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MLB Trade Deadline: Taking stock of contenders' needs

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

The Red Sox, Cardinals and Athletics all have needs leading up to the trade deadline. (USATSI)
The Red Sox, Cardinals and Athletics all have needs leading up to the trade deadline. (USATSI)

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On Friday, we took a look at each noncontender's roster to see which players could be available in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. A lot of players figure to be on the market, but at the same time there are a lot of teams that need help. Today we're going to flip the coin and look at the specific needs of each contender.

The second wild-card spot means there are a lot of teams within striking distance of a postseason berth, and in fact there are currently 18 (!) teams within five games of a playoff spot. That's more than half the league. Fourteen teams are within three games of a playoff spot. Some of those 18 are more legitimate contenders than the others, but one or two trade deadline pickups can push a fringe contender over the top.

To make life easy, we're going to stick to those 14 teams within three games of a postseason berth. This isn't a slight to those four other teams within five games, but we have to cut somewhere. Besides, jumping over one team to get into playoff position is hard enough. Three or four is damn near impossible.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (lead NL West)

Needs: Starting pitching, late-game reliever

More than anything, the D-Backs need catcher Miguel Montero (69 OPS+) and third baseman Martin Prado (75 OPS+) to start hitting as expected. Patrick Corbin (175 OPS+) is the team's only starter with even a league average ERA while Heath Bell (81 ERA+) has been mostly bad and occasionally disastrous. They are getting J.J. Putz back from the DL this weekend, but it never hurts to add another quality reliever.

ATLANTA BRAVES (lead NL East)

Needs: Bullpen, bench bat

The Braves lost shutdown lefty relievers Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters to Tommy John surgery, leaving them thin on that side. Right-hander Jordan Walden (163 ERA+) has been stellar as Craig Kimbrel's setup man, however. Evan Gattis (138 OPS+) is currently on the DL with an oblique problem and utility infielder Ramiro Pena (109 OPS+) is done for the year with shoulder surgery, so the bench can use some help. The starting lineup is well set now that B.J. Upton is coming out of his early-season slump (134 OPS+ in June), and the rotation is locked into place.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES (lead AL wild card)

Needs: Ace-caliber starter, DH

I'm not sure any team has more mid-to-back of the rotation starters than the Orioles, who have about nine of them between the big leagues and Triple-A. They need a shutdown ace, though, someone who can go toe-to-toe with a Justin Verlander or Yu Darvish down the stretch. Despite being one of the league's highest scoring teams, Baltimore has gotten close to nothing from the DH spot (77 OPS+). Obviously adding an ace will be much harder than digging up a viable DH.

BOSTON RED SOX (lead AL East)

Needs: Late-game reliever, third base, starting pitcher

With Andrew Bailey (95 ERA+) giving up homers left and right and Joel Hanrahan out for the year, the Red Sox could stand to add another late-game arm to join Junichi Tazawa (174 ERA+) and Koji Uehara (228 ERA+). Jon Lester (94 ERA+) had been dreadful for close to the two months now and Clay Buchholz (254 ERA+) is out with a neck/shoulder injury, creating an obvious need in the rotation despite John Lackey's resurgence (145 ERA+). Jose Iglesias (172 OPS+) is manning the hot corner now that Will Middlebrooks (62 OPS+) has been shipped to Triple-A, but at some point his ridiculous luck (.477 BABIP) will come to an end. (At least I think it will.) Boston has prospects to offer, and it sure is fun to think about a potential blockbuster with the Phillies that would include Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon and Michael Young.

CLEVELAND INDIANS (2 games behind)

Needs: Starting pitching

The Tribe has a deep lineup and a very good bench, but a weak rotation that includes just one healthy pitcher (Justin Masterson) with an above-average ERA keeps them from playoff position. Corey Kluber (93 ERA+) has shown promising signs and at some point Zach McAllister (114 ERA+) will return from his finger strain, but Cleveland clearly needs another quality starter or two to remain in the hunt. Everything else is there.

CINCINNATI REDS (lead NL wild card)

Needs: Outfield, late-game reliever

Ryan Ludwick will be out until at least mid August with his shoulder injury and Chris Heisey spent roughly two months on the DL, forcing Cincy to go with a skeleton crew in left field for most of the year. Heisey just returned and will help somewhat, but there's an obvious offensive spot to upgrade, especially since it's unclear just how productive Ludwick will be when he returns. As for the bullpen, Jonathan Broxton (93 ERA+) has been just OK in front of Aroldis Chapman while Sean Marshall battles continues shoulder problems. Assuming they stick with Zack Cozart at short and the Ryan Hanigan/Devin Mesoraco tag-team behind the plate, the Reds really don't have a ton of pressing needs. They just need some more production from guys like Todd Frazier (98 OPS+).

COLORADO ROCKIES (3 GB)

Needs: Middle infield, pitching

The Rockies are in perpetual need of rotation help thanks to Coors Field, and they could also use another reliever even though closer Rafael Betancourt (142 ERA+) just returned from the DL. They've received a solid 94 OPS+ from their second basemen overall, but Troy Tulowitzki's latest injury spreads them real thin on the middle infield. First base could also generate some more offense, but I don't think they'll dump franchise icon Todd Helton (73 OPS+). The Rockies looked like a flawed team coming into the year and they've hung around the race longer than I expected, but they've lost 19 of their last 32 games and are fading out of it. They need help sooner rather than later.

