We have reached the final week of July. Yes, Joakim Soria is now a Detroit Tiger and Chase Headley plays for the New York Yankees. But come on. David Price is still a Tampa Bay Ray. Cliff Lee is still a Philadelphia Phillie. Something has to give before Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline, if only because there are so many contenders, and so few of them are secure in their playoff positions.¶ Oakland has been the best team in baseball for much of the season — the Athletics have been in first place alone every day since April 28 — and already did its midseason shopping by picking up starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs. Oakland’s closest pursuers, the Angels, have shored up the bullpen with the addition of former closers Huston Street and Jason Grilli. ¶ But beyond that, which of the 17 serious contenders for postseason berths (and we’re not even counting teams such as recently hot Tampa Bay) is without one weakness — or more? The clock is ticking. Let’s try to match needs with solutions.
Needs: Starting pitching, catcher
It’s not just that the Orioles’ rotation has the 19st-best ERA in baseball — the only first-place team whose starters’ combined ERA is at least 4.00 — but they don’t have a take-charge guy. Who among Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez would start Game 1 of a playoff series? Matt Wieters’s injury leaves the potential to look for catching help, too.
Potential solutions: Jorge De La Rosa, A.J. Burnett, Kurt Suzuki
There’s a possibility the solution here comes from within, because 2012 first-round draft pick Kevin Gausman has pitched well since being recalled from Class AAA. But beyond that, would the Orioles play in the second-tier starters’ market for someone like Colorado lefty De La Rosa? Philadelphia’s Burnett is on his way to leading the National League in walks, but at 37 is a postseason veteran. Minnesota’s Suzuki was an all-star catcher, and the key attraction is he’s a free agent after the season, so he wouldn’t interfere with Wieters’s return.
New York Yankees
Needs: Starting pitching
With four-fifths of the opening day rotation down with injuries, and with last week’s trade with San Diego for third baseman Chase Headley, the Yankees would appear to be prime candidates to add a starter if they’re going to make one more playoff push in the Derek Jeter Era. They’re desperate enough that they’ve tried Jeff Francis, Brandon McCarthy and now Chris Capuano. But that’s not very Yankees of them.
Solutions: Cliff Lee, Ian Kennedy, Bartolo Colon, John Danks
No one should be considered off-limits, other than Price, because it’s nearly impossible to imagine the Rays — who are close to contenders themselves — dealing him within the division. But Lee, owed $25 million next year with a vesting option for 2016, might not scare the Yankees. More reasonable, with less impact: the White Sox’s Danks (owed $28.5 million in 2015-16); San Diego’s Kennedy, long ago a Yankee prospect; or even cross-town veteran Colon of the Mets.
Needs: Reliever, infield bat
The Blue Jays were 14 games above .500 and had a six-game lead on June 6, and since have gone 18-26 with weaknesses galore. Their production at second and third is bad enough that they were in the mix for Headley. Their bullpen ERA is the fourth-worst in the majors.
Solutions: Chad Qualls, Jonathan Papelbon, Adrian Beltre, Martin Prado, Aaron Hill
The big swing would be for Philadelphia closer Papelbon, who has allowed one homer and has his best WHIP since 2007. Qualls, who the Astros have employed as a closer, has the lowest WHIP and ERA of his 11-year major league career. Texas third baseman Beltre is owed $18 million in 2015. Prado’s .382 slugging percentage might not make him worth the $22 million he’s owed for 2015-16, which could turn the Jays to Prado’s Arizona teammate, former Toronto second baseman Hill.
The Tigers have a five-game lead on Kansas City after the weekend, and may have already made their big move by landing Texas closer Joakim Soria for two pitching prospects. Their lineup’s set; only four other teams have scored more runs. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have offset a subpar Justin Verlander in the rotation. The remaining need: more help for a bullpen whose ERA is the fifth-worst in baseball.
