As the All-Star Break is closing up shop and the second half of the MLB season has already begun, teams across both the American and National leagues are gearing up for their run at making it into the postseason. While five teams from each league will ultimately earn a spot in the playoffs, not every contender that currently looks to be in contention will finish that way as the season progresses.
A big area of improvement is the trade deadline, which is closing fast for teams. The July 31st timeframe leaves around three weeks left until no more trades can be made, and this year there has been a change in the deadlines, as there is only one deadline instead of the regular two that teams have been privy to using.
By eliminating the August 31st waiver trade deadline, teams are forced to consolidate all roster improvements into one vacuum, needing to make any non-free agent acquisitions by the end of July. While players are still eligible for playoff rosters after the 31st, those players can only be added if signed as free agents.
For the NL, at this point, the Los Angeles Dodgers have the best record in the league, thus leading the NL West divisional race. In the East, the Atlanta Braves hold a six-game lead over the surging Washington Nationals, and the Chicago Cubs sit 0.5 games ahead of the second-place Milwaukee Brewers.
The Central has provided the league with something rarely seen, in how the difference between first and last place is a mere 4.5 games, showing that while the heralded division that some picked to be the toughest one in the entire league has strong teams, none of them have shown up quite yet, making for a very interesting push towards the playoffs.
With that in mind, each competing team has holes to fill and the trade deadline is that resource that teams use to bulk up their active rosters while sending prospects back to struggling teams who are building more with the future in mind. Here are the areas of each team in the playoff hunt that will need to see improvements before August 1st.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Bullpen, starting pitcher, infield depth
For a team that is always a buyer at the deadline, the Dodgers are exactly where they want to be: in the divisional lead by enough of a margin that they could afford to rest big names along the way. However, there still are needs that this team needs to address, mostly focused on pitching.
An arm like a Felipe Vazquez (if the Pirates turn into sellers) or a Brad Hand (if the Indians throw in the towel) would be a pipe dream, as would Will Smith from the rival Giants, but all would require big-name prospects, which the Dodgers have but have not been willing to part with in the past.
A reunion of sorts could occur with Tony Watson, as the current Giant would be much cheaper and would be a nice bullpen addition. Or they could pivot to go and get someone like old friend Zach Greinke from the Diamondbacks, although his bloated contract would be hard to swallow with a lot of big money already shipped out earlier in the year.
Infielder-wise, a utilityman like Jose Iglesias from Cincinnati or Josh Harrison from the Tigers would be small but important adds as they gear up for September.
Atlanta Braves – Starter, late-inning reliever
Washington Nationals – Reliever, reliever, reliever
Philadelphia Phillies – Starter, reliever, third baseman
As the race for the East tightens up, so do the available resources for teams to acquire players. With three heavyweights battling it out in the East and potentially as many as five in the Central, players are going to dry up fast but their prices will skyrocket.
For Atlanta, the addition of Dallas Keuchel recently has helped bridge the issues their rotation has faced, but it has not been enough. With rookie Mike Soroka pitching out of his mind, Mike Foltynewicz struggling and Max Fried wearing down, this team is in need of a starter most importantly.
A Marcus Stroman deal could very well be what the doctor ordered, as this team’s farm system is built to sustain a big hit that would occur for getting Stroman. Plugging in the Blue Jays ace would represent a huge upgrade and put this team in the best spot to win the division.
The Nats, much to the surprise of fans everywhere, are in the hunt for the playoffs, even with losing Bryce Harper. Their downfalls, as it seems to be every year, lies in their bullpen, which is dry outside of closer Sean Doolittle.
A Kirby Yates acquisition would do leaps and bounds for this team but could rest on the team’s willingness to include top prospect Carter Kieboom, who is the real deal. Giving up a top prospect for a closer is not unheard of (see Hand, Brad) but it is a very delicate matter, which the Nats probably would follow through on.
In Philly, their money additions topped $500 million in the offseason, so their payroll acquisitions may need to be small in nature. With Scott Kingery falling into place more as the starting center fielder than at third base, third needs an upgrade.
While getting Anthony Rendon from the Nats is obviously a stretch, even if they were to do their normal July/August downfall, a player like Eugenio Suarez of the Reds or an under the radar addition could be Kyle Seager of the Mariners, whom the Phillies have already done business with on a few occasions this year.
Chicago Cubs – Lefty specialist, outfield/utilityman
Milwaukee Brewers – Starter, reliever, infield depth
St. Louis Cardinals – Bullpen, starters
As a preface, with all five teams being in contention at this point, there will be a few that begin to fall out coming out of the ASB. Even with both the Reds and Pirates holding steady and sticking close, the odds of them coming out of the year with the divisional title are slim, so for the purpose of this piece they are not considered contenders, although they may make additions at the deadline because they may think they are.
For the Cubs, their struggles have focused around inconsistent starting pitching, which was the main reason that Yu Darvish was brought in. While injuries and wild inconsistency has plagued the expensive righty, the Cubs are in a tough spot having to deal with his albatross contract with no production.
Will Smith would be a high-interest option for this team as they look for a shutdown lefty who can handle L vs. L matchups.
Offensively, a player like David Peralta of the Diamondbacks would be a cheap upgrade, as would someone like Dee Gordon from the Mariners, although Gordon may require a bit more to get him from Seattle.
For the Brewers, their magic is on thin ice ever since they dropped their chance to make the World Series. Relying heavily on their bullpen to carry their faltering rotation, additions need to be made if they want to stay in the hunt.
Having a reunion with Will Smith would be an excellent guy to pair with Josh Hader, or adding someone like Ken Giles would give this team more late-inning guys to shut down games. For a starter, hitting a home run would resemble acquiring Trevor Bauer from Cleveland, Stroman or even Zach Wheeler/Noah Syndergaard from the New York Mets, whom the Brewers were said to be talking with.
St. Louis is in a real tough spot, as their expectations after their splashy offseason have not been met quite yet. Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller have had their outbursts but overall have not given this team enough to guarantee their spot in the postseason and losing Jordan Hicks to Tommy John surgery really hurt the bullpen.
A starter should be first on their priority list, and it would resemble something like what the Brewers are looking at too, as Bauer, Stroman, Wheeler, and Syndergaard are all on the Cards list too. Their farm system is not super strong after the Goldschmidt deal, so any big-time acquisition would be tough.
As the season gets closer to playoff time, teams will be looking to make key additions before their competition does.