Which NL teams are buyers or sellers heading into trade deadline?
Yesterday, Cliff Corcoran took a look at every team in the American League and determined who should be buying, selling or staying on the fence. With 29 days to go until the trade deadline, let's take a look at the National League and pick our buyers and sellers, as well as name each team's biggest need or best trading chip.
Teams are ordered by winning percentage. All stats as of Wed., July 1.
St. Louis Cardinals
Status: First place in NL Central
Biggest Need: First base
Though they're currently playing at a breakneck 107-win pace and hold a seven-game lead in the NL Central, the Cardinals do have some visible dents and dings due to injuries. The most obvious may be at the front of the rotation—more on which momentarily—due to the loss of Adam Wainwright, but for a team that's preventing an MLB-low 2.86 runs per game, that's less critical than upgrading at first base, where Mark Reynolds (.236/.301/.377, 85 OPS+) hasn't done enough to offset the loss of Matt Adams, who could miss the remainder of the season due to a quad strain. Somebody such as the Brewers' Adam Lind would make sense there, and the White Sox' Adam LaRoche has also been mentioned, but less than halfway into a two-year, $25 million deal, he's probably too expensive.
As for the rotation: With Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia all preventing runs at a much better than average clip, there's less urgency there. Wacha and Martinez will need workload adjustments to keep them available into October, Lynn is just back from a stint on the disabled list, the ever-fragile Garcia just missed a turn due to a groin strain, and at Triple A, Marco Gonzales is out due to shoulder impingement. But the team has a big enough lead that secondary internal options such as Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney can help hold down the fort.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Status: First place in NL West
Biggest Need: Starting pitcher
Since jumping out to a 22–10 start, the Dodgers have been a study in mediocrity, going 23–25 and scoring just 3.54 runs per game despite a multitude of offensive options to cover for the injuries of Carl Crawford and the since-returned Yasiel Puig. With top prospect Corey Seager looming in the minor leagues, they have an alternative to struggling Jimmy Rollins (.212/.266/.329) if need be, and Cuban import Hector Olivera should be able to join the party after the All-Star break to provide manager Don Mattingly with yet another bat.
Adding more offense is far less of a necessity than some help for a rotation that lost Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy for the season. Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias have done an admirable job of filling in, but both often need to be nursed just to complete five innings, a situation that has taxed the bullpen. Brandon Beachy is four starts into a rehab stint from his second Tommy John surgery and could be ready after the break, but another reinforcement would help. Money is no object, but don't expect Los Angeles to break the bank for a Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto; an innings eater would suffice. Names that have been connected to the Dodgers in recent days include Mets lefty Jon Niese, Red Sox righty Clay Buchholz and White Sox righty Jeff Samardzija.
Status: First place in NL East
Biggest Need: First base
The returns of Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg from the disabled list have helped to kick start a 9–2 run that has not only carried the Nationals (43–35) back into first place but also given them their largest division lead of the season at four games. With Jayson Werth (wrist) and Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis) both on the DL—the former until at least Aug. 1, the latter perhaps sooner—and with Clint Robinson the only fill-in producing at a reasonable clip, the team could use a corner bat. Pending free-agent first basemen such as Lind or Mike Napoli make sense, though the latter is hitting just .198/.302/.368 for Boston.
Even with Anthony Rendon on the disabled list yet again, the team does have some infield depth that makes them more flexible. Ian Desmond has been dreadful on both sides of the ball but could benefit from a change of scenery, with Danny Espinosa shifting to shortstop and Trea Turner—a 2014 Padres first-round pick whom the Nats acquired in the Wil Myers trade—likely to get a late-season look. The 22-year-old shortstop has hit .306/.359/.455 at three stops this year, though he's off to a 1-for-22 start at Triple A Syracuse.
Status: Second place in NL Central
Biggest Need: First base
At 45–33, the Pirates are 6 1/2 games back in the division race but leading the Wild Card lead. They've been getting great work at the front of their rotation from Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano, but that hasn't stopped them from asking around about upgrades for the back of their rotation, where Jeff Locke (4.55 ERA) has at least eaten innings and Charlie Morton (4.38 ERA) has been rocked for 13 runs in 6 2/3 innings over his last two starts after yielding just eight runs over his first five. They've checked in on Buchholz and Aaron Harang, with the latter a far more realistic possibility.
