Front-office executives around baseball will have two extra days to make trades this summer, because the Trade Deadline won’t arrive until Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. ET.
Although that deadline remains more than 10 weeks away, clubs are nearing the quarter mark of their respective schedules this week, giving them a decent sample size from which to assess the state of their rosters.
It was just three years ago that the Nationals sat at 19-31 after 50 games (a .380 winning percentage), sparking plenty of talk about a potential Deadline fire sale -- not to mention manager Dave Martinez’s job status. A slow start isn’t a death sentence for a club’s postseason aspirations, but it certainly creates an arduous path.
As of Wednesday, eight teams had winning percentages of .417 or lower, a number that translates to fewer than 68 victories over the course of an entire season. If you’re trying to project which teams could be primed to sell prior to Aug. 2, those clubs seem like a logical place to start.
“There are a number of teams on pace for 100-plus wins or 100-plus losses, so it feels like their buyer and seller positions should be fairly well established,” an American League executive said. “At the same time, it’ll be interesting to see if the new postseason format shifts behaviors at all.”
Even with three Wild Card spots available in each league, it will almost certainly take a winning record to secure a trip to the postseason. Aside from 2017, when the Royals would have landed the third AL Wild Card spot with an 80-82 record, every team that would have qualified for the postseason under the current format since 1998 finished with a winning record.
With that in mind, multiple executives tabbed the Reds, Pirates, Orioles, Cubs, Nationals, Royals and Athletics as likely summer sellers.
“No real shock there,” an NL general manager said.
The Tigers are off to a disappointing start, but the roster is mostly composed of players signed long-term or youngsters in their pre-arbitration seasons, leaving little for Detroit to move this summer.
The one team executives seem to be split on is the Red Sox, whose bumpy performance has them facing a double-digit deficit in the AL East.
“I would wait and see on the Red Sox,” a second NL GM said. “Especially with the extra playoff spot.”
“I think the Red Sox will be an interesting trade partner if they haven’t gotten back in the race,” another NL executive said. “They could move a bunch of guys if they choose to retool.”
The names mentioned most often by executives include Frankie Montas and Ramón Laureano (Athletics), Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle (Reds), Nelson Cruz, Josh Bell and Victor Robles (Nationals), Willson Contreras and Wade Miley (Cubs), Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander (Orioles), Andrew Benintendi and Zack Greinke (Royals) and Bryan Reynolds (Pirates).
“I have to believe Bryan Reynolds is moved,” an NL exec said. “And Baltimore and Cincinnati will definitely play a role in this thing too; the Reds could move starting pitching and Baltimore has a few position players that could definitely help contending clubs.”
Standings won’t be the lone factor for some of these clubs, either. One AL executive projects the Reds and Nationals as two of the bigger sellers this summer, citing both their record and their desire to shed salary.
“They are so buried already and I think there’s probably some payroll pressure,” the exec said.
The expanded postseason brings a potential twist to this year’s Deadline, as teams on the bubble might wait as long as possible before deciding to sell -- or buy.
“We’ve seen teams wait until the last minute the last few years,” an AL executive said. “A ton of activity in the last 36-48 hours. That might be emphasized strategically even more.”
The most intriguing name mentioned by an executive this week was Joey Gallo, who has struggled since being acquired by the Yankees last summer. Gallo slashed .167/.298/.383 with 18 home runs and 29 RBIs in his first 90 games with New York, including .182/.289/.343 with five home runs and seven RBIs in 33 games this season.
“There’s some Sonny Gray feel to that one,” an NL executive said, referring to the All-Star pitcher who never found his groove in the Bronx. “He’s been a little better lately. If he continues to struggle it wouldn’t surprise me to see them try to flip him.”