One Move Each MLB Contender Can Still Make to Fix Its Biggest Flaw
There are no more trades to be made in Major League Baseball. This season's July 31 deadline truly ended the summer trading season, so contenders will have to find other means to make upgrades.
We have a few ideas.
We've taken a look at each of the 17 contenders left in the 2019 playoff race and pinpointed free-agent signings, injury activations, minor league call-ups and position switches that could potentially make them better for the stretch run.
We'll go division-by-division, starting with the American League East.
Note: For consistent reference, we've used MLB.com's prospect rankings.
New York Yankees: Call Up Deivi Garcia
Record: 76-39, 1st in AL East
Although the New York Yankees should be safe atop the AL East for the rest of the season, they can't be too comfortable with the state of their pitching staff.
In particular, their starting rotation has a 5.75 ERA dating back to June 1. It's also presently without CC Sabathia (knee) and Luis Severino (shoulder), the latter of whom has been on the injured list all season.
That sounds like an excuse to give Deivi Garcia his shot.
The 20-year-old right-hander wasn't on many radars at the start of the season, but he now ranks as New York's No. 1 prospect. Such is life when a guy with a plus fastball/curveball combination strikes out 142 batters in only 94.1 innings on a journey from High-A to Triple-A.
Granted, Garcia has been humbled with a 6.26 ERA at Triple-A. But he's at least earned an audition in the Yankees rotation, and any experience he gains from that could prove to be invaluable for a possible bullpen role in September and October.
Tampa Bay Rays: Call Up Trevor Richards
Record: 66-50, 2nd in AL East
The Tampa Bay Rays weren't likely to chase down the Yankees regardless, but they're now dealing with an undermanned rotation, too.
Staff ace Charlie Morton is still standing, but reigning Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Yonny Chirinos are all on the injured list. None of them are likely to return before the end of August.
Luckily, the Rays have Trevor Richards waiting in the wings.
The Rays acquired the 26-year-old righty on deadline day from the Miami Marlins, who had recently converted him into a relief role. The Rays promptly optioned him to Triple-A, but only so he could be stretched back out for a return to a starting role, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
Richards' 4.46 ERA in the majors seemingly suggests there's nothing special about him. Yet his fastball-changeup-slider combination has loads of potential, and the Rays may be uniquely equipped to unlock it.
Boston Red Sox: Call Up Ryan Brasier
Record: 61-56, 3rd in AL East
The Boston Red Sox are still technically a "contender," but those quotation marks can be removed only if they get their struggling pitching staff squared away.
For their rotation, this is a simple matter of figuring out what's been ailing Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Andrew Cashner. Boston's bullpen presents a more complicated challenge, as there's been a talent vacuum underneath Brandon Workman pretty much all season.
In light of how well he does his first time through an order, one idea would be to move Cashner to the pen. But since the Red Sox wouldn't have an obvious replacement for him in their rotation, recalling Ryan Brasier from Triple-A will have to do.
After breaking out with a 1.60 ERA in 2018, the 31-year-old righty was banished to Triple-A in July after struggling with a 4.46 ERA through his first 44 appearances of 2019. However, he's since allowed only one run with six strikeouts and a single walk in six appearances.
Minnesota Twins: Move Martin Perez to the Bullpen
Record: 71-44, 1st in AL Central
Although they haven't approached Red Sox levels of frustration, the Minnesota Twins have also had difficulties with their bullpen this season.
Over the last 30 days, Twins relievers have put up a 5.08 ERA. Newly acquired righty Sam Dyson contributed to that with six runs in his first two appearances, and then he landed on the IL with biceps tendinitis.
All of that could be the Twins' cue to dip into their farm system for a bullpen savior, but they may have one in their rotation in the form of Martin Perez.
If nothing else, taking the 28-year-old left-hander out of their rotation would be addition by subtraction. Perez started well enough, but he's been worse over his last 11 starts than even his 6.21 ERA would indicate.
