Each MLB Team's Most Critical Goal Before Trade Deadline Expires
The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is nigh, and every team in Major League Baseball has priorities to fulfill before it passes.
We're only considering the biggest goal for each of MLB's 30 clubs. For contenders, this covers upgrades. For everyone else, it encompasses how they can best use the trade market to bolster their chances of future contention.
We'll go in alphabetical order by city.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Acquire an Impact Bat
The latter did, however, get an upgrade when Arizona acquired Matt Andriese on Wednesday. Now it's on the front office to take care of the former before it slumps again.
Even after their failed pursuit of Manny Machado, the D-backs can still find plenty of hitters on the trade market. A deal with the Minnesota Twins, for example, could bring back Eduardo Escobar or Brian Dozier. Alternatively, they could dial up the New York Mets about Asdrubal Cabrera.
Any of the above would give Arizona something close to the middle infield upgrade it sought in the Machado sweepstakes. With the star infielder now in the National League West with the Los Angeles Dodgers, such an upgrade is more of a necessity than a luxury.
Atlanta Braves: Acquire a Controllable Impact Reliever
The Atlanta Braves can't go wrong with any deadline additions, and they know it. General manager Alex Anthopoulos told Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio that starters, relievers and hitters are all in the cards.
If one of those areas takes precedence, it should be relievers.
Atlanta's bullpen has a modest 4.20 ERA for the season and a 4.93 ERA over the last 30 days. And according to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, hard-throwing closer Arodys Vizcaino is still weeks away from throwing as he seeks to recover from shoulder inflammation.
Another nugget from Anthopoulos' interview is that the team is only interested in acquiring controllable players. Newly acquired left-hander Jonny Venters doesn't fit the bill. Raisel Iglesias, Kirby Yates, Kyle Barraclough and Keone Kela are a few guys who would.
Any one of them would go a long way toward helping the Braves reclaim NL East supremacy.
Baltimore Orioles: Acquire More Pitching Prospects
The Baltimore Orioles landed two brand-name prospects in the Machado and Zach Britton trades: outfielder Yusniel Diaz and right-hander Dillon Tate.
They still need to add prospects, however. Particularly of the pitching variety.
Whereas Diaz, Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle could form the core of Baltimore's offense in short order, the makeup of their future pitching staff isn't as clear. Tate should be along soon, but DL Hall, 19, and Grayson Rodriguez, 18, are still teenagers, and Hunter Harvey can't stay healthy.
The Orioles should shoot for more young arms in the trades they have left to make. That will almost certainly involve moving Adam Jones and Brad Brach, and could extend to Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. The more arms the Orioles can get for them, the better.
Boston Red Sox: Acquire an Impact Reliever
Now that the Boston Red Sox have Nathan Eovaldi, their starting pitching depth looks a lot better.
They need to apply that same kind of effort to their bullpen.
Based on the relief corps' 3.39 ERA, it wouldn't seem to be an Achilles' heel. But it lacks an ace setup man who can help get the ball to closer Craig Kimbrel. Joe Kelly was the best in-house candidate for the role at the start of the year, but he's fallen off with a 9.98 ERA since June.
According to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick, the Red Sox are on the lookout for substantial fixes there. Targets include Barraclough, and even Rockies closer Wade Davis. Per Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, Iglesias is another.
Even if the Red Sox lack the capital to acquire guys like these, at least they're on the right track.
Chicago Cubs: Acquire a Reliever
The Chicago Cubs no longer have any glaring needs after MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported they added Cole Hamels to their rotation Thursday. But while they're adding pitching, they might as well get a reliever, too.
Although Chicago's bullpen has been a lot more reliable in 2018 than it was in 2017, it's not getting better with time:
- March/April: 2.56 ERA
- May: 2.79 ERA
- June: 4.01 ERA
- July: 3.87 ERA
Moreover, the Cubs bullpen is missing its closer. Brandon Morrow is on the disabled list with biceps inflammation.
This should be Chicago's cue to pursue some unspectacular yet solid relievers. Possible candidates include Brach, Fernando Rodney, Tyler Clippard, John Axford and Brad Ziegler.
Chicago White Sox: Acquire High-Floor Pitchers
Now that Joakim Soria is on the move, the Chicago White Sox could be gearing up for a quiet trade deadline. But if they do make more swaps, they should try to get back some high-floor arms.
