Sunday marked the end of the first half of the 2016 baseball season. The traditional first half, that is. All 30 clubs played their 81st game well over a week ago. Several teams improved their postseason odds tremendously in the first half. On the other hand, some saw their odds decrease sharply.
The second half of the season will begin this coming Friday, once all the All-Star festivities are out of the way. So, as a way to help preview the rest of the season, here is one question each team will have to answer in the second half of 2016. The teams are listed in reverse order of the standings.
Atlanta Braves: 31-58
Will Julio Teheran be moved? The Braves are in the middle of a massive rebuild and are unwatchably bad most nights. Teheran has bounced back from his subpar 2015 season to again pitch like a true ace, giving the team 118 2/3 innings of 2.96 ERA (138 ERA+) ball. He has 0.97 WHIP and was a deserving All-Star. There have been rumbling Teheran could be the next player traded as part of the rebuild, but he's signed cheap through 2019 and can be part of the solution. If he does move, it'll be for a huge package.
Cincinnati Reds: 32-57
Will Jay Bruce finally get traded? Bruce has been involved in all sorts of trade rumors over the years, and in fact he was nearly dealt to the Blue Jays in a three-team trade that would have sent Michael Saunders to the Angels back in spring training. Bruce is having a fine season (18 HR and 122 OPS+) and he'd definitely add some lefty thump to a contending team's lineup. The Reds are rebuilding, and with Bruce bouncing back so well following back-to-back disappointing seasons in 2014-15, moving him at the deadline is a no-brainer.
Minnesota Twins: 32-56
Is a front office change coming? The Twins are heading for their fifth 90-loss season in the last six years, and they're on pace to allow more runs (858) than any team since the 2012 Rockies (890). Minnesota has had two GMs in the last 21 years: Terry Ryan (1995-2007), Bill Smith (2008-11), and Ryan again (2012-present). The time has come for a new voice to be brought in -- a voice from outside the organization with a fresh perspective -- but the Twins are a very loyal organization, so it wouldn't be a surprise if they stuck with Ryan and stayed the course. Given their recent results, that would be a mistake.
Tampa Bay Rays: 34-54
Is it time to tear it all down? You know, the Rays were actually in the postseason race not that long ago. They were 31-32 on the morning of June 16 and only 3 1/2 games back of the second Wild Card spot. Tampa Bay has gone 3-22 since (!) to fall well out of the race. It's very possible the window to win with Evan Longoria is over. Will this recently mega-slump motivate the team to tear things down and trade players like Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly, Logan Forsythe, and Desmond Jennings as part of a rebuild? Would Longoria himself be off limits? What about Chris Archer? The Rays will have some difficult decisions to make soon.
Los Angeles Angels: 37-52
What will they do to get better next year? The Halos are in a difficult position. The team is having a poor year overall and their farm system is the worst in baseball. In most cases, this would call for a rebuild. The Angels, however, employ the best player on the planet and will continue to do through 2020. They want to win with Mike Trout, understandably so. Since this is a lost season, what will the Angels do in the second half to improve their chances of winning in 2017 and beyond? They have some trade chips (Yunel Escobar, most notably), though new GM Billy Eppler is going to have to get creative.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 38-52
Was this bad luck, or a bad roster? The D-Backs came into the season aiming to win the NL West. You don't sign Zack Greinke to a record contract and trade a huge package for Shelby Miller unless you're ready to win right now. Either way, it hasn't worked. Arizona is a last place team at the break and now have to figure out what went wrong. Miller's disaster season and A.J. Pollock's elbow injury certainly haven't help matters. My guess is the D-Backs will chalk this one up to bad luck and try to win against next year. I'm not sure this is entirely a base of bad luck though. They definitely need some help, particularly in the back of the rotation.
San Diego Padres: 38-51
James Shields and Fernando Rodney are gone. Who's next? Last year's plan to go all-in didn't work out as hoped. GM A.J. Preller has started to pick up the pieces over the last few months, specifically by trading away Joaquin Benoit, Craig Kimbrel, Shields, and Rodney. Who's next to go? The resurgent Melvin Upton Jr. is a good candidate, ditto impending free agent Andrew Cashner. Wil Myers and Drew Pomeranz would net huge returns, but they're both young enough to be considered center pieces of the team's rebuild.
