Every year the July 31st Trade Deadline approaches and teams trick themselves into believing they have a real chance at competing in October. Now with the second wildcard spot, even more teams deplete their farm systems at a chance for a one-game playoff. And with teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros tearing up their respective leagues, the best teams are just too damn good. Here are three teams who need to stop kidding themselves and sell at the trade deadline:
1. BALTIMORE ORIOLES – Record: 48-51
If you look up mediocre in the dictionary, an Orioles logo shows up. With FanGraphs giving them a 7.9% chance of making the playoffs, and a team ERA of 5.10, saying they’re a playoff longshot is putting it nicely. But still GM Dan Duquette reported they are buyers at the deadline.
As a good rule of thumb, if you have a losing record at the deadline, you’re not a real contender. The orioles also have the goods to trade in Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day. Any one of these bullpen arms could fetch at least a couple prospects to improve one of baseball’s worst farm systems. The one type of pitcher the Orioles have been able to develop is relievers and Mychal Givens is more than capable of replacing any of the top guys they trade away. On top of that, trading all three isn’t even necessary. Trade Brad Brach and hope Zach Britton returns to form. Then sell Seth Smith and Welington Castillo because they don’t fit in the Orioles long-term plans anyway. Smith could help a team like the Brewers or the Twins who are exceeding expectations but aren’t committed to selling top prospects this year. Castillo is a perfect fit for the Rockies who could use a veteran catcher with a good bat, or he could return to the Diamondbacks avoid learning a whole new pitching rotation.
Verdict: Sell some assets before you repeat the mistakes of the post-World Series Phillies and wind up with Chris Davis as Ryan Howard 2.0.
2. KANSAS CITY ROYALS – Record: 51-47
The Royals are one of baseball’s hottest teams, but that doesn’t make them a real contender. The 4.23 team ERA and a team wOBA of just .309 reveal they are pretenders. It’s the Indians division to lose and they have the pitching to carry them down the stretch. With Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas all set to be free agents at the end of this year, and the latter of the three having a career season, it’s time to sell high.
I’m all for romanticizing baseball and making one last run with the core group of guys that brought the Commissioner’s Trophy back to Kansas City, but they simply do not have the pitching to compete in October. The Royals hallmark bullpen is no more and can no longer cover up their weak rotation. Besides they have a unique opportunity to sell assets to two division rivals trying to outdo each other. The Yankees need a first baseman (Hosmer) and the Red Sox need a third baseman (Moustakas). Both are all-stars and demand a high return even for rentals.
Verdict: Sell off all the expiring contracts or risk waiting another 30 years for your next World Series.
3. PITTSBURGH PIRATES – Record: 49-50
Pittsburgh is another team with a losing record that is letting a recent hot streak convince them they have a chance to compete in October. Spoiler alert: they don’t. Andrew McCutchen looks like he has returned back to his old form and Gerrit Cole would command a decent return as a front-line starter that could help a team in a pennant race. Both of these players could help out a team like the Dodgers who need another pitcher with Kershaw on the DL and they could use a veteran outfielder with their extremely young core. On top of that, every team can use a super utility man in October like Josh Harrison (see Red Sox need at third base).
With the Cubs looking like the defending World Champions again and the Brewers somehow still competing, the division race doesn’t look promising. And the juggernaut that is the NL West looks like it will supply both NL Wildcard teams. Put simply, under 92 wins won’t be good enough with the postseason comes around.
Verdict: I know Pirates fans are scared of fading back into obscurity, but selling now prevents a longer drought from relevancy.