One Move Each MLB Contender Can Still Make to Fix Its Biggest Flaw
The non-waiver trade deadline has passed, but it's not too late for MLB contenders to address remaining shortcomings.
Whether it's an August waiver trade or an in-house prospect promotion, teams still have options to upgrade for the stretch run. With that in mind, ahead is a look at one move that each MLB contender can make to fix its biggest roster flaw.
It's worth noting that to be eligible for the playoffs, traded players will either need to clear waivers or be claimed on or before August 31.
Note: To be considered a contender, teams needed to have at least a 10 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to the latest projections from FanGraphs.
Boston Red Sox: Trade for LHP Francisco Liriano
Prior to moving Drew Pomeranz into a relief role, the Red Sox bullpen featured eight right-handed pitchers. The inexperienced duo of Bobby Poyner and Robby Scott are the only other lefty relievers on the 40-man roster.
Even if Pomeranz takes to the new role—far from a sure thing given his unsightly 6.31 ERA as a starter this season—the staff would still benefit from adding another proven southpaw.
Francisco Liriano has already cleared waivers, and he found himself heading to a contender in a similar situation last season when he joined the World Series-bound Houston Astros in a July 31 trade.
His 4.37 ERA and 1.42 WHIP this season while working primarily as a starter are nothing special, but he's held lefties to a .125 average and .441 OPS over 72 plate appearances. He looks like a perfect candidate for a specialist role.
New York Yankees: Promote 1B Mike Ford
The first base position has produced a dismal .218/.295/.377 line for the Yankees, which is good for a .672 OPS that ranks 27th in the majors. Former rising star Greg Bird is hitting .215/.304/.405 and is just 3-for-29 in August.
Meanwhile, prospect Mike Ford is swinging a hot bat for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The 26-year-old just saw a modest seven-game hitting streak end, and going back to July 19, he's hitting .368/.419/.647 with seven doubles, four home runs and 11 RBI in the 18 games before Thursday.
He's a left-handed hitter, so he's not a platoon candidate with Bird, but at this point, the Yankees need to do something to get more out of a premium offensive position.
Cleveland Indians: Promote OF Oscar Mercado
Leonys Martin was a good deadline pickup for an Indians team that had a gaping hole in center field. He's quietly putting together a strong offensive season while playing his usual stellar defense and swiping a few bases along the way.
Unfortunately, he still can't hit left-handed pitching:
- 2018 vs. LHP: 80 PA, .176/.238/.338, 25.0 K%
- Career vs. LHP: 706 PA, .234/.278/.334, 24.2 K%
Rajai Davis (186 PA, .247 BA, 63 OPS+) and Brandon Guyer (154 PA, .212 BA, 85 OPS+) have both seen time in center field against left-handed pitching, but the Indians could use a more productive platoon partner.
Cleveland acquired Oscar Mercado from the St. Louis Cardinals in a deadline prospect swap, and with strong Triple-A numbers, he could be ready for an MLB look.
The 23-year-old is hitting .281/.350/.401 with 22 doubles, eight home runs, 42 RBI and 31 stolen bases in 40 attempts.
More importantly, that includes a .315/.364/.435 line against left-handed pitching, making him a prime candidate to join Martin in a platoon.
Houston Astros: Trade for RHP Marco Estrada
Since Lance McCullers Jr. landed on the disabled list with elbow discomfort Sunday, the Houston Astros need to find a fifth starter for the first time this season.
Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock and Cionel Perez all have starting experience among those on the active roster, while Brady Rodgers has MLB starting experience and is on the 40-man roster.
However, McHugh and Peacock have assumed crucial bullpen roles, and the team could go outside the organization to bridge the gap to McCullers' return.
Marco Estrada has a 4.65 ERA and 1.28 WHIP over 19 starts this season and a hefty $13 million salary that should allow him to clear waivers.
That said, after tossing seven innings of one-hit ball last time out against the Seattle Mariners, he could be an excellent buy-low pickup. The 35-year-old also has relief experience and could fill a bullpen role once McCullers returns.
Oakland Athletics: Promote LHP Jesus Luzardo
Jesus Luzardo tossed five scoreless innings in his Triple-A debut Aug. 6, walking none and striking out six. He also won't turn 21 until September.
All told, the precocious left-hander has gone 10-4 with a 2.01 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 117 strikeouts in 98.1 innings over three minor league levels.
Oakland will no doubt be careful with a pitcher who's had Tommy John surgery, so it's unlikely it'll stretch his innings much beyond 150.
