 2018, Machado was an impact hitter at third base. It so happens the Phillies could use an upgrade there too, as their third basemen have mustered a pedestrian .742 OPS.
In short, there's no better way for the Phillies to upgrade their mediocre offense (.711 OPS overall) than by swinging a deal for Machado. The only question is if they're comfortable with paying the price this early into their return to contention.
If not, said return may end in disappointment in October, if not before then.
Pittsburgh Pirates: They Fail to Cash in Corey Dickerson
The Pittsburgh Pirates are the kind of team that should be focused on dumping expiring contracts. However, all they have in that department are Jordy Mercer and Sean Rodriguez.
If the Pirates want to cash in a trade chip that actually has value, they must look to move Corey Dickerson.
Given that he's under team control through 2019, this isn't something the Pirates have to do. They could just as easily hold on to Dickerson and hope that he can repeat his .303/.338/.449 batting line next season.
Dickerson almost certainly isn't a part of the team's long-term plans, though. And as of now, he's part of an outfield logjam with three other players who are a part of those plans: Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and rookie Austin Meadows.
Now's an opportune time for the Pirates to sell high on Dickerson. They should take it.
San Diego Padres: They Fail to Cash in Tyson Ross
If the San Diego Padres get nothing else out of 2018, they must at least get something for Tyson Ross.
The Padres rolled the dice when they signed Ross to a minor league contract in December 2017. The former All-Star missed much of 2016 and 2017 with shoulder injuries, and he struggled with an 8.12 ERA in the 13 appearances for which he was healthy.
The dice roll has worked out about as well as the Padres could have imagined. Ross has been healthy enough to make 17 starts and good enough to post a solid 3.78 ERA. Factor in how he's making just $1.75 million, and he's a highly marketable rental.
But given that Ross is far from the best pitcher on the market, the Padres need to take care not to get too greedy. They must prioritize simply getting something for him, lest they aim too high and end up with nothing.
San Francisco Giants: They're Forced to Stand Pat
Slowly but surely, the San Francisco Giants have rebounded from a rough start and are now sneaking up on the NL West lead.
Their next move should be to go for the kill at the trade deadline. This won't be easy, though.
According to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Giants are brushing up against the $197 million luxury-tax threshold. Unless they decide they're fine with going over, that leaves them with little financial flexibility.
Then there's the club's farm system, which is not good. Per MLB.com, Single-A outfielder Heliot Ramos is the only top-100 prospect in the system.
The Giants are thus in a position from where they'll have to get creative to make substantial upgrades. If no such upgrades materialize, their NL West comeback may be doomed to fall short.
Seattle Mariners: They Fail to Add an Impact Starter
The best way the Mariners can avoid having their one-run luck turn around and come back to bite them is to upgrade their starting rotation.
As evidenced by its 3.96 ERA, it's not a bad rotation. But after ace lefty James Paxton, it's not a unit that inspires a ton of confidence. Mike Leake has always been just OK. Felix Hernandez is a shell of his former self. And Marco Gonzales and Wade LeBlanc have been a little too good.
To their credit, the Mariners seem to understand that they need to upgrade. According to Morosi, they're interested in a reunion with old friend J.A. Happ. Also according to Morosi, Cole Hamels is another possibility.
The danger here is that the Mariners get sticker shock and choose to trust that their current formula for winning games can last through the end of the season. That's a leap of faith they shouldn't take.
St. Louis Cardinals: They Fail to Address Their Lineup or Bullpen
Even the man in charge of the St. Louis Cardinals isn't sure what to make of the season they've had.
"[This team] hasn't been the easiest team to sort of think through, in terms of how to get better, or what to do, or what changes need to be made," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said recently on Dan McLaughlin's podcast Scoops with Danny Mac, via Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors.
From an overall perspective, however, the offense and bullpen have been the main culprits in the team's disappointing performance. Rather than choose one or the other, the Cardinals must seek improvements for both.
The bigger the splashes, the better. The Cardinals are another good fit for Machado, and they might be the best fit for Moustakas. For their bullpen, virtually any of the big targets would do.
That said, it wouldn't be the biggest surprise if the Cardinals stand pat and hope they can solve their issues in-house. If they do, the frustration is bound to continue while the NL Central slips away.
Tampa Bay Rays: They Fail to Cash in on Wilson Ramos
Although the Tampa Bay Rays are technically in contention, they signaled with their trade of Alex Colome and Denard Span that their focus is on the future.
Wilson Ramos has to be the next to go.
The Rays gambled when they signed Ramos to a two-year contract after he suffered a torn ACL in September 2016. It's now paying off, as the veteran catcher has regained his form with an .808 OPS and 12 home runs.
That's more than a reasonable return on the $8.5 million investment the Rays are making in Ramos this year. Likewise, that salary shouldn't preclude the Rays from getting a nice package of talent back for him.
However, Ramos will be overshadowed if the Marlins start aggressively shopping Realmuto. Even if that doesn't happen, there's still the problem of how few contenders truly need help at catcher. Between these two possibilities, it's not out of the question that the Rays will be forced to settle in a Ramos trade.
Texas Rangers: They Fail to Cash in Cole Hamels
This shouldn't become a problem. It seems like everybody wants Cole Hamels and that the Texas Rangers are already this close to trading him.
According to Morosi, the Rangers have laid enough "groundwork" on a Hamels trade that a deal is now "increasingly likely" to go down before the All-Star break.
It makes sense. The 34-year-old is in the final year of his contract, and the $23.5 million he's making isn't outrageous relative to his production. He has a 4.05 ERA over 102.1 innings in 17 starts.
And yet, there are ways that momentum toward a trade could break down. The wall Hamels has hit recently (5.04 ERA in five starts) could upend the Rangers' groundwork. And at his age, the injury bug is never far around the corner.
If such things prevent the Rangers from dealing Hamels, they'll wish they had moved their best trade chip sooner.
Toronto Blue Jays: They Fail to Find a Taker for Josh Donaldson
The Toronto Blue Jays should have an easy time finding a taker for J.A. Happ, but there's no such guarantee with Josh Donaldson.
Donaldson has endured a nightmare season in his final year before free agency, and there seems to be no end to it. The 2015 AL MVP has played in just 36 games due to injuries, and a setback in his return from a calf strain could make it tough for him to get back on the field before July 31.
The Blue Jays won't have much choice but to try to trade Donaldson anyway. If they're lucky, they might be able to find a buyer that's actually willing to give them something in exchange for him.
More likely, there will be either no interest in Donaldson or only interest from teams that see him as a low-cost reclamation project.
The Blue Jays could either give in or hold on to Donaldson and hope against hope that he becomes a waiver trade target in August. Neither outcome would be likely to work out in their favor.
Washington Nationals: They Fail to Make Additional Impact Moves
The Washington Nationals have already traded for Kelvin Herrera, who's a fine addition to a bullpen that needed an impact arm.
Now all the Nationals need is literally everything else.
The Nats were doing fine for a while, but a 9-21 stretch since May 30 has knocked them back to a distant third in an NL East race that was supposed to be theirs in a cakewalk. Between their struggling offense and injury-wrecked pitching staff, that this has happened is no accident.
If the Nationals were any other team, this would be the time to start thinking about selling. But they can't go that route. They're a win-now team that needs to make the most of Bryce Harper's final season before free agency.
The worst decision the Nationals can make would be to trust that they have enough pieces in-house to get them back on track in the stretch run. In reality, the trade market may be their only hope.