July 31 marks the last day when teams looking to make a postseason run can significantly bolster their rosters. Which teams most need a playmaker to help with a playoff run?
Six teams within striking distance appear especially needy.
Chicago Cubs – Veteran Bat
Theo Epstein’s rebuilding process, started in 2012, has finally started to pay off. After three years of averaging less than 67 wins, the Cubs close-in on the final NL wild-card spot to make the postseason for the first time since 2008.
With the San Francisco Giants two-and-a-half games ahead, though, it’s partially up to management to surpass the defending champs. A little support for their solid pitching staff may do the trick.
While the Cubs’ core of young hitters may blossom in the years to come, they have hit a roadblock. Their 24.2% strikeout rate ranks highest in the league. The past month has been especially unkind. Superstar Anthony Rizzo, who hit .324 in April, bats .216 in July. Fellow All-Star Kris Bryant, has seen a similar drop (.318 to .177).
Meanwhile, Dexter Fowler plays his worst season since 2008 and neither Addison Russell nor Jorge Soler warrant hopes of improvement. If anyone can help spark this young group out of its offensive woes, a veteran bat seems the most likely.
With the likes of Yoenis Cespedes, Carlos Gomez, and Justin Upton available, it may be prudent for the Cubs to make a move rather than place full faith in a floundering group of neophytes.
New York Mets – Hitter
It is hard to tell what is more impressive, how bad its hitters have been this year or the fact that the Queens club is still in playoff contention. With arguably the worst offense in baseball, the team’s 51-48 record provides powerful testimony to the dominance of their starting rotation.
David Wright returns at some point, but he’s been injured so often over the years that it is doubtful he remembers what a diamond looks like. Their current lineup may struggle in AAA and an addition needs to come before the Mets slip back into their usual obscurity.
Plenty of hitters remain available at the deadline, and with the Washington Nationals surging to a two-game lead in the division, every day that goes by without a trade brings the Mets one step closer to another disappointing season.
*Note: The Mets completed a trade for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, but neither player is a significant upgrade, if one at all.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Leadoff Bat/Shortstop
Much hoopla has been made over the Dodgers’ need for another starting pitcher. With fears of Zack Greinke departing in the offseason, the West Coast club has been linked to both Cole Hamels and David Price, moves that seem more superfluous than necessary.
Let’s face it. The Dodgers not only have two of the game’s best pitchers in Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, the rest of the rotation has been more than serviceable. Brett Anderson has been solid and, after a seven-inning shutout effort in Atlanta, Mike Bolsinger holds a 2.79 ERA.
Carlos Frias comes off the disabled list, and let’s not forget Hyun-Jin Ryu, set to come back next spring.
Combined with a decent offense, the Dodgers display few holes. But one area where they can improve would be the leadoff position, where they hit a league low .214 on the year.
Initially, Jimmy Rollins manned the position but a .212 average will quickly see you moved down the order. Replacement Joc Pederson, a power-hitting youngster batting .230, doesn’t fit the bill either, despite his 21 home runs. Carl Crawford remains an option, but an unlikely one given his injury concerns.
A speedy outfielder or a shortstop not named Jimmy Rollins would help round out a power-heavy Dodgers attack that places fourth in the league in home runs and dead last in stolen bases. While getting Dee Gordon back is wishful thinking, Ian Desmond can be an intriguing target if the Washington Nationals make him available. Desmond stands as the only hitter with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in each the past three years and, given the 29-year-old shortstop’s current down season, he may be available at the right price.
New York Yankees – Starting Pitching
There is a lot to like about this Yankees team. But its rotation leaves much to be desired.
Masahiro Tanaka, considered the ace of the organization, has been inconsistent at best coming off of major surgery. Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova are serviceable, but far from dominant. Nathan Eovaldi instills zero fear in the hearts of opponents and the fact that CC Sabathia gets paid nearly $25 million to arguably be the worst pitcher in baseball (5.38 ERA) should piss off every working-class American.
With Scott Kazmir and Johnny Cueto already traded, the Yankees will need to strike soon before the starting-pitching market runs dry. Cole Hamels appears as an option, but an expensive one, making Jeff Samardzija the best candidate at under $10 million a year.
Los Angeles Angels – Left Handed Bat
A recent surge has seen the Angels leapfrog the Houston Astros into first in the AL West, led by suddenly scorching Kole Calhoun’s (6 HR/.325 BA) July. Yet, despite the southpaw’s recent success, the Angels still rank 25th in the league from the left side of the plate. In contrast, the Angels have hit 91 home runs from the right side, second most in the league, en route to a stellar .746 OPS.
While a lefty version of Mike Trout or Albert Pujols is hard to come by this time of year, quality southpaws like Ben Zobrist, Carlos Gonzalez, and Jay Bruce are available, and would go a long way towards balancing out the Angels lineup.
Toronto Blue Jays – Starting Pitching
Inversely, and yet, similarly to the Mets, the Blue Jays’ reliance on one-half of baseball’s equation has them hanging on to their playoff lives. When a league-leading 528 runs land you at .500, it doesn’t take a genius to diagnose the problem. Strangely, the Jays exchanged pitching prospects for another bat in Troy Tulowitzki.
A 4.38 combined starter ERA simply won’t cut it, no matter how good your offense plays. Marco Estrada arguably has been their most consistent starter, but it’s hard to rely on a 32-year-old whose career ERA places north of four. Fellow veteran Mark Buerhle, the only other Blue Jays starter with respectable numbers, hasn’t seen the postseason since 2008, when he gave up five runs and ten hits in a loss.
Even if the Blue Jays do sneak into the playoffs, where rotations tighten, who prevents opposing teams from putting up more runs than they can muster?
As noted previously, several aces and second-tier pitchers remain available. Unless the Blue Jays want to waste one of the more brilliant offensive units put together in recent history, they undoubtedly need to acquire an arm before the clock strikes four on July 31st.