Which teams most need to make a move by Wednesday afternoon?
It was a light schedule of games on Monday, although the Nationals did have a big win over the Braves, with Anthony Rendon’s grand slam in the sixth inning off Chad Sobotka breaking a 2-2 tie. The Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette delivered the first hit of his career in his first game. We had two other grand slams — from the Reds’ Jose Iglesias and the Pirates’ Colin Moran — to give us nine grand slams over the past three days. The Mets traded Jason Vargas to the Phillies, and Jon Gray delivered a gem to beat the Dodgers at Coors Field.
Here’s Bichette’s hit, in his first at-bat:
All the talk, however, continues to center around Wednesday’s 4 p.m. ET trade deadline. With that in mind, here are the six teams I would suggest are under the most pressure to make a significant deadline deal:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are on their way to a seventh straight National League West title and so far have two losses in the division series, two losses in the championship series and two losses in the World Series to show for it. This might be their best team yet, and another trip to the World Series won’t be enough to placate a hungry fan base. The Dodgers have not won the final game of the postseason since 1988 — 12 playoff trips ago.
As good as they are, their main vulnerability is the same as it was in October: the late-game bullpen, and that’s not even factoring in Kenley Jansen’s issues over the past two World Series (three blown saves and a loss). When the Cubs were in this position in 2016, they overpaid to get Aroldis Chapman, giving up prized prospect Gleyber Torres. Will the Dodgers be willing to make a similar deal for a reliever like Felipe Vazquez of the Pirates? Vazquez is the most dominant reliever potentially available and is signed through 2023, so he’ll cost a bounty in prospects.
Will the Dodgers do it? They’ll do something. In recent years, they’ve added Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Brian Dozier at the deadline, but they didn’t really have to part with any of their very best prospects in any of those deals. Vazquez, with his contract and years of control, will cost more than those three players did. The Dodgers should be willing to pay.
2. New York Yankees
It has been 10 years since the Yankees have played in the World Series. They’re running away with the American League East at the moment, and they haven’t won the division since 2012, which seems almost impossible given all their financial resources. Their current winning percentage of .638 would be their best since 2002. All that would be nice: a division title, 100-something wins, a dream season despite all the injuries.
But it won’t be enough. The pressure is on Brian Cashman to deliver a championship. As Sam Miller pointed out in his Monday column, the teams with a clear lead in their division race usually make the biggest deals at the deadline. I would expect the Yankees to do likewise — making a strong team even better. With Marcus Stroman now with the Mets and the uncertainty about the trade status of Madison Bumgarner, Trevor Bauer and Noah Syndergaard (not that the Mets would trade him to the Yankees), that might not necessarily be a starting pitcher. Cashman could add a reliever or two and build a super bullpen for the postseason.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
Coming off last year’s NLCS trip, the Brewers put all their chips on the table for 2019, running up the largest payroll in franchise history. They’ve managed to hang in the NL Central race even though they’re seventh in the NL in runs per game and 13th in runs allowed per game. So there’s plenty of room for improvement — and Jordan Lyles, acquired Monday from Pittsburgh, is hardly a solution to their pitching problems.
The pressure on David Stearns is that the window for the Brewers might close suddenly after this season. This isn’t a young team — the lineup actually is the second oldest in the NL, behind the Giants, based on Baseball-Reference’s weighted playing time. Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal both have mutual options for 2020, so they could opt out of their contracts and elect free agency after the season. Keston Hiura looks like a great addition alongside Christian Yelich, but the farm system is rated as one of the worst in the majors. It could be now-or-never for the Brewers.
4. Atlanta Braves
The Braves are a good team, but as that Rendon grand slam showcased, the bullpen is still in need of an addition or two:
The Braves are in a better long-term position than the Brewers with their young core of hitters and strong farm system, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be willing to improve their chances to win in 2019. The Dodgers aren’t invincible.
Plus, while Mike Soroka has had a terrific rookie season, the rest of the young starters have delivered mixed results: Max Fried started out hot and has slowed down; Sean Newcomb is now in the bullpen; Touki Toussaint has been up and down; Kyle Wright has struggled in his few major league starts and been merely OK in Triple-A. In other words, you don’t know what the future will hold. If you have a chance to win, try to improve your chances. If Bumgarner can be had, the Braves have the prospects to deal for him and Giants closer Will Smith in a package deal.
5. Washington Nationals
I have the Nats high up on the list for two reasons: (1) With Monday’s win, they’ve cut their deficit in the NL East to just 4½ games behind the Braves; (2) They have a glaringly obvious hole to fix in the bullpen. The Braves can be caught — assuming Max Scherzer’s upper back strain that forced him to the IL doesn’t become a long-term thing — but it’s hard to envision this team going deep in the playoffs with its present bullpen, even with a healthy Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg headlining a rotation that has dominated of late.
The added pressure on Mike Rizzo and Dave Martinez is that they missed the playoffs last season. The Nationals, of course, have made the playoffs four times since 2012 and lost all four times in the division series. Rizzo signed an extension that runs through 2020 and Martinez’s contract also runs through 2020 (with a 2021 club option), but a second straight non-playoff season would likely put the jobs of both in jeopardy.
6. Cleveland Indians
Speaking of windows, the Indians are trying to balance the difficult task of a small-market franchise (that also draws poorly) trying to win now while also keeping an extended window of contention going. They’ve won three straight division titles and are just two games behind the Twins. It helps that the other three teams in the AL Central remain in poor shape – not just for 2019, but probably for 2020 as well. Still, if Bauer isn’t traded now, he’ll be traded in the offseason and Francisco Lindor is under team control only through 2021, so he becomes trade fodder down the road as well.
That means this could be their best chance to break their World Series drought — that’s since 1948 — and final chance with this group of players that broke through in 2016. I’d keep Bauer and look to add a bat or two — maybe Domingo Santana from the Mariners or Yasiel Puig from the Reds.
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