Sizing Up the Buyers and the Sellers

With the draft officially behind us, MLB’s calendar has officially flipped to Trade Season. With six weeks before the non-waiver trade deadline, teams now have to get serious about deciding which direction they’re going to go; trade talks can often take a while, and teams generally want to get looks at guys they may get in return, which necessitates knowing whether to send additional scouts to cover the majors or the minors.

Of course, no one has to cement their decision on June 19th, and the results of the next month or so will move some teams from one side of the ledger to the other. But as trade talks begin to begin in earnest, let’s take a look at where all 30 teams stand now, and what we should expect them to do before July 31st.

Definite Buyers
Team W L Win% Proj. Wins Playoff%
Astros 46 24 0.657 98.7 99.8%
Dodgers 44 26 0.629 99.4 99.8%
Nationals 42 27 0.609 95.1 98.4%
Indians 36 31 0.537 91.6 95.4%
Rockies 46 26 0.639 90.8 88.0%
Red Sox 39 30 0.565 90.4 88.0%
Diamondbacks 44 26 0.629 90.0 83.5%
Cubs 34 34 0.500 88.8 83.2%
Yankees 38 29 0.567 87.8 74.6%

It’s almost impossible to see any of these nine teams moving into seller mode over the next month; every team here has at least a 3-in-4 chance of reaching the postseason, according to our playoff odds, and besides last year’s two World Series teams, they’re all off to such strong starts that even a summer fade will still leave them in a position where they remain in a spot to add for the stretch run. The Cubs and Indians haven’t played like World Series teams yet, but just as our forecasts take into account more than just first-half record, so too will these teams factor in their recent postseason success when evaluating the quality of their 2017 roster.

Bubble Teams
Team W L Win% Proj. Wins Playoff%
Blue Jays 33 35 0.485 82.8 35.6%
Rays 37 35 0.514 81.1 22.5%
Rangers 34 34 0.500 80.4 18.5%
Cardinals 31 37 0.456 81.1 18.3%
Tigers 32 36 0.471 79.4 14.2%
Mariners 34 37 0.479 79.6 14.0%
Orioles 34 34 0.500 78.8 11.4%
Mets 31 37 0.456 80.1 9.7%
Brewers 38 33 0.535 79.3 9.3%
Royals 33 35 0.485 77.4 7.1%
Twins 34 33 0.507 77.1 6.5%
Angels 36 37 0.493 77.7 6.4%

And here is the muddle. 12 teams are within shouting distance of .500, and based on our rest-of-season forecasts, all of them are expected to finish between 77 and 83 wins. You’ve got three teams that had pre-season rosters that looked playoff-caliber but have struggled thus far (TOR, STL, NYM), but still might have enough hope left for a strong finish to add instead of subtract. You’ve got two expected also-rans (MIL, MIN) who have played well enough to force their teams to begin thinking about whether it’s worth changing course for this season. And then you’ve got the seven mediocre teams who entered the year with hopes that things would break their way, but so far, are right around where the projections forecasted them.

Individually, you could make a pretty good case for all of these teams selling. The upside for most of them is an invite to the single-elimination Wild Card game, where they would be facing a superior opponent and most likely would be the road team as well. Wild Card teams can win the World Series, of course, but how much of your farm system do you want to give up to chase a chance at playing one game with your season on the line?

But in reality, there’s at least one playoff team here. Our definite buyers tier only comprised of nine teams in a sport with 10 playoff spots, so even if none of the teams currently in strong playoff position have a second-half swoon, there’s a spot open for one team in this group. And usually, a team in strong playoff position in mid-June falls apart by season’s end, so in reality, we may see two or even three teams from this group end up in the playoffs.

And a lot of these teams already have their chips in on the short-term. The Mariners and Tigers are old, and each have several high-priced contracts that couldn’t easily be moved. The Rangers only have Yu Darvish signed through this season, and the Blue Jays only have Josh Donaldson through next season, so neither really wants to try to rebuild right now.

