Yesterday, I analyzed the most pressing needs for the 11 American League playoff contenders just in time for the Red Sox to fill their starting rotation void with the acquisition of Drew Pomeranz. If we’re lucky, one of these eight National League contenders will follow suit and give us another early Trade Deadline present this weekend.
54-36, 1st Place, +6
CENTER FIELDER/LEADOFF MAN
Ben Revere has a .268 on-base percentage and still has the privilege of being the starting center fielder and leadoff man for a 1st place team that is 18 games over .500. What does that tell us? For starters, Nationals manager Dusty Baker apparently doesn’t care if his leadoff man gets on base or not. It also means that the Nationals’ lineup and most of the 25-man roster is filled with talent, which is why Baker probably doesn’t lose much sleep over his leadoff man’s inability to be good at the most important aspect of his job.
In all seriousness, the Nats are well aware that they are in need of an upgrade, which is why Trea Turner, who is blocked by Danny Espinosa at the shortstop position, was playing center field in Triple-A before he was recently called up to replace an injured Ryan Zimmerman on the roster. While he could be given a shot as the Nats’ regular center fielder at some point, general manager Mike Rizzo is likely to first explore the trade market, where Charlie Blackmon, Peter Bourjos, Coco Crisp, Jon Jay (likely to return from the disabled list sometime in August) and Melvin Upton Jr. are all likely available. And all are having much better seasons than Revere or his platoon partner, Michael Taylor.
47-41, Wild Card (2nd-T), +1
Mention the Marlins to a baseball fan and the first thing that comes to their mind is the amazing power of Giancarlo Stanton. It really is quite breathtaking, after all. But the most interesting part of this up-and-coming young team is that they have five regulars not named Stanton hitting over .300. Even 42-year-old Ichiro Suzuki, who has played on a semi-regular basis, is hitting .335 and having his best season since he was in his mid-30’s. The bullpen, which now includes Fernando Rodney setting up for All-Star closer A.J. Ramos, is also talented and a lot of fun to watch.
Unfortunately, unless Jose Fernandez can pitch more than once every five days, the Marlins’ rotation isn’t good enough to make a legitimate run for a Wild Card spot. The fact that they’ve pushed Fernandez back a few times to limit his workload makes the rotation that much more of a priority. Wei-Yin Chen, who signed a potential $80MM free agent deal in the offseason, can’t seem to string together more than one good start. If not for Adam Conley, there’s no way the Marlins would be in the mix for a playoff spot.
Rich Hill and Jake Odorizzi are on their radar, as was the recently-traded Drew Pomeranz, but it’s likely that they’ll cast a wide net in hopes that they can acquire some help despite a farm system that is currently light on talent.
New York Mets
47-41, Wild Card (2nd-T), +1
David Wright could miss the season with a herniated disc in his neck. Lucas Duda is out for an extended period with a stress fracture in his back. Michael Conforto was sent to the minors because he stopped hitting. So can you believe that the Mets’ top priority might be starting pitching?
While they are reportedly prioritizing their bullpen at the moment, they will need to address their very fragile rotation at some point. Matt Harvey’s season-ending surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Zack Wheeler’s delayed return from Tommy John surgery—he’s not expected back before late August—and bone spurs in the elbows of young stars Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz should have the Mets looking to land at least one reinforcement and possibly two.
***Click below to read breakdowns of all the other NL contenders***
53-35, 1st Place, +7
RELIEF PITCHING, IF THAT
On paper, the Cubs probably have the best 25-man roster in baseball. They’re pretty good between the lines, too, as they’ve compiled the second best record in baseball. But a team that won just six of 21 games heading into the break isn’t without a weakness.
Jason Heyward is probably the most disappointing Cub, although Miguel Montero and Justin Grimm have also underperformed. But with rookie Willson Contreras in the mix at catcher and in the outfield, and Heyward likely to figure things out—he’s 10-for-28 since being moved down in the order to the No. 6 spot—I doubt that the Cubs are too worried.
While Travis Wood has pitched effectively in the 7th inning setup role that Grimm failed to hold down and Joe Nathan has shown well in his Minor League rehab assignment and could join the team soon, it probably wouldn’t hurt to add one more reliable late-inning arm to pair with Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop.
