The Biggest Trade Needs for Each 2018 MLB Contender
Major League Baseball's July 31 trade deadline is drawing ever closer, so contenders had better get their shopping lists ready.
In case they need it, we're here to provide help.
We'll look at the biggest trade needs for each of the 17 contenders—any club over .500 or, apart from the woeful Minnesota Twins, within five games of a playoff spot—around MLB. These are weaknesses that stick out like the sorest of thumbs and for which there are no readily available in-house solutions.
We'll go in alphabetical order by city.
Note: Records and stats are accurate through play on Tuesday, June 12.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Middle-Infield Bat
At long last, the Arizona Diamondbacks offense is coming around.
It has an .888 OPS in June. This is mainly Paul Goldschmidt's doing, but he's gotten strong support from the likes of Jake Lamb, David Peralta, Ketel Marte, Nick Ahmed and Daniel Descalso.
And yet, this is still mostly the same offense that exited May with a ghastly .662 OPS. That raises a question of sustainability that should lead Arizona to the hitting market.
On paper, catcher (.630 OPS) and right field (.503 OPS) are the best places for the D-backs to seek upgrades. However, they must not downplay the excellent defense they're getting out of Jeff Mathis and John Ryan Murphy behind the plate. They can also look forward to getting Steven Souza Jr. back from a pectoral injury.
Instead, second base (.704 OPS) and shortstop (.727 OPS) would be better spots for upgrades. As good as Marte and Ahmed have been lately, their bats can't be trusted to keep providing.
Arizona's offense would look better with, say, a Manny Machado or a Brian Dozier in one of their spots.
Atlanta Braves: Third Base
Because they already rank at or near the top of the National League in every major offensive category, the Atlanta Braves would arguably be better off pursuing pitching ahead of the trade deadline.
Indeed, they shouldn't shy away from doing so. They could use a rock for their starting rotation. Their bullpen is good, but it could be better.
And yet, third base has been an area of uncertainty in Atlanta for much of the season.
It's been a revolving door through which Ryan Flaherty, Johan Camargo, Charlie Culberson and even Jose Bautista have gone. That's a not-so-fantastic four. And with hot-shot prospect Austin Riley due to be out for a while with a knee injury, a long-term answer isn't walking through that door soon.
Luckily for the Braves, they have plenty of trade options.
Even if a move from shortstop back to third base isn't what he wants, Machado is one of them. Outside of him, there's Josh Donaldson, Mike Moustakas and Adrian Beltre. Any of the four would be a mere rental who wouldn't get in the way of the Braves' plans beyond 2018.
Boston Red Sox: Catcher
The Boston Red Sox could use a pitcher or two. Meanwhile, the health of Dustin Pedroia's knee (or lack thereof) and Rafael Devers' offensive struggles have raised questions about second and third base.
But of the many needs the Red Sox have, none is bigger than catcher.
To give credit where it's due, Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon are a fine defensive duo. But they and other Boston catchers (that's you, Blake Swihart) have combined on just a .589 OPS. Only two teams' catchers have been more futile at the plate.
In a normal season, the Red Sox's MLB-leading 46 wins would be an excuse to leave well enough alone. But in this season, they're struggling to pull away from the New York Yankees in the American League East. Ultimately, they may have to go through the Yankees and the Houston Astros to get to the World Series.
It behooves the Red Sox to make their roster as ironclad as possible. They can do that with a trade for Miami's J.T. Realmuto, Tampa Bay's Wilson Ramos, Oakland's Jonathan Lucroy or Pittsburgh's Francisco Cervelli.
Chicago Cubs: Starting Pitcher
The Chicago Cubs have by far the NL's best run differential at plus-90, so the recent hot streak that's boosted them close to first place in the NL Central was probably inevitable.
They don't need a whole lot to maintain their position. Their lineup is excellent. Their bullpen is solid. Their rotation is fine, and it's going to get Yu Darvish (triceps) back eventually.
Still, it would be best if the Cubs didn't trust Tyler Chatwood to retain his rotation slot.
Per his 3.98 ERA, he's been solid in the 13 starts he's made. But with 58 walks in 63.1 innings, he's too often flirted with danger of his own making.
