MLB Metrics 101: The Biggest Trade Needs for Each MLB Contender

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJune 8, 2017

MLB Metrics 101: The Biggest Trade Needs for Each MLB Contender

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    A new third baseman for Boston, and more!
    A new third baseman for Boston, and more!Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Trade season is upon Major League Baseball, and Bleacher Report's MLB Metrics 101 series is here to find out where contenders need help the most.

    Hello and welcome back. This week's topic covers the single biggest need of all the clubs fighting for playoff spots. The list consists of the top 18 teams in the league through Monday, June 5, and will make use of both present and expected performances at each position.

    For more on how that'll work, read on.

Methodology

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    Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

    The simplest way to assess trade needs is to find where teams have gotten the worst production. However, it must also be considered that the answers to these problems are already in place.

    So, a topic like this requires both snapshots of present production and of expected production.

    Baseball Reference is typically this series' go-to for wins above replacement, but FanGraphs makes it easy to look up how much WAR each team has gotten out of each position. It's also the place to find ZiPS projections for the remainder of the 2017 season.

    Thus, we have a system that looks at:

    • Current WAR: The WAR each team has received so far at a given position.
    • Expected Primary WAR: How much more WAR each team is projected to receive from the primary player (or players, in the case of pitching staffs) at a given position.

    When these two numbers are added together—and divided by the standard five for starting pitching staffs and by the standard seven for relief pitching staffs—the result is "Expected WAR." It's a crude, yet quick-and-easy snapshot of each team's positional health.

    (Go here for full results.)

    But be warned of two disclaimers.

    Because it takes time to crunch all these numbers, they're a couple of days out of date. They reflect each team's reality through Sunday, June 4.

    And although this model mostly works, it does miss the mark for where some teams' true needs lie. So keep an eye out for asterisks that will open the door for the human touch.

    Going in order from lowest winning percentage to highest winning percentage, let's get to it.

St. Louis Cardinals: Relief Pitcher

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    Jeff Curry/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    -0.32.40.3

    The St. Louis Cardinals' most obvious problem is their inability to hit. They've managed a modest .719 OPS and rank 27th in MLB in runs.

    However, mere patience could fix this problem. The Cardinals simply need guys like Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler and Aledmys Diaz to play up to their ability. It's fair to expect they will.

    "Obviously our offense has not been overly productive, but I think it's a little early to hit the panic button," general manager John Mozeliak said, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

    St. Louis' bullpen, meanwhile, is a real problem. It's been one of the least productive and most meltdown-prone pens in MLB. It's also short on in-house talent outside of Seung Hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal.

    Fortunately for the Cardinals, relievers are never in short supply around the trade deadline. They know what to do.

Seattle Mariners: First Base

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    Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    -0.7  0.2-0.5

    The Seattle Mariners have recently been snapping out of their early-season slump. Even better, a starting pitching staff that's been undermanned all season is getting reinforcements from the disabled list.

    Thus, the attention should be on their first base problem.

    Danny Valencia hasn't been terrible as the primary player at the not-so-hot corner, but he also hasn't done enough. It's in part because of him that Mariners first basemen rank 27th in WAR.

    Among the first basemen who could be available this summer are Eric Hosmer and Yonder Alonso, as well as two-way corner guys such as Todd Frazier and Trevor Plouffe. 

    Any of the above could help the Mariners, and not just because they represent potential upgrades over Valencia. Adding one of them would allow the M's to move Valencia back to a utility role as a player who specializes in smashing left-handed pitching. Everyone wins.

Toronto Blue Jays: Left Field

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    0.20.30.5

    The Toronto Blue Jays have also been snapping out of an early-season funk. This is in no small way thanks to an offense that's finally waking up.

    It would wake up even more if it had a decent bat in left field.

    The position was an obvious problem area at the start of 2017 and has since delivered on low expectations. Led mainly by Ezequiel Carrera, Toronto left fielders have produced the third-lowest OPS and are tied for 21st in WAR.