Their bigger need—stop me if you've heard this one—is at first base, where Pedro Alvarez's adequacy with the bat (.248/.323/.456 for a 115 OPS+) has been offset by his attempt to learn first base; his -8 Defensive Runs Saved drops his WAR to -0.1. Count Pittsburgh as yet another team for whom Lind would make sense, and it's worth talking to the Red Sox about Napoli or Allen Craig, though the Red Sox would have to eat a whole lot of the roughly $24 million the latter is owed through 2017. Craig’s .276/.401/.379 line at Triple A is nothing to write home about, but it's not out of the question that he heats up, and his ability to play rightfield and spell the struggling Gregory Polanco (.241/.308/.345) could give the team additional flexibility. Another option is Logan Morrison: His .245/.318/.390 line for the Mariners isn't world-beating, but he is at least more competent defensively than Alvarez—though most of the league would fit into that Venn diagram.
Status: Third place in NL Central
Biggest Need: Starting pitching
Currently occupying the second Wild Card spot at 41–35, the Cubs are ahead of schedule with their rebuilding program. Starting pitching is a priority. Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel have done excellent work, and Jon Lester has been erratic, though he's obviously around for the long haul. But at the back of the rotation, Kyle Hendricks has been mediocre, and Tsuyoshi Wada is now on the DL with inflammation in his left deltoid, so another arm would be welcome. Hamels has the team on his short list of acceptable destinations, but it's no given that Theo Epstein and company can break the bank at this stage. They've been connected to Niese but could be aiming higher, and Epstein has said he's not opposed to trading within the division, which suggests that Cueto could be an option.
How about a reunion with Samardzija, a pending free agent whom the team traded last July 5? Admittedly, this is speculation, but he hasn't pitched well on the South Side (4.56 ERA with a 56% quality-start rate), and the two Chicago teams have pulled off just one trade since 1998 (Neal Cotts in 2006), but Epstein's open-mindedness and the team's comfort level with the Shark could make him an appealing alternative.
San Francisco Giants
Status: Second place in NL West
Biggest Need: Corner outfield
Amid a slew of injuries, the Giants have done a remarkable job of avoiding the odd-year blahs; at 42–38, they're in the thick of both the NL West and Wild Card races. They'll need some fortification to remain that way, and while reinforcements for the subpar-to-date rotation are on the way in the form of Matt Cain (who made his 2015 debut on Thursday) and Jake Peavy, the bigger concern is in the outfield. Hunter Pence hasn't played since June 2 due to tendinitis in his left wrist and won't be back until after the All-Star break. Nori Aoki hit the DL on June 24 due to a fractured fibula and could be out at least that long.
While the team has shown it can get by with some combination of Gregor Blanco, Brandon Belt, Travis Ishikawa and Justin Maxwell—particularly with Andrew Susac's solid work at and behind the plate, allowing Buster Posey more time at first base to free up Belt—another outfielder would help, and GM Bobby Evans has indicated that he's less focused on an everyday player than on a bench bat. Given that Aoki, Belt, Blanco and Ishikawa all swing from the left side, it would make sense for that bat to be a righty, particularly with Maxwell (.209/.262/.350) sliding to replacement level after a strong start. The Orioles' Delmon Young and the Pirates' Jose Tabata, both recently designated for assignment, would fit the bill. Young's a career .302/.337/.461 hitter against lefties, though his defense is probably worse than Belt or Ishikawa. Tabata's splits aren't as drastic (37 points of OPS higher against lefties for his career), and his defense is better, but he's owed a minimum of around $6.75 million, including a buyout of his 2017 option.
