Reds pitcher Luis Castillo; photo via Erik Drost
It’s go time. This is where the World Series is won or lost. To add or not add? The question every playoff hopeful front office is asking itself. Who is selling, and who is buying? We are at the point of the season where one bad series can flip the answer to that question, shout out to Boston. The Blue Jays beat them so badly that they have no other option but to sell. Below are potential moves addressing every AL contender’s biggest needs. The guys might not work out exactly as I see fit but know that each trade represents a struggling position group of each team.
New York Yankees
At the time of writing this, the Yankees just traded for Andrew Benintendi. I had them slotted for a left-handed hitting outfielder but thought they would get Bryan Reynolds. Well, I guess I was on the right track but slightly off. Although the Yankees OF has produced the highest fWAR this season, it had flaws, specifically in Joey Gallo and Aaron Hicks. Getting Benintendi is a great step in addressing the void those two make. Benintendi is a great fit because he is familiar with the ballpark and most of the AL East pitchers because of his time with the Boston Red Sox.
Benintendi brings gold-glove-level defense and a very competent bat behind the plate. He is having a career in terms of his batting average and OPS +. As of 7/27, he is batting .321 and rocking an OPS + of 124.
In addition to Benintendi, the Yankees need to add arms. Losing Michael King is devastating, so they need another high-end reliever. I predict them going after Gregory Soto, the Detroit Tigers closer. Soto has had an excellent year on a pitiful Tigers team. That sounds harsh, but I picked the Tigers as my sleeper team. That hasn’t panned out clearly, so it is a little personal. Soto is a young southpaw who would benefit from being in the Yankees pitcher development system, especially considering he has Aroldis Chapman to mentor him. Soto has a 2.43 ERA over 35 outings this season. His Baseball Savant page is a little like the Fourth of July (red, white, and blue), but there is a serious upside. He is in the 80th percentile for fastball spin, which makes his heater more difficult to hit. He could be the next great Yankee project, following Clay Holmes.
Also rumored, the Yankees are in on some of the big-name starting pitchers. I do not see why, considering that their rotation has the second highest fWAR generated in the MLB. If they are to pull the trigger and get a guy, it seems like Luis Castillo will be the trade target. Trade talks between the Reds and Yankees have been going on since pre-season regarding the ace. Unlike his losing record suggests, Castillo has had a great year, posting a 2.77 ERA and a 1.077 WHIP. This year, he is doing a great job of avoiding barrels and has an 85th percentile barrel percentage to back it up. He will benefit from having a better team around him and could handle the usually difficult transition to Yankee Stadium well, as Great American Ballpark is very hitter-friendly like Yankee Stadium.
Tampa Bay Rays
Unlike the past few years, the Rays have not been crushing home runs at their normal pace. The team has a big hole when it comes to power hitting. Not having all-star catcher Mike Zunino has been difficult for the team. Last year, he posted a 136 OPS +, which offered them an important offensive piece at the bottom of their batting order. This enabled them to turn over the lineup more smoothly and plate more runs. This year, their catchers, 1st basemen, and outfielders have all been only league average when it comes to their value generated. Considering they have Ji-man Choi and Isaac Paredes splitting time at first, I think it is unlikely that they will trade for an additional option at 1B. That leaves the Rays with adding power at the catcher position, which opens the door for a deal to acquire Sean Murphy of the Oakland Athletics. Murphy is an above-average defender who already has a gold glove to his name. He also offers some pop as a catcher. Why would Oakland part with such a talented backstop? Easy answer – they have catchers Shea Langeliers and Tyler Soderstrom as their top 2 prospects. Tampa has the farm system to afford such a trade.
In addition to a catcher, the Rays could add a right fielder to help fortify the lineup. I would like to see Bryan Reynolds moved and think the Rays would benefit from adding him. Plus, considering the trade history between the Pirates and Rays, I think the Rays could potentially steal him from them as they did with the Chris Archer trade. If you don’t know about the Archer trade, I’ll give you a quick summary: the Rays took some of the Pirates best prospects, and 2 of them are still MLB starters for the Rays (Glasnow and Baz). And they only gave up Chris Archer.
Toronto Blue Jays
It is no secret that the Toronto Blue Jays are a dangerous team, but they have a fairly large flaw: their bullpen. It ranks 13th in terms of innings pitched in MLB, yet it ranks 24th in fWAR generated. That means it sucks. To be fair, baseball is hard, but those aren’t the ranks one looks for when building a World Series contender. The Jays have struggled mightily when assembling their pen. They have a few stud relievers, but beyond Cimber, Garcia, and Romano their pen is not deep. They need at least one, if not two, arms at the deadline.
The front office should consider going after Daniel Bard, the Rockies closer. He has been a certified “shut-the-door-in-your-face” closer. He currently sports a 1.91 ERA with a 245 ERA +. That is nuts. To complement Bard, the Jays could add Anthony Bass to serve as a middle reliever, since that is how the Marlins have deployed him this year. For reference, he has a 1.48 ERA over 42.2 innings pitched with a 0.938 WHIP. Still not sold? It’s okay, batters against him are averaging a .233 wOBA, which ranks in the top 4% of pitchers. His Baseball Savant is as red as the Miami Sugar Kings jerseys. The two would be excellent additions for the already loaded Blue Jays.
