MLB Trade Ideas: Possible Moves to Fill Each Team's Most Exposed Problem
As the MLB season creeps toward the end of April, all 30 teams have now played approximately 20 games each, and while there were certainly some surprises at the start, the expected cream is starting to rise to the top, while the expected bottom feeders, with some exceptions, are trending toward the bottom of the pack.
The Cleveland Indians, one of the early surprises, were swept in a shortened two-game series over the weekend by the Minnesota Twins, and their starting pitching, which carried them through the first three weeks of the season, is starting to show signs of struggles, as Carlos Carrasco was forced to leave Sunday’s game after experiencing tightness in his right elbow. Carrasco joins Mitch Talbot, who was placed on the disabled list last week with right elbow issues as well.
The Kansas City Royals, who had surprisingly joined the Indians atop the American League Central standings, were also swept over the weekend by the surging Texas Rangers. The Rangers, despite missing Josh Hamilton, scored 22 runs and have been led by Michael Young with a 14-game hitting streak, and new acquisition Adrian Beltre, who now has seven home runs and 20 runs batted in on the young season.
The Boston Red Sox, who got off to their worst start since 1945, have suddenly turned things around, sweeping their four-games series with the Los Angeles Angels, the first time the Sox swept a four-game series in Anaheim since June 1980.
Sox starting pitchers have now gone nine games in which starters have gone at least five innings while giving up less than three runs, the longest such streak since 1946. Sox starters have logged a 0.88 ERA during the current span.
In the National League, the Phillies, despite the absence of second baseman Chase Utley and closer Brad Lidge, have rallied to the top of the National League East riding a five-game winning streak, and largely on the strength of their vaunted starting rotation. The Phillies recently received bad news once again however, as current closer Jose Contreras was placed on the 15-day DL with a right elbow injury following Sunday’s win over the San Diego Padres.
The Florida Marlins are once again hanging around the top of the NL East despite payroll challenges, and also based largely on the strength of their starting rotation. Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez are doing their level best to keep the Marlins in the hunt.
So, after approximately 13 percent of games have been played, teams now can get a feel of where their strengths are, and where potential gaps may need to be addressed.
We will take a look at each team’s biggest weakness, and which particular problem needs to be addressed above all else.
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Arizona Diamondbacks: Starting Pitching
The Arizona Diamondbacks starting rotation started out strong, but has come back down to earth. After five quality starts in their first seven games, D-Backs starters have since struggled mightily, with only two quality starts in their last 13 games.
Left-hander Joe Saunders is the only starter with an ERA under 5.00, and just barely, at 4.98. The total starters’ ERA of 5.85 is second-worst in the National League, only behind the Cubs, at 6.03.
Manager Kirk Gibson was asked if changes would be forthcoming. “We’ll see,” Gibson told the Arizona Republic. “We’re not getting very good results, that’s for sure. The first thing to do is reflect on if I’m doing anything wrong or (pitching coach) Charlie (Nagy) or if we can do anything better to help them out. The execution part is on them.”
Um, ya think?
With the D-Backs projected to finish near the bottom of the NL West, management won’t be looking to add a quality arm to their payroll. However, former Tigers’ pitcher Jeremy Bonderman is still on the market, and does not appear to be close to signing with anyone at this time.
Atlanta Braves: Center Field
You really have to wonder how long the Atlanta Braves will be patient with current center fielder Nate McLouth, especially if they’re still in contention at the break.
McLouth, coming off a miserable 2010 season during which he hit just .190, has shown some signs of life, especially on the recent road trip during which McLouth singled in the go-ahead runs in the top of the 10th inning against San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson on Sunday afternoon.
McLouth has the average up to .247, however if he is unable to provide consistent offense, general manager Frank Wren could be making some calls in late June-early July.
McLouth has a $10.65 million club option for 2012, with a $1.25 million buyout, so Wren would have no issues in pulling off a trade. Possible candidates could include Mike Cameron of the Boston Red Sox, owed $7.25 million through 2011, and would provide pop as well as capable defense.
Chicago White Sox third baseman/corner outfielder Mark Teahen could be an option. Teahen can provide insurance at third should the aging Chipper Jones be felled with injury issues and can play both corner outfield positions.
Baltimore Orioles: Bullpen
The Baltimore Orioles started out like a house afire in 2011, only to lose nine of their last 11 games, and the bullpen has been nothing but porous.
