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Analyzing Five MLB Contenders At the Break

It’s the All-Star break, and you know what that means. The trade deadline is rapidly approaching. Five contenders are already on their way to October baseball, but I analyze holes and grade the chances for each to make a run at a championship. 

Baltimore Orioles

Via atimes.com
Via atimes.com

It’s been QUITE a while since this team was the most complete on paper in the AL East, but it looks that way right now.

The O’s sit in the top five of most batting statistics in the AL, and are decent enough when it comes to pitching and defense. The players on the mound acted as the collective achilles’ heel in past years, but good transaction decisions and prospect development has somewhat solved that issue, at least for the near future.

But right now, this team is TOO average to go anywhere worth celebrating. Its very unlikely that a consecutive ALCS appearance will happen at this point, and tons of contracts will be off the books at the end of this season.

In fact, eight players will hit free agency this fall. Notables include cleanup man Chris Davis, young defensive stalwart Matt Wieters, and a middle-rotation guy in Wei-Yin Chen.

Trading for a big long-term player wouldn’t make sense at this point, even though the bloated contract of JJ Hardy (3 yrs, $40 mil for a .225, .259, and .325 line) would be a blessing to throw out the door.

Unless a move is made for a player that does not require a sizable future commitment, this team is going nowhere.

Minnesota Twins

Via twinsday.com
Via twinsdaily.com

Wow, has this been a surprise…

Even though we all knew it would happen eventually.

The Twins have been sitting on, arguably, the best minor league system in the sport. In the past, some call-ups of highly-touted talent have failed — see Aaron Hicks — and others have worked, in some sense of the word — Trevor Plouffe.

Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano were projected to be the best twin call-ups for Minnesota 2015. Buxton came first, and has disappointed (.189 BA and .299 OBP in 39 AB before landing on the DL). Sano arrived more recently, and has impressed (.378 BA in 37 AB). To be honest, that production doesn’t mean much in that sample size.

Even if they had played all season so far, it wouldn’t matter. Because despite sitting pretty in 2nd place of the AL Central with a 49-40 record, it can only get worse. They are 8th in the AL in pitching, and 7th in hitting. One look at the bullpen and you know that it is going to lose more games in the second half than it did during the first. The rotation only has two ERAs under 4, and who knows if Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter will keep it up on offense.

It looks good for 2018, but right now, October baseball is a reach.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Via kingsofkauffman.com
Via kingsofkauffman.com

You wouldn’t guess it from the outside, but LA isn’t far behind the Twins in the farm system rankings (Twins #1, Dodgers, #3).

The major league team isn’t that bad either. At 51-39, the Dodgers have the second-best record in the NL before play resumes July 17, and it will likely stay that way. They’ve got an unfair 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation with Greinke (.84 WHIP, 1.39 ERA) and Kershaw (2.85 ERA, 1.02 WHIP), a offense that scores in bunches, and a bullpen that has improved leaps and bounds over 2014.

My crystal ball says a Cardinals-Dodgers NLCS is coming, but predictions are wrong a lot more than they are right. The back of the rotation could improve, and that is what could make at least half of that prediction come true.

Another strong starter that won’t bog them down contract-wise would be ideal. Someone like Scott Kazmir would be a rental for the rest of this year in order to get that late series pitching they will need. Kazmir is making $13 mil this year, and an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

That contract would be perfect for the Dodgers. There isn’t much else they need.

Washington Nationals

Via zimbio.com
Via zimbio.com

It’s all about expectations for this team.

For the last two or maybe three years, the Nats have been championship favorites. Despite some veterans with big contracts that cloud the view (*cough* Jayson Werth *cough*), this team is fairly young. They haven’t shown they can get past the NLDS as of yet.

See my article on what they can do to make this their year here. There are a couple trade proposals in there, but I’m going to make one more right now.

The bullpen has slowed down considerably since a better-than-expected start, with three key guys with ERAs in the high 3s and low 4s. A bullpen arm, like the previously owned Tyler Clippard, would make perfect sense.

The Athletics, Clippard’s current team, have what they hope is their long term shortstop in Marcus Semien. Trading the struggling Ian Desmond (.211 BA, .255 OBP) for Clip wouldn’t be very likely. However, the Nats do have assets in a so many places, they can pick and choose pretty deep into the roster for trades.

So there are a lot of possibilities for a Clippard trade, or for a strong setup man like him.

While grabbing a bullpen arm should be priority numero uno, there are other holes. Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Anthony Rendon are all currently injured. That is much of the core roster, and manager Matt Williams has been spreading guys thin across the infield in an effort to cope with a DL filled to the brim.

A utility man with a manageable contract who can play every position across the infield is SORELY needed. Ben Zobrist, Josh Harrison, Mike Aviles, and Martin Prado are just possible names that would help create space from the Mets in the NL East.

Houston Astros

Source: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Source: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Use of the term “Awesomely Unexpected Season” is now exclusively owned by Houston.

They suddenly got so good, the Cardinals tried to hack in to their scouting systems to steal some secrets. You know something is going right when one of the best franchises in baseball will go to those measures for your data.

As with every team on this list, there are holes. The Angels recently vaulted themselves into first place, and the suddenly untouchable Astros are looking for ways to return there.

It’s no secret that a true #1 starter is needed to complete this staff. There are some great young arms already there in Dallas Keuchel (11-4, 2.23 ERA, 27 YO) and Lance McCullers (4-3, 2.52 ERA, 21 YO).

But a Johnny Cueto or Cole Hamels would be a huge lift. Those types of deals are hard to complete, because teams are always reluctant to part with a great starter — they don’t come along often.

Houston’s bullpen is also in need of a guy who can throw some heat. The current arms have been efficient, but they are the softest-throwing bunch in the MLB. The Cardinals are rich in hard-throwing relievers, and I’m sure they know who the Astros will be willing to trade…

There are tons out there available for the right price. Houston is the best value team in baseball, and assets are a’plenty.

An ace and a go-to late inning bullpen arm would allow this team to make a serious run at a championship. But this season is already a success considering the Astros’ recent history of mediocrity.

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MLB News

Grant Thomas View All

18 year old Washington sports fan and Penn State freshman. I'll cover the MLB, NFL, and NBA.

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