Which National League teams are buying or selling ahead of deadline?
Ten days out from the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, there's little mystery as to who the buyers and sellers are in the National League. Eight teams are at least four games above .500 and within three games of either a division lead or a Wild Card spot, while the other seven are at least six games under .500, with only two of them less than 10 games away from a playoff spot.
The Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds, which use a Monte Carlo simulation to account for run differential, strength of schedule, expected distribution of playing time and performance (PECOTA projections), illustrate just how wide the chasm is. Team number eight in terms of overall odds (division plus Wild Card) is Cincinnati at 32.6 percent, while number nine is New York at 1.9 percent. None of the Senior Circuit teams are in that 10-15 percent range where suckers' bets are so often made at this time of year.
What follows here is a quick rundown of where each team stands at the moment, identifying their top areas of need and/or candidates to be dealt. Within each group, teams are ranked by their BP odds.
Dodgers (55-45, 62.1 percent division/25.7 percent Wild Card/87.8 percent total)
With just a 7-8 record since the start of July, the Dodgers haven't been able to shake the Giants, but they are in good shape as the deadline approaches. Their top priorities are on the pitching side, namely an upgrade over Dan Haren (4.30 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 1.5 HR/9) in the fifth-starter spot and some bullpen help in front of Kenley Jansen, given the struggles of Brian Wilson (5.52 ERA, 7.0 BB/9) and Chris Perez (4.37 ERA, 1.3 HR/9). On the former front, they have the prospects to go after David Price, and on the latter, their seemingly infinite coffers would give them room to absorb the salary of Jonathan Papelbon, but they don't appear likely to go in such costly directions in terms of blood and treasure. Meanwhile, they'd love for a solution to fall from the sky with regards to their overcrowded outfield, but the relegation of Carl Crawford to a bench role provides a temporary solution, and the dollars remaining on any of their non-Yasiel Puig trio could extend their window to deal into August.
Nationals (53-43, 66.7/17.5/84.2)
Contrary to all the hubbub that preceded Bryce Harper's return, manager Matt Williams has gone with a set lineup featuring Harper in leftfield, Denard Span in center, Ryan Zimmerman at third base, Anthony Rendon at second base and Danny Espinosa on the bench in all but one of the team's last 15 games. It makes some sense that the team could move Span, but neither that nor any other big moves appear likely. An upgrade on situational lefty Jerry Blevins is a clear need, but even more glaring is help for the bench, given the fragility of so many players and the anemic offensive performances of Espinosa (.210/.278/.337) and Nate McLouth (.185/.296/.254), not to mention the apparent entry of Scott Hairston into the Federal Witness Protection Program (just 47 plate appearances and 11 starts).
Giants (54-44, 37.9/35.8/73.6)
Since offensive bellwether Angel Pagan last played on June 14 due to a bulging disc, the Giants are just 11-18, and the holes in their roster have become quite apparent. Pagan has yet to swing a bat and isn't expected back until August, and with leftfielder Mike Morse likely to return to first base for a spell due to Brandon Belt's concussion, their outfield is looking quite thin. Second base, where Marco Scutato has played in just two games separated by a three-game sitdown, probably needs insurance beyond the Hail Mary signing of Dan Uggla, and so does the pitching staff. Tim Lincecum's recent success — a 0.96 ERA across five straight quality starts, including a no-hitter — gives hope for three starters preventing runs at a better-than-average clip, but an additional arm is almost certainly in order in light of Matt Cain's latest trip to the disabled list. The struggles of deposed closer Sergio Romo (5.26 ERA) make a bullpen target likely as well.
Cardinals (54-45, 49.0/18.9/67.9)
The losses of Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha make starting pitching their most obvious need, though the bullpen could use fortification, and the lineup is scoring just 3.74 runs per game, second-to-last in the league. With Yadier Molina possibly sidelined through the remainder of the regular season, a bit more punch than what longtime backup Tony Cruz (.233/.278/.321 career) offers would help. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Cards simplify their outfield logjam, where Peter Bourjos, Jon Jay, Allen Craig and Oscar Taveras are battling for two spots, with Jay (.294/.350/.374, 103 OPS+) currently the only one providing anything close to league-average production.
