Could Chicago Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano have helped a contending team down the stretch?
As the 2012 Major League Baseball season enters its sixth month of play, most teams now have 28 or 29 games left during the regular season.
GMs across the league spent the first few months evaluating teams, determining strengths and weaknesses, and identifying needs.
The next two months were spent trying to address those needs, weighing factors such as taking on additional salary and the cost of return (in terms of prospects and current MLB players), and determining whether or not to rent or acquire for long-term potential.
While many teams addressed various specific needs, there are still holes on each team that were left unfilled.
Here, we'll take a look at those holes and address the needs that weren't met for each MLB team.
In 2011 starter Daniel Hudson was an integral part of the success for the Arizona Diamondbacks, settling in nicely as the No. 2 starter behind Ian Kennedy and helping the D-Backs capture the NL West.
The 2012 season was a different story, as Hudson struggled out of the gates, finally being shut down on June 26 after a disastrous 1.2-inning effort against the Atlanta Braves and undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery.
At the time, the D-Backs were 37-35 and certainly well within range of a possible postseason berth once again.
Exploring options to acquire a veteran starter to replace Hudson was not a priority for the D-Backs at the time, and they now find themselves with a 66-69 record and little hope of returning to the playoffs.
The Atlanta Braves addressed several needs during the weeks leading up to the trade deadline in July and the waiver-trade deadline in August.
They acquired Paul Maholm to help stabilize the starting rotation, they acquired Reed Johnson to add bench depth and extra outfield help, and they brought in both Lyle Overbay and Jeff Baker as added insurance, as well.
However, center fielder Michael Bourn remains without a contract extension, and while that may not hurt the Braves this season, it could have more long-term implications.
With a .285 average and 38 stolen bases, Bourn has stabilized the top of the batting order and adds an element of speed not seen in Atlanta in quite some time. As each day passes, Bourn's price tag keeps going up, possibly to the point where the Braves won't be able to meet his demands.
Nolan Reimold's absence has caused O's manager Buck Showalter to use a variety of options in left field.
The Baltimore Orioles have pulled all the right strings in putting themselves into playoff contention, holding down one of two wild-card slots in the American League and finding themselves just one game behind the New York Yankees in the AL East entering play on Tuesday.
It's hard to say that the O's haven't at least tried to address needs, but since left fielder Nolan Reimold was lost for most of the season with a herniated disk in his neck on April 30, the Orioles have used 11 different players to fill the void in left.
Nate McLouth, signed by the Orioles in early June after his release from the Pittsburgh Pirates, has filled in since early August, but no one has been able to match Reimold's production overall.
Mananger Buck Showalter did a great job mixing and matching, but having a veteran in place on an everyday basis may have been a better solution.
The Boston Red Sox rid themselves of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto on Aug. 25. They should have been making moves far earlier than that.
After the epic collapse last September and the scathing report of clubhouse shenanigans issued by Bob Hohler of The Boston Globe last fall detailing the many problems in the Red Sox clubhouse, Boston's front office responded by not bringing back manager Terry Francona and allowing GM Theo Epstein to flee to Chicago.
The clubhouse cancers remained.
For the first four-plus months of the 2012 season, the Red Sox dealt not only with injuries and poor performance on the field, but also with ongoing issues in the clubhouse that continued to wreak havoc in a town already sick to death of the drama.
GM Ben Cherington pulled off a magic act in getting the Los Angeles Dodgers to assume $262.5 million in contracts with the trade of the aforementioned players on Aug. 25.
There are still issues that need to be resolved, and with the Red Sox looking at their first losing season since 1997, no doubt more moves will be made by Cherington.
But the damage had already been done.
It may take another miracle by Cherington to restore complete faith in this current band of Red Sox brethren and make them likeable once again.
As the month of September moves through its first week, the Chicago Cubs already find themselves out of playoff contention and firmly entrenched in second-to-last place in the NL Central.
They also find themselves still stuck with left fielder Alfonso Soriano.
The Cubs were unable to move Soriano at both the July trade deadline and the waiver-trade deadline that ended last Friday.
