As has been a defacto result the past few seasons, the sport of baseball has been run by the American League, winners of the past two World Series and 10 since 2000. While the National League has presented some formidable competition to battle, both in interleague play and the World Series, the AL still reigns supreme.
Such is life in 2019, as the New York Yankees (36-19), Minnesota Twins (37-18) and the Houston Astros (37-20) all sit at the top of their divisions. Both the Twins and Astros are one game back of the best record in all of the MLB, as the Los Angeles Dodgers currently sit at 38-19.
While this league is dominating their little brother, they still need to search for parts and pieces that can be plugged into their lineups to get them closer to making the playoffs. While there are certain teams, like the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, and Seattle Mariners, that take up the rear in their respective divisions, they still are big factors in the playoff race, playing the role of the feeder that gives competing teams better players in return for improving their farm systems for down the road.
American League East
Rays improve their outfield ranks
Needing to light a spark under a second-place team can be tough, especially with how well the Tampa Bay Rays have been playing this year. Having finished their 2018 season with a record of 90-72, they still ended up 18 games behind the first-place and eventual champion Boston Red Sox, and eight games behind the Yankees.
Currently sitting one-half game behind the Yankees at the end of May, the Rays need to make some sort of a flashy move to get enough steam to solidly get into the playoff picture. Having traded away their franchise cornerstone and ace Chris Archer last season, pitching would be one of the first areas of emphasis that comes to mind.
However, boasting a much-improved bullpen covers up some of the rotation’s shortfalls, so their attention should turn to upgrade their lineup, specifically their outfielder.
Enter in Nicholas Castellanos.
The lone bright spot on the basement-dwelling Detroit Tigers, Castellanos would be an excellent fit in right field for the Rays, being able to move youngster Austin Meadows from right to left field and put Tommy Pham on the bench as a great pinch-hitting tool that can start. While getting Castellanos would most likely cost a lot, the Rays have finally been able to build up a strong-enough system that puts them in a great position to make upgrades to their big-league roster.
Castellanos has been in the rumor mill for a while now, and he has a high likelihood of being shipped out sometime before this year’s trade deadline. While there are bigger teams that could potentially offer up more, the Rays would be smart to corner the market in their favor early on and make a strong offer to the Tigers that would be enough to snag their new starting right fielder.
Yankees upgrade their infield depth
Having been plagued by so many injuries that they are running out of room on a single sheet of paper, the New York Yankees have surprisingly ridden out the storm well and positioned themselves yet again in a favorable position. Knowing that this team is always in a competing window, their mindset to acquire players never really changes.
While their payroll looks a lot better than it has in previous years, the concern of overspending for a non-World Series winning franchise is consistently in the back of management’s mind, as it should be. Therefore, any additions would most likely come at a lower cost, which is how Josh Harrison fits into the mold.
The second member of the Tigers to be traded in this article, Harrison signed a one year, $2 million deal with Detroit in the offseason, using the rebuilding Midwestern franchise as a stepping stone to hopefully earn a ticket to another team before the trade deadline or at least play well enough that another team would want to take a chance on him next winter.
Having only been signed to a one-year deal is a great thing for the Yankees, who would not necessarily need to keep Harrison beyond their postseason run this year. While light on postseason experience, Harrison is a great piece that any team would be lucky to have, and he would not cost much, maybe only needing a top-30 prospect and a throw-in or international spending cash.
American League Central
Twins capitalize on their early-season divisional lead
Coming into 2019, the reign of terror that the Cleveland Indians had in the AL Central seemed destined to be threatened this year, especially after their interesting offseason that saw the team trade away bigger salary but maintain that they were still in a competing time frame. While quite unique, the Indians’ plan has not worked out well so far, as they sit in second place, 9.5 games back of the Twins and at an even .500 record.
The Twins, understanding the opportunity presented to them in a very weak division, should not have to make many moves to make sure they remain in control of the division, provided things stay status quo as they currently are. However, it would not be surprising to see a bigger move made by their front office, especially with not having been in the position of needing to acquire talent for quite some time.
Jose Abreu would be a nice mid-tier addition for this team, as currently, their starting first baseman looks to be utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, who has been slotted there due to the injury of designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who has been replaced in the lineup by C.J. Cron, who had been playing first.
Abreu is built for the AL in how he can play first as his defense is good enough on the dirt, but he also boasts a good-enough bat to be the DH if called upon too. The White Sox will not be making anywhere near a bid to the playoffs, so they would be smart to start gauging the trade market now and see what Abreu could fetch. In-division deals are rarely seen, but this is the final year of Abreu’s deal and the Twins could give up a top-15 prospect to get him for at least four months.
American League West
Astros continue their winning ways
Controlling a division by 7.5 games already is a big feat for any team, but when it is the Astros that are leading the division, the book is all but closed. Up over the Oakland Athletics (more on them next), Houston does need to address their infield depth, just like the Yankees.
With Gonzalez having walked to the Twins in free agency, their utilityman role has fallen on a plethora of backups that have not come close to filling in how Gonzalez did. To make up for that, the Astros should go out and get Eduardo Escobar from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
While Arizona is fighting for a playoff berth, their chances are low with having to deal with the Dodgers, Rockies and San Diego Padres, so their best bet is to pack it in and wait till next year. The former Twin would be an above-average utility option for the Astros and would not represent a huge investment in a trade.
Athletics finally add payroll
Needing to keep pace with the runaway Astros, the Athletics have always delicately worked the trade deadline, looking for scrap-heap prices or lower-tiered players to take a ticket on. This season, if they want to make a move into the postseason, a bigger money move needs to be made.
Madison Bumgarner has a no-trade clause out there for the public to see, and all the teams on it are contenders this season… but the Athletics are not included on it, which is a great bargaining chip for them to use. With a year left on his deal, Bum would be able to stay in the Bay Area while going to a team that is looking to make playoff waves, which could present an interesting marriage between the two.