Whether they’re a buyer or a seller, every front-office decision-maker around the Majors has an objective between now and the July 30 Trade Deadline: get better.
For some, that means fortifying a roster with an eye toward October. For others, it’s looking ahead to 2022 and beyond, trying to put their club in the best position going forward.
Regardless of what the standings say, all 30 teams figure to make some type of move in the coming weeks. With that in mind, here’s a look at one possible upgrade for each club:
Blue Jays: Bullpen
Toronto started to address its relief corps with trades for Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards, but the Blue Jays are still in need of a high-end arm to join the back end of the bullpen. Jordan Romano leads the club with six saves — one of six Blue Jays pitchers to earn at least one this season — but Toronto would benefit from the addition of a proven late-inning reliever.
Orioles: Lower-level pitching
Eleven of the Orioles’ Top 30 Prospects are pitchers, but all but four are at least at Double-A and one has yet to throw a professional pitch. The O’s have gone position-player heavy in their past two Drafts, taking hitters with 13 of their 14 picks and leaving the lower levels of their system thin on pitching prospects.
There is potential for the Rays to upgrade from within if Tyler Glasnow and/or Chris Archer can return from the injured list, or youngsters Luis Patiño and/or Shane Baz can make an impact, but adding a frontline starter would be a big lift for a Tampa Bay team that features a solid lineup, one of the Majors’ best defensive groups and a deep bullpen that should get right-hander Nick Anderson back in August.
Red Sox: Rotation
Boston’s starting rotation has been consistent in just one area: availability. The Red Sox have used just six starters all season, with Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards and Martín Pérez making all but two starts through the first 88 games. But Eovaldi and Pérez are the only starters with an ERA below 4.00, with Rodriguez (5.52) and Richards (4.88) struggling to find a groove. Chris Sale is expected to return in the second half, but the addition of another starter would be a help for a team with postseason aspirations.
Yankees: Center field
The Yankees are in need of starting pitching, but they figure to have plenty of competition from other pitching-needy teams. Center field had been an issue for the Bombers since Aaron Hicks was lost for the year, opening the door for a potential trade for somebody such as Starling Marte.
Cleveland is always looking to add to its starting-pitching depth, and given the rotation’s injury issues (Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale) and the trades of Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber in recent years, that urgency remains. Zach Plesac returned from the injured list on Thursday, but more help is needed.
Kansas City’s rotation ranks 29th in innings pitched, leading to an overworked bullpen and some lopsided games. The Royals are obviously looking toward 2022 and beyond, but adding an innings-eater to the rotation would help preserve some of their young arms for the rest of 2021.
We’re not talking about a Trevor Story type here; Detroit is in need of a young, controllable shortstop to turn the position over to for the future. The Tigers could be sneaky players on the free-agent shortstop market, but the more ideal play might be to find a younger shortstop whose peak lines up with the rest of the club’s core players. Detroit could move a veteran such as Jonathan Schoop, deal from their pitching depth or maybe even trade prospect for prospect.
Twins: MLB-ready pitching
It remains to be seen whether the Twins will enter a rebuilding phase in 2022 or push their young, up-and-coming core to stay relevant, but either way, the rotation will be undergoing a makeover next season. José Berríos and Kenta Maeda are their only Opening Day rotation members under contract next year, and there is always the possibility that Berríos is traded before the end of the month. Whichever direction Minnesota chooses to take, the front office will need to find arms to fill the starting staff next year and beyond.
White Sox: Second base
Injured stars Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert are gradually working their way back toward the Majors, while catcher Yasmani Grandal should return this season after having left knee surgery this past week, so getting key players healthy really becomes the biggest upgrade for a team running away with the AL Central. But Nick Madrigal is gone for the season after having surgery to repair a right hamstring tear, and while the White Sox consider Madrigal an integral part of the team’s future, that won’t stop Chicago from adding a player who can help this season and possibly even in 2022.
