If you’re a fan of the game, you’ve probably heard the expression, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”, to describe the Major League Baseball season. With 162 games in the regular season, this may seem true, but I would caution any fan who doesn’t see the value of every single game because at the end of the season, the games in April and May count just as much as those down the stretch in September. Three of last year’s divisions were decided by only 5 games or less, with the Dodgers finishing only 1 game out of first behind the San Francisco Giants. Need further proof? Ask the Toronto Blue Jays who missed the AL Wild Card by 1 game and the Seattle Mariners who missed making the Wild Card by 2 games last season.
It’s hard to believe but the MLB season is already a quarter of the way through. While it may seem early, now is a great time for the division leaders to take a look at the holes in their rosters and identify where they can make upgrades to maintain their leads and find a way to coast into the postseason. The MLB Trade Deadline is almost 2 months away, but what needs teams may have are already taking shape. Let’s take a look at the division leaders and what there needs are as they enter the second quarter of the season. Remember, the teams most likely to send talent to contenders are teams who are out of contention, looking to rebuild, and looking to cut costs by trading talent before they have to pay them.
New York Yankees (4.5 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays)
Trade Needs: Bullpen, Centerfield
The Yankees had been blessed with almost perfect health for much of the season, until running into a couple of pitching injuries recently. The one that will certainly sting the most is the loss of reliever Chad Green who had experience as a starter, long reliever and closer in a pinch. Green will need Tommy John surgery and is out for the year. Also, closer Aroldis Chapman has struggled mightily this season, giving up 10 walks and 13 hits in only 14 innings of work. His velocity is down and his slider hasn’t been working as effectively this year. On the offensive side of the ball, the Yankees offense has been clicking for most of the season with the exception of outfielders Joey Gallo (.627 OPS) and Aaron Hicks (.591 OPS). Gallo brings a solid glove in left field so I don’t anticipate him moving (although he may make a move to CF if the Yankees can obtain another LF), but Hicks may be a prime candidate to move if there isn’t improvement and soon.
Trade Targets: Corey Knebel RHP, Phillies – Cole Sulser, RHP, Marlins – Brian Reynolds OF, Pirates – (Quick note – Michael Brantley of the Astros would be a fantastic addition to the Yankees however the two teams making a deal with each other is about as likely as the Yankees making a move for me – it’s not happening folks.)
Minnesota Twins (4.5 games ahead of the Chicago White Sox)
Trade Needs: First Base
The Twins are a very interesting team to watch this year. They are one of those teams that don’t have many glaring needs, yet aren’t fantastic at one specific thing. They are just above the league averages in both offensive and pitching metrics and have a really nice blend of youth and veterans. One area they can improve? I’d look at first base. Luis Arraez has done an admirable job filling in for Miguel Sano who is on the injured list, however first base is a position that typically requires more power. There are plenty of candidates that can be had on the cheap, even for a notoriously frugal team like the Twins. They’ll need to be more aggressive than usual to fight off the Chicago White Sox who have not played to their potential this year.
Trade Targets: Josh Bell 1B, Nationals – Rhys Hoskins 1B, Phillies
Houston Astros (1.0 games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels)
Trade Needs: First Base, Offensive Depth
The Houston Astros lost Carlos Correa in the offseason and still haven’t missed a beat this year. The offense hasn’t missed a beat with Correa replacement Jeremy Pena putting up fantastic numbers thus far and the starting pitching looking solid behind rejuvenated 39 year-old Justin Verlander. When healthy the Astros are a team that looks capable of making it back to the World Series, however they are not very deep and 38 year-old first basemen Yuli Gurriel is starting to show signs of slowing down.
Trade Targets: C.J. Cron 1B, Rockies – Ty France 1B/2B/3B, Mariners
New York Mets (8.0 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies)
Trade Needs: Bullpen, 3rd Base
The New York Mets are without starters Max Scherzer and Jacob Degrom and are still maintaining a sizeable lead over their division opponents this year, the largest division lead in all of baseball. It may be tempting to trade for additional starting pitching with both starters out until July, but I would look long term. The Mets weakness the past couple of years has been getting the game to electrifying closer Edwin Diaz. The bullpen depth is not there this season and in order to have playoff success, you’ll need a deep bullpen you can rely on for critical outs. Also, the Mets should consider looking at an upgrade over current third basemen, journeyman Eduardo Escobar.
Dany Jimenez RHP, Athletics – Keegan Akin LHP, Orioles – Brandon Drury 2B/3B/OF – Reds
Milwaukee Brewers (2.0 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals)
Trade Needs: Outfield
The Brewers play in a division with the St. Louis Cardinals so there will be litter margin for error as the season marches forward. Their pitching staff has been fantastic thus far and you can even make the argument that starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta have been unlucky despite the Brewers success. The bullpen is in good shape and on the offensive side of the ball former MVP Christian Yelich looks healthy for the first time in a while as he makes his way back from various injuries the past couple of years. If this were 2013, an outfield with Lorenzo Cain and Andrew McCutchen would be a force to be reckoned with, but alas, time stands still for no one and it’s time the Brewers make a big splash to make some upgrades.
Austin Hays OF, Orioles – Andrew Benintendi OF, Royals
Los Angeles Dodgers (0.5 games ahead of the San Diego Padres)
Trade Needs: 3rd Base. Offensive Depth
If you look on paper, the Dodgers may be the most complete team in all of MLB. Offensively they lead the majors in scoring and OPS, and pitching wise they lead the majors in ERA and WHIP. And yet despite how fantastic they have played thus far, they maintain only a ½ game lead over the San Diego Padres who have been playing fantastic baseball without star Fernando Tatis Jr. In other words much like the Brewers above, the Dodgers can expect to be in a dog fight all season. Third basemen Max Muncy is only 31 years old and has produced in the past, however his start this year is very concerning. I do think he can turn it around, but I expect the Dodgers to be monitoring the situation very closely in the coming weeks.
Rafael Devers 3B, Red Sox – Ke’Bryan Hayes 3B, Pirates
Photo of Mookie Betts, Mark J. Terrill, AP