To this point in their rebuild, they've mostly hitched their wagon to pitchers with big stuff and, thus, big potential. It's a fine idea in theory, but the initial returns aren't encouraging.
Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Covey and Carson Fulmer have been varying degrees of disappointing in the majors. Meanwhile, Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen have hit bumps in the road to the big leagues. Kodi Medeiros, acquired from the Brewers in the Soria trade, is still recovering from bumps in his own road.
It's too soon to give up on any of these guys, but their struggles have shone a light on their uncertain futures as starting pitchers. That should be Chicago's cue to bring in some unspectacular yet capable hurlers who project as reliable starters.
Cincinnati Reds: Acquire MLB-Ready Pitchers
According to Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cincinnati Reds are already planning to increase payroll in 2019.
That's not the worst idea. They've turned a corner under interim manager Jim Riggleman, and all but one of their players (Matt Harvey) are under control through next season.
But as evidenced by their rotation's 5.21 ERA, the Reds need to find hope for their starting pitching staff. There's good talent there (Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle), but it needs help to carry the load until top prospect Hunter Greene is ready for his close-up.
The Reds might be able to get back an MLB-ready pitcher for Harvey. But they'll have a better chance of doing so if they put Iglesias or infielder Scooter Gennett on the market. Even if that compromises their 2019 plans, they could be glad they did in later years.
Cleveland Indians: Upgrade Their Outfield
Following their trade with the Padres for Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, the Cleveland Indians have a bullpen that's poised to go from a major weakness to a major stretch-run strength.
Their outfield requires similar treatment.
Michael Brantley has been A-OK in left field, but Cleveland has gotten minus-0.2 wins above replacement out of center field and right field, according to Baseball Reference. The Indians have already tried to fix these positions with an array of in-house options, but nothing's worked.
According to Morosi, Cleveland's emerged as a serious contender for Jones. The 32-year-old is no longer in his prime, but he's still a capable hitter and playable in center field. Plus, his experience and leadership qualities would mesh well with the Indians' championship aspirations.
Alternatively, they could go for Leonys Martin or Curtis Granderson.
Colorado Rockies: Upgrade Their Lineup
The Colorado Rockies have thrived with hot July pitching, and their bullpen just got a substantial upgrade Thursday in Seunghwan Oh.
With that done, their lineup is most in need of immediate upgrades.
Although Colorado's offense has gotten hotter as the year has progressed, the gaping holes are easy to spot. The Rockies have received negative WAR from catcher, first base and all three outfield spots. With DJ LeMahieu back on the disabled list (oblique strain), second base is another position the Rockies must consider.
The best idea might be for them to get one guy who can fill in at most of those positions. In other words, they have an excuse to call the Kansas City Royals about Whit Merrifield.
Detroit Tigers: Acquire Hitting Prospects
The Detroit Tigers' rebuild could be going worse. To wit, they have four prospects in Baseball America's top 100.
There's just one complication: All four are pitchers.
That reflects how aggressively the Tigers have pursued arms in their quest to regain their footing in the AL Central, and it's far from the worst idea in the world. Still, their young arms won't count for much if there isn't a solid lineup behind them.
Granted, the Tigers may not be able to add any blue-chip hitters unless they deal Michael Fulmer or Nicholas Castellanos, which seems unlikely. But if nothing else, they can target sleeper prospects in trades of Martin, Mike Fiers, Francisco Liriano and/or Jose Iglesias.
Kansas City Royals: Acquire Blue-Chip Prospects
Meanwhile in Kansas City, the Royals' quest to regain their own footing in the AL Central needs a lot of work.
They entered 2018 with MLB's worst farm system, per B/R's Joel Reuter. It got better when they drafted right-hander Brady Singer with the No. 18 pick, but he's the only player they have in Baseball America's top 100.
This calls for the Royals to target legit blue-chip prospects in trades. As long as they're willing to part with some of their best major leaguers, that might be doable.
Merrifield, for example, could bring back a top prospect or two. So could Danny Duffy, who's rebounded with a 2.58 ERA over his last 11 starts. It could be harder to score in a trade of Mike Moustakas, but the "tremendous interest" that he's drawing, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, can only help.
Houston Astros: Acquire an Impact Reliever
The Houston Astros have the AL West under wraps, so they can turn their attention to October needs.
