The Biggest Question Marks for Contending MLB Teams Heading into Trade Season

Brandon ScottJune 30, 2022

The Biggest Question Marks for Contending MLB Teams Heading into Trade Season

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    There is only one month of baseball until the MLB trade deadline.

    This season, we've learned the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets are clearly a step above the rest.

    The Yankees hold the best record in baseball. The Astros just stood toe-to-toe with them in the Bronx, even outplaying New York in splitting a four-game series. They also swept the Mets in a pair of two-game series sandwiched around the set against the Yankees, who travel to Houston for a game Thursday.

    The Dodgers sit atop the National League and trail only the Yankees in run differential.

    But even these top contenders have questions heading into trade season.

    Here, we'll examine the biggest question mark for each playoff hopeful. We defined "contenders" as all teams within four games of .500 going into June 29's games, which left us with 18 teams.

American League East

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    Can the Yankees unload Joey Gallo?

    Gallo hasn't been right since he arrived ahead of last year's trade deadline. He slashed .160/.303/.404 with 13 home runs in 58 games for the Yankees in 2021. Through 62 games this season, he is slashing .167/.276/.333 (all career lows).

    Gallo is batting at the bottom of New York's prolific order and will be a free agent after this season. It probably won't re-sign him, so it makes sense to find a landing spot.

    A change of scenery might also help Gallo, who has been decidedly better away from Yankee Stadium.

    Will Boston get bullpen help?

    Of course, every contender feels like it could stand to bolster its bullpen down the stretch. In Boston's case, general manager Brian O'Halloran said on WEEI that it was "certainly a possibility."

    The Red Sox have the third-most blown saves. The teams with more—Tampa Bay and Atlanta—are also contenders.

    With Boston leading the AL Wild Card race, bullpen help should be its top priority. The market will be robust.

    Where is the Rays offense?

    The Rays could use some bullpen help of their own. Closer Andrew Kittredge is out for the season after Tommy John surgery. Nick Anderson hasn't pitched this season, and starter Tyler Glasnow has been out as well. Shane Baz made his 2022 debut June 11.

    But the Rays' lack of offense is staggering. Their .671 OPS ranks 27th, while their three AL East competitors rank in the top five.

    Tampa Bay is not set up for a World Series run if it hits the way it is. What will the Rays do?

    Bryan Reynolds, Josh Bell, Trey Mancini, Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Haniger, Dominic Smith and even Nelson Cruz make sense. It would be a shame if they came away with nothing.

    Will the Blue Jays go after Kyle Gibson, or another back-end starter?

    With Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios and Alek Manoah, the Blue Jays are solid at the top of their rotation even though Berrios has struggled. But Toronto could use some help on the back end.

    Yusei Kikuchi (2-4, 5.08 ERA, 1.59 WHIP) has struggled, especially in his last five starts. He's been getting hit hard all year.

    Meanwhile, the 34-year-old Kyle Gibson (4-3, 4.48 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) has been solid for the Phillies. But after Bryce Harper's injury, it's fair to question what use Philly—third in the NL East and fighting for the newly created Wild Card spot—will have for Gibson by the deadline.

American League Central

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    Who else can go deep into games for the Twins?

    The Twins are on top of the division with a young Guardians squad and the underachieving White Sox chasing them.

    Their pitching is solid: seventh in ERA, eighth in WHIP, 11th in opponents' batting average. But they need more from the rotation to compete beyond the AL Central.

    Only Joe Ryan, Dylan Bundy and Devin Smeltzer are averaging at least five innings per game for Minnesota.

    The Twins were among the teams that expressed interest in Oakland's Frankie Montas, who is almost guaranteed to go three times through the order.

    How will the Guardians balance the long-term and short-term?

    The Guardians are not really supposed to be here. The Twins and Tigers made aggressive moves to compete with the White Sox this season.

    Cleveland did not.

    But with the White Sox flailing, and the Tigers and Royals disappointing, the Guardians have been right there with the Twins to compete for the top spot in a poor division.

    It's hard to find something in which the Guardians are elite, but they are sound. A starting pitcher or middle-of-the-order bat could really elevate them.

    But the question is how much of the long-term future should the Guardians—with one of the top farm systems in baseball—sacrifice when even in a surprise season the World Series appears unlikely?

    Can the depleted White Sox produce runs?

    Very little has gone right for the White Sox this season. Injuries have hurt them. Management has hurt them.

    Nothing is more striking than how poorly Chicago produces runs, especially compared to last season.

    The White Sox are 19th in wRC+ and 20th in runs per game. Last year, they were fourth in wRC+ and seventh in runs per game.

    They're also one of the poorest defensive teams.

    Chicago could look across town to see what the Cubs' Willson Contreras or Kyle Hendricks would cost.

    Or it could become a seller with a bad July. Scoring runs and playing defense like this, the White Sox are headed nowhere.

American League West

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    Should the Astros make a change at catcher?

    Defensively, no team in baseball gets more from its catcher than the Astros.

    Offensively, no team gets less.

    For weeks, it's been debated in Houston whether the Astros should trade for a catcher who can hit given Martin Maldonado and Jason Castro cannot.

    But they work so well with the pitching staff.

    On the surface, making a move for Willson Contreras or Salvador Perez would make sense. But the Astros surely don't want to upset the chemistry between the pitchers and catchers.

    If anything, Houston seems more likely to deal one of its surplus starters than unseat Maldonado.

    Should Texas trade Martin Perez?

    Eleven games behind the Astros, second place does not feel too rewarding in the AL West.

