The Los Angeles Dodgers just raised the stakes on an already tight National League playoff race by acquiring third baseman/shortstop Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins.
The Dodgers’ new ownership group is clearly flexing their financial muscle with this deal, and the rest of Major League Baseball is now officially on notice that Los Angeles is committed to winning the World Series as early as this year.
Although the Marlins have abruptly pulled the plug on their 2012 spending spree, and the New York Mets’ luck seems to have run out, there are still a number of teams in the running for NL postseason spots.
Here are six moves that National League teams must make before next week’s July 31st, non-waiver MLB trade deadline if they want to keep pace with the Dodgers and emerge as serious contenders for the NL pennant.
The Diamondbacks set the Internet on fire when rumors first emerged that they were willing to deal star-right fielder Justin Upton. But Arizona team president Derrick Hall put that talk to rest yesterday, saying it is almost certain that Upton would not be moved before the deadline.
With that bit of drama behind them and the team in the midst of a five-game winning streak, the Diamondbacks could go the opposite direction and make a move to improve their odds of defending their NL West division title.
Arizona has a crowded outfield with Upton, Chris Young, Gerardo Parra and offseason acquisition Jason Kubel who is currently tied for the NL lead in RBI with 71.
Along with top-pitching prospect Trevor Bauer, the Diamondbacks have a couple of pieces they could put to use in a blockbuster deal.
With starter Daniel Hudson out for the year and Bauer struggling at the major league level during his first-four starts, Arizona would be wise to make a move for a proven, top-of-the-rotation arm if they want to contend in 2012.
Unfortunately for them, Dempster used his 10-5 rights to put that deal on hold, and Braves general manager Frank Wren has now declared that the team has moved on to other options.
Atlanta is clearly in need of pitching help.
With emerging ace Brandon Beachy out for the season, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson struggling mightily and top-pitching prospect Julio Teheran not progressing as quickly as the they'd expected, the Braves could badly use another veteran pitcher.
The door may be closed on Dempster. But pitchers such as the Miami Marlins’ Josh Johnson or Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke are available as well.
Atlanta will need to do something to make a run at the Washington Nationals in the NL East and position themselves to contend for a World Series title in Chipper Jones’ swan song.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a fantastic start in 2012, putting them in a great position to end a postseason drought that dates back to 1992, when Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla ruled the National League.
Unlike last year’s team—which was in first place in the NL Central as late as July—the 2012 Pirates look to be the real deal.
Pittsburgh improved their starting rotation by trading for Houston Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez yesterday. But if the Bucs want to strike while the iron is hot, they’ll need to improve their lineup as well.
The Diamondbacks have apparently resigned themselves to holding on to Justin Upton through the end of the season. But the Pirates could force Arizona’s hand if general manager Neil Huntington were willing to part with top-pitching prospect Garrett Cole.
Bringing in Upton to protect NL MVP-favorite Andrew McCutchen would push the Pirates to the top of the list of NL contenders and give the team its most dynamic duo since the Bonds-Bonilla era.
After a slow start to the 2012 season, the San Francisco Giants have skyrocketed to the top of the NL West standings. But the Los Angeles Dodgers’ acquisition of Hanley Ramirez will make it difficult for the Giants to maintain their 2.5-game division lead.
With more moves expected from the Dodgers before the MLB trade deadline, San Francisco may be forced to make a move to solidify their position as the division’s top dog.
San Francisco’s offense has improved since 2011 thanks to Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval returning from injuries and the offseason trade that brought them 2012 All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera from the Kansas City Royals.
Unfortunately they are still getting below-average production from their first basemen and right fielders—positions that most teams expect to get solid offense from.
First baseman/right fielder Brandon Belt has failed to develop as quickly as the Giants expected, so the team might be best served making a move to beef up one of those two spots to improve their odds of getting back to the World Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals were decimated by injuries for most of the first half of the season. While their offense has returned to full strength, holes in their starting rotation and bullpen will prevent the team from defending their World Series title.
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak proved last year that he is very good at identifying his team’s needs and isn’t afraid to make an unpopular trade to get the players he wants.
With starter Chris Carpenter out for the season and Adam Wainwright slow to rediscover his former Cy Young-caliber form, St. Louis could badly use a front-of-the-rotation starter to lead a second-half surge.
The big question is whether or not the Cardinals would be willing to part with top-pitching prospect Shelby Miller to acquire a player like Seattle’s Felix Hernandez?
The Washington Nationals appear to be the National League’s most complete team. With a lights-out starting rotation and a solid offense led by the resurgent Ryan Zimmerman and rookie phenom Bryce Harper, Washington could contend for a World Series title as currently constructed.
But the big question that everyone in Major League Baseball is asking is whether or not Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo will budge from his position of keeping staff ace Stephen Strasburg on a strict 160-innings count?
If he is serious about this (which he very much appears to be) that would put a severe dent in Washington’s chances for an extended playoff run, especially given the moves that other NL teams are making.
With Harper on the major league roster and with the haul that the Nationals gave up last offseason to get left-hander Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland A’s, Washington doesn’t have a lot of minor league resources left to acquire a star.
But maybe they have enough to get a guy like Paul Maholm from the Chicago Cubs—a solid, veteran pitcher that could help out over the stretch run and perhaps be a third starter in a playoff series.