Now that we’re past the MLB All-Star break and headed into the second half of the marathon season, the next upcoming date of importance is the August 1st trade deadline.
We’re in the “we need to look ourselves in the mirror and make a decision” season, folks.
If your franchise feels empowered enough to continue to get hot and make a postseason run, roster changes to buy and improve the roster need to be made by then. If you need to humble yourselves and realize you’re either not on a contending level or just straight up having a cursed year from darkness, it’s time to cash in on the pieces you have now to start blowing it up in a masochistic way to prepare for the next year.
Buying or selling is the decision that gives the team its identity for this year and the future. Similarly, two DRASTICALLY different blockbuster films are being released on the same day. Many will be having to decide which one to view or which order: Barbie, the upbeat, neon, empowering comedy, or Oppenheimer, the dark historical thriller telling the tale of the Manhattan Project that led to the death of thousands and changed the world forever.
What ticket you purchase defines you. Those are the rules. Rather than divide teams in each division with “buyer” or “seller,” we will try to determine which ticket the franchises in each division are buying.
One Barbie, the team that is upbeat and empowered with positive energy and believes that they can continue this hot stretch, and one Oppenheimer, a team that has made the dark and morose decision to blow it all up with the fire of nuclear and dreary rage.
Baltimore Orioles: Barbie
Boston Red Sox: Oppenheimer
The AL East has been the biggest bloodbath of a division all year long, each team having a better record than the first-place team in the Central and above .500 playing competitive ball; that’s what makes the bold decision-making here so fascinating.
The Rays were expected to be great and have lived up to the billing despite their injuries, the Blue Jays are looking to get back on track despite their underperforming superstars, but the team that should be feeling as empowered and feel good that’s the Barbie team is the darling Baltimore Orioles. They’ve been tanking and rebuilding for prospects since the JJ Hardy-Adam Jones era to accumulate the “all-vibes” team of 20-year-olds playing with house money at this point. No one expected this team of Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, or Austin Hays to be in 2nd place and one of the best.
teams in the AL throughout the entirety of the season; with their wealth of prospects and resources on this young roster, they could easily say, “We think we really have something here to contend,” and make a big budget purchase and go for it rather than take a half measure and stand pat. They have the bats and the bullpen, so going out and getting that one big-name veteran ace to bolster their rotation could make the Baby Birds even more serious World Series threats.
The Yankees are in last place but are too pot-committed to win now to sell with the Judge, and Rodon deal this offseason, smart move or not. The Boston Red Sox are a competitive team and by no means in the state of needing an Oppenheimer-sized nuclear explosion of their roster. This has been a successful season! However, they do need to look at the competition in their division, look themselves in the mirror, and decide if 2023 is realistic.
A large amount of their production is coming from players that are still developing and growing into their true form, like Masataka Yoshida, Jarren Duran, or Brayan Bello, which is great for the long-term future. Still, the rest of the team are veterans, moveable pieces that would be much more valuable in the short-term for World Series contending teams that could give Boston more youthful assets to build around and be much more suited for their timeline.
Justin Turner, James Paxton, or Adam Duvall are all in their mid-to-late 30s on short deals that could be valued elsewhere given their production this year, so they’d be selling high and would have a much better shot in 2024 with their young guys getting experience and Trevor Story coming back from injury.
Seattle Mariners: Barbie
Los Angeles Angels: Oppenheimer
We’ve seen the American League West run by the defending champion Houston Astros for the past decade, but it’s been wild thus far with the Rangers keeping pace with the enemy and looking down on them from end-to-end thus far, even without Jacob deGrom. They already made a trade for Aroldis Chapman and will likely make another insurance move to sure up the team.
Who really needs to ride the good vibes and empowerment coming out of the break, however, is the Seattle Mariners. While they’ve never gotten hot or cold all year, underperforming in every single spot in the lineup aside from J.P. Crawford, they’ve just hovered around the .500 mark following their first season of snapping their playoff curse. Take the positive energy of Julio Rodriguez stealing the show in the city in the home run derby, except that the first half was just a matter of everything going wrong, and gun for the wild card spot! They’ve already invested in winning this year with the J-Rod and Castillo extensions, and the fans were batting their eyes at Shohei Ohtani. They want to win and should feel up to it with a rotation of guys that are 26, 25, 24, and 23. Taking their contract-controlled, young pitching to invest in a win-now bat could be what it takes to get back in the mix in a tight AL Wild Card race behind the Yankees and Red Sox as well.
On the other side of the coin in terms of vibes is the Los Angeles Angels. Everyone is waiting on pins and needles for them to finally just give in and trade Shohei Ohtani to avoid a Mike Trout-ian cycle where the organization as a whole fails a generational talent from playing in meaningful games in October. It’s one thing to have “I traded the most unique athletic specimen of all-time” on your resume if they do blow it up Oppenheimer style and trade Ohtani, but would you rather him leave for nothing with fans in revolt in 2024 should he look around and just see a middling roster with an injured Mike Trout and not want to stay anymore?
Protecting reputation is understandable, but getting a decent return by simply realizing this Angels team is on the outside looking in on the playoffs as it stands and preparing for the worst might not be such a bad thing. And it would be fun to see the Ohtani sweepstakes in a hired assassin role.
