Deal or no deal? These clubs are in gray area a week before Deadline

July 26th, 2023

Less than one week from the Trade Deadline, the uncertainty around the league feels like it’s at an all-time high.

“I’d bet there will be a lot of trades on Aug. 1,” said one American League executive. “And not many before that.”

The introduction of a third Wild Card team in each league last season has complicated the buyer-or-seller math for some clubs, who must decide in the coming days whether they believe they have a legitimate shot at a postseason berth.

Let’s take a look at the teams that appear to be buyers, the clubs that look to be sellers, and the ones that have yet to decide which road they will take between now and Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET Deadline.

Buyers (14): Astros, Blue Jays, Braves, Brewers, D-backs, Dodgers, Giants, Marlins, Orioles, Phillies, Rays, Rangers, Reds, Twins

Sellers (8): Athletics, Cardinals, Nationals, Pirates, Rockies, Royals, Tigers, White Sox

Here’s a look at the eight teams currently on the bubble and whether they might emerge as buyers, sellers or both (listed in order of record entering Wednesday's games).

Yankees (53-48)

It’s unusual to categorize the Yankees as anything other than buyers, but given the team’s 17-23 record since reaching a season-high 11 games over .500 on June 4 -- the day after Aaron Judge suffered the toe injury that has kept him on the injured list for the past seven weeks -- it’s no certainty that New York goes all-in at this year’s Deadline.

The Yankees are said to be seeking upgrades at catcher, third base and left field, as well as in the rotation and bullpen. But will GM Brian Cashman try to go big (Juan Soto?) or look to make marginal improvements with the idea that adding Judge back into the lineup will provide a sizeable boost to the offense?

Any talk of the Yankees becoming sellers seems to have quieted down, though what would Cashman sell, anyway? The Yankees haven’t been full-on sellers since 2016 and have had a winning record in each of Cashman’s 25 years as GM, so expect to see New York make some type of addition, though perhaps not one that will satisfy fans anxious to end the club’s 14-year streak without a trip to the World Series.

Red Sox (54-47)

Like their rivals 200 miles to the south, the Red Sox find themselves just 1 1/2 games out of the final AL Wild Card spot, but without the addition of a starter (or two) and a reliever (or two), Boston might not have enough pitching to make a late-season run.

Trevor Story’s return should help the offense, while the Red Sox could take advantage of their outfield depth by trading Adam Duvall for some of that much-needed pitching help. Marcelo Mayer (MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 prospect) is untouchable, but Boston has four players ranked between 80-97 in the Top 100, giving chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom some prospect capital to use if the right offer comes along.

Of course, a bad week against the Braves and Giants could bring any thoughts of buying to a halt. It seems unlikely that the Red Sox would fall far enough to become serious sellers -- Tuesday's trade of Kiké Hernández notwithstanding -- but where the club sits in the Wild Card race in the final days before the Deadline could determine how aggressive Bloom becomes.

Angels (52-49)

The most bubbly of bubble teams, it appeared that the Angels would be heading down a selling path until last week, when a 5-1 run against the Yankees and Pirates thrust Los Angeles back into the AL Wild Card race, where they trail the Blue Jays by just 3 1/2 games for the third and final spot.

This week’s series in Detroit could pull the Angels even closer to that elusive postseason spot, further cementing the idea that GM Perry Minasian could become a buyer rather than a seller. But regardless of what happens this week, the Shohei Ohtani rumors will continue to dominate the headlines and shape this year’s Trade Deadline.

If the Angels become buyers, they will likely target rotation help (they rank 20th in MLB with a 4.62 ERA from their starters) and possibly another bullpen piece or two. They’re also due to get Mike Trout back in mid-to-late August, which will add another impact bat into the lineup for the stretch run.

A bad week, on the other hand, could push the Angels to sell, in which case we will talk about nothing other than Ohtani until the moment he gets traded or the Deadline arrives, whichever comes first.

Guardians (50-51)

Cleveland could use an offensive jolt at the Trade Deadline, but despite five prospects ranking among MLB Pipeline’s top 52, it seems unlikely that the Guardians will part with young talent to secure a veteran outfield bat. The offense ranks 24th in the Majors in runs scored and in OPS (.698), while their .652 outfield OPS ranks only ahead of the Royals and their 12 homers by outfielders is far and away the lowest total in the big leagues.

