Lots of big names off market but contenders still have needs to fill
Baseball's non-waiver trading deadline is fast approaching, and while many significant trades have already taken place, more are sure to come in the next 24-plus hours. From the perspective of a contenders looking to make a big push toward (and through) the playoffs, the best kind of deadline move is one that fills a hole.
Of the moves that have already taken place, several were especially effective in this way. The White Sox (Kevin Youkilis) and Diamondbacks (Chris Johnson) have filled big holes at third base. The Tigers (Omar Infante) and Giants (Marco Scutaro) have done the same at second base. The Tigers (Anibal Sanchez), White Sox (Francisco Liriano) and Angels (Jered Weaver) have made significant starting rotation upgrades, and the Dodgers (Hanley Ramirez) made a big move to upgrade the left side of their infield.
Elsewhere, teams have turned to their farm systems for help, such as the Pirates calling up Starling Marte to take over leftfield, the biggest hole any contender had to fill, or the A's installing Derek Norris at catcher. Still others will fill those holes with players returning from injury, as the Angels just did with catcher Chris Iannetta and the Nationals will do in the outfield when Jayson Werth comes off the DL, likely in the next week or so.
Here, then, is a look at some of the biggest needs that have thus far remain unfilled by contending ballclubs and the trade targets who could fill them before 4 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday.
The Rangers and Braves weren't supposed to need pitching, and the Orioles weren't supposed to be contenders, but here we are. Texas' rotation is suddenly shaky -- Colby Lewis has been lost for the season following surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his pitching elbow; converted closer Neftali Feliz, who has been on the disabled list since May, was scratched from his rehab start on Sunday due to pain in his elbow; and previous rotation reinforcement Roy Oswalt has missed his last two turns due to the degenerative disc condition in his back.
The Rangers have patched those holes with prospect Martin Perez and swingman Scott Feldman, who has excelled in his last two starts after struggling in an earlier rotation stint; Oswalt is expected to start on Monday. However, Oswalt was hit hard in two of his five starts before his back flared up, and heralded import Yu Darvish has gone 5-6 with a 5.12 ERA since Feliz hit the DL. Texas has been holding steady with a lead of roughly five games in the AL West since late April (it enters the week 4½ games up on the A's), but it is just 9-12 in July and its postseason rotation currently projects as Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and pray for rain.
The Braves appear to have come up with a replacement for Brandon Beachy, who was lost to Tommy John surgery in mid-June, thanks to the near-miraculous return of Ben Sheets, who has given up just one run in his first three starts, all exactly six innings long. The struggles of their young pitchers, however, continue to drag down what was supposed to be a very deep rotation.
Jair Jurrjens pitched his way off the roster in April and made a solid return in late June but has allowed 14 runs in his last two starts combined. Randall Delgado is back in the minors after going 4-9 with a 4.42 ERA. Top prospect Julio Teheran has been hit hard with Triple-A Gwinnett. Meanwhile, Mike Minor's 5.18 ERA is the third-worst mark among qualified National League starters and he leads the league in home runs allowed. Minor has shaved nearly 80 points off that figure with a strong July, but Tommy Hanson has gone in the opposite direction, with a 6.99 ERA in five July starts.
If the Braves, who currently own the second NL Wild Card spot, have to burn Tim Hudson or Sheets in a one-game playoff, their Division Series rotation won't inspire much confidence, and that's if they can even get to that one-game playoff with their current quintet.
Though their record has gotten worse in each successive month and they have been outscored by 58 runs on the season, Baltimore is still four games above .500 and just two games out in third place in the AL Wild Card race. That's despite a rotation ERA of 4.75, fifth-worst in the American League and sixth-worst in all of baseball. With Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz having pitched their way back to the minors and Jason Hammel out following knee surgery, the Orioles have seen somewhat encouraging returns from Chris Tillman and Tommy Hunter this month, but Zach Britton's return to the rotation has been less so and 28-year-old rookie Miguel Gonzalez is a stop-gap. Hammel might be back before September, but that's not a sure thing.
The Orioles still look like pretenders, but if they can upgrade their rotation they might force us to take them seriously.
