The All Star game has passed, the pennant race has officially begun, and the trade deadline (July 31) is fast approaching. Any team with a chance to win their division or compete for the wild card is looking for ways to improve their chances, while any team that is more than 10 games out is looking to deal the soon-to-be free agents for some young arms and position players with potential.
As of the MLB standings right now, five American League teams are facing double digit deficits in the standings and truly have no hope of qualifying for even a Little League regional final and one AL team has already called it quits despite being just 9.5 games back (the most exciting thing for Blue Jays fans the rest of the season will be waiting to see who they get for Roy Halladay). The rest of the teams have some chance for the division crown or a wild card spot. These teams could all use something to shore up their chances and what follows is a quick grocery list of wants and needs for those remaining nine American League teams.
American League East:
New York Yankees (1st, 56-37)
Needs: An extra starting pitcher
After looking at the stats for the team stats for the New York Yankees I thought the team was in desperate need of starting pitching. Then I remembered to apply the same consideration for run inflation one must apply to the Rockies and Rangers staffs. Sure Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte struggle at the hitter friendly New Yankee Stadium, but so does every pitcher.
Luckily CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett can hold their own on the mound at home. All four starters are able to post an ERA under 4.00 on the road, so the staff is pretty solid. The front office might want to add another quality starter in case Pettitte starts pitching his age (37) though. The extra arm would be insurance, so I guess it is more of a want than a need.
Boston Red Sox (2nd, 55-38, 1 GB)
Needs: A fourth starter and an extra bat
The Boston Red Sox look like a complete team, but after Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Tim Wakefield (having Wakefield as a key starter should already be freaking Boston baseball fans out a little bit) the leading number four pitcher is Brad Penny. Sure Penny has nine quality starts, but he also has an ERA of 5.02 because he has had is share of bad games with early exits.
The biggest issue and perhaps the most difficult issue to accept is the problem with David Ortiz. He had a good June (.320 BA, 7 HR, 18 RBI, .409 OBP, .653 SLG), but he has not been able to hit above .230 the rest of the season. He is a beloved player, but he is also dragging the team down.
Tampa Bay Rays (3rd, 52-42, 4.5 GB)
Needs: An ace pitcher, utility player
Sure, the Rays have perhaps the most balanced offense in the American League, ranking in the top tier for getting on base (2nd), power (3rd), and running the bases (1st), and the pitching appears to be pretty good, but this team is far from complete. They lack the most difficult thing to find in baseball, an ace pitcher.
Starters James Shields, Jeff Niemann, and Matt Garza have done a very solid job, but none of them is an ace pitcher that is able to keep his ERA down, get a nice high strikeout ratio, and put together consistent quality starts. That is why the only way they are going to compete in the AL East is if they bring in Roy Halladay, the only clear ace pitcher available.
The team could also use a utility player since they have the starting second baseman listed as the immediate backup for third base and shortstop. This need could be filled by a minor league player once the rosters expand though.
American League Central:
Detroit Tigers (1st, 49-42)
Needs: A second baseman and right fielder
It is simply confounding that despite the massive payroll doled out to the position players (over $64 million) the Tigers struggle so much to score runs (10th in the AL). An upgrade at second base (to replace Placido Polanco) or in the outfield (to replace Clete Thomas who is an ineffectual band aid for a struggling Magglio Ordonez) should be at the top of the wish lists. Both players are in the decline of their careers and should be replaced in the long run anyway.
Chicago White Sox (2nd, 48-45, 2 GB)
Needs: A third/fourth starter and another outfielder
The White Sox position is a little fragile. They are in the middle of just about major statistical category for hitting and pitching. They are a team with a mix of youth and veterans clearly no their way out. General Manager Ken Williams is focused on pitching, which is probably the right move.
He already tried to trade for Jake Peavy, but Peavy negated the trade (ouch). The club needs a starter that could join Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd (who has been very good in the last two months). Jose Contreras is the best option right now which is not a good sign. You never want a Cuban pitcher who could be anywhere between the ages of 37 and 55 to be your fourth option.
The Sox could also use another outfielder to go along with Dewayne Wise and Brian Anderson (once they call him up again when the rosters are expanded). Neither is what I would call a solid option at the plate.
Minnesota Twins (3rd, 48-46, 2.5 GB)
Needs: A whole lot of starting pitching and a lefty in the bullpen
This team could be in real trouble very soon. Nick Blackburn is the only starting pitcher worth mentioning in the playoffs. The remaining four in the rotation- Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowery, Scott Baker, and Francisco Liriano – all have an ERA near or above 5.00. Obviously the Twins are not going to find three starters in two weeks, but they could add one or two and hope one of the motley crew they have turns things around in the second half.
The bullpen is about as deep as the starting rotation unfortunately. Jose Mijares is the only good southpaw available, so the team might want to try to get an extra lefty to ensure Mijares can last until the end of this disastrous division race.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels (1st, 54-38)
Needs: a third/fourth starting pitcher if not both, bullpen help, and a winter to reflect on the tragedy that has undoubtedly shaken the locker room
Last season the Angels could not hit. This season they can pitch. The Bizarro-Angels have scored the second most runs and have the fourth worst ERA in the AL. The team that once had enough arms for two rotations now has two solid guys in John Lackey and Joe Saunders. They have solved part of the problem with rookie Sean O’Sullivan, but they still need help.
The bullpen has a good closer in Brian Fuentes and a left-handed setup man in Darren Oliver. That is it. The next guy has an ERA of 4.10. This could be the biggest late season disaster since the NBC Meteor miniseries. The entire organization could also use some time away from the game to reflect on the tragic death of Nick Adenhart. His passing still must linger in the air in the locker room despite his short time on the team.
Texas Rangers (2nd, 51-41, 3 GB)
Needs: A fourth pitcher and a utility infielder
Take a moment and get to absorb this: the Rangers could use a starter. Actually, considering the effects of the Texas summer heat on routine fly balls, any ERA near 4.50 is not bad. The Rangers have three pretty good guys in the rotations that are able to meet that standard. Kevin Millwood has actually excelled at home while struggling on the road, Vicente Padilla has been great according to the road game test, and Scott Feldman has been pretty good at home and on away. The current fourth starter is a reliever filling in and who can handle pitching at the ballpark in Arlington. One more guy and this is not a bad rotation.
I am not going to mess with an offense based on home runs and stolen bases because it works in Texas. This club is turning things around with defense, though. Rick Sutcliffe just wrote an article for ESPN highlighting the Rangers D. Still, I feel like adding a utility player so Hank Blaylock never has to be an option at third base (he is somehow even worse than the already bad starting third baseman Michael Young). This could be solved with somebody from the minor leagues once the rosters are expanded or a minor trade.
Seattle Mariners (3rd, 49-44, 5.5 GB)
Needs: A few bats and every fielding position other than right field, center field, and first base
The Mariners pitching is the best in the league while the hitting is near the bottom in run production, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. Other than Ichiro Suzuki, Franklin Gutierrez, and Russell Branyan, the batting order is quite simply ineffectual. I am not saying replace Ken Griffey, Jr., he has earned the right to play out his days as a hindrance, but everyone, else has failed to earn a major league contract at the plate. I guess since time is short, the team could try and add just a power hitter to make the most out of the few times they get on base.