Sink or Swim: Three Teams That Need to Move or Start Planning Next Year
As the month of June draws to a close, fans all over the country are beginning to shake the "it's still early" scales from their eyes and are coming to grips with the fact that their team of choice, well, sucks.
The good news is that unless you are a Nats fan, a few key moves could put your favorite team right back into contention. Three of the six divisions have a last place team fewer than 10 games behind the first place team and 19 non-division leaders are trailing by 10 games or fewer.
Not every team has a quick fix, but for some of the most disappointing, their salvation may be nigh.
Here are three teams that can change their fortunes with an easy move or two.
Chicago Cubs (30-31, 4.5 GB)
Solution: Free Jake Fox!
Cubs starters lead baseball with 38 quality starts, lead by Ted Lilly who has posted 10 quality starts out of 13 total. While the bullpen hasn't been the point of strength that the Cubs had hoped it was going to be, they haven't been so bad as to take the blame off of the offense.
38 times the starting pitcher has put the Cubs in a fantastic position to win and no fewer than eight times (and probably many more) the offense has been held to two runs or fewer. For a team projected to score well over 800 runs, that's a big problem.
Once Aramis Ramirez comes back to the lineup, they'll certainly be in better shape, but one player rarely solves a team's woes on his own.
Enter: Jake Fox.
Fox is a minor league masher who raked to the tune of a career OPS of .883 in his seven minor league seasons.
Will that translate directly to the pros? Of course not.
Could adding Fox's bat to the lineup in favor of Alfonso Soriano (OBP: .291) or Kosuke Fukudome (14 strike outs in the last 10 games) on occasion help the Cubs score more runs and win more games? I almost guarantee it.
Fox isn't an everyday starter in my book, but letting Soriano, Fukudome or one of the Cubs' other struggling sluggers ride the pine for a day to clear their head can't be a bad thing.
Cleveland Indians (29-39, 6.5 GB)
Solution: Choose a path and stick with it
The Indians were slated to be sellers this season mere moments after Grady Sizemore hit the DL. Injuries to Sizemore and Halfner as well as early ineffectiveness from the bullpen and starters like Fausto Carmona made the Indians' epitaph an easy one to write in early June.
However, quietly strong seasons from Victor Martinez (sadly for V-mart, he isn't even the best catcher in his own division), Mark DeRosa, and Shin-Soo Choo have put the Indians in a position where, with a few moves and a textbook rehab process by Sizemore, they could be in the hunt in the AL Central.
If they decide that the Central is weak and they have a chance, their first move should be to add starting pitching. Cliff Lee is posting a 33 VORP, sixth best among pitchers, but no one else on the Indians' staff is even above 8.5.
Adding a pitcher like Brad Penny, who likely will become available by late next week, won't solve their problems, but he well could be an improvement over most of the rest of the staff. Plus, Penny will provide consistency the Indians sorely need.
If they decide that this year is a loss due to injury and poor performance, Matt Laporta should be seeing action as often as is sensible to keep him healthy.
The Tribe's best prospect struggled in his first action, hitting just one home run in 49 PA, but the talent is still there. He has an OPS of .927 at AAA and more exposure to big league pitching only increases the likelihood that he can stick in the bigs next season as a key part of a revamped lineup.
The worst thing the Indians can do is try to tread water and then make a snap decision about their future come August. Yes, they have plenty of time now, but waiting too long may mean missing out on great offers for DeRosa and whoever else they choose to shop.
As the great Yogi Berra once said "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." It doesn't matter which way the Indians choose to take, just don't wait too long and end up in the middle of the fork.
Minnesota Twins (33-34, 2 GB)
Solution: Cut Bait on the bullpen
Talk to any Twins fan about this season for more than 10 minutes and your liable to hear multiple expletives connected to one of a handful of people: Jesse Crain, Sean Henn, Luis Ayala, and, just for good measure, Nick Punto.
Punto is a fixture on this team, but the rest need not be. Crain finally got his walking papers back to AAA, Henn should do the same, Ayala may have value as a mop-up man, but not much more than that.
There aren't many players on the market that are certain upgrades over what the Twins currently have, but the Twins have inhouse options that they can utilize.
Anthony Slama and Rob Delaney have both been solid at AA New Britain and Delaney is getting misused in AAA, which has lead to deceptively bad numbers. Both players should be given a chance to see if they can be to the 2009 Twins what Pat Neshek was to the 2006 team.
Besides Slama and Delaney, the Twins have signed University of Florida closer Billy Bullock, who was clocked at 96 earlier this season. It goes against everything the Twins are known for, but Bullock could be given an early audition as the eighth inning man they have been lacking all season.
The Twins have options in the minors and in their latest draft class, but they need to quit being so obstinate.
The offense is probably as good as it will get this season, unless they can trade Delmon Young, Ben Revere and a few other pieces for Matt Holiday. (This is to say, a right handed power bat to actually protect Justin Morneau would improve their offense quite a bit.) They boast the best hitter in baseball right now and the starting pitching is beginning to come around, which leaves the 'pen as the major goat for their middling record thus far.
For all the struggles these three teams have had so far, none of them is very far out of their divisional race. This part of the season can be critical to how a team views its chances going forward, but there is still plenty of time to right the ship before the playoff chase begins in earnest.
In a few weeks time any one of these three could find themselves atop their division, but it is equally likely that they could find themselves further adrift of the leaders than they want to be.
A few small changes is all it takes, but these teams must be willing to dump what isn't working and move to a more effective strategy, even if it means benching a regular or making a deal before the deadline.
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