The Trade Deadline is going to be particularly active this year, and we’re all going to be scouring every reliable information source we can find (and probably some that aren’t so reliable) to dig up every rumor we can. That’s the fun of it: Imagining players in other uniforms, or imagining that final key piece wearing our team’s uniform, is the reason the Trade Deadline is so irresistible. It’s guiltless speculation and fun.
But there are certain teams that, all told, maybe should avoid the fun this year. There are buyers out there, and there are sellers out there, but some teams, well, maybe it’s just the best idea that they sit tight.
Which teams are those? These are those five teams.
Cardinals: The Cards have some obvious, glaring needs, first and foremost among them that they have only three starting pitchers right now, and one of them is Wade LeBlanc. (Who has been pretty good, actually!) The bullpen has four decent pieces and is a mess otherwise. And the offense has been sputtering for three years now. But this is the Cardinals: They never bolt on a season! And with the Cubs ready to sell and neither the Brewers nor the Reds looking like world beaters, you can almost talk yourself into making a big push. The issue is that St. Louis' farm system is top heavy right now: Lots of teams would be happy to give the Cardinals pieces if they gave up Matthew Liberatore, Nolan Gorman or Jordan Walker. But the Cards would be bananas to do that when they’re 8 1/2 games out already. The team hopes the return of Jack Flaherty will spur it to a second-half push. But giving up future stars for a longshot run would be foolish. The Cardinals’ dreadful June may have doomed their 2021 season; there’s no reason to take 2023 and 2024 down with it.
Indians: Terry Francona’s team certainly is not short on needs. It is running out of young pitchers to call up. The bullpen is a little top heavy. There -- and you’re never going to believe this -- sure seems to be deficit of hitting outfielders. And Cleveland does not have to squint to consider itself a contender: The team is four games over .500 and in second place. The problem is all those teams it is going to have to go to battle with for a postseason spot. Cleveland is eight games behind the White Sox in the AL Central, and that’s before Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert return. The club is behind highly motivated and financially flush teams like the Blue Jays and the Yankees in the AL Wild Card race, not to mention the A’s, Rays and Mariners. Cleveland has done well to keep its head above water this long. But trading away future assets for a faint hope of a run this year is a fool’s errand. Cleveland doesn't need to start selling its stars. But the time to make additions was in the offseason. It’s too late now.
Mariners: There’s a school of thought that Seattle is going to run the AL West in a few years. It seems awfully presumptuous to think that way -- the Astros are the Astros, the A’s never go away, and, uh, you know Mike Trout isn’t disappearing, right? -- but it’s clear the future looks bright for Seattle. But hey, the present isn’t too shabby either, actually: This is a third-place team, one that is six games over .500 and only 2 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot. But that has to be seen as found money for the Mariners, a team that has been outscored by 51 runs and has had more than its fair share of luck. The Mariners don’t have to be sellers like they might have been if they were playing to their run differential. But there’s no need to try to go all-in, or even slightly all-in, on this happy little 2021 run. Consider it a free ride in 2021: A season where your young players develop and learn how to win on the big league level and a springboard for future success, but not something you should lose too much perspective about. Fortunately for Mariners fans, this appears to be exactly what the front office is doing.
Nationals: The NL East is a bit of a mess. The Mets would love to pull away, but their best players keep getting injured, as if there’s an injury gnome trying to take all the stars out. The Phillies are trying to make a run, but that bullpen always looms. The Braves are buying like they’re all-in, but the lack of Ronald Acuña Jr. makes it hard to believe. So it should be time for the Nats, right? Well, maybe. For all the hope you want to have in this team, and as much as you might believe Juan Soto’s swing is totally fixed from the Home Run Derby, the Nats are still quite a bit back, with a lot of teams to jump over. (And a better-than-you-think Marlins team right behind them.) Should they trade Max Scherzer? Probably not. But should they floor it for 2021? It’s tough, particularly if Stephen Strasburg can’t come all the way back just yet, to make that argument.
Padres: You know A.J. Preller is just itching to make a move. And you get it! The Padres are all the way in this year: That’s one of the reasons they’re so fun to cheer for. But … let’s not get carried away. The Padres, for all the good feeling, are still five games out of first and in third place. Are the Giants going to take a step back? Maybe. But the odds that the Padres are going to catch that break and catch the Dodgers falling back to them are … well, they’re pretty slim. The Padres, for all their fun, look like a Wild Card team right now. They could sneak above that and win the NL West. But is it worth mortgaging the future to fight up there? It probably isn’t. The Padres are going to terrify either the Giants or the Dodgers in the NL Wild Card Game. This was always going to be an uphill battle. This is probably where they should be, considering how much has not gone entirely to plan. Winning the division might require a big move, and even if they make a big move, it’s far from assured it will be enough anyway. But right now: They have enough to be a postseason menace. And isn’t that the point?