The rumor mill is spinning with the trade deadline a mere five days away as teams amp up their approach to accomplish their goals. On Monday, we took a look at ten teams who could make moves this week, but who don’t really have a pressing need to act. Some teams, like the Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees, are going to make the playoffs, and any moves they make this week will be to improve a minor deficiency. Others, like the Blue Jays and Rockies, don’t have much to sell and aren’t in the position to buy either. Yesterday, the focus shifted to teams who could benefit from making moves, either to get back into the race like White Sox, or to unload valuable assets like the Padres and Orioles.
Today ends the series by examining the ten teams who really need to make or field offers this week for different reasons. Each member of the group has a pressing need to transact this week in order to accomplish goals for this season, next, or both.
#10 – Tampa Bay Rays
Despite squashing rumors of James Shields potentially being available, the Rays have one of the most attractive deadline pieces in B.J. Upton. Though his offense has suffered quite a bit since 2007-08, the elder Upton brother is still a 3+ WAR player capable of hitting 15-20 homers while stealing 40 bases. Add in decent defense in center field and it becomes easy to see why many teams are coveting him. The Nationals are looking to acquire a long-term solution in center field and could make a strong push, though the Braves have also been linked to him.
Upton reaches free agency after the 2012 season, so with a year and two months left under team control, now is the right time to move him. With Desmond Jennings already promoted to the majors, Upton has been made expendable, and if the end solution involves trading him, it’s better to do so when he could impact two playoff races.
Kyle Farnsworth tends to change teams around this time every season, and his stellar numbers so far — 1.99 ERA, 2.69 SIERA, 4.0 K/BB could have plenty of teams calling. The Rangers could use relief help, as could the Cardinals and Tigers. The Rays could also look to capitalize on the potentially fluky success of Casey Kotchman, who will be a free agent after the season. His .388/.450 OBP/SLG would be mighty attractive to a few teams.
#9 – New York Mets
When Carlos Beltran signed with the Mets, Scott Boras included a clause that they couldn’t offer him arbitration when the deal expired. Ipso facto, the Mets won’t receive any compensation picks when he signs elsewhere in the offseason. The Rangers and Giants are high on him, with the Red Sox, Braves and Phillies also expressing interest. Peter Gammons reported that the Indians made a push for Beltran, but the offer was never formally presented to him to see if he would waive his no-trade clause. The Mets aren’t going anywhere right now and won’t get anything for him in the offseason, so dealing him, especially when he’s on a 6+ WAR pace, is a no-brainer.
The Mets would have ranked even higher on the list had they not already dealt Francisco Rodriguez, as getting out from under the financial burden that was his $17.5 million option for 2012 should have been one of their top priorities.
Scott Hairston is a decent right-handed bat capable of playing multiple positions, and contending teams tend to gravitate towards those types of players to solidify their bench. Don’t be surprised to see him moved before the end of the season, whether it’s this week, or through the waiver wire.
#8 – Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have the highest rotation WAR in the American League and are middle of the pack when it comes to bullpen rankings. Realistically, the pitching staff is fine, but they will need some help on offense to make up the three games separating them from the Rangers. Only the Mariners, Athletics, Twins and White Sox have a lower team wOBA in the junior circuit. Fortunately, the Angels are strong in the middle infield with Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, and with Alberto Callaspo at the hot corner, instead suffering in areas that are easier to fill.
Mark Trumbo has 18 home runs, but a .297 OBP. Carlos Pena would be a nice fit there, as would Casey Kotchman. The Angels also aren’t getting much from their aging outfield of Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter. A healthy Josh Willingham could go a long way towards giving the offense more pop, and he could also platoon as a designated hitter with Russell Branyan.
#7 – Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have the highest batting WAR in the National League and the third worst pitching staff per the same metric. The starting rotation situation is so dire that Dontrelle Willis now fills out the back end. And while it’s hard to root against the D-Train, a team with playoff aspirations shouldn’t be giving him consistent starts. James Shields made a lot of sense given the depth of the Reds farm system, and a homecoming with Aaron Harang would help as well. I could see them matching up with the Orioles for Jeremy Guthrie or the Astros for either Brett Myers or Wandy Rodriguez as well.
The Reds are five games out of the NL Central lead despite a sub-.500 record, but they need an impact starter to really make a push. Heck, they might even need two.
#6 – Houston Astros
The team was told to cut payroll from $76 million to $60 million next season. They have four pieces teams could have interest in: Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. There is no way the Astros stand idly by as the deadline passes, especially since all four of those players are at the top of their respective positions amongst those available.
Ken Rosenthal reported that the Phillies are the most aggressive after Hunter Pence, and the Pirates have also been linked in his direction. AL teams are shying away from Rodriguez out of fear he’ll turn into a pumpkin in the tougher offensive league, but that won’t dissuade NL teams in dire need of pitching help. Bourn would certainly be on the Nationals’ wish list given their aforementioned desire for a center fielder, but it’s also possible that teams don’t view him as a true 5+ WAR player when so much of his value is tied up in his fielding.