    "Left field is the one position that will likely remain a talking point as the July trade deadline inches closer," Laura Armstrong wrote at TheStar.com.

    Yes, indeed. And with names such as J.D. Martinez, Howie Kendrick and old friends Michael Saunders and Melky Cabrera sure to be available, the Blue Jays will have options for upgrades.

Los Angeles Angels: First Base

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    -0.90.3-0.6

    With Mike Trout out for a few more weeks, the Los Angeles Angels aren't the safest bet to remain in the American League postseason picture.

    But on the off chance they do, they'll need to give serious thought to upgrading first base.

    The Angels went into the season with a Luis Valbuena/C.J. Cron platoon lined up for first base. A solid idea in theory, but neither has hit worth a darn. Angels first basemen thus rank 29th in OPS and are tied for last in WAR.

    Sure, the Angels have one of the greatest first basemen ever on their roster. But Albert Pujols has started only four games at first base this season. At his age (37), giving him more starts there would be playing with fire.

    So if the Angels stay in the race, they and the Mariners should be eyeing the same targets.

Tampa Bay Rays: Relief Pitcher

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    Ron Jenkins/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    1.01.2 0.3

    The surprise isn't that the Tampa Bay Rays are hanging in the race. It's more so that they're not doing even better.

    The Rays may not be the sexiest team, but they're solid on all fronts. Their offense ranks in the top five in the AL in OPS. And while neither group has been great, their starters and relievers have both been capable.

    But of the latter two, it's Tampa Bay's bullpen that's noticeably shakier.

    Where the rotation is led by Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb, there's not much in their bullpen outside of Alex Colome. It's a rag-tag group with limited upside over the long haul.

    Whether the Rays will be willing to pay the price to patch up their pen is a dubious proposition. But if they do, they could sneak up on teams down the stretch.

Detroit Tigers: Designated Hitter*

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    -0.10-0.1

    The Detroit Tigers could stand to get more out of their designated hitter spot. Although Victor Martinez does have a solid .344 on-base percentage, it's not worth his not-so-solid .392 slugging percentage.

    But, let's be real here.

    Martinez isn't a guy the Tigers are going to bench or cut loose. Nor are there many DH types on the summer trade market. So while this is an upgrade-needy position in theory, it's not in reality.

    Not as much as Detroit's bullpen, anyway. It's been an ongoing problem for years and is as frustrating as ever this season. Tigers relievers have a 4.68 ERA and rank 24th in WAR.

    If the Tigers are going to make a move (or two), that's where it's going to happen.

Milwaukee Brewers: Relief Pitcher

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    1.21.20.3

    In general, the Milwaukee Brewers could use more pitching to balance out an offense that sure loves to hit dingers.

    But the emphasis should be on their bullpen.

    It doesn't look too bad at first glance. It has a non-terrible 4.08 ERA and a non-terrible WAR ranking to boot. But no other team has had to suffer as many meltdowns by its bullpen as the Brewers have. 

    "We've got to find some guys to get some outs down there," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said, per Fox Sports. "Hot and cold every other outing isn't good enough."

    These mythical "guys" aren't already in Milwaukee. Corey Knebel and Jacob Barnes have been good, but it's otherwise been ugly. A trip to the trade market can fix that.

Chicago Cubs: Relief Pitcher*

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    3.12.70.8

    Do the Chicago Cubs really have a bullpen problem? 

    Nope. Their bullpen has a 3.06 ERA and ranks fourth in WAR, and has enough quality arms to keep it going.

    The issue here is that ZiPS' rest-of-season projections are bullish on the Cubs. And that's fair enough. After all, their disappointing follow-up to last year's World Series run is largely a case of stars' failing to live up to their talent.

    Where ZiPS is too optimistic, however, is with Chicago's starting rotation.

