MLB Teams at Serious Risk of Blowing the Trade Deadline

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJuly 28, 2018

MLB Teams at Serious Risk of Blowing the Trade Deadline

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    The New York Mets received an oddly light return for Jeurys Familia from the Oakland Athletics.
    The New York Mets received an oddly light return for Jeurys Familia from the Oakland Athletics.Al Bello/Getty Images

    Maybe MLB organizations are getting smarter. Although a flurry of activity has already occurred before Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver trade deadline, few teams deserve the dreaded "loser" label.

    Of all the recently completed deals, only one (Jeurys Familia from the New York Mets to the Oakland Athletics) has warranted unflattering reviews. Even if Baltimore Orioles fans would have liked more for Manny Machado and/or Zach Britton, both packages were fair enough for pending free agents. 

    Think the New York Yankees gave up a tad much for J.A. Happ? Understandable, but they needed a reliable starter much more than they needed utility man Brandon Drury in 2018 and beyond. Will they lose any sleep about trading a depth piece with a .538 OPS? (No, they will not.)

    When done right, trading is not a zero-sum game. There doesn't have to be anyone to ridicule.

    That story may change by Tuesday afternoon. The Los Angeles Dodgers (Machado), Yankees (Britton, Happ), Boston Red Sox (Steve Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi) and Cleveland Indians (Brad Hand) have already made significant moves, amplifying the pressure on other contenders to keep pace.

    Those buyers must find a delicate balance between idleness and reckless maneuvering. The Mets must decide how to approach selling opportunities that could have higher ramifications, and a National League East squad must decide if it's a contender.

    These teams were selected not because of organizational distrust—OK, maybe the Mets—but because they have the most to lose and/or gain. Squads in need of starting pitchers have also already watched some top targets change hands, diminishing their odds of finding a suitable upgrade.  

New York Mets

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    The Mets must decide whether to trade Jacob deGrom this week.
    The Mets must decide whether to trade Jacob deGrom this week.Al Bello/Getty Images

    Having already made the summer's biggest misstep, the Mets are on the verge of being deadline losers.

    A little over a week before the non-waiver window closed, the floundering franchise sent Familia to Oakland. The team's return for a closer with a career 2.62 ERA? Will Toffey, a 23-year-old third baseman who notched a .741 OPS in Single-A this season, and an erratic 26-year-old reliever prospect in Bobby Wahl.

    Any excuses for a dull market evaporated when fellow pending free agents Britton and Seunghwan Oh (vesting option) drew higher prices. The Mets settled for lesser talent to dump Familia's remaining salary and receive international slot money.

    Based on that deal, described by ESPN.com's Keith Law as "an embarrassingly small return," who can trust the team—currently splitting the general manager duties between John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi—to handle an organization-altering blockbuster?

    There's validity to arguments for and against trading Jacob deGrom and/or Noah Syndergaard. The biggest concern is not standing pat or starting fresh but blundering a deal for either star.

    If the Mets trade deGrom, who would be a viable MVP candidate if submitting his 1.71 ERA for a playoff contender, they better make a huge splash. Owner Fred Wilpon can't dare take a lighter package to save a few more bucks.

    ESPN.com's Buster Olney suggested the team has not conducted the proper background work to make such a high-stakes deal. Given the added confusion of which acting general manager (if any) has the final say, any major trade this week would likely end in more catastrophe.

    The Mets fared better Friday by sending Asdrubal Cabrera to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Franklyn Kilome—now the organization's No. 5-ranked prospect on MLB.com. New York can salvage a solid deadline grade by netting an OK prospect for Jose Bautista and/or Devin Mesoraco.

Oakland Athletics

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    The red-hot Oakland Athletics already made one big move, but they missed out on three sensible starting-pitcher targets.
    The red-hot Oakland Athletics already made one big move, but they missed out on three sensible starting-pitcher targets.Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    The Athletics will leave the trade season relatively satisfied if they contain their shopping to Familia. They're in an awkward spot where they should still buy but not too much.

