MLB Teams Who Need More Help Before the Trade Deadline
If we've learned anything about baseball over the years, it's that there's always a "Help Wanted" sign hanging outside every general manager's office.
Ineffectiveness and injuries have a way of ruining even the best-laid plans for a contending team, and that always makes for some interesting rumors and speculation as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches on July 31.
Whether it's a major upgrade at a key position or merely adding reinforcements to the bench, nearly every contending club in baseball has at least one glaring area of weakness that needs to be addressed before the stretch run.
What follows is a look at 10 contending clubs that need more help before the calendar flips to August.
*Unless otherwise noted/linked, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are current through games of July 13.
While the Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the standings in the American League East, even the most ardent Orioles supporter would openly admit that the team's starting rotation leaves much to be desired.
According to ESPN, Orioles starters have provided only 39 quality starts on the season, the third-lowest total in baseball, ahead of only the Colorado Rockies (37) and Texas Rangers (31). The rotation's 4.09 ERA is equal to that of the last-place Houston Astros, and the group has the AL's worst K/BB ratio at 1.98.
While Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris (pictured) have been solid and Kevin Gausman, one of the team's top prospects, has shown flashes of brilliance in limited playing time, the Orioles desperately need to add a front-of-the-rotation arm to distance themselves from the rest of the pack in the division.
Of secondary importance (no pun intended), but still an area Baltimore could stand to improve, is second base. Only three teams (Oakland A's, San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals) have gotten less production from the position, where youngster Jonathan Schoop (.221 BA, .559 OPS) has looked overmatched at the plate for much of the season.
With former All-Star Joey Votto back on the disabled list for the second time this season, the Cincinnati Reds' lack of depth at the position has become a glaring issue.
The team used right fielder Jay Bruce at first base for a game before deciding that the platoon of backup catcher Brayan Pena and outfielder Chris Heisey was the better way to go. That's not a typo, folks—the Reds are using a backup catcher and backup outfielder to play first base.
Finding a veteran with extensive experience playing the position on a short-term contract would be a wise investment, especially if the injury bug is going to continue to plague Votto throughout the season.
Out until mid- to late August after tearing ligaments in his thumb, the absence of Brandon Phillips (pictured) leaves a gaping void in the middle of Cincinnati's infield—and its lineup.
Players with Phillips' power and defensive chops aren't readily available, but certainly, the club should be setting its sights higher than Ramon Santiago, a career .243 hitter best served as a utility player off the bench.
As is the case with Votto, Phillips is signed to a long-term contract, so the Reds should be focused on a short-term remedy. But moving forward with Santiago in the middle of the diamond isn't going to help the club in its pursuit of another appearance in the postseason.
The back end of the Reds bullpen is set, with flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman holding things down, but getting the ball into Chapman's hands has proved to be a challenge for the club.
Cincinnati relievers have pitched to a 5.40 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in the seventh inning, while the group's 3.84 ERA ranks 14th in the National League.
Whether it's finding a left-handed reliever to help (or replace) Manny Parra (3.96 ERA, 1.40 WHIP) or just adding another experienced reliever to the mix, the Reds cannot continue to move forward with things the way they currently are.
We're operating under the assumption that the Cleveland Indians consider themselves a contender and, as such, will be looking to bolster their club for the second half of the season.
After Trevor Bauer (3.84 ERA, 1.42 WHIP) and Corey Kluber (3.01 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), the Indians don't have a starter with an ERA below 4.25, and the rotation's combined 4.49 ERA ranks 13th in the American League, 26th in all of baseball.
The team's ace, Justin Masterson, has been dismal (5.51 ERA, 1.65 WHIP), while Zach McAllister has battled injury and been ineffective when he does take the mound (5.63 ERA, 1.44 WHIP).
The team tried to obtain Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs, but according to Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer, acquiring the pair would have cost the Indians a package that included shortstop Francisco Lindor, outfielder Tyler Naquin and right-handed starter Danny Salazar.
That was a price that the club wasn't interested in paying.
Lesser arms, such as the Philadelphia Phillies' Kyle Kendrick or San Diego's Ian Kennedy, could be less expensive options, but whether either player would put the Indians over the top in the playoff race is debatable.
Joe Nathan, signed to a two-year, $20 million contract over the winter to solidify the back end of the team's bullpen, has been a disaster, pitching to a 5.61 ERA and 1.51 WHIP while blowing five of his 24 save opportunities.
