One Big 2nd-Half Change Each MLB Team Must Make
The 2012 MLB season is now fully immersed in its second half, and as the final two months of the season approach, each team is looking to improve in an area that's been sorely lacking for the entire year.
For some teams making drastic changes to improve on clear weaknesses will involve trades. For others it may involve internal moves, tweaks to lineups or other solutions.
Here is a look at the biggest deficiency that clearly requires change for each MLB team.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Increase Outfield Production
The Arizona Diamondbacks have largely been a disappointment thus far in the 2012 season. However, they are only six games out of the lead in the NL West and just five games out of a wild-card slot, as well.
Starting pitching is certainly a need for the D-Backs, given the season-ending injury to Daniel Hudson and uncertainty at the back of the rotation.
However, while newcomer Jason Kubel is certainly pulling his weight in terms of production from the outfield, the same cannot be said of his teammates Justin Upton and Chris Young.
Young is hitting a paltry .213 with 10 HR and 25 RBI, while Upton is nowhere near the production he provided last year in a breakout season.
If the D-Backs are to jump back into the playoff fold, Upton and Young need to completely turn their seasons around for the remainder of the second half.
Atlanta Braves: Acquire a Veteran Shortstop
The Atlanta Braves took care of major need on Monday afternoon, acquiring Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Ryan Dempster. The deal has not been officially approved as of yet, however (via ESPN.com).
If that deal is finalized, the Braves can then go after their other need—bench depth.
The Braves bench as currently constituted hasn't exactly been stellar. Juan Francisco is hitting .225, veteran Eric Hinske is hitting .206 and Matt Diaz is hitting a not-so-robust .222.
If any current Braves starters were to succumb to injury, I'm not filled with confidence that the bench would be able to step up and fill the void.
GM Frank Wren would do well to go after a solid, veteran bat.
Baltimore Orioles: Acquire Front-Line Starter by Any Means Possible
The Baltimore Orioles were riding a five-game winning streak heading into Monday night's contest with the Cleveland Indians, closing to within six games of the New York Yankees.
However, a 4.61 ERA from their starters hasn't helped their cause.
With the added wild-card slot in each league, the O's have an excellent chance of qualifying for the postseason for the first time in 15 years. GM Dan Duquette absolutely needs to pull the string on acquiring a pitcher for the top of their rotation.
The O's have inquired about Seattle Mariners pitcher Jason Vargas and have contacted the Oakland A's about starter Bartolo Colon.
However, neither of these pitchers would significantly improve the O's rotation.
Duquette needs to be both creative and aggressive in addressing the team's biggest need.
Boston Red Sox: Stabilize the Rotation
There is much uncertainty surrounding the Boston Red Sox and what their plans are as the MLB trade deadline fast approaches. Considering their play over the weekend against the Toronto Blue Jays, it's evident what is needed the most—a much more consistent effort from their starters.
Both Josh Beckett and Jon Lester looked like shadows of their former selves in the weekend sweep by the Jays at Fenway. Ace is not a word to describe either one of them right now.
The Sox have been mentioned numerous times as suitors for several starters on the market, but with their current record, will GM Ben Cherington be buying or selling?
One thing is for sure—they're not going anywhere with the current state of the rotation.
Chicago Cubs: Stay the Course, This Year Is Lost Anyway
The Chicago Cubs certainly appear to be ready to sell off veteran parts, with reports (h/t ESPN.com) that they have reached a deal with the Atlanta Braves for starting pitcher Ryan Dempster in exchange for Randall Delgado.
This is clearly part of the plan laid out by Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer, as they look to set Chicago up for success in the future and remain competitive year after year.
Let's face it—Cubs fans have been used to saying, "Wait until next year," and they'll be saying the same this year, as well. However, Epstein and Hoyer are well on their way toward achieving their goal.
With youngsters Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo already on board, prospects Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters aren't far from their debuts, either.
If Epstein and Hoyer can pull off deals for Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano in exchange for more young pitching, they'll continue to move further toward their goal.
