1 Flaw Every MLB Team Needs to Address at 2020 Trade Deadline
The MLB season is less than two weeks old, but already the Aug. 31 trade deadline looms on the horizon. Such is the nature of a 60-game sprint.
With the expanded 16-team playoff format, this year could feature a lot of buyers and only a few genuine sellers. Still, every contender has flaws to fix, and a summer swap is often the best and fastest way to fix them.
Let's examine one area each club could stand to improve via trade while first identifying the seven teams that should set their sights solely on dealing veterans and adding prospects.
At this early stage, every club is in contention. Some of the teams listed here are even .500—or better.
But they all should keep an eye on the big picture and continue their rebuilds by trading veterans and adding cost-controlled young talent ahead of the deadline.
Top trade chip: RHP Mychal Givens
Top trade chip: LHP Matthew Boyd
Kansas City Royals
Top trade chip: RHP Ian Kennedy
Top trade chip: 2B/SS Jonathan Villar
Top trade chip: 1B Josh Bell
San Francisco Giants
Top trade chip: RHP Johnny Cueto
Top trade chip: 3B Kyle Seager
The Bullpen Shoppers
The Chicago Cubs look like contenders in the National League Central, which should temporarily quiet any trade talk surrounding third baseman Kris Bryant. Instead, the Cubbies figure to be buyers at the deadline, and there's one obvious area for improvement: the bullpen.
Entering play Monday, Cubs relievers ranked last in baseball with an 8.07 ERA. After last season's dreadful showing, closer Craig Kimbrel has coughed up four earned runs with four walks and zero strikeouts in 1.1 innings. Supporting arms such as Jeremy Jeffress and Rowan Wick aren't enough to pick up the slack. If Chicago wants to win a tough division and make a serious postseason push, it needs relief help.
The Cincinnati Reds have gotten off to a bumpy start, due in part to their pen. Reds relievers ranked 29th with a 6.91 ERA, and closer Raisel Iglesias sports an 8.10 ERA in three appearances.
There's talent in this group. Setup man Pedro Strop is unscored upon in the early going, and rookie Tejay Antone has impressed in 4.1 innings, though he may be ticketed for the starting rotation.
The Reds can hope for internal improvement, but they may also need to go looking for help.
The Colorado Rockies have been one of the early surprises with a 6-2 start. Their offense has produced, with shortstop Trevor Story leading the way. Their starting pitching, behind Jon Gray and German Marquez, has been excellent.
There could be trouble brewing in the bullpen, however. Closer Wade Davis is on the injured list with a shoulder strain, and fellow late-inning reliever Scott Oberg is out for the season with blood clots in his right arm.
A club that plays its home games at mile-high altitude needs all the arms it can get, and Colorado should add a reliever or two if it hopes to keep its good start going.
The Philadelphia Phillies have played just four games because of COVID-19 protocols, so it's tough to know where they stand in the competitive NL East. If we're drawing conclusions from a very small sample, they will join the list of clubs shopping for relievers.
Closer Hector Neris and fellow relievers Trevor Kelley, Tommy Hunter, Deolis Guerra and Austin Davis were unscored upon in their appearances, so it may simply be too early to draw conclusions.
But the pen was suspect coming into the season, and it didn't exactly erase those worries by allowing eight earned runs in 11.2 innings to start 2020.
San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres bullpen was supposed to be a strength this season, and it still might be. But amid all the good things that have accompanied the Pads' 6-4 start, the pen has wobbled.
Drew Pomeranz and Pierce Johnson have combined for 7.1 scoreless frames, which is the good news. But All-Star closer Kirby Yates has struggled mightily, allowing four walks and four earned runs in three appearances.
This might sort itself out. Yates finished ninth in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2019, after all. But with the rest of the roster looking playoff-quality, the Friars could add to an area they probably didn't think they'd have to improve.
The Texas Rangers lost two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to a shoulder injury that will keep him out for weeks and possibly longer. Their offense has sputtered out of the gate with a .644 OPS.
It could already be time for the Rangers to throw in the towel and add themselves to the list of sellers. If they want to compete, which they seemed capable of doing entering the season, they could improve all over. But we'll focus on the bullpen, as the Rangers rank 24th with a 5.67 ERA.
Edinson Volquez has looked solid in three appearances, but key relievers such as Jesse Chavez have been uneven. Will the Rangers dip into their No. 21-ranked farm system and try to make a run or toss in the towel? The next couple of weeks will tell the tale.