Still, he could provide a huge spark to an Athletics team that's looking to secure a postseason berth, whether it's by making a handful of starts or serving as a multi-inning bullpen weapon.
Seattle Mariners: Move Felix Hernandez to the bullpen
Felix Hernandez was shelled for eight hits and 11 runs—seven of which were earned—over six innings in his last start. He also has a 5.73 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 124 innings.
When reporters asked if King Felix would take the ball next time through the rotation, manager Scott Servais responded with a less-than-decisive "We'll see."
The 32-year-old is a franchise icon, but it's time to make him a reliever as the M's chase their first postseason berth since 2001.
Journeyman Casey Lawrence is 7-3 with a 2.75 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 75 strikeouts in 78.2 innings at Triple-A. While he was hit hard out of the bullpen in a brief promotion earlier this year, it's worth giving him a spot start.
Otherwise, it might be time to look outside the organization.
Atlanta Braves: Promote LHP Luiz Gohara
The Atlanta Braves shored up the starting rotation with the addition of Kevin Gausman at the trade deadline, but the bullpen could still use some help.
Wes Parsons and Adam McCreery were recently promoted from Triple-A after Max Fried and Shane Carle were placed on the disabled list, but neither pitcher has late-inning stuff.
Hard-throwing lefty Luiz Gohara does.
The 22-year-old was expected to break camp with a rotation spot before an ankle injury sidelined him during spring training, and he's spent much of the year playing catch-up. He struck out 10 batters in 5.2 innings his last time out and carries a 10.2 K/9 rate for his pro career.
His power fastball/slider combination would play up out of the pen, and even if he's destined to start long-term, the need right now is in the bullpen.
Philadelphia Phillies: Find more playing time for OF Roman Quinn
Outfield depth was a priority for the Phillies leading up to the trade deadline, according to Matt Gelb of The Athletic. They failed to make an outside addition, but they did promote Roman Quinn on July 27.
While the 25-year-old has been on the prospect radar for years thanks to his top-flight speed, he's struggled to stay healthy time and again and has fallen behind others on the depth chart as a result.
Since his promotion, he's gone 10-for-21 with three doubles and two stolen bases, yet he's made just three starts and been used largely as a late-game replacement.
Meanwhile, the current starting outfield of Rhys Hoskins (29 PA, .174 BA, .693 OPS), Odubel Herrera (24 PA, .174 BA, .469 OPS) and Nick Williams (30 PA, 10 K, .250 BA, .764 OPS) have all gone cold at the plate in August.
It's time to play the hot hand.
Washington Nationals: Trade for LHP Jerry Blevins
With Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley now playing elsewhere and both Sean Doolittle and Kelvin Herrera on the disabled list, the Nationals are left trying to piece together a relief corps.
A healthy Koda Glover can provide a boost, and they did well to pluck Greg Holland from the scrapheap, but claiming Jerry Blevins and swinging a deal with the New York Mets would add another proven arm.
The lefty is making $7 million in the final year of his contract, and he's been steady once again with a 3.94 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 in 45 appearances.
He's allowed just six hits and two earned runs in 11 innings over his last 12 appearances, and while it's unlikely he'll clear waivers entirely, the Nationals are in a good position to place the winning claim with a record hovering around .500.
Chicago Cubs: Release RHP Tyler Chatwood
This is a bold suggestion for a player who is in the first year of a three-year, $38 million deal, but releasing Tyler Chatwood is the best move for the Cubs to make.
The 28-year-old has walked a staggering 88 batters in 96.2 innings, running up a 5.21 ERA and 1.80 WHIP in the process while recording a quality start in just three of his 19 starts before finally being relegated to the bullpen.
At this point, he can't be trusted with anything more than mop-up duty, and the Cubs can't afford to waste a spot on him for the next month while they wait for rosters to expand.
It goes beyond just this season, though. They can't count on him to fill a rotation spot next year when they're trying to contend for a title, so what's the sense in keeping him around and eating up a spot on the 40-man roster? Chalk it up as a loss, cut ties now, add a useful arm to the bullpen and move on.
Milwaukee Brewers: Trade for C A.J. Ellis
The catcher position has produced a .221/.283/.337 line for the Brewers this season with Manny Pina, Erik Kratz and Jacob Nottingham splitting time.
That trio has been excellent defensively, but the Brewers could look to bring some balance to the position by adding someone who is more of an offensive threat.
A.J. Ellis has been a light-hitting, part-time player for much of his career, but he's posted an excellent .292/.403/.375 line over 147 plate appearances with the San Diego Padres.