There is always the chance that the Cubs can finally find a home for Soriano this offseason, but they could have acquired some usable chips for their farm system if they had dealt Soriano in season, provided they kicked in the vast amount of the money left on Soriano's contract.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have done well thus far in acquiring prospects for various players dealt since they took over last November—but Soriano is the one piece left that is still unfinished business.
The Chicago White Sox are clearly one of the big surprises in the majors this season, sitting atop the AL Central standings under first-year manager Robin Ventura.
It's been a feel-good story for sure—not only with Ventura at the helm with no prior managerial experience, but with three players who have had huge comeback seasons (Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, Jake Peavy) and acquisitions made by GM Kenny Williams that have proven to be solid contributors (Kevin Youkilis, Dewayne Wise, Brett Myers).
However, only acquiring Francisco Liriano for the starting rotation may come back to haunt the Sox.
Youngster Chris Sale has clearly emerged as a promising left-hander, posting a 15-6 record and 2.93 a ERA. But at 163 IP, Sale has far surpassed the amount of innings he's thrown in any previous year professionally, and it's starting to show.
In Sale's first 18 starts of the season, he surrendered only seven home runs. However, in his last six starts, he's given up 10 long balls, including two more in his start on Sunday night against the Detroit Tigers, allowing Detroit to pull dead even with the Sox atop the NL Central.
Sale is definitely leaving more balls up in the strike zone, an indication he may be wearing down. Ditto for Jose Quintana, who has also thrown more innings than ever before.
With Gavin Floyd hurting, the acquisition of one more veteran starter could have been a wise move, as the Sox now find themselves reeling through the first few days of September.
Injured Reds first baseman Joey Votto is expected back on Tuesday.
The Cincinnati Reds own the second-best record in Major League Baseball heading into play on Labor Day, just mere percentage points behind the Washington Nationals.
Of even more significance is the fact that they've soared to the top without their $225 million leading man—Joey Votto.
In fact, since Votto hit the disabled list for the first time in his career on July 16, the Reds are 32-15, the second-best record in all of baseball during that time.
That speaks volumes for the depth this Reds team has—including the emergence of rookie Todd Frazier.
GM Walt Jocketty made one move of note during the trade period, obtaining reliever Jonathan Broxton from the Kansas City Royals to make a good bullpen even better.
The rotation has been solid as well, so there really aren't any holes that specifically needed to be addressed. Jocketty and manager Dusty Baker ran with what they had, and no one can argue the results.
After a career year in 2011, Asdrubal Cabrera has hit just 14 HR with 53 RBI in 2012.
With a record of 56-78 entering play on Labor Day, several factors can be looked at and determined as major flaws for the Cleveland Indians.
The Tribe are on a similar path seen last season, when they held the lead in the AL Central for much of the first half before imploding and finishing with an 80-82 record.
This season, the collapse started a bit earlier—the Indians held a half-game lead in the AL Central on June 23. Since that time, they are 19-45.
While a lot of the blame can be laid on an abysmal performance from their starting rotation, one clear need the Indians have had since the beginning of the season was to address their inability to hit left-handed pitching.
A lineup loaded with left-handed batters—including two switch-hitters—was often neutralized by southpaws throughout the season, and the lack of an impact right-handed bat clearly hampered the Indians offense, which hit just .231 in the second half while scoring 1.3 fewer runs per game (4.53/3.20).
The now-infamous Project 5183 implemented by the Colorado Rockies in June has apparently given the Rockies hope that it can work in the future.
They announced last week that they plan to not only extend Project 5183 into next season, but to expand it even further with a "piggyback" rotation.
The same four-man rotation will be in place, with each starter limited to a 75-pitch count. But with the new version, the Rockies will employ the use of left-handed replacements for right-handed starters and vice versa, with the second wave of pitchers to be limited to 50 pitches.
And you thought this year's plan was wacky?
And how is it that Dan O'Dowd still has his job?
