Every MLB Contender's Blueprint to an 'A' Grade at the 2016 Trade Deadline
Better buckle up. Major League Baseball's August 1 trade deadline is fast approaching, and the market appears to be flooded with buyers.
Let's take that as our cue to get into how every team can make out well.
Ahead are blueprints for what it would take for the 18 contenders (defined here as any team at or above .500 at the start of play Thursday) to earn "A" grades for the 2016 trade deadline. This involves taking a look at each team's biggest needs and available assets and determining how (or in one case, if) it should use the latter to fill the former.
To clarify, this is not a road map for all trade-deadline activity. These are individual assessments for each team, so one player can be a fit for multiple teams. And we're not going to let our imaginations run too wild. We'll stick to realistic targets and only consider realistic trades. It would be cool to see the Baltimore Orioles trade for Jose Fernandez, but that's not happening.
The contenders are ordered from worst record to best record. This is where the fun begins.
Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals have been hit hard by the fabled "World Series hangover," but they mean to press on.
"We want to move forward. That's kind of how we're wired," general manager Dayton Moore told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, adding, "We're going to do everything we can to improve our roster."
For the Royals to make a go of it, priority No. 1 is bolstering a starting pitching staff that has a 5.01 ERA. They could also use a bat for an injury-wrecked offense that ranks 14th in the American League in runs.
The problem is that the Royals' trade options are limited. They don't have much in the way of financial flexibility, and what was already an iffy farm system has suffered value losses to top prospects Raul A. Mondesi (suspension) and Kyle Zimmer (injury).
With a large deficit in the AL Central, the Royals must realize they only have a shot at a wild-card berth.
They should therefore focus their attention on rentals, and two guys stand out as realistic and helpful options: Oakland A's right fielder Josh Reddick and Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. Reddick can help Kansas City's offense without hindering the focus on defense. And if Hellickson can put up a 3.84 ERA despite having to pitch at Citizens Bank Park, he should do nicely at Kauffman Stadium.
When Jerry Dipoto took over as Seattle's general manager last fall, he inherited a team that had little financial flexibility and few prospects. Though modest, the club's record is a positive reflection of the creativity he exerted in his first offseason.
The Mariners have played so poorly in recent weeks that the conversation has shifted to their possibly selling at the deadline. But unlike another team we'll get to shortly, the Mariners don't need to tear things down. They finally have a quality offense for a change, and having Felix Hernandez and (soon) Taijuan Walker back healthy could give them good starting pitching for the stretch run.
What needs a boost is a bullpen that's taken on too big of a burden recently. A closer upgrade wouldn't hurt, but Seattle's few assets put the team more in the market for a low-rent setup guy.
One name floated by Jon Heyman at Today's Knuckleball is Los Angeles Angels right-hander Joe Smith. He's perfect. He's a free-agent-to-be whose value has taken a hit, but he could be a big get if he recaptures his former status as one of MLB's most reliable relievers.
The Pittsburgh Pirates could be an interesting seller should they choose that route. They've shown signs of life in recent weeks, however, and could keep it going. They already have a good bullpen and will have a good offense if Andrew McCutchen finally starts playing like Andrew McCutchen.
What the Pirates need is help for a starting rotation that's put up a 4.82 ERA. They could go big in their quest to fix that, as GM Neal Huntington has several talented young prospects to offer in trades.
But don't count on it. Those guys are a key part of Pittsburgh's long-term future, so the team shouldn't sacrifice them to boost a wild-card run. The Pirates are better off making a low-risk play for a talented pitcher who could benefit from working with pitching coach Ray Searage.
The best target is the one they already have in mind: Nathan Eovaldi. Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has linked the Pirates to the New York Yankees right-hander. The team can't ignore his unspectacular track record (8-6, 4.93 ERA), but his big arm gives him potential that Searage can harness.
Plus, Eovaldi is controlled through 2017. The thought of his sharing a rotation with Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow next year is about as intriguing as it gets.
New York Yankees
This should have been an easy call, but the New York Yankees have chosen the hard way with a recent four-game win streak that put them back in the AL playoff picture.
"So what to do with this team?" wrote ESPN.com's Wallace Matthews. "The head says sell, the heart says hell, play it out and see how far they can take this."
Our pick: Listen to the head.
Rising above mediocrity could involve upgrading a Yankees offense that ranks 11th in the AL in runs, but that would mean pushing some expensive players to the bench. Or it could involve upgrading a starting pitching staff with a 4.71 ERA. That would mean sacrificing top prospects.
Frankly, this team isn't worth that. It's old, expensive and likely not championship material no matter what, so the Yankees should instead focus on wrecking the big club and boosting their farm system.