Koji Uehara and Jeremy Accardo have performed brilliantly in relief, while the rest of the bullpen has been less than stellar. Overall, the Baltimore bullpen has a 5.18 ERA, ranked third to last in the AL, and have given up 14 home runs in 66 innings.
Possible candidates to help the O’s pen could be Chicago Cubs reliever Jeff Samardzija, who could probably use a change of pace after three not so rosy years in the Windy City, and if the Cubs are out of contention by July.
Boston Red Sox: Catcher
The Boston Red Sox have started to right the ship after a disastrous start to their season, backed by their outstanding starting pitching and timely hitting. However, their patience may start to wear thin if their current starting catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, can’t start hitting his weight.
Saltalamacchia is currently hitting .185 with five runs batted in over 14 games, and combined with veteran Jason Varitek hitting just .074, general manager Theo Epstein will need to plug that hole, and quickly.
Likely candidates could be Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzysnki, who is still reliable behind the plate, and the White Sox have prospect Tyler Flowers waiting in the wings.
New York Yankees catcher Russell Martin could possibly be an option as well, especially if Francisco Cervelli comes back strong from his broken left foot. This option is less likely, with the Yankees and Sox in the same division and possibly fighting for postseason play against each other in the later months.
Chicago White Sox: Bullpen
The Chicago White Sox bullpen has already caused manager Ozzie Guillen to walk out of one post-game press conference, and it’s surprising he has held his outbursts to a minimum, considering the absolutely dismal performance of his bullpen.
Their lack of an effective closer may have Ozzie begging for Bobby Jenks. Thus far, the Sox have blown six saves and own the fewest amount of saves, with just one.
If the White Sox are somehow in the hunt by the All-Star break, GM Kenny Williams may be able to find some trade partners.
Could Joba Chamberlain be a possible candidate? With Rafael Soriano now in the mix for the New York Yankees, it’s highly unlikely Chamberlain will obtain the closers’ role there anytime soon.
Chicago Cubs: No. 5 Starter
What was thought to be a fairly solid position for the Chicago Cubs has been abysmal thus far. Cubs’ starting pitchers have combined for a 6.03 ERA in their first 21 games, last in the majors.
Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano aren’t going anywhere, so help is clearly needed at the end of the rotation.
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton could be available, if the Cubs can put together an attractive package. Blanton is owed $17 million over the next two seasons, and could provide stability for the Cubs behind their trio of Garza, Dempster and Zambrano.
Cincinnati Reds: Top of Rotation Starter
The Cincinnati Reds were clearly one of the surprises of the 2010 season, winning the National League Central Division title for the first time since 1995. However, against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS, their starting pitching was exposed, and thus far in the first few weeks of the 2011 season, the same is ringing true.
While the Reds have scored 114 runs in their first 23 games, good for first in the National League, their pitching has been inconsistent at best. Their lack of a top front-line starter is their biggest hole.
Candidates to fill that role could be Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jesse Litsch, currently 1-1 with a 3.63 ERA, and possibly Minnesota Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano, who isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2012 season and could be deemed available if the Twins don’t see the value of a long-term deal.
Cleveland Indians: Starting Pitching
The Cleveland Indians have gotten off to a surprising 13-8 start, good for first place in the American League Central division. However, holes are now starting to show through in their starting rotation, which started out with a bang but has since gone through some flux.
Mitch Talbot is currently on the DL with elbow issues, and he may be joined there by Carlos Carrasco, who was shut down over the weekend after experiencing similar elbow issues.
It is highly doubtful that the Indians will spend any money to upgrade the rotation, unless they are still miraculously in the hunt by the All-Star break. Look for them to fill holes through their minor league stables with a combination of David Huff, Jeanmar Gomez and possibly Alex White, who posted a 2.00 ERA in his first three starts for Triple-A Columbus.
Colorado Rockies: Third Baseman
It’s hard to find holes in a team currently rolling along at 15-7 and leading the National League West division, however third baseman Jose Lopez is struggling at the plate right now, and a .153 in the seventh spot in the batting order isn’t going to cut it for very long.
Possible trade possibilities could be Detroit Tigers utility infielder Ramon Santiago. Santiago has always had an impressive on-base percentage, and can play any infield position with ease.
Santiago would also be a very inexpensive option, under contract for the 2011 season at $1.25 million.