Braves (54-44, 32.6/32.7/65.3)
Their rotation has held up admirably given the losses of Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd, but they probably can't count on Aaron Harang (3.36 ERA, 85 percent quality start rate) forever, and Alex Wood is only about 40 innings short of his career high. An additional starter would be welcome, as would some lefty relief. On the offensive side, Tommy La Stella solved the second base problem to the point that Atlanta finally released Uggla on Friday. The wish list now centers on hoping B.J. Upton (.214/.278/.339) disappears, but he's still owed around $50 million through 2017, so a temporary solution for centerfield is a more realistic hope.
Brewers (54-45, 22.5/24.8/47.3)
Amid a 3-13 slide that erased their 6 1/2-game division lead, the Brewers' top need is a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. Their rotation has scuffled to the point that Kyle Lohse (3.19 ERA, 119 ERA+) and Wily Peralta (3.72 ERA, 101 ERA+) are the only ones preventing runs at a better-than-average clip, with Marco Estrada (4.94 ERA, 76 ERA+) potentially the odd man out. On the offensive side, it's time to do something about the Mark Reynolds/Lyle Overbay first base platoon; the pair (and assorted others) have combined to hit just .218/.299/.349 with 10 homers in that role, and it's apparently too radical to try Rickie Weeks (.257/.323/.388 in 167 PA) there. Shortstop, where Jean Segura was struggling (.233/.266/.319) even before the tragic death of his infant son, could use some reinforcement as well.
Pirates (52-46, 15.7/22.8/38.4)
Rotation, rotation, rotation: The Bucs have just Charlie Morton (3.28 ERA, 109 ERA+) and fill-in Jeff Locke (3.05 ERA, 118 ERA+ through nine starts) preventing runs at a better-than-average clip, with Edinson Volquez outpitching 2013 heroes Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. Something must be done to revamp the starting five if the Pirates are to return to October. No need is as glaring on the offensive side, though their first baseman (primarily the platoon of Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez) have combined to hit just .233/.320/.372.
Reds (51-47, 12.9/19.7/32.6)
Two and a half games out in the NL Central, three out in the Wild Card, the Reds are certainly in the hunt for October. But with both Joey Votto (left quad strain) and Brandon Phillips (left thumb surgery) on the disabled list — likely until late August — their already-underperforming offense (3.91 runs per game, 11th in the league) is stretched thin, and no amount of Skip Schumaker, Ramon Santiago and Brayan Pena will change that. The recent dings of Homer Bailey (right patellar tendon pain) and Mat Latos (back spasms) are cause for concern as well, particularly with Tony Cingrani sidelined by a shoulder strain at Triple-A Louisville.
Mets (46-52, 0.6/1.3/1.9)
Trading All-Star Daniel Murphy (.289/.336/.410) is probably too radical, though general manager Sandy Alderson would do well to consider the move, given the combination of Murphy's remaining year of arbitration eligibility and the widespread need among contenders for a second base solution. More likely, Bartolo Colon (4.12 ERA, 3.58 FIP) will be on the go, Daisuke Matsuzaka (3.55 ERA) could even find a taker, and the team will give up an underachieving Young outfielder (Eric or Chris) to the first person who even dares to ask.
Marlins (45-52, 0.1/0.4/0.5)
Don't dare to ask about Giancarlo Stanton; he's not going anywhere, and the same is probably true for most of the key players the team has under club control, at least beyond the bullpen. It wouldn't be a surprise if Steve Cishek (3.57 ERA, 2.18 FIP, 21 saves) is dealt so as to mint a new, inexpensive closer, and southpaw Mike Dunn (3.44 ERA, 10.3 K/9) is said to interest other clubs as well. Casey McGehee (.322/.387/.399) can help a contender, as can lefty-mashing utilityman Jeff Baker (.248/.301/.372), though neither will likely bring back a big haul.