    A 15-6 July has propelled them into arms' reach of the Seattle Mariners for the American League's final wild-card spot. Yet in order to win what's essentially a two-team race, they still must address a lackluster rotation. 

    Unfortunately for them, three of the top rental options (Happ, Eovaldi and Cole Hamels) are already off the board. Oakland must dive deeper for an upcoming free agent (Cincinnati Reds right-hander Matt Harvey?) or spend more on someone under contract beyond 2018. 

    Two weeks ago, Chris McCosky of Detroit News reported Oakland's perfunctory interest in Mike Fiers, who has bounced back from two rough years to post a 3.49 ERA. Although not a trustworthy postseason starter, he could help the A's return there if the Detroit Tigers have a reasonable asking price.

    Given the state of the AL, the A's shouldn't dream much higher. Anything can happen in a postseason series, but they would be massive underdogs in a likely winner-take-all road game against the Yankees or Red Sox. If they survive, the AL East winner or the Houston Astros await.

    While it'd make a great ending for a Moneyball sequel, an A's championship is unrealistic even by Hollywood standards. FanGraphs assigns them a 0.7 percent probability of winning the World Series.

    Yet to reach the playoffs for the first time since a crushing 12-inning Wild Card Game loss four years ago, they need a quieter but more efficient deadline than in 2014, when they traded Addison Russell, Dan Straily and Billy McKinney for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in addition to swapping Yoenis Cespedes for pending free agent Jon Lester.

    Oakland is again in need of starting pitchers, and its options are quickly dwindling.

Washington Nationals

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    Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is torn between buying and selling before Tuesday's deadline.
    Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is torn between buying and selling before Tuesday's deadline.Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    No team faces a murkier deadline path than the Washington Nationals. Months before Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez enter free agency, they're fighting to break the right side of .500 with a six-game deficit behind the NL East-leading Philadelphia Phillies.

    Stuck in no man's land at the worst possible moment, days remain before they must make another earnest push or create a future contingency plan as their contention window slams shut.

    According to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, the Nationals have already commenced discussions for relievers Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson and Shawn Kelley. He described their actions as "getting a sense of the market" before making a firmer decision after the weekend.

    Before Washington won the first two of its four-game set against the Miami Marlins, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal said the team will lean toward selling if it doesn't take at least three games in the series. Ownership would reportedly prefer to sell in hopes of ducking its payroll under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold.

    There's no easy answer to which road the Nationals should travel. Yet if they unload the bullpen, they can't stop there.

    Upon essentially waving the white flag on 2018, they must hastily entertain offers for Murphy, Gonzalez and even Harper. While there's danger in trading a superstar free agent they almost certainly want to retain, losing Harper for a compensation pick after missing the postseason is the worst of all worlds.

    This may sound contradictory, but they shouldn't go all-in on a comeback either. Don't seek anyone—particularly Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto—who would cost top prospect Victor Robles or Carter Kieboom. (That's also assuming they would not trade Juan Soto in their darkest dreams.) They'll need those guys regardless of how 2018 ends.

    With so much immediate uncertainty and future ramifications, general manager Mike Rizzo is trapped in a nearly impossible-to-win dilemma.  

Milwaukee Brewers

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    The Milwaukee Brewers, who kicked off their deadline activity by acquiring Joakim Soria, have much more work left to do.
    The Milwaukee Brewers, who kicked off their deadline activity by acquiring Joakim Soria, have much more work left to do.Jon Durr/Getty Images

    Last year, despite trailing the Chicago Cubs by two-and-a-half games in the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers made no major moves. Doing a lot does not always yield a net positive, so it was understandable for a young, overachieving team to stay the course as the defending champions caught fire behind early midseason acquisition Jose Quintana.

