Hired Guns – National League

In our last entry, we took a look at some American League teams possibly looking for trade partners to fill holes for the pennant drive ahead of the July 31 deadline for non-waiver trades. Today we’ll assess teams in the National League who could look to make moves within the next five weeks. We will start with the NL East division and work west. Let’s go!

NL EAST

Atlanta Braves – Yes, you read that right……the FIRST PLACE Atlanta Braves. Coming into 2018, I wouldn’t have expected this young team to be this good this quickly, but here we are. Ronald Acuna, Jr., Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson are studs. If these guys play as well as their ceiling projects, they could easily rival the early 90’s Atlanta teams. Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb could front their rotation the next several years.

GM Alex Anthopoulos would likely want to add another arm for their rotation (I mean, how long can Anibal Sanchez pitch to a 2.55 ERA?) and one for their bullpen (Adam Ottovino or Zach Britton could be good fits). Third base is a bit of a weak spot with Johan Camargo hitting .238. If Anthopoulos looks to upgrade by the deadline, he could look at Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers or Josh Donaldson of Toronto. Donaldson would come far cheaper despite being quite a bit younger than Beltre, but he’s had trouble staying healthy and struggled at the plate.

Philadelphia Phillies – These “Fightin’ Phils” are right in the middle of this race with a current record of 41-33, riding a three-game winning streak. Like the Braves, the Phillies are primarily a young team mixed with a few seasoned vets.

This team really doesn’t need much. First baseman Carlos Santana started slowly in his 1st season in Philly, but he’s heating up with three HR’s in his last four games. Right-fielder Aaron Altherr struggled mightily at .179, but manager Gabe Kapler plugged in Nick Williams in his place and is getting good production. The back end of Philadelphia’s bullpen needs help. 23 year old Seranthony Dominguez has been brilliant in his limited big-league experience, but GM Matt Klentak will need to give him some help. The aforementioned Zach Britton and/or Adam Ottovino could slide in nicely. One time Phillie and soon to be free-agent Jake Diekman could be a nice rental for the pen from the Rangers.

Washington Nationals – Predicted by many (including this writer) to handily win the NL East, the Nats are currently in third place at 40-35, and have lost seven of their last 10 games. Injuries are beginning to affect this team, with starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson and reliever Brandon Kintzler on the shelf. The rotation could use more depth behind Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and the inconsistent Tanner Roark. Cole Hamels would be a nice addition who is comfortable pitching in the heat of a NL East pennant race. GM Mike Rizzo has enough prospects in the system to pry Hamels away from Texas. Rizzo added a proven bullpen arm on July 18 when he acquired Kelvin Herrera in a trade with Kansas City.

NL CENTRAL

Milwaukee Brewers – The Brew Crew is for real. Milwaukee has a deep team with few holes. General Manager David Stearns added Lorenzo Cain as a free agent and traded for Christian Yelich over the winter to bolster an already talented lineup. A couple weak-spots: Catcher Manny Pina (.224/.285/.376) struggled in the early going, but is finally warming up after spending most of the 1st half hovering around the “Mendoza-Line”. Shortstop Orlando Arcia has been cold all season, possessing an anemic .201/.234/.259 slash-line. With prospect Mauricio Dubon out until 2019 with a torn ACL, perhaps Stearns will continue making bold moves and trade some of the team’s depth/prospects to the Baltimore Orioles for a few months of Manny Machado? The package could include recently demoted right-fielder Domingo Santana, Eric Thames or top-five prospect Brett Phillips, who is blocked in AAA Colorado Springs. The Brewers have an abundance of good young pitchers who could be added in, but I wouldn’t part with rookie bullpen sensation Josh Hader or recently promoted starter Freddy Peralta, who has dominated.

Chicago Cubs – The Cubbies are two games back of Milwaukee as we inch closer to the All Star Break. In my opinion, starting pitching will be what makes or breaks this team in 2018. Veteran Jon Lester, now 34 years of age, has been the ace his team expects. Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana will give you a chance to win more often than not, but neither are better than number-three starters. I love Theo Epstein, but I’m not sure what he and GM Jed Hoyer were smoking when they handed 38 million dollars for three years of Tyler Chatwood. No one can convince me he’s better than Jake Arietta. Chatwood is a bullpen-killer, not even averaging five innings per start, and walking a batter almost every inning. Oft-injured starter Yu Darvish, currently out with biceps-tendonitis, is due to return in July. They are going to need him to stay healthy if the Cubs are going to keep pace with Milwaukee. They don’t have any other glaring needs, they just need their rotation to pull their weight.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates are very much in the mix for the Central Division, but it’s doubtful they have the horses to get there in 2018. Injuries have hurt St. Louis, with Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Michael Wacha, Paul DeJong and Luke Gregerson all missing large chunks of time. The Cards have lost nine of their last 13 games, and have a lot of work to do to right the ship. The Pirates are a young team with a lot of talent and a bright future. Youthful teams can be inconsistent, and right now they are, losing 13 of their 20 games in the month of June. Pittsburgh’s front-office needs to stay the course; there’s no question Bucs fans will see the Jolly Roger raised often in the near-future.

