Headley could be available in July. Which teams will make third base a top priority?
It’s time to get out the crystal ball and figure out what the biggest priority of each major league organization will be in late July.
Will it be a minor roster tweak, like adding a bullpen piece or a right-handed power bat off the bench?
Does an organization have the resources to make a priority of acquiring an impact bat or starting pitcher?
For teams expected to be out of contention, will they be looking to deal soon-to-be free agents or just looking to build momentum heading into 2014?
Here’s what I think.
The NL West teams in the spotlight are the surprising Rockies, off to a 13-7 start, and the disappointing and injury-plagued Dodgers, who are off to a 9-10 start. The Diamondbacks are just hanging around, though, and they are talented enough to continue doing so as we approach the trade deadline.
Despite trading Justin Upton, who is absolutely crushing the ball for the Braves, the Diamondbacks are a good offensive team without too many weaknesses when at full health. General manager Kevin Towers did a good job building up enough depth, which has been necessary early on.
Two starting outfielders, Adam Eaton and Jason Kubel, are currently on the disabled list, while Cody Ross, started the season on it. Second baseman Aaron Hill, off to another great start, is also out with a broken hand.
If there was going to be a weak link in the lineup, it would be at shortstop. But Didi Gregorius’ arrival has the league buzzing after his 7-for-19 start with two homers. He’s a terrific defender, so any offense he adds from the bottom of the lineup is a bonus.
The bullpen is also solid and the rotation, aside from a few rough outings by newcomer Brandon McCarthy, has been very good. Randall Delgado and Tyler Skaggs are both struggling in Triple-A, though, so the team could be vulnerable if a starter goes down with an injury. Adding some rotation depth later in the year could be necessary.
There is probably enough talent in the farm system to go after a Matt Garza, but the D-Backs could also just go after a back-of-the-rotation type. Plenty of those will be available for a much cheaper price.
Top Priority: Starting pitcher
The Braves look unstoppable right now, with a 15-5 record and five-game lead in the NL East, despite some early challenges.
Brian McCann is on the disabled list to start the season, recovering from shoulder surgery. No problem. Rookie Evan Gattis has stepped in and has six homers and 13 runs batted in.
Freddie Freeman was on the disabled list for 15 days with a strained oblique. No problem. Chris Johnson hit .423 in his absence.
Jonny Venters injured his elbow and could require season-ending surgery. That's OK too, because we all knew that Cory Gearrin and Anthony Varvaro would combine on 19 scoreless innings to start the season.
Next challenge: Jason Heyward just landed on the disabled list after an emergency appendectomy. His replacements, Reed Johnson and Jordan Schafer, will probably do much better, because Heyward was off to a miserable 7-for-58 start.
The craziest thing about the Braves’ hot start is that several of their key position players are slumping. Along with Heyward, Dan Uggla, Andrelton Simmons and B.J. Upton are off to slow starts. If they get everyone clicking on all cylinders, this team could be scary good in the second half of the season.
No. 5 starter Julio Teheran has had a few rough starts and still might not be consistent enough to stick in the majors. But prospects Sean Gilmartin and J.R. Graham—who impressed in the spring with a high-90s fastball—give the team a couple options to replace him.
Brandon Beachy, who dominated in 13 starts (2.00 ERA, 81 IP, 49 H, 29 BB, 68 K) before Tommy John surgery ended his 2012 season, could also return in the second half.
Setting up for closer Craig Kimbrel, Eric O’Flaherty and Jordan Walden are getting the job done, but the team could miss Venters if he’s unable to return. Finding a dominant eighth-inning reliever to replace him could be in the cards.
Top Priority: Setup man, if Venters is out for the season
The O’s are doing it again. Without any particular starting pitcher that would strike fear into opponents, they’re off to a very good start. The same theme held up in 2012 and they made it all the way to the ALCS, where they lost to the Yankees in five games.
Of the younger pitchers who have some upside, Jake Arrieta was already optioned to the minors and Chris Tillman has been unsurprisingly inconsistent. Top prospect Dylan Bundy is seeking a second opinion on a sore elbow, while Kevin Gausman, last year’s top draft pick, is just getting adjusted to Double-A.
