Baseball’s Contenders’ Biggest Flaws

We are at the point in the baseball season where, internally, teams are beginning to determine whether they are true contenders or are going to be sellers at the trade deadline.  It is looking like this year’s deadline will be a buyer’s market, especially for pitching, as there are already a number of teams out of playoff contention and looking to move assets.  Therefore, if I am the GM of a team who is looking to be a seller at the deadline, I am marking my team as open for business and trying to acquire as much as possible before the market becomes flooded.

At somepoint I am going to write a trade deadline preview, marking teams as buyers or sellers, which players will likely be available from selling teams or positions needed by buyers, and then match players to teams.  But for now, I want to do a rundown of teams that were and are generally considered contenders and determining what their flaws are and how they can correct them.

American League

New York Yankees

  • Record as of June 13: 38-23
  • The Yankees have been one of the most surprising teams in all of baseball this season.  Before the season began they looked like a team who would be sellers at the trade deadline based on the number of high level prospects they acquired last season.  The team succeeding this season is as if they have returned to competitiveness and winning at least one year earlier than anticipated.  They have gotten to this point by having the best offense in terms of runs per game in the American League.  They have hit more home runs than any other AL team and have the second highest batting average.  They also have a pretty good pitching staff with the fourth lowest ERA and FIP in the AL.  They don’t appear to be a mirage but rather the real deal who should try and compete for the playoffs.
  • Flaws: Their starting rotation has not been great as staff ace Masahiro Tanaka has a 6.56 ERA and a 6.05 FIP.  Michael Pineda has been their best starter so far and he still has a 3.35 ERA.  If the Yankees want to be serious competitors this season they are going to have to address their issues in the rotation.

Boston Red Sox

  • Record as of June 13: 35-28
  • The Red Sox entered this season with one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball, with two Cy Young Award winners, plus Chris Sale.  That rotation has struggled so far as David Price missed nearly the first two months of the season with an elbow injury and wasn’t good in his most recent start.  Sale has been everything he was advertised to be and could be the leading candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award this season. Porcello has regressed badly from last season and is even worse than his career norms and has to find a way to be between last season and this. Their bullpen has been better than expected as Craig Kimbrel has returned to being the most dominant closer in baseball and has allowed just three earned runs all season.  On offense, Mitch Moreland has been quite good at the plate and his typical elite-self defensively.  Andrew Benintendi has been really good in his rookie campaign and Hanley Ramirez has been productive in his first season as the everyday DH. They are never going to be able to replace David Ortiz but they have done a good job at minimizing the loss.
  • Flaws: The Red Sox have struggled for years with getting production out of third base, typically one of the most offensively-productive positions. They are getting at least some production from Pablo Sandoval and at least he is playing, but he is still not as good as they need him to be. They also need to find another starting pitcher to slot in behind Sale.  Drew Pomeranz has been surprisingly good this season as has Eduardo Rodriguez, but the latter has been injured and he is missed.  With the question marks surrounding Price’s health and Porcello struggling, the Red Sox will need to find a consistent pitcher to at least stabilize the rotation.  However, that does not mean that they should further strip the farm system in order to fix their issues.  They don’t have a lot of high end prospects left after acquiring Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel and will need the ones that they do for the future, especially third baseman Rafael Devers.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Record as of June 13: 31-31
  • The Orioles probably aren’t going to be much of a contender as the season continues. Their starting pitching has been as bad as expected, with just Dylan Bundy having an ERA under 3.75.  Their bullpen hasn’t been as good as last season due to the absence of Zach Britton, who has missed much of the season with injury. Their offense, the area where they are typically best, hasn’t been as good as normal, and they are below league average in runs per game.
  • Flaws: If the Orioles want to be considered serious contenders for the division or as a Wild Card team, they are going to need to seriously upgrade their starting rotation.  The problem is that they don’t have a good farm system to pull from to make trades possible.