In Search of Starting Pitching
Boston Red Sox
Like the Rangers, it may be time for the Boston Red Sox to give up on 2020 and become sellers. They aren't sunk after a 3-7 start, but it's worth wondering if they can hang with the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and even the upstart Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East.
That's due in large part to their starting rotation, which ranks dead last in MLB with a 6.69 ERA. With left-hander Chris Sale out because of Tommy John surgery, Nathan Eovaldi (who has allowed 13 hits in 11 innings) is the ostensible staff ace. After that, no Sox pitcher who has made more than one start owns an ERA below 5.00.
If the Sox want help, they'll need to further deplete a farm system that checks in at No. 25.
Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox have plenty of reasons to be excited, particularly on offense. Third baseman Yoan Moncada is building on his 2019 breakout, and rookie center fielder Luis Robert has lived up to the hype.
But the Chi Sox have struggled on the pitching side of the ledger, particularly in the starting rotation, which ranks 29th with a 6.38 ERA. Veteran Dallas Keuchel has looked solid, but key young rotation pieces Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon have struggled.
Chicago should have patience with its up-and-coming arms, but if it wants to contend in a 60-game season, that patience can only extend so far.
Last season, the Houston Astros won the AL pennant behind co-aces Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Now, Cole is a Yankee, and Verlander is out indefinitely with a forearm injury.
The 'Stros still have veteran right-hander Zack Greinke, though he's coughed up five runs in nine innings. And they could call up top prospect Forrest Whitley, but he has a sore arm.
It's unlikely Houston will find someone on the trade market who can approximate Verlander. Reigning Cy Young Award winners are few and far between. But for a win-now club, this should be a priority ahead of the deadline.
Los Angeles Angels
The 16-team postseason field gives the Los Angeles Angels a chance to get Mike Trout to the playoffs, wherein he's played a paltry three games in his exemplary career. If the Halos want to accomplish that, let alone make any October noise, they should improve their starting corps.
Andrew Heaney and Dylan Bundy have looked good through two starts, and Griffin Canning and Patrick Sandoval are poised to chip in. But two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani endured a pair of extremely rough outings on the mound and has been shut down.
Los Angeles should add depth, even if it means digging into its No. 24-ranked MiLB stockpile.
Could Use an Impact Bat or Lineup Balance
The Arizona Diamondbacks have not gotten off to the start they hoped after adding key pieces including ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner this offseason. Bumgarner has given up five earned runs in 11 innings, and the pitching staff ranks 26th with a 5.44 ERA.
But it's the offense that has really scuffled, to the tune of a 30th-ranked .533 OPS. Ketel Marte (.795 OPS) and Starling Marte (.799 OPS) have led the way, but overall, the bats have been cold.
If the trend continues, Arizona will need to trade for some pop or risk getting left behind not merely by the seven-time reigning division champion Los Angeles Dodgers but the Rockies and Padres, as well.
Led by ace Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians starting pitchers have been a revelation in the early going, setting strikeout records and looking outstanding. The offense, however, needs to catch up.
Cleveland hitters rank 24th with 26 runs and 28th with a .563 OPS. Third baseman Jose Ramirez and shortstop Francisco Lindor are lineup-anchoring stars, but the supporting cast is suspect. That's particularly true in the outfield, where Bradley Zimmer's .760 OPS easily leads the pack.
Cleveland has the arms to make a run in the AL Central, but it needs another power bat or two.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers might be the deepest, most complete team in baseball. There is no glaring weakness on the roster.
So we'll choose a nit to pick and note they could gild the lily by adding a bat at second base, as Enrique Hernandez (.676 OPS) might be better suited as a super-utility player.
Again, it's a mere quibble, and it's possible the Dodgers already made their big trade splash in February when they acquired Mookie Betts from Boston.
The Milwaukee Brewers made the postseason in 2018 and 2019 and could easily do so again in 2020, especially with the expanded field. So far, however, the offense hasn't looked up to the job.
Brewers hitter rank 26th with a .642 OPS and are tied for 28th with just five home runs in six games.
Some of that could be fixed when star left fielder Christian Yelich inevitably breaks out of his early funk (1-for-27). Keston Hiura (.855 OPS) and Avisail Garcia (.804 OPS) have been early bright spots.
But the Brew Crew may need to get Yelich and Co. some offensive reinforcements if they want to be more than an also-ran in a deep division.
New York Yankees
The Yankees can hit. They lead the Junior Circuit with an .808 OPS and pace baseball with 17 home runs (tied with the Dodgers). Slugger Giancarlo Stanton, in particular, has roared back after last season's injury-marred disappointment.