That leaves Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez as the team’s most reliable options. All three are solid starters, but they're far from spectacular. It’s hard to see the O’s reaching the postseason again if these are their best options and Bundy or Gausman isn’t able to contribute.
General manager Dan Duquette has been very patient since taking over prior to the 2012 season. He's made only minor tweaks to the roster and has found a lot of value in minor league signings, such as Gonzalez and Rule 5 picks Ryan Flaherty and T.J. McFarland.
Meanwhile, the lineup is stacked with talent, and the bullpen continues to be strong behind closer Jim Johnson (59-for-62 in save opportunities since start of 2012). It doesn’t mean Duquette won’t look for minor upgrades in those areas, but the rotation is the obvious weakness and where he’ll likely need to make his first big splash as the GM if this team is going to continue playing deep into October.
Top Priority: Starting rotation
With as much turnover as this roster has had since last August, the Red Sox might just be happy to stand pat at the deadline if they continue to play well. Off to a 13-7 start, they’re poised to make a huge jump from the 69-win season of a year ago.
Offseason additions Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara have each made huge contributions thus far, but many of the others—including Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, David Ross and the injured Joel Hanrahan—have struggled.
A lineup with a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury a the top; a rotation with Dempster, Jon Lester (1.73 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (0.90 ERA) pitching well; and a deep bullpen filled with big-time arms who can pitch late in the game have led the way for Boston.
The Red Sox also have the financial resources and the deep farm system to add an impact player at the deadline. Of course, they could just be patient and wait for the veterans to turn it around and for talented prospects like Jackie Bradley Jr., Jose Iglesias, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa to give them a boost in the second half.
I don’t think there’s an obvious weakness on the team right now, as it's been able to stay relatively healthy. With Bradley spending a few months in Triple-A, he’ll probably be ready to help if the red-hot Daniel Nava should revert back to the very average player he’s been throughout his career.
One struggling player to keep an eye on is third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who is hitting .173 (13-for-75) with three walks and 26 strikeouts.
The 24-year-old took the majors by storm when he arrived in 2012, blasting 15 homers with 54 runs batted in in 75 games. But he went down for the season with a fractured wrist before opposing teams could even figure out his weaknesses. They may have the book on him now, though, and he’s yet to show the proper adjustments.
Top Priority: Third base???
For the second season in a row, the trade deadline focus of the Cubs will likely be determining the trade value of soon-to-be free agents like Matt Garza, Scott Feldman and Carlos Marmol. If Scott Baker can make it back from Tommy John surgery in the next month or two, he’d also be on that list.
David DeJesus has a team-friendly $6.5 million club option for 2014, so he won’t necessarily be shopped, but he could bring back a lot in a trade if he continues to produce. He has a .965 OPS through his first 17 games.
Same deal with Alfonso Soriano, who is signed through 2014. Depending on how well he’s hitting—he’s currently not so much (1 HR, 3 BB, 15 K)—the Cubs would have to eat a good portion of his remaining salary.
Dealing either player could give prospect Brett Jackson another shot to audition for a starting job in 2014.
Other prospects to watch down the stretch are starting pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, currently on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery, and shortstop Junior Lake, who has an impressive combination of power and speed but could be best suited for a super-utility role in the majors.
Top Priority: Shop soon-to-be free agents
“Bad” Adam Dunn (7-for-69, 3 BB, 27 K) is back again for the White Sox after he bounced back with a very good 2012 season. As he showed in 2011, he’s capable of keeping up the awfulness for an entire season. Top offseason acquisition Jeff Keppinger has also struggled, while two lineup regulars, Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo, are on the disabled list.
A team without a ton of depth, the White Sox are struggling early on despite solid early-season performances by the rotation and the bullpen. If John Danks can come back strong from his shoulder issues, the Sox have a chance to be just good enough to stay in the race, even if the offense continues to struggle.
It’s unlikely that they’d enter the Chase Headley sweepstakes, should he become available, because of a very weak farm system. They could look to acquire a corner outfielder, however, like David DeJesus of the Cubs or one of the Mariners’ outfielders—Franklin Gutierrez, Raul Ibañez and Michael Morse will all be free agents after the season—should they fall out of contention.
