1 Flaw Every MLB Contender Needs to Address Before 2022 Trade Deadline
He who hesitates is lost, and even the favorites to win MLB's 2022 World Series have (at least) one area they could clearly stand to improve in advance of the still-far-away-but-approaching trade deadline.
One observation/explanation before we dive in: The majority of these flaws are batters rather than pitchers, but that doesn't mean we're anticipating an unusually quiet summer as far as trading of pitchers is concerned.
With rare exceptions, postseason contenders are always interested in improving their pitching staff before the deadline. In fact, the playoff field expanding from 10 teams to 12 teams figures to create even more demand for starting pitchers and less supply of them than we're used to seeing. But a lot of that demand is based on injury and/or guys cooling off from hot starts, and we'll need to wait at least another month or two to see how those factors drive the market. As is, most of these contenders seem to be in good shape in the pitching department.
Contenders are listed in alphabetical order, and these are the 12 teams who entered play on Tuesday with better than 30-1 odds of winning the World Series, per DraftKings.
World Series Odds: +1500
Flaw to Fix: Outfielders Not Named Acuna
What's curious about Atlanta's outfield predicament is the sheer amount of money it has already sunken into the position.
Ronald Acuna Jr. is making $15 million this season, and that's a bargain for one of the best players in baseball. But the Braves are also paying $16 million for Marcell Ozuna, $9.775 million for Adam Duvall and $9 million for Eddie Rosario. Without factoring in the substantially less expensive Orlando Arcia, Guillermo Heredia and Travis Demeritte, Atlanta is paying more for four outfielders than the A's or Orioles are paying for their entire rosters.
And the return on that investment has been...sub-optimal.
Even with Ozuna in the midst of a 10-game hitting streak that includes four home runs, he (-0.2), Duvall (-0.4) and Rosario (-1.2) each have a negative Baseball Reference WAR.
Dare they throw good money after bad in hopes of becoming the first repeat champions since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees, or just roll with what they've got in the outfield?
If they opt for the former route, Mitch Haniger could be an intriguing target. The Mariners right fielder has played in just nine games this season due to an ankle injury and isn't expected back until July, but he hit 39 home runs last season and could be the type of lucrative trade deadline acquisition that Duvall and Jorge Soler were for Atlanta last year.
Chicago White Sox
World Series Odds: +1700
Flaw to Fix: Second Base
Before this past offseason even began, Chicago knew second base was a weak point. The White Sox got just seven home runs and two stolen bases from their second basemen in 2021, and the two guys who logged the most games at that position (Cesar Hernandez and Nick Madrigal) were either already gone or on their way out the door.
They brought in Josh Harrison—a career .274 hitter with a respectable amount of pop and speed—in hopes of solving the problem, but he's batting .179 with neither a home run nor a stolen base to his credit. Leury Garcia hasn't been much better at .194 with two home runs and one stolen base.
As a result, "White Sox Second Baseman" has returned a worst in the majors negative-0.7 FanGraphs WAR on the season and is the lowest hanging fruit that this underachieving team could fix via trade.
The funny thing is bringing back Hernandez might be their best option. He's batting .277 as the everyday second baseman for the 15-games-below-.500 Nationals. Getting Adam Frazier from the Mariners is also an option if and when the M's drop far enough out of contention to part with one of their few impending free agents.
World Series Odds: +750
Flaw to Fix: Catcher
Long gone are the days of Martin Maldonado's defense being enough to make up for his lack of offense.
Opponents are still leery about running on him, and rightfully so. He has thrown out five of 11 attempted stolen bases this season. But Houston's pitching staff ranks dead last in the majors in called strike percentage, per FanGraphs. Baseball Savant also rates Maldonado as a below-average pitch framer in the current season.
And to make matters worse, he has gotten exceptionally bad at hitting the ball. He entered this season as a career .212 hitter, but is currently sitting at .122—dead last among the 233 players with at least 100 plate appearances. (Houston's backup catcher, Jason Castro, has been even worse at 4-for-39 with 21 strikeouts.)
If ever there was a year to need to trade for a catcher, it's 2022.
The Cubs (Willson Contreras), Tigers (Tucker Barnhart) and Pirates (Roberto Perez) all have good hitting backstops who will be free agents after this season, and all three of those teams are likely to be sellers at the deadline. If the Twins (Gary Sanchez) and Red Sox (Christian Vazquez) also end up in the sellers' club, even better for Houston.
Los Angeles Angels
World Series Odds: +2200
Flaw to Fix: The Entire Bullpen
Before the season began, relief pitching looked like a strong suit for the Angels. They re-signed closer Raisel Iglesias on a four-year, $58 million deal and brought in each of Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera and Archie Bradley as coveted free agents.
