Predicting If Every MLB Team Will Be Buyers or Sellers at 2020 Trade Deadline

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 10, 2020

Predicting If Every MLB Team Will Be Buyers or Sellers at 2020 Trade Deadline

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    Will the Colorado Rockies have the hottest item on the market?
    Will the Colorado Rockies have the hottest item on the market?Associated Press

    In a normal season, the July 31 trade deadline would be upon Major League Baseball right now.

    Things are obviously different in 2020. The delayed start to MLB's season required the trade deadline to be pushed back until August 31. Further, the limited number of games on either side of that date figures to complicate teams' decisions on whether to buy or sell.

    Nonetheless, there will indeed be buyers and sellers on and around the deadline. After using FanGraphs' 60-game record projections to gauge each team's likely trajectory for the shortened season, we took a whack at predicting which side teams will fall on and what they'll need or have to offer.

    We'll go in alphabetical order by city.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Buyers

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 31-29

    After winning 85 games in 2019, the Arizona Diamondbacks positioned themselves for better days in 2020 by adding Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun over the winter.

    Despite Mike Leake's decision to opt out, the D-backs are still equipped to contend. Even if they don't push the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League West title, they'll likely be in the mix for a wild card.

    Assuming the Snakes are buying come deadline day, their first priority will likely be finding a replacement for Leake in their starting rotation. They might also seek another arm for a bullpen that's potentially weak underneath closer Archie Bradley.

    If the Diamondbacks go hunting for a blockbuster deal or two, their eighth-ranked farm system has much that would interest sellers.

Atlanta Club: Buyers

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 33-27

    To put it lightly, the Atlanta club's return to action hasn't gone very smoothly.

    Star first baseman Freddie Freeman was one of four players to test positive for the coronavirus at the outset of summer camp. Subsequently, veteran outfielder Nick Markakis (see here) and right-hander Felix Hernandez (here) opted out of playing this season.

    But even in spite of these dark tidings, Atlanta's roster still looks strong enough to net the organization a third straight NL East title. And if the club needs a boost at the deadline, its third-ranked farm system could open just about any door.

    Specifically, Brian Snitker's squad might find itself looking for pitching depth and a left-handed-hitting outfielder to fill the void left by Markakis.

Baltimore Orioles: Sellers

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 21-39

    After losing 223 games across the 2018 and 2019 seasons, even the 60-game schedule likely won't help the Baltimore Orioles take a step back toward relevance in 2020.

    Ideally, the best thing the Orioles will get out of this season is additional talent for a farm system that's getting better but still isn't quite elite. To wit, we have it ranked as the No. 11 system in the majors.

    At the least, Baltimore figures to shop right-handed reliever Mychal Givens. He's a good eighth-inning option when he's at his best, and his club control runs through 2021.

    The Orioles could also seek takers for defensive wiz shortstop Jose Iglesias, whose contract is only guaranteed through the end of this season.

Boston Red Sox: Sellers

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 31-29

    From one perspective, the Boston Red Sox are still a contender.

    After all, they're only two years removed from winning the World Series. Core pieces from that team still remain, including sluggers J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers.

    Yet the Red Sox effectively signed up for a transition year in 2020 when they traded MVP Mookie Betts and Cy Young Award winner David Price in February. Subsequently, a deep playoff run became an even longer shot when ace left-hander Chris Sale had Tommy John surgery.

    So even if they avoid total catastrophe, the Red Sox may lean into their transition by selling some key parts. That could include Martinez and impending free agents Jackie Bradley Jr., Brandon Workman, Kevin Pillar and Collin McHugh.

Chicago Cubs: Buyers

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 32-28

    Following a disappointing 84-win season in 2019, the Chicago Cubs didn't inspire much hope on the North Side amid a quiet winter.

    But even if they're not the favorite, the Cubs are one of four teams that should be in the mix for the NL Central title this year. Their offense, in particular, will carry them if Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras play to their best capabilities.

    If the Cubs are in contention for the division crown by August 31, they might look to cement their position by shoring up their bullpen or their leadoff spot, perhaps with a second baseman or center fielder for the latter.

