Pinpointing Each 2016 MLB Contender's Biggest Weakness Needing Trade Fix
There is no such thing as a perfect team in baseball. Each and every one of MLB's 30 franchises—contenders and non-contenders alike—has at least one glaring weakness. Many of those teams will look to address that weakness before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline arrives.
Sellers will place high prices on their most valuable trade chips, especially starting pitchers, given how light the upcoming free-agent market is expected to be on quality starters. Bidding wars will ensue, and some contenders won't be able to get the arms they need for a playoff push.
Speaking of contenders, a team must be within five games of a playoff spot—and have at least a .500 record—to qualify as one for this exercise. While there's plenty of time for teams to make up ground, the idea of a team with a losing record in the playoffs bothers us as much as it bothers you.
What follows is a look at each contender's biggest weakness and, in some cases, players those teams could potentially target to make those weaknesses disappear.
Baltimore Orioles: Starting Pitching
A powerful offense and terrific bullpen have kept the Orioles at or near the top of the American League East for most of the season. But eventually, the team's lack of quality starting pitching will catch up with it.
Baltimore's rotation has the AL's third-highest earned run average (4.97) and only two reliable starters, Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman. Yovani Gallardo could be a third, but he's pitched to a 5.07 ERA and 1.71 WHIP since last year's All-Star break and walked four in his return from the disabled list.
Neither Ubaldo Jimenez nor Mike Wright belong anywhere near a contender's rotation—and the Orioles don't have a legitimate upgrade over either one in-house.
With a poor farm system and an owner, Peter Angelos, who may not allow general manager Dan Duquette to add significant payroll, the Orioles might not be in a position to add the pitching it so desperately needs.
Boston Red Sox: Starting Pitching
David Price, Rick Porcello and Steven Wright give Boston a solid top three in its rotation, but there's no question the Red Sox need to add another live arm before the trade deadline arrives.
The team's two best back-of-the-rotation options, Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez, aren't the answer. Buchholz (6.28 ERA) continues to prove that he can't be trusted to deliver consistent results, while Rodriguez (6.41 ERA) has allowed seven home runs in five starts.
They don't need an ace, though they have the prospects needed to trade for a front-of-the-rotation arm if one became available. Adding a durable, reliable starter who can eat innings and give the team a chance to win every fifth day would go a long way toward shoring up the rotation.
We can expect the Red Sox to be linked to nearly every starter whose name pops up on the rumor mill in the weeks ahead.
Chicago Cubs: Bullpen
The New York Yankees' Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller remain the obvious targets for the Cubs, who, according to CBSChicago.com's Bruce Levine, are in the market for "a stud left-handed setup man or closer." Per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs have scouted both Yankees relievers.
Sources tell Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal that the Cubs won't trade Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras or Kyle Schwarber. But Chicago's farm system is so deep that the Cubs could still swing a deal for pretty much any reliever they wanted without including any of those players.
Of course, none of this is necessarily fair to incumbent closer Hector Rondon, who has been terrific in the ninth inning. But you can't fault the Cubs, baseball's best team, for wanting to lock things down in the late innings.
After all the team's regular-season success, an early exit from the playoffs would be a disaster.
Cleveland Indians: Outfield
Marlon Byrd's season-long suspension and Michael Brantley's continued shoulder woes have only increased Cleveland's need for another outfielder—a need that has existed since before the season even began.
If the Indians would commit to giving top prospects Clint Frazier or Bradley Zimmer a chance, a trade for outfield help might not be necessary. But GM Chris Antonetti wouldn't do that in a recent appearance on SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio, saying only that the pair could be options later in the year.
Cleveland can't wait until later in the year to address the issue. Aside from the team's reluctance to lean on Frazier or Zimmer, the two biggest obstacles facing the Tribe are an owner who's leery of adding payroll and the team's reluctance to part with its best young talent for immediate help in the big leagues.
While the likes of Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp aren't realistic options for the Indians, Jay Bruce, Jon Jay, Josh Reddick and perhaps even Melvin Upton Jr. could all be potential trade targets.