Oakland was the team in most desperate need of catching help until recently, but it may have solved that problem internally by calling up Norris, the catching prospect acquired in the Gio Gonzalez trade with the Nationals. The Rays don't have that option, having lost Robinson Chirinos, acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal before the 2011 season, to a spring training concussion that looks like it will wipe out his entire season. Led by catch-and-throw wizard Jose Molina, Tampa Bay's catchers have hit just .196/.274/.282 this season, which translates to an sOPS+ (adjusted OPS for the split in question, in this case, "as catcher") of 57, meaning the Rays have been 43 percent worse than average at catcher this season, at least in terms of offensive production.
Doumit is a poor defensive catcher, but he has hit .297/.347/.473 (126 OPS+) over the past two seasons while making 87 starts behind the plate and can also spot in the outfield and first base and is on a cheap one-year deal. The other four men are all having awful seasons at the plate, but have hit in the past and are already serving part-timers, so none would balk at a job-share with Molina. Doumit, meanwhile, would help the Rays in two ways because they also . . .
The Rays' designated hitters and first basemen have combined to hit .204/.299/.360 on the season. They're a bit better than that with a healthy Luke Scott, which they now have again, but not a lot better. Scott and Carlos Peña are both lefthanded hitters, so a smaller deal for a righty platoon man like Ross or Hairston would be a particularly good fit at DH, but neither has experience at first base. Cuddyer does have experience there, but comes with another two years and $21 million left on his contract. Lee would fit if Tampa Bay were willing to dismiss his odd reverse split this season as a small-sample fluke and suffer his defense. Ross or Hairston would also make a good platoon partner for Chris Davis in leftfield for the Orioles.
The Tigers' designated hitters and rightfielders have hit a combined .239/.275/.377 this season. One potential solution is to platoon righty Delmon Young and lefty Brennan Boesch, the main offenders at those respective positions, at designated hitter and make a big splash for an outfielder like Choo, Willingham or Pence, none of whom would be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season (Willingham not until after 2014). Of course, one imagines the Indians would be especially hesitant to deal Choo, who is back to his 2010 form, to a division rival.
The Dodgers' first basemen and leftfielders have hit a combined .257/.317/.354. Hafner, who hasn't played the field since 2007, would do them no good, but any of the others would help anywhere from a little to a lot. Headley, who was a leftfielder in 2008 and 2009, would give them the option of using him at third base and moving the newly-acquired Hanley Ramirez to shortstop if they decide that their hole at short (.235/.286/.321 on the season) is more problematic. Morneau, meanwhile, could come cheaply if the Dodgers were willing to absorb most of the $14 million he's owed next year in the final year of his contract, echoing what they did when acquiring Ramirez from Miami.
The Pirates could also use an upgrade on Casey McGehee at first base or some insurance for Marte in left. Lee could be both.
Headley won't be a free agent until after the 2014 season, but he's 28 and into his arbitration years while the Padres are far from a return to contention. As a result, he's available, but he won't come cheap. Headley has hit .277/.367/.411 over the last two seasons, good for a 121 OPS+ after adjusting for Petco Park (when Baseball-Reference neutralizes that line it comes out to .296/.388/.437). He's a player who will hit for a solid average, draw a lot of walks, hit a lot of doubles, reach double-digits in home runs and steals and play a strong third base. That may not be a star in today's game, but it's a very valuable complementary piece. He'd have a big impact as an upgrade on Brandon Inge (.216/.272/.392 with the A's) or Alberto Callaspo (.251/.324/.367).
There has also been speculation that the Yankees are interested in acquiring him in the wake of Alex Rodriguez's broken hand. Doing so could mean Rodriguez would return as a full-time designated hitter, a position at which he has hit .343/.404/.510 this season and .306/.392/.560 on his career. Then again, it could also mean that Headley's name would go into the mix for leftfield. The Yankees don't need to add Headley, but there's little question that he'd make them a better team.
Ramirez is 34 and owed $30 million over the next two years (including the $4 million buyout on his mutual option for 2015). That surely prices him out of the A's reach (they similarly wouldn't want to give up the prospects necessary to get the Brewers to eat a significant part of that contact), though the big-spending Angels and Yankees could take on the contract and likely not have to surrender key prospects in the deal.
Kudos to the Tigers and Giants, who, in acquiring Omar Infante and Marco Scutaro to fill their respective holes at second base, effectively emptied the market of viable available middle infielders. Each of the six contenders listed above could have benefited significantly from the addition of either man.