One Big Regret Each MLB Team Must Avoid at the 2019 Trade Deadline
The July 31 MLB trade deadline is nearly upon us. Every team must decide if it's a buyer or seller. And, concurrently, which assets it will jettison or acquire. A few deals have already gone down.
As we plunge into the summer swapping season, let's examine one regret each club must avoid.
This is based on our estimation of whether each franchise should buy or sell (an admittedly tough call in many cases), recent rumors and rumblings and a dash of informed speculation.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Not Trading Mychal Givens
The Orioles are buried in last place in the American League East and need to trade what few assets they have. Mychal Givens, who's averaging 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings out of the bullpen, should draw ample interest despite his 4.50 ERA. He's controllable through 2021, but the O's should resist any urge to keep him if they can get a decent prospect or two.
Boston Red Sox: Not Acquiring More Pitching
The Red Sox rank seventh in the AL with a 4.60 ERA. Yes, they acquired right-hander Andrew Cashner from the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday. Despite a thin farm system, the Red Sox should add a late-inning relief arm and possibly another starter if they want to hang with the archrival New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in the division.
New York Yankees: Not Adding an Ace
The Yankees pace the Junior Circuit with a plus-117 run differential and lead the AL East. Yet, their starting corps sports a middling 4.12 ERA, and Luis Severino (shoulder) hasn't pitched an inning in 2019. They need to add an ace, plain and simple. Options abound, from the Cleveland Indians' Trevor Bauer to the Toronto Blue Jays' Marcus Stroman to the San Francisco Giants' Madison Bumgarner. Pick one and make it happen, Yanks.
Tampa Bay Rays: Not Adding a Power Bat
The Rays are within striking distance of the Yankees for the division's top spot and lead the AL Wild Card standings. Their pitching staff leads baseball with a 3.31 ERA. But their offense ranks 14th with 453 runs scored and 17th with 126 home runs. A right-handed power bat would help shore up that deficiency (Edwin Encarnacion would have been an ideal target before the Yankees snatched him up).
Toronto Blue Jays: Not Trading Marcus Stroman
The Blue Jays could technically hang on to Marcus Stroman. He's controllable through 2020, meaning the rebuilding Jays could deal him this winter or even at the deadline next season. But why wait? Stroman is having an excellent season (3.25 ERA in 110.2 innings) and will interest an array of contenders. Now is the time for Toronto to sell high and restock its farm system.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Not Trading Jose Abreu
The White Sox are 15 games out in the AL Central. First baseman Jose Abreu is in a contract year and has 21 home runs and 66 RBI. He seems like an obvious rental bat who would bring back a decent return. Yet, the ChiSox are hoping to sign him to an extension, per Scot Gregor of the Northwest Herald. Gregor cites Abreu's role as a mentor to rising stars such as outfielder Eloy Jimenez and infielder Yoan Moncada. But why not trade him for prospects now and then simply re-sign him this winter?
Cleveland Indians: Not Trading Trevor Bauer
The Indians are in the AL Wild Card race at 52-40, but they need to boost a ho-hum offense, particularly in the outfield. Right-hander Trevor Bauer, who leads baseball with 138 innings pitched and has posted a 3.65 ERA with 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings, has featured in multiple trade rumors. He's 28 years old and under club control through 2020. The Tribe could keep him, but now is the time to leverage him for maximum value, including an MLB-ready outfielder such as the Yankees' Clint Frazier.
Detroit Tigers: Not Trading Matthew Boyd
Unlike the Indians, the Tigers have no hope of sniffing the postseason. Their one and only objective should be to stockpile young talent. Their most bankable piece is left-hander Matthew Boyd (3.47 FIP, 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings). He's 28 years old and controllable through 2022. The Tigers may be tempted to keep him, and they could. But he's in the midst of a career year and could bring back a true haul. This feels like a sell-high moment.
Kansas City Royals: Asking Too Much for Whit Merrifield
Whit Merrifield is hitting .307 with an .855 OPS and paces MLB with 122 hits. He's signed to an affordable contract through at least 2022 with a club option for 2023. The Royals could keep him, and general manager Dayton Moore told reporters they probably will barring a "crazy" return. Then again, Merrifield is 30 years old. This might be his sell-high apex. The Royals' ask should be big, but they should listen to the right high-end (rather than "crazy") proposal.
