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

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

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The other day, we looked at the probable sellers in this year’s in-season trade market. That leaves us with, you guessed it, the buyers. Whereas the currency for the out-of-contention clubs tends to be cost-effective veterans, for these aspirants, the lure will be those who populate the prospect ranking lists we so love to peruse this time of the year.

To rank the prospect stock of clubs in the orbit of the playoff race, I aggregated the top-100 lists of five sets of preseason rankings: ESPN’s Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, John Sickels of minorleaguebaseball.com and Baseball America. I awarded reverse-order points for each ranking slot from 100 to 1 and tallied them up. I call this simple bit of arithmetic Prospect Points.

This kind of points system doesn’t capture the true separation between the 158 individual prospects who ended up on the list, but it does give us an idea of the depth and quality of prospects with which each team has to work. It also, in my view, better models the trade deadline scenario, when the upper-list players carry outsized value. Also, keep in mind that for each specific prospect mentioned below, the solution could actually be to move the veteran blocking him at the big league level.

New York Yankees

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 71 to 91

PROSPECT POINTS: 448

The Yankees have gotten an exciting glimpse of their future this spring through the performance of a number of young players, led by hot-hitting shortstop Gleyber Torres. The Baby Bombers, if they contend, would figure to need a boost in starting pitching. Of course, if New York is in the running, it’ll be because the rotation as it is exceeds expectations in the first place. The areas of depth among their top-level prospects appear to be in the middle infield (not Torres, who isn’t going anywhere, but Jose Mateo — a prospect the Yankees are giving a chance to learn center field) and the outfield (Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, Blake Rutherford, Dustin Fowler and one of the Tylers, Wade or Austin).

Pittsburgh Pirates

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 72 to 92

PROSPECT POINTS: 392

The Pirates are as apt to fill a hole from within as they are to deal for someone outside the organization. Pittsburgh has a well-balanced roster and a good bit of star power in its outfield and atop the starting rotation.

However, if general manager Neal Huntington does need to make an impact splash, the outfield is the first place to look. Not only do the Pirates have a strong big league group in Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen, but Austin Meadows, who ranks No. 9 on Keith Law’s top 100, appears to be headed for PNC Park sooner than later.

Tampa Bay Rays

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 72 to 92

PROSPECT POINTS: 327

The setup for the Rays seems clear. If they contend, it’ll be a result of a deep pitching staff and a great defense. To cement their place in October, they’d probably need an impact bat for a corner position or at designated hitter. However, to fill that hole, the budget-conscious Rays probably would have to leverage the depth of their starting rotation, making veterans such as Alex Cobb, Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi among the most coveted names on this year’s in-season trade market.

New York Mets

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 76 to 96

PROSPECT POINTS: 299

Theoretically, the Mets have a lot of starting pitching depth, but given the injury history of that group, it’s hard to see GM Sandy Alderson dipping into that. If the Mets were to have a chance to add a top bat to the mix, then it might be tempting to cash in top shortstop prospect Amed Rosario. It’d be a tough call because the big league shortstop, Asdrubal Cabrera, is in his 30s.

St. Louis Cardinals

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 73 to 93

PROSPECT POINTS: 291

The Cardinals are hoping everything they need is already in their spring camp. Their ranking here is exaggerated by the presence of elite pitching prospect Alex Reyes, who is out for the season. Chances are, any in-season move by the Redbirds would be a marginal one, perhaps for additional bullpen help.

Cleveland Indians

STATUS: Buy now

WIN RANGE: 81 to 101

PROSPECT POINTS: 279

The Indians begin our run of elite teams with plenty of minor league depth to augment a probable October run. As both Cleveland and Boston have already seen, injuries can muddy the outlook for rosters that just a month ago seemed to be fully stocked. If that persists, the Indians could investigate either shipping outfield prospect Bradley Zimmer or moving Zimmer up while exploring a possible market for Tyler Naquin.

Los Angeles Dodgers

STATUS: Buy now

WIN RANGE: 87 to 107

PROSPECT POINTS: 274

Seems as if hardly anybody is mentioning this, but it’s the super-deep Dodgers, not the Cubs, who have the top consensus preseason forecast in the big leagues. If needed, L.A. can tap into a terrific group of prospects and under-25 talents already on the 40-man roster. The Dodgers’ dilemma might turn out to be figuring out how to find spots for young guys demanding bigger roles at the big league level. Is it out of the realm of possibility that Cody Bellinger forces the Dodgers to consider dealing Adrian Gonzalez? Probably not, but that’s some nice insurance to have.

Houston Astros

STATUS: Buy now

WIN RANGE: 83 to 103

PROSPECT POINTS: 272

The Astros are on-paper elite but seem to have a clear need for another front-line starting pitcher. That could eventually turn out to be a younger player already in the system, such as Francis Martes. But if Houston goes after White Sox ace Jose Quintana, it’d be tough for another club to top an aggressive Astros offer.

Boston Red Sox

STATUS: Buy probably

WIN RANGE: 77 to 97

PROSPECT POINTS: 258

The Red Sox system isn’t nearly as deep as it was this time last year, now that president Dave Dombrowski has swapped so many prospects in the construction of a powerful big league roster. Boston ranks so highly here only because of the game’s consensus top prospect, Andrew Benintendi, who by many orders of magnitude is more likely to win the AL Rookie of the Year award this season than be used as trade fodder. However, given Dombrowski’s history, you can’t say the same about infielder Rafael Devers or pitcher Jason Groome.