First on that list: a relief ace.
Although Houston's bullpen is doing fine with a 2.96 ERA, it's had late-inning difficulties. Most of those stemmed from Ken Giles, who flamed out as both a closer and a setup man before being demoted to Triple-A.
Per Fancred's Jon Heyman, the Astros were in on Britton before he ended up on the New York Yankees. That's a shame, because he would have fit their needs well.
Rather than give up, the Astros could go for the nuclear option: Iglesias. They've shown past interest in the right-hander, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, and they're one of few teams with enough prospect depth to entice the Reds into a deal.
Los Angeles Angels: Trim Payroll
The Los Angeles Angels have fallen out of contention, yet they're too good to deal their controllable stars, and none of their pending free agents have much trade value.
The only thing the Angels can hope to do is cut as much payroll as possible.
Alas, there's next to zero hope they'll dump Albert Pujols. But the Angels cut a little payroll when they shipped catcher Martin Maldonado to Houston on Thursday. They might be able to do the same with fellow free-agents-to-be Ian Kinsler, Jim Johnson and Chris Young. Among their controllable players, Luis Valbuena and Kole Calhoun are possible cuts.
Whatever money the Angels can save could only help their prospects for a productive offseason. Since 2019 will be Mike Trout's penultimate year before free agency, clearing money is a must.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Acquire Pitching Depth
The Dodgers have already scored Machado. What more could they ask for?
Not much, if we're being honest. But pitching depth wouldn't hurt.
In general, depth has been the name of the game as the Dodgers have racked up an NL-best 3.56 ERA. Clayton Kershaw isn't what he once was, but there are many good pitchers around him, and manager Dave Roberts has done an excellent job of mixing and matching them.
Even still, it should worry the Dodgers that this approach has taxed their bullpen for 386 innings, which is tied for fourth-most in MLB. That workload could come back to bite them if they go deep into October.
Adding a reliever would be the most direct way to address this issue. But if the Dodgers can find a solid innings-eater to plug into their rotation, that would work, too.
Miami Marlins: Acquire Blue-Chip Prospects
The Miami Marlins don't have it quite as bad as the Royals, but they need ballast for their own rebuild.
The biggest benefit the Marlins got out of trading Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon over the winter was payroll relief. Lewis Brinson was the only elite prospect they got, and his rookie year has been a massive disappointment.
On the plus side, the Marlins are still flush with trade chips.
J.T. Realmuto, who is awesome, could bring back multiple elite prospects if the Marlins trade him. If not, they could make up the difference by dealing Derek Dietrich, Justin Bour, Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider and/or Adam Conley to help their farm system take a drastic step in the right direction.
Milwaukee Brewers: Acquire a Starting Pitcher
Adding Soria to their bullpen is a good start. But if the Milwaukee Brewers want to avoid slipping any further in the NL Central race, they must get a starting pitcher.
Granted, the numbers could be worse. Milwaukee's rotation has a 3.86 ERA, and a 3.69 mark in July.
The Brewers rotation has had depth issues from the beginning, however, and things aren't getting any better. Brent Suter needs Tommy John surgery. Zach Davies suffered a setback in his return from back and shoulder injuries. Meanwhile, Jimmy Nelson is slowly working his way back from shoulder surgery.
According to Crasnick, the Brewers have checked in with the Reds about Harvey, who would help solve a problem that cannot go unsolved.
Minnesota Twins: Acquire MLB-Ready Talent
Of all the teams that will be open for business in the final days before the deadline, few are as well-stocked as the Minnesota Twins.
At the least, they'll look to rent out Escobar, Dozier, Lance Lynn and Zach Duke. They can also offer Logan Morrison and Rodney, who have options for 2019.
And yet, the Twins won't look to blow it up and go into a rebuilding phase. They're more in a position to retool for next season, when they can hope to rally around guys such as Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. All they'll need is depth.
For that, the best thing they can do is make trades for MLB-ready players. If they can pull it off, they might have a comeback season in store for 2019.
New York Mets: Acquire MLB-Ready Talent
The New York Mets are in the same boat as the Twins.
The organization has fallen into disarray since a promising 11-1 start to 2018. In the meantime, it's sitting on one of MLB's worst farm systems. These things arguably signal it's time to rebuild, starting with trades of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard.