Stay the course—and be patient, Cubs fans.
Chicago White Sox: Production from the Middle of the Batting Order
The Chicago White Sox are clearly scuffling right now, losing their lead in the AL Central after a weekend sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers.
While some will point at starting pitching as an area of concern, of considerable worry as well is the lack of production recently from the heart of their batting order—Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko.
Konerko is hitting .323 on the season but has slowed down considerably—hitting just .253 since June 1 with only three homers and 11 RBI.
Dunn has been positively anemic in July—a .158 average with four homers and seven RBI.
Run support is critical for a White Sox pitching staff that has a collective 4.08 ERA. The addition of Brett Myers and return to health of reliever Jesse Crain will help, but a much better effort from the meat of their batting order is sorely needed.
Cincinnati Reds: More Production from Drew Stubbs or Change Things Up
The Cincinnati Reds are playing solid ball, having won eight of their last 10 games to keep pace with the hot Pittsburgh Pirates at the top of the NL Central.
One glaring deficiency, however, has come from their leadoff spot in the batting order, where Reds hitters are hitting a collective .203.
By extension the man currently hitting leadoff, center fielder Drew Stubbs, is struggling mightily. Stubbs has hit just .185 since the beginning of June, with three HR and 10 RBI.
Stubbs has yet to completely figure things out in his brief career, and his ongoing struggles may force the Reds to start thinking about other options.
Cleveland Indians: Find a Way to Hit Left-Handed Pitching
The Cleveland Indians are trying to avoid a repeat of last season, when after holding on to the lead in the AL Central throughout much of the first half, they imploded in the second half to finish at 80-82, a full 15 games behind the Detroit Tigers.
After positioning themselves at or near the top of the AL Central for much of the first two months of this season, the Tribe have gone 20-35 since June 1 to fall back into third place, 4.5 games behind the Tigers.
One of the biggest deficiencies for the Indians all season has been their complete inability to hit left-handed pitching.
The splits tell the story—against right-handers, the Indians have a slash line of .273/.344/.424. Against southpaws, .221/.309/.350.
Cleveland is loaded with left-handed hitters, including three switch-hitters. The Tribe obviously need an impact right-handed bat to lessen that disparaging split.
Colorado Rockies: How About Learning to Win on the Road?
The Colorado Rockies moved to a four-man rotation in late May as a way to alleviate the struggles of their starting pitchers, particularly at home on Coors Field.
However, history clearly shows that the Rockies have never been good at winning games on the road, and that's certainly been the case this year, as well.
Entering play on Monday night, the Rockies are 16-29 when playing away from Coors Field.
Splits in recent years show that the Rockies have never quite figured out how to win consistently away from the rarefied air of Denver.
From 2007 to 2011, the Rockies were tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the largest home/road win differential at plus-58.
While they're busy tweaking their pitching staff to figure out how to pitch better at Coors, how about finding a way to win on the road?
Detroit Tigers: More Consistency from Porcello and Scherzer
The Detroit Tigers addressed two important needs on Monday afternoon, completing a deal with the Miami Marlins in which they acquired second baseman Omar Infante and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez.
The Tigers gave up top pitching prospect Jacob Turner, minor league catcher Rob Brantly and minor league left-hander Brian Flynn in return.
Now, if they can get Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer to pitch more efficiently, they'll really be potent.
Scherzer and Porcello both have the stuff to be effective, but it doesn't always come out that way. Thus far in 2012, the two have combined for a 4.51 ERA in 38 starts.
Both Porcello and Scherzer have been more effective recently, and that will need to continue in the second half.
With Justin Verlander, Sanchez and a rebounding Doug Fister, the improved performances of both Porcello and Scherzer would give the Tigers a decided edge down the stretch.
Houston Astros: Follow Cubs' Plan, Stay the Course
Within the last few days, the Houston Astros have pulled off deals that unloaded pricey veterans in favor of a bevy of young talent.
