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9 teams with the most to gain at the Trade Deadline

When the Mariners sealed a swap for Reds ace Luis Castillo over the weekend, it was exactly the type of go-for-it gusto we wanted to see from a Seattle squad that surged midseason and is trying to end a postseason drought that is almost old enough to drink.

With Tuesday’s 6 pm ET Trade Deadline fast approaching, here are nine other clubs that should be all-in on improving for the stretch run. Note that this is not the full list of teams that ought to be “buyers” (with the expanded postseason format, the number of buyers exceeds the number of sellers in this market). Rather, these are the clubs — listed in order of urgency — with the most incentive to make an impact acquisition or two.

In the last ride together for Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals have fielded a good, competitive club — but one that has struggled to overtake the Brewers in the NL Central. The Cards have shown once again this season how adept they are at developing young players who can instantly contribute at the big league level, but the fact remains that the lineup revolves around two 30-somethings in Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, and the pending retirement of some franchise icons heightens the need to position this club for a real October run.

Who they could land: It is well-documented that the Cardinals have the pieces to put together a Juan Soto trade, but the bigger need right now is in the rotation, where injuries and underperformance have left the Cards with a middling ERA and big questions after Wainwright and Miles Mikolas . The A’s Frankie Montas and Paul Blackburn, the Marlins’ Pablo López, the Reds’ Tyler Mahle, the Giants’ Carlos Rodón, the Tigers’ Tarik Skubal, the Angels’ Noah Syndergaard, the Rangers’ Martín Pérez, the Cubs’ Drew Smyly, the Pirates’ José Quintana and the Rockies’ Chad Kuhl are some of the possibilities.

Who they’d have to trade away: The Cards get cited for Soto because of their stash of controllable talent that includes rookie second baseman Nolan Gorman, top prospect Jordan Walker at third base and lefty pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore, among others. But a trade for a starter could perhaps be centered around the likes of outfielders Joshua Baez (No. 6 in the Cards’ system, per MLB Pipeline) or Alec Burleson (No. 8). Ultimately, the Cards have a lot of options.

For all the big moves the Padres have made in recent years, they have only three playoff games (in a pandemic-shortened season with a 16-team playoff field) to show for it. They absolutely need to not only nail down a Wild Card spot but to position themselves to make a run, and an offense that entered the week ranked 17th in runs per game is a pretty obvious area to upgrade.

Who they could land: Juan Soto! But if that’s a no-go, then outfielders Ian Happ or Bryan Reynolds make sense, or the Friars could be the team to bet on a bounceback from the struggling Joey Gallo. Rotation help might also be a target with MacKenzie Gore nursing a sore elbow, but the Padres do have depth there.

Who they’d have to trade away: Between Gore, shortstop CJ Abrams and outfielder Robert Hassell III (No. 21 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100), the Padres have three premium young players who could form the backbone of a deal for Soto. Catcher Luis Campusano, whose name came up in the Max Scherzer talks a year ago, is the Padres’ No. 2 prospect, and 2021 Draft picks James Wood and Jackson Merrill would also be attractive trade chips in a deal for offensive help.

The Mets have so far been able to fend off the hard-charging Braves in the NL East, and the pending return of Jacob deGrom to the rotation could take an already terrific team to another level. The Mets have dealt for Dan Vogelbach, Tyler Naquin and Phillip Diehl. But the Steve Cohen era has been populated by big, go-for-it moves, and it would surprise absolutely no one if they made another one between now and the close of business Tuesday.

Who could they land? The Mets have been outhomered this season (incredible, considering how good their pitching has been), and that highlights the need for more thump in the lineup. Perhaps the Mets will deem themselves content with their recent acquisitions in that department, but Willson Contreras, in a hybrid catcher/DH role, would make a lot of sense here, or perhaps Nelson Cruz or JD Martinez. The Mets will also target bullpen help, with David Robertson and Michael Fulmer among the short-term solutions. And on the off chance that Shohei Ohtani is actually moved, you can bet the Mets would be involved.

Who they’d have to trade away: The Mets would only move catcher Francisco Álvarez (No. 1 prospect in MLB) in the most extreme of circumstances (think Ohtani or an intra-divisional deal for Soto). Shortstop Ronny Mauricio (the Mets’ No. 3 prospect) and infielder/outfielder Mark Vientos (No. 5) are more realistic chips should the Mets make an impact move.

You’ll note that the Dodgers aren’t on this list. Not that LA will or should abstain from any opportunities to improve, but if a team that entered the week with a plus-191 run differential makes only marginal improvements, is that really indefensible? The Yankees could be viewed similarly, except that their stakes are raised by a World Series drought that — in the Bronx exclusively — is treated like an eternity. Combine that with Aaron Judge’s pending free agency, Luis Severino’s shoulder issue, Michael King’s fractured elbow and a very good rotation showing some signs of second-half regression, and the pressure to better position this club for October ratchets up.

Who they could land: After acquiring Andrew Benintendi in the outfield and striking out on starter Luis Castillo, the Yanks are still in the market for pitching. The A’s Frankie Montas (Yankee Montas?), the Marlins’ Pablo López and the Giants’ Carlos Rodón all make sense for the rotation.

Who they’d have to trade away: Although other teams would love to acquire top prospect Anthony Volpe, the Yanks are fortunate to have another well-regarded shortstop prospect (who is actually closer to the Majors than Volpe) in No. 2 prospect Oswald Peraza. He could be a centerpiece in a deal for an impact starter like Montas.

