The trade deadline is a little over month away, but already teams-especially contenders-are looking ahead to the deals that may be out there. That is certainly true in the ultra-competitive American League East where one key move may be the difference between a division title and going home at the end of the season.
The Yankees are poised to enter July as the division leaders with the now seriously banged up Red Sox behind them and the volatile Rays bringing up the rear in the 3-team race. As for the rest of division? Well, the Blue Jays and Orioles can at least clutch onto hope.
As we enter the season's fourth month, we take a look at what each team needs to make a push toward a division title starting from the bottom up.
What do the Orioles need? A miracle would be a good start. The Orioles are the worst team in baseball when it comes to winning percentage and are near locks to be sellers at the deadline.
Teams will be interested in second baseman Ty Wigginton and possibly designated hitter Luke Scott. The Orioles may trade their parts away, but they are as long of a shot as any in recent memory to win the division. That 5-18 record in April spelled their doom.
The Blue Jays hung tough with the divisional heavyweights through the seasons first two months, but Toronto has since backslid in the division. The Blue Jays now find themselves just three games over .500 (40-37).
The Blue Jays are among the team leaders in home runs hit, but rank seventh in the American League runs scored and a team .239 batting average has bred difficult inconsistencies with their offense. That is a recipe for disaster given how many runs are scored by the teams in front of Toronto.
The Toronto starting rotation is in the middle of the pack in the American League and boasts promising young arms. But it lacks the experience and depth to compete throughout the summer.
The Blue Jays have quality farm system to pull the trigger on a veteran pitcher. However, the Blue Jays front office is tight when it comes to finances and may not be in the position to square away front end pitching depth for the rotation.
Pitching wins championships and the Rays know this very well, and pitching is certainly not one of their areas of significant need. The Rays lead the American League in team ERA, have given up the fewest runs and struck out the third most batters.
However, like most teams the Rays could use another arm int he bullpen. Rafael Soriano has been one of the best closers in the American League this season. But another hard-throwing, steady arm to lock down their bullpen will go a long way this summer.
The Rays score plenty of runs and have a very capable middle of the order. They have hitters all around the infield and outfield. What they could use is utility bat that makes contact, gets on base and expands upon the Rays mantra of running and putting pressure on the defense.
The Red Sox just saw three big pieces to their roster go down with injuries over the weekend. Clay Buchholz is not expected to miss much time. Victor Martinez is out indefinitely until the Red Sox announce otherwise, and Dustin Pedroia is out at least six weeks.
The Red Sox will be forced to stay afloat until they get all of their pieces back. However, they likely will not execute a trade to fill those rather temporary spots.
Instead, the Red Sox will focus on the bullpen where aside from Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, Boston does not have much confidence in the rest of its pieces. The Red Sox rank 21st in baseball in bullpen ERA and questions hovering over Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, Scott Atchison have the Red Sox looking for help.
Additionally, concerns about the return of Jacoby Ellsbury should send the Red Sox looking for outfield help. The Sox are currently working with the combination of Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald, but may look for a big league regular they can count on in the short term and use as a fourth outfielder when Ellsbury returns.
The Yankees currently own the best record in baseball, but that does not mean they do not have faults.
The Yankees lost designated hitter Nick Johnson to injury and thus have rotating spot at the position. That is beneficial given the age of the Yankees lineup, but hurts when it comes to a bat off the bench. The latter is the Yankees most pressing need at the moment.
The Yankees have received recent good fortune from rookies Colin Curtis, Chad Huffman, Kevin Russo and others. That fortune is not likely to last long and the team would significantly benefit from a veteran bat who can pinch hit and rotate as a fourth outfielder.
Additionally, the Yankees are in need of bullpen help. The back end of the bullpen is firmly set with Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain. The seventh inning is more or less figured out with Damaso Marte and David Robertson. However, the loss of Alfredo Aceves has opened a hole and forced manager Joe Girardi to lose an arm he very much relies on.
The Yankees thought Chan Ho Park could fill that spot. They were wrong. New York definitely needs to be on the lookout for another hard-throwing option for the seventh inning.