Just for those four relief pitchers, they’re paying nearly $30 million in 2022. But that quartet has a cumulative ERA of 4.34 through 60.2 innings of work, and the Angels bullpen as a whole has a FanGraphs WAR of 0.4.
The good news is this offense is so darn potent and the starting rotation has been so solid that mediocre pitching in the late innings hasn’t been a major issue. But reliable relievers in the postseason is a must if the Angels actually want to win a series for the first time since 2009.
The other good news is that there are always plenty of useful relievers available at the trade deadline. Per Spotrac, there are 128 relief pitchers hitting free agency this offseason, and come late July, it won’t be difficult to find a dozen of them who are pitching well on teams going nowhere fast.
Los Angeles Dodgers
World Series Odds: +450
Flaw to Fix: Third Base
The first tricky part here is they aren't going to kick Justin Turner to the curb. He has been with the franchise for nearly a decade and played a big role in Los Angeles winning the World Series just two years ago. Plus, he's one of the highest-paid players on the roster, making $20 million this season.
But the three Dodgers primarily responsible for playing third base—Turner, Max Muncy and Hanser Alberto—have a combined batting average below .200 and a combined Baseball Reference WAR of negative-0.4. They've also committed a combined five errors while manning the hot corner, so this position has been a rough spot for the World Series favorites, both in the field and at the dish.
The second tricky part is that there don't figure to be many great options available. Brandon Drury from Cincinnati and Maikel Franco from Washington are both gettable impending free agents, but is either one really an upgrade? Maybe Seattle would part with Eugenio Suarez if the Dodgers are willing to take on that contract for the next 2.5 years, but there's just not much of a third base market this year.
With the Dodgers otherwise in good shape across the board, though, this flaw feels like more of a fly in a still delicious soup than a thermal exhaust port on the Death Star.
World Series Odds: +1100
Flaw to Fix: Center Field
The first two years of the five-year, $80 deal that Milwaukee and Lorenzo Cain agreed to before the 2018 season were great. He hit .308 and finished seventh in the NL MVP vote in 2018; he won a Gold Glove and hit 30 doubles and 11 home runs with 18 stolen bases in 2019.
But he opted out of most of 2020, missed half of last season with a hamstring injury and can't hit the broad side of a barn in 2022, saddled with a .191 average and a .223 slugging percentage. The 36-year-old is nowhere near as good in center field as he used to be, either. He already has committed as many errors in 2022 as he did in 2019, and his range factor is now slightly below the league average.
The problem is going to be finding a center fielder worth trading to get.
Boston has Enrique Hernandez hitting free agency this offseason, but Milwaukee might as well just stand pat with Cain rather than trying to buy low on another struggling outfielder.
Maybe Randal Grichuk from Colorado? He's owed $10.3 million in 2023, but considering the Rockies are on the hook for both $18.3 million to Charlie Blackmon and $21 million in retained money for Nolan Arenado next season, they would probably be willing to part with Grichuk if it helps them contend in 2024.
New York Mets
World Series Odds: +800
Flaw to Fix: Injury Bug (or Third Base)
If we were to assume that every MLB player (who has not already been ruled out for the entire season) is healthy on October 7, the Mets would probably be my pick to win the World Series.
But in their current state—with Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Tylor Megill all on the IL—there's no way I'd even pick them to reach the NLCS.
They don't really need to trade for anything; they just need to repair what's already on the roster.
Last time I checked, though, you can't trade for better health, so I suppose the pick here would be a change at the hot corner.
Eduardo Escobar was an All-Star just last year, batting .253 with 28 home runs. He was even better in 2019 (.269 and 35 dingers). But the 33-year-old is currently struggling through his worst season in the majors, batting .209 with just two home runs. And his backup, J.D. Davis, hasn't been any better, hitting .230 with one home run in 86 plate appearances.
As previously mentioned with the Dodgers, though, options at third base are going to be pretty limited this year. Maybe they could get Joey Wendle from the Marlins? Though Miami probably wouldn't want to part with an asset who has a relatively inexpensive $6.3 million team option for 2023.
New York Yankees
World Series Odds: +550
Flaw to Fix: Catcher
New York's catcher situation isn't quite as dire as Houston's. At least Jose Trevino is batting above the Mendoza Line and rates as one of the better defensive backstops in the big leagues.
For the year, however, "Yankees Catcher" is batting .186/.241/.246 with just one home run.
And because the Yankees are getting no slugging whatsoever out of shortstop or center field while the Astros have gotten solid production out of every non-catcher spot in their lineup, New York may well be the more aggressive buyer at this position as we approach the trade deadline.
That's a key distinction to consider, because while there figures to be an excess of viable catcher options available to be acquired, there is one big name that stands out among the crowd: Willson Contreras.
