One Quick Roster Fix for Six MLB Contenders
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It’s highly doubtful that any minor league player is going to have the type of impact Mike Trout had on the Los Angeles Angels when he joined the team in late April of last year and went to have one of the best rookie season’s ever (.326 BA, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 129 R, 49 SB). His team went 83-59 the rest of the way.
It's also unlikely that any trade acquisition will have the same impact that Fred McGriff had on the 1993 Atlanta Braves when he came over from the Padres and played a huge part (.310 BA, 19 HR, 55 RBI in 68 games) in the team’s 51-17 finish and memorable late-season overtaking of the San Francisco Giants for the NL West title.
Still, it’s worth trying to find that spark to get a team headed in the right direction. Here’s one quick-fix idea for six contenders.
Roster Issue: 2B Danny Espinosa (.177 BA, 3 HR, 3 BB, 32 K, SB)
The 26-year-old Espinosa finished the 2012 season with a .247 batting average, 17 homers and 20 stolen bases, although he slumped until early May, just as he's doing now. But this time around, he’s playing with a torn left rotator cuff and has also battled wrist soreness earlier in the season.
He’s opted against surgery, but, as he may be finding out, it’s not easy to play this game with a torn rotator cuff. It’s not certain that a disabled list stint will help, and surgery might be inevitable, but it’s clear that he’s hurting the team now, and they might not be able to wait much longer.
Top prospect Anthony Rendon (pictured), who is having no trouble at all with Double-A pitching (.348 BA, 5 HR, 10 2B, 23 BB, 19 K in 26 games), could be the answer if he’s capable of handling the position defensively.
The 22-year-old Rendon made his big league debut earlier in the season when Ryan Zimmerman was on the disabled list. After starting his career with just two hits in 15 at-bats, he reached base in nine of his next 15 plate appearances (four hits, five walks) before being sent back to the minors.
He’s primarily a third baseman but has played second base in four minor league games this season.
Roster Issue: No. 5 starter
Quick-Fix Solution: Kevin Gausman (3.35 ERA, 40.1 IP, 40 H, 4 BB, 39 K in 7 Double-A starts)
The Baltimore Orioles’ pitching depth, which appeared plenty deep to start the season, has disappeared after injuries to Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Dylan Bundy, to go along with an ineffective Jake Arrieta.
It’s been so bad, in fact, that 36-year-old Freddy Garcia has made three starts with the team. Zach Britton, Steve Johnson and Josh Stinson each pitched poorly in spot starts.
Next up is Jair Jurrjens, who’ll have his contract purchased from the minors on Saturday. The former All-Star is pitching well in Triple-A (3.14 ERA, 2.6 BB/9, 6.3 K/9 in eight starts) after getting crushed in 2012 (6.89 ERA in 48.1 innings).
Tsuyoshi Wada, signed as a free agent before the 2012 season before a season-ending elbow injury knocked him out of action, is also close to returning.
The real solution might not come, however, until prospect Kevin Gausman (pictured) arrives in Baltimore. The O’s say it won’t be anytime soon, but that could change quickly if guys like Jurrjens and Wada don’t prove to be the answer. The 22-year-old, who was the fourth pick in the 2012 draft, might be the most talented pitcher in the organization.
Roster Issue: Starting Rotation
Quick-Fix Solution: Kyle Gibson (3.92 ERA, 43.2 IP, 43 H, 12 BB, 38 K in 8 Triple-A starts)
That the Minnesota Twins are only one game under .500 (18-19) and three games back in the AL Central is a surprise. When you consider that their starting rotation, expected to be one of the worst in the majors coming into the season, has actually been much worse than that (5.30 ERA through 37 games, 13 quality starts), it's extremely impressive.
Before you just write them completely off as a team with not enough pitching to stay in contention, it's important to note that the most talented arms in their organization are in the upper minors and could possibly help at some point. In Kyle Gibson's (pictured) case, that could be much sooner.
The 25-year-old is still a bit inconsistent, which is to be expected when coming back from Tommy John surgery, but his arm strength is back, and he has been dominant at times. A four-hit shutout on May 5 was sandwiched between two poor outings, so it's hard to see him coming up and being rock solid each time he takes the mound.
But as terrible as the Twins starters have been, aside from Kevin Correia and Scott Diamond, I'm already convinced that Gibson is a big improvement.
Cincinnati Reds/Oakland Athletics
Roster Issue: Starting Rotation (Oakland A's), Left Field (Cincinnati Reds)
Quick-Fix Solution: Reds acquire Chris Young (.172 BA, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 5 2B, 3B, 12 BB, 20 K, 5 SB); A's acquire Mike Leake (3.72 ERA, 48.1 IP, 59 H, 13 BB, 34 K in 8 starts)
Here's how to fix two teams with one trade. The A's need rotation help and likely have an outfielder to spare. The Reds need outfield help and will likely have a starting pitcher to spare. Let's make a deal.
A's starter Brett Anderson is on the disabled list and is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle. This is not a surprise. He has the "injury-prone" label for a reason. But the A's were six-deep in the rotation with rookie Dan Straily waiting in the wings in Triple-A. Now that he's gotten his chance with Anderson out, it's not going so well.
After a brilliant 2013 debut (6.2 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 0 BB, 11 K), the 24-year-old Straily has allowed 19 earned runs, 21 hits and 12 walks in 19.1 innings over his last four starts. Jarrod Parker is also struggling (6.86 ERA) after a strong rookie season in 2012.
Leake (pictured, 3.72 ERA in eight starts), who could be the odd man out of the Reds' rotation when Johnny Cueto returns from the disabled list next week, won't come in and be the ace, but he could help solidify the back of the rotation.
Why would the Reds give up one of their six starters when their rotation depth isn't great in the upper minors? Because they're in win-now mode and they have an obvious hole to fill in left field right now.
Ryan Ludwick, who had shoulder surgery in April, isn't close to returning, and his replacement, Chris Heisey, had a .488 OPS before landing on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. In Chris Young, they'd have an actual "center fielder" to play center field with Shin-Soo Choo moving over to a corner spot.
Young, who has a club option for 2014, would also serve as insurance in case "center fielder of the future" Billy Hamilton isn't ready to take over in 2014. And Hamilton is struggling in his Triple-A debut, so it wouldn't be a bad idea from that aspect.
The A's would still have plenty of talent in the outfield—Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss, Seth Smith and Josh Reddick, when he returns from a wrist injury. Center field prospect Michael Choice, who has a .909 OPS in Triple-A, would also be one step closer to the majors.
Roster Issue: Starting Rotation
Quick-Fix Solution: Acquire RHP Scott Feldman (2.53 ERA, 42 IP, 32 H, 17 BB, 33 K) from the Chicago Cubs
There was no bigger surprise than the Colorado Rockies early in the season. They were at the top of the NL West and clicking on all cylinders.
After a 2-0 victory over the New York Yankees on May 7, they were 19-13 and a half-game up in the division. But they've lost seven of nine, and it's becoming painfully obvious that they don't have enough starting pitching to hang around in the playoff hunt much longer.
Finding a trade partner in May could be difficult, but the Cubs, who are nine games out in the NL Central, have a starting pitcher in Scott Feldman (pictured) who might be at peak value now. The impending return of Matt Garza could make it easier to let go of the 30-year-old Feldman, who has been one of the best free-agent values from the past offseason.
An extreme sinker-baller, Feldman could be a good fit at Coors Field. He'll be a free agent at the end of the season and has never been considered a top-of-the-rotation starter, so it won't cost the Rockies a top prospect to acquire him. But with how well he's pitching and how early it is in the season, the Cubs certainly won't be giving him away for fringe prospects.