Free-agents-to-be Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran should go, and the Yankees should not miss their chance to capitalize on the huge demand for Andrew Miller. Trades of all three can stock their system with several top-100 prospects. After that, anything else they can do would be a bonus.
We could talk about what the Detroit Tigers could do if they decided to sell, but it's pointless. Team owner Mike Ilitch has repeatedly made it clear he wants to win...no matter the cost.
But as Rosenthal said in a recent video, it's best not to expect any big moves. The Tigers payroll is already loaded with big contracts, and the emergence of Michael Fulmer leaves the farm system even thinner than it already was.
And yet, the needs are there. Detroit's offense is fine, but a pitching staff with a 4.48 ERA craves starting and relief help. The trick will be to find help the Tigers can afford, but which is also, you know, actual help.
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle has linked the Tigers to Oakland A's right-hander Rich Hill, but he's probably beyond their price range. San Diego Padres righty Andrew Cashner is more their speed, as he doesn't have a ton of value but also has a power arm that would fit well in a rotation that has valued power arms.
Finding an affordable power arm for Detroit's bullpen isn't so easy, but Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Daniel Hudson stands out. He works in the mid-90s but can probably be had cheap due to his 5.30 ERA and upcoming free agency.
St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals aren't going to win 100 games again, but they have the makings of a really good team. All they need is to fill some gaps.
One of those is in center field, where the Cardinals have had a revolving door that has yet to produce a true answer. In terms of fixing that, it seems their only stipulation is no rental players. According to ESPN.com's Mark Saxon, St. Louis wants long-term fits.
One player who's been connected to the Cardinals in the past is Carlos Gonzalez, but Saxon suggests that's a no-go. And it should be. He's not what they need. A better Colorado Rockies target would be Charlie Blackmon, an actual center fielder who's controlled through 2018.
Pulling off a deal for Blackmon would deal a blow to a farm system that's in good but not great shape, leaving the Cardinals to do some bottom-shelf shopping to fix their need for a late-inning setup man.
This is where Hudson's name pops up again. He represents the right mix of low value and high talent the Cardinals should zero in on. According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it so happens they have been scouting the Diamondbacks.
New York Mets
The New York Mets are struggling to live up to lofty expectations mainly because of their offense. It sure produces a lot of home runs, but it's only 13th in the National League in runs.
However, upgrading New York's offense is tricky. The Mets had a need at third base, but Jose Reyes has done fine since being thrust into action there. At catcher and first base, they can wait for a hot Travis d'Arnaud and a healthy Lucas Duda.
Instead, the Mets should focus their efforts on making sure their big strength doesn't fall apart. They need some rotation depth to account for Matt Harvey's absence and another setup man to strengthen the bridge to Jeurys Familia. Ideally, they'd fill both without emptying a farm system that's full of parts they're going to need before long.
It's hard to ignore the possibility of a reunion with Jonathon Niese. Marc Carig of Newsday says the Mets aren't ruling out the left-hander, whose recent bullpen demotion should make him (A) cheap and (B) available.
Getting Niese on the cheap for their rotation would allow the Mets to aim a little higher in their search for a reliever. Padres left-hander Brad Hand, who's striking out nearly 11 batters per nine innings, would be perfect.
The Houston Astros have closed on the Texas Rangers in the AL West. On paper, they resemble the well-balanced team they seemed to be coming into the year.
The big priority might appear to be finding depth for an offense that leans too much on its stars. But the Astros shouldn't overreact to that. They can hope for hot-and-cold hitters such as Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis to get hot. Before long, young stud Alex Bregman (22) should arrive to help.
What the Astros should focus on is bolstering a starting rotation that hasn't been the strength they expected it to be. What it could use is some extra gas. Despite the best efforts of Lance McCullers, Houston has the softest-tossing rotation in the league.
Now is a good time for GM Jeff Luhnow to dip into a deep farm system for an arm that could help both this year and in years to come. Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Matt Moore fits the bill. Wouldn't you know it, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe has reported the Astros have interest in him.
It's only one move, but adding Moore to a team with a great bullpen and a potentially explosive offense could propel the Astros forward.
Considering the Miami Marlins share a division with the Mets and Washington Nationals, few people expected them to be a playoff team coming into 2016. And yet, here we are.
All the Marlins need is a good piece behind Fernandez in their rotation, which owns an adequate 4.24 ERA. The hard part is finding a good fit. This is not a team with a lot of money to burn. Nor is it a team with a good farm system, as Baseball America ranked Miami as the NL's worst coming in the spring.
But one guy who would be perfect is Michael Pineda, and according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, he's already on the team's radar. He'll draw a crowd based on his talent and controllability through 2017, but his 5.25 ERA should make him affordable for Miami.
