MLB teams that must make a move ahead of trade deadline
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MLB teams that must make a move ahead of trade deadline
Wednesday July 1st, 2015

Today is July 1, putting us just 30 days away from Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trading deadline. That means the time is near for teams to decide if they’re in or they’re out of this year's pennant races. Should your favorite team make a deal in pursuit of a playoff berth, or should it concede the season and trade the veterans who don’t project to be part of its next winning roster? Today, I offer my take on which American League teams should be buyers and sellers, as well as exactly what they should be buying or selling, below. Tomorrow, Jay Jaffe will address the National League.


Kansas City Royals

Status: First place in AL Central
Biggest Need: Second baseman

At 44-30 and 4 1/2 games up in the AL Central, the Royals have both the AL's best record and its largest division lead, but they could use some reinforcements. Nowhere is that more true than at second base, where potential AL All-Star starter Omar Infante has hit just .234/.240/.315 this season with three walks and no home runs in 254 plate appearances. Infante’s 52 OPS+ is the worst mark by a qualified hitter on a team currently sporting a winning record this season.

Houston Astros

Status: First place in AL West
Biggest Need: Starting pitcher

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For a team from which little was expected coming into this season, the Astros have emerged as not only one of the best teams in baseball, but also as a division leader with surprisingly few holes. The emergence of prospects Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers have a lot to do with that, filling holes that existed on the team earlier in the year at shortstop and in the rotation, respectively.

Despite McCullers’s fine work, Houston could use another starter, though with Scott Feldman due to return from knee surgery at some point this month and Dallas Keuchel having emerged as a league-wide ace, they needn’t go over the top to get one. A mid- or even back-end starter who can slot into the fifth spot and eat the innings that young arms such as McCullers and Vincent Velasquez may have to yield later in the season should do the trick.

Baltimore Orioles

Status: Tied for first place in AL East
Biggest Need: Starting pitcher

Wrapped up in a four-team dogfight in the AL East (the Orioles, Rays, Yankees and Blue Jays are all within one game of first place entering play on Wednesday), Baltimore needs to make a bigger impact at the deadline than the Astros. Currently sporting the sixth-worst rotation ERA in the league, the O's need to add an ace, particularly with their ostensible No. 1, Chris Tillman, suffering through a lousy season plagued by back problems. Kevin Gausman will get another chance to crack the rotation against the Rangers on Thursday, but if Baltimore wants to break away from the pack, it needs to add a pitcher who is already an established front-end arm.

Tampa Bay Rays

Status: Tied for first place in in AL East
Biggest Need: Catcher

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The Rays need offense, and the best way for them to get it is to upgrade at catcher, where Rene Rivera has proved that his age-30 spike in production was a complete fluke. Tampa Bay's catchers, as a group, have hit .168/.213/.262 this season, which works out to a 40 sOPS+; in other words, their production has been just 40% of league average for the position.

The Rays do have some in-house options in rookie Curt Casali and veteran John Jaso, the latter of whom has been sidelined since jamming his wrist on Opening Day but just started a rehab assignment over the weekend. Still, even a minor trade for a veteran like the White Sox’s Geovany Soto or the Braves' A.J. Pierzynski would represent a significant upgrade, and it wouldn’t hurt to ask the Reds about impending free agent Brayan Peña.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

New York Yankees

Status: Third place in AL East, half-game out in both division and wild-card races
Biggest Need: Starting pitcher

Given that the Yankees just bumped team ERA+ leader Adam Warren to the bullpen to make room for Ivan Nova’s return from Tommy John surgery, they may not be fully aware of how much they need help in their rotation, but they do. CC Sabathia (still in the rotation despite a 79 ERA+ since the start of 2013) is cooked, and Nova and Masahiro Tanaka (six home runs and 13 runs allowed in 10 innings over his last two starts) are bad bets to remain healthy. That leaves the talented young arms of Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, both of whom have been pitching in bad luck, and the re-purposed Warren.

As it stands, New York has the second-worst rotation ERA in the AL. It should get Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Miller back soon to shore up centerfield and the bullpen, respectively, but there’s no in-house help coming for the rotation.

Los Angeles Angels

Status: Second place in AL West, four games out; half-game out of wild-card spot
Biggest Need: Big bat

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The general awesomeness of Mike Trout and the recent rejuvenation of Albert Pujols have masked the fact that the Angels have the third-worst slugging and on-base percentages in the league, edging only the Mariners and White Sox in both categories, while no other hitter on their 25-man roster has an OPS+ above 100. The team’s biggest holes are at designated hitter, leftfield (the position vacated by the Josh Hamilton fiasco) and catcher, but the first of those gives Los Angeles the flexibility to fit virtually any player into the lineup.