    This year is different. They have since welcomed Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to the fold and enjoyed a boisterous breakout from Jesus Aguilar. They already added Joakim Soria to a bullpen perfectly assembled to wreak havoc in October.

    They now lag one-and-a-half games behind the Cubs, but they lead a wild-card scrum of eight teams separated by five games. One triumphant week could propel them to the Senior Circuit's best record. Another seven-game losing streak, like the one they began before the All-Star break, could evict them from the playoff picture.

    Now is the time to pay off a lengthy rebuild by exchanging some of their talent surplus for immediate upgrades—not necessarily their top two prospects, Keston Hiura or Corbin Burnes, but the type of above-average pieces who could land them Brian Dozier from the Minnesota Twins.

    If deGrom or Syndergaard is available, then yes, trade Hiura and/or Burnes for a bona fide ace who can anchor a playoff rotation, including an NL Wild Card Game start if needed.

    Their inclusion here doesn't mean they are planning on an inactive deadline. MLB Network's Jon Morosi has already linked them with Dozier, Gibson and another Mets starter in Zack Wheeler. According to Rosenthal, they have also had "serious discussions" with the Orioles, who could match their needs by moving Jonathan Schoop and/or Kevin Gausman.

    Any of them would make a commendable addition. With Eovaldi, Happ and Hamels gone, they'll need to pay more for a starter under contract beyond 2018. 

    No manager will complain about having too many good relievers in his arsenal, so bolstering a strength with Soria was a solid start. Yet second base and a depleted rotation remain glaring holes to fill before August.  

    UPDATE [Saturday, July 28 at 10:40 a.m. ET]

    The Brewers acquired Mike Moustakas from the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Brett Phillips and pitcher Jorge Lopez. While the move improves Milwaukee's offense—especially if the slumping third baseman can regain his April magic in a much better hitting home environment—it also sacrifices defense.

    Per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Haudricourt, manager Craig Counsell said the team will slide Travis Shaw from third base to second, a position he has never played in seven professional seasons. It's a considerable risk to make for a pending free agent batting .225 since the start of May.

    It's an especially odd choice if they could have landed Dozier for a similar price.

    The Brewers must now turn their undivided attention to the rotation. And no, they can't just move Ryan Braun or Eric Thames there.

Houston Astros

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    The Houston Astros have no glaring weaknesses, but they're deep enough to make one more insurance upgrade if the opportunity arises.
    The Houston Astros have no glaring weaknesses, but they're deep enough to make one more insurance upgrade if the opportunity arises.Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    The Houston Astros won't truly blow the deadline unless they trade Kyle Tucker for a rental or randomly decide this Jose Altuve guy isn't working out.

    At full strength, their offense is a force. No team can match their dominant rotation from top to bottom. Their bullpen? Only third-best in terms of ERA (3.16). Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow can nap through Tuesday afternoon, and Houston would still be a modest favorite to repeat.

    But hey, no team is perfect. Although he still has the makings of a future star, Tucker doesn't look ready (.154/.233/.231) to contribute as the starting left fielder this fall. After the Astros missed out on Britton for the second summer, the bullpen could at least use a left-handed specialist. (They acquired right-handed reliever Ryan Pressly from the Twins on Friday night, as first reported by Rosenthal.)

    Those are at most minor concerns, but MLB's three-best teams (four if Cleveland goes on another late-season tear) reside in the AL. Houston's pennant competitors have all secured pitching reinforcements, and the Astros only lead Seattle by five games in the AL West despite besting it by a whopping 184 runs in scoring differential.

    They don't necessarily need to follow the plan of The Ringer's Zach Kram's plan to acquire to Harper. Yet even though they landed Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole within the last calendar year, Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter credited them with MLB's 13th-best farm system. They have the talent to place a cherry on top of their title contender. 

    If there's an opportunity to improve that doesn't involve trading Tucker or pitching phenom Forrest Whitley, the Astros should take it. 

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