Home Baseball Way-too-early guide to the MLB trade deadline — Sellers’ edition

Way-too-early guide to the MLB trade deadline — Sellers’ edition

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We’re still a couple of weeks from the start of the season, not exactly a tense time of the year in terms of trade scuttlebutt. Hard-core fans are rapt with anticipation over the World Baseball Classic, while MLB teams are just trying to figure out who is going to be on those season-opening rosters. The trade deadline seems like a long way off.

Still, it never hurts to get a jump on things, so let’s start figuring out how teams are positioned for the months ahead as the trade market gradually heats back up. Usually, you see these things divided as such: buyers and sellers. I’m sticking with that paradigm, mostly. We don’t actually know who the buyers and sellers will be because, you know, no one has played any games.

That basically leaves us with three options. We could pull names out of a hat, we could use forecasts or we could hire a medium and hold a seance to contact the testy spirit of Nostradamus. I opted for the second route. Just so I don’t have to shoulder all the responsibility for ruling teams out of the postseason while still in the midst of spring training, I aggregated my projections with those at Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs and claydavenport.com.

Using that consensus forecast, I classified teams as buyer or sellers, then subdivided the groups into “now,” “maybe” or “probably,” depending on how likely they are to stay within their group. It’s all based on the likely range of possibilities for each team, which is defined here as plus or minus 10 games of their baseline consensus forecast. That seems like a ridiculously large range, but it’s really not and it’s instructive to see these ranges. For example, if a team’s best-case scenario is 78 wins, it should probably be looking to move pieces when the opportunity arises.

Obviously, the needs for buyers and sellers are different. Sellers are trying to exchange veterans for prospects, generally speaking, while buyers are doing the opposite by trading pieces of the future to plug holes in the moment. Because of those diametrically opposed aims, I’ve ranked the two groups by different methods. Today, we’re looking at the likely sellers, and they are ranked according to the total projected 2017 WAR of any players due to become a free agent next summer or the season after.

Those aren’t the only players who could be dealt, of course. This is an overview — a look at how teams are positioned given their likely situation in the coming season. We’ll do the buyers later in the week. All contract data was obtained from Cot’s Contracts.

Kansas City Royals

STATUS: Sell probably

WIN RANGE: 63 to 83

FREE-AGENT WAR: 16.0

The Royals’ place atop the list is no surprise, as their group of vets on expiring contracts have been a topic of much discussion. The Royals need to show they can continue their history of wildly outperforming statistical projections, and they need to do it fast. If the projections were more favorable and bumped Kansas City into the buyer class, their thin farm system would leave them poorly positioned for a deadline pickup. With the clock ticking on Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar, no team has more on the line before Memorial Day than the Royals.

Colorado Rockies

STATUS: Sell probably

WIN RANGE: 64 to 84

FREE-AGENT WAR: 13.0

A lot of people still see the Rockies as a sleeper team even after a spring where Colorado has sustained more than its share of significant injuries. If the Rox do end up in sell mode, Carlos Gonzalez would be a much sought-after bat, though Colorado would probably have to eat some money on his $20.4 million expiring deal. Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu could end up as trade bait as well, as both enter their final seasons of arbitration in 2018.

Atlanta Braves

STATUS: Sell probably

WIN RANGE: 64 to 84

FREE-AGENT WAR: 12.7

With the Braves moving into a new stadium, they appear to be straddling the fence between developing their rich farm system and keeping enough veterans around to make a push at the big league level. That’s especially true of Atlanta’s old-timey rotation that now features Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey. If the Braves were to hit the upper end of their forecasted win range (84) that would be borderline wild-card contention. That’s unlikely and if the season goes even deeper south, those veterans along with fellow starter Jaime Garcia all have soon-to-expire deals. If they are pitching well, a fading Braves team would surely be able to move them to a contender looking to round out its rotation.