    The chances of Texas rallying to win the division are slim to none. Earning a wild-card spot is only slightly more realistic given the strength of the AL East. PECOTA even gives the White Sox, Guardians and Mariners better chances at a wild card.

    So, should the Rangers cash in with Martin Perez? The 31-year-old is on a one-year, $4 million deal, pitching the season of his life (2.22 ERA, 1.16 WHIP).

    If Texas doesn't trade him, he could leave via free agency, though The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported it's more likely the Rangers will re-sign Perez in the offseason than trade him.

    But he represents the classic example of a valuable pitcher on a team that is out of the race by the deadline: productive and on an inexpensive expiring contract.

National League East

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    Will the Mets finally get Luis Castillo?

    The Mets lost three games in a row for the first time this season after a two-game sweep by the Astros this week, which followed a loss to the Miami Marlins on Sunday.

    There's no need for the Mets to panic, though. They are in a solid position to win the division. At some point, Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom are supposed to be healthy.

    What they could use in the meantime, and then later as reinforcement, is another starter. The Mets' pitching is middle of the road in ERA and 10th in WAR, though it's also fourth in strikeouts per nine innings.

    The New York Post's Jon Heyman reports Reds pitcher Luis Castillo is a target for the Mets at the deadline. They also reportedly previously discussed his teammate Tyler Mahle and have scouted the A's Frankie Montas, too.

    The Twins and Padres are also interested in Castillo, according to Heyman. But the Mets are the best of the teams who could use him.

    Where can Atlanta find another left-handed bat?

    Other than Matt Olson, Atlanta doesn’t really have much of a threat from that side of the plate.

    Atlanta ranks 26th in hits and RBI when batting left.

    GM Alex Anthopoulos acknowledged in a recent interview with Jim Bowden on XM Radio's Front Office that the team felt a little right-handed-heavy but stressed he would not trade for a player just because he's left-handed.

    Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds and Chicago Cubs switch-hitting left fielder Ian Happ appear to be the most obvious choices for Atlanta to target in a trade.

    Is it time for the Phillies to sell?

    With Bryce Harper missing at least six weeks to have surgery on his broken thumb and the Phillies eight games behind the Mets, playoff hopes are looking slimmer by the day.

    It's a shame, considering the Phillies invested in free agents Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos this past offseason. Their pitching has also been solid, ranking third in WAR behind only the Yankees and Astros.

    PECOTA has the Phillies' playoff chances at 40.5 percent. Six NL teams have better chances.

    Whereas it would have made sense at the start of the season to project Philly as buyers at the deadline, it's worth considering they might be selling.

    Contending teams should show interest in Kyle Gibson, the 34-year-old right-hander making $7 million in the final year of his contract.

National League Central

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    What can the Brewers do about their shoddy defense and banged-up rotation?

    Brandon Woodruff pitched Tuesday for the first time since the end of May, and he looked sharp, giving up just one run on two hits and striking out 10.

    The Brewers are still without Freddy Peralta, who earlier in the month was moved to the 60-day injured list with a lat injury.

    It's a strong pitching staff even without Peralta, but it could stand to be better in order to separate from the St. Louis Cardinals. Milwaukee ranks seventh in WAR and joint-second in strikeouts per nine innings.

    Yet their defense is lacking, ranking joint-22nd in runs prevented, 23rd in outs above average and joint-18th in fielding percentage.

    The Brewers' offense may never overwhelm, but they're burning daylight without elite pitching and better defense.

    How will the Cardinals address their lack of pitching depth?

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Ben Frederickson reported this week that the Cardinals were interested in signing free-agent reliever Trevor Rosenthal, who is healthy and looking to make a comeback.

    Cardinals relievers rank 19th in ERA and WAR, 15th in opposing batting average and 28th in strikeouts per nine innings.

    Manager Oli Marmol has mentioned the need for a right-handed reliever who can get strikeouts.

    Even if St. Louis goes with Rosenthal, who pitched there from 2012 to 2017, they could still make a move in a robust reliever market.

National League West

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    Should the Dodgers break the bank like last year?

    About a year ago, the Dodgers were able to capitalize on the Washington Nationals’ rebuild by trading for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner.

    It didn’t result in the World Series repeat they were hoping for, but the move undoubtedly positioned them to do so.

    Such an obvious blockbuster does not appear to be in play this time around at the deadline.

    If there is an incremental move the already-loaded Dodgers could make, it’s a starter like Jose Quintana or an outfield bat like Tommy Pham.

    Should the Padres reengage in Joey Gallo talks?

    It’s simply not working with Gallo in the Bronx. He’s having one of the worst seasons of his career, a contract year, no less.

    Gallo’s even worse at Yankee Stadium than he is on the road. The change of scenery to San Diego, even in a pitcher-friendly park, could help him and add some power to the Padres’ lineup.

    San Diego is joint-23rd in slugging and 24th in home runs. Gallo's nine homers would tie with former Yankees teammate Luke Voit for second on the team behind Manny Machado.

    Should the Giants rent Willson Contreras' services?

    Filling the shoes of future Hall of Fame catcher Buster Posey has been about as difficult as it sounds. Posey, who retired at 34 years old after last season, was supposed to be replaced by Joey Bart.

    That hasn't gone well, with Bart down in Triple-A to work on his plate awareness among other things. He slashed .156/.296/.300 with 49 strikeouts over 108 plate appearances before being sent down in early June.

    The Giants' catcher position ranks 22nd in batting average, tied for 20th in RBI and joint-15th in WAR.

    Contreras is one of the better hitting catchers in the game, leading the position with 12 home runs, ranking second in WAR, seventh in wRC+ and second in OPS.

    Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.


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