by Rob Joyce
Last week one of our “five burning second half questions” in the majors included which players would be moved at the trade deadline. Now with less than a week to go, the rumors and conversations between teams is only going to heat up. We’ve seen a few teams make some much-needed improvements already – the Cubs added starter Jose Quintana, while the Nationals and Yankees both bolstered weaknesses in the bullpen (and in New York’s case, did it at the expense of the Red Sox in the process).
Still, nearly every serious contender has one glaring hole that needs to be filled, and the time to do it is now. Among the teams vying for a World Series, who needs the biggest upgrade, and where?
5) Los Angeles Dodgers, RP:
The Dodgers are baseball’s best team and have a world of depth, even with Clayton Kershaw out for at least a month, maybe more. You can never have too many arms, though, and L.A. could add a decent one to shore things up. Kenley Jansen is among the top two or three closers in baseball, but beyond him there are some question marks. Pedro Baez (1.51 earned run average) is likely to come back down to earth, as his WHIP and FIP indicate he’s been quite lucky this year, as has Josh Fields.
The team is rumored to be interested in Pat Neshek, the All-Star reliever from the Phillies who they’ve tried to obtain before. His 1.12 ERA and 45-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, in a market where multiple teams are interested in his services, could drive his price up, so the Dodgers would likely have to part with a bigger prospect than usual for a middle reliever.
4) Washington Nationals, OF:
The Nats’ league-worst bullpen was bolstered by a deal to acquire both Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from Oakland. Though they could still add another arm on the back-end, their more pressing concern is in the outfield, where Adam Eaton has a torn ACL, Jayson Werth is out until early August with a fractured foot and Michael Taylor has an oblique injury that will keep him out for another few weeks. In all, two of the eight active outfielders in last week’s 40-man roster were healthy.
Barring a disaster the Nats are cruising to the NL East crown, but Bryce Harper is a free agent after next year. If not now to add another (healthy) bat and be in complete win-now mode, then when?
3) Milwaukee Brewers, SP:
Milwaukee is contending far sooner than expected, thanks to big offensive years from Travis Shaw and Eric Thames (among others) combined with Jimmy Nelson becoming the ace of the staff. With the Cubs starting to find their groove, the Brewers would be wise to make a move to sew up the rotation, as Chase Anderson is hurt, Zach Davies isn’t overpowering and the Matt Garza/Junior Guerra back-end is merely serviceable.
2) Boston Red Sox, 3B:
Boston’s third base situation has been awful (and that’s putting it nicely). The combination of Pablo Sandoval, Josh Rutledge, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin have combined for a .227/.280/.320 slash line this season. The Sox cut their losses with Sandoval, paying him nearly $50 million to go away, and now they’ve been forced to call-up Rafael Devers, the No. 3 prospect in baseball. While he’s done well at both Double- and Triple-A this year, he’s only 20 years old, and it’s a premature move, at best.
He could be the future at the hot corner, but it’s unlikely he’s the savior the low-wattage Boston offense needs in 2017. Unfortunately, though, he might be their only viable option at this point. They were in the running for Todd Frazier before the Yankees scooped him up. Now that leaves very little in terms of availability. Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas is thought to be available, but now the red-hot Royals are positioned for a postseason run after a bad start to the season.
1) Houston Astros, SP:
The Astros don’t need to make a move for the regular season. They’re going to waltz to the AL West title. With the best offense in baseball, made scarier by the fact that Jose Altuve has raised his batting average nearly 40 points this month (from .327 to .365 through Monday), Houston can’t waste a legitimate World Series shot because they’re one starter short.
The Astros’ starters are fourth in runs allowed per game in the AL despite being in the bottom-five in innings pitched and quality start percentage. The offensive firepower has allowed Houston to overcome that, as they lead the league in “cheap wins” – winning despite a starter not lasting six innings or allowing more than three earned runs (Houston has 17 such wins – no one else has more than 11). Adding someone like Oakland’s Sonny Gray could do wonders, especially once Dallas Keuchel returns from a neck injury that’s sidelined him for nearly two months.