The challenge facing the Angels as the deadline approaches, however, is that they have very little to offer in exchange for the bat they need, given their largely barren farm system. That’s why Los Angeles felt the need to use Howie Kendrick as a trade chip this offseason—and dealing him to the Dodgers was a transaction that, along with the Hamilton mess, helped create the lineup issue the team now needs to correct. Coming up with a solution to that problem would be a challenge for any front office, and given the current chaotic state of the Angels’ management, it seems beyond their capability.

Toronto Blue Jays

Status: Fourth place in AL East, one game out in both division and wild-card race
Biggest Need: Pitching

The Blue Jays have the third-worst ERA+ in the AL heading into Wednesday’s games, and that’s largely the fault of the rotation, which was too dependent on rookies Aaron Sanchez (currently working his way back from a lat strain) and Daniel Norris (working his way through Triple A). But the bullpen, which continues to lack both structure and depth and has contributed to the team’s 9–16 record in one-run games, has not inspired much more confidence. With the fifth spot in the rotation currently vacant and Roberto Osuna now the second 20-year-old rookie to get a chance to close for Toronto this season, the Jays have room and need for upgrades to either unit.

Detroit Tigers

Status: Third place in AL Central, six games out; 1 1/2 games out of wild-card spot
Biggest Need: Starting pitcher

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Remember Shane Greene? In his last two starts, he gave up eight runs in 10 innings ... in Triple A. Remember Justin Verlander? In three outings since his return from a triceps injury, he has posted a 5.09 ERA and walked eight men against just seven strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. Oh, and he also missed a start due to a bad back. David Price is still an ace, and Anibal Sanchez has started to turn his season around over the last month (2.62 ERA in his last six starts, albeit with significant luck on balls in play), but Alfredo Simon has a 5.40 ERA over his last five starts, and Detroit's rotation seems thisclose to folding in on itself. For all of the consternation about the bullpen, the rotation has been a far bigger problem this season, and its difficult to see the Tigers snapping out of their sustained funk (28–35 since their 11–2 start) without making a significant upgrade to their starting pitching.

Texas Rangers

Status: Third place in AL West, five games out; 1 1/2 games out of wild-card spot
Biggest Need: Relief pitching

Yes, the Rangers should be buyers. They’re in the thick of the wild-card race and have so many talented bats that they’re struggling to find playing time for them all. They also, despite the loss of Yu Darvish, have a surprisingly stable rotation that could add Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and/or Derek Holland in the coming month. Their biggest weakness, then, is their relief pitching. Indeed, Texas has posted the third-worst bullpen ERA in the majors this year (4.33). Shawn Tolleson is doing fine work as the closer, but rookie Keone Kela is being worked to death due to first-year manager Jeff Banister’s dearth of viable alternatives.

The Rangers don’t just need a lefty or a second set-up man. They need to rebuild their bullpen on the fly, much like the Angels did last season when they added Huston Street, Jason Grilli, Joe Thatcher and Vinnie Pestano. If they do that, they should remain in the wild-card mix right down to the wire.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

On the Fence

Minnesota Twins

Status: Second place in AL Central, 4 1/2 games out; tied for lead in wild-card race
Biggest Need: Big bat
Biggest Chip: Glen Perkins

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Despite their current place in in the standings, the Twins are not a good team. They have won just one series in June, that coming against the last-place White Sox, and Minnesota is 9–15 (.375) over its last 24 games, including a 2–4 record against the Brewers. The Twins' run differential is that of a team just a game over .500, and their third-order record suggests that their underlying performance has been the second-worst in the AL this season. Doubling down on what amounts to a fluky month of May (they were 20–7 in May, but 21–29 in April and June combined) seems foolish.

At the same time, Minnesota is still in a wild-card position, so giving up is a hard sell. If the front office does decide to go for it, it needs to get the best hitter it possibly can, regardless of position (a hole at DH provides the flexibility to work just about any bat into the lineup). If not, Perkins, who is currently sporting a 1.29 ERA and leading the majors in saves and is signed for two more years, would be the Twins' best trading chip.