According to ESPN.com's Jesse Rogers, Chatwood is trying to get on track via changes in his delivery. He made progress in walking just two batters in five innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday. But since his previous four starts included 22 walks in 15.1 innings, nothing should be taken for granted with his control.
The Cubs don't need to go get an ace, but they would be better with a strike-thrower such as Bartolo Colon or Doug Fister in their rotation.
Cleveland Indians: Relief Pitcher(s)
In 2017, Cleveland Indians relievers finished with the MLB's best ERA at 2.89.
In 2018, their ERA is up nearly three runs to 5.61. That's the worst in MLB.
What's going on here? It's a long yet simple story. Cody Allen has been ineffective. Andrew Miller has been ineffective and hurt (knee). To put it bluntly, everyone else has just plain stunk.
Trade needs don't get more obvious than this one. The Indians must address their bullpen this summer, preferably with more than one reliever.
From Kelvin Herrera to Zach Britton to Brad Hand to Raisel Iglesias, there are plenty of high-end options for them to pursue. They could also target lesser options such as Joakim Soria, Craig Stammen and Nate Jones.
It's also worth pointing out that the Indians could use an upgrade at second base and an extra bat for their outfield, preferably a right-handed one.
For now, the good news for Cleveland is that the rest of the AL Central isn't putting any heat on them. But if they want to compete with the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros, they have much to do.
Colorado Rockies: Relief Pitcher(s)
Given that the Colorado Rockies are heading toward the worst OPS (.724) in franchise history, this slide could just as easily involve a plea for bats.
However, Rockies hitters have warmed up with the weather:
- March/April: .676 OPS
- May: .757 OPS
- June: .770 OPS
A more pressing problem nowadays is the team's pitching staff has gone awry. Particularly in the bullpen, which has struggled with a 5.92 ERA over the last 30 days. With Adam Ottavino hurt (oblique) and Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee struggling, Wade Davis is the only reliable reliever the Rockies have.
Since their bullpen is already costing them a fortune, the Rockies probably shouldn't veer toward any long-term commitments on the trade market. Luckily for them, the list of available rentals covers Herrera, Britton, Brad Brach, Tyler Clippard, Brad Ziegler and quite a few others.
They should be able to find a quick fix or two. It's either that, or they can continue to fade in the NL West race.
Houston Astros: Relief Pitcher(s)
Although the Houston Astros have fallen behind the Seattle Mariners in the AL West, they shouldn't worry too much. Their plus-130 run differential is more trustworthy than Seattle's 21-9 record in one-run games.
Even still, the Astros should at least be focused on stabilizing their bullpen.
Based on their 2.94 ERA, Houston relievers have been a more-than-worthy support group for one of the best starting rotations in MLB history. They've done little for the club's win probability, however, and that points to the issues they've had closing games.
This is mainly Ken Giles' doing, so for now the Astros have the right idea in trusting Hector Rondon to close games in his place. He used to close for the Cubs, and he's having a terrific season, so why not?
But if Rondon also fumbles the closer's role, the Astros will need to find someone who can fill it on the trade market. If he doesn't, they'll have to seek a solid replacement in the setup role that Rondon had been occupying before moving into the ninth inning.
To these ends, any of the usual suspects would work.
Los Angeles Angels: Left-Handed Hitter
Even if he doesn't need to have Tommy John surgery, Shohei Ohtani and his wounded elbow cast a shadow over the Los Angeles Angels offense and pitching staff.
The latter should have enough depth the soldier on. The former? Less so. The Angels offense was top-heavy to begin with. With Ohtani out, it's basically up to Mike Trout and Justin Upton to carry the load.
Ohtani's absence also threatens to expose the lack of lineup balance. He had been the only productive left-handed presence in a sea of right-handed batters, after all.
The catch is the Angels lack obvious places to install a new left-handed bat, but there are ways they can make do.
Moustakas, for example, could platoon with Zack Cozart and Albert Pujols at third and first base. Rather than trust that Kole Calhoun (oblique) will put his early-season slump behind him when he comes off the disabled list, the Angels could go for a new regular in right field such as Scott Schebler or, at worst, Jay Bruce.
The sooner the Angels act, the better. Neither the AL West race nor the wild-card race will wait for them.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Starting Pitcher(s)
After slumbering through April and May, the Los Angeles Dodgers offense is going supernova with a .997 OPS in June. That's helped boost them to within striking distance of the D-backs in the NL West.