Detroit Tigers: Starting Pitching
Detroit knows what it's getting from Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann, while rookie Michael Fulmer has been tremendous in his first taste of the big leagues. But the Tigers need another experienced, reliable arm they can lean on if they're going to mount a run at the AL Central crown.
Fulmer, the recently demoted Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris—who is set to take Boyd's spot in the rotation—all have significant upside but lack significant big league experience. A contender can get by with one of those pitchers in their rotation, not two or three of them.
Detroit was among the teams to express interest in James Shields before the division rival Chicago White Sox acquired him, according to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, and owner Mike Ilitch's willingness to add salary to his payroll in the name of a World Series ring gives the Tigers plenty of options moving forward.
Kansas City Royals: Starting Rotation
Edinson Volquez and Ian Kennedy are terrific mid-rotation starters, veterans who can eat innings and keep things close more often than not. Unfortunately for the Royals, they represent the team's best starting pitchers. That's a problem.
If Yordano Ventura grew up and took the next step in his development, it would go a long way toward solving what ails the defending world champions, but there's no reason to believe either is going to happen anytime soon.
The bigger issue for the Royals is they traded away a slew of prospects to add Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist for their run to a World Series victory last year. They can't really afford to part with their best young talent, yet they can't expect to mount a successful defense of their title without adding an arm.
A trio of injured veterans—Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Jason Vargas—could bolster the rotation upon their respective returns, but the Royals would be foolish to count on any of the three as the answer to their pitching issues.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Offensive Production
A better-than-expected pitching staff has kept the Dodgers within shouting distance of the San Francisco Giants and first place in the NL West, but Los Angeles is going to need more firepower if it's going to gain any ground on its fiercest division rival.
Yasiel Puig has the talent to be the solution, but the 25-year-old hasn't been especially productive for more than a year. A healthy Andre Ethier would do the trick as well, but there has been little news about the veteran's recovery from the fractured leg he suffered in spring training.
Whether it's another outfielder or a player who can handle another position, the Dodgers simply need to add another productive bat to the mix. With one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, the team should have little problem obtaining one.
Miami Marlins: Starting Pitching
The Marlins need a reliable third starter to slot behind Jose Fernandez and Wei-Yin Chen but won't deal from the big league roster to add one, reports Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. Adam Conley and Tom Koehler are fine back-of-the-rotation arms, but they're a notch below the level of pitcher Miami should add.
The Tampa Bay Rays' Jake Odorizzi, whom the team has inquired about, per MLB Network's Jon Morosi, would be a perfect addition. The only question is whether the Marlins have the pieces the Rays would be looking for in return.
Lesser options could include the Philadelphia Phillies' Jeremy Hellickson and the Minnesota Twins' Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco, the latter two coming with sizable contracts that would limit the number—and quality—of prospects the Marlins would have to surrender in a deal.
New York Mets: Third Base/Leadoff Hitter
Only two teams have scored fewer runs than the Mets, who remain in contention thanks to a terrific pitching staff. With or without David Wright, who is out indefinitely after undergoing neck surgery, adding another bat was going to be a priority for GM Sandy Alderson.
Ideally, the bat he adds will be able to play third base and lead off, as Curtis Granderson's .310 on-base percentage simply isn't going to cut it as a table-setter atop the lineup.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's Yunel Escobar and Minnesota's Eduardo Nunez could potentially fill both voids, while Oakland's Danny Valencia, whom the team reportedly checked in on, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, would give the Mets another run-producer in the middle of the lineup.
San Francisco Giants: Outfield
The Giants "have been aggressive in looking for a bullpen arm and/or middle-of-the-order bat," reports the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo. Of the two, plugging the hole Hunter Pence's hamstring surgery created is more important than adding another reliever at this point.
Here's why. Nobody knows exactly how long Pence, the team's most productive batter after Brandon Belt (Buster Posey is having an un-Posey like season), is going to be out of action or if he's going to be limited when he does return.
Since most contenders need to bolster their pitching staffs, the Giants should have their choice of the best bats available. Carlos Beltran, Jay Bruce, Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp and Josh Reddick could all be potential targets in a trade.