In the 10-player deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, along with the trade of Brett Myers to the Chicago White Sox, the Astros received back six prospects and two players to be named later. They also received veteran reliever Francisco Cordero and reserve outfielder Ben Francisco in their deal with the Jays.
GM Jeff Luhnow has already gone a long way toward rebuilding a severely depleted farm system and will likely continue to do so if he can find suitors for Wandy Rodriguez and possibly others.
The Astros are clearly playing for the future, and with their move to the AL West in 2013, everything will be new for them.
Luhnow is making sure he starts with a clean slate, and he's well on his way.
Kansas City Royals: Make Wil Myers' Time Now
The Kansas City Royals released a set of preseason promotional TV spots that proclaimed, "Our time is now."
Unfortunately, they may be using the same exact phrase next season, as well.
The Royals are battling with the Minnesota Twins to stay out of the cellar in the AL Central, not quite what they envisioned when creating their preseason slogan.
One thing they can do to at least make things interesting in Kansas City is to debut their star-prospect slugger Wil Myers.
Current right fielder Jeff Francoeur is hitting .211 since the beginning of June, not what the Royals paid for when they extended Francoeur's contract last September.
Myers is patiently waiting in the wings, hitting .291 at Triple-A Omaha, with 15 HR and 47 RBI in 58 games.
Maybe "our time is now" isn't the appropriate phrase for the 2012 Royals, but it certainly appears to be Myers' time.
Los Angeles Angels: Pull the Strings on a Deal Involving Impact Starter
Thus far in the 2012 season, Los Angeles Angels starters Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson have combined for a 21-7 record and 2.53 ERA. The rest of the starting rotation is 21-26 with a 4.95 ERA.
You see where I'm going with this, right?
Los Angeles' No. 3 starter, Dan Haren, came back off the disabled list on Sunday with a nice performance, giving up just two runs on three hits in six innings to give the Angels a weekend-series win over the rival Texas Rangers.
If Haren is able to return to last year's form, the Angels' clear need won't be as prevalent. But it will take a few starts to see if Haren is in fact all the way back. Ervin Santana couldn't even last two innings on Friday night, seeing his ERA rise to 6.00, and Jerome Williams has been just so-so in the No. 5 role.
The Angels have either made inquiries or have scouted several starting pitchers (via MLBTradeRumors.com), and it's likely that GM Jerry DiPoto will have to make an acquisition if the Angels have any hope of catching the Rangers in the AL West.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Make Changes at the Corners
Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman James Loney has contributed just two homers and 25 RBI with a paltry .636 OPS thus far in 2012. Third baseman Juan Uribe has hit below the Mendoza Line in his two seasons wearing Dodger blue.
Seriously, it's time to find some new corners.
The Dodgers at least tried upgrading in early July, but Carlos Lee vetoed a trade that would have had him in Los Angeles.
The Dodgers are only 1.5 games behind the San Francisco Giants in the race for the NL West title and just a half-game out of a wild-card slot. Finding upgrades at both first and third base will go a long way in determining the Dodgers' fate this season
Recent reports have the Dodgers interested in Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez, so they're at least considering possibilities.
Miami Marlins: Find a New Closer
In July 2010 LeBron James famously announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach.
Closer Heath Bell didn't have the same announcement when he signed with the Miami Marlins, but his talents didn't come with him.
Bell has been truly awful since moving from coast to coast—a 6.05 ERA, six blown saves and a 1.707 WHIP, by far the highest of his career in any full season.
Marlins GM Michael Hill has already started a purge, sending Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to Detroit on Monday afternoon, and it seems likely that the sell-off will continue.
Hill should make a deal with the devil to get rid of Bell.
Milwaukee Brewers: Find a Witch Doctor to Keep Everyone Healthy
In the span of just a few weeks, the Milwaukee Brewers lost a third of their starting lineup and a starting pitcher to boot.