Oakland Athletics: 38-51
Does Josh Reddick stay or go? Reddick has really turned himself into a marvelous player. He's improved his plate discipline so much that he's gone from striking out in 22.4 percent of his plate appearances in 2012 to only 11.7 percent in 2016. Reddick is hitting .295/.369/.426 (117 OPS+) with five homers in 53 games around a thumb injury this year, plus he's an outstanding defensive right fielder with a top of the line throwing arm. That said, Reddick will be a free agent after the season, and the two sides haven't made much progress in contract extension talks. (Alex Gordon's four-year, $72 million deal seems like a good benchmark for Reddick.) The A's are bad, and while trading your best player is never fun, it may be necessary if they can't work out an extension soon. I came into the season assuming Reddick would end up with one of the Missouri teams and I'm sticking to that.
Milwaukee Brewers: 38-49
How much do they get for Jonathan Lucroy? At this point it's a question of "when" the Brewers trade Lucroy, not "if." The club is rebuilding and he's only under contract through next season, and Milwaukee probably can't afford to retain him long-term. Lucroy has bounced back well from his injured plagued 2015 season to hit 11 home runs with a 124 OPS+ in the first half. That earned him an All-Star nod. Lucroy's one of the best catchers in the game and the Brewers will rightfully demand a ton in return at the trade deadline.
Colorado Rockies: 40-48
Is the Carlos Gonzalez era coming to an end? This is now CarGo's eighth season with the Rockies, and during that time they've been to the postseason just once, back in 2009. He's having a big year at the plate, swatting 19 home runs with a 123 OPS+, and surely plenty of contenders would love to add him to their lineup. Will the Rockies actually trade him though? They did deal Troy Tulowitzki last year, and they have a top young outfield prospect coming in David Dahl, so this might be the best time to move him CarGo, who is under contract through next season. Given his injury history, it makes sense to move him sooner rather than later too. His trade value is probably only going down from here.
Philadelphia Phillies: 42-48
How long until J.P. Crawford arrives? For my money, Crawford is the No. 1 prospect in the minors. He's not going to hit for a ton of power, but he'll be a high average/high on-base player with premium defense at shortstop. His .269/.369/.371 batting line doesn't look all that impressive until you realize he's been playing at Double-A and Triple-A, where he's been younger than the league average player by nearly five years. Freddy Galvis is no real obstacle here. The Phillies are rebuilding and figure to turn the shortstop reigns over to Crawford at some point soon.
New York Yankees: 44-44
Will they really sell at the trade deadline? The Yankees have toed the .500 line for most of the season. They're 5 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot with six teams ahead of them, and based on their play in the first half, it seems unlikely they're capable of going on the kind of run necessary to contend in the second half. Selling is not in this team's DNA, but the Yankees have several attractive trade chips (Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, etc.) and could be a major player at the deadline. Would they actually throw in the towel and admit this is a lost season by selling at the deadline? It's the best thing for the franchise long-term, yet there are no indications that will actually take place.
Seattle Mariners: 45-44
Are Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker going to be enough? The Mariners are currently without Felix (calf) and Walker (foot), and the hope is both will be back sometime later this month. They've combined for a 3.32 ERA in 149 innings. The rest of Seattle's starters have a 5.58 ERA in 366 innings. That's not good! The Mariners are getting tremendous production from the middle of their lineup (Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager), but if they're going to erase their five-game deficit in the Wild Card race, the rotation needs to be better, and that starts with Hernandez and Walker returning to the field.
Chicago White Sox: 45-43
Does Justin Morneau have anything left in the tank? The ChiSox quietly signed Morneau back in June as he rehabbed from offseason elbow surgery. He's due to begin a minor league rehab assignment this week, then join the team early in the second half. Chicago has gotten dreadful production from the DH position -- their DHs have hit .241/.325/.371 (82 OPS+) with eight homers this season -- and Morneau might be able to fix that.