Yes, he's been re-assigned to look over farm system operations, but he still holds the title of GM. This is still a rotation that is by far the worst in baseball—a 5.97 ERA entering play on Labor Day.
Tell me—how is that progress?
The Detroit Tigers announced September call-ups over the weekend, and with the collection of players coming up, one obvious need for the Tigers immediately came to mind: a guy off the bench who can actually hit.
IF/OF Ryan Raburn (.172), IF/OF Don Kelly (.173) and IF Danny Worth (.206) were among the names announced as part of the collection of players who will be called upon to produce in the next month.
Key word there is "produce"—something none of the the three have been able to do thus far.
It's an indication of the fact that manager Jim Leyland doesn't have many great options to turn to for late-inning help, and with the Tigers now dead even at the top of the AL Central standings, Detroit can use every little bit of help possible.
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has done quite a bit to re-stock Houston's farm system. Unfortunately, Astros fans will have to wait a bit for the results.
The Houston Astros are headed down the path of misery and could very well eclipse last year's mark for franchise futility.
At 42-93, the Astros have a very real chance of losing much more than the 106 games they did last season.
However, GM Jeff Luhnow has certainly done his share of reloading this season.
With the trades of Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Carlos Lee, J.A. Happ, Chris Johnson and Brandon Lyon, along with last year's trades of Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence, the Astros actually have a farm system that's well stocked and versatile.
Luhnow didn't just bring in pitching prospects; he brought in several position players, as well. Yes, none of them will help the Astros escape the pain and misery of this season, and quite a few of them won't have impacts on next year's roster, either.
However, it can't be said that Luhnow didn't address Houston's needs, considering that the Astros were loaded with them in the first place.
Royals owner David Glass loves his stadium, but not his team?
If there was one thing good that came out of Kansas City during this year's MLB All-Star Game, it was the fact that Royals owner David Glass and his management did a bang-up job at improving Kaufmann Stadium.
Everyone in baseball had nothing but great things to say about the refurbishment of the Royals' home ballpark and the fabulous job that Glass and company did hosting the All-Star festivities.
Which begs the question—why can't they do the same for their own team?
The Royals are on their way to another losing season—their 17th in the last 18 years. Glass does nothing to increase payroll or even to make an attempt to keep his team competitive.
But he has no problem spending millions on his stadium to entice MLB commissioner Bud Selig to allow Kansas City to host an All-Star Game.
Maybe it's just me, but aren't those priorities kind of backward?
When the Los Angeles Angels acquired reliever Ernesto Frieri in early May from the San Diego Padres, he immediately helped to stabilize a bullpen that went through a rough first month of the season.
It needs stabilizing once again.
Since the All-Star break, Los Angeles' team ERA is 5.11, the third-worst in the American League. And the bullpen ERA went from 3.16 in the first half to 5.45 in the second.
The starters have certainly had their struggles, but the inconsistency of the bullpen wasn't addressed at all. With the Oakland A's and Texas Rangers ahead of the Angels in the NL West and both with solid options at the ends of games, the Angels did themselves no favors by remaining inactive.
Chad Billingsley's absence leaves a big hole in the Dodgers' rotation.
Don't ever let it be said that the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't at least try to address every need they have this summer.
They addressed needs to the tune of close to $300 million, in fact.
Shane Victorino, Hanley Ramirez, Brandon League, Randy Choate, Joe Blanton, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto were all brought in specifically to address needs.
Well, Beckett and Crawford were the price paid for acquiring A-Gon, but you know what I mean.
GM Ned Colletti was given carte blanche to go out and make whatever moves he deemed necessary to ensure the Dodgers had a fighting chance at a World Series berth, both this season and for the future, as well.
But one more starter would have been nice.
Indeed, the Dodgers were still looking for a starter at the waiver-trade deadline but walked away empty.
Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley are both on the disabled list trying to work their ways back before the end of the regular season (via CBS Sports), and Blanton has been inconsistent since arriving in early August.
Just one more starter probably would have been nice. After all, what's another couple of million?
The Miami Marlins had already essentially given up on the season when they unloaded Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, Gaby Sanchez and Edward Mujica before the July 31 trade deadline.