Minnesota Twins: Barbie
Chicago White Sox: Oppenheimer
The AL Central has been so incredibly unimpressive (or disgraceful) that it isn’t going to take a massive move for someone to potentially run away with it. While the Twins and Guardians have been at the top the entirety of the season, the team most likely to feel the empowerment to feel good about themselves and improve their roster in the now Barbie style is the Twins. They’re pot-committed to the salary of Carlos Correa they just signed; they made the aggressive trade of Luis Arraez for pitching depth in the offseason and starting pitching has been lights out third in ERA. The problem is that the offense is almost unwatchable. They’re the more likely of the two to feel good and make an aggressive move for a bat (maybe a Paul Goldschmidt?), whereas Cleveland’s normal mode of operation is to wait for their youngest roster in baseball to finally get it together and perhaps even sell their veterans for depth.
The White Sox are your Oppenheimer team. What was once a World Series preseason contender last year has been a laughing stock since Tony La Russa managed, was “relieved,” and thus forth. The talent from those World Series predictions still remains, so if any of the names, such as Dylan Cease, Lucas Giolito, or Lance Lynn, were to figure it out again somewhere else, they could cash in on that rebuild easily. Luis Robert Jr. has been a slugging MVP on a deal in his prime despite being on this atrocious team, and it’s unlikely they’d want to move him given he’s the guy that you KEEP in spite of a rebuild, but would it not just be so awesome to see the chaos?
Philadelphia Phillies: Barbie
New York Mets: Oppenheimer
The Braves look untouchable as the NL East leader as the consensus best team in baseball.
However, don’t look now- the Phillies went from a “year from Hell” start to the season with all of their injuries to getting Bryce Harper back, going 17-5 before the break (the second-best record since June 3), and have an even better than last year at this point… when they got hot and decided to make the World Series. They’re behind the Miami Marlins in standings, but the Marlins are never motivated to make the big-time moves and prefer to invest in the long game- they even shut down 20-year-old ace Eury Perez to preserve his strength. They’re less motivated than Philly, who could just decide to get confident and bolster their starting rotation, a weak point for them thus far with Nola and Wheeler needing to return to form.
The most chaos-inducing blow-it-up scenario would be for the largest payroll in baseball history to decide to sell off and cut their losses on the year. Preseason was World Series or bust with the Verlander signing, the Nimmo and Diaz extensions, and more. But take a look at the ages of this team with a current 11.3% chance to make the postseason at all: Scherzer is 38. Verlander is 40. Marte is 34. Aside from Lindor, Nimmo, and Alonso’s extension looming as long-term certainties, there’s nothing that’s set in stone for the long term. What’s the answer? Cash out on the aging roster? Fire Buck Showalter to get a new voice? Simply accept it’s not the year and run it back?
Certainly, the New York media will react rationally no matter the outcome!
Arizona Diamondbacks: Barbie
San Diego Padres: Oppenheimer
The Diamondbacks have been one of baseball’s most pleasant surprises thus far, but they still need to make some insurance moves to reassure us that they can take the next step. Leading for the majority of the first half in the division with a team built around an electrifying rookie in Corbin Carroll and a Cy Young candidate in Zac Gallen is exciting, considering it has the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres all looming over the franchise in the spotlight for the past decade-plus, but one final move to take that excitement to make it a surefire bet is needed, especially since they’ve hit a skid and are now third in the division with the Dodgers and Giants returning to form. Don’t let the first half energy die, Snakes! They’ve spent money and invested in moves like a team that wants to win- being aggressive to add either a power bat or some rotation depth would make them be taken more seriously and feel good about themselves.
The Padres are in a similar situation as the aforementioned Mets. Aside from Juan Soto’s contract looming, they paid everyone that they made a move for and held a “Miami Heat 2011 superteam introduction” level Fanfest preseason headlining Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Soto touting their World Series expectations by taking a small market team and spending to make them a contender instantaneously.
Being in fourth in the division and wildly unimpressive offensively pretty much all year, with underperforming superstars aside from Soto and Blake Snell, has made their odds at a postseason Wild Card very bleak. Snell and Soto have yet to be extended, and they’re going to be VERY expensive. If this isn’t the year in San Diego, standing pat and losing them for nothing would be crushing.
Cincinnati Reds: Barbie
St. Louis Cardinals: Oppenheimer
The Cincinnati Reds went from a bottom-of-the-barrel National League team in terms of expectations with an injured Joey Votto preseason to AMERICA’S TEAM! Merely by calling up prospects that have been electric thus far and looking like a team that is going to be built to be successful and together for the long term has completely changed the outlook of the team and the direction they can take roster-building. They’ve been the most face-lifted team, expected to only win 65.5 games preseason, and are already at 50.
They’re going blow-for-blow with the Milwaukee Brewers for the lead in a relatively mediocre Central. Milwaukee hasn’t been the organization that is eager to make a big splash, so they need to take advantage and pounce on this lightning in a bottle and make a move to add some veteran depth, as they’ve somehow been winning with a starting rotation with the 5th-worst ERA in the majors.
The Cardinals, your preseason NL Central favorite that had the two leading NL MVP vote recipients last season, have already publicly announced their Manhattan Project is one of the most-embarrassing successful organizations in sports. The evidence? President John Mozeliak bluntly said, “We’re gonna trade some guys.”
LET THE NUCLEAR TEARDOWN BEGIN.