Although the AL East race got out of hand faster than most of us anticipated, there is still plenty of reason to believe this Toronto team can make noise in October, particularly with how well it has played for interim skipper John Schneider the last two-plus weeks. Missing the playoffs by just a game a year ago still stings, and the Blue Jays have to maximize the window they carved out for themselves by making some big deals (the George Springer signing and the José Berríos trade) to supplement their exciting core.

Who they could land: Although a left-handed bat to balance the lineup would surely be nice, pitching is the bigger priority — one highlighted all the more by the scare of Alek Manoah getting hit in the elbow by a comebacker over the weekend. The rotation depth has been tested by a lost season for Hyun Jin Ryu, and the bullpen could use more swing-and-miss and high-leverage stability. We listed some of the available starters above (Noah Syndergaard is a former Blue Jays prospect, so that would be fun). Gregory Soto, Joe Jiménez and Scott Barlow are among the controllable relievers who could get dealt, and David Robertson is attractive as a short-term fix. Oh, and if they really want a lefty bat, we hear Juan Soto is available (although his switch-hitting teammate Josh Bell would also work here).

Who they’d have to trade away: Even after the Berríos and Matt Chapman trades, there’s plenty here to make a major impact move if the Blue Jays would be willing to part with top catching prospect Gabriel Moreno or shortstop Orelvis Martinez. From the Major League roster, it’s possible Toronto could deal catcher Danny Jansen or infielder Cavan Biggio.

It’s the same story as last year, essentially. As Freddy Peralta rejoins the rotation this week, the Brewers look as though they could have the pitching to not only seal the NL Central but terrify opposing teams in October. Whether they can hit enough to advance remains the big question.

Who they could land: With Adrian Houser still nursing a flexor strain, the Brewers could be in the market for starting help, but a middle-of-the-order bat is the screaming need here. If Milwaukee doesn’t shock the world and land Juan Soto, then trading within the division for Red’s third baseman Brandon Drury would help the Brew Crew plug a hole. On the outfield front, the Brewers have been rumored to have shown interest in Joey Gallo, the A’s Ramón Laureano and others.

Who they’d have to trade away: No. 5 prospect Brice Turang, a middle infielder, is a sensible trade chip for the Brewers with Willy Adames and Luis Urías under contractual control. A truly big splash might have to involve No. 2 prospect Sal Frelick, an outfielder taken 15th overall in last year’s Draft who is now at Double-A.

Although they are one of the biggest disappointments in baseball in 2022, the Sox are still very much in contention for the AL Central and in the mathematical mix to win a Wild Card spot. This team was built to win in the here and now, and the White Sox have no choice but to go for it at this deadline, although the strength of their farm system is perhaps a limiting factor.

Who they could land: The Sox need left-handed help at second base and in the outfield and could stand to upgrade the relief corps. A year ago, the Sox made a crosstown swap for Craig Kimbrel, and the Cubs’ Ian Happ, a switch-hitter who is stronger from the left-hand side and who can play second base and all three outfield spots, would be an ideal fit here in 2022. Joey Gallo would also work here. And any of the relief options mentioned above apply here.

Who they’d have to trade away: To do anything of impact would likely involve trading from the top end of one of the lower-rated systems in the sport. Shortstop Colson Montgomery, outfielder Oscar Colas and shortstop Jose Rodriguez are the club’s top-rated prospects, per Pipeline. The Sox are more likely to target rentals that don’t gut their system further.

Sellers a year ago, the Twins turned their fortunes around in part because of their acquisition of starter Joe Ryan for Nelson Cruz (and shockingly signing Carlos Correa sure helped, too). Correa can opt out after this year, Byron Buxton is in his prime, and so the Twins shouldn’t take this opportunity to nail down the AL Central lightly.

Who they could land: The Twins have been primarily focused on pitching, and any of the starters mentioned above — from Montas at the top of the market to more modest options like Mahle, Syndergaard, Quintana, etc. — apply. The bullpen needs help, especially from the left-hand side, and the Rangers’ Matt Moore, A’s Sam Moll, Tigers’ Andrew Chafin, D-backs’ Caleb Smith and Joe Mantiply and Pirates’ Dillon Peters are some of the options.

Who they’d have to trade away: The Twins have dealt with injuries and underperformance at the top end of their prospect pool this season, but third baseman/second baseman Spencer Steer (their No. 7 prospect) and outfielder Matt Wallner (No. 8) have had very nice seasons that augment their value in this marketplace.

The Phillies have already invested too much into this team to back off any opportunity to improve for the home stretch. They are trying to end the second-longest playoff drought in the sport. But returning Bryce Harper, Jean Segura and Zach Eflin to health and getting more from Nick Castellanos and JT Realmuto would do more to help this club than anything the Phillies are going to realistically pull off at the Trade Deadline.

Who they could land: The Phillies will most likely target rotation depth. The likes of Smyly, Quintana, Syndergaard and Mahle would help here. Center field is another area to upgrade, and the Royals’ Michael A. Taylor is having a nice year.

Who they’d have to trade away: Catcher Logan O’Hoppe is the Phillies’ No. 3 prospect, and he’s blocked for the foreseeable future by Realmuto. So he would make sense as a trade chip.