And for good reason.
The acquisitions made by Jeffrey Loria during the offseason just weren't enough, as the Marlins continued sliding further and further down the standings in the NL East.
While blame can certainly be laid on a variety of areas—for example the inability of $27 million closer Heath Bell to actually do his job and close games properly—one need from the get-go that was never addressed was a lack of consistent offense behind the plate.
The trio of John Buck, Rob Brantly and Brett Hayes has combined for a triple slash line of .200/.289/.324 with 11 HR and 39 RBI.
Sorry, but for me, an almost automatic out at the bottom of the order along with the pitcher's slot can hamstring any team.
Yes, the Marlins have quite a few other issues that will be dissected ad nauseum, no doubt, through the offseason.
But an obvious need behind the plate was simply never addressed.
Brewers closer John Axford has been just part of a bullpen that has been anything but reliable.
Injuries played a huge role in the demise of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2012 season.
The season-ending injuries to Alex Gonzalez, Mat Gamel and Chris Narveson were devastating, and the broken hand suffered by hot-hitting catcher Jonathan Lucroy was a blow, as well.
But a bullpen that featured one of the best closers in all of baseball last year and an $8 million setup man completely imploded this year.
John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez have posted a combined 5.05 ERA this season with 15 blown saves. As a group the Brewers bullpen has posted a 4.73 ERA, third worst in the National League.
No moves were made to address bullpen needs, and while the Brewers certainly played the role of a selling team this summer, if the tables had been turned, GM Doug Melvin would likely have had bullpen help at or near the top of his priority list.
The title to this slide pretty much says it all for the Minnesota Twins, and GM Terry Ryan pretty well said as much earlier this season.
In an interview about six weeks ago with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Ryan addressed his team's biggest need—starting pitching:
Part of the job I have is to be realistic. You don't win in Major League Baseball unless you've got a rotation that's reliable. You can probably get by without offense, you might be able to get by without a deep bullpen—though you need somebody on the back side—but you aren't going to get by exposing your rotation, because you've got to be able to trot a guy out there every five days. I have to be realistic.
The problem is that Ryan did nothing to address that need, instead actually trading a starting pitcher—Francisco Liriano—who was considered part of the problem and not the solution.
The Twins made no other moves at the deadline, although in the same interview Ryan said that no current Twin was off limits in terms of availability.
He's got some work to do this offseason.
Only one team in the entire majors has a worse bullpen than that of the New York Mets.
The lowly Houston Astros sport the worst reliever corps in MLB, and that's not by much. The Mets have a bullpen ERA of 4.77, only .10 better than Houston's.
GM Sandy Alderson worked over the offseason to rebuild his 'pen, bringing in Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco and Ramon Ramirez.
He needed to rework it again this summer but failed to do so.
The return of Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte could be crucial to the Yankees' playoff hopes.
After another loss on Labor Day, the New York Yankees are now just one game in front of the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East, and the starting rotation is taking a bit of a beating.
Already without the services of Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees are working with a patchwork rotation on the back end in the form of Freddy Garcia and David Phelps, with no real relief in sight.
With just 28 games to go, the Yankees will need to dig deep and hope that Nova can come back from rotator-cuff inflammation and Pettitte from a fractured leg sometime in the next couple of weeks before things really get out of hand.
The Yankees' choice to be fiscally responsible could otherwise end up costing them a playoff spot.
A.J. Griffin is 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA in nine starts for the Athletics.
The Oakland Athletics had a nine-game winning streak snapped on Labor Day in an 8-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
Still, with a 76-58 record, including winning 33 of 48 games in the second half, the A's control their own playoff destiny, a game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles and 2.5 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays for one of the two available wild-card slots.
The surprising A's are doing just about everything right these days, even after the 50-game suspension of pitcher Bartolo Colon—an event that could have thrown Oakland into a spin.
Undaunted, the A's just keep winning, with new starters such as Brandon Moss, A.J. Griffin and even Stephen Drew providing key contributions.