Top Priority: Impact bat (corner OF, 3B or DH)
After a season without injuries to the starting rotation, the Reds have had to dip into their minor league depth with Johnny Cueto (strained lat) on the disabled list. Fortunately, that depth started with lefty Tony Cingrani, who appears to be ready to be a very productive major league starter.
An injury to catcher Ryan Hanigan could also prove to be a positive, as young backup Devin Mesoraco will finally get some regular playing time to get his bat going. The 24-year-old was one of the top catching prospects in the game before last season, but he was never able to get into a rhythm with Hanigan getting the majority of playing time.
The bullpen, with closer Aroldis Chapman in place after the team flirted with the idea of moving him to the rotation, is as deep as any team in the majors and is capable of shutting down opponents late in games.
Where the team could use some help, if the offense begins to falter at all during the season, is in left field, where Chris Heisey has struggled since taking over for an injured Ryan Ludwick.
One internal option they could go with is top prospect and “fastest man in baseball” Billy Hamilton, whose arrival would push Shin-Soo Choo to a corner outfield spot. The 22-year-old switch-hitter is hitting just .221 in Triple-A and appears nowhere close to helping out the major league club.
If Ludwick’s return doesn’t appear close in July—he’s expected to be out at least until sometime the All-Star break—they could look to add another outfielder.
Top Priority: Left field, if Ludwick’s return isn’t imminent
After adding some big names to their starting lineup this offseason, the Indians are off to an 8-10 start and have major concerns in the starting rotation aside from Justin Masterson (1.85 ERA) and Zach McAllister (3.12 ERA).
In 10 starts made by pitchers not named Masterson or McAllister, the Indians have just two quality starts. Brett Myers is on the disabled list with an elbow injury, and Ubaldo Jimenez doesn’t appear anywhere close to turning things around.
Unless 22-year-old Trevor Bauer turns out to be the savior, which he’s probably not, as indicated by his seven-walk outing on April 6th, the Indians could be in huge trouble.
The bullpen is deep, and the farm system has a lot of talent in the low minors. Trading from those areas of strength to upgrade their rotation could be absolutely necessary.
Of course, if the Indians are in contention once July rolls around, their starting pitching will have probably gotten much better. If it doesn’t, they could be looking to sell off a soon-to-be free agent like Mark Reynolds and possibly some valuable players with another year left of team control. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and closer Chris Perez would be on that list.
Top Priority: Starting rotation
Are these Colorado Rockies for real? It's not impossible. I’m still not a huge believer in the rotation, although Jorge De La Rosa looks to be regaining his pre-Tommy John surgery form and Jhoulys Chacin was looking really good before a strained lower back knocked him out of action and onto the disabled list.
If Chacin can return without missing a beat in a couple weeks and the lineup, behind Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, can continue to mash, this team can continue to stay in the hunt in a winnable division.
Third baseman Chris Nelson has struggled at the plate, but prospect Nolan Arenado is on fire in Triple-A and could be part of the everyday lineup no later than mid-June.
Second baseman Josh Rutledge is also struggling, although he’ll have a longer leash without a big-time prospect like Arenado ready to take his spot. DJ LeMahieu or Charlie Culberson could get a shot if he doesn’t turn things around.
I’d expect that three young pitchers currently in Triple-A—Tyler Chatwood, Christian Friedrich and Drew Pomeranz—will all get their chance before we get to July. By then, the Rockies should have a good idea whether or not they have five reliable starters for the stretch run. My guess is that they will not.
Top Priority: Starting rotation
As long as the fearsome foursome of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez do what they normally do when they take the mound, the Tigers won't fall out of this division race.
Sitting at 9-9 and third in the division after four straight losses, however, the Tigers don’t exactly resemble the defending AL champs. That’s OK, because they didn’t look like a team that would even make the playoffs for a majority of the 2012 season.
They didn’t stand pat at the 2012 trade deadline, acquiring Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante from the Marlins. Both players helped down the stretch. Making another impact trade could be necessary again this season.
If slumping players such as Infante, Alex Avila, Andy Dirks or Victor Martinez can’t turn it around, they could use another bat in the middle of the lineup. Outfield prospects Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos could also get a shot to unseat Dirks in left field later in the season.
And keep a close eye on that closer situation, which is still unsettled. Closer of the future Bruce Rondon was recalled on Tuesday, although he’ll be eased in and probably won’t close anytime soon. Jose Valverde, who struggled at the end of last season, is also back and will resume closing duties as of Wednesday.
