Way-too-early MLB trade deadline preview: Which buyers should be all-in?

Milwaukee Brewers' Domingo Santana follows through on a two-run home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in St. Louis. Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

Last week, I peeked ahead at the still-distant trade deadline to identify teams that in a few months might be trying to exchange veteran talent for future assets. If there are sellers, there have to be buyers, right? Let's assume that there will be and look at teams that might be adding talent for a playoff push during the coming season.

Teams were marked as likely buyers if they have at least a 20 percent probability of reaching the postseason, as determined by projection-based simulations of the 2018 season. The group is ranked according to Prospect Points -- a calculation made using aggregated prospect rankings from ESPN's Keith Law and Baseball America. The more points you have, the deeper your pool of high-ceiling young talent, making it that much easier to spring a big finishing-piece trade when the end of July rolls around -- in theory.

Contention status (buy maybe, buy probably, buy now) and Win Ranges are based on projections from my forecasting system, MLBPET.

Philadelphia Phillies

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 69 to 89


Most tradable prospect: Adam Haseley

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Cesar Hernandez

Potential deadline target as buyers: Cole Hamels

The Phillies' offseason work extended well into spring training and might not be finished yet, as they still look like a good fit for one of the remaining veteran free-agent starters. Yes, that's true even after last week's splashy signing of former Cubs ace Jake Arrieta. The signing allowed the Phillies to jump over the threshold between sellers and buyers into what could turn out to be what Scott Boras -- Arrieta's agent -- likes to call "Playoffville." If the Phillies ended up in the seller group, it wouldn't have made much difference, as they have virtually nothing in the way of expiring contracts to be moved. Maybe that's as good a sign as any that the slow-burning rebuild is finally coming to fruition. Indeed, things seem to be percolating in Philadelphia.

That said, the Phillies are in position to continue to buy by selling, as evidenced by the listing of Hernandez above. Going forward, Philly can balance its roster by moving veterans as organizational prospects who emerge as big-league ready. The best example of that is infield prospect Scott Kingery, who is likely to make Hernandez a high-quality trade candidate sooner than later. If the sleeper Phillies make a run at the postseason, their system's outfield depth could be tapped into, with Haseley being just one possibility. The rebuild is all but complete.

Tampa Bay Rays

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 70 to 90


Potential deadline target as buyers: Nelson Cruz

Most tradable prospect: Lucius Fox

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Adeiny Hechavarria

The bargain-basement Rays have been vilified for their frugal ways and associated with the motley crew of tanking teams in baseball. On paper, Tampa Bay remains a perfectly mediocre bunch that can dream of fringe wild-card contention. If that happens, it would be just the latest data point suggesting that the correlation between spending and contending isn't as strong as you might think it is, especially if you read too much payroll-related caterwauling.

A contending Rays team would need to add thunder to a lineup that currently projects to finish with baseball's worst slugging percentage. To do that, the Rays could tap into the organization's deep pool of middle-infield prospects, such as Fox or Wander Franco. In case you're wondering, that's no typo: Fox has the same name as the smart comic book character who designs Batman's gadgets and is played by Morgan Freeman in the Christopher Nolan trilogy.

New York Yankees

STATUS: Buy now

WIN RANGE: 84 to 104


Potential deadline target as buyers: Michael Fulmer

Most tradable prospect: Tyler Wade

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Didi Gregorius

The Yankees are perfectly positioned for the coming season. They have a talented roster that ranks in the top five or six in all of baseball. They have a deep pool of prospects waiting in the wings. They appear to have enough wiggle room under the tax threshold to make in-season additions. If that happens, it would figure to be a veteran rotation piece that would be headed back to New York. Wade is just one of a number of quality Yankees prospects who could be dangled in such a transaction without putting much of a dent in New York's overall prospect ranking.

Los Angeles Angels

STATUS: Buy probably

WIN RANGE: 75 to 95


Potential deadline target as buyers: Michael Fulmer

Most tradable prospect: Leonardo Rivas

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Martin Maldonado

The Angels' ranking here is a bit skewed in that their prospect points are inflated by the presence of Shohei Ohtani. Although L.A.'s farm system is gradually improving, it still isn't deep in the kind of high-ceiling types that might bring back an impact starter in July, should the Angels need one. And you figure they will. Even if Ohtani irons out his spring problems, consider this: The Angels' top eight players in 2018 salary are all position players.

It isn't hard to see the Angels contending for an AL wild card. But it is tough to envision that quest being bolstered by a high-profile trade candidate such as Cole Hamels or Madison Bumgarner. If an ace such as that becomes available, there will be other suitors who can outbid the Angels. That's why, as much as any team, the Angels should save Alex Cobb from free-agent limbo.