GM Billy Beane made relatively few moves in the days and weeks leading up to the trade deadline, and the faith he put in his current corps of players has paid off.
I've said in the past in previous articles that it would have been nice to see at least a couple of moves.
Just goes to show I am definitely not GM material.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro will have an eye on youth this offseason.
The Philadelphia Phillies looked and played like an old team on its last legs throughout most of this season.
Save for Carlos Ruiz and Juan Pierre, who were consistently good throughout the year, the Phillies simply gave off the impression by the way they were playing that they were old.
Turns out they really were, and they still are.
GM Ruben Amaro jettisoned stars Shane Victorino, Jim Thome, Chad Qualls and Hunter Pence, and he still has a mix of starters well over the age of 30.
And many of them are close to being immovable because of contracts.
Foresight is a tricky thing in baseball—while the contracts of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee may have looked good when they were signed, they don't look so palatable now with each player in his early-to-mid 30s and prone to physical—or, in the case of Rollins, mental—breakdowns.
Amaro will now need to do what he can to make his team younger as he looks toward the future and to avoid another season like 2012.
Starting rotation has definitely become a theme for this particular slideshow, and the Pittsburgh Pirates are another team feeling that pinch.
On Labor Day the Pirates turned to 24-year-old Jeff Locke, who made just the fifth start of his young career, with his Pirates in the middle of a playoff chase. Locke was unable to deliver, suffering a 5-1 loss at the hands of the lowly Houston Astros.
Locke's spot in the rotation was made available by the unconditional release of the underperforming Erik Bedard, courtesy of his 7-14 record and 5.01 ERA.
The Pirates did attempt to address their rotational needs by acquiring Wandy Rodrguez from the Astros in late July, but Rodriguez has largely failed to deliver, as well, posting a 2-4 record and a 4.12 ERA in six starts.
The Pirates are fighting for their first postseason appearance in 20 years.
Relying on pitchers like Locke who are barely wet behind the ears just won't cut it.
The San Diego Padres were simply abysmal in the first half of the 2012 season, playing 19 games under .500 and looking very much like a team in disarray.
The second half has been a different story, with the Padres posting a 28-20 record and looking much more like a team in sync.
GM Josh Byrnes has put together a good young corps of players, led by veterans Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin, and manager Buddy Black has now used 15 different starters as the team has looked at various options, such as Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland and Andrew Cashner, for its future rotation.
The new ownership group recently approved by MLB could well have a positive influence on future spending, as Byrnes looks to bring in various pieces to fit into a team that's rapidly coming together.
Catcher Buster Posey could be the only Giants player to end up with more than 15 home runs.
The San Francisco Giants are still holding a 4.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the race for the NL West title, but one thing they lack big time going forward is power.
The Giants are dead last in the MLB with 81 home runs. Their 20 home runs at AT&T Park certainly make for an outrageously low number, but their 61 home runs on the road are only 22nd in the league, as well.
Obviously it's not necessarily hurting the Giants right now if their lead holds up over the next four weeks. However, come playoff time, a lack of offensive firepower could very well be an issue. Their lack of ability to hit the long ball coupled with the loss of current NL batting leader Melky Cabrera could be a double whammy.
The Giants did make an effort to find that impact bat, but nothing ever developed.
Good fly balls go to die at AT&T Park. Without that impact bat, hopefully the Giants' playoff hopes won't die along with them.
Much like the San Diego Padres, the Seattle Mariners have been a completely different team in the second half of the 2012 season.
After starting out with a 36-51 record in the first half, the Mariners have won 30 of 48 games since the All-Star break.
However, there is still one area that remains a big question mark—first base.
Justin Smoak continues to struggle, hitting just .192 on the season with 14 HR and 41 RBI. Smoak was the focal point of the trade between the Mariners and Texas Rangers in 2010, with starter Cliff Lee headed to Arlington and the highly touted Smoak headed to Safeco Field.
Smoak has yet to show that potential, however, and the time may be coming for GM Jack Zduriencik to make a decision about his future and the Mariners' options at first base.
