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Which teams should buy and which should sell

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The Major League Baseball trade deadline is days away and if you haven’t noticed all the trades and wrestling for postseason position it’s because, well, there hasn’t been much. Such is the result of being about halfway through a 60-game season that still feels like it just started, but is actually half over for some teams.

When the trade deadline rolls around Monday, don’t expect the usual fireworks, deal-making and Baseball Twitter-breaking scoops. If the trade deadline is like Christmas, this is the year we’re all getting socks instead of an Xbox.

It makes sense. In many cases that’s probably the more prudent long-term move. This year is such a crapshoot that by the time we get to October (if we get to October), anything can happen. More than half the league — 16 teams — will make the postseason. There’s no first-round bye, so the best teams will meet fringe contenders in a three-game series.

You can understand why even the teams with the highest hopes may not be willing to let go of promising prospects for the sake of a World Series run when that’s the gauntlet that awaits them. Most experts and execs expect a chill trade deadline. You can bet relievers and some expiring contracts will be on the move, but some teams still don’t really have clear ideas of whether they’re buyers or sellers. 

If the playoffs started Friday, the Marlins would be in, the Giants would be close — and get this, the Orioles would only be a game-and-a-half out. Even the worst teams are only five or six games out of a playoff spot. Right now, a .500 record gets you into the postseason.

Just because we won’t see a lot of trades, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. If you subscribe to the belief that every season matters and every team should always try to win, there are some interesting teams that probably should be buyers. Likewise, there are some teams that are holding on to hopes that probably aren’t too realistic.

To try to figure out which teams should buy and which teams should sell, we looked a bit beyond the standings and common sense. We compared FanGraphs’ playoff odds from opening day to the current playoff odds to see which teams have either dashed past expectations and which teams should probably just accept their fate now and help their future.

*All numbers are entering Friday’s action.

(Michael Wagstaffe / Yahoo Sports)

SHOULD BE BUYING

Cubs

Opening day: 71.2% playoffs, 3.7% World Series

Now: 95.1% playoffs, 5.5% World Series

The Cubs fit into the traditional trade-deadline buyer box. We weren’t sure if they’d be good enough to win a competitive NL Central this season, but good news, they’ve been one of the best teams in the NL. They went from a maybe-playoff team to almost a sure thing. Their World Series odds are up too. The bullpen remains a concern with the Cubs and they could use some rotation depth.

Marlins

Opening day: 9.2% playoffs, 0% World Series

Now: 31.5% playoffs, 0.3% World Series

The Marlins do *not* fit into the traditional trade-deadline box, but look at that jump in the playoff odds. Look at those NL East standings (they’re in second place). The Marlins have a tough road ahead with games to make up because of their COVID-19 outbreak, which is all the more reason to bring in reinforcements. The Marlins weren’t expected to contend for a while — come on, Derek Jeter, don’t sit on your hands now.

Rays shortstop Willy Adames and second baseman Brandon Lowe celebrate after a win over the AL East rival Yankees. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Rays

Opening day: 85.9% playoffs, 6.8% World Series

Now: 99.7% playoffs, 6.0% World Series

The Rays generally defy the the construct of being a buyer or a seller. Sometimes, like when they traded Chris Archer, we thought they were a seller but they were actually buyers. Rays magic like that. New-age stuff aside, the Rays have an opportunity in front of them. They’re in first place, the Yankees are beat up — now’s the time to go for the jugular. 

Blue Jays

Opening day: 29.8% playoffs, 0.5% World Series

Now: 66.2% playoffs, 1.2% World Series

The Blue Jays rebuild, full of exciting young second-generation players, is currently ahead of schedule. Those FanGraphs’ playoff odds have nearly doubled and they’d be a wild-card team right now. In case you haven’t figured out where I stand on these things yet: If you have a shot, go for it. The Jays already added Taijuan Walker from the Mariners and could use even more healthy arms to complement that exciting lineup.  

Mets

Opening day: 68.3% playoffs, 3.8% World Series

Now: 60.2% playoffs, 4.7% World Series

Here’s the thing about the Mets: The collective baseball Internet loves to pick on them and laugh at all the misfortune that follows them, but they’re the type of team that could do OK in the playoff format. They have Jacob deGrom, basically. Despite a so-so start, the Mets are still hanging in there. Their division isn’t great, so there’s a path to the playoffs right in front of them. Starting pitching is where they need help, so they could make sense as a Dylan Bundy or Lance Lynn destination.