If nothing else, Pineda's AL-best rate of 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings would make him a good match for Fernandez. If a move to the National League and into Marlins Park were to wipe out his home run problem (he's giving up 1.5 dingers per nine innings), Pineda could be a legit No. 2.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been playing good baseball recently. If they had a healthy Clayton Kershaw to look forward to, they might resolve to play it quiet at the deadline.
But they don't know if they do. According to Alex Putterman of MLB.com, the club revealed Wednesday the ace left-hander's ailing back may need surgery and that there's no guarantee he'll be (ahem) back in 2016.
According to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick, this has the Dodgers on the prowl for "big game." Their focus appears to be on President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman's old stomping grounds in Tampa Bay—specifically on Chris Archer. According to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, there may be a 70 percent chance of the Dodgers' landing the right-hander.
Nothing to protest here. Archer is a fine talent, and pursuing him would be a good use of the Dodgers' assets. Everyone knows they have money, but they also have prospects to spare in a system ranked by Baseball America at No. 1 coming into the year.
The Dodgers shouldn't stop at Archer, though. They could use another bat, specifically in left field, which has a collective OPS of .672. This is where they could put their money to use, as the best solution would be for them to take Melvin Upton Jr.'s remaining contract off San Diego's hands.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays have hit their way out of a sluggish start. With Jose Bautista due to return from injury any day now, their offense will get even more dangerous.
The question is what to do with a pitching staff in a tough spot despite its 3.78 ERA. What the Blue Jays should do depends on their plans for Aaron Sanchez, whose dominance is pushing against Toronto's desire to limit his innings.
"It's a dilemma," manager John Gibbons told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. "If and when [a move to the bullpen] happens we're not going to be real popular out there and in that [locker] room there probably. But it hasn't happened yet. Somebody's got to wear it if it does, though."
Because the market for starters is about as thin as the Blue Jays farm system, their best play is to keep Sanchez in the rotation and dive into a deep relief market instead. That's where they can hunt for a dominant setup man for Roberto Osuna.
Calling the Minnesota Twins about Fernando Abad is their best play. He's looking good again after a down year in 2015 and could double as both a setup man and the quality left-hander Toronto's pen has been missing.
The Baltimore Orioles are where they are because they do two things really well: Hit home runs and shut down games.
But it's no secret they need starting pitching. Badly. Their rotation's 5.11 ERA is ahead of only the Twins among American League clubs. That kind of distinction doesn't look so good on a contender.
However, the Orioles don't have a ton of financial flexibility. They also don't have a ton of prospects. Baseball America rated them as the league's No. 27 system coming into the year, and the Orioles just found out Hunter Harvey, their No. 1 talent, needs Tommy John surgery, according to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo.
Nonetheless, Slusser has reported the Orioles are among the teams looking at A's lefty Rich Hill. His injury issues are a potential hiccup for a notoriously nitpicky club like the Orioles. But given his 2.25 ERA and ability to miss bats, his talent is just what the O's need.
Because they have a shot at a division title despite not having an ace, the O's have more incentive to deal for Hill than any other suitors. Though Baltimore may be short on top prospects, the Athletics aren't always enamored with the biggest names in other teams' farm systems. They're the right team for the O's to be dealing with.
Fear the Texas Rangers. They not only have a straight shot at a second consecutive AL West title but also need to fill spots and have more than enough means to fill them.
One could argue the Rangers have to find more offense, but their big issues are on the mound. Their starting pitching staff needs more depth, and a bullpen with a 5.02 ERA is desperate for a dominant arm.
"We're a lot more focused on the pitching side," general manager Jon Daniels told Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The Rangers can basically get whoever they want to fill these needs. They came into the year with an elite farm system, and Bob Nightengale of USA Today recently reported veteran scouts are now "blown away" by how good it is.
The Rangers should filter some of these prospects into the AL East. Morosi reports they're engaged in "ongoing talks" with the Rays about Moore, and ESPN.com's Buster Olney has reported they're among the teams engaged with the Yankees about Aroldis Chapman.
The Rangers can get both, and they should get both. After that, expect them to be a lot of fun.
Boston Red Sox
You have to hand it to Dave Dombrowski, Boston's president of baseball operations, for already having secured upgrades for a pitching staff that badly needed them. Lefty starter Drew Pomeranz and righty setup man Brad Ziegler should help.
However, Dombrowski can't rest just yet.
The Red Sox need to worry about holding off the Orioles and Blue Jays in a tough AL East race. It would be easier if they added another quality starter to their rotation, and if they responded to injuries to Craig Kimbrel, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara by adding another reliever.
