As baseball enters the final couple months of the regular season, teams are preparing for the stretch run by assessing their chances of contending for the post-season and contemplating what additions are necessary to increase the odds. For many teams, their last chance to climb in the standings is via baseball’s trade deadline which occurs Friday July 31st this year.
Last year, the deadline didn’t disappoint as we saw many big names moved creating for some very fun divisional races. Guys like David Price, John Lester, Yoenis Cespedes, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel all found new teams, and some of those guys ironically find themselves on the trading block again this year.
This season, we see a lot of familiar faces atop their respective divisions but also a couple of surprises which could make for a very interesting few days before the deadline. Already, we have seen a couple big names dealt as last year’s American League Champ, the Kansas City Royals, acquired ace Johnny Cueto to fill a much needed hole in their rotation, and then perhaps the biggest surprise team of the year, the Houston Astros, received left handed starter Scott Kazmir from Oakland.
The Houston Astros aren’t the only surprise team this year; the New York Mets also came into the season with low expectations, yet find themselves very much in the thick of the playoff race. Both teams have a ton of young talent, but face the difficult decision of whether it would be wise to part with a prized young prospect to remain in the hunt, or to stand pat and build around their prospects for brighter years to come. Houston has more to offer realistically, and thus has a better chance of being a buyer this week, although they may have already got everything they were looking for in Kazmir.
The three teams that I think will be looking to buy this week are the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Nationals. Entering the 2015 season, Washington and the Dodgers were given some of the best odds in all of baseball to win the Fall Classic and yet both are in a dogfight to remain atop their divisions. The Yankees came into the season with a lot more question marks, not knowing what they would get from an oft-injured rotation and Alex Rodriguez in his return from a yearlong steroids suspension. All three teams still may need to make an addition to help improve their chances come October.
The Yankees are on a roll and appear to be running away with the American League East, which of course would clinch them a playoff berth, but if they plan on making a deep run in the playoffs, they need to upgrade their starting pitching. As a team, they have only 42 Quality Starts, and no true ace to anchor the rotation heading into the playoffs. Nathan Eovaldi is having the best season with a 10-2 record, but yields an Earned Run Average of over 4.00. Longtime ace C.C. Sabathia is yet to find any sort of rhythm and has just 4 wins, making a strong case that come playoff time he would be demoted to the bullpen when teams go down to four man rotations. As a team, the Yankees rank 21st in team ERA and I look for them to target guys like Cole Hamels, Mike Leake or Dan Haren. All three are currently on teams that could be looking to sell and all three players could instantly bolster the pitching staff.
Los Angeles has all the talent to win the World Series already and may not need to make a move, but after faltering the last couple Octobers, they may want to add to an already explosive arsenal. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are both pitching as well as anyone in baseball (36 Quality Starts combined) and are a very daunting, dynamic duo to start a series against. After those two however, the Dodgers have young and inexperienced starters. They have a very deep lineup that features both veterans and youth, as well as a lot of talent on their bench. Like the Yankees, I expect the Dodgers to address their starting pitching but I envision them swinging for the fences and getting a guy like David Price from the Detroit Tigers. A rotation with Kershaw, Greinke and Price would all but make the Dodgers the team to beat in the National League, and when you have Madison Bumgarner in your division, you have to do anything you can to out duel him and the defending champion Giants.
In Washington, hopes remain high even though fans probably didn’t think the division would be this close come the end of July. With the New York Mets hanging close, the Nationals can’t afford to take their foot of the gas. Washington has a very strong rotation, arguably the deepest in all of baseball, but offensively they rank in the middle of the pack in many categories. Bryce Harper is an MVP candidate but could use another bat around him if the Nats plan to come out on top in the NL. I look for the them to target guys like Jay Bruce, Justin Upton or even Ryan Howard.
As far as sellers go, three teams that I envision selling and having something substantial to offer are the Cincinnati Reds, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Detroit Tigers. It’s been another dreadful season in Philadelphia and one by one it seems they are shopping the members of their 2008 World Series team. In Cincinnati, we’ve already seen their ace, Johnny Cueto, traded to Kansas City and could see a few more big name players packing their bags as well. One of the biggest disappointments this season has been the Detroit Tigers. World Series contenders the last handful of years, we saw Detroit make multiple big moves in the past year that many thought would get them their first championship since 1984. An underachieving starting staff and weak bullpen have made the Tigers a sub-.500 team that needs to retool.
Cincinnati has a lot of teams calling inquiring about starter Mike Leake, who could provide a nice shot in the arm to a team’s pitching staff the rest of the season. With an 8-5 record, Leake has had an ERA consistently in the mid 3.00’s the past few seasons. Out of the bullpen, the Reds have the most feared closer in baseball in Aroldis Chapman. A flame thrower who routinely touches 103 mph from the left side would be an incredible gain for a contending team.
It’s been seven years since the Phillies have won the World Series and the Fighting Phils appear to be ready to go through a complete rebuild. Starting pitcher Cole Hamels is receiving the most attention, and should garner even more interest following his no-hitter this week in Chicago. Hamels has been very consistent over his career, even while Philadelphia has struggled in recent years. He has been one of the bright spots; never posting an ERA over 3.65 since 2009, even while having the distraction of hearing his name mentioned in trade rumors every year around this time. Jonathan Papelbon has also been consistent throughout his career and is still one of the more reliable closers in baseball. With an ERA under 2.00, Papelbon would be a great add to a contender’s bullpen.
The Detroit Tigers are still very much alive for the post-season but seem to be trending downward quickly. With so many teams still alive in the American League, the Tigers just don’t have the pitching staff to stay within reach much longer and being without their best hitter for a few more weeks due to injury doesn’t make anything easier. They have been buyers the last few years at the deadline causing them to lose a lot of their top prospects, which makes buying this year a very difficult feat. For these reasons I look for the Tigers to sell and get themselves ready to compete immediately next season. David Price was acquired by the Tigers at the deadline last year and has the 3rd lowest ERA in the American League this year. Price has looked very much like when he had won the Cy Young a few years ago, and is potentially the top target out there for buyers this year.
At the plate, Yoenis Cespedes is near his career high in batting average and still possesses the same wide range of skills as when he was touted a 5-tool player when he first defected to the United States five years ago. Batting anywhere from second to sixth in for the Tigers, Cespedes would be a great pickup to a team that needs some pop in their lineup.
The final couple of months of baseball should be very fun to watch, and come playoff time will showcase some of the best teams and players in all of baseball. It will be very interesting to see if the buyers can jump those who decide to stand pat as they fight for the post-season. One thing is for sure though, last year’s World Series ending in a Game 7 with the tying run just 90 feet away will be tough to beat.