As the St. Louis Cardinals head into the final 27 games of the regular season, they hold down the second wild-card slot in the National League.
However, that lead is tenuous—just a game over the Los Angeles Dodgers and 2.5 games over division-rival Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Cards face the final four weeks of the regular season without a reliable left-handed relief option other than Marc Rzepczynski, who's posted a 2.77 ERA in the second half after a rough start.
Barret Browning has been erratic, and Sam Freeman hasn't been much better. The Cards tried and failed with both J.C. Romero and Brian Fuentes, as well, with Fuentes requesting personal time and being placed on the restricted list in mid-August.
The Tampa Bay Rays will be fighting for their postseason lives over the last four weeks of the season, and their failure to land an impact left-handed bat could bite them in the back.
Carlos Pena has been anything but reliable, hitting just .191 with 162 strikeouts. Luke Scott returned from the disabled list on Aug. 21, but his .223 average, 12 home runs and two stints on the DL are a far cry from what the Rays expected when they paid him $6 million this offseason.
Many fans cried for the Rays to use some of their vast pitching resources to acquire an impact left-handed bat, but no moves were made.
Can Yu Darvish step up and be the anchor for the Rangers in the postseason?
At 80-54, the Texas Rangers hold the best record in the American League with and seem well on their way to a third straight trip to the postseason.
With Texas sporting one of the most well-rounded lineups in baseball, it's hard to poke holes in the Rangers roster right now. The batting lineup one through nine gives no pitcher a break; their starting rotation has held up despite the loss of Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz; and Joe Nathan has led an excellent bullpen, fifth in the AL with a 3.20 ERA.
The only thing that could slow the Rangers down in the postseason is their lack of a true ace at the top of the pitching staff, that one stopper looked upon to dominate. Lewis, his 4-1 record and his 2.34 ERA in the playoffs won't be available.
Ryan Dempster seems to have righted the ship in recent starts after a slow beginning to his Rangers' career, but Dempster should not be confused with a stopper.
Yu Darvish seems to have also picked it up after a rough stretch, now 14-9 after a seven-inning effort against the Kansas City Royals on Labor Day. Whether or not he can step up and dominate in the postseason is an as-yet-unanswered question, however.
Ricky Romero and the rest of the rotation are a big reason why the Blue Jays will be playing golf in October.
One telling statistic that has best defined the Toronto Blue Jays this season can be seen in one area—starting pitching.
In the first half, Jays starters were 32-30 with a 4.62 ERA. In the second half, 13-27 with a 5.24 ERA.
Injuries to Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and Brandon Morrow seriously derailed hopes of a postseason berth for the Blue Jays, for sure.
But their replacements simply haven't gotten it done.
Aaron Laffey has a 5.40 ERA in eight second-half starts; Brett Cecil a 5.56 ERA in four starts; and even their ace, Ricky Romero, has an 0-9 record and a 7.18 ERA in 10 starts in the second half.
GM Alex Anthopoulos will have some decisions to make this offseason—the options currently at his disposal just aren't very worthy of long-term stays in Toronto.
Not even the loss of Stephen Strasburg can slow the Washington Nationals down.
The biggest news surrounding the Washington Nationals these days isn't so much the fact that they'll likely make the postseason for the time since moving to D.C.
It's all about Stephen Strasburg and his almost-certain shutdown, planned for Sept. 12.
With their win on Monday, the Nats are now 30 games above .500 and sport the best record in baseball. Nothing, barring a collapse of Boston Red Sox-like proportions, could end their season early at this point.
Not even the shutdown of Strasburg, who was spectacular once again over the weekend in a six-inning scoreless effort against the St. Louis Cardinals.
This is a solid rotation, with Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and even Ross Detwiler pitching very well. In addition, the return to health of Drew Storen is a big plus, with Tyler Clippard at the back end of the bullpen, too.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. With the exception of adding catcher Kurt Suzuki, GM Mike Rizzo kept silent throughout the trade period, preferring to not mess with the chemistry of his ballclub.
Turns out it could have been a very wise choice.
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.