Solutions: Qualls, Joaquin Benoit, Antonio Bastardo, Andrew Miller
Benoit left Detroit for a two-year, $15.5-million deal with San Diego in the offseason, and the Padres seem willing and able to deal despite the fact they are in between general managers. Philadelphia’s Bastardo is a cheaper option; he’ll be in his final year of arbitration in 2015, and the Red Sox aren’t likely to sign lefty Miller beyond this year.
Needs: Starting pitching
After taking three of four from Detroit to start the second half, the Indians are willing to push for a second-straight postseason appearance. The need is obvious: Only the Twins and Rangers have a rotation with a worse ERA in the AL.
Solutions: Colon, De La Rosa
One million years ago — okay, just 17 — Colon began his career with the Indians. Would his return make sense? Right-hander Jake Peavy might have made sense here had the Red Sox not dealt him to San Francisco on Saturday.
Needs: Right-handed-hitting outfielder
The Royals’ OPS against left-handed pitching (.675 entering Sunday) ranks 13th of 15 AL teams. Their right fielders have an anemic .352 slugging percentage that’s the sixth-worst in baseball. Pretty easy to identify a need.
Solutions: Marlon Byrd, Alex Rios
The Phillies have to be in dealing mode, and Byrd is owed a reasonable $8 million in 2015. He’s also slugging .478 and is on pace to hit 31 homers. Texas’s Rios isn’t providing as much pop (four homers entering Sunday), but he would be a true rental, a free agent after this season.
The Athletics have scored the most runs in baseball and have the second-best ERA in the AL. Plus they already made the blockbuster for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. What more do you want?
Solutions: Clubhouse serenity
One move Oakland could pursue would be finding a home for lefty Tommy Milone, the former National who was displaced in the rotation in the Samardzija deal. Milone reportedly wants to be dealt, and the A’s could get a prospect in return.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Needs: Starting pitcher
Really, this is a stretch. The Angels already addressed their primary need in the bullpen by trading for Jason Grilli and then Huston Street, and they gave up prospects in the deal for the latter.
Solutions: Stand pat
Could the Angels upgrade at the back end of the rotation? Sure. But they’ll likely head into the postseason with Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards and a healthy C.J. Wilson, which would match up nicely against almost anyone — and wouldn’t further thin the system.
N eeds: Right-handed hitter, starter
The Mariners have gotten by largely behind Felix Hernandez and a best-in-baseball bullpen, but they’re flirting with being the lowest-scoring team in the AL, and their .645 OPS against lefties is the second-worst in baseball. Switch-hitting Kendrys Morales, acquired last week from the Twins, won’t solve all those problems.
Solutions: Byrd, Drew Stubbs, Price?
The Mariners made an offer for Colorado’s Stubbs last week, according to the Denver Post, and his .855 OPS would be a big boost. Byrd is likely to have more suitors, though Stubbs could be harder to pry away since he’s under club control in 2015, his final year of arbitration. And if Seattle is truly all-in — which signing second baseman Robinson Cano in the offseason seemed to indicate — could it come up with a package for Price?
This only comes up because of Ryan Zimmerman’s hamstring injury, but the Nationals — with the best run differential in the NL — don’t really need much. Anthony Rendon moves to third and Danny Espinosa returns to second. A lefty specialist in the pen, maybe?
Solutions: Stand pat
The Nationals’ window is now, but why thin the system for temporary help that might not be needed come October? The only way this changes is if Zimmerman’s injury lingers and the offense — with the NL’s second-best OPS in July — sputters because of it.
Needs: Starting pitching, left-handed reliever
Yes, the lineup — and its 26th-in-baseball OPS — has holes. But they’re not likely to make B.J. Upton magically go away, and the rotation still appears in shambles. When Gavin Floyd goes on the disabled list, and that’s a downgrade, you have problems.