NL WEST

Arizona Dbacks – The Diamondbacks lead the NL West by 2.5 games over the Dodgers, who seem to have found their footing. If Arizona expects to retain their hold on the division, they are going to need a little help. With shortstop Nick Ahmed still putting along with a .219 average and closer Brad Boxberger continuing to exceed in mediocrity, GM Mike Hazen would do well to upgrade in both areas. Earlier this month, I wrote a piece about how Manny Machado could be a good fit in Arizona.  Baltimore could be an excellent partner not only for Machado, but also for closer Zach Britton. Arizona has a deep farm system loaded with prospects they can send for Machado and Britton. Young starters Zack Godley, Matt Koch could also be added-in, as could Shelby Miller, set to be activated tomorrow after completing a rehab assignment in his return from 2017 Tommy John surgery.

Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers have recovered from a horrific 16-26 start to win 24 of their last 33 games, and are now 2.5 games in back of the Dbacks. The team hasn’t hit collectively well in 2018, although playing the Mets seems to cure everything. The offense took a hard hit when shortstop Corey Seager injured his elbow in early May, requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery. There was immediate talk of tying to orchestrate a trade for Machado after Seager went down, but seems nothing has materialized. I think LA will be fine as they are, as long as their pitching stays healthy — particularly starters Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill. Rookie starter Walker Buehler was also pitching very well until he was sidelined with a micro-fracture in one of his ribs. That could be problematic if he’s pushed back too quickly. Hyun-Jim Ryu and Julio Urias could also return later this summer and be good additions for the club.

Last night’s return of the leader of their rotation, Kershaw, can also be a psychological lift for the ball club. The Dodgers, and baseball as a whole is better when Clayton Kershaw is healthy and pitching.

The next five weeks will be interesting to watch as clubs decide whether to stand pat or go after hired guns to load-up for what should be a fun pennant race in Major League Baseball.

 

 

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Hired Guns – Who Will Load Up in the AL?

As we approach the halfway point of the 2018 season, this is when contenders start to separate themselves from pretenders. These contenders then look to the pretenders to see where they can shore up weak-spots via trade before the July 31 deadline for non-waiver trades. Most deals will involve players who are set to become free-agents after the season or from teams looking to shed payroll.

Today we will take a look at contending teams in the American League to see where they could use some help via trade. We will start with teams in the American League East and work our way through the Central and the AL West. We will look at the National League in an upcoming entry.

AL EAST

New York Yankees – The Yankees, sitting atop the AL East, don’t have many holes to fill. GM Brian Cashman is actively seeking a starting pitcher, (Cole Hamels‘ name has frequently been mentioned) and that’s their only real need. That said, rookies Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga are more than filling the need, especially German. The bullpen has been in lock-down mode all year, but they could use another situational LOOGY, because Chasen Shreve is shaky at best.

Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox are sitting two games back of New York, and could use help behind the plate, where the platoon of Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon get on base barely more than a quarter of the time. If somehow GM Dave Dombroski could pry Salvador Perez from the downward spiraling Kansas City Royals, he would be a great fit in Boston. Otherwise, Jonathan Lucroy of the Oakland A’s would be an upgrade, and has a reputation for working well with his pitchers. Jackie Bradley, Jr. has a slash-line of .181/.278/.292 in center-field, but is still only 28 years old and plays stellar defense. He may not win a game with his bat, but he usually won’t cost you the game with his glove-work.

AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians – The 1st place Indians are currently five games ahead of the Tigers and six above Minnesota. They could really use another starting pitcher with Danny Salazar out until at least September and Carlos Carrasco a concern with an elbow contusion. Beyond the solid trio of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, the Tribe has been relying on the likes of Josh Tomlin, Adam Plutko and currently Shane Bieber in the rotation. The 23 year old Bieber worked seven scoreless innings tonight in his third MLB start against the Detroit Tigers. A lefty addition such as the aforementioned Hamels, J.A. Happ or Derek Holland would help balance Cleveland’s all righty rotation.

