Buy or sell: Evaluating the NL contenders at the trade deadline

Almost every team in the National League is in the conversation for a Wild Card, but which teams should actually be looking to upgrade at the trade deadline?

The addition of the second Wild Card continues to do exactly what Major League Baseball hoped it would — add drama to the long and drawn-out regular season. The extra playoff spot creates another playoff spot and race, helping to make sure more games have meaning in September. It has worked perfectly since its inception in 2012. You can argue over the merits of making teams fight it out for what amounts to a play-in game to the real playoffs, but the second half has been much more interesting since the extra spot was added.

With the second Wild Card, more teams are still engaged in the playoff hunt at the trade deadline, and that has made the July 31 trading period even more exciting and interesting. More teams are forced to get involved and consider the implications of chasing a spot over sticking to their rebuilding plan or seriously evaluating their long-term hopes. We saw the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers do their best to nail down a Wild Card in the face of a rapidly-closing championship window. All three teams are all mired in deep rebuilds.

This year, the American League playoff races are relatively tame compared to the National League, where all but one team is within at least five games of the final playoff spot. The Wild Cards are currently held by the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers, but both are still totally up for grabs.

Because so many teams are somewhat in the playoff conversation, it is going to create a very difficult trade deadline for front offices. It’s a great time to be a seller with so many potential trading partners, that’s for sure. All of these National League teams will have to consider the long-term implications of their moves at the trade deadline this year. Let’s try and break down which way each team should go.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – JUNE 25: Manny Machado #13 of the San Diego Padres fields against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 25, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Fringe Contenders

With the exception of the Miami Marlins, every team in the National League is within five games of the final playoff spot. While all of these teams could conceivably make a run and eat up five games of ground in the second half, they aren’t all worth a full breakdown here.

  • San Diego Padres: The Padres should be buyers at the deadline. They are only three games out and haven’t been more than a few games above or below .500 all season. With their massive investments in Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer and young rotation and lineup, the Padres are going to be a force to be reckoned with as soon as next season. If there is a chance to make a big deal that makes the team better for more than one season, they should take it.
  • Colorado Rockies: The Rockies have sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, but none of that matters if their starting pitching continues this massive regression to the mean. That’s always been the problem for Colorado, as they’ve never quite been able to nail down pitching development. The Rockies have lost 16 of their last 22 games and should look to sell at the deadline.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates elected to try and buy with an eye on the future at the deadline last season. Their decision to trade Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow for Chris Archer already looks fated to go down as one of the worst trades in MLB history. It’s time to sell.
  • New York Mets: It’s the Mets…sell.
  • Cincinnati Reds: The Reds are surprisingly one of the more interesting teams in the National League. No, they’re not going to top .500 this season, but their decision to take fliers on veterans looking to bounce back is really paying off. They could flip Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark for nice returns and contend as soon as next season.

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