Kansas City Royals: 45-43
Can they win with this rotation? Last year the Royals showed you don't need an excellent rotation to win the World Series. You do need a decent one though, and right now Kansas City doesn't even have that. Their starters have a 4.99 ERA, sixth worst in baseball, the 2015 postseason stalwarts Edinson Volquez, Chris Young, and Yordano Ventura have combined for a 5.40 ERA in 266 2/3 innings. Ian Kennedy is their only starter who has been better than league average (113 ERA+). Remember, when the Royals won last year, Volquez, Ventura, and Young were all pitching better than they are right now, and the team had Johnny Cueto too. This rotation seems well short of postseason caliber.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 46-43
Where is the rotation help coming from? The Pirates won 12 of their final 16 games in the first half, masking some very real rotation concerns. Gerrit Cole (triceps) and Jameson Taillon (shoulder) are out, and veteran lefties Francisco Liriano (5.15 ERA), Jonathon Niese (5.13 ERA), and Jeff Locke (5.26 ERA) have all struggled. Cole and Taillon figure to be back reasonably soon, but those two plus top prospect Tyler Glasnow won't be enough to pitch the Pirates back into October. Will GM Neal Huntington go out and make a trade for a starter, or will the only help come from within (Cole, Taillon, Glasnow, etc.)?
Detroit Tigers: 46-43
Is Justin Upton ever going to snap out of his slump? Note to future free agent shoppers: don't spend big on an Upton. Four years after his older brother Melvin fell apart after signing with the Braves, Justin is having the worst season of his career after signing a six-year, $132 million deal with the Tigers. He's hitting .235/.289/.381 (80 OPS+) with only nine home runs and 112 strikeouts in 85 games. Detroit is still in the Wild Card race, but if they're going to get over the hump and into October, they'll need Upton to start hitting like he has the last few seasons.
St. Louis Cardinals: 46-42
When does Alex Reyes arrive? Boy, if you watched the Futures Game on Sunday, it was hard not to be impressed by Reyes. The right-hander struck out four in 1 2/3 innings and averaged 97.7 mph with his fastball. He topped out at 100.4 mph. Reyes has a 4.35 ERA in nine starts and 41 1/3 Triple-A innings this year -- the Pacific Coast League average is a 4.79 ERA, for what it's worth -- and he's struck out 61. The Cardinals have one starter with a sub-4.00 ERA (Carlos Martinez) and Reyes is arguably the top pitching prospect in the minors. With St. Louis hanging in the Wild Card race, it could be only a matter of time until they turn their young righty lose.
Miami Marlins: 47-41
Do they make a move for a starter? The Marlins are tied with the Mets for the second Wild Card spot at the moment, and they've already made one trade to improve their bullpen (Rodney). Now they need rotation help behind Jose Fernandez, Adam Conley, and Wei-Yin Chen. The farm system doesn't have much to offer, so they might have to trade off their big league roster to make it happen. In that case, the potential for a blockbuster exists. With Ichiro Suzuki playing so well, could breakout star Marcell Ozuna be on the block? It's well-known owner Jeffrey Loria isn't his biggest fan.
New York Mets: 47-41
Will Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz hold up? On paper, the Mets had the best rotation in all of baseball coming into the season, and overall they were really good in the first half. The cracks in the dam exist and are growing larger though. Matt Harvey's season is over following surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and both Syndergaard and Matz are pitching with bone spurs in their elbows. Both have looked less than 100 percent of late too. With Zack Wheeler being delayed in his return from Tommy John surgery, the Mets are one more injury away from having to add a pitcher at the trade deadline. Who would have guessed that coming into the season?
Houston Astros: 48-41
Is the early season hole too much to overcome? The Astros did not have a good start to the season. Not at all. They went 17-28 in their first 45 games, and while they've gone 31-13 since, those early losses happened. They count in the standings and they're the reason Houston is 5 1/2 games out in the AL West despite their recent strong play. The good news is the 'Stros are only two games back of a Wild Card spot. Surely this team had plans of wining the division after breaking through and reaching October as a Wild Card team a year ago.
