For some teams, the goal leading up to the July 31 trade deadline will be acquiring players that will help them win in October. They’re already pretty much assured of making the playoffs, and anything short of a World Series title will be disappointing.
Those teams are after mega-impact players, like a Max Scherzer, and they can wait for the right player to become available. There’s no real rush.
For other teams, though? Winning in October is still the goal, but without a little bit of help — or a lot of help — getting to the postseason will be challenging. These are the teams that would greatly benefit from trades before July arrives, to get an extra five or six starts from a new rotation addition, or another 100-plus plate appearances from a position player.
Let’s look at five of those teams today.
Why they need help sooner than later: Look, every team has ups and downs through a season. The Cardinals, though, seem to have mastered the whole all-or-nothing approach better than any other team in the bigs, and that isn’t a compliment. At one point, the Cardinals were 22-14 and tied for the best record in baseball; since then, they’re 14-22; that overall .500 record has them tied for third in the NL Central, four games back of the Cubs and Brewers.
“We are at a little bit of a stress point right now,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
So what do they need? Let’s start with rotation help. At least one more starter who isn’t a No. 5 type. Adam Wainwright has been the only reliable, fully healthy pitcher this season. Ace Jack Flaherty was excellent in his 11 starts, but he’s on the IL with an oblique injury and his return is likely measured in weeks, not days. Carlos Martinez had a nice stretch in late April/early May, but he’s been mostly a mess lately. Let’s put it this way: Even if you throw out his disastrous start against the Dodgers — 10 earned runs in 2/3 of an inning — his ERA for June is still 9.64. Yikes. John Gant’s ERA is solid (3.50), but he’s averaging just 14.2 outs per start, a shade under five innings and he has nearly as many walks (44) as strikeouts (46). That’s not what you want. Same basic issue for Kwang Hyun Kim, who has a 3.64 ERA but just 13.6 outs per start (50 innings in 11 starts). Johan Oviedo has legit stuff, but he’s still young and a work in progress.
And the offense has been underwhelming, to say the least. Maybe it’s time to stop waiting for outfielder Harrison Bader — who is 27 and owns a .211 average and 90 OPS+ in his past 200 MLB games, dating back to the start of the 2019 season — to develop into a force. The Cardinals are financially committed to Paul DeJong at shortstop, but he’s batting just .160 with a .585 OPS in 45 games this year, after hitting just three homers in 45 games last year.
Why they need help sooner than later: The Yankees entered the year expecting to challenge for 100 wins and the AL’s best record. That, well, hasn’t happened. At the moment, they’re looking at an uphill climb just to get to the postseason, and it seems they won’t throw in the towel on 2021 without at least making a push. They’re in third place in the AL East, a handful of games behind a Rays team that just called up uber-prospect Wander Franco and a Red Sox team that might get Chris Sale back at some point.
They’re 4 1/2 back of the Rays in the race for the second wild-card, too.
They could use a lot more consistency in a lineup filled with — when healthy — home-run hitters, which is why Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier (.322 average, .388 obp, NL-best 23 doubles) is the hot name on the trade rumor market right now in NYC. And because they’re the Yankees and winning a World Series is pretty much the only goal, trading for an elite pitcher (think Max Scherzer or a notch below) should be on the soon-to-do list, too.
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Why they need help sooner than later: There is so much talent on this roster, led by MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. And they had that stretch where most everything was clicking, running up to a 23-17 record, just a half-game out in the AL East. Since then, though? It’s been a whole bunch of “meh” with the Dunedin/Buffalo Jays — a 12-18 record that ranks 13th of the 15 AL teams in that stretch. That’s just unacceptable. There’s the talent not only to rally for a playoff spot — they’re 7 back in the East, 6.5 out of the second wild-card spot — but even to advance in October. But if getting to the postseason is the goal for this year, the Jays can’t wait for the trade deadline, or even the All-Star break, to make a move.
Getting George Springer — their primary offseason acquisition — back into the lineup on a regular basis should be a big boost for the offense. Which means trading for an impact pitcher — not a No. 5 type — to add to the rotation should be the priority, sooner than later. Problem is, there are not a lot of healthy options available at the moment. Oh, and the bullpen, because every contender needs bullpen help (the Jays more than most, though.
“The opportunity to add to our bullpen and complement our bullpen is what we’re focused on right now,” GM Ross Atkins told reporters recently. “We’ll continue working on that. As it relates to urgency, we were thinking of that and working on it when our bullpen was pitching better.”
Why they need help sooner than later: Atlanta needs more offense from its outfielders. Ronald Acuña has been playing at an MVP level, but with Marcel Ozuna struggling, then injured and then arrested — on assault and batter charges that are awful — the Braves haven’t gotten nearly enough production from those other two spots.
Atlanta came oh-so-close to the World Series last year, and figured to be the favorite to win the NL East this season. But most everything has gone wrong. The Braves are three games under .500 (33-36), five back in the division and 6 1/2 out of the second wild-card spot. That’s a big deficit, but far from impossible to make up with more than three months remaining in the season. If they don’t make a move, and those deficits grow to, let’s say, eight back and 11 back, by the All-Star break, that’s a much bigger problem.
“We have the resources to add payroll to the club,” GM Alex Anthopoulos told The Athletic. “The outlook is much different than it was in the offseason when there was a lot of uncertainty. We started the year, I think, at 25 percent capacity and we moved up incrementally and we’re up to 100 percent. So we’re absolutely in a position and I’ve been told that as well, that we can add payroll at the trade deadline.”
Or, y’know, maybe long before the trade deadline.
Why they need help sooner than later: Yes, the Cubs are tied for first place in the Central, but the rotation doesn’t feel much like a division title rotation at the moment, does it? In his past nine starts, Jake Arrieta’s ERA is 7.58 and he’s thrown more than five innings just once. Kyle Hendricks is having the worst season of his career thus far, but that’s mostly because he’s set the bar so high; he’s still a constant source of reliable starts (4.13 ERA in 14 starts). Last year, Zack Davies had 63 strikeouts against 19 walks for the Padres; he has 36 walks and 45 strikeouts for the Cubs this year, with a 4.66 ERA. If they’re going to keep pace with the Brewers in the NL Central, feels like they need pitching help.
Will that happen, though? Remember, the Cubs basically spent the offseason acting like a former contender, letting Kyle Schwarber walk and trading away Yu Darvish, among other moves. So it would make sense to maybe try and make an addition early, and then if things don’t go well over the next month, still go ahead and trade players like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez or Anthony Rizzo — all are potential free agents after the year — before July 31.