By Ross Kelly
The MLB trade deadline is one of the most exciting times of the year for the sports fan. Every July 31 you are practically guaranteed to see big names get moved to bolster a weak spot on a contender. Or, you could see big names moved as a sign of a team throwing in the towel on that season (i.e. Marlins in 2012, Red Sox in 2014). Just last year we saw the Jon Lester-Yoenis Cespedes blockbuster, David Price shipped to Detroit and the first Yankees-Red Sox trade in 17 years (Stephen Drew to NYY, Kelly Johnson to BOS).
With about 100 games played for each team thus far, the playoff situation is becoming clearer. The top teams in each league are emerging from the pack but still have room for improvement. Here are the holes for each division-leader and the corresponding moves that they should make to fill them:
New York Yankees – Middle infielder/starting pitcher
Sniffing their first postseason berth in four years, the Yankees should not hold anything back in their pursuit, but will they? They have two offensive black holes in the middle of their infield and their starting rotation has been inconsistent. They should harken back to their glory days and swing for the fences to fill both holes.
Targets: Troy Tulowitzki and Cole Hamels – If you want to go big then aren’t any two names bigger than these. Tulo may not be the defensive ace of the past, but he’s still above average and an elite offensive shortstop. It would be a shame if he spent his entire career toiling away in the Rockies and being out of playoff races my mid-summer. He would also make a nice heir apparent to you-know-who as Didi Gregorius has a nice name, but is clearly not the long-term solution. As for Hamels, what more needs to be said about a man that just threw a 13-strikeout no-hitter? Every contender wants him and for the Yankees, he certainly fits a need as they currently don’t have a left-handed starter.
Kansas City Royals – Corner outfielder/second baseman
With the need for a starting pitcher now taken care of, the defending AL champs can now focus on filling out their lineup. Another outfielder was a need even before Alex Gordon was expected to miss eight weeks due to a groin injury. Now with Gordon out, the Royals lose the luxury of platooning Jarrod Dyson with Alex Rios as Dyson has been forced into everyday action. Rios has always been able to hit left-handed pitching, until this year, as his .589 OPS would attest to. With second baseman, and near All-Star, Omar Infante putting up some of the worst offensive numbers by a full-timer in the Live Ball Era, the team clearly needs another bat.
Target: Ben Zobrist – The uber-utility man would solve both problems for KC, though he would cost a lot more than other options. He could either shuffle between 2B and OF until Gordon returns or he could just permanently replace Infante. There are bigger bats out there but Zobrist’s versatility at KC’s biggest needs is too good to pass up.
LA Angels – Left fielder
Matt Joyce has, literally, been the third worst full-time player in baseball this season with a WAR of -0.9. Granted, neither he nor the Angels expected him to be a full-time player, but he hasn’t even done what he was brought to Anaheim to do – hit right-handed pitchers. Prior to this year, his career OPS vs. righties hovered around .800 but that has dipped 200 points in 2015. Add to the fact that he’s a minus defensively, Joyce will need to rediscover his stroke (in the minors) if he wants to stick around.
Target: David Murphy/Ryan Raburn – With the Angels still paying Josh Hamilton about $72 million over the next three years, you would imagine that they’re in no hurry to add another big-salary player. That limits their options in trade targets but either of the Indians’ corner outfielder/DHs would help fill a void. Neither is great defensively, but neither was Joyce. Both players have 2016 options but cheap buyouts after the season. If the Angels want to splurge a bit (as if they haven’t done enough of that), then Jay Bruce would be an even better option.
Washington Nationals – Health/Utility Player
With so many players in and out of the lineup, the Nationals really just need a bit of luck in regards to their health. If you thought Bryce Harper was getting walked a lot right now, he may turn into Barry Bonds circa 2004 during the playoffs. With injuries to so many position players, a utility man would probably be the best option to cover all their bases.
Target: Zobrist/Martin Prado – Like Zobrist, Prado is an ultimate utility man who would slot nicely into virtually any infield/corner outfield position. For such a valuable player, it’s a bit of a surprise he’s on the block so often and has already been traded three times since 2013. The last team to trade Prado, the Yankees, are paying $6 million of his salary over the next two years so the Nationals wouldn’t be on the hook for too much.
St. Louis Cardinals – First baseman
The Cards are having a historically great pitching season that could get even better if ace Adam Wainwright is somehow able to return this season from a torn Achilles. But they could definitely use some power in their lineup as their top two home run hitters are their middle infielders. Mark Reynolds is still doing Mark Reynolds-things at first base like striking out and committing errors, but he’s no longer the power threat he once was. He really isn’t even suited for a platoon role anymore and I bet the Cardinals would rather trot out a one-legged Matt Adams than Reynolds in October.
Target: Adam Lind – The Brewers wouldn’t be thrilled to be doing an intra-division trade but with Milwaukee out of the playoff race, it’s not like Lind is going to come back and hurt them later in the season. Lind has exceeded expectations since leaving the friendly confines of Rogers Centre and has even played replacement-level defense at first. He’s also in the last year of his contract with a $500K buyout on his 2016 vesting option. Lind will definitely be motivated in a Cardinals jersey as the 11-year veteran has never played in the postseason and he would surely do that in St. Louis.
LA Dodgers – Starting pitcher
If only Kershaw and Greinke could pitch every inning of every game…After their two studs, the rest of the rotation is seemingly being held together by duct tape and they could use another starter. I don’t think Don Mattingly can enter October counting on Brett Anderson or Mike Bolsinger despite their good numbers. Even though Rollins has underperformed at SS, the rest of the bats are good enough to make up for his deficiencies so they should just focus on getting another arm.
Target: Cole Hamels – Hamels is getting moved, it’s just a matter of when and to whom. His value is at its peak following the no-hitter, but the Dodgers clearly aren’t afraid to shell out assets for a player they covet. The SoCal native would slot in perfectly as the No. 3 in the Dodgers rotation and also provide insurance if/when Greinke opts out after the season. Also, he’s a proven big-game pitcher who excels in October unlike some other Dodger pitchers.