I’d expect Rondon to get a shot if Valverde struggles. And if Rondon doesn’t prove reliable during his rookie season, the team could attempt to trade for an upgrade in July.
Top Priority: Closer
There’s little doubt that the Astros will not be buyers this July. It’s also not for sure that they’ll be sellers given they might only have two free agents-to-be, Rick Ankiel and Carlos Peña, who garner any interest at all. And that would probably be very little interest.
Finishing the season strong, even if it meant holding on to everyone on their roster, could be more of a priority in general manager Jeff Luhnow’s second year on the job.
Then again, he does have two starting pitchers, Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell, that will bring back some talent in a trade. I’m sure he’ll at least listen and determine if the return is worth giving up several years of team control for two pretty good pitchers.
Getting a look at some top prospects, including first baseman Jonathan Singleton and starting pitcher Jarred Cosart, would also be of importance.
Top Priority: Avoid 100-loss season
The rotation overhaul is already paying dividends, with the first-place Royals off to a 10-7 start behind offseason acquisitions James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis.
In fact, they’re probably good enough, along with the bullpen, to overcome the slow starts of several key lineup regulars.
Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are off to poor starts, although they’ll have a long leash to turn things around. As long as the pitching staff holds up, the Royals can afford to be patient and hope they can get it going.
Second baseman Chris Getz (.636 OPS) could finally give way to Johnny Giavotella, who continues to produce in Triple-A. Right fielder Jeff Francoeur (.636 OPS), on the other hand, might be the odd man out if the Royals go looking for another bat on the trade market.
Top Priority: Right Field
The Angels’ lineup hasn’t been bad. It just has the potential to be much better.
Once it begins to click on all cylinders, it would be nice if the rotation could give the team a chance to win more often.
The rotation has done exactly that over the past five games, making four quality starts. And not surprisingly, the Angels have won four of those. With Jered Weaver out for several more weeks with a fractured elbow, though, they could continue to take their lumps.
Still, this team is too talented to get buried in the standings and should be able to make a run in the second half, especially if it can bring in some help at the deadline.
By the time Weaver returns, we’ll have a better idea of whether the rotation or bullpen is in bigger need of an upgrade. Or maybe both will be in good shape.
Ryan Madson is expected to return from Tommy John surgery shortly, and he could be closing games once he's had a few appearances under his belt. Bridging the gap to him would be Ernesto Frieri, Sean Burnett, Scott Downs and possibly Garrett Richards, if he doesn’t keep his rotation spot. On paper, that’s a very good group of arms to close out games.
If I had to take a guess at a top priority, I’d point at Albert Pujols’ plantar fascitis, which is giving him a lot of trouble, and wonder if they’ll need another bat. A sluggers like Michael Morse or Josh Willingham would be a great addition, although the Angels’ farm system is thin after last year’s deadline deal for Zack Greinke.
Top Priority: DH/first baseman
The Dodgers’ pitching depth sure has disappeared in a hurry, with Zack Greinke out for a couple months with a fractured collarbone and Chad Billingsley out for the season after he undergoes Tommy John surgery on Wednesday.
What the rotation looks like in July when Greinke returns isn’t so much the concern as much as how they’ll keep from falling too far out of the division race until then. Maybe they should be looking for rotation help now.
If Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano and Josh Beckett pitch well enough, maybe the Dodgers can stay close enough to make a run in the second half.
The division is not very good, so let’s assume they'll be able to hang around. The bigger concern in July will then become the lack of production from the third base spot, where Luis Cruz is off to a 4-for-46 start.
Acquiring Chase Headley from the Padres would be a major challenge, as the Padres will be asking for the moon from non-division rivals. The Dodgers, though, would have to give up the farm—or at least three or four of their best prospects.
If a team like the Phillies or Yankees happens to fall out of contention, a veteran like Michael Young or Kevin Youkilis could be available. Moving Hanley Ramirez over to third base and pursuing a shortstop like Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera or Seattle’s Brendan Ryan is also a possibility.
Top Priority: Third base
The Marlins already did plenty of selling this past offseason, so there’s not much left to trade. Ricky Nolasco will have some trade value, though, as will reliever Jon Rauch and infielder Greg Dobbs, who could help a contender off the bench.