The good news is the Red Sox still have plenty of assets in their farm system even after losing top right-hander Anderson Espinoza in the Pomeranz deal. The team also has plenty of money.
Boston could put these things to use in a deal with the A's. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports Hill is on Boston's radar even after the Pomeranz deal. The Red Sox could get him and also work Ryan Madson, who has two years and over $15 million left on his contract, into a trade.
It would be yet another costly move for the Red Sox. But if it meant finally getting the team's pitching on par with its excellent lineup, it could have a big payoff.
It's not by accident that the Cleveland Indians are running away from the rest of the AL Central. Nobody can touch their starting pitching, and their offense (third in the AL in runs) is better than it gets credit for.
There is a big hole in that offense, though. No team has gotten less production from its catchers than the Indians. That explains Olney's report on the Tribe's talks with the Milwaukee Brewers about Jonathan Lucroy.
That's a trade Cleveland should make. Lucroy's bat, which has produced a .305 average and .854 OPS, is an easy upgrade for a needy area. He also has a contract the Indians can afford, as his 2017 option pays just $5.25 million.
The Indians shouldn't just target Lucroy, however. Nor are they. According to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Cleveland is also targeting relievers in a deal for Lucroy. With a 2.23 ERA, Jeremy Jeffress would be a nice addition next to Cody Allen.
Paying for all this will likely require the Indians to part with either of their top prospects: outfielders Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier. But after the emergence of Tyler Naquin, that shouldn't be a deal-breaker.
Following a year when everything went wrong, plenty is breaking right for the Washington Nationals in 2016. The starting rotation has lived up to its billing, and the lineup is one of the NL's best.
Now it looks like the one major hole in said lineup is getting an answer in-house. The Nationals have been trying top prospect Trea Turner, a natural shortstop, at center field in recent weeks, and Eddie Matz of ESPN.com may be right in thinking he has just the right talent for the job.
The Nationals bullpen would look a lot better with another late-inning reliever, however. They apparently know it: According to Olney, the Nats are expected to be one of the most aggressive clubs in pursuing relievers. He's also linked them to Chapman, suggesting their sights are set high.
Chapman shouldn't be their guy, though. The Yankees reliever they should target instead is Miller. With two years left on his contract, he's more than a rental. He could also work as a setup man for Jonathan Papelbon, which would allow the Nats to avoid an uncomfortable situation.
Miller will not come cheap in terms of prospects. But with a farm system that's deep even after Turner and Lucas Giolito, the Nats can spare some parts for the sake of pursuing an elusive title.
San Francisco Giants
For a team that went into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball, the San Francisco Giants are feeling a surprising amount of heat. They've lost five straight, allowing the Dodgers to creep ever closer.
The main area of consternation has been a bullpen that seems even shakier than its 4.00 ERA suggests. From closer Santiago Casilla on down, there are no real shutdown arms for manager Bruce Bochy to turn to.
In the lineup, there's the Hunter Pence question: When will he be back, and will he be the impact right-handed bat the Giants need him to be? Both of these should have the Giants seeking a bat as well.
A number of scenarios could solve these needs individually, but the best is one that would solve both in one go: a blockbuster deal with the Milwaukee Brewers for Ryan Braun and Jeffress.
As observed by Rosenthal (and others), Braun emerged as an obvious fit for the Giants as soon as Pence went down. It just so happens that he can't block a trade to the Giants. It also just so happens that they're one of few teams that can afford his contract, which has $80 million remaining on it after 2016.
If the Giants take on all that and throw in shortstop prospect Christian Arroyo—who's blocked by Brandon Crawford anyway—that would arguably be enough for Braun. In exchange for another prospect or two, Jeffress can come too.
The Chicago Cubs fell into a rut for a while but are now back atop the league. On paper, they still look like the team that is best equipped to win it all.
That figures to be even clearer in a couple of weeks even if they do nothing at the deadline. Their outfield looks thin now, but they're awaiting the returns of Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler. The Cubs could make a move despite that, but it wouldn't be the best use of their resources.
The bullpen is more in need of an upgrade. This week's addition of Mike Montgomery will help, but he's more of a long man than the late-inning shutdown guy the Cubs bullpen really needs.
On that front, Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago is the latest to link the Cubs to Chapman and Miller. Either would be a good get, but Miller suits them better. He may not cost much more than Chapman in a trade, and he'll be around for two more years after 2016.
That doesn't mean the Cubs should trade Kyle Schwarber for him. Fortunately for them, they shouldn't have to. The organization has enough young talent to swing a deal for Miller that doesn't involve Schwarber.
With the deed done, the Cubs will add the missing link to a championship team that is 108 years in the making.