Minnesota Twins

  • Record as of June 13: 32-28
  • The Twins are in first place more as a result of how poor the division has been rather than how good they actually are.  They have neither an above average offense or pitching staff and are giving up nearly a half run more per game than they are scoring.  In their rotation, Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios have been very good but there is quite a dropoff after those two.  On offense, only Miguel Sano has been truly good and there is very little depth to the lineup surrounding him.
  • Flaws: There are a lot of problems with this team, they lack lineup depth and power, they need a major league starting rotation, and their bullpen isn’t good enough to last the season.  While they are in contention for now, there is almost no way that they will be in the playoffs when the playoffs start.  They should take advantage of the good starts to some of their players, including Ervin Santana, Brandon Kintzler, and Brian Dozier, and trade them for prospects.

Cleveland Indians

  • Record as of June 13: 31-29
  • The Indians have underperformed by quite a margin compared to expectations placed on the team.  Their bats have yet to really take off, especially Edwin Encarnacion, who has just 26 RBIs after 58 games. They are also getting basically no production out of the catcher position and Yan Gomes hasn’t even been good defensively.  Whatever shortcomings their offense has had, their pitching staff has made up for.  Even with Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar missing time, they have given up the third fewest runs per game in the American League.  As the staff gets healthy, they will continue to pitch better and push the Indians towards the top of the division.
  • Flaws: I still think that the Indians front office would like to upgrade at catcher as they were hoping to do last summer.  I also think that if Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer continue to pitch badly at the back end of the staff, they will look to acquire a starter to strengthen the rotation.

Detroit Tigers

  • Record as of June 13: 30-32
  • The Tigers are really only in contention because the Indians have yet to really take off.  The issue for them is that they have a payroll of a team that should be competing for the World Series every season, even though their roster isn’t performing like it should be.  They have a lineup that is as good as any in the American League but their pitching rotation has been horrible besides Michael Fulmer and Justin Verlander.  Jordan Zimmermann has continued his run of terrible pitching since he arrived in Detroit and so far this season he has a 5.72 ERA.
  • Flaws: Detroit’s front office should just hold serve for now until the trade deadline gets closer and they can best determine if they are looking like they will be a playoff team or not.  If they are close to the top of the division in mid-July, they should go all-in on acquiring starting pitching.  If they are out of the playoff race, they should try and sell off players in order to build up their farm system, which isn’t very good currently.

Houston Astros

  • Record as of June 13: 44-21
  • When I picked the Astros to win the AL West, I never thought that they would be running away with the division in mid-June.  I also didn’t think that their pitching rotation was going to be the second best in the league and that their lineup was going to be among the best in baseball.  Their offseason additions have worked well to supplement an already talented lineup.  Their pitching rotation has been led by Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel, both with sub-3.00 ERAs and the latter who has returned to his Cy Young caliber of pitching.  Both are currently on the DL, however, but the team has a big enough lead to allow them the time to recover.
  • Flaws: If the Astros have any shortcomings it would be the back end of their starting rotation.  There will probably be numerous pitchers available at the deadline, so the Astros will have their pick, but they shouldn’t give up anything of value to acquire one.

Seattle Mariners

  • Record as of June 13: 32-33
  • The Mariners have underperformed pretty severely this season, especially in terms of pitching.  Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez have both missed significant time this season but James Paxton has picked up for their absences to the tune of a 2.25 ERA.  Their offense has been really good and has lived up to its hype, with three players with at least 35 RBIs.
  • Flaws: The Mariners are in a place financially where they need to constantly try and better their roster in order to reach the playoffs.  For this season, they are going to need to acquire some starting pitching help, but it will have to be minimal and cheap because they don’t have much prospect talent to trade from.