On the bright side, Perez has held batters to a .217 average and .606 OPS his first time through the order. That plus the potential of his mid-90s fastball to play up to the high-90s suggest he could dominate in relief.
Cleveland Indians: Activate Corey Kluber
Record: 69-46, 2nd in AL Central
Against all odds, the Cleveland Indians did well in the three-team trade that sent ace righty Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds. Newcomer sluggers Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes should boost their offense.
Yet there's still the question of how the Indians can replace Bauer in their rotation. They tried Danny Salazar on August 1, but he struggled through four innings before going back on the injured list with a groin strain.
Luckily for the Indians, the next man up is Corey Kluber.
The 33-year-old righty has been on the IL since May with a broken arm, and he was struggling with a 5.80 ERA even before that happened. Still, this is a two-time Cy Young Award winner we're talking about, and he's officially on the comeback trail after starting a rehab assignment at Triple-A on Thursday.
Assuming all goes well, Kluber should be ready to come off the IL before the end of August. Once the Indians activate him, the gap between them and the Twins in the AL Central may vanish in a hurry.
Houston Astros: Activate Brad Peacock as a Reliever
Record: 75-40, 1st in AL West
Do the Houston Astros need to be worried about, well, anything? Probably not.
They've been a steadily elite and impressively well-rounded club for three seasons now, and they're fresh off scoring Zack Greinke as part of the best trade haul of any team at the deadline.
But the rich could get even richer by activating Brad Peacock from the IL and immediately putting him in the bullpen.
That's already the Astros' plan, according to Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle. It's presumably motivated by memories of the 7.08 ERA that Peacock put up over four starts before he landed on the IL in June, not to mention the lack of room for him in the rotation.
Peacock has tended to be much more comfortable in relief, anyway. His career 3.80 ERA and 11.8 strikeouts-per-nine rate as a reliever prove just how well his fastball-slider combo works in short stints.
Oakland Athletics: Call Up A.J. Puk
Record: 65-50, 2nd in AL West
The Oakland Athletics can rest easy knowing that the Indians and the Rays are their only real competition for the AL's two wild-card spots.
However, the A's have been stumbling with an 8-7 record over their last 15 games. Their normally reliable bullpen has likewise stumbled with a 5.43 ERA and four blown saves.
This is where A.J. Puk can help.
The 24-year-old lefty was a fast-rising prospect before Tommy John surgery sidelined him for all of 2018. He didn't return to the mound until June 11 of this season.
But after taking a few outings to find his footing, Oakland's No. 2 prospect has recently reclaimed his status as a fast-riser with 19 strikeouts, two walks and only nine hits allowed over his last nine appearances.
Puk is a starter in the long run, but right now, his electric fastball-curveball combo look tailor-made for a bullpen role. The A's should give him one sooner than later.
Texas Rangers: Call Up Ronald Guzman
Record: 58-56, 3rd in AL West
There's still a "just lucky to be there" vibe surrounding the Texas Rangers, but it's clear by now that they indeed plan on being there for the rest of the season.
There's also suddenly a reason for optimism regarding their shaky starting rotation. Kolby Allard, a young lefty acquired from the Atlanta Braves for Chris Martin, is due to join the Rangers after dominating in five shutout innings for the club's Triple-A affiliate on August 3.
They might as well call Ronald Guzman back up.
Although it's only been a couple weeks since the Rangers sent Guzman down to the minors, the act itself didn't signal a desire to move on from the 24-year-old first baseman. Per Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, manager Chris Woodward had recently told reporters: "I still stand by this: I think he's going to have success. I think he will be our first baseman."
After slipping to a .678 OPS in the majors, Guzman simply needed a chance to reassert himself offensively. He's been doing so with 11 hits (including two homers) over his last eight games at Triple-A.
Atlanta Braves: Activate Jacob Webb
Record: 68-49, 1st in NL East
The Braves probably figured they had solved their ongoing bullpen crisis when they traded for Chris Martin, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon ahead of the July 31 deadline.
Not so much, as it turns out. Their pen has a whopping 6.53 ERA over the last 30 days.