    The catch, though, is that their 26th-ranked farm system could limit their options.

Chicago White Sox: Buyers

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    Ron Vesely/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 30-30

    The good news? After adding Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, Dallas Keuchel and others over the winter, the Chicago White Sox look like a contender after losing 89 games in 2019.

    The bad news? Even following their big winter splash, they might only be the third-best team in the American League Central after the Minnesota Twins and the Cleveland club.

    Yet the White Sox could still be more likely to buy than to sell or stand pat at the deadline. Their farm system is far from empty, and their 12-year postseason drought could give them a sense of urgency even if they're only looking at a wild-card berth.

    If the White Sox do buy, their focus might be on the back end of their bullpen. What's there now is solid, but there's room for a proven late-inning arm.

Cincinnati Reds: Buyers

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 31-29

    Though they didn't go quite as big as the White Sox, the Cincinnati Reds had a heck of a winter in their own right.

    Notably, they focused their efforts on boosting last year's subpar offense by spending $149 million on Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama. Throw in Wade Miley for their already-stacked rotation, and they clearly have a roster fit to contend.

    However, the Reds might need more pieces to rise above the fray in the NL Central. Their lineup could use an upgrade over Freddy Galvis at shortstop, while their rotation will need help if injuries expose its shallow depth after Miley, Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani.

    If the Reds fancy a blockbuster, there might be enough in their 19th-ranked farm system to make one happen.

Cleveland Club: Buyers

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    Handout/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 31-29

    During the winter and even into spring training, there was a big question hanging over the Cleveland club: Would it trade star shortstop Francisco Lindor?

    Though nothing happened, such a trade still feels inevitable. Sans a contract extension that seems out of Cleveland's reach, the organization may feel compelled to cash in Lindor's value before he reaches free agency after 2021.

    At least on paper, however, Terry Francona's squad is still a contender in the AL Central. If it stays that way, it'll obviously be hard for the club to justify trading its best player.

    If Cleveland ultimately chooses to load up for a deep playoff run, depth for its Corey Kluber-less rotation and bullpen will likely be at the top of its shopping list.

Colorado Rockies: Sellers

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 29-31

    The Colorado Rockies lost 91 games in 2019 and did little to improve over the winter. More recently, veteran utility man Ian Desmond opted out of playing this season.

    The Rockies can only contend if a whole bunch of things go right. Namely, they'd need Kyle Freeland to revert to his 2018 form and Daniel Murphy to turn his clock back to 2016 or 2017.

    If Colorado flops again, star third baseman Nolan Arenado will return to the center of the rumor mill. However, his $260 million contract—which includes a no-trade clause and an opt-out after 2021—would remain a significant hurdle in the way of a deal.

    If the Rockies can't move Arenado, they might garner interest in right-hander Jon Gray as an ace-caliber talent with club control through 2021.

Detroit Tigers: Sellers

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 24-36

    Similar to the Orioles, the Detroit Tigers can only hope to salvage their farm system this season.

    They're coming off a 2019 campaign that had few silver linings as they racked up 114 losses. And while their farm system moved up to No. 6 in MLB after they drafted slugging third baseman Spencer Torkelson first overall in June, they won't really be on the right track until said system is the best in the league.

    So, sell the Tigers must.

    To this end, they'll be able to shop hitters C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Cameron Maybin and starter Ivan Nova as helpful rentals. Left-hander Matthew Boyd, who's controlled through 2022, could also attract interest.

Houston Astros: Buyers

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 35-25

    Because of their cheating scandal, the Houston Astros don't have many friends around baseball right now.

    But as far as they're concerned, what matters is extending their streak of AL West titles to four in a row and, even more so, getting to their third World Series in the last four years. 

    Though the Astros are projected to have the American League's best record this season, such a task won't be so easy if their rotation suffers from the losses of Wade Miley and Gerrit Cole to free agency. It's also possible they'll be in the market for a catching upgrade.

    In any case, the Astros might not mind sacrificing what's left of their No. 18 farm system to get what they need.