First baseman Mat Gamel and shortstop Alex Gonzalez were lost for the season with ACL injuries, starter Chris Narveson was shelved with a torn rotator cuff, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy went down with a broken bone in his right hand, courtesy of a wayward suitcase.
Lucroy is currently rehabbing and could be back with the Brewers later this week, but in the meantime, they also lost starting pitcher Shaun Marcum to a right elbow strain in mid-June. Marcum is also recovering but likely won't be back until early August.
In spite of all the devastating injuries, the Brewers are only 7.5 games out of a Wild Card slot, certainly not an insurmountable hill to climb with over two months left in the season.
A really good witch doctor would help if the Brewers want to gain a second straight postseason berth.
Minnesota Twins: Find and Develop Young Pitching
The Minnesota Twins clearly aren't going anywhere this season.
With a 40-55 record, they may avoid having a worse record than last season, but that's of little consolation.
GM Terry Ryan will no doubt be making roster decisions in the coming days, and the first priority has to be finding quality young pitching prospects.
The Twins pitching staff was the second worst in the American League last year, with a 4.58 ERA, and they've followed up with an even worse 4.88 ERA this year, good for last place.
A number of names have been mentioned regarding Twins players rumored to be available, including Matt Capps, Carl Pavano, Denard Span, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll and Justin Morneau.
Ryan needs to ask for nothing but pitching in return. In fact he has been adamant about getting starting pitching in return.
Ryan absolutely needs to follow through with this plan.
New York Mets: How Do You Spell Relief?
I know, the younger generation might not remember the old Rolaids slogan, but it's certainly appropriate in terms of exactly what the Mets need in the second half.
The Mets are clinging to life in the National League, only five games out of a possible wild-card slot.
They need a new pack of Rolaids.
GM Sandy Alderson bought a defective pack of Rolaids this past offseason, signing Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch and trading for Ramon Ramirez.
The veteran trio has combined for a 4.38 ERA and eight blown saves.
Alderson is now looking for a new pack of Rolaids.
New York Yankees: Maybe a No. 5 Starter
With a 57-38 record heading into Monday night, the New York Yankees have the best record in baseball.
In addition they took care of a major need on Monday, as well.
The acquisition of Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki for two going-nowhere relievers came as a major surprise. However, given the news that Brett Gardner will undergo season-ending elbow surgery, it's no shock that the Yankees moved swiftly to fill the gap.
Now the Yankees are well positioned in their lineup and on the bench.
GM Brian Cashman may not be quite done yet.
While CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes are for the most part getting the job done in the rotation, Cashman would love to find just one more guy to really put the clamp on their stranglehold in the AL East.
The Yankees definitely pulled off a shocker on Monday. No one should expect them to remain quiet for the rest of the trade deadline period just yet.
Oakland Athletics: Forget a New Stadium, Buy Some Players!
After a four-game sweep over the New York Yankees, the Oakland A's find themselves seven games above .500 and currently in possession of one of the wild-card slots in the American League, if the season were to end today.
Despite the off-field distractions revolving around the A's desire to move to San Jose or get the city of Oakland to help fund a new stadium, these A's are focused on the field, and their play of late clearly shows that.
The A's are now in a position to be buyers at the trade deadline, and there are a number of players who could help them
Third basemen Aramis Ramirez and Chase Headley are both said to be available, with the Los Angeles Dodgers looking into both as options—Oakland would do well to follow their lead. Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew is a clear upgrade over Cliff Pennington, as well.
The opportunity is clearly there for the A's to build upon what they've accomplishment thus far.
A's owner Lew Wolff has said that GM Billy Beane will have the flexibility to make deals as he sees fit.
“You'd have to ask Billy,” Wolff told The (Calif.) Press Democrat. “If he wanted to add somebody, it's not a matter of money. It's a matter of availability and his decision.”
The upcoming six-game road trip for the A's could go a long way toward dictating their direction before July 31.