The Royals have, perhaps unfortunately for their franchise’s best interests, played themselves back into a dilemma; a fruitless run at a playoff spot that kept them from trading any of their impending free agents could make the coming rebuild even more challenging, but with recent playoff success with this group still in everyone’s memory, it’s not that hard to justify a “one last run” mentality.

So, this is the group where the interesting decisions lie. Most likely, the next month will help sort a few teams out of this group into either the definite buyers or sellers tier, and then a few of these teams will end up just sitting out the trade season, neither buying nor selling, and just see what happens with what they have. But this is also where the potential logjam lies, because these teams have players who would be in high demand if made available for trade.

Besides the short-term guys like Darvish or J.D. Martinez, this is where teams can dream of acquiring a guy like Chris Archer. Until there’s more clarity on what these bubble teams might do, you might see buyers holding off, not wanting to commit too early to paying a premium for Jose Quintana if they think an Archer or a James Paxton might hit the market a few weeks later.

With 12 teams in this big middle-ground area, it seems like we may not see a lot of short-term trade action. There are just too many teams who don’t know yet what they’re going to do.

Likely Sellers
Team W L Win% Proj. Wins Playoff%
Athletics 31 38 0.449 77.4 6.0%
Marlins 30 37 0.448 77.9 4.5%
Pirates 31 38 0.449 76.7 4.3%
Giants 26 45 0.366 72.5 0.5%
Braves 31 37 0.456 71.6 0.3%
White Sox 31 37 0.456 69.2 0.1%
Reds 29 39 0.426 69.0 0.1%
Padres 28 42 0.400 65.6 0.0%
Phillies 22 46 0.324 62.7 0.0%

I’m not using definite here, like with the buyers, because it’s just too easy to go on a bit of a run and talk yourself into holding your chips. And sometimes, the offers aren’t to the seller’s liking, so they just decide to wait until the winter, like the White Sox did with Chris Sale last year. But given where things stand now, I think these nine teams will be open for business over the next six weeks.

Just looking at the playoff odds, you could argue that the A’s, Marlins, and Pirates belong one-tier up, as each of them also project for 77-78 win range that would put them right in line with the Twins, Angels, and Royals at the bottom of the bubble team tier. But in each case, that projected win total is based on a second-half improvement, much of which would have to take place after the trade deadline. It’s a lot easier to buy or hold with a .500 record, thinking the projections are wrong, then it is to do so with a .450 winning percentage based on a belief that the projections are right and the team should start playing better any day now.

Five of the other six teams in this group are the ones that everyone basically knew weren’t going to win this year. The White Sox, Reds, Padres, Phillies, and Braves were pretty clear rebuilders heading into the season, and their first-half performance has just confirmed that they need to continue to look towards the future, turning present value into future value where they can.

And then there’s the Giants. No expected contender has face-planted as hard as San Francisco this year, as they now have a better shot at the #1 overall pick than they do of getting back to the playoffs. Even with a projected .511 win% over the rest of the season — which feels quite generous given what they’ve done to date — we still have them finishing with just 73 wins, just a game ahead of the Braves. And that’s without accounting for a potential trade of Johnny Cueto, a decision to not hurry Madison Bumgarner back in a lost season, or any other future-oriented decisions they might make.

The Giants season is already over. There’s no digging out of this hole, so they’ll join the rebuilders and the struggling fringe-contenders in listening to offers for their win-now guys. It should help them that we’re only looking at nine teams as likely sellers right now, especially since teams like the Padres and Phillies don’t have a lot left to trade away, but they might want to be aggressive in trying to make moves sooner than later, because when some of those bubble teams start looking to sell, the supply of available talent could go up quickly.

In the end, it looks like the league will break down roughly in thirds, with at least one team likely moving out of the bubble into the group of buyers, so we’ll have something like 10 teams in each group as we head towards the deadline. This could make for a pretty fascinating trade season, with perhaps more action than we’ve seen in recent years.

We hoped you liked reading Sizing Up the Buyers and the Sellers by Dave Cameron!