The Yanks have also gotten ace-level pitching from free-agent acquisition Gerrit Cole and have a deep bullpen that is getting closer Aroldis Chapman back from the COVID-19 list.
If New York wants to make an addition, it could add a left-handed bat to balance a right-handed-heavy lineup and take aim at Yankee Stadium's short right field porch. But the Bombers are a complete squad as is.
The Oakland Athletics have started the season 5-4 despite an offense that has failed to gain traction. Through nine games, A's hitters rank 27th with a .589 OPS.
Third baseman Matt Chapman (.598 OPS), first baseman Matt Olson (.531 OPS) and shortstop Marcus Semien (.481 OPS) should start producing consistently at some point.
But the Athletics could use an infusion of hitting. Also, like the Yankees, the lineup skews heavily right-handed, so a lefty or switch-hitting bat would be an especially welcome addition.
Tampa Bay Rays
Despite a 4-6 start, the Tampa Bay Rays are built to compete with the Yankees in the AL East. They have ample pitching, a strong defense and a deep lineup.
One thing the Rays could add is a proven power bat to jolt an offense that ranks 24th with a .368 slugging percentage. Second baseman Brandon Lowe has two homers and a 1.032 OPS in the early going, but there isn't a top-shelf slugger on the roster.
Tampa Bay shouldn't deal any top pieces from its No. 1-ranked farm system, but it certainly has enough minor league chips to swing a deal and improve its chances at making a deep postseason run.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays have a shot to reach the playoffs behind an exciting offensive core led by youngsters Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette and a starting rotation featuring rookie and budding ace Nate Pearson. Center fielder Teoscar Hernandez (1.176 OPS) is off to a scalding start.
The Jays should avoid dealing any key young pieces. But they could supplement their offense, which ranks 21st with a .688 OPS, via trade.
Another outfielder or designated hitter bat with power could slot nicely into the lineup, provided it doesn't force Toronto to mortgage a bright future.
The return of star left fielder Juan Soto, who missed the beginning of the season because of a COVID-19 diagnosis, will boost the Washington Nationals offense considerably.
Maybe it will be enough to improve a unit that ranks tied for 26th with 24 runs in seven games. Certainly there's talent elsewhere in rookie third baseman Carter Kieboom, center fielder Victor Robles and shortstop Trea Turner as well as veterans such as Starlin Castro and Adam Eaton.
But the defending champs lost a key bat this offseason when Anthony Rendon left via free agency, and adding another established hitter before the deadline wouldn't hurt.
Looking for Help at the Hot Corner
The Atlanta Braves lost third baseman Josh Donaldson to free agency this offseason. For now, they're relying on the duo of Austin Riley (.442 OPS) and Johan Camargo (.642 OPS) to take his place.
Stars such as right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and second baseman Ozzie Albies make the lineup dangerous. Atlanta may need to add pitching after Mike Foltynewicz was designated for assignment and Mike Soroka was lost for the season to an Achilles injury.
But the hot corner looks like the most obvious position to upgrade, and the defending NL East champs should go shopping.
St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals rank 24th with a .663 OPS. The offense looked like it might need some thump coming into the season, and that's been the case.
The Cards could plug a bat at third base. Tommy Edman and his .286 on-base percentage might be better suited to a utility role, and veteran Matt Carpenter has seen all his action at designated hitter.
Top prospects such as outfielder Dylan Carlson should be off-limits, but St. Louis has enough talent in its No. 16-ranked system to swing an impact deal.
In Need of Outfield Depth
The Minnesota Twins have a powerful lineup, an improved starting rotation with the additions of Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill and a stout bullpen. They are built to compete in the AL Central and the American League.
If the Twinkies decide to go shopping, they could improve their outfield depth. Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler have performed early, but center fielder Byron Buxton is once again failing to launch with an .083 average and .167 OPS.
Jake Cave and Marwin Gonzalez provide some coverage, but neither is a starting-quality outfielder on a playoff team. Minnesota probably won't spend the prospects it will take to land a star, but another outfield option seems like a good idea.
New York Mets
The New York Mets suddenly became shorthanded offensively when DH Yoenis Cespedes opted out of the remainder of the season because of COVID-19 concerns.
Even with the Cuban slugger, the Mets offense was middle-of-the pack with a 20th-ranked .394 slugging percentage. Now, they are in greater need of a bat.
Internal options such as Dominic Smith, who has posted an .875 OPS through five games, may help fill the void. But the Mets could use depth in the outfield behind the trio of J.D. Davis, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto. That's one area where New York could add power and help make up for the loss of Cespedes' lumber.