MLB Teams Best Positioned to Land a Superstar Before the Trade Deadline
As we chug past Independence Day and toward MLB's July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the trade-rumor game will kick into high gear.
Not every rumor will involve a superstar. Role players and journeymen will swap uniforms, too. But some deals will inevitably center on some of the best players in the game—guys with decorated resumes and enough talent to shift the balance of power wherever they land.
Let's take a look at a half-dozen teams that are best positioned to land a superstar based on their assets, need and perceived buyer status.
St. Louis Cardinals
Current record: 45-41, third place in NL Central
Farm system rank (per Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter): 15
The St. Louis Cardinals are locked into a tough battle with the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central. They could stand to boost an offense that ranks 19th in baseball in runs scored and OPS.
Third baseman Matt Carpenter has had an up-and-down season, which explains the persistent speculation linking St. Louis to Baltimore Orioles infielder Manny Machado. According to CBS Sports' Jim Bowden, the Cardinals would stick Machado at third base and shift Carpenter to first if they acquire him.
The Cardinals system is flush with young pitching that Baltimore may covet, including right-handers Ryan Helsley and Dakota Hudson, both of whom are close to MLB-ready.
Alternately, the Cards could target Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas or Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, although the latter is in the midst of an injury-marred season.
Current record: 58-31, first place in AL West
Farm system rank: 13
The defending world champion Houston Astros have the third-best record in baseball, but they're fending off a divisional challenge from the Seattle Mariners and are looking to keep pace with the powerful New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for Junior Circuit supremacy.
They also have a strong farm system fronted by outfielder Kyle Tucker, right-hander Forrest Whitley and powerful Cuban Yordan Alvarez that could allow them to engineer a blockbuster if they choose.
The only issue for Houston is need. The Astros are one of the game's more complete teams, as they tout a balanced lineup, a deep starting rotation and an effective bullpen.
Then again, they could always gild the lily and add a late-inning relief arm such as San Diego Padres left-hander Brad Hand (though he isn't a superstar) or another ace such as Cole Hamels to their stable of star pitchers, as they did last season when they acquired Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers.
Current record: 47-37, second place in NL East
Farm system rank: 11
The Philadelphia Phillies have blossomed ahead of schedule and have a realistic shot at making the postseason in the topsy-turvy NL East.
They also have a cache of MiLB chips from which to deal and ample payroll flexibility.
The Phils shouldn't decimate their farm system or add any albatross contracts. But rumors linking them to Machado are more than idle talk. And as Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia pointed out, there's the possibility Machado could agree to a lucrative extension this summer.
"I'm not here to talk about contracts or anything like that during the season," Machado said, per Salisbury. "I'm going out there to play baseball and let my agent handle the rest."
That's a cagey non-answer, but it isn't a hard "no," either.
In related news, MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported Philadelphia may be looking to deal third baseman Maikel Franco. Might he, along with a young arm such as right-hander Adonis Medina, be enough to pry Machado away from Baltimore?
New York Yankees
Current record: 56-28, second place in AL East
Farm system rank: 10
The Yankees can hit; that much is indisputable. Can their starting rotation pitch well enough to hang with the archrival Red Sox in the AL East? That's less certain.
Jordan Montgomery is lost for the season to Tommy John surgery. Masahiro Tanaka is working his way back from two strained hamstrings. Sonny Gray sports an ugly 5.44 ERA.
The Yankees have more than enough young talent to swing a trade for an ace, even if they make infielder Gleyber Torres untouchable. A package build around outfielder Clint Frazier ought to be enough to snag Hamels.
Conversely, New York could hang back and hope the San Francisco Giants fall out of contention and consider trading postseason legend Madison Bumgarner, although that's probably a pinstripe pipe dream.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Current record: 47-39, second place in NL West
Farm system rank: 7
After a prolonged swoon dropped them into third place in the NL West, the defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers are back within striking distance of the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks and positioned to win a sixth straight division title.
They also lost star shortstop Corey Seager for the season to Tommy John surgery and are thus among the clubs that could make a play for Machado.
The Dodgers have the pieces to make a deal happen, though it could cost them outfielder Alex Verdugo along with a projectable arm such as right-hander Dennis Santana.
Cashing in prospects for a deadline rental generally hasn't been executive Andrew Friedman's style since he took the helm in SoCal. He was burned to some extent by last season's July acquisition of righty Yu Darvish, who battled injuries with L.A. and fizzled in the Fall Classic.
With that said, the Dodgers are trying to bust a 30-year world championship drought. If they opt to go all-in, they have the ability to do so.
Current record: 49-37, first place in NL East
Farm system rank: 1
Like the Phillies, the Atlanta Braves have arrived more quickly than all but the most optimistic prognosticators expected. They have a real shot to win the NL East or at least grab a wild-card berth.
Like many of the teams featured here, they could use a power bat on the left side of the infield. Third baseman Johan Camargo has been hitting better as of late, but the 24-year-old remains an unproven commodity.
Machado is the top name, with Moustakas also in the mix and the Colorado Rockies' Nolan Arenado looming as a possible dark horse if the Rocks fall further from contention.
The Braves should resist any urge to deal budding stars Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. But if they choose to swing a major deal, they can dip into a farm system Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter deemed to be the best in the game.
Young right-hander Ian Anderson and some ancillary pieces might be enough to land Machado and cement the Braves' status as bona fide contenders, while still leaving Atlanta with plenty of burgeoning talent.
All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of Baseball Reference.