White Sox

Opening day: 64.1% playoffs, 2.2% World Series

Now: 98.3% playoffs, 6.0% World Series

The South Side has been waiting for this moment! The White Sox are relevant again. And while their window is wide open for the future — it’s also wide open now. The Sox shouldn’t necessarily give up the future to compete in 2020, but this team they’ve assembled is definitely worth upgrading for an October run. Like most teams, pitching is a need, particularly in the short-term.

Other teams that should be buying: Yankees, Twins, Braves, A’s, Dodgers, Indians, Padres, Phillies.

(Michael Wagstaffe / Yahoo Sports)

SHOULD BE SELLING

Red Sox

Opening day: 64.7% playoffs, 2.9% World Series

Now: 4.4% playoffs, 0.1% World Series

The Red Sox having nearly a 65% chance at the playoffs is the best hindsight data point on here. Wow. The Red Sox have been bad. They’re the perfect selling candidate. They have a new GM and they have contracts they’d probably like to unload. The only problem is if they don’t want to further irk a fan base that’s used to winning and already saw the Sox deal fan-favorite Mookie Betts.

Rangers starter Lance Lynn is a Cy Young contender who could be on the market. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Rangers

Opening day: 36.4% playoffs, 0.8% World Series

Now: 3.5% playoffs, 0.0% World Series

With the A’s and Astros being so good, at best the Rangers are playing for a wild-card spot. Despite a decent start, Texas hasn’t shown much to make us think they’re a legit playoff contender, much less a threat if they can get in. They hold Lance Lynn as a desirable trade chip. Now is the time. Plenty of teams could use his services.

Angels

Opening Day: 57.4% playoffs, 2.4% World Series

Now: 4.4% playoffs, 0.1% World Series

Poor Mike Trout. The Angels are just a bummer all around. Their 10-22 record has them behind even the Mariners. Not what they were hoping for when they brought Joe Maddon to town. When we say sell,  we don’t mean Trout, of course — but one Angels bright spot has been Dylan Bundy, the former No. 4 overall pick who never could get it together in Baltimore. He’s been stellar this season (a 2.58 ERA in six starts) and still has another year before free agency. The way it looks, the Angels aren’t competing next year either.

Giants

Opening day: 12% playoffs, 0.1% World Series

Now: 30.4% playoffs, 0.6% World Series

This is where my go-for-it gusto takes a turn. The Giants should not go for it. They’re hanging on in the NL West right now. They would almost be a playoff team. But is Johnny Cueto going to get you to the World Series? This is not 2015. Sell, sell, sell … for your future — sell.

Other teams that should be selling: Angels, Mariners, Orioles, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Tigers, Royals.

SHOULD BE STANDING PAT

Reds

Opening day: 64.6% playoffs, 2.5% World Series

Now: 49.5% playoffs, 3.0% World Series

To put it simply, this is the Trevor Bauer question. Bauer has been one of the best pitchers in the league this season. He’s a free-agent-to-be. In other cases, a fourth-place team like the Reds would surely be looking at moving Bauer for an impact prospect. But therein lies the 2020 of it all: Will someone give up a lot for Bauer right now? Are the Reds ready to give up on a season that started with so much hope? They’re teetering between standing pat and selling, in my mind. Their odds have risen recently, but a weekend series against the Cubs would ultimately make the decision for them by Monday.

Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer came to Cincinnati in a deadline deal in 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Rockies

Opening day: 28.5% playoffs, 0.5% World Series

Now: 44.0% playoffs, 0.9% World Series

The Rockies are prone to hot and cold streaks. Now, after a hot start, they’ve come back to earth a bit. They’re a fringe wild-card team right now, but are they really? The Rockies probably shouldn’t sell considering the early-season excitement, but they shouldn’t buy either because reality is setting in.

Nationals

Opening day: 76.7% playoffs, 4.8% World Series

Now: 19.2% playoffs, 0.7% World Series

This is an eye-opening dive for the defending champions, and while the numbers might say sell (or buy, when you look at the NL East), the larger logic says stay the course. This season isn’t going the Nats’ way, but we saw what they did last year with a season that looked dead in the water. 

Cardinals

Opening day: 58% playoffs, 1.9% World Series

Now: 62.4% playoffs, 1.8% World Series

The Cardinals, you have to figure, are playing with house money at this point. Missing as many games as they did, it would have been tough to imagine them getting to the postseason. But  the outbreak also leaves more questions about whether the Cardinals are a playoff-caliber team. Is buying worth the risk? Sounds like the time to roll with what you got and see what happens.

Others that should stand pat: Astros, Brewers.

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