Minnesota Twins: Not Adding a Postseason-Tested Ace
The Twins are in the driver's seat in the AL Central with an offense that's second in runs scored (523) and a fourth-ranked ERA (3.92). That said, the Twinkies rotation is sorely lacking in postseason experience. In fact, only Jose Berrios and Martin Perez have ever been on the October stage and both sparingly. Minnesota needs a postseason-forged arm such as the Giants' Bumgarner to compete for an AL title and should surrender the prospects required to get one.
American League West
Houston Astros: Standing Pat
The Astros are tied for fifth in baseball in ERA (3.94) and are second in OPS (.817). They have a deep lineup, a strong bullpen and a pair of aces in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. They won a title in 2017 and are in position to compete for another. That said, you can always gild the lily. The 'Stros could dip into the relief market to make their bullpen even better or add another starting pitcher. Whatever they do, they shouldn't be complacent.
Los Angeles Angels: Trading Top Prospects
The Los Angeles Angels are over .500 but buried in fourth place in the AL West. They could conceivably enter the wild-card picture and get Mike Trout (currently sidelined by a "small strain" in his right calf) onto the postseason stage. Yet, they're stuck near the bottom of their own division. The odds aren't great. The Halos should avoid raiding a farm system they've worked hard to rebuild—outfielder Jo Adell should be untouchable—and instead look to the offseason to build a winner.
Oakland Athletics: Stopping at Homer Bailey
The Athletics are in the wild-card hunt, and they acquired right-hander Homer Bailey from the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. Bailey's 4.80 ERA doesn't leap off the stat sheet, but the 33-year-old has 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings and could buttress a rotation shaken by the loss of emerging ace Frankie Montas to an 80-game performance-enhancing drug suspension. Still, if the A's hope to be a factor in the AL postseason power rankings, they need to add more pitching and perhaps another bat.
Seattle Mariners: Not Trading Dee Gordon and Mike Leake
The Mariners sit in last place in the AL West and ought to jettison any and all trade chips. That includes veteran second baseman/outfielder Dee Gordon (.263/.293/.352) and right-hander Mike Leake (4.60 ERA in 115.1 innings). Both have their shortcomings. But Gordon is a versatile speedster, and Leake is a reliable innings eater. Frequently trade-happy general manager Jerry Dipoto needs to accept what return he can get for both.
Texas Rangers: Trading Top Prospects
The third-place Rangers are nipping at the heels of the A's and might think they have playoff aspirations. But they have the lowest positive run differential (plus-21) in the AL and are just as likely to drop from contention. They shouldn't initiate a fire sale, but they should avoid dealing any top prospects from a system Bleacher Report ranked No. 29 in a misguided attempt to make a deep run.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: Not Acquiring A Postseason-Tested Ace
Atlanta is on track to win a second straight National League East title. Despite adding left-hander Dallas Keuchel, the Braves rotation ranks 15th with a 4.39 ERA. The team could use another playoff-proven hurler as it heads toward October. The Giants' Bumgarner is one obvious target. Whomever they go after, the Braves need to dip into their deep MiLB trove in the interest of winning now.
Miami Marlins: Not Taking What They Can Get for Their Veteran Assets
The Marlins are predictably floating in last place in the NL East. They don't have any trade chips on the level of Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna, all of whom they've shipped away in recent years. But the Fish need to take what they can get for the likes of second baseman Starlin Castro, infielder Neil Walker and reliever Sergio Romo. None are having incredible campaigns, but they all might bring something back.
New York Mets: Asking Too Much for Zack Wheeler
Zack Wheeler was averaging a career-best 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings with a 3.66 FIP in 119 frames before he landed on the injured list with shoulder fatigue Monday. Obviously, the injury diminishes his trade value. But the 29-year-old impending free agent could return to health before July 31. If so, the fourth-place Mets should lower their ask and try to get something before he inevitably walks in free agency.
Philadelphia Phillies: Not Adding an Ace
Other than Aaron Nola (3.63 ERA), no regular Phillies starting pitcher has an ERA better than 4.16. Jake Arrieta has mostly been an expensive disaster. The Phils are in the playoff hunt, but they need another ace. Everyone from Bumgarner to Bauer to Stroman and beyond should be on their radar if they want to sniff October.
