MLB Teams Best Positioned to Land a Superstar Before the 2020 Trade Deadline

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJuly 12, 2020

MLB Teams Best Positioned to Land a Superstar Before the 2020 Trade Deadline

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    The shortened 2020 MLB season will provide ample intrigue. That includes the delayed but fast-approaching Aug. 31 trade deadline.

    Clubs will have a small window to decide if they're buyers or sellers, but teams with a realistic shot at winning a title could make a serious push to land one of several possibly available superstars.

    We're talking about game-changing talents such as the Colorado Rockies' Nolan Arenado, the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant and the Cleveland Indians' Francisco Lindor, who have featured in various credible offseason rumors and speculation.

    It'll depend on how 2020 plays out. And contract realities will come into play, especially for a player such as Areando, who's owed the prorated amount of $35 million in 2020 and $35 million in 2021, after which he can exercise an opt-out clause. That could make him too rich for some small-market teams' blood.

    But based on the depth and strength of their farm systems and their realistic odds of playoff contention this year, here are 10 squads that are well-positioned to acquire a top-tier player and possibly shift baseball's balance of power.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Farm system rankNo. 8

    2020 playoff odds24.7 percent

    The Arizona Diamondbacks boosted a second-place roster with key offseason additions, including left-hander Madison Bumgarner and outfielders Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun, and have various solid incumbents including 2019 All-Star Ketel Marte.

    Even if they don't make a run at the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West, they'll be a factor in the wild-card race.

    With a strong farm system fronted by names such as outfielders Alek Thomas and Kristian Robinson, they can make at least ancillary upgrades to the pitching staff. But don't count the Snakes out in the sweepstakes for the deadline's big prizes.

Atlanta Braves

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Farm system rankNo. 3

    2020 playoff odds54.2 percent

    The Atlanta Braves are favorites to win the deep NL East for the third year in a row. But they could use an upgrade at third base after losing Josh Donaldson to free agency, and they may require an impact bat to make up for the indefinite loss of Freddie Freeman because of COVID-19.

    Names such as Bryant and Arenado will surely be connected to Atlanta if rumors for the two star third basemen heat up again.

    If they want to make a big splash and push for their first title since 1995, the Braves could dip into a stacked MiLB stash that includes enticing chips such as outfielder Cristian Pache and right-hander Kyle Wright.

Chicago White Sox

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Farm system rank: No. 12

    2020 playoff odds31.2 percent

    The Chicago White Sox are emerging from a prolonged rebuild with a young roster that's set to compete in the American League Central.

    Offseason additions, including catcher Yasmani Grandal and lefty Dallas Keuchel, improve their chances.

    MLB-ready stars such as outfielder Luis Robert and flame-throwing right-hander Michael Kopech should be off-limits.

    But if Chicago charges out of the gate strong and the playoffs are a real possibility by late August, it has enough prospects⁠—including second baseman Nick Madrigal and first baseman Andrew Vaughn⁠—to swing a blockbuster deal without fully mortgaging the future.

    And Yoan Moncada could switch back to second base if the White Sox opt to go after a third baseman such as Bryant or Arenado.

Houston Astros

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    Farm system rankNo. 18

    2020 playoff odds77.8 percent

    The Houston Astros may be baseball's villains after the sign-stealing scandal that left a lasting stain on the franchise.

    They also have a legitimate chance to repeat as AL champions and hoist another Commissioner's Trophy.

    The 'Stros might opt for bullpen depth and other complementary additions at the deadline.

    Or, they could go for broke and dip into a farm system that isn't in the game's top tier but has plenty of shiny chips, including right-handers Forrest Whitley and Jose Urquidy and shortstops Freudis Nova and Jeremy Pena.

    With Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman ensconced at shortstop and third base, respectively, Houston would need to find room for the likes of Bryant, Arenado or Lindor. But the designated hitter and the vagaries of injuries and underperformance mean anything is possible.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Farm system rankNo. 9

    2020 playoff odds: 87.1 percent

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have a loaded lineup after adding Mookie Betts via trade this offseason. Their rotation is strong behind emerging ace Walker Buehler. Their bullpen is solid.