Detroit Tigers: Middle Relief
The Detroit Tigers have been surging since getting off to a 3-7 start, now at 12-10 and in second place in the American League Central Division. The starting pitching has been lights out over the past week, led by ace Justin Verlander.
While the Tigers received a blow with the news that catcher/designated hitter Victor Martinez is headed to the DL with a strained right groin, their offense has been terrific, and young catcher Alex Avila has settled in nicely behind the plate.
The back of the bullpen has been lights out thus far, led by Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit. However, their middle relief has been their nemesis. Aside from Daniel Schlereth (3.00 ERA), manager Jim Leyland doesn’t have many options.
Possible candidates come trade deadline time could be Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima. Okajima will still have value as a left-handed short reliever, and a change of scenery could serve him well.
Florida Marlins: Third Base
The Florida Marlins are once again off to a nice start and are dogging the Philadelphia Phillies at the top of the National League East division with a 14-7 record. Their starting pitching has been fantastic, and they’re winning with one of their main catalysts, Hanley Ramirez, hitting just .194.
Their biggest current issue is at third base. While Greg Dobbs has filled in admirably, Donnie Murphy has been abysmal (.114 batting average) and Matt Dominguez is rehabbing from a broken elbow.
Candidates to help out the Marlins at the hot corner could be Chicago White Sox infielder/outfielder Mark Teahen, Tigers utility infielder Ramon Santiago and possibly Kansas City Royals third baseman Alex Gordon, if he continues his successful start to the 2011 season and the Royals give up on signing him for the future.
Houston Astros: Take Your Pick
At 8-14, the Houston Astros are pretty much where everyone thought they would be. Their team ERA (5.08) is 14th in the National League, and their fielding has been even worse, averaging over an error per game.
There is almost no chance that the Astros will be filling any holes via trade, given the fact they will most likely be bottom-feeding by the time the trade deadline rolls around. If anything, they may be looking to unload salary, such as Carlos Lee, currently owed $37 million over the next two seasons.
Kansas City Royals: Where Aren’t There Holes?
Another team off to a surprising start, the Kansas City Royals have somewhat come back down to earth, losing six of their last eight games to drop to 12-10.
This is another team that most likely will not be looking to fill any holes via a trade. The Royals have been committed to a youth movement for years, and considering they will most likely be located at or near the bottom of the AL Central division by the All-Star break, don’t look for any blockbuster moves here.
The good news is that left fielder Alex Gordon seems to finally be reaching his potential, currently hitting .356 with 14 runs batted in. Third baseman Mike Aviles has also shown great progress, with three homers and 14 driven in as well.
Los Angeles Angels: Bat off the Bench
The Los Angeles Angels have shown they have the pitching, with Jered Weaver now 6-0 with a 0.99 ERA, Dan Haren 4-1 with a 1.46 ERA and even young Tyler Chatwood, who has filled in admirably with Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir on the disabled list. The bullpen has also looked strong, with Jordan Walden stepping up as closer and Thompson, Takahashi, Rodney and Rodriguez all pitching effectively.
The Angels have had trouble scoring runs consistently, and in order to keep up with the Texas Rangers, GM Tony Reagins will have to pull a deal on a capable bat in the middle of the lineup. Michael Young’s name keeps cropping up, and it could be pulled off, if Reagins can put an attractive offer together.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Left Fielder
The Los Angeles Dodgers are now being run by Major League Baseball, so their hands will be tied in terms of any offer until the ownership situation is squared away, which could be as long as a year. In the meantime, they will more than likely have to make do what they currently have.
Jerry Sands, the recent call-up, is currently hitting.233 with five runs batted in. The other pieces in left field, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Marcus Thames, are not reliable options. Unfortunately, Ned Colletti will have issues in trying to upgrade that position, so Dodger fans may be stuck with Sands to mature and fill that role for the time being.
Milwaukee Brewers: Bullpen
Slowly, the Milwaukee Brewers are starting to get healthy. Corey Hart should be back this week, Takashi Saito should be activated by Wednesday and Zack Greinke possibly a week later.
The bullpen continues to be a work in progress, as John Axford has blown two saves while posting a 6.48 ERA. If the Brewers are in contention by the All-Star break, GM Doug Melvin will be actively looking to plug that hole.
Possible candidates include Jonathan Papelbon, who will almost certainly not be back with the Boston Red Sox next season, and Brian Fuentes, if the Oakland A’s aren’t able to keep up in the American League West.
