MLB’s trade deadline is in three weeks. So far, the only significant player to be dealt this season has been closer Kelvin Herrera, moved from the Royals to the Nationals for what most considered a light return. Three teams across baseball (the Royals, Orioles, and White Sox) have winning percentages under .400, while another four AL teams are at least 15 games out of a playoff spot and four NL teams are at least ten games out of playoff positioning.
Naturally, the standings seem to indicate that MLB’s worst teams should trade off their best assets, especially considering the ferocious playoff races in the National League, right?
Well…not so fast.
The Orioles don’t want to trade Manny Machado (who doesn’t want to play third base for two months), their best trade piece, yet…because the All-Star Game is in DC and they don’t want to be embarrassed.
Heard this theory today from a baseball person: The #Orioles won't trade Machado before the #AllStarGame because it's in DC, and they're in the middle of the MASN dispute with #Nationals. And there's no way they'd deal Manny and have him show up in a #Dodgers or #Brewers uniform.
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 10, 2018
The Royals don’t know what the hell they want to do with 29-year old Whit Merrifield, while the value of both Jason Hammel and Mike Moustakas isn’t what it was 12 months ago. Hell, Moustakas is getting looked at as a first baseman by the Yankees.
The White Sox don’t have many players at the major league level with value. Jose Abreu is probably their best trade piece, and he’s in the midst of his worst season of his five in the majors.
The Marlins only want to trade relievers and other low upside veterans and not their best player, catcher JT Realmuto.
The Mets aren’t publicly talking about trading either Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard.
The sexiest Padres trade target is reliever Brad Hand, who they didn’t move last year and then signed to an extension over the winter.
All of these teams need to consider just what exactly they’re doing, looking at last year’s Royals as an example. Kansas City didn’t make any moves at the deadline, finished under .500, watched Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer depart as free agents, and are 40 games under .500 this year (despite retaining Moustakas thanks to a one-year deal with an option for 2019). If they had traded those three players, they would have dramatically restocked their farm system, and maybe the future would have looked a little more bright despite looking those cornerstones two months earlier than they did. Instead, the Royals held on to them, watched them leave, and are downright terrible this season with a less than restocked farm system. Whee?
Naturally, not all of these players are the same. Realmuto is 27 and won’t be a free agent until after 2020. Machado is a 26-year old that will be hit free agency in three months. If the Marlins don’t trade Realmuto in the next three weeks, they could easily do it this offseason, or next July (albeit for less value than they would likely receive this year). If the Orioles don’t trade Machado, he’s going to walk away as a free agent in months and the Orioles will be left with just a draft pick as compensation.
The Padres really should know better with Hand, given their prior experience with Tyson Ross. San Diego didn’t sell high on Ross during his 2014 All-Star season, or his strong 2015 follow-up, despite the team finishing under .500 in both of those seasons. Ross then developed thoracic outlet syndrome, missed all but one start of the 2016 season following surgery, and was non-tendered after the season, bringing back exactly zero prospects for the Padres. Interestingly enough, after a disastrous year with Texas in 2017, Ross is back in the Padres rotation this season. Baseball works in weird ways.
It makes all the sense in the world for these teams to trade their best assets this summer, especially with ten NL teams fighting tooth and nail for the five playoff spots and two tight division races in the AL between teams desperate to avoid the Wild Card game. It’s a seller’s market this year, and the sellers need to take advantage – unless they just want their most desirable players to either bring back nothing or keep playing on teams going nowhere.