The Guardians could also use an upgrade in the rotation, but given the price of pitching this time of year, it remains to be seen whether they’ll find a way to add an arm. Shane Bieber, who was recently moved to the 60-day injured list, is the only Cleveland starter with more than 100 innings this season, while Tanner Bibee is the only other to top the 70-inning mark in 2023.

Given the state of the American League Central, the division is there for the taking, but Cleveland’s +1 run differential might be a sign to the front office that this isn’t going to be the year the World Series drought ends.

Mariners (51-50)

President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has a reputation for being aggressive, but Seattle’s middling performance through the first 100 games has the Mariners in a crowded group of five clubs trying to chase down the final AL Wild Card spot.

It’s unlikely that the Mariners will commit to being buyers or sellers until the final days prior to the Trade Deadline, though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dipoto trade away an expiring contract or two if Seattle hasn’t closed the gap by the end of the weekend.

Teoscar Hernández is the most obvious trade candidate, because the right fielder is owed about $5 million in his final year before free agency. The free-swinging Hernández has 16 home runs and a .705 OPS this season, but he leads the AL with 133 strikeouts and has a sub-.300 on-base percentage. Catcher Tom Murphy, another impending free agent, could also be moved, though Seattle likes what he brings to the clubhouse and the way he works with the pitching staff.

One other potential trade chip: closer Paul Sewald, who is owed roughly $1.4 million this season and is arbitration-eligible for the final time next offseason. Sewald is having a very strong season, which should result in a hefty raise from his current $4.1 million salary.

Should Seattle sell, Dipoto will likely be looking for hitting prospects closing in on the Majors, because the majority of the club’s positional prospects are at the lower levels of the Minors. If the club adds, second base figures to be the top priority.

Cubs (49-51)

Chicago is still within striking distance of a postseason spot, entering Wednesday trailing the first-place Brewers by six games in the NL Central and five games back of the final Wild Card spot. And while the Cubs are the only team in the division with a positive run differential (+45), it remains to be seen whether president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer believes this group can get to October, let alone make a deep run.

Should the Cubs opt to sell, as most in the industry expect they will, they would immediately have two of the most appealing trade chips on the market: RHP Marcus Stroman and OF Cody Bellinger.

Both players are likely headed for free agency after the season – Stroman can opt out of the final year and $21 million on his deal, while Bellinger has a $25 million mutual option – so this is the Cubs’ chance to get a solid return for the pair. Should Stroman opt out, the Cubs wouldn’t even get a comp pick for him, because he’s ineligible to receive a qualifying offer.

Padres (49-53)

Perhaps the most interesting team on this list, the Padres entered Wednesday six games out of a Wild Card spot, with six other clubs ahead of them for the three spots. GM A.J. Preller is known to be one of the more aggressive executives in the game, and frankly, it would be surprising to see him go into sell mode this week.

Despite their sub-.500 record and place in the standings, the Padres remain one of the most talented teams in the league. Should they figure out a way to sneak into the playoffs, they could easily make a run the way the Phillies did in 2022, throwing Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove in a short series while stacking the lineup with the likes of Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts and Ha-Seong Kim.

That said, a bad week could prompt Preller to reconsider things, and if he decided to sell, Snell and closer Josh Hader – both free agents at the end of the season – would instantly become the best starter and reliever, respectively, available on the market. Add in the possibility of a Soto trade (he has one more year of control) and the Padres could restock the farm system they used in recent trades.

Mets (47-53)

After an offseason that saw the payroll climb to record heights, the Mets have been arguably the most disappointing team in MLB, entering the week seven games out of a Wild Card spot.

Like the Padres, the Mets have a roster capable of making noise in October -- assuming they can go on a run to claim a Wild Card spot. That’s a tall task given the number of teams ahead of them, but if they can put a dent in that deficit between now and next week, it’s possible that GM Billy Eppler stands pat or even adds on the margins.

The more likely scenario is that Eppler unloads some players, specifically those with expiring contracts. David Robertson would be among the top relievers available, while Tommy Pham and Mark Canha (club option) would be appealing outfield options for contenders.

There has been speculation that the Mets could try to move Max Scherzer and/or Justin Verlander, but their $43.3 million salaries – not to mention their full no-trade clauses – make it unfathomable to think they’ll be traded, even if owner Steve Cohen pays down their substantial contracts.