Minnesota Twins: Back of Rotation Starter
The Minnesota Twins will no doubt be fighting for the American League Central division title once again, but they will need some consistent performances from their starting rotation in order to get there. Francisco Liriano, who gets the start tonight, has been a non-factor, with a 1-3 record with a 7.46 ERA. Nick Blackburn has also struggled to a 1-3 start.
GM Bill Smith has shown he is not afraid to pull of trade deadline deals, and this year may be no exception. Possible candidates to chip in could be Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Andy Sonnanstine, especially if the Rays are deemed out of the hunt by mid-July.
New York Mets: Starting Pitching
The New York Mets, while in a different predicament than the Los Angeles Dodgers, are also hamstrung in terms of making personnel moves, unless the Wilpons are able to find a minority investor, and soon.
GM Sandy Alderson will no doubt be looking for arms, as Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey at the top of the rotation does not exactly inspire confidence. Chris Young (1-0, 1.46 ERA) returns from the disabled list tonight to try to extend the Mets’ winning streak to five games, and young Dillon Gee has been impressive as well, off to a 2-0 start with a 2.31 ERA.
Possible candidates, if the Mets can find some money, would be Francisco Liriano of the Twins and Andy Sonnanstine of the Rays. I seriously doubt that Alderson would pull a Minaya and go after Giants’ pitcher Barry Zito, but that’s just my guess here…
New York Yankees: Starting Pitching
The New York Yankees may be in more trouble than they thought with their starting pitching. Number two starter Phil Hughes, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a dead arm, still has a dead arm after his most recent bullpen session on Monday, and will be reexamined.
While A.J. Burnett has gotten off to a nice start, the Yankees are now relying on reclamation projects Freddie Garcia and Bartolo Colon at the bottom of the rotation, and GM Brian Cashman will no doubt be burning up the phone lines to bring in some more depth.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Yankees make a pitch for Indians’ starter Fausto Carmona. Carmona is in the final year of his contract with club options for the next three seasons, and the Yankees could put together an impressive package of prospects for the rebuilding Indians.
Oakland Athletics: Outfield Bat
Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane has never been one to be active at the trade deadline. It’s just not his style.
However, if the A’s are still in contention at the break, with their fabulous young starting rotation and depth in their bullpen, they will absolutely need some run producers down the stretch, clearly their biggest weakness over the past two seasons.
Possible candidates could be Baltimore Orioles’ first baseman Derrek Lee. Lee, who just signed with the O’s in the offseason, is off to a slow start in Baltimore, and could be jettisoned if the deal is right.
Philadelphia Phillies: Bullpen Help
With Jose Contreras sent to the disabled list with a right elbow injury, and closer Brad Lidge already there, the Philadelphia Phillies may need some additional bullpen arms to stay atop the National League East standings.
GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has shown that he is not afraid to pull off any deal to improve his club, and this year will be no exception. Possible candidates include Oakland A’s closer Brian Fuentes, Mike Gonzalez of the Baltimore Orioles and possibly Jonathan Papelbon of the Red Sox, who almost certainly won’t be signed by the club at the end of the season.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Don’t Even Think About It
The Pittsburgh Pirates have not seen a winning team since 1992, and fans definitely won’t be seeing one this season.
There is simply NO chance in hell the Pirates will be looking for any type of outside help come July, but no doubt they will be looking to unload and stock up young players for their perennial rebuilding process.
San Diego Padres: Anyone Who Can Hit
The San Diego Padres have scored a major league-low 63 runs in 22 games. For those who are mathematically challenged, that’s not even three runs per game.
Brad Hawpe, Adrian Gonzalez’ replacement at first base, has been particularly anemic, hitting .125 with two extra base hits.
Unfortunately, the Padres aren’t climbing out of the National League West cellar this season, so help from outside sources probably isn’t coming. They will almost certainly be relying on the development of players in their organization to provide any sort of relief to what will otherwise be a dismal summer in San Diego.
San Francisco Giants: Back of Rotation Starter
The San Francisco Giants, fresh off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves, are stumbling a bit, and surprisingly it’s with their starting rotation. Madison Bumgarner has yet to find his groove, stumbling off to an 0-3 start with a 7.79 ERA, Barry Zito is on the disabled list, and the Giants have gone with a four-man rotation since Zito was shelved.
Ryan Vogelsang, who has been effective in long relief, could get a couple of looks, but GM Brian Sabean could be looking for reinforcements in order to get back to the postseason to defend their championship.