Chicago Cubs

STATUS: Buy now

WIN RANGE: 85 to 105

PROSPECT POINTS: 204

The Cubs have so much under-27 talent in the organization that if they need starting pitching help or another arm for the bullpen, they should be able to get it done. The names of young outfielder Eloy Jimenez and Ben Zobrist apprentice Ian Happ are sure to get mentioned, but it feels as if some kind of worst-case scenario for the pitching staff would have to emerge for them to make that level of a transaction. Still, they did trade Torres last season.

Toronto Blue Jays

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 74 to 94

PROSPECT POINTS: 195

The Jays seem to have a weakness in left field, an assessment the club has been pretty firm in denying. The spot that could be turned over to Dalton Pompey or Lourdes Gurriel. Gurriel can also play third, the base position of Toronto’s top prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — the Little Impaler, who is only 18 and a few years away from the majors. The hot corner happens to be the domain of Josh Donaldson at the big league level. In other words, if the Blue Jays ultimately decide that an Ezequiel CarreraMelvin Upton Jr. platoon isn’t working, there are options.

Texas Rangers

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 72 to 92

PROSPECT POINTS: 168

The Rangers are likely to need starting pitching help to maintain a postseason push. While they don’t have a lot of top-20ish prospects left on the ranking lists, they still have a rash of cost-controlled talent on the 40-man roster. With no obvious path to an everyday big league spot for power-hitting Joey Gallo, his name could surface in a bidding war for, say, Quintana. Then again, Adrian Beltre can’t play forever. Probably.

Washington Nationals

STATUS: Buy probably

WIN RANGE: 79 to 99

PROSPECT POINTS: 164

If Ryan Zimmerman bounces back and the Nationals stay relatively healthy, they don’t have any obvious holes. Yeah, there isn’t a clear-cut closer, and maybe that becomes a spot addressed via trade. The Nats have quality bullpen arms, so that might not be a concern, as so often closers are recognized as such only after they’ve racked up a few saves. After this winter’s machinations, the top remaining prospect is outfielder Victor Robles, who, at 19, isn’t going to help this year’s team. Given the age of Washington’s starting left fielder (Jayson Werth, 37), and the looming 2019 free agency of Bryce Harper, you’d think that any prospect, including Robles, would be on the table for an impact, win-now move.

Seattle Mariners

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 76 to 96

PROSPECT POINTS: 105

If new right fielder Mitch Haniger keeps hitting as he has this spring, any previous reports of the Mariners’ move to a glove-first outfield might slip into obsolescence. However, if the lefty portion of Seattle’s projected first-base platoon, Dan Vogelbach, keeps hitting as he has this spring, the M’s could be in the market for a bat this summer. However, it’s not clear that Seattle has the level of prospects to make another splash to help the offense.

San Francisco Giants

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 77 to 97

PROSPECT POINTS: 54

The Giants always seem to score just as many runs as they need to, so I’m always a little skeptical at their so-so offensive projections.

Still, San Francisco might need to upgrade either in left field or third base before the season is over. Even if that happens, the Giants would probably stay in-house, as their most attractive prospect trade candidates are starting pitchers who might be needed for the big league rotation or bullpen this season.

At third base, Jae-Gyun Hwang could emerge, though this spring his batting average is higher than his on-base percentage, never a marker of advanced plate discipline. Meanwhile, Jarrett Parker is having a big spring as the heavy half of a possible left-field platoon with Gorkys Hernandez.

Detroit Tigers

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 71 to 91

PROSPECT POINTS: 39

There is a reason the Tigers will be looking to move veterans for prospects, if not during the season, then surely after it. Even a surprise playoff push won’t change that big-picture initiative. It’s gotta happen.

Miami Marlins

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 70 to 90

PROSPECT POINTS: 39

One of the things that makes the Marlins an attractive sleeper candidate is that most of their core comprises impact players in, or on the cusp of, their peak seasons. The Achilles’ heel is a starting rotation with a paper-thin margin of error. A lot needs to go right in that area for a team still reeling from the death of Jose Fernandez. If it doesn’t, neither the team’s limited budget nor the paucity of high-level prospects is likely to help the situation.

Baltimore Orioles

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 69 to 89

PROSPECT POINTS: 30

Baltimore is in a similar spot with Manny Machado as Washington is with Harper, in that the shadow of the Yankees and other big-market clubs looms larger and larger over the region as 2019 free agency begins to peek over the horizon. However, the win-now prospects of the Orioles aren’t as clear as they are for the NL East favorite Nationals. In fact, the O’s carry the worst consensus forecast in the AL East, albeit in what appears to be a very strong division. If Baltimore is to prove the forecast systems wrong, the Orioles will have to do it with in-house talent, as the system doesn’t have any clear high-profile prospects with which to make an in-season splash.

Los Angeles Angels

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 72 to 92

PROSPECT POINTS: 15

On paper, the Angels look as if they can contend for a wild-card spot. However, they have a lot of fragile players who need to stay healthy for that to happen. With a barren farm system, the Angels have a very thin margin for error.



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