    Yet L.A. hasn't won a title since 1988 and should do everything possible to end that drought.

    Touted prospects such as right-handers Dustin May and Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruizwho is blocked behind the dish by power-hitting young backstop Will Smithcould headline an impact deal that gilds the 2020 lily for the Dodgers.

    With David Price opting out of the season, the Dodgers might need to add pitching. But if they want to get a star bat such as Lindor, they could also offer up shortstop Corey Seager, a possibility The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal indicated they may be open to.

Minnesota Twins

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    Farm system rankNo. 15

    2020 playoff odds64.5 percent

    After last season's division series sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, the Minnesota Twins have a chance to win another AL Central title and dive deeper into the postseason.

    Their lineup is deep and filled with power bats, including offseason addition Donaldson. They improved the starting rotation with veterans Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill. 

    They're also a middle-market club that shouldn't decimate a farm system that's top-heavy with talent such as shortstop Royce Lewis and first baseman/outfielder Alex Kirilloff.

    Then again, with a real shot at winning their first title since 1991, the Twinkies could opt for a headline-grabbing deadline addition.

    With Miguel Sano out because of COVID-19, at least for now, Bryant could fill a first base/designated hitter role, spell Donaldson at third and log innings in the outfield.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Farm system rank: No. 17

    2020 playoff odds22.1 percent

    The Philadelphia Phillies will be players in the NL East with Bryce Harper fronting the lineup and Zack Wheeler added to the starting rotation.

    Their priority at the deadline should be upgrading a suspect bullpen.

    But Philadelphia has been linked to Bryant and could dangle high-upside infielder Alec Bohm along with right-hander Francisco Morales to bring the Cubs star to Philadelphia, despite Harper's reservations.

San Diego Padres

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Farm system rankNo. 4

    2020 playoff odds32.4 percent

    Like the D-backs, the San Diego Padres probably can't hang with the Dodgers in the NL West.

    That said, they've got an emerging roster led by rising stars such as shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and could take advantage of the 60-game sprint to make noise in 2020.

    The Friars also have one of the best farm systems in baseball and could deal from positions of organizational strength with shortstop CJ Abrams and catcher Luis Campusano, difference-making talents who are blocked on the big league roster.

    They reportedly passed on a deal for Bryant that would have involved Campusano and right-hander Dinelson Lamet, but the Pads might revisit a similar swap if the Cubbies sink and they rise.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Farm system rankNo. 1

    2020 playoff odds61.7 percent

    The Tampa Bay Rays won 96 games in 2019 and could challenge the Yankees in the AL East. They could also use a power bat in the middle of their lineup.

    As a small-market club that relies on cost-controlled talent, the Rays can't afford to gut their system. The good news? They've got the best collection of MiLB talent in the game.

    Shortstop Wander Franco and potential two-way star Brendan McKay aren't going anywhere. And the Rays rank 27th in payroll for 2020, per Spotrac.

    But Tampa Bay could leverage middle infielders Vidal Brujan and Xavier Edwards to make an uncharacteristically splashy trade and a deep playoff run.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Mark Blinch/Getty Images

    Farm system rankNo. 7

    2020 playoff odds8.1 percent

    The Toronto Blue Jays have a deep homegrown infield with second-generation MLB stars-in-waiting Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio. They have a solid bullpen and upgraded the rotation with the signing of 2019 MLB ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu.

    Competing with the Yankees and Rays in the AL East will be tough. The Jays might have to wait their turn.

    But in a short season, anything can happen. If Toronto starts hot and has a chance to blossom ahead of schedule, it could swing a blockbuster by including shortstops Austin Martin and Jordan Groshans, who are blocked by Bichette.

    As with every team on this list, the Blue Jays could turn the strange 2020 campaign into a go-for-it moment.

                 

    Playoff odds provided by FanGraphs.