Washington Nationals: Not Significantly Boosting the Bullpen
The Nationals lead a highly competitive NL wild-card race. Yet, their bullpen ranks dead last in the Senior Circuit with a 5.93 ERA and has blown 18 saves, tied for second-most in baseball. The Nats and executive Mike Rizzo need to do whatever is necessary to land at least one, if not two, top-shelf relievers such as the Giants' Will Smith or the Blue Jays' Ken Giles.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Not Adding a Lefty Reliever
The Cubs could use left-handed help in their bullpen, especially after they traded lefty Mike Montgomery to the Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado on Monday. Acquiring the Giants' Smith would thin the Cubs' already suspect farm system, but he would augment righty closer Craig Kimbrel and increase Chicago's chances of staying atop the tightly contested NL Central.
Cincinnati Reds: Being Buyers
The Reds intend to be buyers, according to C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic. That's a mistake. Yes, their pitching staff ranks third in baseball with a 3.84 ERA. And, yes, they have a respectable plus-36 run differential and play in baseball's most wide-open division. Yet they're in last place in the NL Central, five games under .500. They'd have to leapfrog multiple teams to get a whiff of a wild-card berth. Better to keep their young pieces, sell off contract-year veterans such as outfielder Yasiel Puig and reload for next year and beyond.
Milwaukee Brewers: Not Adding a Postseason-Tested Ace
The Brewers starting rotation ranks 19th with a 4.73 ERA. Plainly, they need pitching if they want to catch the Cubs, let alone build on last season's National League Championship Series Game 7 finish. Bumgarner is an obvious target, but any of the aces on the market would do. Mostly, the Brew Crew can't afford to tinker with a midrotation addition or, worse yet, do nothing.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Being Buyers
Like the Reds, the Pirates are technically in the NL Central scuffle. It's the division where parity reigns. But also like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh has slim chances of passing the many clubs ahead of it, and mortgaging minor leaguers or controllable major leaguers would be foolish given its perennially tight budget. The Bucs don't have to hang out a "for sale" sign, but they should listen on players up to and including closer Felipe Vazquez.
St. Louis Cardinals: Sitting on Their Hands
The Cardinals are only two games behind the Cubs. They're also just two games over .500 with a modest plus-12 run differential. The Redbirds, in other words, are at a crossroads. The Cardinals brass is reportedly mulling whether to buy or sell at the deadline. You can make a case either way, but the worst thing St. Louis could do is sit on its hands. Either the Cards go all-in on contending, or they commit to selling within reason.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Trading Top Prospects
The Diamondbacks are just outside the NL wild-card race and have the league's fourth-best run differential at plus-50. Maybe they should buy and see what happens. If they do, however, they should avoid trading any top prospects from an ascendant farm system Bleacher Report ranked No. 12. The D-backs are surprisingly decent after trading franchise first baseman Paul Goldschmidt over the offseason, but they shouldn't mortgage their future for an outside shot in 2019.
Colorado Rockies: Not Significantly Boosting the Pitching Staff
The Rockies pitching staff ranks last in the NL with a 5.39 ERA. The bullpen (4.78 ERA) has been better than the rotation (5.80), but the Rockies need arms all over if they plan to compete. That might not be their plan. They're two games under .500 and own a minus-22 run differential. Then again, after two straight playoff appearances, there could be an appetite to try for a third. If so, the Rox must add pitching depth.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Standing Pat
The Dodgers lead the NL in ERA (3.38), OPS (.814) and run differential (plus-148). They are by almost any statistical measure the best team in the league if not all of MLB. Still, they haven't hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy since 1988 and have been on the losing end of the last two World Series. Another bullpen arm or a strong utility bat couldn't hurt. This is no time for the Dodgers to hoard their chips.
San Diego Padres: Not Trading for an Ace
The Padres are fringe players at best in the wild-card race, but they've got a strong young core and the chance to compete next season and beyond. Their starting rotation ranks 14th with a 4.35 ERA, however, and lacks an established ace. Obviously the Pads should avoid any rentals, but guys such as Stroman and Bauer who are controllable beyond 2019 would be worth acquiring, especially given San Diego's top-ranked farm system.
San Francisco Giants: Not Trading Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval is enjoying an unlikely renaissance with the Giants. His .840 OPS is his best since 2011, when he picked up down-ballot MVP votes. San Francisco is paying him just $555,000 and has a club option for the same amount in 2020, per Spotrac, but he ought to be considered a trade piece for the Giants. Nostalgia aside, the Kung Fu Panda might actually fetch a decent prospect or two. That's what San Francisco should be after as it looks to the future rather than the past.