The Biggest Potential Flaw Every MLB Team Must Improve During 2020 Trade Season
This year's 60-game MLB slate is a sprint rather than a marathon. The trade deadline is Aug. 31, only about five weeks after Opening Day on July 23.
That means it's not too early to examine a potential flaw every team could improve via trade (minus seven obvious rebuilders).
Some teams' flaws are less glaring than others. Injuries and unexpected twists will inevitably change the calculus. But as things stand now, here's a weakness each club should address before September arrives.
The following clubs are, or at least should be, in full rebuild mode. They've got plenty of flaws to fix, but their only goal during the 2020 trade season should be to shed veteran contracts and add prospects and cost-controlled pieces.
Top potential trade piece: RHP Mychal Givens
Top potential trade piece: LHP Matthew Boyd
Kansas City Royals
Top potential trade piece: INF/OF Whit Merrifield
Top potential trade piece: INF Jonathan Villar
Top potential trade piece: OF Gregory Polanco
San Francisco Giants
Top potential trade piece: RHP Jeff Samardzija
Top potential trade piece: 3B Kyle Seager
Arizona Diamondbacks: A Left-Handed Bullpen Arm
The Arizona Diamondbacks made several solid additions this offseason to bolster their lineup and starting rotation, including ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner and outfielders Kole Calhoun and Starling Marte. They enter 2020 as a legitimate playoff hopeful.
Their bullpen should also be a strength behind closer Archie Bradley. But other than Andrew Chafin (3.76 ERA, 68 SO, 52.2 IP), Arizona's pen lacks a proven left-handed late-inning option.
Another reliable lefty may emerge internally, but the Snakes could be searching for southpaw relief at or before the deadline.
Atlanta Braves: Third Base
After losing Josh Donaldson to free agency, the Atlanta Braves are turning third base over to some combination of Johan Camargo (.233/.279/.384, 98 G) and Austin Riley (.226/.279/.471, 80 G).
Needless to say, neither player inspires boundless confidence, though Riley did swat 18 home runs.
If the Braves want to defend their NL East crown in one of baseball's deepest divisions, this is an obvious area for improvement.
Boston Red Sox: Bullpen Depth
The Boston Red Sox could strengthen their starting rotation after shipping David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with right fielder Mookie Betts and losing Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery.
But the bigger need might be in the bullpen.
Boston boasts a solid late-inning duo in closer Brandon Workman and setup man Matt Barnes. Yet it could use reinforcements, especially if the 31-year-old Workman regresses after posting a 1.88 ERA in 2019 compared to a mark of 4.38 in his previous four seasons.
Chicago Cubs: Bullpen Depth
After waiting until June to sign with the Chicago Cubs, Craig Kimbrel posted a 6.53 ERA and coughed up nine home runs in 20.2 innings. He's 32 years old, and it's worth wondering if his days as a dominant closer are over.
Behind him, the Cubs have some depth with guys like Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Jeremy Jeffress, but no one who appears ready to fill the ninth-inning hole.
Chicago has other question marks. But if Kimbrel struggles again, this will be its biggest.
Chicago White Sox: Outfield Defense
The Chicago White Sox are a team on the rise. They could use the short season to make a playoff push, especially if they get off to a hot start. One possible red flag: their outfield defense.
White Sox outfielders ranked 27th in baseball with minus-39 defensive runs saved in 2019. Presumed Opening Day right and left fielders Nomar Mazara and Eloy Jimenez are both below average with the leather. And while 22-year-old Luis Robert is one of the most exciting young players in the game, he may need time to refine his defense.
All three belong in the lineup, but the ChiSox might want to add an experienced, glove-first outfielder for late-inning purposes or when Jimenez gets reps at designated hitter.
Cincinnati Reds: Bullpen Depth
Cincinnati Reds closer Raisel Iglesias and setup man Pedro Strop have excellent track records. But they posted less-than-stellar ERAs of 4.16 and 4.97, respectively, in 2019.
The Reds made some notable additions on offense this offseason—including Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama—and could make noise in the crowded NL Central.
But if Iglesias and Strop don't return to form, expect Cincinnati to dive into what should be a competitive bullpen trade market.
Cleveland Indians: Outfield Offense
The Cleveland Indians got a boost from rookie center fielder Oscar Mercado in 2019, as he hit .269 with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 115 games. Cleveland is crossing its fingers the 25-year-old can build on that success.
Besides Mercado, the outfield remains a source of concern for the Indians. Franmil Reyes hit 37 home runs, but he'll see most of his time at DH. After that, it's Jake Bauers, Greg Allen, Domingo Santana and Delino DeShields, none of whom posted an average above .253 or a slugging percentage higher than .441.
