8 Panic Moves MLB Teams Must Avoid After Rough Starts

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMay 28, 2021

8 Panic Moves MLB Teams Must Avoid After Rough Starts

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    The Twins' disastrous start shouldn't cost Rocco Baldelli his job.
    The Twins' disastrous start shouldn't cost Rocco Baldelli his job.Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    It's still early in the 2021 Major League Baseball season, but not so early that teams off to slow starts shouldn't be considering some difficult decisions.

    And yet, we've come to warn them against panicking and making choices that they would come to regret.

    There are eight teams in particular that drew our attention. None of them is where it was hoping to be at the end of May, and each is thus in a position to shake things up with trades, roster moves and maybe even leadership changes. But to these ends, more patience is required.

    Let's go one at a time, starting with the team with the lowest winning percentage and working our way to the team with the highest.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Sell, Yes, but Don't Move Ketel Marte

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Record: 18-33, 5th in NL West

    Though the Arizona Diamondbacks had reasons to believe their last-place finish in 2020 was a fluke, it's now looking like their fall from grace is the real deal.

    As such, the D-backs are all but certain to go into sell mode ahead of the July 30 trade deadline. They could field offers for pending free agents like Eduardo Escobar, and perhaps for controllable pieces like Madison Bumgarner and David Peralta.

    But while Joel Sherman of the New York Post doesn't necessarily have the wrong idea in proposing Ketel Marte as a possible trade chip, that's where Arizona should draw a thick line.

    Because of a down season in 2020 and a hamstring injury that sidelined him for most of April and May this year, the 27-year-old's value isn't especially high right now. Yet he was an All-Star and MVP contender as recently as 2019, and he'll make only $26.4 million through 2024 if the D-backs exercise his club options.

    Those things amount to incentive for the Snakes to hold on to him until his value escalates or until a new contenders materializes around him. And because they have MLB's No. 10 farm system, the latter may well happen before the former.

Minnesota Twins: Don't Fire Rocco Baldelli

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Record: 20-29, 4th in AL Central

    The Minnesota Twins won the American League Central in 2019 and 2020, so it's definitely shocking to see them so far under .500 this season.

    It's going to take a major turnaround for the Twins to avoid cutting their losses with trades of Nelson Cruz, Andrelton Simmons and others at the trade deadline. As for how the club might spur such a turnaround, firing third-year manager Rocco Baldelli is one possibility.

    It indeed looks bad for Baldelli that the Twins have underachieved this season. And while he didn't come off as badly as Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa, it was Baldelli who earned a suspension as a result of the Yermin Mercedes drama.

    However, it isn't Baldelli's fault that many of the team's key players—especially including ascendant center fielder Byron Buxton—have spent time on the injured list. It's also not on him that the front office went for quantity over quality in its offseason search for pitching, the results of which are unsurprisingly grim.

    The tricky part here is that it's unclear how many years Baldelli has left on his contract. But on the chance it runs beyond 2021, he should get his shot at redemption in 2022.

Los Angeles Angels: Give Jo Adell More Time

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Record: 22-28, 4th in AL West

    After the Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros both lost key pieces to free agency over the winter, the Los Angeles Angels came into 2021 with hopes of making a move up the AL West ranks.

    It might still happen, but factors pushing against it include a pitching staff with an MLB-worst 5.27 ERA and a calf strain that could keep three-time AL MVP Mike Trout sidelined into July.

    Pretty much as soon as Trout went on the IL, speculation began that the Angels might call up former top prospect Jo Adell to take his spot in the outfield. Now that the 22-year-old has 10 home runs in 19 games with Triple-A Salt Lake, that idea might look like a no-brainer.

    But according to J.P. Hoornstra of the Orange County Register, Angels general manager Perry Minasian still thinks Adell can get better on defense. Considering that his glovework wasn't exactly impressive in his 21-game sample with the Angels in 2020, there's some validity at play there.

    Otherwise, there's also the reality that Adell's 34.1 strikeout percentage this year tracks with the ugly 41.7 K% he had last season. So in spite of his power surge, Triple-A is the best place for him right now.

Washington Nationals: There's No Rush to Trade Max Scherzer

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Record: 21-25, 5th in NL East

    After going 26-34 in 2020, the Washington Nationals started this season with the idea in mind to recapture the magic that led them to their first ever World Series championship in 2019.

    It's not going well, in large part because three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer has been the only stable presence in their starting rotation. Whereas he boasts a 2.27 ERA through 10 outings, Washington's other starters have struggled to the tune of a 4.99 ERA.