No matter what, the Astros have to move some pieces this week. Even if the team didn’t have to cut payroll it made a ton of sense to trade a couple of these guys, as the farm cupboard is bare. A team in their position can’t get too greedy either, because even a mediocre return on one of these players would represent a significant upgrade to the system.
#5 – St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have the second best offense in the National League, and their team .340 OBP ranks at the top. The starting rotation has the fifth highest WAR in the senior circuit, but the bullpen is a mess. At -0.4 WAR, only the Astros have fared worse. Jason Motte, Fernando Salas and Mitchell Boggs have great peripherals, but the Cardinals have a serious shot at winning the division and should be looking to improve their relief corps. Heath Bell would be a great fit, as would Matt Thornton or Jesse Crain if the White Sox become sellers.
As for what would make the most sense, however, the Cards should be on the phone with the Orioles to discuss the cost of acquiring either Koji Uehara or Jim Johnson. The former has much better numbers than the latter, but Johnson would be a fine consolation prize if Uehara proves too costly for the Cardinals liking.
Colby Rasmus has been mentioned quite a bit in trade talks given his rocky relationship with Tony La Russa. While a young, cost-controlled center fielder with at least a league average bat should net more than a relief pitcher, it’s possible that a return package would include a reliever or two capable of upgrading the bullpen. Jon Jay would shift to center field, where his fielding marks are decent. He might not have the same upside as Rasmus, but at least in the interim the team wouldn’t lose much of anything at all in the lineup or the field.
#4 – Cleveland Indians
The Tigers hold a small lead over them, but it seems abundantly clear that Grady Sizemore cannot be relied upon this year. They arrived late to the Beltran party but have interest, per Peter Gammons. They could also opt for players like Coco Crisp or Melky Cabrera to fill in up the middle. Shin-Soo Choo hasn’t played in over a month, but his return could be the equivalent of acquiring a big bat at the deadline if his thumb has healed.
The bullpen has been adequate at two wins above replacement but the rotation ranks third from the bottom in the American League. Nobody has been bad, necessarily, with Fausto Carmona performing the worst while posting a 4.08 xFIP and 4.00 SIERA, but the fifth spot has been occupied by various pitchers who haven’t gotten the job done. Jeremy Guthrie would make a lot of sense for the Indians. His addition, plus that of one of the outfielders above, as well as the return of Choo, could put pressure on the Tigers and tighten the race even more.
#3 – Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers have significant holes on the left side of their infield and have essentially committed to going all in this year with the impending free agency of Prince Fielder. In fact, they rank dead last amongst NL teams in SS-WAR, and second to last in 3B-WAR. These are big problems for a fringe contender, especially one with as solid a pitching staff.
Acquiring K-Rod was a great first step, but the NL Central is up for grabs at this point and the Brewers could really use even a mediocre upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee. The issue they face is a lack of trade chips. The farm system just isn’t strong, and their major league core is required to compete right now. They aren’t in a position to deal from depth in one area to improve another.
Mark Reynolds can’t field worth a damn, and if he doesn’t factor into the Orioles long-term plans it’s conceivable that he could be had for the right price. Sure, he has only produced 0.6 WAR so far, but that’s over a full win better than McGehee. Ty Wigginton is another name to watch here, as he profiles similarly to Wilson Betemit, who the Brewers were in on before his trade to the Tigers.
#2 – Arizona Diamondbacks
The loss of Stephen Drew created a big hole in their lineup and defensive scheme that, I’m sorry, Cody Ransom cannot come close to filling. There aren’t many premier shortstops available, but their playoff hopes are going to rely upon replacing Drew with someone capable of doing anything other than serving as a warm body. Jason Bartlett, Rafael Furcal, Jamey Carroll and Adam Kennedy are interesting names to watch here. No, they aren’t stars, but they also aren’t Cody Ransom, and the Diamondbacks still have a fighting shot of reaching the playoffs. If, however, the gap between them and the Giants widens substantially this week, look for Kelly Johnson to be moved.
#1 – Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are one game back of first place on July 27, and are five games over the .500 mark. If for no other reason than they might not get back to this spot for another several seasons after already going through 18 consecutive losing seasons, the Buccos need to act this deadline and bring players in to aid their final push for the division title or wild card. Whether it involves overpaying for a player like Pence or acquiring a bunch of marginal upgrades who, combined, result in a big improvement across the board, the Pirates really need to capitalize on their current success.
One of their biggest problem areas is first base: Lyle Overbay should not be starting for a potential playoff team. Carlos Pena would be a nice acquisition here, and James Loney might be worth a flier as well given how well he performs outside of Dodger Stadium. Pedro Alvarez has really fallen short of expectations, and while he is still considered the future at the hot corner, it might make sense to explore the third base market if the goal is truly to see how long this magical run can last. If Aramis Ramirez were willing to ‘ok’ a deal to the Pirates that would provide a very interesting scenario, but it seems unlikely. In the end, the Pirates may spring for a Pena-type, or they may look to apply marginal upgrades in a few areas, the aggregate effect of which brings a similar overall improvement, but they have to do something.
To fail is to have tried, and if the Pirates miss the playoffs this year it should not be due to a lack of effort at the deadline.