Solutions: Price, Craig Breslow, Miller
Price is offered as a solution here not because it’s a particularly realistic move, but because the Braves are the most likely team to seize control of the division from the Nationals, and Price is one of the few characters who could almost singlehandedly help them do that. More realistically, though, Atlanta will deal for a lefty reliever. Boston’s Breslow or Miller would be a candidate if the Phillies won’t trade Bastardo in the division.
Needs: Fifth starter? Bullpen help?
The Brewers are the only NL Central contender who didn’t make the postseason last year. Yet their lineup seems set, their rotation seems set, their bullpen seems set.
Solutions: Win with what they have
Could someone like De La Rosa be an improvement over current fifth starter Jimmy Nelson? Sure. But GM Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he’s not inclined to make a deal for a deal’s sake. Translation: The Brewers aren’t among the most active in the market.
Needs: Catching, starting pitching
This is all injury-related. The Cardinals will be without team heartbeat Yadier Molina through mid-September because of a thumb injury. And last year’s late-season savior, right-hander Michael Wacha, is out indefinitely, and lefty Jaime Garcia is out for the season.
S olutions: Price, A.J. Pierzynski, Suzuki
The Cardinals are the rare organization that expects to be good this year, next year and five years from now. Could they swing a deal for Price that pairs him with Adam Wainwright and gives them the game’s most formidable one-two punch over the next two seasons? St. Louis picked up veteran Pierzynski, who was cut by Boston. But if he struggles, Suzuki makes sense because they don’t need a Molina replacement beyond this year, and he’s a free agent.
Needs: Starting pitcher, reliever
Though Gerrit Cole appears headed for a rehab assignment and subsequent return from his strained lat, the Pirates could use some help in the rotation. Their rotation’s ERA is the worst among the four contending teams in the NL Central. And the trade of former closer Grilli to the Angels for Ernesto Frieri hasn’t worked out; Frieri has an 11.25 ERA with Pittsburgh.
Solutions: Burnett, Qualls, Bastardo, Benoit
Burnett enjoyed his two seasons in Pittsburgh, during which he won 26 games and posted a 3.41 ERA, and he would seem to be a good fit to return. The Pirates aren’t looking to replace Mark Melancon, who took over for Grilli as the closer, but could use one of the experienced setup guys to help all-star Tony Watson.
Needs: Right-handed hitter, infielder
The banged-up Reds are clinging to postseason hopes, trying to make a push without injured second baseman Brandon Phillips and first baseman Joey Votto. Moreover, right fielder Jay Bruce is slumping, and Cincinnati’s OPS in July (.656) is the third-worst in the NL.
Solutions: Byrd, Hill
Byrd helped the Pirates reach the playoffs when he was dealt by the Mets last year. Could he do the same for a division rival? Hill is having a down year and has $24 million remaining on his contract for 2015-16, so a deal for him might push the Reds to do something they tried to do last offseason: Trade Phillips.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Needs: Starter, reliever
“Needs,” when speaking of the Dodgers, are relative, because the team with baseball’s highest payroll has stars almost everywhere. Still, with Dan Haren and Josh Beckett alternately struggling, there might be room in a rotation that already includes Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. And like so many contenders, another bullpen arm wouldn’t hurt.
For the rest of the NL, the scary thing about the Dodgers is that they don’t seem to care about adding payroll or egos. If they could put together a package to land Price, they would. In a way, they’re the most interesting team to watch, because they don’t need to do anything, but they could do anything.
Needs: Starter, reliever
The Giants needed help because of Matt Cain’s elbow issues, and they appeared to have made their move by landing Boston right-hander Jake Peavy for two prospects on Saturday. San Francisco’s bullpen ERA is the fourth-best in baseball, so a move there would be a bonus.
Peavy, who will be a free agent after the year, returns to the NL and reunites with manager Bruce Bochy, for whom Peavy played in San Diego, where he was a Cy Young winner. Should Cain be fine, Peavy’s presence will give the Giants flexibility headed into the postseason.