A power bat at either corner spot should be a priority if Cleveland hopes to make a serious postseason run.
Colorado Rockies: Bullpen Depth
After saving 43 games in 2018, Colorado Rockies closer Wade Davis gave up 41 earned runs in 42.2 innings last season. Even for a guy who plays half his games at Coors Field, that's...not great.
The Rox have few internal options to supplant him in the ninth inning, though Scott Oberg (2.25 ERA, 9.3 K/9) is a possibility. Mostly, Colorado needs more arms. What else is new?
You could argue the Rockies belong in our sellers club after losing 91 games last season following back-to-back playoff berths, and you may be correct.
Houston Astros: Bullpen Depth
Roberto Osuna saved 38 games with a 2.63 ERA and 10.1 K/9 for the Houston Astros in 2019. Ryan Pressly (2.32 ERA) and Joe Smith (1.80 ERA) join him to form a stout late-inning trio.
Yet the 'Stros lost Will Harris, Hector Rondon and Collin McHugh—key pieces of last season's pen—to free agency.
The relief corps remains an area of strength for one of baseball's most complete clubs, but it might not be as deep as Houston would prefer.
Los Angeles Angels: Starting Pitching
Los Angeles Angels starters ranked 29th in baseball with a 5.64 ERA in 2019, ahead of only the Rockies (5.87 ERA).
The Halos made a big splash this offseason by signing third baseman Anthony Rendon, but their pitching additions (Dylan Bundy, Julio Teheran) were less inspiring. And while the return to the hill of Shohei Ohtani is intriguing, it's impossible to say how heavy of a load he'll be able to shoulder after not pitching at all in 2019 following Tommy John surgery.
If the Angels want to get Mike Trout back to the postseason—where he's played only three career games—they need an impact arm or two.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Another Late-Inning Arm
Dodgers right-hander Kenley Jansen posted a career-worst 3.71 ERA in 2019. He isn't finished, but the sun may be setting on the 32-year-old's tenure as an elite closer.
After that, Los Angeles has reliable setup man Pedro Baez (3.10 ERA, 69.2 IP) and wild-card Blake Treinen, who posted a 0.78 ERA with 38 saves in 2018 for the Oakland Athletics but saw his ERA jump to 4.91 in 2019.
If Treinen rebounds to anything like his '18 form, the Dodgers could be set. But for a club in title-or-bust mode, another top-shelf reliever can only help.
Milwaukee Brewers: Starting Pitching
The Milwaukee Brewers lost some key pieces this offseason—including Mike Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal, Eric Thames and Gio Gonzalez—but remain contenders in the tough NL Central.
Christian Yelich anchors the offense, and the bullpen is among the best in baseball behind lights-out closer Josh Hader.
The Brew Crew have questions in the starting rotation, however. Low-key free-agent additions Brett Anderson and Josh Lindblom join incumbents Brandon Woodruff and Adrian Houser. There's talent in that group but nothing close to a surefire ace. That's something Milwaukee may need if it wants to return to the postseason.
Minnesota Twins: Middle Infield Defense
The Minnesota Twins made some nice additions this offseason, shoring up the starting rotation and bullpen and adding an impact bat in Josh Donaldson.
They're well-positioned to repeat as American League Central champs and perhaps push deeper into the playoffs than they did with last season's division series exit.
If we're looking for a weakness, it could be the Twinkies' defense up the middle. Shortstop Jorge Polanco posted minus-seven defensive runs saved in 2019, and second baseman Luis Arraez was no better with minus-eight DRS. Both can hit well enough to at least partially offset their poor glove work, but a slick-fielding supplementary middle infielder should be on Minnesota's wish list.
New York Mets: Outfield Depth
The New York Mets' outfield depth chart is topped from left to right by J.D. Davis, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto. Considering Nimmo's injury issues (he played just 69 games last year and has played more than 100 MLB games in a season only once), the Mets could use some backup.
Yoenis Cespedes will be limited to DH duties if he plays at all. Dominic Smith has seen time at the corner spots but is better suited for first base. Recently signed Melky Cabrera is a fading veteran and a defensive liability.
The Mets don't necessarily need to add an All-Star to the mix (though it wouldn't hurt), but a proven player with the ability to man center field would afford them needed flexibility.
New York Yankees: A Left-Handed Bat
Like the Dodgers, the New York Yankees are a pretty dang complete club. Their lineup is potent, they added ace Gerrit Cole to the starting rotation, and they might have the best bullpen in baseball.
