As a mysteryteamologist, the worst thing that could have possibly happened last year was for the Texas Rangers to win the American League West. Not because they didn’t deserve it, or because it wasn’t a thrilling worst-to-first story. But because it made us forget just how much of a mystery team they were.
The Rangers were an all-time mystery team when they traded for Cole Hamels. It was beautiful. They were 49-52 and eight games back, and they had lost 95 games the season before. Their ace was recovering from Tommy John surgery, and there were other injuries up and down the roster. There was no reason for them to be buying at the deadline like a normal contender.
Except for the best reason, that is. The Rangers asked themselves if they would target Hamels in a potential offseason deal to pair with Yu Darvish in a revamped rotation, using their prospect capital in place of brute financial force, and the answer around the room was probably a resounding "yes." The follow-up was something like, "So ... why not just get him now?" I'd like to think everyone quietly looked at each other, dumbfounded. And a mystery team was born.
This trade deadline is the best possible situation for a mystery team, too. The same Hamels-Rangers dynamic applies, only much more so. Oh, sure, you could sit around and wait for the offseason to improve your team. Except there isn’t going to be much there. At least, it won’t be a drastically different inventory. It’s not like there’s a team that’s holding on to their best players right now that will suddenly rebuild in November. Which means there’s going to be almost nothing on the market.
This is the hot stove league already, in other words. The rentals like Josh Reddick will go to contenders, but everyone with a year or more left on their contracts are candidates for the mystery team.
It’s time to find these mystery teams, the Rangers of this deadline. Which quasi- or non-contender has the best argument for celebrating the holidays in July? We’ll make a list, from least likely to be a mystery team to most. It’s the mystery team power rankings! We’ll set the threshold to at least three games out of a postseason spot, which leaves us with half the teams in baseball:
These are the deep-rebuild teams. They won’t say no if a team offers them major-league talent in return for whatever they’re selling, but it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for them to deal for players already in their arbitration years.
It’s probably time for a psyops program for the Angels, where they sneak fake stories into Baseball America and invent a Sidd Finch-type prospect out of thin air, then trade him for real players.
But that sort of program takes time to get off the ground. Also, it’s probably illegal. Which means that even if the Angels wanted to reload for 2017, they sure don’t have a lot to offer.
I’m in quiet awe of how they’ve shifted from win-now to a laser-focused organizational rebuild. I’m picturing A.J. Preller walking around your neighborhood at night, staring at his phone and trying to capture prospects from all over the world. Also, he grows other prospects in egg incubators and makes some of the prospects fight each other after they evolve.
You should probably stay away from A.J. Preller. Dude’s whacked. He sure is building quite the farm system, though.
Not included with the deep-rebuild teams because I can’t figure them out, but they’re a little too far-fetched of a mystery team to really get behind. They’ll be better served dealing relievers than exchanging a million prospects for Julio Teheran, and they know it.
Would be higher, because you know they’re not limited by their imagination, but if a team is willing to give away help for 2017 and beyond, it’s because those players are expensive already, or they’re getting expensive soon. That’s when the Rays trade players, not acquire them.
Same as the above, with an added pinch of you can’t predict what the A’s will ever do. They’re never rebuilding or reloading — just an amorphous blob of existential roster-building.
But they’re probably focused on getting prospects rather than second-, third-, or fourth-year players.
7. White Sox
The current mystery team of 2016, as they took part of James Shields’ contract on, even though they weren’t sure if they were in or out of a race. Considering they’re looking to trade him already, though, it’s hard to see them doubling down on their decision to add.
On the other hand, if they keep Shields, they still retain mystery team status, because they’ll have looked at the offseason market, then at the standings, then back at the market, then back at the standings, and realized that if they wanted to reload the rotation between now and next March, Shields was a unique opportunity.
Also, they might trade Chris Sale, so ...
Maybe they should upgrade the bullpen if they can’t find help anywhere else! Keeping Andrew Miller is 1/6th of a mystery-team move, as it indicates their expectations for next season are much higher than their record might suggest.