The Cubs and Yankees are no strangers to deadline blockbusters, either. Getting Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees before the 2016 deadline was a major piece of Chicago's World Series formula. And last season, the Bronx Bombers got Anthony Rizzo from the North Siders. Don't be surprised if New York goes back to that trade partner to become an even bigger favorite to win the American League.
San Diego Padres
World Series Odds: +1300
Flaw to Fix: Batters Not Named Manny Machado or Eric Hosmer
This sounds harsher than it is, because I believe San Diego at the seventh-best World Series odds is fair/good value. By no means am I suggesting they need to replace seven of their nine primary hitters to contend for the crown.
But even if we assume that Fernando Tatis Jr. will return in late June and immediately resume his role as one of the best sluggers on the roster/in the majors, who is this team's fourth-best hitter?
For most of the top contenders, you can go five deep in a list of feared hitters, no problem. The Angels have Trout, Ohtani, Rendon, Ward, Walsh and Marsh. The Yankees have Judge, Stanton, Rizzo, LeMahieu, Torres, Donaldson and Gallo. The Dodgers are loaded. The Mets only really have two sluggers (Alonso and Lindor), but they have six regulars batting at least .268.
And the Padres have Machado, Hosmer, Tatis (eventually) and...Jake Cronenworth? Ha-Seong Kim? Jurickson Profar?
Any of those names scaring an NLCS-caliber pitching staff?
The good news is it's not a specific position they need to fix. Catcher. Second base. Any outfield spot. Heck, just getting a DH who can slug better than .300 would be an upgrade. So there are going to be a ton of different options they can pursue two months from now when at least 30 percent of teams have given up any hope of making the playoffs this season. But they've got to do something to provide more support to Machado in his MVP quest.
San Francisco Giants
World Series Odds: +2500
Flaw to Fix: Back Half of the Rotation
Anthony DeSclafani has been out for well over a month with an ankle injury that originally seemed innocuous. No telling when he'll be back for the Giants, but he has already been transferred to the 60-day IL, so it won't be in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, Alex Cobb has struggled to the tune of a 6.25 ERA, and Alex Wood's earned run average ballooned up to 4.82 on Sunday.
At least Jakob Junis has fared well in his spot starts, but he had a 5.36 ERA over the past three seasons and is liable to implode at any moment.
Carlos Rodon and Logan Webb could use some help is the moral of the story here, especially if the Giants have any intention of keeping pace with the Dodgers and Padres in the NL West.
The frustrating part is they have a combined $33.5 million tied up in DeSclafani, Cobb and Wood for this season. With four of the 43 highest-paid starting pitchers in the majors at their disposal, this really shouldn't be an issue. Nevertheless, San Francisco figures to be in the market for another starter in two months' time.
Tampa Bay Rays
World Series Odds: +2200
Flaw to Fix: One More Starter
The Rays were the first franchise to start using "openers" on a regular basis, so they are no strangers to making do with just a couple of legitimate starting pitchers.
But injuries have forced them to really put an early strain on their bullpen.
In Shane Baz, Tyler Glasnow, Brendan McKay, Luis Patino and Yonny Chirinos, the Rays have five starting pitchers on the 60-day IL. Shane McClanahan and Drew Rasmussen have been great and Corey Kluber has been both healthy and competent. But because of all those sidelined starters, they've been forced to use a hodgepodge of openers and spot starters for roughly 40 percent of starts.
The good news is Baz is nearing a return, so this issue should correct itself to some extent before much longer. But if they can get a guy like Martin Perez or Jordan Lyles before the trade deadline, it'd be silly not to.
Toronto Blue Jays
World Series Odds: +1000
Flaw to Fix: Corner Outfielders
With any luck, Lourdes Gurriel Jr.'s career batting splits will remain in effect and he will be much better in June and July (.312 average; 27 home runs) than he has been in April and May (.239 average; 12 home runs). He has neither a home run nor a multi-hit game this May, so June 1 cannot come soon enough for Toronto.
And with any more luck, Teoscar Hernandez will snap out of his first-quarter-of-the-season funk (.149 average; 2 home runs) and start hitting like the guy who earned MVP votes and Silver Slugger awards in each of the past two seasons.
As is, the Blue Jays' corner outfield situation is bleak. Gurriel, Hernandez and Raimel Tapia are hitting a collective .200 with five home runs. Those constant holes in the lineup have been a major factor in Toronto's disappointing offense. (Seriously, who could have guessed this group of sluggers would be averaging below 3.6 runs per game?)
As far as options at this year's deadline are concerned, Kansas City's Andrew Benintendi would be a great candidate if Gurriel and/or Hernandez continue to struggle.