There are more than 11 weeks until the Trade Deadline, but with the quarter mark of the regular season rapidly approaching, front offices around baseball are beginning to assess where their teams stand.
Eight teams entered Thursday with winning percentages of .444 or lower, which over the course of a 162-game season translates to 72 or fewer victories.
So when do teams really begin thinking about becoming sellers?
“I think you’re always thinking about it,” said a National League executive. “But it’s maybe another couple weeks before you really go all-in with sending scouts to see certain teams for the Deadline.”
Trading away talent – even players with expiring contracts – can be a difficult choice for executives, who don’t want to send the wrong message to either the fan base or the remaining players in the clubhouse. But reality is reality, and even with three Wild Card spots in each league, a number of teams will know earlier than others that the postseason isn’t in the cards this year.
“I’ve never thought of it as a tough decision,” the executive said. “If you just make smart baseball trades when they come, it’s pretty obvious what to do in each individual case. The real tough calls are in moving your big-name guys. And even then, most of the time you have a feeling those moves are coming well in advance of July.”
A quick glance at the rosters of struggling teams might cause one wonder if some of those clubs even have appealing players to trade, but as an American League executive said, “they have to hope a reliever gets hot or they have a position player who would make a good platoon partner for another team” to create a coveted asset.
For teams on the fringe of the Wild Card race, making the decision to sell can be tricky. That’s why potential sellers might find themselves in a strong position once they start dangling players to contenders.
“Overall with the new playoff format and the more balanced schedule, more teams are going see themselves as in the hunt this year, or perhaps as on the bubble this year but a contender next year, and thus won’t want to sell,” the AL exec said. “That means teams willing to part with big pieces could really have a market with many bidders.”
Which teams might be in the selling mix come the summer? Here’s a look at eight possibilities, listed alphabetically, along with some names that could be on the move.
Oakland has already used its biggest chips in recent years with the trades of Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Sean Murphy, but the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Trevor May, Jesús Aguilar and Tony Kemp are all headed for free agency, while Ramón Laureano is arbitration-eligible for one more year. Catcher Manny Piña, who has been on the IL all season with a wrist injury, has a $4 million option for 2024 with no buyout.
It hasn’t been in the Cardinals’ DNA to sell before the Trade Deadline, but based on St. Louis’ 13-25 start, the front office might have to consider all options if things don’t improve by July. Three starting pitchers are headed for free agency, and while it’s unlikely Adam Wainwright would be dealt, Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty might be options unless the Cardinals are determined to re-sign either or both. Relievers Chris Stratton, Drew VerHagen and Jordan Hicks are also in their walk years, presenting three bullpen trade possibilities. St. Louis’ outfield jam could come into play whether the Cards become big sellers or not, with Tyler O’Neill – who has one more arbitration-eligible year prior to free agency – a candidate to be moved. Infielder Paul DeJong has club options for 2024 ($12.5 million, $2 million buyout) and 2025 ($15 million, $1 million buyout), making him a trade option, as well.
San Francisco hasn’t been a traditional seller in quite some time, but if the Giants find themselves trailing the Dodgers, D-backs and Padres by a wide margin come July, that could change. Joc Pederson and Alex Wood are slated to become free agents at the end of the season, while Alex Cobb – who has pitched very well this year – has a $10 million club option for 2024 with a $2 million buyout. Pederson was a huge midseason acquisition for the Braves in 2021, so he should draw interest from teams looking to add a left-handed power bat.
Washington is hanging around .500 at 16-21, but it’s difficult to imagine the Nationals making a run at the postseason this year. Should general manager Mike Rizzo decide to become a seller, however, what will he be able to offer? Jeimer Candelario, an impending free agent, hasn’t performed well, though he does have extra-base power. Dominic Smith has been better of late, while fellow free-agents-to-be Chad Kuhl and Corey Dickerson are on the IL, as is Victor Robles, who has a $3.3 million club option for 2024 with no buyout. Reliever Carl Edwards Jr., who is earning just $2.25 million in his walk year, might be the Nats’ best trade asset at the moment.
Joey Votto is in the final year of his contract, though it’s tough to imagine the Reds trading their longtime face of the franchise after he returns from shoulder and biceps surgery. Luke Weaver (free agent after 2023) has been uneven in his first four starts, while backup catchers Luke Maile (free agent) and Curt Casali ($2.5 million mutual option for 2024 with a $750,000 buyout) won’t bring much back in return. Wil Myers has a $12 million option ($1.5 million buyout) for 2024, though he’ll have to pick up his production to draw much interest. Infielder Kevin Newman (arbitration-eligible for one more season) could be expendable if prospects Elly De La Cruz or Matt McLain push their way to the Majors. Reliever Buck Farmer, an impending free agent, has pitched well thus far and could become a trade chip as teams around the league seek bullpen help.
Colorado has won eight of its last 10, yet the Rockies remain in the basement of the strong NL West. GM Bill Schmidt opted not to trade impending free agent Trevor Story two years ago, content to take Draft-pick compensation if the infielder signed elsewhere. The Rockies have more than a half-dozen players heading for free agency at the end of the season, so teams looking for rental help could be calling Schmidt in the coming months. Jurickson Profar, C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk could be helpful bats for contenders, while Pierce Johnson, Brent Suter and Brad Hand ($7 million club option for 2024 with a $500,000 buyout) should be part of the bullpen market.
Kansas City is building around a young 25-and-under core featuring Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto, and given its 11-27 start, the club seems like an obvious seller. Aroldis Chapman and Amir Garrett are headed for free agency and could bring back nice returns, while Brad Keller could also garner interest in his walk year if he can cut down on his walks. Scott Barlow and Ryan Yarbrough, who are each arbitration-eligible for one more season, could also be on the move.
Not much has gone right on the South Side of Chicago this season, with the White Sox off to a 13-25 start. In our recent executive poll, three Sox players received votes as the biggest name that will move prior to the Trade Deadline: Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Tim Anderson. But those three players aren’t the only likely trade candidates on Chicago’s roster. Yasmani Grandal is slated to become a free agent at the end of the season, while Lance Lynn has an $18 million option for 2024 with a $1 million buyout. With two years of arbitration, Cease would seem to be the player that would bring back the biggest haul, though the right-hander is off to a woeful start, potentially damaging his value.