Philadelphia Phillies: Re-Build the Bullpen
Closer Jonathan Papelbon represented the Philadelphia Phillies at the All-Star Game in his first year with the team, and while Papelbon has been fairly solid for the Phillies, the rest of the bullpen has been simply atrocious.
Phillies relievers have combined for a 4.75 ERA, second worst in all of baseball.
Everybody is focused on the possible status of Cole Hamels and others—how about if GM Ruben Amaro unloads the dead weight from the 'pen?
It may be too late at this point to salvage the season, but Amaro absolutely needs to focus on obtaining quality relief arms, both for now and the future.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Purchase a Quality Outfield Bat
The Pittsburgh Pirates are fresh off a sweep of the Miami Marlins over the weekend and stood at a season-best 14 games above .500 entering play on Monday night.
The Pirates don't just have a golden opportunity to stop their 19 straight seasons of losing—a North American record for professional sports—they also have a golden opportunity to secure a postseason berth.
The Pirates have hit much better of late—up from a league-low .220 earlier in the season to .246—but it's still clear that an impact bat in the outfield would help immensely.
Alex Presley and Jose Tabata are hitting a combined .232 with nine HR and 25 RBI. Andrew McCutchen easily doubles that on his own.
The Pirates don't need to go after an expensive option like Justin Upton, but other options are out there that can better support McCutchen in the offense.
San Diego Padres: You've Locked Up Quentin, Do the Same for Street
The San Diego Padres did themselves proud over the weekend.
Instead of caving in to the rumors swirling around the status of outfield Carlos Quentin, the Padres signed their hometown star to a three-year, $27 million contract with a mutual option for the 2016 season.
The Padres made both Quentin and Padres fans happy with the signing. Not only did they keep the hometown slugger, but the contract signaled to fans that the Padres are committed to developing a competitive on-field product.
“This is an amazing opportunity for me to stay and play in the city I grew up in,” Quentin told the AP. “I believe in this organization and what they’re doing, and I think they believe in me, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Now, the Padres can make even more fans happy if they do the same for closer Huston Street.
Street has been simply outstanding, posting a 0.95 ERA and giving up just 10 hits in 28.1 innings. He does have an option for the 2013 season for $9 million, but adding to that and keeping him in San Diego are the right moves to make.
San Francisco Giants: Beef Up Back End of Bullpen
The San Francisco Giants are in a dogfight with their long-time arch-rival Los Angeles Dodgers at the top of the NL West, and an alarming trend has shown its ugly face recently.
All of a sudden, the Giants are having difficulty closing the deal.
Santiago Casilla had taken over the reins as the closer after season-ending surgery for Brian Wilson. Casilla had been performing admirably, posting 20 saves in 21 chances and a 1.91 ERA.
However, since June 24, Casilla has spit the bit, blowing five saves in nine chances, with his ERA rising to 3.25.
Setup man Sergio Romo is not an option—manager Bruce Bochy is hesitant to take a chance on Romo's balky elbow.
The Giants were at their best with both Casilla and Romo setting up Wilson. GM Brian Sabean would do well to bring in a closer to stabilize that back end.
Seattle Mariners: Figure out What to Do with Justin Smoak
With the Seattle Mariners shipping long-time right fielder Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees on Monday afternoon, the team has apparently started the process of rebuilding.
One of the decisions that may need to be made soon could be what to do with first baseman Justin Smoak.
Smoak clearly has power and the capability to produce. But the .191 average on top of his .234 average last season has to make the M's wonder if Smoak can figure things out at the major league level.
Clearly, offense is at the core of the problems for the Mariners. They are second to last in the American League in both runs scored and batting average, after finishing last in the league in both categories last season.
GM Jack Zduriencik has done a solid job in bringing in outstanding pitching talent.
Now it's time to do the same for an anemic offense, and Smoak absolutely needs a solid second half to see whether or not he has a future in the Northwest.
St. Louis Cardinals: Find a Solution for the Middle of the Bullpen
The St. Louis Cardinals watched both the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates pass them by as they stumbled through the months of May and June.