Phillies (43-55, 0.1/0.1/0.2)
The "For Sale" sign may be up, but don't expect franchise icons Chase Utley or Cole Hamels to go anywhere. Papelbon (1.17 ERA, 2.36 FIP) is the most likely to be traded, though the Phillies will have to eat some portion of his remaining contract, which includes a guaranteed $13 million for next year plus a $13 million vesting option for 2016. The modestly resurgent Jimmy Rollins (.241/.324/.391) is affordable ($11 million this year with an $11 million vesting option, $8 million club option and $5 million player option) and quite possibly willing to waive his 10-and-5 rights. Cliff Lee is less likely to be dealt given his two-month absence due to a flexor pronator strain and his remaining money (roughly $50 million guaranteed), but keep an eye on A.J. Burnett (4.08 ERA, 3.98 FIP), who could approve a deal to an east coast contender. Also possibly on the move is bench help (?) in the form of outfielders John Mayberry Jr. and Domonic Brown.
Padres (43-55, 0.0/0.1/0.1)Ian Kennedy (3.62 ERA, 2.95 FIP) and Joaquin Benoit (1.99 ERA, 2.60 FIP) are obvious solutions for rotation or bullpen needs, and despite Chase Headley's underachievement (.229/.296/.355 with seven homers), his pending free agency mandates a trade. Speaking of underachievers, outfielders Wil Venable (.208/.262/.300) and Chris Denorfia (.239/.289/.322) are change-of-scenery candidates who can fill at least a platoon need.
Diamondbacks (43-56, 0.0/0.1/0.1)
With the trade of Brandon McCarthy earlier this month, the dealing has already begun, but Wade Miley's not going anywhere, and Brad Ziegler is apparently untouchable due to his extreme grittiness. Given the need to shed payroll, they'd love to pass Trevor Cahill (5.63 ERA in 46 1/3 innings, mostly out of the bullpen) off to somebody, but he's owed more than $16 million, and that money won’t eat itself. Likewise with regards to Cody Ross (.233/.282/.302), owed roughly $13 million and riding a whole lot of pine lately. Given so many contenders in need of help at second base, a deal involving Aaron Hill (.247/.282/.371) is foreseeable, but the versatility of Martin Prado (.272/.317/.364) may appeal more to buyers, given that both are owed big chunks of change ($24 million and $22 million) beyond this year. Oliver Perez (2.00 ERA, 10.0 K/9) is now in his third season of useful lefty relief, and likely a popular target.
Rockies (40-58, 0.0/0.0/0.0)
Troy Tulowitzki is staying put, but don't be surprised if Carlos Gonzalez (.249/.298/.443) is on the move given the team's outfield depth. Beyond that, don't expect anything that makes much sense to happen given the apparent internal turmoil centered around oversharing owner Dick Monfort. Dealing pending free agent Jorge De La Rosa (4.39 ERA, 4.61 FIP) would appear to be elementary, though the team's expectations in return appear unrealistic. Likewise, a move to cash in on the resurgent Justin Morneau (.312/.345/.502) and play Michael Cuddyer at first base once he returns from a non-displaced fracture in his left shoulder socket, while sensible, appears unlikely.
Cubs (40-57, 0.0/0.0/0.0)
They may be the most likely landing spot for David Price, but given that they're far from contention, trading for him right now makes little sense relative to their ability to sign him via free agency without sacrificing their glut of infield prospects. But even having already dealt Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the Cubs could look to move veterans. Travis Wood (5.12 ERA) has underperformed, but his solid track record gives him appeal at the back of a rotation. Infielder Luis Valbuena (.246/.331/.408) would be a handy addition to many rosters given his versatility, and likewise for outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Chris Coghlan.