    It's expecting Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey to snap out of it. That's possible, but not entirely likely. In the meantime, there are no obvious solutions for the void in the No. 5 slot of the Cubs rotation.

    So let there be no question about it: The Cubs need a starter. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but some help is needed.

Baltimore Orioles: Shortstop*

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    -0.70.3-0.4

    It's not J.J. Hardy's fault that the Baltimore Orioles have been so inconsistent on offense. Their big stars haven't been themselves this season.

    Still, he's not helping. He's taken all but five starts at shortstop and is very much responsible for the Orioles' ranking 29th in shortstop OPS. They're doling better in WAR...barely. They rank 28th.

    As for that asterisk, the solution the Orioles could pursue is moving Manny Machado to shortstop and going on a hunt for a third baseman instead. 

    A deal for Cincinnati's Zack Cozart would do the trick if the Orioles prefer the shortstop route. But there are more options at third base, including Frazier, Plouffe and Kansas City's Mike Moustakas.

    Either way, the Orioles need an upgrade on the left side of their infield.

Cleveland Indians: Relief Pitcher*

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    4.23.61.1

    The Cleveland Indians bullpen ranks first in ERA and second in WAR. Sounds like a non-problem problem.

    This is another Cubs situation. Just like them, the Indians are struggling to live up to expectations but are loaded with stars who can (and should) snap out of it over time.

    But also like the Cubs, ZiPS is too optimistic on the Indians' rotation.

    It's been a massive disappointment so far, putting up just a 4.81 ERA that ranks 24th. ZiPS expects a turnaround, but there are problems with that notion. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin have never been overly reliable, and Danny Salazar was moved to the bullpen before subsequently being moved to the DL.

    Cleveland has shortcomings in its lineup as well. But if a move is going to be made, it likely will be (and should be) for a starter.

Minnesota Twins: Relief Pitcher

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    -0.51.00.1

    The Minnesota Twins have been better than expected, but nobody's about to thank their bullpen for that.

    It has the worst ERA in MLB at 5.32. And while guys such as Brandon Kintzler and Craig Breslow are producing solid results, they're also part of the bullpen's overall strikeout problem.

    The Twins should have a ton of options available if they decide to upgrade their bullpen. But in their case, it would be best to prioritize somebody who can miss bats.

    Arodys Vizcaino, who throws bullets for the Atlanta Braves, would be one option. If they're really feeling adventurous, they could try to swing a deal within the AL Central by targeting Chicago's David Robertson or Kansas City's Kelvin Herrera.

    Regardless, watch out for the Twins if they upgrade appropriately. 

Boston Red Sox: Third Base

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    -0.60.1-0.5

    There may be no more obvious problem on any contender than the third base problem on the Boston Red Sox.

    It was Pablo Sandoval's job to lose, and he's lost it. He's been either injured or ineffective for much of 2017, and is now in a platoon with Deven Marrero. Meanwhile, the Red Sox rank last in third base WAR.

    The Red Sox might have an in-house option if they consider top prospect Rafael Devers to be ready for the majors. But since he only has 49 games at Double-A under his belt, that's asking a lot.

    So it's on the trade market that the Red Sox are likely to look for help. Frazier, Plouffe and Moustakas are obvious targets who would be immediate upgrades.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Catcher*

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    -0.3-0.2-0.5

    With Jeff Mathis, Chris Iannetta and Chris Herrmann getting all the reps, the Arizona Diamondbacks don't have a star-studded catching core. And it shows. Their catchers rank toward the bottom of MLB in OPS and in WAR.

    They couldn't care less, though.

    "That's not really our emphasis and it hasn't been," general manager Mike Hazen said, per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic

    What matters more to the Diamondbacks is that their catchers do good work with their pitchers. In a related story, they have the third-best ERA in MLB.

    What the D-Backs could really use is extra bullpen depth. Their relievers haven't been terrible as a whole, but it's shaky outside of ace setup man Archie Bradley. Fixing that should be their top priority.

