Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer July 18, 2023, 7:00 a.m. ET
CloseJesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for ESPN.com.
As the MLB trading deadline approaches, the decision to add or remove a team is usually made based on the standings.
Every year, though, there are bubble teams that come close to the playoff race but don’t necessarily prove themselves in the win/loss column, leaving their front office with a tougher decision to make.
ESPN has identified eight such teams, and with the August 1 deadline exactly two weeks away, time is running out.
“They actually made their decision last weekend before the trade deadline,” said Philadelphia Phillies president Dave Dombrowski. “You waited as long as you could.
“You always want to make the playoffs because once you make it we know anything can happen. However, and I’m just speaking for me, you have to be realistic with yourself. Do you have a good enough club to progress, or in your heart, do you really not feel that way? That’s an important difference.”
Adding to the challenge this season is the fact that the first-ranked team in the AL Central is hovering around . 500, while the last-ranked team in the AL East is six games over. That will inevitably lead to varying degrees of doing so or choosing to trade in veterans. And, according to Dombrowski, it is increasingly important for front office decision makers to understand the state of their own team rather than relying solely on the number of matches they have participated in in the standings.
“Every market is different,” he said. “Every owner is different. Every team is different. You are not a one-sided decision maker. What happens if you are with a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 10 years? That can be huge. It can be different from a team that has always been in it but had a bad year.”
With all that in mind, ESPN engaged the services of a current MLB assistant general manager (whose team is not in the bubble) to help determine the fate of our eight bubble teams. Here’s the opinion.
the minnesota twins
Odds of making it to the postseason: 81.6%
Verdict: A minor addition
Requirements: Right-handed hitter
In the words of our executive: The Twins can use some help fighting pitch lefties, but for the most part they should be healthy. If their best player acts like that, they can run, but don’t need to trade their best prospect.
Mayor of Cleveland
Post season odds: 16.4%
In the words of our executives: The Guardians are not going to replace injured starters Shane Bieber or Cal Quantrill (or Triston McKenzie) with a blockbuster deal. If they are healthy, they will be injected. They held on last year and won the division easily.
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“We are a small market team,” said GM Mike Chernoff. “Unlike some other places, where you’re constantly thinking ‘How are we doing this time,’ we have to think about how we maintain our competitiveness.
“You’ve seen over the years, we’ve tried to put the needle in our way of doing it. Thankfully it worked in the past.”
Los Angeles Angel
Post season odds: 3.5%
Verdict: Go to the vet
Available: Ace/DH, center court corner
In the words of our executive: When it comes to Shohei Ohtani, the Angels don’t show their hands until the last minute. If it’s not Ohtani — or someone besides him — the others will be transferred.
“With Mike Trout out it makes their decision easier,” added another executive. “It would be much more difficult to trade Ohtani if [Trout] not hurt. We will see later.”
Post season odds: 9.5%
Requirements: Hitting, especially offensive boost at second base
In the words of our executive: This is another team whose best players have had to emerge — including Julio Rodriguez. But that doesn’t mean Mariners have to stand their ground. Offensive production at second base and designated hitter has become a problem.
Post season odds: 1.3%
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In the words of our executive: The Tigers may be working hard with their future in mind, but president of baseball operations Scott Harris is new to his job. She likely isn’t in go-for-it mode, but she doesn’t necessarily have to be a big sale either.
“On balance if the team goes three to five games back, more than usual, you’re going to see the team trying to hang in there,” added another executive.
New York Mets
Post-season odds: 13.2%
Verdict: Go to the vet
Available: Starting pitch, OF/DH
In the words of our executives: The Mets could always return to free agency over the winter. Sending an antenna to one of their veterans, including Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, makes perfect sense.
“They didn’t win this year,” said another executive. “I’m not sure if Steve Cohen can be convinced, but I am.”
Post season odds: 20.5%
Verdict: Go to the vet
Available: Start throwing, left-handed bat
It’s been a strange year for them, but Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger are about as good as they ever were in the market. Maybe the Cubs will stick around, thinking Cincinnati will get back into the fold. But Milwaukee will be tough.
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“Ultimately, you make decisions around this year’s playoff odds and the playoffs odds for the coming years,” said Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins. “The exact record doesn’t matter if you get it down to those granular levels, but it doesn’t feel comfortable to be below .500 and in a supercompetitive position.
“There’s a playoff opportunity, and then there’s a World Series opportunity. I don’t think there’s much history of under . 500 teams winning the World Series.”
Padre San Diego
Post season odds: 20.7%
In the words of our executive: When has Padres general manager AJ Preller ever stood his ground? This may be the year. It’s unlikely the Padres can add any more – not with their depleted farming system and their place in the table – but there’s no reason to trade their mainstay either. Maybe they can advance in the second half, but there’s always next year.