The Padres already let Tyson Ross and Jordan Lyles walk for nothing more than a waiver claim, and if Ellis can also be had for nothing more than what's left of his $1.25 million salary, it would be a worthwhile pickup for the Brew Crew.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Promote RHP Clay Holmes for a bullpen role
Here's what I wrote earlier this week while highlighting Clay Holmes as a potential call-up option for the Pirates:
The Pirates added a major weapon to the bullpen when they acquired Keone Kela from the Rangers at the trade deadline, but there's still room to improve a unit that ranks 19th in the majors with a 4.21 ERA.
While Clay Holmes has been used almost exclusively as a starter since he was selected in the ninth round of the 2011 draft, he has the stuff to be an asset out of the bullpen, even if it's just a temporary move.
To that point, MLB.com wrote: "There has been talk about moving Holmes to the bullpen, where that sinker-cutter combination could be extremely effective. For now, he'll likely keep starting as rotation depth so he can fill any kind of role once the need arises in Pittsburgh."
The immediate need is in the bullpen, and he's ready to help.
With Adeiny Hechavarria added to the middle infield mix and Chris Archer bolstering the rotation, slotting Holmes in the bullpen looks like the most impactful in-house move the team can make.
St. Louis Cardinals: Move RHP Daniel Poncedeleon back into the rotation
Daniel Poncedeleon tossed seven no-hit innings in his MLB debut on July 23.
For whatever reason, he hasn't made another start since. Instead, he's been limited to a pair of multi-inning relief appearances.
Meanwhile, Austin Gomber lasted just four innings in his most recent start, and he's been excellent out of the bullpen for much of the season, so flip-flopping those two and returning Poncedeleon to the rotation would seem to make sense for a Cardinals team that is trying to stay in the hunt.
After all, what more does a guy have to do to earn a second start?
Arizona Diamondbacks: Promote OF Socrates Brito
With Robbie Ray rounding into form in the starting rotation and veterans Brad Ziegler and Jake Diekman acquired at the deadline to bolster the relief corps, the biggest need for the Arizona Diamondbacks is additional offensive punch.
After averaging a robust 5.01 runs per game last year, the D-backs have seen that mark fall to 4.49 here in 2018. It's tough to blame one position for the downturn, but right field has been a glaring hole, with a brutal .212/.288/.310 line and just nine home runs.
Steven Souza Jr. is hitting .293/.369/.522 with three home runs and 19 RBI in 24 games since the start of July, but the team still needs outfield help with fourth outfielder Jon Jay slumping badly.
Former top prospect Socrates Brito could provide a spark. The 25-year-old is hitting .332/.395/.577 with 27 doubles, 17 home runs, 61 RBI, 75 runs scored and 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts at Triple-A this season.
He's yet to carve out an MLB role despite multiple chances, but he's capable of playing all three outfield spots, and it looks like he's turned a corner offensively.
Colorado Rockies: Promote SP Peter Lambert
Tyler Anderson has been excellent for much of the season, but he was shelled for seven hits and seven earned runs in four innings in his most recent start.
Things went even worse for Chad Bettis in his return from the disabled list, as he allowed eight hits and nine earned runs in 4.2 innings.
The Rockies are hanging on the fringe of contention, so they can't afford to give anyone who is struggling a long leash.
If either pitcher is hit hard his next time out or another starter begins to falter, it might be time to promote top pitching prospect Peter Lambert, who is at Triple-A after a dominant start to the season in Double-A.
He's posted a less-than-stellar 4.71 ERA since his promotion, but those numbers are somewhat skewed by two bad starts. The 21-year-old has the polished four-pitch mix and plus command to handle being thrown into the thick of a playoff race.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Give OF Alex Verdugo an everyday role
The resurgence of Matt Kemp was one of the best stories in baseball during the first half of the season.
However, he's hitting just .179/.266/.304 since the All-Star break, and the Dodgers have too much riding on this season to wait around and hope he rights the ship.
Especially when they have an MLB-ready top prospect in Alex Verdugo waiting in the wings.
The 22-year-old is hitting .345/.397/.489 with 25 extra-base hits in 73 games at Triple-A, and he's more than held his own in a few brief tastes of MLB action with a .280/.345/.440 line over 56 plate appearances.
They can sprinkle in starts in right and center field to continue giving Kemp semi-regular playing time in hopes he snaps out of it. But at this point, there's no reason Verdugo should still be sitting in Triple-A.