Now all they need are warm bodies for their starting rotation.
The Dodgers started the year with plenty of pitching depth, but it's steadily been whittled away by injuries to Clayton Kershaw (back), Rich Hill (blister), Hyun-Jin Ryu (groin), Walker Buehler (rib) and Dennis Santana (rotator cuff). Their rotation is down to Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, Kenta Maeda and whoever they can dig up when those three can't pitch.
One silver lining is the Dodgers should at least get Kershaw, Hill and Buehler back before the July 31 trade deadline. But at this point, they should know better than to trust that everything will be hunky dory on the injury front. Moves must be made.
Although the Dodgers are one of very few teams that might have enough for Jacob deGrom, they don't need to go that big in their hunt for pitching depth. A veteran innings-eater such as Colon or Fister would suffice. If they wanted to splurge, they could try for Tyson Ross or J.A. Happ.
Milwaukee Brewers: Starting Pitcher
In most respects, the Milwaukee Brewers are deserving of the National League's best record.
Their starting pitching, however, remains a relative weakness. Their starters have a 4.04 ERA and are handling 5.2 innings per start.
The individual pieces are mostly fine, and even quite good in the case of Junior Guerra. But no thanks to Chase Anderson's regression from his 2017 breakout and Jimmy Nelson's slow recovery from shoulder surgery, Milwaukee's rotation suffers from a shortage of quality.
If ever there were a team that should trade for an ace, the Brewers are it. Their standing in the NL playoff race justifies such a drastic move, and they should have enough young talent in their coffers to get something done.
A trade for deGrom is at least an outside possibility. In lieu of him, the Brewers might go after Cole Hamels or (if healthy) Chris Archer, who has an abdominal strain.
If they can get something done, their final stop may be the franchise's first World Series since 1982.
New York Yankees: Starting Pitcher
The Yankees have won nearly 70 percent of their games despite the fact that Luis Severino has been their only reliable starting pitcher.
In fact, he's been a fair deal more than just "reliable." Severino is once again contending for the AL Cy Young Award with a 2.27 ERA through 14 starts.
The other starters the Yankees have run out there, however, have combined on a 4.40 ERA. That's including Jordan Montgomery, who's having Tommy John surgery. It also includes Masahiro Tanaka, who's on the disabled list with strained hamstrings.
Per Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, general manager Brian Cashman came right out and said it in May: "I feel like we need pitching, more than anything else."
At the least, the Yankees need to get one or two guys who could provide stability for the back end of their rotation. Even better would be a top-of-the-rotation type who could pair with Severino to form an unstoppable duo.
Nobody fits the bill like deGrom. If the Yankees can't get him, there's always Hamels and maybe even Michael Fulmer.
Oakland Athletics: Starting Pitcher(s)
Are the Oakland Athletics a contender, though?
It's debatable. Although they're over .500, they're only on the peripheries of the AL West and wild-card races. Between that and their everlasting obligation to be pragmatic, they're most likely to sell at the deadline.
In the event the A's are compelled to buy, however, they'll need starting pitching.
They've used 11 different starters in 2018, and their efforts have led to a modest 4.17 ERA. With Sean Manaea and Daniel Mengden showing their mortality of late and Trevor Cahill ticketed for the DL with an Achilles injury, hope is in short supply.
The most A's thing the A's can do to solve this problem is target guys who could benefit from moving into their power-suppressing home ballpark. That list includes old friends Colon and Dan Straily, plus Marco Estrada and Josh Tomlin and, if they feel like reaching, perhaps even Danny Duffy.
In all probability, the A's are in for a quiet deadline. But their buying is one for the "Stranger Things Have Happened" file.
Philadelphia Phillies: Any Kind of Offense
The Philadelphia Phillies offense is crumbling.
It wasn't particularly good to begin with, as it exited May with a .713 OPS. But now it's in the dumps with a .558 OPS in June. That's been no help to the team, as it's fallen into a 3-7 slump.
As far as where the Phillies might seek to upgrade their offense, they couldn't go wrong in seeking help at right field (.543 OPS), catcher (.624 OPS), shortstop (.647 OPS) or third base (.698 OPS).