National League

Washington Nationals

  • Record as of June 14: 39-25
  • The Nationals have been the class of the NL all season so far and are running away with the division with how poorly the Mets have been playing.  The Nationals have the best lineup in the league and it features three of the leading candidates for NL MVP in Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Daniel Murphy.  Their pitching staff has been top five in the league this season and is the third most talented rotation in the NL behind only the Dodgers and Mets, when fully healthy.  Staff ace Max Scherzer is following up his Cy Young Award with another Cy Young caliber season and Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg have both been very good so far.  Their one issue is in the bullpen, the area that everyone pointed to as being a weakness before the season began.  They don’t have a proven closer and that has let them down continuously throughout the season.
  • Flaws: With the way they are running away with the division, the team’s front office has the luxury of being patient on the trade market.  They need a closer and they are going to acquire one at somepoint this season, the question will be who is it going to be.  David Robertson of the White Sox will be available but he isn’t having a good season so far.  Kelvin Herrera of the Royals may also be available since they are out of playoff contention.  The key for them will be not stripping their farm system in order to acquire a closer.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Record as of June 14: 34-32
  • I initially didn’t even have the Brewers on this list of contending teams, but realized I needed to since they are still in first place.  Their offense has been relatively unproductive outside of a few positions while their pitching staff has been very good, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. Third baseman Travis Shaw and first baseman Eric Thames have both been surprising sources of production but their lineup lacks a lot of depth besides those two.  In their rotation, Chase Anderson, Jimmy Nelson, and Junior Guerra have been very good and Corey Knebel has been one of the best shutdown closers in baseball since taking over the role.
  • Flaws: The Brewers have a lot of flaws, too many to actually be a competitive team this season, but that means that the future is incredibly bright for this franchise and that they could be truly competitive sooner than expected.  They should take advantage of the players who are performing well and trade them for prospects to further strengthen their farm system.  I would look at moving Eric Sogard, Chase Anderson, and Jimmy Nelson since the latter two are already at least 28 years old and aren’t going to be parts of the team’s future.

Chicago Cubs

  • Record as of June 14: 32-32
  • The Cubs have struggled to really take off yet this season as none of their hitters have hit well, especially Kyle Schwarber, who is batting below .200 and is in mostly a platoon role at this point.  Their pitching rotation has also been problematic besides Jon Lester as John Lackey, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks all have ERAs above 4.00.  Jake Arrieta has been particularly bad as his velocity has been down, his home run rate is elevated, and his K/BB ratio is down significantly.  I think that Hendricks will eventually turn his season around but I am legitimately concerned about Arrieta.  Their bullpen, an area that was of question before the season began, has been really solid, with both Wade Davis and Carl Edwards having ERAs below 1.50.
  • Flaws: Prior to the season starting, it was assumed that the Cubs would go out and acquire a fifth starter that will make them more competitive than what Brett Anderson has given them.  There have also been rumors that they will go out and acquire a front line starter will all of the prospect assets they have in the farm system.  One such pitcher is Zack Greinke who has years left and is having an amazing season so far.  The Cubs will be an interesting team to watch as the trade deadline approaches as the team tries to repeat as World Series champions.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Record as of June 14: 30-33
  • The Cardinals signed outfielder Dexter Fowler last offseason to be their leadoff hitter, which was one of their biggest weaknesses last season. He has not hit well at all this season, with a .239 average and a .329 on-base percentage.  Their lineup is also not producing enough runs and lacks any pop as they have just one hitter, Matt Carpenter, who has hit at least 10 home runs.  Catcher Yadier Molina, typically a six or seven hitter, has been having to hit up in their lineup, an indicator of how weak their lineup has been.  Luckily, their pitching rotation has been really good and they currently have three starters with ERAs below 3.00. Unfortunately, one of those isn’t Adam Wainwright, who has been really bad so far this season.
  • Flaws: I actually think one of their biggest weaknesses is manager Mike Matheny, who has been criticized for his in-game management for seasons now.  The Cardinals, traditionally a very skilled team adept at making the correct decisions in the field and on the basepaths, have been really bad in those areas this season.  They currently lead the league in outs made on the bases this season and have been inefficient at taking extra bases.  If I am the Cardinals front office, I would consider making a move at manager.  Additionally, the Cardinals will eventually turn some stuff around.  Wainwright most likely won’t have a 4.73 ERA all season and Fowler will eventually get closer to his career batting average of .267.  They do need some help in the bullpen but that is an area that is typically easy to address.