The Angels could use upgrades in the bullpen, as well, but the rotation is the primary area of need if Los Angeles hopes to end its six-year postseason drought. Both Dylan Bundy and José Quintana have been moved to the bullpen following their respective struggles, leaving holes in the rotation behind Shohei Ohtani, Alex Cobb and Patrick Sandoval.
Houston’s lineup has mashed all season, leading the AL in runs scored (488) and OPS (.790), so the offense — which will get a boost with the return of Alex Bregman from the injured list — appears to be set for the stretch run. The rotation boasts the best ERA in the AL (3.35) and it is second in innings pitched (488 2/3), but the bullpen rests in the middle of the pack (4.09 ERA) and could use a dependable late-inning arm to pair with All-Star closer Ryan Pressly.
Oakland was holding out hope that Trevor Rosenthal, its prized offseason free-agent signing, would be ready to return to action at some point in late August. But season-ending hip surgery put an end to that possibility, intensifying the Athletics’ need to find another reliable late-inning arm to take some pressure off Yusmeiro Petit and Lou Trivino.
Seattle has worked its way back into the AL postseason picture, but injuries to James Paxton, Justin Dunn and now Justus Sheffield — not to mention a down year for Marco Gonzales — have the Mariners’ rotation in flux. They have two pitchers on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list, though both are pitching at High-A and are not ready to make an impact in the Majors just yet.
Rangers: Young pitching
The Rangers have a handful of prime trade candidates, including Joey Gallo, Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy, the first two of whom should bring back solid returns given their control through 2022. Should Gibson be moved, Texas would have less than $30 million committed in payroll for 2022 and none for ’23, leaving execs Jon Daniels and Chris Young with plenty of flexibility. The Rangers’ 21st-ranked farm system has two position players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list, but only three of the club’s Top 15 prospects are pitchers, so adding young, quality arms to the system would be a logical move.
Atlanta’s relievers have a combined 4.64 ERA this season, ranking 11th in the NL. Closer Will Smith has done a solid job in the ninth (17-for-19 in save opportunities), but the rest of the bullpen has struggled to get the ball to him at times, combining for 11 blown saves. A number of quality relievers will be available this month, one or two of whom could wind up in Atlanta if the Braves can inch closer to the Mets in the NL East.
Marlins: Impact bat
Miami has the fourth-lowest ERA in the Majors, but it is averaging fewer than four runs per game, ranking 28th. Outside of Starling Marte, who could sign an extension or be traded in the coming weeks, none of the Marlins’ sellable parts (Jesús Aguilar, Adam Duvall, Yimi García) are part of the club’s long-term plans. Miami pulled off the Zac Gallen-for-Jazz Chisholm Jr. trade two years ago, so perhaps GM Kim Ng will look for a similar path to acquire a controllable bat.
Mets: Starting pitching
The Mets have been in first place since May 8, but three teams are well within striking distance in the NL East, making a rotation upgrade a must for New York. Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard each had recent setbacks as they look to return from the injured list, creating some more urgency in Queens to add an arm or two behind the impressive trio of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker.
Imagine where the Phillies might be this season if their bullpen had been halfway decent? Philadelphia’s relief corps has already blown 22 saves in 2021, just three shy of the club record for an entire season. Héctor Neris has converted just 11 out of 17 save opportunities while pitching to a 5.12 ERA, which is only slightly above the team’s overall bullpen ERA of 4.91. Despite their sub-.500 record, the Phillies remain in the hunt in the NL East, but until the bullpen can be straightened out, the relief woes will continue to cost them.
Aside from Max Scherzer, Washington’s starting pitchers have struggled to find consistency all season. Joe Ross and Patrick Corbin are averaging slightly more than five innings per start, while Jon Lester has thrown five or fewer innings in eight of his 13 outings, taxing the Nationals’ bullpen on a regular basis. Even if Stephen Strasburg is able to return shortly after the All-Star break, the Nats need to fortify the back end of the rotation.