Oakland Athletics

STATUS: Sell maybe

WIN RANGE: 68 to 88

FREE-AGENT WAR: 10.6

One thing we know for sure: If the A’s aren’t in the running by July, Billy Beane won’t hesitate to move expiring deals. Oakland doesn’t have a game-changer on an expiring deal, but among its useful vets on team-friendly contracts that are up this season or next are Ryan Madson, Rajai Davis, Trevor Plouffe and Yonder Alonso. Of those, if Madson were to lock down Oakland’s closer spot and enjoy a big first half, the A’s could probably get a decent prospect for him.

Philadelphia Phillies

STATUS: Sell probably

WIN RANGE: 63 to 83

FREE-AGENT WAR: 10.5

The Phillies’ time is coming, but probably not this season. If any of their veteran starting pitchers are having good seasons, they will be a draw come trade season. Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz are both respected veterans headed for free agency after the 2017 campaign.

Chicago White Sox

STATUS: Sell now

WIN RANGE: 61 to 81

FREE-AGENT WAR: 9.5

The White Sox aren’t waving a white flag on the 2017 season, but everyone kind of expects them to finish the veterans sell-off that Rick Hahn began so efficiently over the winter. Their ranking here would be a lot higher if it included Jose Quintana, who doesn’t fit our criteria because he’s got two years of club options remaining after the 2018 season. Of course, that’s just another reason why he’s such a plum trade piece. Among Chicago’s short-timers are Melky Cabrera and Todd Frazier — both free agents after this season — and David Robertson, who is up after 2018.

Arizona Diamondbacks

STATUS: Sell maybe

WIN RANGE: 67 to 87

FREE-AGENT WAR: 9.2

The Diamondbacks are hoping to contend with their top-heavy roster but need to be aggressive at the trade deadline if that doesn’t work out, as Arizona’s farm system is woefully depleted. Maybe they could eat some money and deal Zack Greinke to a rich team, as he sits in the middle of Arizona’s future payroll hierarchy like a mastodon, with some $172 million coming his way through 2021. Paul Goldschmidt would be painful to part with, but he’s on a good contract and could be a draw. Neither of those players count in this ranking, though. Arizona’s best expiring deal belongs to Fernando Rodney. Also, A.J. Pollock has one more year of arbitration after this one.

Minnesota Twins

STATUS: Sell maybe

WIN RANGE: 66 to 86

FREE-AGENT WAR: 9.2

If the Twins escape the seller group, it will be because they outperform their dire pitching projections, at least far enough to support what looks like it could be a pretty good offense. Whether or not that happens, Minnesota’s one veteran trade piece on a short-term contract — Brian Dozier — is going to be a prominent name in the rumor mill, just as he was all winter. If the Twins are a surprise wild-card contender, moving Dozier with a prospect could bolster the pitching staff. If they don’t contend, it only makes sense to move him given Minnesota’s group of young bats.

Cincinnati Reds

STATUS: Sell now

WIN RANGE: 62 to 82

FREE-AGENT WAR: 7.3

The Reds are the first of the last three teams, each with among the poorest forecasts for the 2017 season. All three have long ago made the decision to shift direction and, as such, their supply of tradable veterans is limited. The Reds have Joey Votto locked up and he’s the face of the franchise. Among the short-term players, Cincinnati will eventually want to move on from shortstop Zack Cozart, perhaps during the season. If Drew Storen has a strong first half, he’d draw interest as well.

San Diego Padres

STATUS: Sell now

WIN RANGE: 57 to 77

FREE-AGENT WAR: 5.9

Three probable members of the Padres’ starting rotation are free agents after the season. If they can get something for Jered Weaver, Trevor Cahill or Jhoulys Chacin, that would mean they had performed well and San Diego should take whatever they can get for them. Of course, that would make the mystery over just who will be starting games for San Diego this season that much more … mysterious.

Milwaukee Brewers

STATUS: Sell now

WIN RANGE: 62 to 82

FREE-AGENT WAR: 4.1

The Brewers already have been down this path, thus there is not much left. Matt Garza could get into the trade conversation with a bounce-back campaign. If Milwaukee eats some money, it would be able to deal Ryan Braun. However, it’s not clear whether the Brewers would want that. There’s something to be said for a hint of continuity, and the Brewers have a deep and talented minor league system as it is.



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