It’s never an easy task to figure out which teams might use their farm systems to make a big deal to help them in a playoff push. The uncertainty and unusual nature of the 2020 season make it even harder to predict and prognostications of blockbuster trades are tricky to make, at best.
There’s a formula I use, maybe more of a Venn diagram, to typically try to figure out which teams are best poised to make a huge splash at the Trade Deadline. The intersection of competitive teams and rich farm systems with high-end prospects is where to look. With an expanded postseason that includes eight teams from each league, though, there are way more “competitive” teams than in most years. Add in the fact that some teams in playoff contention currently were not expected to be, or are in rebuilding mode while playing well during this shortened regular season, and it’s a bit more challenging.
Even with all those caveats, a solid list of teams hoping to reach the playoffs that have the pieces to make a blockbuster-type list can be made. Here are eight teams, in alphabetical order, who have the prospect wherewithal to make some headlines, followed by a few teams that could make a deal, but likely won’t.
Braves: Last year, the Braves sent Joey Wentz to the Tigers to help get reliever Shane Greene, who continues to be a major contributor in Atlanta’s bullpen. They could do something similar with arms like Bryse Wilson (No. 5 on their Top 30) or Kyle Muller (No. 7). There’s also catching depth, with No. 4 prospect Shea Langeliers (No. 75 on the Top 100) and No. 8 William Contreras, who made his big league debut this year. Those two pools of talent could allow the Braves to upgrade without dealing any of their top three prospects (outfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters and right-hander Ian Anderson), with No. 3 Anderson now in the big leagues.
Cardinals: Currently in second place in the NL Central, the Cards do have some high-end talent they could give up if they wanted to go big. Dylan Carlson is in the big leagues now and has largely been untouchable, but they also have Top 100 prospects in third baseman Nolan Gorman and lefty Matthew Liberatore, who’s already been traded once. No. 4 prospect Ivan Herrera, who many see as the eventual heir apparent to Yadier Molina, could also interest many teams.
Dodgers: Back in February, the Dodgers were able to trade for Mookie Betts without giving up top prospect Gavin Lux or No. 2 Dustin May, though they did part with No. 3 Jeter Downs, now the Red Sox No. 1 guy. Would they be willing to deal Lux now, considering he’s somewhat surprisingly not been up in the big leagues yet? If they don’t think Keibert Ruiz (No. 3) is the catcher of their future, maybe he could be on the table, as could No. 2 prospect, right-hander Josiah Gray.
Indians: The Indians made deals last Deadline, though they were unconventional and more of the smaller splash variety. If they want to try to separate from the Twins and the surprising White Sox, though, they might have to think bigger. Whether that would include thinking about top prospects Nolan Jones or Tyler Freeman remains to be seen, but there’s some serious depth here that could intrigue rebuilding clubs. And hey, maybe Triston McKenzie helps the Indians down the stretch, or maybe his outstanding debut was a showcase for a possible deal.
Padres: They’re young at the big league level and have called upon their terrific farm system this year to help carry them to the third-best record in the National League as of Tuesday. It doesn’t seem likely they’d trade any of their top three prospects in MacKenzie Gore (bring him up already!), CJ Abrams and Luis Patiño, who recently made his big league debut. But the depth of the system, to go along with entrenched young Major Leaguers in the way, could mean someone like shortstop Gabriel Arias could be packaged with some of the arms a bit lower on the list or even an outfielder like Taylor Trammell, who joined the Padres at last year’s Trade Deadline.
Rays: In the past, the Rays hadn’t been so eager to deal away their top prospects as they needed to rely on young players to compete. But they sent outfielder Jesús Sánchez to the Marlins last Trade Deadline and could be at it again. There’s a ton of middle infield depth, with Vidal Brujan, Xavier Edwards and Greg Jones in the top 11 (Brujan and Edwards are Top 100 prospects as well).
Twins: They’ve been more of a smaller upgrade kind of trade team, like sending Lewin Díaz to the Marins last year to get Sergio Romo, while also getting prospect Chris Vallimont. I don’t see them dealing any of their top three bats in Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach, but they have the depth to withstand the loss if they did. Arms like No. 4 Jordan Balazovic and No. 5 Jhoan Duran are surely being asked about a lot.
Yankees: While there isn’t as much truly elite-level talent behind Jasson Dominguez, who has yet to take an official pro at-bat, there’s depth here. That’s especially true in terms of electric arms. Clarke Schmidt and Deivi García could help out the big league club, but could also be dangled. And would it surprise anyone for the Yankees to be bold to help hoist another World Series flag?
Could but won’t
There are a few teams who find themselves surprisingly in the expanded postseason race, but are in the middle of rebuilding efforts. All three of these teams have restocked their farm systems and landed in the top 10 of our preseason farm system rankings, so they have the pieces to be big league buyers if they wanted to. But the thinking here is they’ll let it ride with their young players. If they make the postseason, so be it. If not, their prospects are getting valuable experience and they’re a bit closer to being true contenders than perhaps they anticipated.
Giants: Catcher Joey Bart is now in the big leagues and there’s no way they’d deal phenom Marco Luciano and it wouldn’t make sense for them to shop outfielders Heliot Ramos and Hunter Bishop, Nos. 3 and 4 on their Top 30.
Marlins: Sixto Sánchez and Jesús Sánchez, Nos. 1 and 5 on the Top 30, just got called up and that’s the route they should continue to take: giving prospects a chance to show what they can do. Keep those young Fish coming!
Tigers: Like the Marlins, this is still rebuilding time. That’s why we’ve seen Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal in the big leagues. There’s pitching depth, for sure (Matt Manning, Joey Wentz and Alex Faedo in the top 10 alone) and some big-time bats, but it’s not like Riley Greene or Spencer Torkelson are going anywhere.