- Every contender has holes to patch ahead of the trade deadline, but whose needs are most glaring? Here comes our ranking.
With the trade deadline a week away, just about every contender could use something. But which teams’ needs are most pressing? Here’s our ranking. (And for brevity’s sake, we’re arbitrarily defining “contender” here as any team within two games of a berth.)
1. Washington Nationals Bullpen
Washington’s 5.93 relief ERA is the worst in the National League. They’re the only ‘pen that’s pitched fewer than 300 innings; Dave Martinez has some clear wariness about being able to call on them when needed. They’ve looked marginally better in the last month or so, but that’s not saying very much at all. Outside of Sean Doolittle, they have remarkably few reliable relief options and arguably none at all. (Uh, Fernando Rodney has looked decent since being picked up?) The Nationals have successfully been able to pull out of their early-season spiral to climb the rankings, but that’s only despite their relief corps, and they’ll have to make an upgrade here to last down the stretch and into October.
2. Milwaukee Brewers Rotation
All season, this has seemed like an obvious area for the team to invest. Now, it feels more urgent than ever—Brandon Woodruff, their most reliable starter this year, has just gone down with an oblique injury, which will keep him out for at least six weeks. Meanwhile, Jimmy Nelson is still on the IL, as is struggling swingman Corbin Burnes. Milwaukee’s pitching is among the weakest in the National League (5.03 runs per game, third-highest in the NL, and certainly the highest in baseball of any hopeful playoff contender) and it simply can’t afford for the rotation to remain as it is.
3. Boston Red Sox Bullpen
In the last month, Boston’s 'pen leads the American League in ERA (6.86, yikes), leads baseball in walk rate (4.75 BB/9, big yikes), and is likely close to the top of the arbitrary leaderboard of Moments That Make Fans Want to Rend Some Garments and Give Up. Yes, Nathan Eovaldi is finally back from his elbow injury and is supposed to begin full-time relief work. But they could probably still use a little something else.
4. Atlanta Braves Rotation
Mike Foltynewicz is in Triple-A. Kevin Gausman has been a big yikes. Max Fried is on the IL. Mike Soroka has been phenomenal, but the 21-year-old has pitched 102 innings so far, which means that it likely stands to reason that some sort of limit might be coming into play soon, whatever form it might take. Atlanta has a comfortable lead in the NL East, but not this comfortable.
5. Chicago Cubs Bullpen
It’s been almost five weeks since the Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel, but this ‘pen is still kind of a mess. In the last month, it’s had the most deeply negative relief WAR (-0.6) in the National League of any team outside of Cincinnati, with one blown save for every four games in that stretch. A particular area for them to focus on at the deadline? The role of set-up man, which has recently belonged to Pedro Strop, but, ah, that has... not been going particularly well.
6. Oakland A’s Rotation
While this rotation never exactly looked like a true strength, a month ago, it didn’t necessarily look like it was in need of any serious help. But then Frankie Montas was handed an 80-game suspension for PEDs, and top prospect Jesus Luzardo is still out of commission with a lat injury, and… yeah, they could definitely use a little boost. (Outside of their recent trade for Homer Bailey, that is.)
7. New York Yankees Rotation
The Yankees are obviously in a pretty solid spot, regardless of the state of their rotation; Luis Severino should be returning relatively soon from the IL, with Jonathan Loaisiga behind him. Even so, the team could definitely still use a boost here. There’s not one member of the rotation here with a sub-4.00 ERA. (Though Masahiro Tanaka and Domingo German’s peripheral numbers, in particular, suggest that they’ve been a bit better than this indicates—but not too much better.) In other words, there’s something to all the buzz here around the potential for Marcus Stroman or Madison Bumgarner.
8. Cleveland Indians Outfield
Rewind, say, six or seven weeks, and this one looked like a clear problem. Now? Eh. Oscar Mercado has broken out, Tyler Naquin and Jordan Luplow have looked a whole lot sharper, Greg Allen is steadier, Leonys Martin is gone. This is no longer an area of immediate need. But if Cleveland decides that it wants to go all the way in on being buyers—which seems like it would be a logical choice, given how much ground they’ve gained on Minnesota—then a little extra depth here would likely be appreciated, particularly if one or more of their outfielders’ hot streaks turns cold again.
9. Los Angeles Dodgers Bullpen
This feels like a place for a grade-school-level lesson on want versus need. The Dodgers’ bullpen is fine. They’re inarguably the best team in baseball. They don’t have to do anything right now. But… if they’re going to, adding a reliever would be smart, because there’s plenty of room between a “fine” ‘pen and a good one. Kenley Jansen can run rather hot-and-cold; Pedro Baez can, too; Joe Kelly has been the catalyst for a not-entirely-insignificant segment of fan anxiety. Besides, given the nature of relief pitching in October, it’s almost always smart for a contender to add some depth here, and L.A.’s case is no different.