While I can’t see them absorbing Ian Kennedy’s contract to get a closer when they just traded one away, I can see them making a deal that isn’t necessarily built around Class-A prospects.
It’s been a disappointing, unlucky season, and it’s hard to imagine anything other than the Royals dusting themselves off and climbing up that mountain again. Trading Edinson Volquez makes sense, as does taking advantage of a ludicrous trade market for relievers and dealing Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis for maximum value.
All I’m saying is that if it happens in a six-way deal that nets them, I don’t know, Jay Bruce, Scooter Gennett, and Matt Shoemaker, you wouldn’t wonder what in the heck they were trying to accomplish. So they’re a pretty strong mystery team.
The Mariners are selling, eh? Maybe, maybe not. But would it really surprise you to see them get Ryan Braun somehow?
Probably! Still, it would take just five seconds for you to mentally process the deal and understand why it happened. Same goes for a deal for Julio Teheran or Jake Odorizzi. It’s not likely, but it would make a fair amount of tactical sense.
Not here because they’re so very close to a contending team. Here because they’ve already made their all-in decision, and there’s no backing off now. They can’t trade Shelby Miller for a 10th of what it took to acquire him. They’re vocal about not eating a penny to move Zack Greinke, and they’re expecting top prospects in return. Which means this is the bed they’ve made.
So, double down on the critter-infested bed, then? Doesn’t seem like it’s that far-fetched. They’ll get A.J. Pollock next year, and they’ll probably get the real Shelby Miller when he escapes from the steamer trunk he’s currently locked in. They could get a ton of prospects for Patrick Corbin, even with the awful season, but it would make just as much sense to get him help for next year, when he’s (ostensibly) fixed.
Not likely. But you can see the logic.
It’s not that the Phillies are that close to a postseason spot (they’re 10 games out). It’s that they’re a large-market team with about 43 cents in committed payroll for 2017. It’s a little much to suggest that they’re likely to have a rotation good enough to contend next season, but it’s not hard to be a little optimistic. Which means their needs are clear.
It’s unlikely that they’ll go after Braun, of course, but they can’t swing the money stick too violently in the offseason, even if they want to. The market is just too thin. So if there’s a way to nab a power-hitting corner outfielder with a couple years left on his deal, they should at least look into it. Because once J.P. Crawford starts thriving, they might find themselves in charge of a roster that can be helped if they spend money, except there won’t be anyone to spend it on.
So spend it right now.
Just trade for Ryan Braun, Phillies. If only for the chaos. Think of the chaos!
They have a contending lineup right now. It helps that apparently the shortstop position is more of a Doctor Who thing, where different people get to take over the same role, but even beyond Trevor Story, they have David Dahl up. Nolan Arenado is still a gift. D.J. Lemahieu is still quite underrated. Carlos Gonzalez is still hitting, and he might be a long-term solution at first base.
Which leaves the pitching, and there’s hope on that front, too. The Rockies are preventing runs on the road like they never have before, and they’re doing it with young pitchers. It’s an exciting time for a franchise that looked completely lost as recently as last year.
The problem is that they have two ways to get more starting pitchers: develop them or trade for them. Even if it were possible to convince a starting pitcher to sign up for Coors Field on purpose, there aren’t going to be any good targets this winter. It’s trade-or-bust if they want to make a run with this lineup next year.
What’s that, voice in my head? Chris Sale? No, that’s absurd. They ... I mean ... it wouldn’t ... hrm, well ... no, no, please stop ... unless ... go on ...
Assuming they don’t want to trade Story and more for Sale, though, I could still see them being involved in Teheran talks, if not more creative deals for someone like Anthony Desclafani.
The Rockies have the best chance of the being this year’s Rangers. And, look at that, they’re just six games out of the second wild card, so they can be this year’s Rangers in a couple different ways. It’s not likely, of course.
But the mystery team never is.