July is here. Let the bidding for the top stars on the Major League Baseball trade market begin.
We've come to discuss eight teams that could be especially difficult to outbid as the clock ticks down to the July 31 trade deadline. These are clubs that have:
We'll begin with some honorable mentions, and then move roughly in order from most likely to least likely to be outbid.
Proper incentive to go all-in on trade acquisitions
Significant needs to fill
Young talent to offer
Some payroll flexibility
First, here are five teams that were considered but didn't make the cut for various reasons.
The Brewers will surely be looking for major upgrades, and there's a decent chance they'll land one or two. However, their weak farm systemand bloated payroll leave them vulnerable to getting outbid.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox need relievers above all else, but they could also use a No. 5 starter and perhaps an extra bat. It's too bad they have MLB's worst farm system and that they're already looking at a hefty luxury-tax bill.
Between their farm system and luxury-tax standing, the Cubs are in the same boat as the Red Sox.
The upstart Rangers can dig in their heels by addressing a pitching staff that's barely held together. But since they're a retooling club that's only looking at a wild-card berth, they must be protective of what little they have in their No. 29 farm system.
San Diego Padres
The Padres have baseball's best farm system, and they might just put it to use in pursuit of the top-flight starting pitchers they're missing. But since they're only 42-43, those pursuits can and should wait.
Tampa Bay Rays
Record: 50-36, 2nd in AL East
After winning 90 games in 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays are on pace for a 94-win season that would mark the third-best campaign in their history.
The Rays, however, endured a 13-16 June that raised doubts about their formula. According to Juan Toribio of MLB.com, they'll be in the market for "multiple" relief pitchers. They should also be on the lookout for an impact hitter and/or starting pitcher.
The biggest advantage the Rays have on the trade market is their wealth of young talent. We have their farm system ranked as the third-best in MLB. At least in terms of acquisition cost, there isn't a trade chip the Rays can't afford.
The actual cost of players is another matter. With their 2019 expensescreeping up on what they spent in all of 2018, now might not be the time for the Rays to break with their habit of keeping their wallet closed.
Lastly, the Rays' 5.5-game deficit to the New York Yankees in the American League East points them in the direction of a one-game wild-card playoff. That also figures to make them averse to risks.
St. Louis Cardinals
Record: 41-42, 3rd in NL Central
In light of their 88-win 2018 and subsequent active offseasoon, the St. Louis Cardinals have been a letdown thus far.
Yet all is not lost. The National League Central race hasn't left the Cardinals in the dust, and they can still hope for Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter and Miles Mikolas to revert to their 2018 forms.
This is not to say the Cardinals don't have needs. Their slumping offensecould use a pick-me-up. They could also use a stabilizer for their shaky starting rotation and a late-inning reliever to fill Jordan Hicks' (Tommy John surgery) shoes.
The Cardinals only have MLB's No. 25 farm system to barter with, yet their best prospects (i.e., third baseman Nolan Gorman and outfielder Dylan Carlson) may be available. They could also dangle outfielder Tyler O'Neill and right-hander Alex Reyes, both of whom are former top prospects, as change-of-scenery candidates.
A bigger issue has to do with the Cardinals' financial flexibility, or apparent lack thereof. They opened 2019 with a franchise-record $162.6 million payroll. At least as long as the NL Central lead remains elusive, they may be reluctant to pile on.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Record: 58-29, 1st in NL West
The Los Angeles Dodgers are already the best team in Major League Baseball, but they can still improve.
The Dodgers have generally been protective of their best prospects but not so much that they've been completely against trading for superstars. Otherwise, they wouldn't have ended up with Yu Darvish in 2017 or Manny Machado in 2018.
Despite those trades, the Dodgers still have the No. 9 farm system in baseball. With an elusive World Series victory squarely in their sights, it's possible they'll be more willing than ever to sacrifice prospects.
The Dodgers may also be willing to stretch their payroll even further. They're already over the $206 million luxury-tax threshold, but they have plenty of leeway before they have to worry about the harsher penalties that kick in at $226 and $246 million.