Minnesota Twins – The Twins sit in 3rd place in the Central, six games behind the Indians and are currently five games under .500.

There is a lot of good talent on this Minnesota Twins team. Steve Pearce or Lucas Duda would serve well as an upgrade from first baseman/DH Logan Morrison (.191/.297/.340). Jorge Polanco is expected to be reinstated from his 80-game suspension for PED use on July 2, and Byron Buxton is currently on rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester and will soon be ready to rejoin the parent club. The addition of Polanco and Buxton will add instant offense for the 2nd half. The team could also use an inexpensive lefty starter (Derek Holland again comes to mind) to balance the rotation. Say a few Hail Mary’s for closer Fernando Rodney..

AL WEST

Houston Astros – The Astros are poised for another run to the players, hoping to repeat as World Series champions.

Their starting rotation appears to be bulletproof with Justin Verlander leading the way. Houston also has a deep bullpen, although closer Ken Giles can be shaky when off-kilter. Their lineup is solid from top to bottom, their weak-link currently is CF Jake Marisnick (.176/.200/.321) but minor league prospects Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker will soon be on the horizon. The Astros could stand to get younger behind the plate, and trading for Kansas City Royals backstop Salvador Perez would set them up for the next several years. A package involving prospects including Tucker, Forrest Whitley, Yordan Alvarez and J.B. Bukauskas could help entice Royals GM Dayton Moore into pulling the trigger.

Seattle Mariners – The Mariners haven’t made the playoffs since God was a baby (Okay, since Lou Piniella was at the helm, seven managers previous), but GM Jerry DiPoto and current manager Scott Servais are pushing to get back in the postseason.

This team is talented! DiPoto fleeced the Dbacks when he acquired OF Mitch Haniger and SS Jean Segura for Tijuan Malker and Ketel Marte. The weak-spot in the offense has been catcher Mike Zunino, who is struggling at .202/.266/.424 but he’s too good to not rebound. Dee Gordon slid into his much more familiar spot at 2nd base when Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games for performance enhancing drugs. To the credit of this team, the Mariners have won 23 of their 35 games since Cano’s suspension was announced. DiPoto traded for Denard Span and Alex Colome from the Tampa Bay Rays to shore things up. The M’s have a lefty-heavy rotation and could use another righty starter for additional depth. Someone like San Diego’s Tyson Ross would be a nice fit, if DiPoto opts to add another right-hander.

Next time, we will take a look and see who could be “hired-guns” in the National League.

Stop Worrying, Gary Will Be Fine…..

 

Gary Sanchez returned to the Yankees lineup last night in their 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Manager Aaron Boone gave the 25 year old catcher had a three day break designed to rest his nicked-up body and maybe to reset his mind a bit. Sanchez is batting .188 this season and is mired in a 2-31 slump since June began. In his All-Star season in 2017, Gary slugged 33 home runs, most of them every bit as majestic as teammate Aaron Judge’s blasts. However, Sanchez has not homered in almost a month. His last ones came in a May 19 game against Kansas City, in which he had four hits and a pair of homers in an 8-3 Yankees win.

We’re about a month away from the All Star Break, but it’s still too early to panic and think Gary is past “the point of no return”. Yes his slash-line is ugly (.188/.295/.426), but it’s also a time to point out that Sanchez got red-hot in the second halves of the past two seasons, especially in the months of August. In 2016, he burst on the scene with an eleven homer month that everyone in the baseball world noticed.

 

 

It didn’t take long for Yankees Twitter to “Release the Kraken”, with his eye-popping .389/.458/.832 slash-line for August 2016. Last season, Sanchez had another hot August with a dozen homers to go with a .287 average. He followed that up with a .303 September average.

It’s no secret Sanchez has struggled with some facets of his defense behind the plate, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t add to it. That said, I want to voice praise over many things Gary does well. He is one of the best at framing pitches in Major League Baseball. Good framing can get his pitchers more called strikes, even if they are borderline. We all know Gary has a bazooka and throws out a ton of would-be base-stealers. Fans and broadcast crews lamented the amount of mound visits he took in 2017, which helped MLB implement a new rule limiting mound-visits as part of Commissioner Manfred’s plan to improve pace-of-play. In my opinion, all those mound visits tells me Sanchez cares deeply about making sure he and his pitchers stay on the same page.

Does Gary have more work to do to become a well-rounded catcher? Absolutely. But we also have to remember he’s still only 25 years of age, and he still hasn’t reached his prime. The weather will continue to heat up, and I will bet on Gary Sanchez heating up along with it.