Toronto Blue Jays: 51-40
How many more starts does Aaron Sanchez have left? Sanchez, the team's cornerstone 24-year-old right-hander, has already thrown 118 1/3 innings this season. His previous career high is 133 1/3 innings set back in 2014. He'll eclipse that before the end of the month. The Blue Jays must monitor his workload going forward and that's not easy, especially with the club trying for a second straight division title. There's been talk of moving Sanchez to the bullpen at some point, which I guess is better than shutting him down completely.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 51-40
How long until Clayton Kershaw returns? The best pitcher on the planet is currently out with a back injury that was serious enough to require an epidural. Kershaw has been playing catch and he did throw off a mound over the weekend, so he's inching closer to a return. Los Angeles has done a fine job holding the fort while their ace left-hander has been out, but make no mistake, the Dodgers need Kershaw healthy to make the postseason, let alone have a chance to win the World Series.
Boston Red Sox: 49-38
Which starting pitcher will they acquire? We all know they're going to go out and get rotation help. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already improved his bench (Aaron Hill) and bullpen (Brad Ziegler), now he must do the same for the starting staff behind David Price, Steven Wright, and Rick Porcello. Teheran represents the best case scenario. Cashner and ex-Red Sox hurler Rich Hill represent rental opportunities.
Baltimore Orioles: 51-36
Are they going to get any pitching help? The Orioles are in first place even though their starters have a 5.15 ERA, third highest in baseball behind the last place Reds (5.29) and Twins (5.26). Their starters other than Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman have a 6.44 ERA in 260 innings. Baltimore's starters also threw the fewest innings in baseball (470) in the first half. That's not going to fly in the second half. They need rotation help to fend off the Red Sox and Blue Jays and stay atop the AL East. Don't ask me why, but Cashner seems to have future Oriole written all over him.
Cleveland Indians: 52-36
What will Michael Brantley provide in the second half? The Indians are in first place even though Michael Brantley, their best hitter, has been limited to only 11 games by offseason shoulder surgery and a setback. He took batting practice over the weekend and is inching closer to a minor league rehab assignment, so the team hopes to have him back early in the second half. If he's the Michael Brantley of 2014-15, meaning a .300+ hitter with a ton of doubles and steals, it'll be a huge lift. The Indians have been very good without Brantley. They have the potential to be great with him.
Washington Nationals: 54-36
Where does Trea Turner fit in? Thanks to Danny Espinosa's recent power surge, Turner hasn't had much of a chance to crack Washington's lineup. The team's top position player prospect is hitting .302/.370/.471 with six homers in 25 steals in Triple-A and is clearly ready to help the first place Nationals. The organization has had Turner play some center field of late, indicating he could come up to replace the unproductive Ben Revere (68 OPS+) in the second half. Or, maybe, Turner ends up trade bait in a potential blockbuster.
Texas Rangers: 54-36
Will the return of their injured pitchers be enough? The Rangers own the best record in the AL even though they're without several top pitchers: Yu Darvish (shoulder), Derek Holland (shoulder), Colby Lewis (lat), Keone Kela (elbow), and Tanner Scheppers (knee). Darvish and Kela are on minor league rehab assignments right now and should return early in the second half. The other three are a little further away. Undoubtedly getting those five back will help, but will they be enough? GM Jon Daniels may need to go out and get some pitching help anyway.
Chicago Cubs: 53-35
How long until Jake Arrieta rights the ship? Once again, Arrieta is having a Cy Young caliber season. He's gone 12-4 with a 2.68 ERA (151 ERA+) overall, striking out 121 batters in 114 1/3 innings. Arrieta has also been pretty mediocre since late May, however. He's pitched to a 4.38 ERA with a 1.40 WHIP in his last nine starts and 51 1/3 innings. His location has deserted him more than anything; Arrieta has walked 23 batters in those 51 1/3 innings, and overall he's walked five fewer batters than last season in 114 2/3 fewer innings. The Cubs are good enough to remain in first place while Arrieta figures things out. Their best chance to win the World Series involves Arrieta pitching like a super-ace though, and they need him to get back to doing that.
San Francisco Giants: 57-33
When will the offense be whole again? The Giants could really use some bullpen depth before the trade deadline and I'm sure they'll figure out a way to get what the help they need. They always do. The bigger question is the offense. Joe Panik (concussion), Hunter Pence (hamstring), and Matt Duffy (Achilles) are all out with injuries and the hope is they'll all return later this month. You can only go so long with guys like Grant Green and Ruben Tejada and Mac Williamson holding down everyday lineup spots.