MLB Trade Deadline: Biggest Needs for Current Division Leaders
With so many Major League Baseball teams still in contention at the halfway point of the 2011 season, it's hard to distinguish the buyers from the sellers.
Going into Tuesday, 15 teams were within five games of the division lead.
Obviously, if all those teams decide they can compete, they will be searching for the one or two missing pieces they need by the July 31st trade deadline.
But what do the current division leaders need the most?
Let's take a look. You'll notice a continuing trend in both the American and National League.
Stats as of July 18, 2011 and courtesy of ESPN.com.
Boston Red Sox: Left-Handed Reliever
Say all you want about the dearth in right field known as J.D. Drew. The Boston Red Sox are still going to score a lot of runs even if he starts every game the rest of the year (though he probably won't).
What the Red Sox could use most is a southpaw in the bullpen. Their relievers' combined ERA is 3.50, smack dab in the middle of the American League rankings. But after a struggling Hideki Okajima was sent down to AAA Pawtucket, Boston doesn't have a reliable lefty to bring in against tough lefty batters.
And the Red Sox have a lot of left-handed sluggers to deal with in the American League, from Robinson Cano (Yankees) to Josh Hamilton (Rangers) to Travis Hafner (Indians).
Franklin Morales has done a nice job since coming over in May. In 10 games, he has a 1.93 ERA and about a strikeout per inning. But he also has a career ERA of almost five (though some of that was as a starter), and he is still too inexperienced to depend on as a primary lefty specialist.
Unless the Red Sox can convince Mike Myers to come out of retirement or sign Alan Embree (who never officially retired but hasn't pitched since 2009), they should be searching for a southpaw to acquire.
Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers: Starting Pitching
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The two teams currently tied atop the American League Central are both vying for help in the starting rotation.
As remarkable as their season has been, the Cleveland Indians have overcome some unimpressive pitching performances. Their staff ERA is currently fourth-worst in the American League, while only lowly Baltimore and Kansas City have allowed a higher batting average against (BAA).
Justin Masterson, the assumed ace of this staff, has had a nice year with an 8-6 record and a 2.80 ERA. Josh Tomlin leads the team with 11 wins.
But one-time stud Fausto Carmona has looked lost at times, demonstrated by his double-digit losses (10) and 5.63 ERA.
The back end of the rotation consists of Carlos Carrasco and Mitch Talbot, who have gone a combined 10-13 with 189 hits given up in 166.1 innings.
The Detroit Tigers, meanwhile, haven't fared much better. Their starters' ERA is ninth in the AL, and their BAA holds the same league ranking. But they at least have Cy Young contender Justin Verlander at the top of their rotation, and Max Scherzer, who can, well, strike people out.
Following those two are Brad Penny, Rick Porcello and Phil Coke, who aren't scaring the stripes off of anyone. Penny and Coke only strike out about one more batter per nine innings than they walk, and Porcello gives up almost 10.5 hits per game.
Both teams could use a veteran arm given how young most of their starters are. The Tigers, for their part, have shown interest in Atlanta Braves pitcher Derek Lowe, but he may be out of their price range.
Texas Rangers: Reliever
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Bases-on-balls are deadly for relievers. So you know it's a bad sign when your closer is allowing 4.5 walks per nine innings.
But Neftali Feliz is the least of the Texas Rangers' bullpen woes.
The Rangers' relievers are fourth-worst in the league in ERA, losses and strikeouts. Two of them, Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver, are 41 and 40, respectively. Mark Lowe has a WHIP of 1.6, which, for those unfamiliar with the statistic, is not good.
I suppose this is to be expected when, over the course of two seasons, you take two of your best relief pitchers and put them in the rotation. But C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando aren't returning to the bullpen any time soon.
So the Rangers are going to have to acquire a new reliever if they want to sure up the American League West.
Philadelphia Phillies: Right-Handed Hitting Outfielder
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It's difficult to say the Philadelphia Phillies are missing Jayson Werth when he's hitting .211 and slugging .352 this season.
But the Phillies are missing Jayson Werth, at least the Werth they knew.
Current Philadelphia right fielder Ben Francisco isn't doing much better than Washington Werth, hitting .224 with just 14 extra-base hits in 2011.
The Phillies offense as a whole has been unimpressive against left-handed pitching. Their team batting average against southpaws is just .235, third-worst in the National League. Their 15 home runs and .308 on-base percentage (OBP) is also third-worst against lefties.
The Philadelphia infield isn't going to see any changes anytime soon, but the outfield, other than Shane Victorino, could use an upgrade. Ben Francisco would be the obvious choice to replace, but left fielder Raul Ibanez hasn't performed too admirably, either, with a .246 batting average and .290 OBP.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Right-Handed Hitting Third Baseman
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The Pittsburgh Pirates may have the easiest solution to their problem (on paper) than any of the other contenders.
They need to bring back Aramis Ramirez.
The former Pirate would fill the biggest void in the Pittsburgh lineup. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez was hitting .208 and struck out in almost one third of his at-bats before being sent down to the minors. Backup and potential bust-in-waiting Brandon Wood is hitting .224 with 17 RBI in 56 games.
The Pirates, though with little power to begin with, have even less from the right side. Other than team leader Andrew McCutchen, the next-highest home run total from a right-handed batter is Wood with five.
If Ramirez were to return to his first MLB home, he would provide instant thunder in the middle of the Pirates lineup. His .300 batting average and 17 home runs look like a giant lifesaver to Pittsburgh right now.
Not to mention, in one fell swoop, Ramirez would go from a team almost 20 games under .500 to a first-place contender.
San Francisco Giants: Shortstop
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Whatever the San Francisco Giants have plugged in at shortstop this year doesn't seem to have worked.
The Miguel Tejada experiment hasn't been particularly fruitful. Tejada, who has actually spent slightly more time at third base this year due to Pablo Sandoval's injury, is hitting just .242 with four home runs.
Mike Fontenot isn't doing any better, hitting .233 with only 11 runs scored in 43 games.
Rookie Brandon Crawford, called up in May, has perhaps performed the worst of them all, batting .197 and slugging .277. He just might not be ready to handle big league pitching.
Perhaps, this is the Curse of Edgar Renteria. Or the Curse of Juan Uribe. But whatever it is, the Giants could use someone at shortstop who has at least an adequate bat. As it is, they are 14th in the National League in runs scored and tied for 15th in slugging percentage.
And with Buster Posey out for the rest of the season, those numbers aren't going to improve anytime soon.