New York Mets
Status: Second place in NL East
Biggest Need: Offense, defense
Losers of 10 of their last 14 games, the Mets have dropped 5 1/2 games in the standings in just over two weeks, and they've long since squandered their early 11-game winning streak. With Steven Matz having debuted with a splash, their rotation is in good shape so long as they can cope with the six-man experiment, and with Bobby Parnell returned and Jenrry Mejia on the way back from a PED suspension, their bullpen has been fortified as well, though like every other contender, another arm or two wouldn't hurt.
With the offense averaging just 3.0 runs per game on .225/.287/.353 "hitting" since the start of June, bats are a priority, and there are few places that an additional one wouldn't help, particularly with David Wright's return up in the air, Travis d'Arnaud on the DL with a sprained left elbow and underperforming Michael Cuddyer (.243/.297/.365) perhaps headed there due to soreness in his left knee. A second baseman to replace the recently-shifted Wilmer Flores (.232/.266/.384) would help; Ben Zobrist is the dream, though he'll be among the game's hottest commodities at the deadline due to his versatility. The Diamondbacks have Aaron Hill, Chris Owings and Cliff Pennington all in some state of availability and with some versatility, but none of them has hit a lick this year. Hill's 68 OPS+ is the highest of the trio, and he's owed about $18 million, putting him in how-was-the-play-Mrs.-Lincoln territory even before one considers the impact of his iron glove (-23 DRS, 2013–15) on a team that's a combined 19 Defensive Runs Saved below average at second, short and third.
If the Wilpons had two nickels to rub together and were willing to part with at least one young starting pitcher to put a charge into the fan base, now would be the time to go after the resurgent Troy Tulowitzki (.381/.439/.526 since June 1), but this team is so risk-averse that it's simply not going to happen. GM Sandy Alderson has indicated a willingness to overpay for an upgrade somewhere, but both the subtext of his recent statements and his track record with the Mets suggests that they'll underwhelm come July 31.
On the Fence
Status: Third place in NL East
Biggest Need: Bullpen
Biggest Chip: Julio Teheran
Perhaps not surprisingly given their strange plunge into rebuilding mode, the Braves haven’t figured out which direction they’re headed at the deadline. At 37–41, they’re hardly doormats, but they don’t plan to be major sellers if they do slide further, with short-timers such as catcher A.J. Pierzynski, reliever Jim Johnson, utilityman Kelly Johnson and third baseman Juan Uribe more likely to move. Uribe, a pending free agent, has hit .304/.366/.490 in 112 PA since being acquired from the Dodgers, and between that resurgence, his excellent defense and his reputation as a clubhouse leader, he would make for an obvious fit with the Mets.
Among those players under club control, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman suggests that the Braves might be willing to deal Teheran for a power bat. The 24-year-old righty, who’s owed roughly $30 million through 2019, has been clipped for a 4.94 ERA via an inflated BABIP (.315, 27 points higher than his career norm) and home-run-to-fly-ball rate (14.4%, well beyond his career mark of 9.9). His strong '13–'14 showing and cost control certainly make him an intriguing buy-low candidate.
San Diego Padres
Status: Fourth place in NL West
Biggest Need: Left side of the infield
Biggest Chip: Justin Upton
Despite their flurry of winter activity, the Padres are a disappointing 37–42, eight games back in the NL West and six out in the wild card race. Their underachievement has been most acute in the rotation, where Tyson Ross is the only member with an ERA+ of 100, while James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Odrisamer Despaigne and Ian Kennedy have been much worse. Given their track records, regression toward some amount of improvement is possible, but their peripherals don't suggest that bad luck has been a major factor; aside from Ross, none of the starters has a FIP below 3.99 or particularly far away from his ERA.
Given that, the gaping vortex of suck on the left side of the infield—where Will Middlebrooks and Alexi Amarista haven't been good enough defensively to offset their dreadful offensive performances—and the loss of Myers into late July or early August to remove a bone spur in his left wrist, it makes sense for GM A.J. Preller to go back into wheel-and-deal mode. The best commodity he has is the younger Upton, a pending free agent who's hitting .266/.348/.453 with 14 homers and a 128 OPS+. He'd immediately become the top outfielder available at the deadline and perhaps the top bat at any position, netting the team something more than the supplementary first-round pick they'd receive once he walks this winter. Will Venable could help somebody, while a trade of the resurgent Yonder Alonso (.310/.396/.402, 130 OPS+) could open up first base for Myers in the long term.
