With the August 1 MLB trade deadline quickly approaching, teams are moving into desperation mode. First there are the almost sure-thing playoff teams that feel one more addition might make them just good enough to go all the way. Next are the bubble teams, sitting just outside a wildcard or division race, but still within striking distance. And finally, there are the pretenders: teams that can accumulate young talent by selling the few good pieces they might have to a team in need. Whether you’re a seller or a buyer at the deadline, it’s a risky practice. Do you give up too much for too little? How bad do you really need to make a change? These are all questions that general managers ask themselves.
Some teams have already made an impactful move — or potentially impactful, in most cases. Like when the Oakland A’s traded for Jeff Samardzija in early July despite the squad still being one of the best teams in the American League. Or even when the Detroit Tigers, who were desperately looking to bolster their bullpen, traded for Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers. Either way you look at it, whether a team’s active or inactive at the deadline, everybody is affected by the potential moves. Predicting who will do what is nigh impossible — a big-market, big-spending team like the Red Sox or Dodgers always seem to make surprise moves — but here are four teams that should make a move if they want to improve their postseason chances.
1. New York Yankees
Every year, it seems like the American League East is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, divisions in all of baseball. And after the addition of another wildcard team last year, this gives the AL East even more clout. Normally, New York is atop the division and leading the way, with the Red Sox and Rays close behind. The division has seen a power shift this year, though. Boston currently sits in last place (11 games out of first place) and Tampa Bay next (seven games out). New York, sitting 4.5 games out of first place in third, is right on the bubble.
While they’ve struggled at times this season, the Yankees have also looked like a playoff-caliber team. For example, following the All-Star break, New York went on a bit of a winning streak, during which they swept the Reds, en route to winning seven of eight games. Given the Yankees’ current roster, they would do well to add at least a bat, and maybe a pitcher, too. Knowing full well how important it is in New York to win and how the Yankees are just a few games out of the second wildcard spot, you’ll be hard pressed to find a team less likely to make a move. And while it might not be a blockbuster, New York is primed to make a late-season push, given the right addition to the roster.
2. Kansas City Royals
Kansas City likely doesn’t have the firepower to catch and pass the Tigers in the race for the AL Central division crown, but similar to the Yankees, the Royals are just a few games out of the second wildcard spot (2.5, to be precise). Where they don’t need help is pitching — after trading for James Shields before last season, and a bevy of young talented pitchers on their staff, Kansas City has the starting rotation to get to the playoffs. It’s just their lack of bats. The Royals rank in the bottom half of all of the major leagues in runs scored, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage.
Consider this: Omar Infante currently leads the team in RBIs. He’s not even a power hitter. Even though a few big names have been underperforming (Billy Butler, for example), Kansas City desperately needs to trade for a player who will produce runs. With the Royals’ pitching staff, the addition of a home run-producing power hitter could be just what the doctor ordered for this team on the brink of its first playoff appearance in more than 20 years.
3. Atlanta Braves
The only team on this list that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, Atlanta certainly has a playoff roster. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved on. The back of the bullpen, besides closer Craig Kimbrel, who has been almost unhittable, could be bolstered. Similarly, Atlanta’s meat of the order – whether it’s the Upton brothers, first baseman Freddie Freeman, or outfielder Jason Heyward — has been highly productive. Unfortunately, there’s a dropoff near the bottom of the order, especially when they need a big hit late in the game. A deeper bench could potentially be the difference for the Braves down the line. Don’t expect them to deplete the farm system for a few role players, but if the price is right, they certainly could be in the market.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are in what has become the norm for the NL Central: a tight race. Despite sitting in third place right now, behind the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh is just 2.5 games out. And in order to close that gap even more, look for the Pirates to add a starting pitcher before the deadline passes. Their rotation, which hasn’t been atrocious this year, also hasn’t been as good as it was projected. Thirty-year-old Charlie Morton, who’s pitching in his seventh season, currently leads Pittsburgh’s starting rotation with a 3.40 ERA. For a playoff contending team, that’s not good enough. And that’s why the Pirates need a big-name starter, and will get one … at least if they want to be playing come the fall.