- These teams don't lead their divisions, and for them to reach the playoffs, they'll need to consider a move or two if they wish to make the postseason.
The Yankees pulled off a blockbuster trade with the White Sox on Tuesday night, acquiring third baseman Todd Frazier and righty relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle in exchange for righty Tyler Clippard and a three-prospect package headlined by 2016 first-round pick Blake Rutherford. As with the Cubs' trade for starter Jose Quintana and the Nationals' for relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, the move gives them a jump on the competition well ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. On that note, having dissected the deadline-related needs of the six division leaders on Monday, what follows here is a look at those of the other contenders.
Because so few teams are running away with their divisions, determining exactly who's a contender and who's a pretender this year isn't easy. In the two Central divisions, the fourth-place teams, the Tigers and Pirates, are just five games out of first place, which seems surmountable, but both are below .500, and Detroit just dealt J.D. Martinez as part of what's anticipated to be a larger sell-off. So for this exercise, I'm going nut just by record and distance from the division lead or a wild card spot, but by the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds, which account for on-hand personnel and remaining schedule as well as current record. I'm skipping over teams with near-.500 records but odds below 10%—the Tigers (9.2%), Pirates (8.0%), Angels (5.2%), Blue Jays (3.7%), Orioles (2.6%) and Braves (2.6%)—with one exception: the Royals (8.4%), as they appear more geared to be buyers than sellers.
Depending on how the upcoming week-and-a-half goes, one or two of those teams might swap places with those below, but this won't be the last time you read about the trade deadline. The teams are ordered by odds to make the playoffs with the American League featured first.
New York Yankees
Record: 48–44, 3.5 games behind in AL East, 1.5-game lead for second AL wild card, 68.9% odds
Top needs: starting pitching, first base
Once again, general manager Brian Cashman has moved swiftly before the deadline and given the team flexibility to make additional upgrades. While their bullpen is probably set, the Yankees could still use another starter given the loss of Michael Pineda to Tommy John surgery, the erratic performance of Masahiro Tanaka, and workload concerns regarding Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery. Their depth is such that they could stretch out setup man Adam Warren or call up hotshot prospect Chance Adams to replace Luis Cessa as their fifth starter, or at the very least use them as patches for the aforementioned concerns, but another starter from outside the organization would make sense, and they're said to be still open to rental pieces or controllable ones.
Meanwhile, their black hole at first base (.205/.292/.387) could be solved by shifting either Frazier (.207/.328/.432) or incumbent third baseman Chase Headley (.257/.340/.370) across the diamond, as both have experience there, but they could still go Yonder (Alonso, the A's first baseman and a pending free agent), as I suggested in my Bold Predictions.
Tampa Bay Rays
Record: 51–44, two games behind in AL East, 1.5-game lead for first AL wild card, 66.2% odds
Top need: bullpen, outfield
The Rays’ bullpen ranks 11th in the league in ERA, but as the team is currently occupying a playoff position, they appear willing to fish in the deep end of the pool. Lefties Justin Wilson of the Tigers and Tony Watson of the Pirates are two names on their radar; the former has a year of arbitration eligibility remaining and is currently closing, so will probably require more to acquire. They’ve also been connected to Hand, Phillies' sidearmer Pat Neshek and the Giants’ Hunter Strickland.
As for their outfield, with Colby Rasmus having left the team for personal reasons and Kevin Kiermaier out until early to mid-August due to a fracture in his left hip, their depth is being tested. Mallex Smith, Peter Bourjos and Shane Peterson have performed well recently, but none has long track records of production.
Record: 47–48, 16.5 games behind in AL West, 2.5 games behind in AL wild card, 22.2%
Top need: starting pitching
No matter which way the Mariners go at the deadline, you know GM Jerry Dipoto—who at one point in late May was averaging one 40-man roster transaction every 15 hours and 18 minutes—will be busy. Having lost Drew Smyly for the season to Tommy John surgery and Hisashi Iwakuma for at least another month to shoulder inflammation, the Mariners need rotation help, and Dipoto is said to be eying controllable pitchers, which means paying a steep cost to get a pitcher such as Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole or Julio Teheran, though he could scare up other alternatives. While their other needs are less pressing, they’re among the multitude of teams connected to Padres lefty Brad Hand, and they’ve been mentioned as a potential fit for Mets first baseman Lucas Duda, who would be an upgrade over or potential platoon partner with incumbent Danny Valencia.