Kansas City Royals: Sellers

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 26-34

    The Royals weren't as bad as the Tigers in 2019, but they lost 103 games and had few silver linings in their own right.

    On the plus side, the Royals also boast a top-10 farm system after drafting left-hander Asa Lacy with the No. 4 pick in last month's draft. With the right trades, they can add yet even more talent to their system this summer.

    At the least, the Royals figure to shop veteran right-hander Ian Kennedy while he's in the final year of his contract. He used to be a below-average starter, but he turned into an effective closer in 2019.

    If the Royals want to try for bigger prospect hauls, they might make star utility man Whit Merrifield or even slugger Jorge Soler available.

Los Angeles Angels: Buyers

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 30-30

    The Los Angeles Angels might not be good enough to win the AL West this year, but they're too good to be counted out entirely.

    Sure, they lost 90 games last year. But that was before they signed Anthony Rendon to serve as Mike Trout's primary partner in crime. Throw in healthy versions of Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton and two rotation boosters in Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy, and you at least get a wild-card contender.

    If the Angels are buying at the deadline, they'll likely prioritize additional arms for their good-not-great pitching staff. After whiffing on a trade for Joc Pederson, they also still need an impact left-handed bat.

    The Angels may have to get creative, however, as there isn't much in their farm system beyond presumably untouchable outfielder Jo Adell.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Buyers

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 36-24

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have a lot riding on 2020, and their path to the World Series isn't as straight now as it looked in the spring.

    Despite his reservations, Mookie Betts hasn't yet opted out of playing this year. But David Price, who came with Betts to Los Angeles from Boston, did exercise that right. Meanwhile, the Dodgers also have an alarming number of players who are missing in action from summer camp.

    Despite all this, the Boys in Blue still project as the best team in the National League. And if they want to upgrade at the deadline, they have deep pockets and a top-10 farm system at their disposal.

    Specifically, they could be on the lookout for a starter to take Price's spot and a bullpen arm or two.

Miami Marlins: Sellers

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 26-34

    To their credit, the Miami Marlins have gradually been arranging a bright future for themselves.

    They already have some exciting young talent in their rotation, and there's more where that came from in their fifth-ranked farm system. It's also too soon to assume that young hitters like Lewis Brinson, Jorge Alfaro and Isan Diaz don't have stardom in them.

    In the meantime, however, the Marlins are coming off a 105-loss season and their farm system still needs, well, more.

    Trades are a likely means to that end. And while the Marlins don't have many (if any) stars to offer, useful veterans such as Jonathan Villar, Yimi Garcia and Jesus Aguilar could attract some buyers at the deadline.

Milwaukee Brewers: Buyers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 31-29

    The Milwaukee Brewers have been to back-to-back postseasons, and their roster includes arguably the best player in the National League.

    If there are issues with said roster, it's that Christian Yelich is no longer surrounded by Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas and that there's uncertainty abound in the club's pitching staff. Such things might sink the Brewers.

    But given the no-clear-favorites nature of the NL Central, it's at least as likely that the Brewers will hang around and be in a position to buy at the deadline. If so, they may find themselves in the market for extra bats or arms.

    They're another team that may have to get creative, however. They can't spare much from their major league roster, and their farm system is one of baseball's worst.

Minnesota Twins: Buyers

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    Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 32-28

    They didn't come out of nowhere, per se, but the Minnesota Twins definitely came from off the radar to blast a record 307 home runs and win 101 games last season.

    During the ensuing winter, the Twins stated their intent to double down on their 2019 breakthrough. Their biggest addition to the lineup was 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson, though they also scored in adding Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey to their mound staff.

    A few months later, the Twins aren't facing any obvious impediments to regaining control of the AL Central. If any do arise, they'll surely look for fixes on the trade market.

    In all likelihood, that would involve seeking high-impact arms for either their rotation or their bullpen.

New York Mets: Buyers

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 32-28

    Shortly after the pandemic forced MLB to suspend operations in March, the New York Mets got another dose of bad news when fireballing right-hander Noah Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery.