Granted, adding another high-priced closer to the bullpen mix isn't ideal, especially when it would result in making Nathan baseball's highest-paid setup man.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports that the Tigers aren't actively seeking another closer, but the team's ninth-inning struggles have come back to bite it in the playoffs time and time again.
That's a scenario that the club needs to avoid at all costs this time around, and it would behoove the team to at least investigate adding another reliever with closing experience.
Kansas City Royals
With a combined bullpen ERA of 3.62, a number that ranks seventh in the American League and 16th in baseball, the Kansas City Royals are "looking hard" for bullpen help, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe.
While the back end of the club's bullpen is solid, with setup men Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera fully capable of getting the ball into the hands of closer Greg Holland, the Royals could use a boost in the form of a middle reliever.
Whether it's adding another southpaw to the mix or merely targeting the best reliever available, what was once considered to be the team's biggest strength could use some reinforcements if the club is to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
Heading into the regular season, I firmly believed that Kansas City had pulled off one of the steals of the winter when it traded left-handed reliever Will Smith to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for right fielder Norichika Aoki (pictured).
Not only was Aoki an above-average defender, keeping pace with the club's other outstanding defensive outfielders (Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon), but he was a professional hitter who knew how to get on base and would serve as the table-setter atop a talented Royals lineup.
That's not been the case at all, with Aoki hitting only .260 with a .328 on-base percentage.
While there aren't necessarily any better leadoff options available on the trade market (you could make a case for Philadelphia's Ben Revere, I suppose, but he's best suited in center field, which the Royals have covered with Cain), someone like Marlon Byrd could make sense for the club.
Los Angeles Angels
When the Los Angeles Angels and Pittsburgh Pirates decided to swap struggling closers, Ernesto Frieri for Jason Grilli—a deal that, as chronicled by MLB.com's Tom Singer, found the two meeting in an airport bathroom for the first time—it was expected that Grilli would take over in the ninth inning for the Angels.
But that's not how things have played out, with setup man Joe Smith serving as the team's closer, while Grilli has performed admirably in a setup role (8 G, 1.29 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 4 HLD). But Smith is best suited in a setup role, not the ninth inning.
That's why the Angels continue to search for a full-time answer in the ninth inning, with an eye toward Texas' Joakim Soria, as reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
Whether it's Soria or another established closer, being able to bridge the gap between the team's starting pitcher and the closer with Grilli and Smith in a setup role would be an ideal scenario for the Angels, who have a great shot at landing one of the two available wild-card berths in the American League.
Left-Handed Bat Off the Bench
The Angels have just two players on their bench capable of batting left-handed: backup catcher Hank Conger and reserve infielder Efren Navarro. Neither one offers much in the way of power, with 16 career home runs combined (all belonging to Conger).
While the trade market appears to be relatively thin on bats with power from either side of the plate, should one become available, the Angels would be wise to at least kick the tires on what it would cost to obtain one.
With a plethora of second base prospects—Taylor Lindsey and Alex Yarbrough—and incumbent Howie Kendrick still performing at a high level, the team could look to flip one of those youngsters to bolster its bench for the stretch run.
New York Yankees
Just when you thought the New York Yankees had escaped the injury bug that struck the club a year ago, a quick look at the team's starting rotation proves otherwise:
- RHP Ivan Nova: out for the season (Tommy John surgery)
- RHP Michael Pineda: out since April (strained back muscle)
- LHP CC Sabathia: out since mid-May, may not return this season (knee)
- RHP Masahiro Tanaka: out since early July, may need Tommy John surgery (elbow)
That's left 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda to lead a rotation full of unproven youngsters and ineffective veterans, with the club recently acquiring Brandon McCarthy from Arizona and Jeff Francis from Oakland in an attempt to bolster the unit.
While the Yankees have the finances to take on any established starter with significant salary left on his deal, such as Philadelphia's Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee, whether the team's relatively barren farm system has the kind of high-ceiling prospects to put an attractive package together is a legitimate question to ask.
Sitting with a .500 record and in third place in the American League East, the Yankees are going to need to add at least one legitimate front-of-the-rotation arm if they have any hope of making a deep playoff run.
Another Impact Bat
Perhaps even more startling than the team's injury woes in the starting rotation has been New York's inability to consistently put runs on the board. Heading into the All-Star break, the Yankees rank 13th in the American League with 375 runs scored.