So we'll pick nits and note that the Yanks lineup skews very right-handed. Outfielders Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman are currently the most notable left-handed hitters, along with switch-hitter Aaron Hicks, who is returning from Tommy John surgery. All of their biggest bats, including thumpers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, swing from the right side.
That's not an emergency. The Yankees did just fine with a righty-heavy attack in 2019. But a left-handed power bat capable of taking aim at Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch would be a nice addition.
Oakland Athletics: A Left-Handed Bat
The Oakland Athletics don't have much in common with the Yankees in the budget department. But like New York, Oakland has a deep roster and legitimate postseason aspirations.
Also like the Yanks, the Athletics offense is right-handed heavy. Other than first baseman Matt Olson, every member of Oakland's projected starting lineup swings from the right side.
A little lefty balance on offense would buttress the A's chances of making another playoff appearance.
Philadelphia Phillies: Bullpen Depth
Philadelphia Phillies closer Hector Neris rebounded from a horrible 2018 season and posted a 2.93 ERA with 28 saves in 2019.
After that, however, the Phils relief corps is light on reliable arms. If Vince Velasquez doesn't make the starting rotation, his power arm could play well in the late innings.
But this is an obvious vulnerability for a Phillies team hoping to get to the postseason in the highly competitive NL East.
San Diego Padres: Starting Pitching
The San Diego Padres have one of the best bullpens in the game and some exciting weapons on offense, including up-and-coming shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.
But if the Friars want to make the jump to full-on contender, they may need to add a reliable starting pitcher or two.
Right-hander Chris Paddack is coming off a strong rookie season (3.33 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 140.2 IP), and the 24-year-old right-hander appears capable of anchoring a rotation. After that, San Diego is counting on 32-year-old Garrett Richards, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery.
Adding a third top-tier arm to the mix would help support Paddack and insure against any Richards hiccups in the short season.
St. Louis Cardinals: An Impact Bat
The St. Louis Cardinals won the NL Central in 2019 despite finishing 19th with 764 runs scored and 21st with a .737 OPS, and they lost key offensive contributor Marcell Ozuna to free agency.
Top prospect Dylan Carlson showed flashes of MLB-readiness in the first go-round of 2020 spring training, but he's just 21 years old.
If the Cards want to defend their division crown, they should add a bat with some thump to support the likes of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and probable designated hitter Matt Carpenter.
Tampa Bay Rays: An Impact Bat
The Tampa Bay Rays won 96 games in 2019 and are legitimate challengers to the Yankees in the AL East. They can pitch, they can field, and their lineup is balanced.
What they lack is a proven middle-of-the-order bat. Austin Meadows launched 33 homers last season, but no other Tampa Bay batter hit more than 20 and the Rays got a less-than-stellar .697 OPS out of the cleanup spot.
Adding an established power hitter would help an already excellent club hang with big-bopping New York.
Texas Rangers: Bullpen Depth
Texas Rangers closer Jose Leclerc posted a 1.56 ERA in 2018, but that figure rose to 4.33 last season. The rest of the Rangers pen is equally iffy.
Rafael Montero returned from Tommy John surgery to post a 2.48 ERA in 29 innings in 2019 but needs to prove he can keep it up. Joely Rodriguez posted a 6.33 ERA for the Phillies in 2017, though he's returning to the majors after two superlative seasons in Japan.
Texas has an excellent starting rotation (especially if trade acquisition Corey Kluber rebounds) and enough offensive weapons to be a sneaky contender in the AL West, but the pen could use some help.
Toronto Blue Jays: Outfield Depth
The Toronto Blue Jays boosted their pitching staff over the offseason with the additions of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark and have a gaggle of young talent ready to blossom in the infield. After a 95-loss campaign in 2019, they may be a factor.
One area where the Jays could improve? The outfield.
The expected starting trio of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez and Randal Grichuk provides some offense. But Jays outfielders ranked 25th last season with minus-27 defensive runs saved.
An experienced, solid defensive outfielder who can fill multiple spots, including center field (where Hernandez posted minus-eight DRS), would be a welcome addition.
Washington Nationals: A Left-Handed Bullpen Arm
The bullpen was a weak spot in early 2019 for the Washington Nationals, but it should be a strength for the defending champs this season.
That said, other than closer Sean Doolittle, the Nats lack a reliable left-handed relief arm. They could find an internal solution such as Roenis Elias, though the 5.07 FIP he posted in 2019 doesn't leap off the stat sheet.
More likely, Washington will join the long list of contenders seeking relief reinforcements at or before the trade deadline.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.