Al Bello/Getty Images
Status: Fourth place in NL Central
Biggest Chip: Johnny Cueto
The Reds may have more appealing trade options than any other NL team. Start with Cueto, who may be the best pitcher available at the deadline and whose pending free agency and price necessitates pulling the trigger, unlike the Phillies' situation with Hamels. While Cueto has pitched to a 2.84 ERA and 3.25 FIP, the wild card is his tender elbow, which has caused him to miss three starts thus far. Less risky on the health front and less costly in terms of both prospects and salary is Mike Leake, though his performance has lagged lately. After posting a 2.36 ERA through his first seven starts, he's been lit for a 6.35 mark (and 4.72 FIP) over his last nine.
The Reds have more than just starting pitching to offer. Closer Aroldis Chapman still has triple-digit heat and an eye-popping strikeout rate, not to mention one more year of club control. Rightfielder Jay Bruce, who's owed at least $13.5 million beyond this year, is a power threat, though his .238/.333/.438 line with 12 homers is still underwhelming relative to his 2008–12 level. Likewise for Marlon Byrd (.234/.294/.453) relative to '13–'14, though he's less expensive, with an $8 million option that vests at 550 PA or otherwise becomes a club option. There's little reason to trade MVP candidate Todd Frazier (.283/.344/.606), as he's in the first year of a two-year, $12 million deal and will still have one more year of club control after that, but with a strong enough offer, it could make sense to move him.
Status: Third place in NL West
Biggest Chip: Brad Ziegler
At 37–41, the Diamondbacks are better than expected, but that's not to suggest that they're good or have any real hope of doing more than plodding their way to a mid-table finish that would do their rebuilding effort more harm (via a lower draft pick) than good. One look at their rotation, where Chase Anderson and Robbie Ray are the only pitchers preventing runs at a better-than-average clip, should disabuse anyone of the notion that they're going anywhere.
The problem, though, is that the team doesn't have a lot of particularly appealing trade targets. As noted above, Hill, Owings and Pennington have all drastically underproduced, and who really wants Jeremy Hellickson or Josh Collmenter when their ERAs are in the 5.00 range? What the team does have is bullpen options, including lefty specialist Oliver Perez, the young and controllable Randall Delgado, prospect-turned-palooka Allen Webster (whose stuff simply hasn't translated in the rotation) and closer Ziegler. Though the latter's peripherals don't support his 1.32 ERA and though he's just one save off his career high of 13, his $5.5 million club option for next season makes him an appealing addition to any bullpen in either a setup or closing capacity.
Status: Fifth place in NL West
Biggest Chip: Troy Tulowitzki
Not only are the Rockies mired in the NL West basement, but they’ve also been the majors’ second-worst team since April 27, with a 23–36 slide that’s offset their 11–8 start. If there’s good news beyond Nolan Arenado’s breakout with the bat, it’s Tulowitzki’s bat has perked up since I checked in back in mid-May. Where he had hit a lopsided .298/.306/.481 with two homers and a 24/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 108 plate appearances to that point, he’s hit a more reassuring .335/.387/.484 with six homers and a 33/13 ratio in 168 PA since, with one hitless game out of his past 27.
Though Tulowitzki is unwilling to come out and ask for a trade, he’d probably welcome one, and while getting a team to take on the bulk of the $108 million or so he’s owed through 2020 isn’t trivial, it’s a lot easier to imagine when he’s healthy and productive than when he isn’t. As noted above, the Mets make sense save for their issues with regards to money and willingness to surrender talent (in other words, don’t hold your breath), but Tulowitzki could look a lot more appealing to the Yankees now that they’ve seen half a season of Didi Gregorius up close, and there’s a belief that the Giants and Angels are among the teams to whom he would welcome a deal as well.
Beyond Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez is a trade candidate in that the Rockies probably wish he were gone, though he’ll have to heat up from his current .245/.306/.416 to find anybody to take on some portion of the $45 million he’s owed through 2017.