Milwaukee has traded J.P. Feyereisen, Drew Rasmussen and Trevor Richards in deals for Willy Adames and Rowdy Tellez, cutting into its bullpen depth. The Brewers have done a great job of finding arms to fill these spots, and while Miguel Sánchez and Hunter Strickland could be important in the second half, adding depth to the relief corps figures to be a priority.
The Cardinals had been scouring the open market for a starter even before Carlos Martínez’s right thumb ligament tear marked the third long-term injury to a rotation already missing Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas. Could it prompt them to make a more immediate move? Time will tell, but St. Louis has a glaring hole in its rotation, with just four healthy starters on top of the patchwork it has been working with. Internal options leave much to be desired, so should St. Louis feel compelled to add an arm for the stretch run, a starter is not just a luxury — it’s essential.
The Cubs knew their rotation depth would be put to the test after the team traded ace Yu Darvish to the Padres over the offseason. Kyle Hendricks has been a picture of consistency since a tough April, but the rest of the group has labored as a whole. Adbert Alzolay has shown promise and Zach Davies has been mostly reliable since the season’s first month, but Jake Arrieta has been a mess and Trevor Williams only recently returned after an emergency appendectomy. The Cubs have Alec Mills and some young internal options (Cory Abbott, Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele, among others), but the team could benefit from adding to its starting cast at the Deadline.
Pirates: Corner outfielder
Pittsburgh is starting Ben Gamel and Jared Oliva at the corners, and Gregory Polanco (currently on the injured list) is not a long-term option at this point as his $12.5 million option is unlikely to be exercised. No. 8 prospect Travis Swaggerty is out for the season, erasing any shot at a second-half callup for the 23-year-old.
Seven different relievers have earned at least one save for the Reds this season, and while Cincinnati has survived with Lucas Sims (the club’s saves leader with seven) and Tejay Antone on the injured list, there is plenty of room for upgrades — especially for high-leverage situations. The Reds’ 5.19 bullpen ERA ranks next to last in the NL, ahead of only the Rockies (5.48).
D-backs: Upper-level pitching prospects
Arizona has four players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list, though all four are position players (including three outfielders). The club’s Nos. 5-10 prospects are all pitchers, but nearly all of them are projected to be a couple of years away, leaving a hole in terms of big league-ready arms. The D-backs are expected to be sellers, giving them an opportunity to add some pieces to help in the near-future.
The Dodgers have been dealing with rotation issues all season, and now that Clayton Kershaw is on the injured list, the need for starting pitching has only intensified. Walker Buehler, Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin are the only healthy starters at the moment, and it’s unclear when (or if) Trevor Bauer will be reinstated from administrative leave. Los Angeles is in a battle with the Giants and Padres in the Majors’ best division, one that will become increasingly difficult without the addition of a starter or two.
San Francisco has the third-lowest bullpen ERA (3.31) in the NL, but manager Gabe Kapler could use another late-inning reliever for high-leverage situations. At least two closers should be available this month: Pittsburgh’s Richard Rodríguez and Minnesota’s Taylor Rogers (whose identical twin brother, Tyler, is a member of San Francisco’s bullpen), either of whom would strengthen a unit that has helped the Giants to their surprising first half.
San Diego’s bullpen ranks atop the NL in ERA, but it also leads the league in innings pitched, setting up some questions about durability down the stretch. Mark Melancon has been excellent in the closer’s role (26-for-30 in save opportunities), but adding another lights-out relief ace the way they did with Trevor Rosenthal a year ago would be a huge boost.
Rockies: Potential impact bat
The Rockies have been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team in 2021, posting one of the best home records in the Majors and a woeful road mark that might threaten the all-time record for futility away from home. Colorado has produced some solid starters, promising relievers and some good complementary players, but the last impact bat developed by the club was Trevor Story, who appears to be on his way out of town in the coming weeks. Landing a Major League-ready hitting prospect should be the top priority for the Rockies this month.