At this point, any and all options should be on the table. Perhaps the most alluring would be if the Braves flooded their pen with top prospects such as Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright or Bryse Wilson.
Alternatively, they could simply activate Jacob Webb off the IL.
The 25-year-old righty has been out since with a right elbow impingement. Before that, he had been a key part of Atlanta's pen to the tune of a 1.39 ERA over 36 appearances. He was especially tough on left-handed batters, who he held to a .494 OPS.
Webb has already made a few rehab appearances at the Triple-A level. It shouldn't be long before he gets called up and has his shot at restoring order in the Braves bullpen.
Washington Nationals: Call Up Justin Miller
Record: 61-53, 2nd in NL East
Speaking of NL East contenders with bullpen issues, the Washington Nationals fit that description even better than the Braves.
The situation with Washington's bullpen wouldn't be so dire if Justin Miller had carried over his 2018 breakout, in which he posted a solid 3.61 ERA with 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Instead, he served up five home runs in 17 appearances before hurting his shoulder and then seemingly vanishing into thin air.
Yet the 32-year-old is still in the Nats organization after clearing waivers and being outrighted to Triple-A. What's more, Miller seems to have found something with 10 strikeouts and one walk in his last six appearances.
Granted, this isn't much for the Nats to go off of. But at this point, they need to take what they can get.
Philadelphia Phillies: Call Up Edgar Garcia
Record: 59-56, T-3rd in NL East
With the New York Mets suddenly breathing down their necks, the Philadelphia Phillies need a spark.
Having Jay Bruce back off the IL should provide one for their offense, which is still struggling to live up to high expectations that have followed it ever since Bryce Harper, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto came aboard over the winter. Bruce put up an .837 OPS and 10 homers in 33 games before straining an oblique.
Otherwise, the Phillies are no different from other contenders in that they could use a boost in their bullpen. It has a 4.85 ERA over the last 30 days.
The Phils might give Edgar Garcia another look. The 22-year-old righty hasn't made much of an impression in the 27 major league appearances he's made in 2019. He's racked up a 6.15 ERA and allowed 18 walks and eight home runs in only 26.1 innings.
Still, Garcia's fastball-slider combo has played at Triple-A to the tune of a 1.16 ERA, 31 strikeouts, seven walks and only one homer in 23.1 innings, and he's at least flashed an ability to miss bats in the majors. It may only take a small adjustment to unlock his potential.
New York Mets: Sign Joe Panik
Record: 59-56, T-3rd in NL East
All of a sudden, the Mets have won 13 out of 14 and put themselves in the thick of the NL wild-card race.
There is a catch, though. Just when he finally seemed to be waking up from his offensive slumber, veteran second baseman Robinson Cano was cut down by a torn hamstring. If he even comes back at all this season, it probably won't be for many weeks.
Because the Mets can play All-Star Jeff McNeil at second base and underrated slugger J.D. Davis in his usual spot in left field, perhaps they don't need to replace Cano. But why not do so when Joe Panik is right there?
Panik, 28, had been a mainstay with the San Francisco Giants before they designated him for assignment on Tuesday. They've since placed him on relief waivers, thereby paving his way to the open market.
Why should the Mets be interested in a guy with a .245 average and .633 OPS since the start of last season? Because Panik is still a capable defender, and the least he'll do on offense is make a ton of contact.
If not a starring role, Panik could at least play a solid supporting role for the Mets the rest of the way.
Chicago Cubs: Call Up Danny Hultzen
Record: 63-52, 1st in NL Central
The Chicago Cubs have recently put some distance between themselves and their pursuers in the NL Central race, yet their bullpen is a threat to trip them up at any moment.
The Cubs seemed to set themselves up nicely when they signed seven-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel in June. But he was off from the moment he first debuted on June 27, and now he's on the IL with knee inflammation. Meanwhile, Brandon Kintzler and Brandon Morrow are also on the IL.
Rather than take a chance on, say, the recently DFA'd Greg Holland, the Cubs should search for hidden gems in their minor league system. They might just have one in Danny Hultzen.