The Cardinals have won 10 of 17 games in July but still find themselves 5.5 games out of the NL Central lead.
One of the problems for the Cardinals has been in the bullpen. While Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte have been solid on the back end, manager Mike Matheny has struggled to find the right combination for the middle innings.
Marc Rzepczynski, who was instrumental down the stretch last season after his trade from the Toronto Blue Jays, has been largely ineffective, with a 5.06 ERA in 44 appearances. Victor Marte, Fernando Salas, Kyle McLellan, Eduardo Sanchez and Sam Freeman haven't been much help, either.
With Jaime Garcia expected to return in mid-August, Joe Kelly or Lance Lynn could provide some help in relief.
However, GM John Mozeliak would do well to bolster the bullpen similarly to how he did it last season.
Brian Fuentes was added last week, but considering his struggles for much of the season in Oakland, there's no guarantee he'll be much of an upgrade.
Tampa Bay Rays: As Evan Longoria's Rehab Goes, so Goes Hope for Rays
When Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria was felled with a torn hamstring while sliding into second base on April 30, his team was 15-8 and in possession of first place in the AL East.
Since then the Rays are 34-39 and floundering, now 8.5 games out of the lead in the division.
The Rays have used six other men at the hot corner since Longoria's injury, and while they have seen the return of Matt Joyce and will soon have Sam Fuld back, it's Longoria that will likely turn around their fortunes.
Longoria is hoping to begin a rehab assignment by the end of the month (via RotoWorld.com), with the goal of returning to the Rays by mid-August.
Hopefully, it won't be too late by then.
Texas Rangers: Find a Replacement for Colby Lewis
The Rangers received some bad news on Monday afternoon. Pitcher Colby Lewis, who had been placed on the disabled list with right forearm tendinitis earlier on Monday, will now need surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon, ending his season.
According to Christian Colon of MLB.com, Rangers GM Jon Daniels will likely step up efforts to land an impact starting pitcher:
"It's going to depend on the specifics of the situation," Daniels said. "We've been looking at some different things. We've had conversations with clubs. Our focus is still the same -- to have the best club out there that gives us a chance to win. But the deal's got to be right."
That deal could involve Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies, Zack Greinke of the Milwaukee Brewers or even Josh Johnson of the Miami Marlins.
Johnson makes the most sense from a financial standpoint, especially if the Rangers hope to re-sign Josh Hamilton.
Toronto Blue Jays: Just One More Starter, Please
The Toronto Blue Jays made a move to strengthen two areas of need last week, acquiring starter J.A. Happ along with relievers Brandon Lyon and David McCarthy from the Houston Astros for Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, four prospects and a player to be named later.
GM Alex Anthopoulos clearly took care of a need in his rotation, with injuries to Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabeck and Brandon Morrow severely depleting the staff.
However, Happ alone won't solve the Jays' rotation problems.
Morrow's return to health along with one more starter would get the Blue Jays back in the playoff hunt. Morrow is currently rehabbing in Florida after a brief setback and could return to the Jays by mid-to-late August.
If Anthopoulos can somehow land another impact starter without having to give up much more of the farm, the Jays could well be back in business.
Washington Nationals: Will Werth Be Worth the Wait?
After suffering a broken wrist earlier in the season, Washington Nationals right field Jayson Werth is on his way back.
Currently rehabbing at Triple-A Syracuse, Werth could be back with the Nats by early next week.
Werth's return could provide a huge offensive boost for Washington and give them plenty of options in the lineup, as well.
The outfield could well be comprised of Werth in right field, Bryce Harper in center and Michael Morse in left when Werth returns. That gives manager Davey Johnson many options, with Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore both providing solid production in supporting roles.
At times Morse can give regular first baseman Adam LaRoche a rest at first base, with Moore capably covering in left.
Bernadina can slot in at various times all over the outfield, as well.
It's a win-win for the Nats, but only if Werth can be worth the price the Nats originally paid in December 2010.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.