Colorado Rockies

  • Record as of June 14: 41-26
  • This Rockies team is unlike any other version that the franchise has had since coming into the league for the 1993 season.  They have a winning road record for the first time since the 2009 season, already a good sign for the team and of changing times.  They aren’t winning exclusively through their offense, but rather a balanced team that is currently third best in the league in runs allowed per game.  Their offense even finding success in their traditional way of mashing home runs as they are just above league average in home runs hit at the moment.  That is a good sign because it means that they are finding a way to overcome the difficulties of hitting away from Coors Field.  Their pitching staff has also done a good job of overcoming the struggles of pitching at Coors as there has been a change in mentality where the pitchers now realize they don’t have to be elite at home, but rather just out-pitch their opponents.
  • Flaws: Offensively, I don’t believe that the Rockies need to do anything as they should be a top 10 offense in the majors as long as key players stay healthy.  On the pitching side of things, I think that now is the time to try and acquire a true ace for their pitching staff.  I believe in the legitimacy of this roster and think that they stand a good chance at making the playoffs this season.  Getting an ace would help make that goal more of a reality and show that this franchise is different and ready to take the next step.  It also helps that they have the prospects available to make such a trade a reality with Brendan Rogers and Riley Pint in the low minors.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Record as of June 14: 40-25
  • The Dodgers this season have been an amazingly balanced team, both in their lineup and the pitching staff.  They are typically identified as a heavy left-handed hitting that relied on platoons to combat tough left-handed pitching.  That is still the case, except that now their platoon players are coming through and their left-handed hitters are hitting lefty pitchers better.  With the injuries suffered by Adrian Gonzalez in addition to his declining due to age, has allowed Cody Bellinger to be called up and he has succeeded in a tremendous way.  Their starting rotation has been made up of incredible depth, a plan that the front office put forth in the offseason due to the injuries their starters face each season.  The injuries have occurred this season, but for the first time they have had the depth role starters to pick up the slack.  Alex Wood has been amazing moving between the bullpen and the rotation and Clayton Kershaw is once again pitching like his perennial Cy Young level self.
  • Flaws: One area in their offense that I could see them needing to address is a right-handed power bat to take the slack off of Justin Turner.  I also think that they need another arm in their bullpen, a typical need for playoff teams.

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Record as of June 14: 40-26
  • The Diamondbacks are one of the most pleasantly surprising teams in baseball this season.  They are a truly competitive team that has a real strong chance at making the playoffs this season.  Not surprisingly with a lineup that features Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta, their offense has been amazing so far.  Another reason for this is Jake Lamb, who is having an incredible season for the second consecutive year.  Most surprising, is that their pitching staff is ranked top five in the league in nearly every pitching category.  One reason for this is that Zack Greinke has rebounded from his down year last season and he is back to his typical elite self.  Another reason is that Robbie Ray is having a breakout season and is top ten in baseball in strikeout rate.
  • Flaws: The Diamondbacks are in an interesting place in that they have a talented enough roster to probably make the playoffs this season but don’t have the pieces necessary to upgrade where they need to, which is in the starting rotation.  Their farm system is probably bottom five in the majors right now and they don’t have a much talent ready to breakthrough.  They could go the route of trading away expensive contracts to get younger, more controllable pieces in return.  I like this option because it would keep them competitive in the present while building for the future.  This season wasn’t even supposed to be one when they would be competitive so they are essentially playing with house money.  If they can take advantage with the season Greinke is having and trade him to a team like the Cubs, they could get a Javier Baez or Addison Russell in return, plus at least one more prospect, and shed Greinke’s contract which has four years and $138.5 million left on it after this season.  His contract currently represents 35% of the Diamondbacks total payroll and that is simply too much to spend on one player for a smaller market team.

*All stats and information came from mlb.com, baseball-reference.com, rosterresource.com, and spotrac.com

 

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