Record: 45–48, 17.5 games behind in AL West, 3.5 games behind in AL wild card, 17.6% odds
Top needs: first base, bullpen
Given their precarious position, they could wind up selling, in which case Cole Hamels and pending free agents Jonathan Lucroy and Yu Darvish could be on the move; there's "increasing buzz" that they'll entertain offers on the two frontline starters. If they do maintain their plan to go for a wild card spot, an upgrade on first baseman Mike Napoli (.203/.207/.462 for a 90 OPS+) is in order and no, recently signed Yankees castoff Chris Carter doesn't fit that bill. The A's Yonder Alonso, a pending free agent whose mechanical and philosophical adjustments have revitalized his career (21 homers, .265/.365/.553 for a 149 OPS+) does. Help for a bullpen that's 12th in ERA (4.55) is needed, and they're said to want relievers with some amount of club control remaining. They've been linked to the Marlins' David Phelps and San Diego's Hand, who have one and two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, respectively. If they're willing to go the pending free agent route, Neshek is one of the best options out there.
Record: 47–46, 1.5 games behind in AL Central, 1.5 games behind in AL wild card, 16.8% odds
Top needs: pitching
As Bartolo Colon’s four-inning, four-run debut against the Yankees showed on Tuesday night, their rotation needs aren’t solved yet, and the loss of Phil Hughes to a recurrence of thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms creates a second hole they’ll have to fill. The team is reportedly unwilling to gut its farm system to make significant upgrades and wary of rentals—which makes it hard to avoid winding up with waiver bait like Colon. If they want controllable pitching, taking on salary is an option, with someone such as the Marlins’ Edinson Volquez (making $9 million this year and $13 million next), the Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ ($13 million this year and next) fitting the bill, but it’s not clear if those teams want to move those players; others, such as the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore, probably aren’t pitching well enough to be worth the bother. As for bullpen help, they’d be logical fits for the Marlins’ Phelps and A.J. Ramos, both with another year of control remaining, but a reunion with ex-Twin Neshek, a pending free agent, would be difficult to resist.
Kansas City Royals
Record: 45–47, three games behind in AL Central, three games behind in AL wild card, 8.4%
Top needs: pitching, bat
With Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Jason Vargas all pending free agents, the Royals have a considerable inventory should they slip further and decide to sell. But right now, the team appears more of the mind to go for it one last time before their championship core scatters to the four winds. Having just lost starter Nate Karns for the year due to thoracic outlet syndrome, they’ve been mentioned both in connection both with rentals such as the Braves’ Jaime Garcia and longer-term pieces such as the A’s Gray and the Braves’ Teheran. Manager Ned Yost’s bullpen ain’t what it used to be, so they need help there, too.
On the offensive side, with shortstop Alcides Escobar, leftfielder Alex Gordon and DH Brandon Moss all posting an OPS+ of 67 or worse, just about anything looks like an upgrade. They’re known to like the Marlins’ Dee Gordon, whose father Tom pitched for them, after all. The Miami infielder is under control through 2021, including a club option, but the Royals would probably need some salary relief (he’s owed $39.4 million beyond this year) to deal for him. If they do, incumbent second baseman Whit Merrifield could shift to the outfield or DH. One of the Mets’ available sluggers—Duda, Jay Bruce or Curtis Granderson—would be a fit as well. While the Reds’ Zack Cozart would provide a huge upgrade at shortstop, it’s unclear whether the Royals will ever quit Escobar.
Record: 54–39, 10.5 games behind in NL West. 0.5-game lead for first NL wild card, 87.5% odds
Top needs: shortstop, bullpen
They shored up their outfield production by trading three prospects for Tigers slugger J.D. Martinez on Tuesday, but general manager Mike Hazen has more work to do with an offense receiving above-average production from only first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, third baseman Jake Lamb and rightfielder David Peralta. While they're awash in middle infield options—Chris Owings, Brandon Drury, Ketel Marte, Daniel Descalso—even with the late-June loss of shortstop Nick Ahmed for six to eight weeks due to a fracture in his right hand, they're reportedly interested in adding a better defensive shortstop than Owings. Cozart, the Tigers' Jose Iglesias and the Phillies' Freddy Galvis are among the potential targets.