The biggest question surrounding the Marlins will be the status of slugger Giancarlo Stanton and whether or not they’ll consider trading him. At the least, they will listen to offers and could pull the trigger if a team matches what should be a huge asking price.
Top pitching prospect Jose Fernandez will probably be shut down by late August due to a likely innings limit—he pitched 134 innings in 2012. Look for the Marlins to promote their top position player prospect, Christian Yelich, around that time, although he could arrive sooner if Stanton is traded.
Top Priority: Trade Ricky Nolasco, listen to offers for Giancarlo Stanton
A nine-game winning streak has quickly turned the Brewers from likely sellers to buyers at the trade deadline. And they’re doing it with a patchwork lineup that includes Yuniesky Betancourt playing first base for the injured Corey Hart and Alex Gonzalez filling in at third base for the injured Aramis Ramirez.
Rickie Weeks is slumping again, as he did for half of the 2012 season. The starting rotation also has question marks, and the bullpen already demoted John Axford from the closer role.
Despite the winning streak, this team has some obvious holes, even when Hart and Ramirez return.
Rookies Wily Peralta and Hiram Burgos currently have rotation spots behind Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse and Marco Estrada. If those two can solidify the back of the rotation, then the Brewers can focus their attention on the bullpen and adding another late-inning reliever. Counting on unproven rookies to solidify your rotation is asking for trouble, if you ask me.
Top Priority: Starting rotation
The Twins’ 9-8 start aside, this team isn’t good enough to be in contention by the time we get to July. If it is, then the starting rotation is much better than I’m giving it credit for.
A more realistic scenario would be the Twins falling out of contention by early July and shopping veteran free agents-to-be Justin Morneau and Mike Pelfrey. And if they really want to add some more minor league talent, they could make Josh Willingham available.
With another year left on his current deal, the Twins could set Willingham’s price tag high and hope to add to an already deep farm system. The 34-year-old, who has an .857 OPS, would be a good fit in the middle of several lineups around the league.
Top Priority: Trade Justin Morneau and Mike Pelfrey, listen to offers for Josh Willingham
While they’re probably better than expected, the Mets don’t have enough talent on their 25-man roster to stay competitive into late July. Help is on the way in catcher Travis d’Arnaud and starting pitchers Rafael Montero and Zack Wheeler, but it won’t be soon enough.
Setup man Brandon Lyon and catcher John Buck, both free agents after the season, will have some interest on the trade market. Trading Buck, who is off to a terrific start (.931 OPS), would make room for d’Arnaud to take over regular catching duties.
24-year-old d’Arnaud is on the Triple-A disabled list recovering from a broken foot, but he could be ready to take over for Buck at some point during the second half. Getting Wheeler and Montero some big league exposure before the end of the season also seems likely.
Top Priority: Trade John Buck and Brandon Lyon, get top prospects d’Arnaud, Montero and Wheeler experience
In what could be the Yankees’ most challenging season in decades, they’re handling the adversity just fine. A group of mostly veteran players has the Yankees off to an 11-8 start. And more help is on the way. They could get Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira back in May and Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez back sometime in the second half.
The pitching staff is getting the job done. but it's not as deep as will probably need to be in order to compete down the stretch. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda are a solid top three in the rotation, and Phil Hughes has had two terrific starts in a row. A more reliable fifth starter, however, would be ideal.
On the same note, another late-inning reliever to team with Mariano Rivera and David Robertson would be a huge boost to the bullpen. Prospect Mark Montgomery, who has been unhittable in the minors, could be that guy. In that case, the rotation upgrade probably wins out over a seventh-inning setup man.
Top Priority: Starting rotation
It’s tough to tell at this point where, or if, the A’s will need help in late July. Outfield is a question mark right now, with Yoenis Cespedes on the disabled list and Josh Reddick and Chris Young each off to slow starts. This talented group, however, could just as easily be carrying the team a few months from now.
The rotation is six-deep, with Daniel Straily waiting in the wings down in Triple-A, and the bullpen is also in very good shape. If the team is forced to go deeper into the farm system for pitching help, though, it could be in trouble.