Possible candidates include San Diego Padres pitcher Dustin Mosely, who despite an 0-3 record has a 1.99 ERA, Philadelphia’s Joe Blanton and Twins’ starter Francisco Liriano.
Seattle Mariners: Anyone Who Can Hit a Round Ball with a Round Bat
The Seattle Mariners are at 8-15, and at the bottom of the American League West division, exactly where they were project to end up, and the offense has once again been as advertised: dismal.
The Mariners set a record of futility last season, scoring just 513 runs, by far the lowest total in the designated hitter era, and this season isn’t showing much promise either.
The Mariners won’t be getting any help from outside sources, so don’t look for a magic pill here. First year manager Eric Wedge will have to make do with what he has.
St. Louis Cardinals: Setup/Middle Relief
What was thought to be a major concern in spring training hasn’t been at all. When Adam Wainwright went down with a bad elbow requiring Tommy John surgery, most assumed that the starting rotation would take a major hit.
However, starters thus far have posted a 10-5 record with a 3.33 ERA. Jaime Garcia has been outstanding, with a 3-0 record and 1.44 ERA, and Kyle McClellan has been terrific since winning the number five starter role in spring training, posting a 2-0 record and 1.89 ERA.
While Ryan Franklin spit the bit as the closer early on, Mitchell Boggs has since stepped up, with three saves in as many opportunities. However, long term there may be a need to bridge the gap between the starters and Boggs.
Possible candidates could be Hideki Okajima of the Boston Red Sox, Chad Qualls of the San Diego Padres and Sean Marshall of the Chicago Cubs.
Tampa Bay Rays: First Baseman
The Tampa Bay Rays, after an abysmal start, have crept back to .500 in the American League East division, and have gotten great productions from unlikely sources such as Sam Fuld and Reid Brignac.
However, first base has been a black hole. Dan Johnson has gotten off to a horrible start, hitting just .131, and Casey Kotchman is a platoon player/defensive replacement at best.
If the Rays are still in the hunt at the All-Star break, and looking to spend at least a little money, a possible option could be Los Angeles Dodgers' first baseman James Loney, especially if the Dodgers are forced to sell off players in order to save payroll.
Texas Rangers: Bullpen Help
The Texas Rangers at 14-8 are leading the American League West division, with designs on defending their AL pennant. Offensively, the Rangers have been outstanding, with the addition of Adrian Beltre, Michael Young on a 15-game hitting streak and David Murphy filling in very capably for the injured Josh Hamilton.
With the recent news that closer Neftali Feliz was sent to the disabled list with rotator cuff inflammation, the Rangers are relying on a pair of 40-year-old pitchers, Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver, to pick up the slack in the bullpen.
They will definitely need some assistance if Feliz is out for any length of time. Possible candidates include Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Scott Olsen and San Diego Padres reliever Chad Qualls. Olsen would be a cheap alternative, and hey, the Pirates will get rid of anyone if they can save a buck or two.
Toronto Blue Jays: Back of Rotation Starters
At 11-12, the Toronto Blue Jays are about where most experts thought they would be, right around the .500 mark. Offensively, Jose Bautista has been lights out, leading the AL in batting average, homers and on-base percentage.
Starters Ricky Romero and Kyle Drabek have been terrific thus far, and Jesse Litsch has been consistent thus far. The problem has been on the back end of the rotation, where Jo-Jo Reyes and Brett Cecil have been awful, both with ERAs above 6.00.
If the Blue Jays are still in contention by the All-Star break, possible back end rotation starters they could look at would be Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Andy Sonnanstine, Florida Marlins pitcher Burke Badenhop or possibly Andrew Miller of the Red Sox, currently pitching in Triple-A Pawtucket.
Washington Nationals: Hope for Future, Cuz They Ain't Buyin'
For anyone thinking that the Washington Nationals will be buyers at any point this season, you might want to re-consider your current mindset.
With third baseman Ryan Zimmerman on the DL and free-agent acquisition Jayson Werth off to a .218 start, the Nats are struggling to score runs. Manager Jim Riggleman has done a great job just to have them close to .500 at this point.
However, when the dog days of summer approach, so too will come the inevitable slide of the Nationals back to mediocrity, when all fans will be pining for the day that Stephen Strasburg returns from Tommy John surgery.
At least there will be something to look forward to in the nation's capitol.