Los Angeles Dodgers

STATUS: Buy now

WIN RANGE: 86 to 106


Potential deadline target as buyers: Danny Duffy

Most tradable prospect: Will Smith

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Yasiel Puig

The Dodgers are knee-deep in catching prospects, with Keibert Ruiz rating ahead of Smith on most prospect lists. Like the Yankees, the Dodgers have left enough of a margin under the tax threshold to pursue pitchers during the season to bolster what feels like an inevitable sixth straight trip to the playoffs. That makes the "seller" scenario particularly far-fetched, with Puig listed mostly because he's entering the last year of the contract he signed with the Dodgers in 2012. Barring an extension, he'll be arbitration-eligible for the first time after the season. L.A. has plenty of prospect depth, and even if temporary payroll constraints keep the Dodgers from making too big of a splash during the season, it seems to be a good bet that they will add arms for October.

Houston Astros

STATUS: Buy now

WIN RANGE: 90 to 110


Potential deadline target as buyers: Brad Hand

Most tradable prospect: J.B. Bukauskas

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Dallas Keuchel

No offense to Bukauskas, but the Astros could get a bigger return for top-of-the-charts prospects such as Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley. But it's hard to see why that would be necessary. Houston doesn't figure to have a need to add the level of player you'd get by dealing Tucker and/or Whitley. The most likely in-season additions for the Astros will be in the bullpen, and depending on how big the need is, Bukauskas might be a better prospect than they'd need to trade. Keuchel is entering a walk year, and if the Astros shockingly fall out of the race, he'd be a worthy rental for someone. But the Astros have such a wealth of talent and so much built-in redundancy that that scenario figures to be the longest of shots.

Minnesota Twins

STATUS: Buy probably

WIN RANGE: 73 to 93


Potential deadline target as buyers: Danny Duffy

Most tradable prospect: Nick Gordon

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Lance Lynn

The Twins landed Lynn on a one-year deal after he languished all winter on the stalled free-agent market. Not only does Lynn's presence give a much-needed boost to Minnesota's rotation, but the terms of the agreement also make him all-too-tradable should the Twins fall out of the race. It's a more protracted version of the sequence that played out last year when Minnesota traded for -- and quickly flipped -- Jaime Garcia. Of course, the scenario Twins fans want to see come into play is the one in which the team builds on last year's wild-card berth and finds itself in position to add a finishing piece in July. That piece would likely be another starting pitcher. Gordon remains an exciting prospect, but after drafting Royce Lewis last summer, the Twins find themselves with excellent minor league depth in the middle infield.

Milwaukee Brewers

STATUS: Buy maybe

WIN RANGE: 72 to 92


Potential deadline target as buyers: Michael Fulmer

Most tradable prospect: Brett Phillips

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Corey Knebel

It isn't easy to come up with an obvious trade candidate in a Milwaukee sell scenario. There's no reason to move anyone for money purposes, nor are there any high-profile players about to hit free agency. Back when Milwaukee was last in sell mode, the idea was to flip bullpen pieces, and with Knebel in the midst of his arbitration years, the Brewers could probably get a nice return for him. More likely, though, Knebel will anchor the bullpen for a team that hangs in wild-card contention all season.

The Brewers should get a rotation boost when Jimmy Nelson returns from his shoulder injury, hopefully with instructions to never again attempt a belly-flop dive into first base. The Brewers' prospect depth was thinned by the trade with Miami that brought back Christian Yelich, but with center fielder Lorenzo Cain entering the first year of a five-year contract, it's possible that Phillips could be had. However, it's just as possible that any holes Milwaukee needs to fill can be handled from within, such as the additions of Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes to the rotation. However, if Jonathan Villar doesn't bounce back at second base, that might again become an area of need for the stretch run.

St. Louis Cardinals

STATUS: Buy probably

WIN RANGE: 77 to 97


Potential deadline target as buyers: Zach Britton

Most tradable prospect: Tyler O'Neill

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Marcell Ozuna

After 2018, Ozuna has one more year of arbitration before he hits free agency. That's one reason St. Louis' splashiest offseason acquisition could quickly turn into a trade piece if the Cardinals fall out of contention. Another is that the Cardinals have outfield prospects such as O'Neill and Harrison Bader on the way. The Cardinals have a nicely balanced roster. If they find themselves battling for the playoffs or loading up for October, St. Louis might target a bullpen hammer to complete the puzzle.

Cleveland Indians

STATUS: Buy now


Potential deadline target as buyers: Domingo Santana

Most tradable prospect: Shane Bieber

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Andrew Miller

Miller and Cody Allen will be playing 2018 on expiring contracts. It seems unlikely that the Indians could sign both of them next winter, even if Cleveland goes on another postseason run. However, if the Indians disappoint, one or both could be among the most sought-after trade targets in July. If, as expected, Cleveland is in add mode, then moving a young starter such as Bieber makes sense because the key pieces of the Indians' big league rotation are locked up through 2019. It isn't difficult to imagine the Indians adding an outfield bat, as they did last season by trading for Jay Bruce.

