MLB Trade Deadline: 10 Contenders Who Need to Make Upgrades
As the July 31st trade deadline approaches, contending teams will look to make deals to enhance their chances of reaching the playoffs.
With the addition of a second wild card in each league, more teams will be battling for the five playoff spots. Fewer teams will be selling at the deadline, but some teams need the help more than others.
Some contenders should be fine with their current rosters while others need to make changes. Every division is up for grabs at this point in the season, and a trade could provide a boost to certain teams.
*Stats as of 6/11/2012
Tampa Bay Rays: Catcher
35-25, first in AL East
The Rays are a well-rounded team but could use an upgrade at catcher. Right now, Tampa Bay is using Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton behind the plate.
Molina has received the majority of the playing time but has not been much of an offensive force. His .196 batting average needs to improve if his power numbers remain low. With two home runs and 10 RBI, he plays because of his defensive abilities.
In a much smaller sample, Lobaton is hitting for a higher average. His .267 batting average has improved with his recent increased playing time. Like Molina, Lobaton is not much of a power threat.
The Rays are atop the AL East because of their great pitching. When Evan Longoria returns from injury, their offense should help lead them into the playoffs. Until then, Tampa Bay needs other positions to step up on offense.
One possible answer at catcher could be Dioner Navarro. Although he struggled during his time in Tampa Bay, Navarro is having a nice season for the Reds’ Triple-A team. By batting .298 with two home runs so far this year, he would be an upgrade at catcher for the Rays.
Other possibilities may present themselves as the trade deadline approaches. For now, Navarro may be the best option and would be a cheap acquisition.
New York Yankees: Starting Pitching
34-25, second in AL East (.5 games behind)
Just like in past years, the New York Yankees are looking to upgrade their starting rotation.
When the Yankees traded for Michael Pineda, they felt confident enough to trade A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pineda is out for the year while Burnett is putting together a good season with the Pirates.
New York got lucky when Andy Pettitte decided to come out of retirement and sign with them. He has been better than they expected and gives the Yankees a solid front end of the rotation. With CC Sabathia continuing to be their ace and Hiroki Kuroda pitching well, the Yankees have enough pitching to win a playoff series.
If the Yankees want to get to the postseason, they will need to improve their rotation. Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova have been disappointments this season.
Hughes, outside of a few bad starts, has pitched well enough to pitch in this rotation. After the first day in May, he has only had one bad start. The Yankees need him to continue to improve and be the pitcher they have been expecting.
After a brilliant 2011, Nova has let the Yankees down this season. Despite his 7-2 record, he has only pitched well a handful of times this season. His 5.09 ERA is too high, but he manages to pitch deep enough into games and helps save the bullpen. The potential we saw out of him last year has New York believing he will turn it around this season.
The Yankees are not afraid to spend to get help and should have several options to consider. Two pitchers they may consider trading for are Wandy Rodriguez (Astros) and Matt Garza (Cubs). Rodriguez would be pricey but would help solidify the rotation. If they could acquire Garza, it would cost them more prospects than they would give up for Rodriguez. Garza is familiar with the AL East and is younger.
Another option may be Milwaukee’s Zack Grienke. If the Brewers are unable to sign him to an extension, they may decide to trade him.
Boston Red Sox: Pitching
29-31, fifth in AL East (six GB)
There may be no contender that needs pitching help more than Boston. The rotation has big-name pitchers who need to improve, and the bullpen is a mess.
The offense has carried the team all season and hit well enough to make things interesting in the AL East. In this division, teams need to pitch well if they want to come out on top.
The rotation has the potential to be very good. With Josh Beckett, Lon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Red Sox have a bunch of starters with experience. Felix Doubront has been a pleasant surprise in the rotation, but they need the rest of their rotation to be better.
Former relief pitcher Daniel Bard joined the rotation for the first part of this season before being demoted to Pawtucket. The Red Sox do not want to use him as a closer right now only to move him back to the rotation when Andrew Bailey returns.
Not only has the rotation been disappointing, but the bullpen has been shaky at times. Interim closer Alfredo Aceves needs to be better if Boston wants to remain competitive. The other members of the bullpen are starting to perform much better, which gives the club reason to be optimistic.