Jarrod Parker struggled in his first three starts before finally making a quality start on April 20th. A sizable innings increase from 2011 to 2012 could be of concern and something to keep an eye on if the 24-year-old has a few more rough starts.
For this A’s team to go deep into the playoffs, it will need not just another starter, but another top-of-the-rotation starter who is a more reliable option than Brett Anderson, Bartolo Colon or Parker would be.
Top Priority: Starting rotation
At 9-12 and already 6.5 games back in the NL East, things aren’t looking so great for the Phillies. But after going into selling mode last July, only to get hot down the stretch and nearly win a playoff spot, it’s unlikely they’ll give up so easy this time around.
As long as the rotation includes Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, this team has a chance to win more often than not. It will need some help scoring some runs, though.
Ben Revere and Domonic Brown, two young outfielders the Phillies hoped would add some spark to the lineup, have struggled and could find themselves back in the minors before long.
The return of Delmon Young from the disabled list and Carlos Ruiz from suspension could help. But this team is lacking the impact bat that Ryan Howard used to be, and neither Young nor Ruiz is that guy.
While the Phillies traded away outfielders Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino last July, they could be looking to bring one in this time around.
Top Priority: Outfielder
The Pirates have been active at the trade deadline the past two seasons, only to resist going after an impact player and instead hold onto their top prospects. One of those top prospects, starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, could be ready to help the big league team and is even less likely to be traded in 2013.
If they want to avoid a 21st consecutive losing season, though, the Bucs might have to make a splash this season and consider trading away a top prospect not named Cole to ensure they’re doing everything they can in order to do so.
There isn’t a particular part of the 25-man roster that is need of an immediate upgrade. That could change by July, however, once the Bucs determine if they have enough pitching depth behind A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez in the rotation and closer Jason Grilli in the bullpen.
The left side of the infield, shortstop Clint Barmes and third baseman Pedro Alvarez, is a combined 16-for-113 and will need to turn things around to avoid becoming the weak link on a 25-man roster that needs an upgrade. Barmes is a solid defender, but he'll need to provide at least some offense in order to have some value.
Top Priority: Shortstop
Another likely seller, the Padres have a few free agents-to-be that are very likely to go in July trades. Starting pitchers Jason Marquis and Edinson Volquez should end up on contenders with a back-of-the-rotation need.
The Padres also have the potential top trade chip in baseball if they choose to make third baseman Chase Headley available. An offseason trade—where more teams would be involved in the bidding—could be more likely, but it’s worth at least listening to offers.
Closer Huston Street and setup man Luke Gregerson, both signed through 2014, could be expendable and the Padres could get top value on either in July.
Top Priority: Trade Jason Marquis and Edinson Volquez, listen to offers for Chase Headley, Luke Gregerson and Huston Street
General manager Brian Sabean has struck gold before the last few trade deadlines, helping his team to two World Series titles in three seasons with some key acquisitions.
With the rotation and bullpen looking strong early on, despite a couple rough starts by ace Matt Cain, Sabean will focus on his offense if the left field platoon of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres fail to produce enough offense.
First baseman could also be a target if Brandon Belt, who had a terrific spring, doesn't get going after a rough start (.578 OPS). Sending him to the minors is not likely, as no other player is ready to step in and take his job. He’ll get a couple months before the Giants turn to the trade market to find an upgrade.
Top Priority: Left field
Off to a disappointing 8-14 start, the good thing about many of the Mariners’ offseason acquisitions is that they're free agents after the season and will have some value on the trade market in July.
If the injury-prone Franklin Gutierrez (strained hamstring) can return from the disabled list in a few weeks and stay on the field for an extended period of time, he’ll have some value as a great defensive center fielder who crushes left-handed pitching.
Kendrys Morales (.828 OPS) and Michael Morse (.778 OPS) would also have interest, as would Raul Ibañez, who was 7-for-22 with three homers last postseason.
Top Priority: Trade soon-to-be free agents Franklin Gutierrez, Raul Ibañez, Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse
The starting rotation has been great, with 15 quality starts in 20 games, as the first-place Cardinals have jumped out to a 12-8 start. Not everyone in the lineup is hitting, but they have enough talent on the 25-man roster and in the minors to eventually have one of the better offenses in the game.
