We know, too, that the Phillies have gone through their attic and dusted off what might be valuable relics, strewing them across the front lawn. They’re joined by the Brewers and presumably the Rockies and …
Well, wait a minute. That’s where it gets murky. Listen to one scout of a team weighing its status as a buyer or a seller discuss this predicament.
“If you’re something like eight or nine or 10 games back in your division, what do you give up for a chance at making a one-game playoff?” he said, speaking of the wild card. “That’s what we’re wrestling with right now.”
That has to be true for a lot of the teams that are kinda maybe sorta in it. So let’s work with the idea that all the division leaders – Washington, St. Louis, the Dodgers, the Yankees, Kansas City and the Angels – are actively pursuing playoff berths. Count out the bottom-feeding Phillies, Rockies and Brewers. But that might be it, given that the last-place teams in the American League – the Red Sox, White Sox and Mariners – all entered the season with designs on winning the whole thing.
With that, let’s evaluate the five teams that have the most to decide before the deadline.
The team: Detroit Tigers
The record: 47-47, third in AL Central
Games back in the division: 10-1/2
Games back in the wild card: 3
The predicament: When Detroit dealt for then-Tampa Bay ace David Price on July 31 a year ago, its intentions were clear: Win a fourth straight AL Central crown and try to finally take the World Series. Price helped the Tigers lock down the division, but they were swept from the division series by Baltimore. Now, in the wake of a USA Today report that rival executives expect the Tigers to sell off the expiring contracts of Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, they are in an interesting spot.
Perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera is hurt. Former ace Justin Verlander has a 6.62 ERA in six starts since coming off the disabled list. Offseason acquisition Shane Greene has a 6.52 ERA.
“We’re fine,” Price said at the all-star break. But they’re not. They have allowed 16 more runs than they have scored, meaning their .500 record owes to some small amount of good fortune. Can Tigers President Dave Dombrowski really convince owner Mike Ilitch – who has never said “no” to adding payroll or making trades – that subtracting now might be a way to add later?
The bet: The Tigers can’t convince themselves they’re not contenders, and they hold onto both Price and Cespedes in hopes of making a run – knowing they’ll receive compensation draft picks when both walk in free agency.
The team: Toronto Blue Jays
The record: 48-48, second in AL East
Games back in the division: 5-1/2
Games back in the wild card: 3
The predicament: This is the sixth season the Blue Jays have been under the guidance of General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, and the entire staff has a sense that it’s important for the franchise to advance to the postseason or the front office could be overhauled in the offseason. This is a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1993. It might be just a pitcher or two away from getting there this year. Toronto has scored 79 more runs than any other team, an average of 5.3 a game. But they rank 22nd in baseball in run prevention. They need help both in the rotation (4.31 ERA, 13th in the AL) and the bullpen, where they still don’t have an established closer and are the only team in the game with more blown saves (15) than saves (14).
The bet: The Blue Jays are among the most aggressive teams at the deadline, landing a starter – Johnny Cueto? Scott Kazmir? Mike Leake? – and a back-end reliever.
The team: Chicago Cubs
The record: 51-43, third in NL Central
Games back in the division: 9
Games up in the wild card: 1/2-game over San Francisco for second spot
The predicament: There hasn’t been this much optimism in Wrigleyville since – well, likely since 2003. And it’s not even because, if the season ended today, the Cubs would face the Pirates in the wild-card game. No, the optimism is because the franchise’s ballyhooed future stars are already here – and that includes Futures Game MVP Kyle Schwarber, who has a 1.151 OPS in his first 13 big-league games. But is that enough to make a major move now? The Cubs could use another bullpen arm, though they activated former Nats closer Rafael Soriano on Monday in hopes of finding one on the cheap. Their starters have the fifth-best ERA in the game, so there’s not an obvious need there.
The bet: Cubs President Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer stand pat and let the kids enjoy their first pennant race. If they make it, fine. If they don’t, they’re a favorite for October in 2016.
The team: New York Mets
The record: 49-46, second in NL East
Games back in the division: 3
Games back in the wild card: 2-1/2
The predicament: The Mets haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and haven’t finished within 15 games of first place since 2008. Now, here they sit with a glorious pitching staff and a division favorite (Washington) that is injured and vulnerable. And yet the Mets can’t score. No NL team has produced fewer runs. Other categories in which they are last in the NL: average (.235), on-base percentage (.359) and OPS (.658) – not that those are all that important. They don’t know when or if third baseman David Wright will return, and they’re currently playing short-handed because Michael Cuddyer’s knee is bothering him – yet they haven’t given any indication they’re going to call up hitting prospect Michael Conforto, the Eastern League’s player of the week with Class AA Binghamton last week.
Mets fans might think General Manager Sandy Alderson owes it to the team to try to make a move – and the club clearly has the pitching depth to deal for a game-changing bat, a Justin Upton-type.
The bet: The Mets sit still and continue to hold onto all their arms for the future, even though the future could be 2015.
The team: Seattle Mariners
The record: 43-52, last in AL West
Games back in the division: 11-1/2
Games back in the wild card: 7-1/2
The predicament: What to do when you went all-in for 2015 – and then 2015 absolutely stinks? There is a sense that Jack Zduriencik’s time as GM is in peril even though the Mariners extended his contract last August. Does Zduriencik make a last-ditch effort to try to get the talented Mariners back into the race by upgrading an offense that’s hitting .237? Or does he act like he’s going to be in his chair for the future and sell off parts? First baseman Logan Morrison, DH/outfielder Seth Smith, center fielder Austin Jackson, right-hander J.A. Happ, reliever Joe Beimel and closer Fernando Rodney (even with a sky-high ERA) might bring something useful in return and wouldn’t upset a core of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, Kyle Seager and Brad Miller for 2016 and beyond.
The bet: Zduriencik feels the pressure and tries to add a bat at the deadline even though there are eight teams between the Mariners and the second wild-card spot.