Like New York, Boston will have no problem spending to get what they want. After last year’s September collapse, there is an enormous amount of pressure to make the playoffs this season. Greinke and Garza should be on their radar to help their rotation if it has not improved by July.
Cleveland Indians: Left Fielder
32-27, second in AL Central (.5 GB)
The surprising Indians have won games in different ways this year. They have had stretches of brilliant pitching followed by streaks of great hitting but rarely both simultaneously. If they can get everyone going at once, this is a dangerous team.
Left field is their biggest weakness, and the Indians have tried numerous times to upgrade it. Ideally, they are waiting for center fielder Grady Sizemore to return from yet another injury, which would push Michael Brantley over to left field.
Shelley Duncan started the season as the left fielder, but neither his hitting nor defense helps the team. The team went after aging veterans Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu before finally signing Johnny Damon to play left field.
Damon has not shown any signs of helping the team with his .182 batting average and limited power. His below-average defense and weak arm hurts the team, which needs to address the left field position.
Cleveland fans have resorted to calling for former highly touted prospect Matt LaPorta to get another shot in left field. He hit very well in the minor leagues this season but struggled when he got called up to the majors.
More importantly, Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez need to pitch better. If they do, the Indians will need more production out of their left fielder.
The Indians should not rely on Sizemore returning and staying healthy this season. They need to move on and address their needs.
If he is healthy, the Blue Jays’ Rajai Davis could be a good pickup for the Indians. In 2012, he is hitting .256 with four home runs and plays pretty good defense. His speed would help the Indians at the top of the lineup. Since he is a right-handed hitter, Cleveland would be smart to trade for him to mix into their left-handed hitting lineup.
Atlanta Braves: Shortstop
34-26, second in NL East (two GB)
The Braves offense ranks among the best in the National League but could use some help at shortstop.
Atlanta handed rookie Tyler Pastornicky the starting shortstop job to start this season. After poor numbers on offense and defense, the Braves demoted him. While having an on-base percentage of only .281, his inability to contribute on offense cost him his job. If he produced on offense, the Braves probably would have overlooked his seven errors in the field.
When Pastornicky was sent down, Andrelton Simmons made his way to the big leagues. Through his first week with the Braves, he has an on-base percentage over .300. His average needs to improve from .241, but he has provided a nice boost with the Braves going 6-2 in his short time in the major leagues.
While the rest of their offense appears to be producing, the Braves should look to improve their shortstop through a trade. Two rookies have yet to show they can handle the job, but Atlanta does not have time to wait for them to develop.
If the Cubs’ Starlin Castro is really on the trading block, the Braves should make a deal for him. His defense needs improvement, but his offense is rare for a shortstop. As Chipper Jones’ career winds down, Castro would be a great pickup to add to the middle of this already productive lineup.
I am not convinced the Cubs will deal Castro, so Atlanta may want to look for other alternatives. If Arizona is out of the race when the trade deadline nears, Willie Bloomquist may be a player the Braves should consider going after.
Philadelphia Phillies: First Base/Second Base (Injuries)
29-33, fifth in NL East (eight GB)
Injuries are the reason Philadelphia is on the outside looking in right now. Key players Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are all out right now. If they get healthy soon, the Phillies probably do not need to make a trade to make the playoffs.
If Howard and Utley have setbacks, the Phillies need to address those positions at the trade deadline. Jim Thome was signed in the offseason to take over at first base while Howard was out, but Thome also got hurt. Ty Wigginton has been a decent replacement but not enough to help the Phillies contend. At this point, Philadelphia needs Howard back immediately and should not give up too much to find a temporary first baseman.
As for second base, the Phillies may want to search for a long-term replacement. Utley has battled through injuries the past few seasons while he continues to get older. When healthy, he is still a very productive player. With two years remaining on his contract, he has seen his at-bats decrease for a fourth straight season.
Assuming both players will still be out for a while, these positions may need to be addressed at the trade deadline. First base probably will not be a priority for the Phillies since Howard should be back by then. Philadelphia needs to improve their offense, and second base is a position they need to look at carefully.
Cincinnati Reds: Bench
32-27, T-first in NL Central
The Reds pinch-hitters have been absolutely awful, especially from the left side of the plate.