New York Yankees: First Base

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    -1.00.9-0.1

    The New York Yankees haven't been hurting for offense. They rank fourth in MLB in runs and third in OPS. This is mainly Aaron Judge's doing, granted. But he's had help.

    Just not from first base.

    It started out as Greg Bird's position. He struggled and got hurt, so it then passed to Chris Carter. He's also struggled. Thus, the Yankees are stricken with the league's worst OPS at the most offense-oriented position on the diamond.

    They do have Bird on the comeback trail, and he does indeed have enough upside to warrant optimism. But it definitely wouldn't hurt for the Yankees to have a contingency plan.

    With Chase Headley in a deep funk at third base, the ideal trade would bring back a player who can handle both corners. Frazier, Plouffe and even Alonso (who has some experience at third) fit the bill.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Relief Pitcher*

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    4.33.71.1

    Kenley Jansen is untouchable, and the Los Angeles Dodgers' entire bullpen is arguably the best in MLB, so...

    Yeah, this isn't right.

    Truth be told, the Dodgers really don't have any weaknesses on paper. Their lineup, rotation and bullpen are all symphonies of depth and talent. And there's a real chance that the rest of the league hasn't even seen these units at their best yet. In theory, the Dodgers should be on par with the Houston Astros.

    But if there's a nit to be picked, it's with Los Angeles' rotation. Although it's produced terrific results, there's no escaping the nagging suspicion that it needs another dependable arm outside of Clayton Kershaw.

    Thus, this report from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe: "Most talent evaluators think they’ll make a play for the top available starter."

Colorado Rockies: Right Field*

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    -1.20.6-0.6

    Disclaimer: Because these numbers are a couple days behind, they don't include Carlos Gonzalez's big game on Tuesday, in which he homered and got on base four times.

    Nonetheless, he's still rocking just a .697 OPS, a painfully low number for a hitter who plays half his games at Coors Field. And while his track record indicates that he can pull out of his funk, there comes a point when track records are only good for so much. At 31 years old, Gonzalez may be at that point.

    The asterisk is there, though, because the Colorado Rockies don't necessarily need to focus on upgrading in right field.

    Charlie Blackmon's excellent season isn't saving their outfield from being disappointing as a whole. The whole thing is a prime spot to add an upgrade that could supercharge an already strong offense.

Washington Nationals: Relief Pitcher

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    -1.2 1.2 0

    Oh, don't look so surprised.

    The Washington Nationals bullpen has been a blight on an otherwise stupendous team. It has the second-worst ERA in MLB and, not so coincidentally, has had a penchant for meltdowns.

    "We need help," manager Dusty Baker said in May, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today. "It's tough when you take leads late in the game and can't hold it.”

    The situation isn't entirely without hope. Washington's bullpen at least has some good arms, notably belonging to Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley and Enny Romero.

    All the same, what it really needs is a stud relief ace. Plenty of those should be available in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. It's all but guaranteed that the Nationals will spring for one.

Houston Astros: Relief Pitcher*

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images
    Current WARExpected Primary WARExpected WAR
    3.23.51.0

    What do you get a team that seemingly already has everything?

    Good question, but another relief pitcher is indeed a valid suggestion.

    The Astros haven't been weighed down by bad bullpen work this season, but their relief core is an imperfect unit. Around standouts like Chris Devenski, Will Harris and Michael Feliz are inconsistent performers, including flame-throwing closer Ken Giles.

    What's more likely, however, is that the Astros will move to shore up their rotation.

    It's also been good, but it's another mixed bag of individual performances. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers have been terrific. Otherwise, Houston's starting pitching has produced a 4.52 ERA.

    So expect the Astros to be in on all the big names. Jose Quintana. Gerrit Cole. Chris Archer. Sonny Gray. And so on. When you're on a mission like theirs, you don't cut corners.

          

    Data courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.