That, after the team signed high-profile free agents like Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann, was not something that anyone saw coming.
Second base and third base, in particular, are areas where the team would benefit from a major boost, though adding a player like the Chicago White Sox's Adam Dunn, a full-time designated hitter at this point in his career, could inject some life into a rather moribund offensive attack.
Neither Clint Barmes (.239 BA, .604 OPS) nor Jordy Mercer (.250 BA, .648 OPS) offers much at the plate in Pittsburgh, and while the Pirates have bigger needs, finding an upgrade at the position certainly wouldn't be a terrible idea.
With a number of options potentially available on the trade market, from youngsters like Arizona's Didi Gregorius to established veterans like the White Sox's Alexei Ramirez, it would behoove general manager Neil Huntington to at least touch base with his counterparts in those markets to find out what it would cost to acquire one of them.
Pittsburgh has gotten some big-time performances from some unlikely sources in the starting rotation this season, and if you believe that this trio of arms is for real, then you can skip over this section.
But you'd be in the minority, as Jeff Locke, Vance Worley and Edinson Volquez—while they've been solid—don't exactly have lengthy track records of sustained success.
|Pitcher||2014 Stats||Career Stats|
|Locke||8 GS, 2.89 ERA, 0.98 WHIP||48 GS, 3.88 ERA, 1.35 WHIP|
|Volquez||18 GS, 3.72 ERA, 1.22 WHIP||172 GS, 4.60 ERA, 1.46 WHIP|
|Worley||5 GS, 3.03 ERA, 1.07 WHIP||61 GS, 4.02 ERA, 1.41 WHIP|
Those shaky track records, coupled with the ace of the Pirates staff, Gerrit Cole (pictured), dealing with an injured right lat, makes Pittsburgh's rotation moving forward shaky at best.
Adding another established arm would do wonders for a club that became the darlings of baseball a year ago, ending a two-decade playoff drought and taking St. Louis to five games in the National League Divisional Series last October.
St. Louis Cardinals
If there was one player that St. Louis couldn't afford to lose, it was Yadier Molina.
Perhaps the game's best game-caller and pitch-framer behind the plate, Molina's ability to control a pitching staff is something that the Cardinals simply cannot replace—certainly not with the combination of Tony Cruz and George Kottaras.
With Molina out until perhaps mid-September after undergoing thumb surgery, finding a suitable replacement behind the dish—preferably one who can also contribute something offensively—has to be at or near the top of general manager John Mozeliak's to-do list between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
With the return of 26-year-old right-hander Joe Kelly from the disabled list, the Cardinals have been focused on upgrading their offense, not their starting rotation, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
But with Jaime Garcia out for the season with another shoulder injury and young phenom Michael Wacha sidelined with a shoulder injury, it certainly wouldn't hurt for the Cardinals to go out and add a veteran arm to the mix.
Rumors of the team's interest in the Boston Red Sox's Jake Peavy have been overstated, according to Goold, but if an established veteran becomes available at a nominal price, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Cardinals pounce.
Toronto Blue Jays
Second Base or Third Base
While he's been sidelined with a fractured finger, Brett Lawrie is either the Toronto Blue Jays' second baseman or third baseman of the future, depending on who you ask. The 24-year-old has struggled at the plate (.244 BA, .718 OPS), but his plus defense and potential make him a must-start once he returns from injury.
The Blue Jays have been linked to a number of players leading up to the trade deadline, from Arizona's versatile Martin Prado (who can play second or third) to San Diego's Chase Headley, a fixture at the hot corner.
Whichever position the club decides to play Lawrie at, finding an upgrade at the other would be a welcomed addition to a club that has recently lost two of its biggest bats, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind, to injury.
Veteran hurler Mark Buehrle has put the Blue Jays on his back for much of the season, but the 35-year-old has begun to fall back to earth, only exacerbating the team's need for a legitimate front-of-the-rotation arm to pair alongside him.
Over his last eight starts, Buehrle has posted a 4.03 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, with the opposition hitting .299 with a .803 OPS. R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman have had their moments, but none are consistent enough for the Blue Jays to rely on in a must-win situation.
More than solidifying their infield, Toronto must acquire another established starter if it has any chance of ending a 20-year absence from the playoffs.