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j6takish
Member
j6takish

The Brewers may be the most fascinating team on this list. The front office is smart enough to not blow up the farm to go for it but I doubt they were anticipating the team being this good. They need to do “something” you can’t really sell or stand-pat when you’re in 1st place, it doesn’t send a good message to the fans. They were really counting on being able to flip their bullpen guys. I’m guessing they make some minor moves, maybe a Scott Feldman type of guy and hope they fall out of it enough to become sellers. However, the Cubs really don’t seem like they want to get their shit together

HappyFunBall
Member
HappyFunBall

There are things that can be done. You could try, for example, to sell bullpen help to the Nats in exchange for a back end starter that won’t play for them in the post season anyway. MIL could always agree to take on some $$$ to get someone’s bad contract without having to give up prospects. Bad contract guys can also sometimes be moved during the non-waiver trade period later in the season if MIL fades from contention.

But it’s a tight rope to walk…

Richie
Member
Richie

Poop. Or doody. Could be kids reading. (do they still do that??)

Abaseballnut
Member
Member
Abaseballnut

HELLO

Dooduh
Member
Dooduh

Professor Poopypants.

John Wick
Member
Member
John Wick

The Brewers seem more fascinating in theory than they are in reality.
They don’t have a lot of obvious guys to trade; Braun isn’t healthy and their rental bullpen pieces have pitched poorly. And they don’t have any obvious needs crying out for repair, outside of shoring up their bullpen. I think you’ll see them mostly stand pat, which might have been the case regardless of their record, with the only change being they might be a buyer for low-end relief arms if they’re still in the mix at the end of July.

Fhone Ciggins
Member
Fhone Ciggins

Maybe the Brewers are fascinating in the way that people will talk a lot about them doing something when actuality they’ll do absolutely nothing.

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

Knebel has dominated and Jared Hughes has been decent. Trading Thames right now would net them a much better return for an under-the-radar free agent signing than anyone thought 3 months ago.

tramps like us
Member
tramps like us

Thames is signed to a very team-friendly contract thru 2019, and the Brewers are contending now with youth coming shortly. You don’t deal Thames.

Dooduh
Member
Dooduh

Brewers are prob a big pen addition away from having to be taken very seriously. And thing about that is they have a deep system from which to make an acquisition. No idea how their odds could be worse than the Mets who’ve been pretty awful.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

If I was the GM of the Brewers, I would be channeling my inner Billy Beane or Neal Huntington to buy and sell at the same time (like the Pirates did last year at the deadline). I’d see if someone was willing to give me some good prospects for Garza, Braun, and Hughes (and maybe some other guys in the outfield too just to clear room for the prospects). I don’t think they’d get a ton of interest, and I wouldn’t sell low, but I’d at least try. But I’d also be trying to cash in some guys who would need to go on the 40-man soon for rentals and struggling-but-talented guys you think need a change of scenery. And I’d definitely be willing to take on salary to facilitate a deal in either direction.

HappyFunBall
Member
HappyFunBall

Might be a good idea to try and sell high on Travis Shaw. If they could induce a bidding war between NYY and BOS, it could prove unexpectedly lucrative.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Do you really think after last year Boston would want him back? Shaw would be great in Yankee Stadium, but would the Yankees really chase a guy without pedigree and who struggled that much last year? I don’t think they’d be willing to pay up for that much control either.

HappyFunBall
Member
HappyFunBall

I dunno. If you’re chasing a WS, saying you don’t want a player today simply because you didn’t want him six months ago when circumstances were different seems like a poor way to run a franchise. I don’t really think Shaw’s going to fetch A LOT from anyone, but he’s a useful bat playing a position of need for a number of contenders.

fuster
Member
fuster

the Yankees couldn’t be induced to offer more than a a handful of (non-magic) beans for Shaw.

Joser
Member
Joser

you can’t really sell or stand-pat when you’re in 1st place, it doesn’t send a good message to the fans.

Tell that to the first-place (by 20 games!) 2001 Mariners, who stood Pat (Gillick) at the deadline. (And, yes, look where that took them.)

tramps like us
Member
tramps like us

That’s called a “small sample size.” As a Giants fan, I’m glad you weren’t in charge there.

The Duke
Member
The Duke

They should do very little and stick to their plan.