Cleveland Indians

Status: Fourth place in AL West, 10 games out; 5 1/2 games out of wild-card spot
Biggest Need: Big bat
Biggest Chip: Brandon Moss

The Indians are a better team than their record shows, but their 35-41 record makes it easy to doubt whether they have a second-half surge in them. That said, post-All-Star-break turnarounds have been Cleveland's specialty in the team's first two years under manager Terry Francona. Last year, the Indians posted a .559 winning percentage in the second half after being a .500 team in the first half; in 2013, they played .612 ball in the second half to grab a wild-card spot. Given that the team doesn’t have any particularly compelling trade chips, Cleveland won’t be hurt by standing pat for now to see if it can at least get to .500 before the deadline.

Oakland Athletics

Status: Fifth place in AL West, 11 games out; 7 1/2 games out of wild-card spot
Biggest Need: Relief pitching
Biggest Chip: Ben Zobrist

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Speaking of getting to .500: If the A’s had played even that well in their 26 one-run games this season, they’d be 42–38 and in a virtual tie with the Angels for second place in in their division. Instead, they’ve gone 6–20 in those games, leaving them with the worst record in the AL. But Oakland is a far better team than that. In fact, third-order record presents the A's as the second-best team in the league (behind the Astros) in terms of underlying performance.

Even if the truth lies somewhere in between, it seems possible that Oakland could surge back into contention if, like the Rangers, it can rebuild its bullpen enough to change its luck in one-run games. If the A's can’t get off the mat in the next three weeks, however, they may have to sell anyway, if only because Zobrist is too valuable a piece to hang on to in his walk year and, at age 34, to old be worth the risk of resigning.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images


Boston Red Sox

Status: Fifth place in AL East, six games out of division and wild-card race
Biggest Chip: Koji Uehara

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The Red Sox are only six games away from a playoff spot, but they’re buried under four teams in their division and nine in the wild-card race and don’t have the sort of favorable underlying performance that might give a team like Oakland pause before selling. They also have some pieces that should very much be cashed in, led by 40-year-old closer Uehara, a postseason hero two years ago and still dominant and stingy despite his advanced age. The bullpen also offers lefty Craig Breslow and sell-high candidate Alexi Ogando, who is healthy and effective today, but could break again tomorrow. Similar things could be said about starter Clay Buchholz, who has pitched well this season and has a pair of club options on his contract for the next two seasons (worth $13 million and $13.5 million).

On the other side of the ball, Mike Napoli has slumped for most of the season, but he is in his walk year and could be sold on his career accomplishments. Boston was in better shape in the standings at this point last year and still wound up trading away three-fifths of its rotation. Look for the Sox to be active again this year.

Seattle Mariners

Status: Fourth place in AL West, 9 1/2 games out; six games out of wild-card spot
Biggest Chip: Seth Smith

So much for all of those World Series predictions: Seattle will almost certainly make it 39 years without a pennant this year and 14 without a playoff berth. The Mariners do have a wealth of players to put on the block, however, led by Smith, who has an affordable contract that owes him just $6.76 million next year with a $7 million club option for 2017. Beyond him, Seattle can offer first baseman Logan Morrison, recently acquired slugger Mark Trumbo, veteran starter J.A. Happ, deposed closer Fernando Rodney (who is in his walk year) and veteran righty Mark Lowe, who is currently sporting a 0.82 ERA after 22 appearances.

Chicago White Sox

Status: Fifth place in AL Central, 11 1/2 games out; seven games out of wild-card spot
Biggest Chip: Jeff Samardzija

The off-season trade that sent Samardzija from the Bay Area to the South Side has thus far been a home run for the A’s. Young, team-controlled players Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley and Chris Bassitt have all made positive contributions to Oakland, while the Shark has posted an 82 ERA+ for the last-place White Sox in his walk year. Chicago general manager Rick Hahn’s best hope to save face there is to flip Samardzija—who has actually pitched well but in bad luck due in part to his team's atrocious fielding—for a similar or superior package of young players. He won’t do as well as the Cubs did last July when they sent Samardzija to the A's with a year-plus remaining on his contract (a deal I’m still calling "the Addison Russell trade"), but just about the worst thing Hahn could do for his team is to let Samardzija finish the year in a White Sox uniform.

Also on the move could be first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is 35 and signed for just one more year at $13 million. That’s more than his 2015 performance has been worth, but he is a notorious second-half player, and by eating a bit of that money and pointing to his .281/.349/.511 career line in the second half (compared to .249/.333/.438 in the first), the White Sox could generate some interest in the veteran. Shortstop Alexi Ramirez, who has been a frequent subject of trade speculation in recent years and has a $10 million club option for '16, might be a harder sell given his 47 OPS+ to this point in the season, but expect to hear his name floated along with that of the aforementioned Soto.

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