Which Teams Will Make Themselves Better At The MLB Trade Deadline?

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Before you can decide which team you think will win or lose, you need to know which teams are trying to win.

In baseball, tanking is the new “rebuilding,” and rebuilding is the new “we’ll see.” No matter which team you root (or bet) for, you should know where they are on the Matrix of Team Building & Fan Emotion:

See how dangerous it can be if you aren’t sure where you are on the matrix? If you think your team is rebuilding, but they are actually tanking, you are in for a long, hard summer. And if you believe your general manager when he says “We’re going to put the best team out there and see if we can get into the playoff mix,” but what he really means is “If we’re three games out of the wild card in July, we’re trading away our best players,” again…long summer.

Tanking was popularized by the Cubs and Astros, who lost loads of games over a few years in order to stockpile draft picks. Someone once said “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” (I think it was Madonna re: Beyoncé), and so we now have teams trying the tanking method (see the Orioles, Rockies, Marlins, and Pirates, who are stuck in Tanksylvania). But, the Cubs and Astros had smart people in place when they tanked, so it’s sort of like a dopey kid trying to copy the study habits of the smart kid in school: sure you can try to be nerdy Poindexter, but you’re still going to take the test like a dunce.

To wrap this notion up, to give you an idea of where we are in MLB right now, here’s a representation of the teams in each of the four categories from The Matrix of Team Building and Fan Emotion (someday we will have the budget to have James Earl Jones say that each time I use it in a column):

  • Tanking: Rockies, Pirates, Marlins, Orioles
  • Rebuilding: Nationals, Diamondbacks, Tigers, Rangers
  • Pretending: Reds, Indians, Royals, Blue Jays
  • Contending: Dodgers, Padres, Yankees, Rays

As you plan your strategy for cheering and betting for the balance of the MLB season, be sure to understand where your team is, and what they plan to do at the July 30* trade deadline.

These MLB Teams Will Try To Improve At The Trade Deadline

There’s always a balancing act between going for it by making a big move at the trade deadline to improve your roster, or selling off pieces to shore up for another day. Some teams will never wave the white flag, while others have no dye to make a flag of any other color.

Buyers At The Trade Deadline

  • New York Yankees
  • Boston Red Sox
  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Oakland A’s
  • Milwaukee Brewers
  • Chicago White Sox
  • Chicago Cubs

Others: I think the Rays and Astros could also add a piece if they are still in good playoff positions seven weeks from now at the trade deadline. The Astros are known to go big if they need to (witness their previous grabs at the deadline to get future Hall of Fame pitchers Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke). The NL East is a quagmire, with three middling teams packed toward the top of the division. The Mets, Braves, or Phillies (or all of them) could find themselves in a scrum fighting over bullpen or starting pitching help, which would be fun to watch.

Yes, the defending world champion Dodgers will add something at the deadline. The rich will get richer. Most likely they will pursue a starting pitcher (maybe Matthew Boyd from Detroit, or how about a big splash to go after Max Scherzer?). The Padres and (possibly) Giants will most likely add a body or two via trade, but the Giants will need to keep their pace because both of their SoCal rivals are nipping at their heels. The White Sox will run away with the AL Central, but expect them to target a starting pitcher to counter a possible playoff clash with the Yankees or Red Sox.

Sellers At The Trade Deadline

  • Washington Nationals
  • St. Louis Cardinals
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • Detroit Tigers
  • Minnesota Twins
  • Colorado Rockies

The Nats are an interesting case: GM Mike Rizzo doesn’t like to concede, so there’s a chance he might ride it out with the weapons he has. But on the other hand, he could spin Scherzer into some prospects (and then quickly resign Max in the offseason). Keep an eye on that, especially if you’re a Mets fan hoping to see your team snatch the NL East. The Cardinals could just as easily be on the buyers list, but I have a feeling they’re going to collapse as the weather gets warmer. That Cardinal roster is not good: the Cubs are going to grab hold of the NL Central (currently +2200 to win the NL pennant by DraftKings, while the Cards are +1200 but shouldn’t be favored more than their division rival). Speaking of Central: every team in the AL Central other than the Pale Hose is likely to be sellers at the deadline.

Betting Tips For After The Trade Deadline

Just because your team sells doesn’t mean they can’t still be sneaky competitive in August and September. Here are three teams who probably won’t make the playoffs who I think could be sleepers in the second half of the season:

  1. Cincinnati Reds
  2. Minnesota Twins (+4000 to win the AL pennant via DraftKings, if you want to lay a wild bet that isn’t out of the realm of possibility)
  3. Los Angeles Angels

The Reds have several bats in their deep lineup that can do damage, and they will be playing several games against the woeful Pirates and mediocre Cardinals.

The Twins are better than their record, and it’s possible they could get hot for three weeks and make a run at a wild card spot, but even if they dump some salary at the trade deadline, they have enough firepower in their lineup to win some games as the summer drags on.

The Angels have three of baseball’s more interesting players. Of course, there’s Mike Trout, who is as close to Willie Mays as this generation is going to get. Then there’s the amazing Shohei Ohtani, who could hit 40 homers, lead the league in RBI, and strike out 150 batters. No one has ever done that, not even Babe Ruth, the Colossus Of Clout, the King of Crash, the Great Bambino.

Update On Foreign Substances On Baseballs & MLB Response

Last week MLB owners met at their secret underground lair to discuss the current state of the game and reportedly decided to take steps to address the problem with pitchers putting sticky foreign substances on the baseballs to improve grip and spin rate. As I reported last week, this is a very big problem and it hampers run scoring.

According to Craig Calcaterra, MLB will start to pressure teams to curb the use of foreign substances (good luck with self-policing), and also empower umpires to enforce the rules in place that ban the use of the sticky stuff (hey! let’s play by the rules, what an innovative idea!). We’ll keep an eye on this, because if MLB actually does penalize pitchers who use foreign substances, it will help hitters and increase run-scoring. Currently, the MLB batting average is .237, which would be the lowest figure ever recorded in the league.

Special Baseball Moment Of The Week

Say what you will about the MLB “City Series” jerseys, but this shouldn’t be allowed to happen: Tony La Russa wearing the duds with his cap turned sideways in the dugout this past weekend. When you have less fashion sense than Bill Belichick, you know something is wrong. At least those standings look good for Tony and his ChiSox.

*MLB moved the trade deadline up one day in 2021 to July 30th. Usually it’s the 31st, but this year the 31st is a Saturday with lots of games going on, so it would be a bit of a logistical nightmare for teams to coordinate their rosters and make deals on that day.

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.

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