The loss of reliever Randall Delgado to a strained flexor tendon intensifies their already-existing need for bullpen help. Closer Fernando Rodney didn't allow an earned run in May or June, but his 5.58 ERA and his rollercoaster-like career both serve to remind that he could fall out of favor at any moment; notably, he blew back-to-back saves shortly before the All-Star break. The Yankees' and Nationals' trades have taken some of the bigger bullpen pieces off the table, but they could check in on the Orioles' Brad Brach and Darren O'Day; given their weak farm system, they don't have the prospects to deal for Zach Britton, but they do have financial flexibility to consider other reliever moves.
Record: 55–41, 11 games behind in NL West, 5.5-game lead for second NL wild card, 75.1% odds
Top needs: pitching
As with the Diamondbacks, the Rockies are getting above-average production from only a few spots, namely first base (Mark Reynolds), third base (Nolan Arenado) and centerfield (Charlie Blackmon). They lost out on Martinez, and aren't going to rush outfielder David Dahl back from a stress fracture in his rib cage. Dahl is on a rehab assignment as of July 12, which is his first competitive action this season.
An upgrade on struggling shortstop Trevor Story would help (and Ian Desmond just returned from the disabled list), but GM Jeff Bridich's focus is on pitching. They wouldn't be in a playoff position without the strong work done by a quartet of 22–24 year old rookie starters—Kyle Freeland, Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez, and Antonio Senzatela—but their workloads need management. They just skipped Freeland's turn in the rotation, and Senzatela was just recalled from the minors—he was demoted after getting shelled for 33 runs in a 44 1/3 inning stretch—but they'll need more depth in the rotation. They can't count too heavily on the returns of Tyler Chatwood (calf strain), Chad Bettis (testicular cancer) and Tyler Anderson (left knee surgery). Bridich inquired about the Orioles' Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, but both would require considerable packages given their years of club control remaining. They've also checked in with the Marlins on Phelps and Ramos, and presumably have other ideas in that area as well.
Record: 48–45, 2.5 games behind in NL Central, 5.5 games behind in NL wild card, 65.0% odds
Top needs: bullpen, catcher
Even after acquiring Quintana, the Cubs were rumored to remain interested in Gray, though that appears to have cooled. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are more focused on the bullpen, and the Marlins' Phelps a target. With closer Wade Davis a pending free agent, the Cubs are a team that could get serious about Zach Britton, who's already making $11.4 million this year and has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining; he'll require a significant package, but as with Quintana, the team has shown that it's willing to part with quality prospects for players with club control. Along those lines, they're said to be interested in Hand, who has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining. If they pull off a deal with San Diego, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them reacquire Trevor Cahill, who revitalized his career in the Cubs' bullpen in 2015–16 before making a solid rotation showing for the Padres.
Meanwhile, in the wake of jettisoning Miguel Montero, the Cubs could use an upgrade behind starting catcher Wilson Contreras, and no, David Ross isn't coming out of retirement. They've explored the possibility of acquiring the Tigers' Alex Avila, who's having a big season, and could look to other tried-and-true backups such as the Mets' Rene Rivera or the Giants' Nick Hundley.
St. Louis Cardinals
Record: 46–47, 4.5 games behind in NL Central, 7.5 games behind in NL wild card, 21.7% odds
Top needs: middle-of-the-order bat, shortstop, bullpen
As far as they are from a playoff spot, the Cardinals are still eying upgrades. They would consider parting with pending free agents such as starter Lance Lynn, who's enjoying a solid return from Tommy John surgery, or closer Seung Hwan Oh, who's been lit for a 4.18 ERA, as a means of improving the club. With Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty struggling (and both currently on the disabled list) they need outfield help, and have been linked to the since-traded Martinez and the White Sox's Avisail Garcia, who's under control through 2019 and enjoying a breakout season. Deals for the Mets' Bruce or Granderson, both pending free agents, would require less in the way of young talent if they're willing to take on salary. As for shortstop, the overnight success of rookie Paul DeJong (10 homers and a 127 OPS+ in 20 games apiece at second base and shortstop) has helped to offset the demotion of Aledmys Diaz, last year's rookie sensation.
Perhaps the most interesting and impactful move the Cardinals could make would be to assemble a considerable package of prospects and/or controllable youngsters for the Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson, who has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining. The Cardinals are known to be interested, but it's not clear yet if the Blue Jays (43–50) have the appetite to move him even if they do wind up selling at the deadline.