Utility player Willie Harris made the team out of spring training solely because he was the only left-handed hitter they would have on the bench. In 35 at-bats, he got a mere three hits and continued to get playing time. Reds pitchers Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey all have more hits in fewer plate appearances.
When Harris was demoted in early May, left-handed hitter Mike Costanzo was called up. After one hit in 18 at-bats, Cincinnati finally decided they need a productive bench player rather than a left-handed hitter. Kristopher Negron was called up to replace Costanzo last week but has not had a chance to hit.
The Reds also have backup catcher Devin Mesoraco on the bench but rarely use him as a pinch-hitter. Wilson Valdez, Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Cairo make up the rest of the Reds bench. With Mesoraco batting .200 and Ludwick at .203 as the best averages on their bench, Cincinnati needs to look to other teams to improve their depth.
The leadoff spot also needs to be addressed, but the club is content with the players in their lineup. Outfield depth and a utility player would be good areas for the Reds to look to improve.
If the Marlins would be willing to trade backup outfielder Austin Kearns, he would fit in nicely with this team. He can play either of the corner outfield spots while providing power. In a limited time so far this season, he has a high average but probably will drop off in that area.
Kevin Youkilis may also be looked at, but Cincinnati is probably happy with rookie Todd Frazier’s production this season. Boston would want prospects in return for Youkilis, and the Reds farm system is depleted after their busy offseason. A trade with Boston would allow the Reds to have Frazier come off the bench to hit, where he is 6-for-7 this season.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Shortstop
32-27, T-first in NL Central
The Pirates are off to a surprising start for the second straight year but hope they do not cool off like they did last season.
To be honest, they need help on offense at just about every position except center field.
Out of everyone on the team, Clint Barmes has struggled the most this year. With seven errors on defense, his offensive issues need to be addressed. Batting only .192 with limited power is not going to cut it for a team hoping to make some noise this year.
They have even used speedster Josh Harrison at shortstop. His .218 average is a slight improvement over Barmes, but his defense and speed have made him a better choice.
In a lineup that features only two players hitting over .250, they need to make changes by the end of July. Their pitching has been great, but they should not put all the pressure on their pitching staff.
It will be interesting to see if the Pirates can hang around with the Reds in the NL Central long enough to even consider adding to their lineup through a trade.
St. Louis Cardinals: First Base/Second Base
31-30, third in NL Central (two GB)
As the only team on this list that can compete with the Phillies in terms of injuries, the Cardinals need to address the right side of their infield.
With Lance Berkman injured again, St. Louis needs to find a long-term solution at first base. After Albert Pujols left, Berkman appeared to be the short-term answer at first base. He is now injured and so is his replacement, Matt Carpenter.
Matt Adams is now at first base, but he is not the first baseman of the future. If the Cardinals believe Carpenter is the future, they may not address this position. But with Berkman injured, they may consider finding a cheap replacement to help them sneak into the playoffs.
Second base has been an issue for the Cardinals on offense this season. Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene have both struggled at the plate. Both have limited power and low batting averages on a team that features a lineup that ranks among the best in the National League.
If St. Louis hangs around in this division until they get healthy, they will be difficult to beat. Considering Chris Carpenter has been out all season, their pitching has been pretty good. Their offense has been good, but they need small upgrades in their infield.
San Francisco Giants: Infield
34-27, second in NL West (five GB)
Outside of Buster Posey, San Francisco’s infield needs an offensive upgrade.
Pablo Sandoval has missed time with an injury, and nobody has stepped up. When Posey went down last year, the Giants traded for Carlos Beltran to take his place in the lineup. Right now, they are looking for their infielders to start producing at the plate.
Ryan Theriot, Brandon Belt, Joaquin Arias and Brandon Crawford are all hitting .263 or worse. In the Giants ballpark, they do not need these players to hit for power. Instead, they need them to hit for average and get on base. Belt has an on-base percentage of .340 despite a low batting average.
The Giants need to look around the league for offensive help and pull the trigger on a deal. If they do not make a trade, they will have trouble catching the Dodgers in the NL West.
Youkilis is a possibility for San Francisco, but they would probably have to give up a young pitching prospect or two. Other than that, they will need to wait until the trade deadline to see if any more teams fall out of contention and decide to deal veteran players.