St. Louis Cardinals
46-42, Wild Card (4th), -1
RELIEF PITCHING, IF THAT
Carlos Martinez continues to move closer to “ace” status, but the other four starters in the Cardinals’ rotation have ERAs over 4.00. Trevor Rosenthal lost his closer’s job and Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk, who were expected to take big steps forward in ’16, were both demoted to the minors for short periods of time due to poor performance. And yet, the Cardinals have quietly hung around in the pennant race.
When Brandon Moss and Matt Carpenter return from the disabled list, this is a very balanced and productive offense. Wong and Grichuk have been better since returning. The lineup should be fine, as should the rotation. Their starting five is healthy, which is more than most teams can say, and they’re talented and battle-tested.
Seung-hwan Oh has been terrific in his first MLB season and that should continue regardless of whether he’s the closer or setup man. Kevin Siegrist and Jonathan Broxton are reliable setup men. Top prospect Alex Reyes is also an intriguing option in a late-inning role just in case Rosenthal cannot regain his form. Or they can trade for one more proven reliever. Not a very convincing case, but this is still an impressive roster despite the less-than-stellar results.
46-43, Wild Card (5th), -1.5
Since dropping to five games under .500 on June 23rd, the Pirates have gone on a 13-4 run to re-introduce themselves as legitimate playoff contenders once again. Interestingly, the’ve called up three top prospects in recent weeks who could play a major role in the 2nd half.
If this trio — first baseman Josh Bell and starting pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon — are the reinforcements, then the Pirates could pass on adding any more talent via the trade market. In fact, indications are that they’re shopping Jon Niese and Jeff Locke, which would ensure that at least one of Glasnow and Taillon have spots. Niese being moved to the bullpen today also makes it a pretty good bet.
However, Gerrit Cole, who is set to return from the disabled list on Saturday, has been the team’s lone reliable starter and leaning heavily on rookie starting pitchers in a pennant race isn’t ideal. A veteran rental who can at least do better than what Niese and Locke are giving them could improve their chances to return to the post-season for a fourth consecutive season.
San Francisco Giants
57-33, 1st Place, +6.5
STARTING PITCHING, MAYBE
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Giants have the best record in baseball. They’re a solid team with plenty of talent and leadership and a great manager. And despite the injury gods doing everything possible to stop the trend of the Giants winning the World Series every other season, they still keep rolling along.
Most of the major players with health concerns seem to be on the mend, but the rotation remains a bit of a question mark. If they can get a healthy Matt Cain back in the 2nd half—he’s currently on a rehab assignment—I don’t see any reason to mess with a good thing. That’s a big “if”, though, since the veteran righty is increasingly removed from his days as a top-of-the-rotation workhorse.
With such a big lead in the NL West, they have time to wait out Cain. But if he struggles upon returning, general manager Bobby Evans might set his sights on the trade market.
Los Angeles Dodgers
51-40, Wild Card (1st), +2.5
The Dodgers have plenty of depth and talent at the Major League level and down on the farm, which has helped them during their current 23-10 run despite a string of injuries to key players. At full strength, they might not necessarily have a glaring need, unless you really aren’t a believer in the unbelievable job that Joe Blanton and Adam Liberatore have done as the setup men for All-Star closer Kenley Jansen. But a closer look at the offense, which is ranked 25th in the majors in OPS, points out the weakness — which is in the corner outfield.
Yasiel Puig’s production since returning from the disabled list (19-for-60, 2 HR, 8 BB, 10 K) is encouraging and Howie Kendrick finished the 1st half on a high note by going 13-for-37 with six doubles in his last ten games. But Trayce Thompson has struggled over the past month and we don’t know how productive Andre Ethier will be when he finally makes his 2016 debut.
In a quote provided by Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman says that the team is focused on acquiring “elite-level” players. That doesn’t sound like they’re planning a few tweaks here and there to shore up the bench and bullpen. Jay Bruce and Josh Reddick would fit nicely in the Dodgers’ lineup, although it wouldn’t surprise me to see a blockbuster deal, possibly involving a third team with Puig and others going elsewhere.