But as Joel Sherman of the New York Post covered, Mets ownership isn't interested in tearing the team down and slowly building it back up. The trade of Jeurys Familia was a clear indication the Mets are willing to deal their impending free agents, but their controllable stars are probably safe.
If so, the Mets don't have much choice but to try to swap out their rentals for players they can use in the short-term future. It's the only way their refusal to rebuild can pay off.
New York Yankees: Acquire a Catcher
The New York Yankees entered the week in need of pitching, but trades for Britton and J.A. Happ took care of that.
According to Sherman, they are now positioned to pursue catching depth or, if opportunity knocks, a high-end starting pitcher. At this point, only the former qualifies as a true need.
Per Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, slugging catcher Gary Sanchez won't return from his aggravated groin injury until late August or early September. In the meantime, the position will be entrusted to Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka.
The Yankees need not go out and get a star on the level of Realmuto. But they could easily pursue a capable veteran who would be helpful now and after Sanchez's return. A.J. Ellis and Devin Mesoraco are two possibilities.
Oakland Athletics: Acquire More Pitching Depth
The Oakland A's can't seem to lose. And now that Familia is alongside Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen, they have a heck of a bullpen.
They just need to address their starting rotation.
Although Sean Manaea has been a rock and the A's have gotten strong returns out of Trevor Cahill, Frankie Montas and Edwin Jackson, their rotation has been a revolving door that's produced a pedestrian 4.35 ERA. It could use a dose of reliability.
According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, the A's aren't in the market for a top-of-the-rotation starter. They're more out for a veteran innings-eater who wouldn't require them to sacrifice too much of their farm system.
Somebody like Lynn, for example, could be perfect.
Philadelphia Phillies: Acquire an Impact Bat
The Philadelphia Phillies have climbed to the top of the NL East despite living with an offense that's been unable to catch fire.
Philly's attack hasn't done better than a .729 OPS in any individual month, and it's down to .689 in July. Maikel Franco and Nick Williams have come on strong, but Rhys Hoskins has been just OK, and Odubel Herrera and Carlos Santana have gone cold.
According to Morosi, the Phillies were the favorites for Machado at one point. That obviously didn't pan out. But since the position has produced a .622 OPS this season, the Phillies should stay focused on acquiring a shortstop.
They can't do any better than Escobar in this regard. And according to Heyman, they are indeed interested in the Twins star.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Acquire Pitchers with Upside
Just when the Pittsburgh Pirates seemed to be on their way to selling at the deadline, they climbed right back into the NL playoff race with 13 wins in 16 games.
"We would love to add," GM Neal Huntington said, per Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "If there's something out there that makes sense and makes us better, we're absolutely open to that."
The Pirates are better off upgrading their pitching staff instead of their offense. Whereas the latter features a good mix of depth and upside, the former has plenty of depth but less upside.
But since the Pirates are only playing for a wild-card spot, they must not get too ambitious with their pitching search. Their best play would be to target low-risk, high-reward hurlers (Harvey or Zack Wheeler) and to see if pitching coach Ray Searage can unlock the "high-reward" part.
San Diego Padres: Acquire MLB-Ready Pitching
When they traded Hand and Cimber to Cleveland, the San Diego Padres added elite catching prospect Francisco Mejia to a farm system that was already teeming with talent.
But if there's something missing from San Diego's blueprints to become a contender soon, it's MLB-ready pitching.
Joey Lucchesi looks like a keeper, but the Padres have gotten just a 4.95 ERA out of their starting rotation despite his strong work. And among their top pitching prospects, only Chris Paddack and Logan Allen seem close to jumping from the minors to the majors.
The Padres have been linked to luminaries such as deGrom (Sherman), Fulmer (The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal) and Chris Archer (Morosi), but trades for any of them are extreme long shots. The Padres have a better chance of getting an MLB-ready arm for Tyson Ross or Kirby Yates.
San Francisco Giants: Stay Under the Luxury Tax
There may be no team in a less enviable position than the San Francisco Giants in the run-up to July 31.
They're technically in contention, but there are several clubs ahead of them in both the NL West and wild-card races. And while they should buy in theory, it'll be difficult in reality because of their weak farm system and proximity to the $197 million luxury-tax threshold.
Thus, we propose the Giants' best play is to do nothing.