Yes, this is the same Danny Hultzen who ran into serious shoulder problems shortly after the Mariners drafted him at No. 2 overall back in 2011. He didn't pitch at all in 2017, and his "comeback" has featured only 21 appearances in the minors over the last two seasons.
Yet 11 of those have come since June 16 at Triple-A this season, and they've seen the 29-year-old lefty dominate with 18 strikeouts, four hits and two runs allowed over 11.2 innings. The Cubs might as well see if he can keep it up in the majors.
Milwaukee Brewers: Call Up Ray Black
Record: 60-56, 2nd in NL Central
The Milwaukee Brewers are hanging in there, but what they need more than anything else right now is a healthy starting rotation.
They'll have to wait for that. It's still up in the air as to when Brandon Woodruff (oblique), Zach Davies (back) and Jhoulys Chacin (lat) will be able to come off the IL.
In the meantime, the Brewers might actually be able to help a bullpen that's underperformed all year and which is now in a rut with a 5.15 ERA over the last 30 days. All they have to do is call up Ray Black.
The 29-year-old righty came over alongside veteran lefty Drew Pomeranz in a deadline-day deal with the Giants. Black is stashed at Triple-A right now, but not because the Brewers aren't excited about him.
"Black's got as good a stuff as any reliever in the game," Brewers general manager David Stearns said, per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "That's what attracted us to him."
By "stuff," Stearns mainly means a fastball that's averaged 98.1 mph in the majors. The Brewers have every reason to give that heater a closer look.
St. Louis Cardinals: Call Up Randy Arozarena
Record: 58-55, 3rd in NL Central
For pretty much the entire season, the St. Louis Cardinals have been a rare contender that's needed offense just as much, if not more than it's needed pitching.
Nothing would fix this like Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter finally becoming the unstoppable slugging duo they were supposed to be. But just in case, the Cards should give Randy Arozarena his big break.
What the 24-year-old outfielder lacks in name recognition, he's currently making up for with hit after hit in the minors. He's been a one-man wrecking crew at Triple-A with a .368/.439/.554 slash line over 50 games. He now checks in as the Cardinals' No. 12 prospect.
As it happens, there would seem to be room for a newcomer in a Cardinals outfield that presently has Dexter Fowler in center field and Jose Martinez in right.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Call Up Gavin Lux
Record: 77-40, 1st in NL West
Shortcomings? Flaws? Heck, minor inconveniences?
Not for these Los Angeles Dodgers. They have both the best record and the best run differential (plus-183) in MLB, not to mention a gulf-sized lead in the NL West. They're basically playing with house money.
So the following statement is less about what the Dodgers must do and more about what they simply should: Call up Gavin Lux.
The 21-year-old infielder was close to being MLB-ready even at the outset of the season. Now his knocks on the door simply can't be ignored anymore, as he's put up an otherworldly .458/.539/.855 slash line and hit 10 homers in only 32 games since arriving to Triple-A.
Shortstop is Corey Seager's job at the major league level, so Lux—who now rates as baseball's No. 10 overall prospect—will only get the call if the Dodgers think he can handle second base. To that end, the Dodgers wouldn't need him to be Roberto Alomar to justify having his bat in the lineup every day.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Call Up Jon Duplantier
Record: 58-57, 2nd in NL West
Every time the Arizona Diamondbacks seem to be on their way out of the NL wild-card race, they do something to climb right back in it. To wit, they've won four out of their last five games.
At this juncture, there isn't a whole lot the D-backs can do to supercharge their chances at playing in October. But they might do something about a bullpen that's been vulnerable all year and which just lost Greg Holland.
For instance, they should give Jon Duplantier a second look.
The 25-year-old righty hasn't been seen in the majors since he landed on the IL with a shoulder injury in June. Even before then, he'd only managed a 4.32 ERA in eight appearances.
Perhaps a multi-inning shutdown reliever won't seal the deal for the Snakes, but such a player can at least help them maintain their place in the race.