And not all needs are created equally.
Every year, trade deadline season rolls around. Some teams buy, some teams sell, you pretty much catch the drift. Yet some teams have more important needs than others. If a team like the Astros, for example, acquires a starter, it necessarily comes at the expense of another team like the Brewers whose playoff odd leverage is exponentially higher.
This is where we start our evaluation. Teams like the Yankees, Astros, and Twins have desires—let’s be clear—but they do not definitely have needs. Needs mean that your team very well could not make the postseason without them, and that is certainly not the case with those teams. We will be look at a few teams’ facets whose fate hangs in the balance on an upgrade, or standing pat.
I wouldn’t go as far to say the Phillies’ bullpen last year was a strength—this was not a playoff team—but it certainly wasn’t their biggest weakness, ranking 13th in fWAR. Now they rank 22nd in ERA- in 2019, just a total disaster from a now-playoff-contender’s perspective. Throw in the fact that they still have playoff odds hovering around one quarter, and not improving will certainly crush them.
What made them OK in 2018 was none other than Seranthony Dominguez, who pitched to a 2.95 ERA as their de facto closer. They then acquired Juan Nicaso in the Jean Segura swap in December, and now it looked like they had an actual one-two punch if Nicaso’s 2.99 FIP could be believed.
Instead, Dominguez suffered an elbow injury early in the season and now he sits in limbo. The team will re-evaluate him this week but in all likelihood this ends in Tommy John, pushing his return all the way back to 2021. Nicasio has pitched to a 5.24 ERA and also finds himself on the IL with a groin strain.
Their only “bright” spot has been Hector Neris, who has recorded 17 saves and a 3.16 ERA in Dominguez’s absence, but he would probably be a seventh-inning man in any elite bullpen. Their next best performer is Adam Morgan, who at least has been consistent with a 95-96 ERA- over the last three seasons.
The Indians surprisingly have surged as of late, winning six straight before the break and leaving their playoff odds at a coin flip. They have had excellent offensive performances from Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor, and Roberto Perez, but their outfield is still as poor as advertised, hitting to an 83 wRC+.
Jordan Luplow has been an above-average hitter to start the year and he could at least be an average contributor, but they could very much use one more outfielder to round out the squad. The only issue is they find themselves kind of stuck—devoid of more payroll space and a likely desire to move one of their best pitchers for a prospect haul, they may find themselves side-stepping to get a less-than-stellar outfielder, where the pickings are slimmer than pitching. If there’s one team to deal with, it could be Seattle if they decide that they want to send Mitch Haniger off into the sunset.
The Brewers find themselves in the most heated division in the playoff race, where the last place team in the Reds find themselves just four and a half games out of first place. The Brew Crew is just a half-game out, and they have enough star player to make another push worth their time—especially considering they came just a game away from the Fall Classic last year.
While Milwaukee has been quite successful in turning Brandon Woodruff into a stud starter, the rest of the rotation are largely scrubs. Jhoulys Chacin has been replacement level, Chase Anderson a shade under average, and Jimmy Nelson has been shifted to the bullpen.
This makes someone like Madison Bumgarner a natural fit—they are a team that prefers short-term rentals to long-term commitments for both prospect and payroll flexibility purposes, and they could use another lefty in a right-hander-dominated staff.
There are more, obviously. The Cubs could always use another reliever, as could the Red Sox or Cardinals. The Yankees could use Marcus Stroman right about now, as could the Twins. But the above teams are essentially behind the ball playoff-odds-wise, looking up at a likely more formidable opponent in the standings. If they don’t make their additions and make them quickly, they’ll be sunk by mid-August.