Maybe this won't lead to a playoff spot, but it's all but certain to keep them under the luxury tax. That would reset their penalties for going over the threshold in the future, which is in their interest if they plan on signing somebody like, say, Bryce Harper this winter.
In other words: The Giants should live with a mediocre team now for the sake of building a better one later.
Seattle Mariners: Acquire a High-End Starter
The Seattle Mariners are in line for their first postseason appearance in 17 years. But because of their 15-16 record since June 17 and the rise of the A's, it's far from guaranteed.
Nothing can boost their chances as much as a brand-new top-of-the-rotation starter.
The Mariners already have a staff ace in James Paxton, but even he hasn't been exempt from the slump the club's rotation has fallen into in July. And while Felix Hernandez will come back from a sore back eventually, nobody should expect the King Felix of old to walk through that door.
St. Louis Cardinals: Trim Payroll
The St. Louis Cardinals had high hopes coming into 2018. But through a series of mishaps and calamities, those hopes have been all but dashed.
Like the Angels, however, the Cardinals have few rentals to cash in and too much talent to consider going into a full-on rebuild. Thus, the best thing they can do is trim their payroll ahead of what must be a fruitful offseason.
As far as rentals go, the Cardinals can offload Bud Norris and might be able to do the same with Greg Holland. Even better would be finding homes for players with problematic contracts, such as Dexter Fowler, Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong.
Then there's the bold option: Trade the red-hot Matt Carpenter while his value is at an all-time high.
Tampa Bay Rays: Acquire More MLB-Ready Talent
The Tampa Bay Rays are operating like rebuilders. July 31 isn't even here, yet they've already traded Denard Span, Alex Colome, Brad Miller, Eovaldi and Andriese.
Despite all this, however, the Rays aren't positioned for a long, depressing climb back toward relevancy.
They're relevant right now, and they've sought to acquire players who can help keep them that way. Most of the trade pieces they've gotten back (Andrew Moore, Ji-Man Choi, Jalen Beeks and Michael Perez) are MLB-ready.
The Rays should and can stick to this template in other deals. Archer is the big chip they've yet to cash in. If they choose to hold on to him, there's always Wilson Ramos, Adeiny Hechavarria, Sergio Romo and Carlos Gomez—all of whom are impending free agents.
Texas Rangers: Acquire Pitching Prospects
The Texas Rangers aren't going anywhere this season, and the only way they'll go anywhere in the future is if they add pitching to their farm system.
Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Elvis Andrus will be around for a while, and slugging prospect Willie Calhoun will also be a mainstay if he proves he can field. Elsewhere in Texas' farm system are two younger outfielders with loads of talent: Leody Taveras, 19, and Julio Pablo Martinez, 22.
Things are grimmer on the pitching side. Hans Crouse, 19, and Cole Winn, 18, have loads of potential, but they're both teenagers. Otherwise, the Rangers are short on pitching talent.
That gives them something to shoot for as they seek to cash in their trade chips. Since the Hamels deal was primarily a salary dump, their best chance to do so now may be in trades of controllable relievers like Keone Kela and Jose Leclerc.
Toronto Blue Jays: Trim Payroll
The Toronto Blue Jays are another team that can be defended for not seeming terribly interested in diving into a full-on rebuild.
Their season hasn't been that big of a disaster, after all, and they have quite a few stars under their control beyond 2018. Factor in how top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are pounding on the door, and they have most of what they need to rebound in 2019.
The Blue Jays will only need to find the rest this winter. That will require as much spending flexibility as they can muster. Thus, their top priority in the meantime is cutting as much payroll as possible.
After the Jays moved Happ to the Yankees, Curtis Granderson, Marco Estrada and perhaps even Josh Donaldson could be next.
Washington Nationals: Acquire a Catcher
Although the Washington Nationals' postseason hopes seem to be getting dimmer by the day, the team isn't about to wave a white flag.
"We are back-to-back champs and have won four of the last six. We are the team to beat. We are the champs until someone knocks us off," Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said of their NL East standing, according to Sherman.
Fair enough. But it would help if the Nats didn't take a single step further before acquiring a new catcher.
This is as good of an excuse as any for Washington to go all-out for Realmuto. If not, it could settle for Ramos and hope his hamstrings are healthy enough for him to contribute down the stretch.