Status:Fourth place in NL East
Biggest Chip: Mat Latos
Miami's winter rebuild hasn't worked out, and with Giancarlo Stanton on the shelf for 4–6 weeks due to a broken hamate bone that required surgery, the Marlins aren't about to climb off the mat and into a playoff race at 13 games below .500 (33–46). With the returns of Jose Fernandez from Tommy John surgery and Jarred Cosart from vertigo, the team has a rotation surplus. Dan Haren, who threatened to retire if he didn't pitch for a West Coast team, isn't likely to be traded unless the Dodgers or Angels decide that the devil they know is their best alternative. The oft-injured Latos, who's made just 29 starts over the past season-plus due to elbow and left knee woes, is carrying a 5.27 ERA overall, but he's at 3.86 in four starts since returning from the DL, with a 24/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 2/3 innings. A pending free agent, he could make sense as a short-term rental, particularly if the Marlins absorb some of his $9.4 million salary. Tom Koehler, who's at 3.66 (albeit with a 4.54 FIP), won't even be arbitration eligible until after this season, so he could appeal to a team looking for club control.
Beyond that, if either Michael Morse or Martin Prado returns from the DL in strong fashion by the end of the month, they could attract suitors, though both are owed substantial money through next season. Morse, who's in the first year of a two-year, $16 million deal, has been out since May 24 due to a sprained right ring finger and recently tweaked a muscle in his back during his rehab assignment. Prado, in the third season of a four-year, $40 million deal, is working his way back from a shoulder sprain and could appeal to any team with needs at second base, third base or an outfield corner given his versatility. The Mets would be a good fit in theory, but the difficulty of an intradivision trade plus the team's reluctance to take on salary make the possibility a remote one at best.
Status: Fifth place in NL Central
Biggest Chip: Adam Lind
Clearly in the camp of sellers ever since they stumbled to a 7–18 start and fired manager Ron Roenicke, the Brewers have a whole lot to trade. Among pending free agents, there’s Lind, one of the team’s few productive hitters (.294/366/.506) and—given that I’ve noted him multiple times here—a potential solution for many a team’s first base shortcomings, at least on the offensive side. There’s also third baseman Aramis Ramirez, whose overall numbers (.227/.264/.419) are ugly but whose numbers look better if you squint at an arbitrary endpoint (.276/.300/.534 since June 12, or .324/.361/.647 sine June 19); fourth outfielder Gerardo Parra (.298/.329/.450); and, if you believe a change of scenery will solve all ills, starter Kyle Lohse (6.24 ERA, 4.94 FIP).
For those more mindful of club control and willing to overlook current under-performance, there’s Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Gomez, signed through 2016 but unlikely to re-up, is hitting just .270/.311/.419 but was flirting with an .800 OPS just a few weeks ago. Segura (249/.277/.333), who’s still trying to recapture his '13 All-Star form, is just 25 years old and has three years of club control remaining after this season. One could at least inquire about Jonathan Lucroy, who’s struggled to a .235/.287/.301 showing in the wake of a toe injury, though it’s doubtful the team would sell low on an affordable player who’s owed less than $11 million even if they pick up his '17 option.
Status: Fifth place in NL East
Biggest Chip: Cole Hamels
You know the names: Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. You know the issues: big-money contracts that extend beyond this year, and at least partial if not full no-trade protection, either via contractual clauses or, in Howard’s case, 10-and-5 rights. There’s also Utley’s drastic underperformance and right ankle injury, Papelbon’s 2016 vesting option, Howard’s decline into sub-replacement level, and GM Ruben Amaro Jr.’s longstanding inability to strike a bargain with potential buyers.
What’s changed since the last time we’ve beaten this drum is the arrival of Andy MacPhail, who will take over the team presidency at the end of this season and in the meantime is charged with evaluating Amaro as well as the rest of the organization. He has every reason to clean house and clear the roster of disgruntled veterans who aren’t primed to go through the rebuilding process in order to give the team a fresh start, so look for a whole lot of movement here.