DETROIT TIGERS (lead AL Central)

Needs: Bullpen, outfield

Few teams can match Detroit's lineup and starting rotation, but their glaring weakness is at the back of the bullpen. The Jose Valverde reunion went disastrously and he was recently taken off the 40-man roster and sent to Triple-A, plus the team seems wary of trusting the hard-throwing but erratic Bruce Rondon with the ninth inning. The Tigers could stand to add some middle relief help as well, but that closer's spot is the Achilles heel. Assuming they will stick with Alex Avila (51 OPS+) behind the plate, the left field tandem of Andy Dirks (77 OPS+) and Matt Tuiasosopo (176 OPS+ in limited time) is the only lineup spot that could use help.

NEW YORK YANKEES (2.5 GB)

Needs: Catcher, first base, shortstop, third base, outfield

The Yankees need pretty much everything thanks to their plethora of injuries. Their infield on Friday night featured rookie third baseman David Adams at first base and journeyman Alberto Gonzalez at third base, for example. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Francisco Cervelli are all due to come off the DL in the coming weeks, but New York has lost 19 of 31 games and is falling fast. They can't wait much longer for help, and in some cases -- A-Rod and Jeter specifically given their age and the nature of their injuries -- they really don't know what to expect once these guys return. The pitching staff is fine, but they basically need an entire new lineup outside of Cano and Brett Gardner.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS (lead AL wild card)

Needs: Second base

Few teams are as deep as the Athletics. Jarrod Parker (91 ERA+) has pitched much better over the last five or six weeks and Brett Anderson is due back sometime in August, relieving some of the rotation tension. Josh Reddick (78 OPS+) is getting the opportunity to work through his struggles, leaving second base (95 OPS+) as the obvious spot to upgrade. Dave Cameron at FanGraphs suggested Chase Utley as a trade target, which makes a ton of sense and would make Oakland even more dangerous than they are right now.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES (lead NL Central)

Needs: First base/outfield, bullpen

The season is just about halfway over and the Pirates have the best record in MLB at 49-30 despite ranking 19th in runs scored (319). Jordy Mercer (119 OPS+) recently replaced Clint Barmes (43 OPS+) as the everyday shortstop, shoring up one offensive hole. Garrett Jones (103 OPS+) gives them the flexibility to pursue an upgrade at either first base or right field since he can play either spot. If the Buccos really want to go for it -- and their historic run of sub-.500 seasons suggests maybe they should -- Kendrys Morales would be a fantastic fit. That is just me thinking out loud though. The bullpen is a less pressing need, but setup man Mark Melancon (384 ERA+) and closer Jason Grilli (199 ERA+) are among the league leaders in appearances and could use some help just to lighten the load and avoid burnout in the second half.

SAN DIEGO PADRES (2.5 GB)

Needs: Starting pitching, bullpen

At 4.2 runs per game, the Padres are a league-average offense. That is much better than what they've done in recent years and it should improve once Yonder Alonso (114 OPS+), Jedd Gyorko (128 OPS+) and Everth Cabrera (130 OPS+) return from the DL. Pitching is the problem, but San Diego has the luxury of a very favorable home ballpark. Eric Stults (110 ERA+) and Andrew Cashner (105 ERA+) are the team's only starters who are better than league average, and both lack track records. Closer Huston Street (77 ERA+) is homer machine despite playing in Petco Park, and setup men Dale Thayer (100 ERA+) and Luke Gregerson (132 ERA+) are among the league leaders in appearances. For the first time in a long time, the Padres need pitching, pitching, and more pitching.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (lead NL wild card)

Needs: Shortstop, bullpen

Highest scoring team in the NL? Check. Best rotation ERA in baseball? Check. Best farm system in baseball? Also check. The Cardinals are stacked and are arguably the most complete team in the game. They could stand to add maybe one more right-handed reliever to complement closer Edward Mujica (169 ERA+) and setup man Trevor Rosenthal (197 ERA+), but otherwise their most glaring hole is at shortstop, which has been occupied by Pete Kozma (69 ERA+) all year. Top prospect Oscar Taveras figures to get a shot to replace center fielder Jon Jay (89 ERA+) before the team goes out and makes a trade for outfield help. If the Indians fall out of it, Asdrubal Cabrera would be a great fit for St. Louis. Remember, they had interest in him during the offseason.

TEXAS RANGERS (lead AL West)

Needs: Starting pitcher

The Rangers have close to a full rotation on the DL and those guys are still several weeks away from returning. I'm talking about Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando, specifically. That's four quality arms on the shelf. Adding a starter to help them get by these next few weeks seems like a wise idea. David Murphy (72 OPS+) will likely get an opportunity to work his way out of his slump rather than be replaced, and even if Texas was willing to pull the plug on Elvis Andrus (57 OPS+) -- they won't, not so soon after giving him a nine-figure contract -- they'd turn to Jurickson Profar before trading for shortstop help. The Rangers are simultaneously in good shape and one more pitching injury away from disaster.

 
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