When the MLB season resumes on Friday following the All Star Break, there will be two weeks remaining before the start of August. With the July 31 trade deadline looming, it is a critical time for franchises to assess where they are now and what the plan is moving forward.
The National League is fairly easy to sort out. The Phillies, Brewers, Marlins, and Reds are sellers. The question marks are the Rockies and Padres, who may also look to the future. Everybody else could use key pieces.
However, in the American League, things are much less transparent. Many of the “bad” teams have reasons for optimism, and some of the “good” teams seem somewhat tenuous.
Betting-wise, this means that squads hoping to play meaningful games in August should be motivated to convince their front office that they can contend.
Let’s take a look at the main teams still on the buyer/seller fence in the AL.
Trying to read Billy Beane’s mind is an act of futility. He went all-in last year and, when Jon Lester failed in the Wild Card game, he dismantled the A’s roster. Oakland has the worst record in the AL and several players (Ben Zobrist, Tyler Clippard, and Scott Kazmir) who are free agents at the end of the season.
However, Oakland’s +44 run differential ranks among the top-ten in the majors. Close games have been their downfall; they are 8-22 in one-run games and 1-6 in extra innings. FanGraphs suggests that, if the A’s had average luck this year, they would be 12 games better in the standings and one of the top teams in baseball. Surely the A’s core will be trying to show Beane that a fire sale is not the answer.
The O’s are just 44-44, overall, and are four games off the division lead and 3.5 out of the Wild Card. But, like Oakland, they have a strong run differential at +39. They also rank 12th in pitching and eighth in batting and will be getting Jonathan Schoop back from the disabled list. Schoop’s return should be big for a team that got little production at second base without him.
The O’s lost five of six and eight of ten heading into the ASG and they’ll need to a strong showing out of the second-half gate to convince management that this year is still viable.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto’s +88 run differential is best in the American League and second in baseball. But their 45-46 record is only good enough for fourth in their own division. (They’re essentially in the same spot as Baltimore when it comes to vying for a playoff spot.) They were closer to a postseason berth before losing four of five and eight of 11 entering the All-Star Break.
Toronto owns the best offense in baseball but pitching has been a big problem. They feel like a buyer at the moment (a top tier starter like Johnny Cueto plus a bullpen arm would be great), but that will change if the next ten days don’t go so well.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox, the third AL East squad on this list, seemed dead in the water a month ago. But the Bo-Sox are now just two games worse than the Blue Jays and, unlike their division mates, entered the All-Star Break on a high, winning nine out of 13. Unlike their division mates, though, their underlying stats don’t provide confidence: Boston ranks 28th in team ERA and 12th in runs scored, amounting to a -43 run differential.
That said, Boston isn’t likely to be much of a seller come the deadline (even if things take a turn) because there isn’t much in the stable to sell. Young studs Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are likely untouchable, while an underperforming Mike Napoli isn’t going to fetch much. If the first couple week of the second half go well, look for Boston to become deadline buyers, adding pitching for a playoff push.
Chicago White Sox
The other Sox are just 5.5 games back in the Wild Card race despite boasting the worst run differential in the AL (-73). Chicago won four of five and nine of 12 before the break to make their record a more respectable 41-45. But, even with Chris Sale, they are below average in team ERA (18th at 3.90); and, despite a lineup that features 2014 AL home run champ Jose Abreu, they are dead last in the majors in runs scored.
Chicago will get a real litmus test out of the break with games against Kansas City, St. Louis, and Cleveland. If they slip, look for the Sox to be deadline sellers and for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson to attract a lot of interest.
(Photo credit: EricEnfermero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)