MLB Teams with Desperate Trade Needs at the One-Quarter Mark
Finding a trade partner at this time of the season isn't easy.
Teams that have quickly fallen out of playoff contention, even if they are fairly certain that they're not good enough to bounce back, will typically wait until at least late June before throwing in the towel and trading away a player with value.
Why? Because they want to give the team that they assembled a chance before subtracting an integral part of that roster in a trade.
That doesn't mean teams are not willing to listen on a trade inquiry and pull the trigger if the price is right. But since there's no lack of urgency for a potential "seller" in May, that price is commonly set extremely high.
As a result, the only teams capable of making an impact deal right now are likely to be in desperation mode. Here are five teams that could already be headed in that direction.
Cincinnati Reds: LF
Rookie center fielder Billy Hamilton has quietly put together a terrific last month for the Cincinnati Reds, with a .329 batting average with a homer, three doubles, two triples and 12 stolen bases in his last 24 games. His slow start (six hits in first 43 at-bats), however, overshadowed the struggles of several Reds hitters, and his overall .298 on-base percentage still gives off the perception that he's part of the problem.
The 23-year-old is more than holding his own now. But with the loss of right fielder Jay Bruce to a knee injury and with Joey Votto out for at least a few days with a strained quad, it is becoming painfully obvious that the Reds lack enough power to contend—and left fielder Ryan Ludwick (pictured) is not helping the case.
The 35-year-old, who is in the last year of a two-year, $15 million contract, has just two homers and a .688 OPS in 33 games. Backup outfielders Chris Heisey (.607 OPS) and Roger Bernadina (.428 OPS) aren't the answer, and the only logical solution in the minors is Donald Lutz, who has a 1.098 OPS with six homers in Double-A.
Lutz struggled in the majors as a rookie in 2013 (.565 OPS in 34 games), however, and the fact that the Reds have him playing in Double-A as a 25-year-old tells you how little confidence they have in his ability to help the middle of the their big league order.
Thus, a trade for a corner outfielder with some pop could be the best solution for a team that is 27th in the majors in runs scored and already seven games back in the NL Central. Considering that the Reds play in an extremely hitter-friendly ballpark, their situation should be quickly approaching desperation.
Cleveland Indians: Starting Pitching
After a successful 2013 season that resulted in a wild-card berth, the Cleveland Indians lost Ubaldo Jimenez (3.30 ERA in 32 starts) and Scott Kazmir (4.04 ERA in 29 starts) to free agency this past offseason. They didn't make much of an effort to re-sign or replace them, partly because of the emergence of hard-throwing Danny Salazar.
Forty-two games into the season, they're 19-23 and 8.5 games out in the AL Central. Indians starters have the 27th-highest ERA in the majors. Salazar was optioned to the minors after posting a 5.53 ERA in eight starts. Carlos Carrasco, who began the season as the team's No. 5 starter, was moved to the bullpen.
In other words, the team's failure to replace two very good starters is coming back to haunt it rather quickly.
While Josh Tomlin, who missed most of the past two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, has pitched well in his first two starts since joining the rotation and Trevor Bauer is on the way after dominating in Triple-A, per Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer, it's probably not enough to dig the Indians out of the hole they've created.
Zach McAllister has a 5.36 ERA after allowing 13 runs in 5.2 innings over his past two starts, but Cleveland is quickly running out of options if he needs to be replaced anytime soon.
Detroit Tigers: Shortstop
On the surface, it doesn't appear that the Detroit Tigers need much help right now. They have the best record in baseball (25-12) and a 6.5-game lead in the AL Central. But they're doing it despite getting almost zero production out of the shortstop position.
Although Andrew Romine has done a solid job defensively in place of the injured Jose Iglesias (pictured), who could miss the entire season recovering from tibial stress fractures, the 28-year-old has a .517 OPS. Even if he had Iglesias' Gold Glove defensive skills, that's simply not good enough for any big league regular.
While the plan could very well be to wait until after the June amateur draft to sign free agent Stephen Drew—the Tigers would have to forfeit a draft pick if they signed him sooner—they could make the bold move of trying to acquire Alexei Ramirez (.815 OPS, 5 HR, 7 SB) from the division rival Chicago White Sox.
The Sox could be willing to unload the 32-year-old Ramirez's contract—he's due $9.5 million in 2014, $10 million in 2015 and has a $10 million club option in 2016 with a $1 million buyout—as they continue to try and get younger and in a better position to compete on annual basis starting in 2015 and beyond.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Bullpen
It's not a repeat of the 2013 season when a talented Los Angeles Dodgers team was decimated by injuries and underperforming players over the first two months of the season, but the 2014 version hasn't exactly lit the world on fire.
At 23-20 and four games out in the NL West, they're well within striking distance. And as they showed last year, they can make up a lot of ground in a short amount of time once they heat up.
Aside from Carl Crawford (.680 OPS) and Andre Ethier (.674 OPS), who have split time in the outfield, the offense has been relatively solid. The Dodgers are eighth in the majors in OPS, and the rotation has the third-best ERA in the National League.
But if they're going to put together a run that will catapult them back to the top of the division, having a bullpen that can shut the door on opponents is essential. And if the last couple of weeks are any indication, they do not have it.
In the month of May, the three pitchers the Dodgers were counting on the most—closer Kenley Jansen and setup men Brian Wilson and Chris Perez—have a combined 8.47 ERA with 16 walks and 21 strikeouts in 17 innings. That's not going to get it done.
While Brandon League has bounced back from a terrible season with a 1.59 ERA in 15 appearances, he's been doing it in low-leverage situations. If the Dodgers have to go back to League in the seventh and eighth innings of close games and he falters once again, they'll be in an even deeper hole and it will be even harder to rebound.
General manager Ned Colletti might need to solidify his bullpen now by acquiring a reliable setup man and not assume that they'll turn things around on their own.
Texas Rangers: Starting Pitching
No matter how much depth an organization has in the pitching department, it's impossible to stay competitive when six starting pitchers have been on the disabled list, five remain there and the top three from that current group are out for an extended period of time.
The Texas Rangers have proven that in 2014.
After winning 15 of 24 to start the season, the Rangers have lost 13 of 18 and fallen into fourth place in the AL West. Only the starting rotations of the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox have higher ERAs than the Rangers. Through 42 games, Texas has already used nine starting pitchers.
Staff ace Yu Darvish, who started the season on the DL, is healthy and dominating hitters. That certainly helps.
But without Matt Harrison, who is out indefinitely with a back injury that could require career-threatening surgery, and Martin Perez, who is likely to undergo Tommy John surgery, and with Derek Holland out until at least midseason as he recovers from offseason knee surgery, the Rangers have no sort of stability after Darvish.
There are plenty of options, including Joe Saunders, who is close to returning from the disabled list, and rookie Nick Martinez, who made two solid starts last month, but catching the Oakland A's and the resurgent Los Angeles Angels probably isn't very likely without a legitimate No. 2 starter to slot behind Darvish.
That pitcher isn't in the organization right now, which is why a trade might be necessary.