    Because of that, it's hard to view the Mets as a favorite to win the NL East. They might only be the third-best team in the division after Atlanta and the Washington Nationals.

    But with Marcus Stroman and others slated for free agency, the Mets will have a sense of urgency about making the playoffs this year. And even if the NL East lead eludes them, they should have enough firepower to pursue a wild-card berth.

    If the Mets do shop for upgrades, their top priority might be relievers who could help a bullpen that finished with a 4.99 ERA in 2019.

New York Yankees: Buyers

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 34-26

    The 2010s was the first decade since the 1910s in which the New York Yankees didn't play in the World Series.

    That explains why they didn't blink in signing strikeout-happy ace Gerrit Cole to a $324 million contract. Between his arrival and other stars getting healthy, the Yankees indeed look like a World Series contender.

    If they need help at the deadline, it'll probably involve seeking a sturdy replacement for Luis Severino, who was lost for the year with Tommy John surgery in February. Like they did with Edwin Encarnacion last year, it also wouldn't be surprising if they added an additional slugger just for the heck of it.

    Whatever the case, dangling spare major leaguers like Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar could make anything possible for the Yankees.

Oakland Athletics: Buyers

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 32-28

    The Oakland Athletics typically aren't big risk-takers even in 162-game seasons. In a mere 60-game season, they figure to be even more risk-averse at the deadline.

    Still, the A's almost certainly won't be selling.

    They've won 97 games in consecutive seasons, after all, and what they have isn't necessarily built to last forever. Case in point: Star shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendriks headline a list of A's who are due for free agency this winter.

    Especially if they sniff an opening to win the AL West, expect the A's to at least toy with bringing in veterans who could shore up their rotation, bullpen and lineup.

Philadelphia Phillies: Buyers

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 30-30

    Though the Philadelphia Phillies have been as aggressive as anyone over the last two offseasons, their standing in the NL East isn't clad in iron.

    Yet if the last two seasons are any indication, the Phillies should be no worse than a .500 team in 2020. If certain things go right—namely Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler playing like their best selves—they could even challenge for the division crown.

    Which is to say the Phillies are more likely buyers than sellers. And if they are in a position to buy, they'll probably go after rotation and bullpen depth.

    The question will be how far they'll go if they need a big splash, as such a thing could require them to surrender Alec Bohm or fellow top prospect Spencer Howard.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Sellers

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 27-33

    The Pittsburgh Pirates could actually surpass expectations this year.

    Offensively, Josh Bell and Bryan Reynolds might build on breakout 2019 seasons. Pitching-wise, the loss of Chris Archer (thoracic outlet syndrome) for the season shouldn't detract from the abundance of talent that exists among Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams and Mitch Keller.

    But while there's enough in Pittsburgh for a "maybe," it is ultimately hard to count on a team that lost 93 games last year pulling off such a stunning reversal. Especially in a division as competitive as the NL Central.

    If the Pirates flop and decide to cut their losses at the deadline, expect them to at least field calls on closer Keone Kela, who's due for free agency.

San Diego Padres: Sellers

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 32-28

    The San Diego Padres' projected record is surprising but perhaps not too good to be true.

    Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Tommy Pham make for a heck of a lineup core, and San Diego's pitching staff is anchored by a healthy Garrett Richards and the best bullpen trio in baseball: Kirby Yates, Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan.

    Yet it's hard to see the Padres toppling the Dodgers and frankly not much easier to see them beating the D-backs for second in the NL West. And because they're built for the long haul, they might not force the issue if they're not where they want to be by August 31.

    If so, look for Yates and Richards to be among the Padres on the trading block.

San Francisco Giants: Sellers

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 27-33

    The San Francisco Giants had a stretch last season in which they went 34-26 between June 30 and September 7. If they tap back into that magic, they'll contend this year.

    That's a huge "if," though. Contrary to this year's Giants, last year's club had Bruce Bochy at the helm and Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith slinging baseballs.

    If there's a question here, it's not whether the Giants will be bad enough to sell in 2020. It's how much they'll have to offer, as most of their veterans are past their primes and making big money.

