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!
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.
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.
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.