Seattle Mariners: Bullpen
With Felix Hernandez on the disabled list, Taijuan Walker banged up and both Hisashi Iwakuma and Wade Miley struggling to perform, Seattle's bullpen has been called upon more often than the Mariners would like.
That heavy workload could be part of the reason for the group's recent struggles—the group's 4.79 June ERA is the AL's fourth-highest on the month.
"The Mariners are likely to monitor [closer Steve] Cishek and Joaquin Benoit, their primary setup man, throughout the rest of the month," the News Tribune's Bob Dutton wrote last week. "If they choose to supplement their bullpen, it will likely to be someone capable of pitching at the back end."
As Dutton notes, a reunion with former closer Fernando Rodney seems unlikely, but there will be other options that become available as the trade deadline gets closer. Tampa Bay's Xavier Cedeno, Philadelphia's Hector Neris and the Milwaukee Brewers' Tyler Thornburg could be low-cost options for a setup role.
St. Louis Cardinals: Center FIeld
With Randal Grichuk trying to find his way with Triple-A Memphis, center field duties at Busch Stadium are being split between reserve outfielder Tommy Pham and former starting second baseman Kolten Wong.
That's not what you'd call an ideal situation for the Cardinals. Neither is the trade market, which is expected to feature a number of outfielders but only a select few who can actually handle center field.
One who could is former Cardinal Jon Jay, who is enjoying a solid season in San Diego. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch doesn't like the odds of a reunion, but the 31-year-old might be St. Louis' best option.
Texas Rangers: Relief Pitching
Don't take my word for it when it comes to the weakness Texas will look to address through trade.
"The bullpen is the area we'll look at," general manager Jon Daniels told MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. "Other areas, it would have to be a pretty unique situation, because we feel good about our ballclub. You always look to do better, but realistically, what's going to be out there and whether or not it fits, I don't know."
Sam Dyson has done a yeoman's job as closer, thrust into the role after Shawn Tolleson lost his grip on the ninth inning. Jake Diekman and Matt Bush, the latter one of the feel-good stories of the season, have been terrific in setup roles.
Yet Texas relievers boast baseball's fourth-highest ERA (4.66), seventh-highest WHIP (1.41) and a 73.7 percent strand rate that sits in the bottom half of the majors. There's plenty of room for improvement.
With plenty of prospects and young major league talent to offer, the Rangers could target any reliever to hit the market. From Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller to Fernando Rodney and Fernando Abad, Daniels will have no shortage of options to pursue.
Toronto Blue Jays: Starting Pitching
Aaron Sanchez is headed for the bullpen—"it's going to happen" was Blue Jays manager John Gibbons' response when asked by reporters. While it's probably the best thing for the 23-year-old's future, the move leaves a gaping void in the middle of the rotation.
Unless you're confident in the talented but erratic (and oft-injured) Drew Hutchison, the team's likely internal option to take over Sanchez's workload, that is.
Toronto doesn't necessarily need a front-of-the-rotation arm, which is good, because it might not be able to afford one. While the farm hasn't been picked clean, it has been "severely depleted," as B/R's Joel Reuter wrote in his post-draft farm system rankings, in which the Blue Jays came in at No. 25.
Prices for back-of-the-rotation arms might be on the high side, but adding someone like the Cincinnati Reds' Dan Straily or the San Diego Padres' Andrew Cashner won't cost the Blue Jays their best prospects.
Washington Nationals: Late-Inning Relief
Adding another late-inning reliever seemed to be a priority for Washington before closer Jonathan Papelbon went on the disabled list with an intercostal strain. With Papelbon sidelined, the chatter has only increased.
Both MLB.com's Bill Ladson and Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal have recently linked the Nationals to New York's Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, but the cost in prospects and young talent (Joe Ross, perhaps) could be too high for GM Mike Rizzo's liking.
The Padres' Fernando Rodney or the Angels' Joe Smith and Huston Street could be less expensive fallback options if the Nationals can't pry one of those relievers away from the Yankees.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs and are current through games of June 21. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts (via Baseball Prospectus).
Hit me up on Twitter to talk all things baseball: @RickWeinerBR.