With Jason Motte possibly out for the season with an elbow injury and Mitchell Boggs not nearly as effective as he was in 2012, the Cardinals are using Edward Mujica as their closer. So far, he’s gotten the job done.
Rookie Trevor Rosenthal, the eighth-inning setup man, has been shaky at times, but he has five holds to go along with two walks and 15 strikeouts in 11.2 innings. He would likely be next in line to closer if Mujica falters.
Adding a veteran closer—Chris Perez would be an interesting candidate should the Indians fall out of contention—could be what the Cardinals need to pull away from the pack in a tight NL Central race.
Top Priority: Closer
The Rays have some holes on their roster, both in their lineup and in their pitching staff. But top prospect Wil Myers will be the starting right fielder soon enough, which should help. Same with starting pitcher Chris Archer, who could step into the rotation when needed. Alex Colome and Jake Odorizzi are also pitching well in Triple-A.
The bullpen isn’t as strong as last season, however, and the answer to its problems probably isn’t on the way from the minors. If the Rays can manage to stay in the playoff hunt despite a potential lack of bullpen depth and talent, they'll have a chance to make a trade in July and upgrade a weakness for the stretch run.
Closer Fernando Rodney, who allowed five earned runs and walked 15 batters all of last season, has already given up four earned runs with six walks in 6.2 innings. This is more or less the pitcher Rodney had been throughout his long big league career before his breakout season at age 35, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he reverts back that.
Top Priority: Closer
By the time we approach the trade deadline in late July, the Rangers could have starting pitchers Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Martin Perez back from the disabled list. Currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, Joakim Soria could also be in the bullpen. But it’s not like the pitching staff has struggled. It has a 2.84 ERA to lead the first-place Rangers to a 13-7 record.
The lineup is looking decent as well, despite slow starts from Elvis Andrus, Leonys Martin, Mitch Moreland and David Murphy. With prospect Mike Olt off to slow start in Triple-A, it’s unlikely he’ll be able step in at first base or a corner outfield spot anytime soon.
Top prospect Jurickson Profar could work his way into the mix eventually, although Ian Kinsler would need to move over to first base, which he opted against in the offseason.
It’s still early, but if there’s an upgrade to be made in July, the Rangers have the resources to acquire an impact player. The unproven Martin, who has a .678 OPS through 14 games, might have the shortest leash amongst the struggling hitters.
Top Priority: Center fielder
No 25-man roster looked stronger than the Blue Jays heading into the season. As we all know, though, what a team looks like on paper can mean very little once the season starts. Teams made up of several offseason acquisitions can also take time to gel and build chemistry.
The Jays still have plenty of talent, but they’re now without their leadoff man, shortstop Jose Reyes, who will likely miss the remainder of the first half of the season with an ankle injury.
Aside from Reyes, J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus, no position players are living up to expectations thus far. The best starting pitcher, J.A. Happ, has been the guy who wasn’t supposed to be part of this great rotation.
It happens. Players underachieve, sometimes all at once, and injuries to key players can take the air out of a team. It’s early, but in order to avoid being out of the playoff race by the time Reyes comes back, the Rays will need their veteran stars to turn things around quickly.
If this talented roster can bounce back, they could enter July as playoff contenders. Pairing Reyes with a new second baseman—Chase Utley would be a nice fit if the Phillies fall out of contention—could give the Jays plenty of firepower for the stretch run.
Top Priority: Second base
Things haven’t gone quite as planned for the Nationals, off to a 10-10 start and already five games back of the Braves in the NL East.
Starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Dan Haren have struggled. Wilson Ramos and Ryan Zimmerman are on the disabled list. Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa are a combined 19-for-112.
If I had one major concern, though, it would be with Espinosa, as he's trying to play through a torn rotator cuff. Steve Lombardozzi is a capable fill-in and Anthony Rendon could also slide over to second base once Zimmerman returns from the disabled list, so they probably don’t have to go outside the organization for help.
One area that could use an upgrade is the bullpen, which has just one lefty. Zach Duke has allowed six hits in 13 at-bats to left-handed hitters and has already allowed seven earned runs in 9.2 innings.
J.C. Romero and Bill Bray, both in Triple-A, could be next in line if Duke doesn’t get the job done, but it could become a clear priority in July if neither has solidified the spot.
Top Priority: Left-handed reliever