    Because Scherzer, now 36, is in the final season of his seven-year, $210 million contract, he's understandably the subject of trade chatter. Plus, Washington's record isn't the club's only incentive to hear offers. The club also has to think of a farm system that we have ranked at the bottom of MLB.

    But at least for now, the Nats can be patient.

    The last time Scherzer was seen as a possible trade target in May, the Nationals kept him and went on to win it all. Now that they have relatively few injuries and the NL East lead is very much within reach, it's not quite out of the question that history will repeat itself in 2021.

Cincinnati Reds: Don't Sell the Farm for Trevor Story

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Record: 22-26, 4th in NL Central

    Last November, the Cincinnati Reds were said to be prioritizing a new shortstop. But on the eve of Opening Day, they simply installed incumbent third baseman Eugenio Suarez at the position.

    To say that decision has backfired would be putting it lightly. Though he's since moved back to the hot corner, Suarez was an offensive and defensive disaster at shortstop. And on the whole, the Reds have gotten minus-0.7 rWAR out of the position.

    In theory, the Reds could resolve this dilemma with a trade for Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story. Indeed, they're one of the best fits for him on paper.

    At least as far as their roster is concerned, anyway. Their big-picture situation is a different, well, story. 

    Because the Reds are five games out of first place in the NL Central, a trade for Story could indeed be the turning point for their season. But he would cost precious pieces from their middling farm system and he's set for free agency this winter, so the risk/reward balance wouldn't quite be in Cincinnati's favor.

Philadelphia Phillies: Keep Alec Bohm on a Long Leash

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Record: 25-26, 2nd in NL East

    For the fourth time in as many years, the Philadelphia Phillies are right around .500 but seemingly incapable of actually getting over the hump.

    As for how the Phillies might force their way over, it's not too early to be considering changes to a bullpen that's been wildly hit or miss outside of Hector Neris and Sam Coonrod. They could also shake up the left side of their infield, where Didi Gregorius and Alec Bohm have let them down.

    The latter, in particular, has been a major disappointment after hitting .338 en route to a second-place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2020. The 24-year-old is slashing just .213/.249/.317, and he hasn't made up the difference with slick fielding at third base.

    Yet the Phillies can be forgiven for how they haven't yet jerked their knee and sent Bohm back down to Triple-A.

    Even though he has 44 more strikeouts than walks, he's in above-average territory with his chase (65th percentile) and whiff (55th percentile) rates. He also has the best average exit velocity of any Phillies regular, so it's likely just a matter of time before his bat resumes carrying him.

Atlanta: Do Seek Starters, but Not Relievers

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Record: 24-25, 2nd in NL East

    Elsewhere in the NL East, Atlanta originally had every reason to believe it could win its fourth straight division title in 2021. But two months later, the cracks in the club's plans can no longer be ignored.

    It's going to hurt to be without slugging left fielder Marcell Ozuna for the next six weeks as he recovers from two broken fingers. But Atlanta has bigger issues on the mound, where Huascar Ynoa (hand) and Mike Soroka (Achilles) are notably absent from an underperforming rotation.

    Could Atlanta be scouring the trade market for potential rotation fixes? And should it? Also yes.

    But lest the club assign the same level of concern to a bullpen that's also let it down with a 4.49 ERA, a couple things should alleviate said concern.

    For one, left-handers Will Smith and A.J. Minter have pitched better than their 4.00-plus ERAs suggest. For two, old friend Shane Greene is nearly ready after finally signing in early May. If those three shape up while Luke Jackson and Tyler Matzek continue to pitch well, Atlanta's bullpen will be in good shape for the stretch.

Toronto Blue Jays: Don't Overpay for a Closer

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Record: 25-24, 4th in AL East

    To be fair, the Toronto Blue Jays aren't having a bad season. But after mounting a playoff run in 2020, they should feel disappointed that they're looking up at three teams in the AL East race.

    Going forward, it would be huge for the Blue Jays if $150 million free-agent signee George Springer (quad) gets and stays healthy. Otherwise, they should be thinking about adding to a rotation that's thus far been shaky outside of Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray and Steven Matz.

    The bullpen is yet another area that arguably needs upgrades, specifically with regard to the closer's role. Since Kirby Yates was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery in March, six different pitchers have combined for just 10 saves.

    One bit of good news, however, is that electric righty Julian Merryweather is making progress in his return from an oblique injury. There's also the recent dominance of Jordan Romano. And since his path back to the rotation has been iffy, top prospect Nate Pearson could be a candidate for relief work.

    Ultimately, the Jays don't need to rush to make a deal for, say, Richard Rodriguez. Their closer problem might just fix itself.

        

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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