    The Giants might only be able to shop guys whose contracts are up at the end of 2020, including slugger Hunter Pence and pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Drew Smyly, Kevin Gausman and Tony Watson.

Seattle Mariners: Sellers

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 24-36

    Don't look now, but the Seattle Mariners have something exciting brewing.

    This season, such as it is, will be a closeup for youngsters like Shed Long Jr., J.P. Crawford, Evan White, Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley and Justus Sheffield. The Mariners also have baseball's No. 2 farm system, the crown jewel of which is up-and-coming outfielder Jarred Kelenic.

    The odds of everything coming together this season, however, aren't great. It's more likely to be a growing pains sort of year for the Mariners, who'll likely cash in some veterans along the way.

    For instance, they could move relievers Yoshi Hirano and Carl Edwards Jr. if both recover from difficult campaigns in 2019.

St. Louis Cardinals: Buyers

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 31-29

    The St. Louis Cardinals didn't exactly cruise to their NL Central title last season, and the rest of the division arguably caught up to them over the winter.

    But if you're going to write the Cardinals off, do so at your own peril.

    Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter are better hitters than they showed in 2019, when they combined for a disappointing .782 OPS. On the other side, Miles Mikolas will also be trying to bounce back and Jack Flaherty will be out to build on his unhittable streak from the second half of 2019.

    If there's one thing that separates the Cardinals from a World Series run, it might be an impact bat (e.g., Nolan Arenado) that they could add at the trade deadline.

Tampa Bay Rays: Buyers

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 33-27

    No matter how the Tampa Bay Rays perform, it wouldn't be the biggest shock if they stood pat at the deadline.

    They simply don't have to get it done this year. If you count the club options they hold on veteran right-hander Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino, they don't have any players slated to hit free agency this winter.

    That said, the Rays almost certainly won't be a bad team. In part because aces Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow are healthy, they indeed look like an even better version of last year's 96-win club.

    They might not be willing to deal any of the best prospects (namely uber-shortstop Wander Franco) from their No. 1 farm system, but the Rays might at least dig deep enough to add a reliever or a platoon hitter.

Texas Rangers: Sellers

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Projected Record: 28-32

    Because they were 32-28 after 60 games in 2019, the Texas Rangers might be feeling optimistic about this year's abbreviated schedule.

    They also have other reasons to feel good about 2020. Most notably, those include the possibility of a super-rotation headed by Mike Minor, Lance Lynn and two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber.

    But as their projection rightly indicates, the most realistic version of the 2020 Rangers is one that's only the fourth-best team in the AL West. As such, they may only hang around for a couple of weeks before pivoting their attention to 2021.

    Among other things, that would involve finding a taker for Minor before his contract expires.

Toronto Blue Jays: Sellers

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 27-33

    The Toronto Blue Jays might be looking at this season as an opportunity to pull off the same trick that the Atlanta club pulled in 2018: Arrive ahead of schedule.

    This could happen if Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio become stars after their promising breakthroughs in 2019. Likewise, veteran lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu and fast-rising prospect Nate Pearson could stabilize Toronto's mound staff.

    But unless everything goes right, the Blue Jays are at best finishing third behind the Yankees and Rays. That wouldn't be an excuse to blow it up, but they'd at least have to shop their impending free agents.

    Out of that group, hard-throwing closer Ken Giles would surely attract the most interest after nearly getting traded last summer.

Washington Nationals: Buyers

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Projected Record: 33-27

    As soon as summer camp opened, the Washington Nationals found out that Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross were opting out of playing this year.

    But even minus one of their better platoon hitters and their No. 5 starter, the Nats still have many of the same players who led the way to a championship last year. And if there's a bright side to the shortened season, it's that said players were afforded more time to rest after a long campaign in 2019.

    That could be the difference between the Nats chasing the NL East title and settling for a wild-card spot. Either way, it's unlikely they'll flop bad enough to sell.

    Assuming the Nationals do buy, their top priority may be finding a starter who could fill Ross' spot.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.