Washington Nationals

STATUS: Buy probably


Potential deadline target as buyers: J.T. Realmuto

Most tradable prospect: Carter Kieboom

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Gio Gonzalez

What do you do if you're the Nationals and it seems clear you need to add a piece to get over the top? This is a franchise that has never won a National League pennant. Not during its 36 years in Montreal, nor during its 13 seasons in Washington, D.C. This is a city that hasn't hosted a World Series game since Oct. 7, 1933. Wouldn't you trade any future piece to win now, even if it's an outfielder you love such as Victor Robles or Juan Soto? Complicating the question is Bryce Harper's impending free agency, the impact of which would be lessened by the presence of that pair of prospects. But wouldn't you want to lay it all on the line during the last season you know Harper will be on hand?

There are no easy paths for the Nationals to navigate over the months to come, which will be addled with obstacles in the form of at least five other superteams populating big league baseball at the moment. But unlike some of those other elite clubs, the Nationals appear to have easily identifiable holes behind the plate and possibly at first base if Ryan Zimmerman regresses.

Boston Red Sox

STATUS: Buy probably


Potential deadline target as buyers: Adrian Beltre

Most tradable prospect: Jay Groome

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Craig Kimbrel

Boston doesn't have the same pool of prospects that enabled Dave Dombrowski to swing deals for Kimbrel and Chris Sale. Luckily, his roster is stocked enough that he's more likely to target depth than top-of-the-roster types. Groome, Boston's first pick in 2016, could help fill gaps, as could third baseman Michael Chavis, who is closer to big-league-ready. Boston isn't likely to lapse into sell mode, but if it happens, Kimbrel could become a classic walk-year rental closer for somebody.

Chicago Cubs

STATUS: Buy now


Potential deadline target as buyers: Brad Hand

Most tradable prospect: Adbert Alzolay

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Ben Zobrist

I'm not sure I see any of the Cubs as a likely sell-off candidate, but Zobrist would be as good as any. He's older. His job could be ably filled by Ian Happ. His contract is up after the 2019 season. Finally, teams have seen him have a tremendous deadline impact before, as he did for the 2015 Kansas City Royals.

In the more likely scenario that sees the Cubs adding pieces for yet another NLCS showdown with the Dodgers, expect Chicago to target bullpen help, as seems to be the case every year.

Arizona Diamondbacks

STATUS: Buy probably


Potential deadline target as buyers: Josh Harrison

Most tradable prospect: Jon Duplantier

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Paul Goldschmidt

Duplantier is Arizona's best prospect, but my aggregated rankings have him at No. 69 overall in baseball, so he's movable. Especially for a Diamondbacks team that just traded Anthony Banda to Tampa Bay in the deal that brought back outfielder Steven Souza. The focus seems to be squarely on right now.

On paper, the Diamondbacks don't forecast well in the middle infield, where Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte are battling for playing time. Where have you gone, Didi Gregorius and Dansby Swanson? If the Diamondbacks fade, then moving franchise cornerstone Goldschmidt has to be considered -- either that or an extension that would happily keep him in a Snakes uniform for the long term. However, with Goldschmidt's deal up after next season, a non-contending Diamondbacks team would need to be proactive with both Goldschmidt and players on expiring deals such as outfielder A.J. Pollock and starter Patrick Corbin.

New York Mets

STATUS: Buy maybe


Potential deadline target as buyers: Jose Abreu

Most tradable prospect: David Peterson

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Matt Harvey

Perhaps listing Harvey here is misguided. Sure, he's on an expiring deal. But for him to end up on the trade market, that would mean that the Mets would have fallen from contention even though he has pitched well enough to attract interest. It's a combination that could happen but feels unlikely.

More realistically, the Mets could move a free-agent-to-be short reliever such as A.J. Ramos or Jeurys Familia. If the Mets need to add an impact piece, the system isn't in great position to do so merely on the basis of a prospect or two. New York would need to be willing to take on some money to make that happen.

Seattle Mariners

STATUS: Buy maybe


Potential deadline target as buyers: Cole Hamels

Most tradable prospect: Kyle Lewis

Best trade piece if they become surprise sellers: Nelson Cruz

The Mariners continue to tread water. With an upside of fringe contention and a mostly barren farm system, Seattle might be the American League's version of the Giants: a team hoping that an aging core can carry it into the postseason, even as a franchise reset looms as a distinct possibility. After suffering through an injury-riddled 2017 season, the Mariners have already seen the maladies pile up during spring training.

Still, if it all comes together, the Mariners will be tasked with upgrading their rotation in July, even if it takes Lewis or Evan White or Sam Carlson or some combination of the three. However, if Seattle's lack of organizational depth becomes too large an obstacle to overcome, it might be time to retool.