But if they had their druthers, it sounds like the Phillies would prefer to upgrade at shortstop by trading for Machado. According to Jon Heyman of FRS Sports, the Phillies "love" Machado and have already reached out to the Baltimore Orioles about a trade.
No argument here. The Phillies need the best hitter they can get, and that's Machado.
If they can't get him, they could just as easily try to pluck from the bountiful third base and catching markets. If they prefer to target a right fielder, Miguel Cabrera's season-ending injury may make the Detroit Tigers amenable to dealing Nicholas Castellanos.
San Francisco Giants: Starting Pitcher(s)
The San Francisco Giants should be relieved to have Madison Bumgarner back, yet also worried that his return alone won't fix their starting rotation.
Outside of some early brilliance from the now-injured Johnny Cueto (elbow), it's been a wreck that's produced just a 4.68 ERA and 5.2 innings per start. Such is life when too many walks are crossed with not enough strikeouts, with an assist from an inefficient defense.
Whether the Giants even can pursue substantial improvements on the trade market is a good question. They're short on impact prospects to deal, and they may not be willing to go even further over the $197 million luxury tax threshold.
Like the A's, however, their best solution may be to target overlooked pitchers who could benefit from a move into AT&T Park. Due to their cheap salaries, Colon, Straily and Tomlin would be the best targets in this regard.
If the Giants change nothing, they may be doomed to continue treading water in the NL West and wild-card races.
Seattle Mariners: Center Fielder
With their offense, pitching and defense all functioning well during their recent hot stretch, the Seattle Mariners don't have many serious needs to fill on the trade market.
However, they did lose their presumed center fielder when they moved Dee Gordon to second base to fill in for the suspended Robinson Cano. According to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, things are going to stay that way.
Guillermo Heredia is doing his best to fill the center field void, but he has just a .703 OPS since taking the reins from Gordon in May. He's also doing little to solve the team's defensive shortcomings at the position.
A reunion with old friend Leonys Martin would be the most practical way for the Mariners to kill two birds with a single stone. He's always been a good fielder, and now he's hitting well with a .796 OPS for the Tigers.
If the Mariners prefer to scratch the offensive itch, they could go for a reunion with another old friend: Adam Jones. For the defensive itch, they could reach out to the Cincinnati Reds about Billy Hamilton.
No matter how the Mariners fill this need, it could be what punches their ticket to their first postseason since 2001.
St. Louis Cardinals: Relief Pitcher(s)
The St. Louis Cardinals could use some help for an offense that ranks 10th in the National League in runs and OPS.
But they don't need to dive into the trade market to find it. Marcell Ozuna and Matt Carpenter are already coming around. Dexter Fowler should eventually do the same. And at some point, slugging shortstop Paul DeJong is going to come off the DL (fractured left hand).
Instead, the Cardinals must look to their bullpen.
If it feels like it's been even worse than its 4.47 ERA indicates, well, it's not just you. Rookie right-hander Jordan Hicks, he of the multiple 105 mph fastballs, has been a bright spot with a 2.06 ERA in 31 appearances. It's mostly been a struggle for everyone else. And at this point, there should be concern about how much more pressure Hicks' golden arm can take.
The Cardinals should be in on all the top relievers on the trade market, but perhaps none more so than Britton. They need the left-hander's late-inning expertise. They could also use him as a weapon against the NL's many talented lefty hitters.
Washington Nationals: Catcher
For a team that's on a 25-12 run since April 29, the Washington Nationals sure do have a lot of red flags. Many of them are related to injuries that should put them on the prowl for extra hitters and pitchers.
If the team has a singular need, however, it's behind the plate.
According to FanGraphs, Nationals catchers finished dead last in wins above replacement last season. They haven't been much better in 2018, with the biggest problem being they haven't hit. Their .583 OPS is ahead of only the Minnesota Twins' mark.
It's no wonder that, according to Heyman, the Nats are keeping their eye on Realmuto. If they can't get him, they could do a lot worse than a reunion with Ramos or a deal for Lucroy or Cervelli.
In lieu of a trade, Washington's options are to live with Pedro Severino's solid defense and/or whatever offense they can squeeze out of Matt Wieters (hamstring) once he returns from the DL.
Assuming this team still has championship aspirations, it should aim higher.