Before I get into the Twins, I would like to be on record and say that I do not think the Twins are anything special. They are the division leader in the weakest division in baseball, and that is why they get a playoff spot. I am ready for that take to come back to bite me in the postseason, but I doubt that will be the case. Now onto addressing their needs: pitching. Their starting staff ranks 13th in the MLB in terms of fWAR, which isn’t bad but means they are in the bottom half of playoff rotations. Their relievers rank 29th with a 0.1 fWAR, which makes Toronto’s pen issues look like a cakewalk. What Minnesota needs is volume arms to line up Jhoan Duran for the save. The Twins should make multiple calls and go for at least two relievers.
I’ll start with David Robertson, who is quite the seasoned vet. He has been in the MLB since 2008 and has pitched in a number of big games. This season, he has been a middle reliever and also served as the Cubs closer. He is converting saves at a 73.7% clip, which is okay. Robertson’s Savant page is quite interesting. He has two blues on it signifying poor percentile rankings, and they’re in surprising categories: walk and chase rate. Despite having issues with his walk rate and not convincing guys to chase pitches out of the zone, Robertson is having a great year. He has a 1.83 ERA, and his 31.4% strikeout rate ranks in the top 10% of the league. Surprisingly, he also ranks in the top 4% in opposing hitters’ wOBA.
Another potential addition is Matt Moore of the Rangers. I am not sure if the Rangers will be sellers, but if they are, watch for them to move Moore. He is an established veteran who debuted in 2011 and is having one of his best years to date. Like Robertson, his Baseball Savant page has a lot of red, but he has an issue walking guys, issuing free passes at a 12.5% clip. Despite the walks, he is top 2% in the league in xSLG against him, sitting at an insane .256. Still not convinced? Batters have posted a .249 wOBA when batting against him, so they are obviously not seeing the ball off him well.
The Houston Astros are the most complete and best team in the MLB. They do not have many issues. Somehow, they do not have a single left-handed reliever in their pen because their pitchers can handle pitching to righties and lefties. Then, there is Martin MACHETE Maldonado. He is a phenomenal pitch caller and handles the Astros pitching staff like no one else. However, despite his perceived defensive prowess, Fangraphs has him ranked 27th in MLB based on dWAR and 23rd when it comes to pitch framing. I am at a loss for who they could make a move for. I thought maybe go for Christian Vazquez of the Red Sox, but he is not that much of an upgrade and wouldn’t justify the resources expended in trading for him. This year’s catching market is rather poor. The Athletics won’t give them Sean Murphy since they are in the same division. I could see them trading for Gabriel Moreno of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays have a pipeline of talented catchers and would benefit from trading for one of Houston’s pitchers. Moreno is currently in AAA Buffalo, where he has posted a .317 batting average, .379 OBP, and a .360 woba. He was recently called up, and in 18 games at the MLB level, he has hit .276 with a .314 batting average on balls put in play. It is a little risky, but I think it could work out well.
Now give me the lefty. Oh wait, the Astros do not have one in the pen. They only have Framber Valdez as a lefty on their pitching depth chart. So they should probably address that. Enter ‘Big Country’ Andrew Chafin of the Tigers. The Tigers rebuild seems to have failed, so they are prepared to start another fire sale. Chafin has one year left on his deal with a player option at the end of the year, so he is pretty much a mercenary or rental. He has posted a 2.53 ERA over 32 innings pitched this year, and I don’t think it would take much for the Astros to get him from the Tigers. He will fit into their pen perfectly and serve as a left-handed set-up man for closer Ryan Pressly.
This young Seattle team has been fun to watch and is on the cusp of being a real contender against the Astros. I am not saying they will overtake them, but I do think they can hang with them and trade punches in a potential postseason bout. The Mariners have struggled to generate runs from the DH position, so they went out and traded for veteran slugger Carlos Santana, who unfortunately has yet to adjust to hitting in Safeco Field. Despite hitting .184 since coming over, he has a .308 on-base percentage. Keep an eye out for him to bring up his batting average over the tail end of the season.
In addition to going after a bat, they need another starting pitcher. This may be a tad radical, but they need to get Merrill Kelly of the Arizona Diamondbacks. They have a deep farm system to draw on to make a trade. If they get Kelly, he would be under team control until 2025, and he would be a crucial piece in this postseason window they have created for themselves. Kelly has a 3.04 ERA over 118.1 innings pitched this year, which is good for a young arm. He showed flashes of his upside earlier in the season when he was leading the majors in ERA. He has come back to Earth since then but is still a great option for a team in need of a pitcher. Additionally, he would spend every day in the same room as a Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray, which cannot hurt his development.
To further fortify their bullpen, they should consider making a call to White Sox to see about reuniting with Kendall Graveman. Graveman has three years of team control left on his deal. He has demonstrated that he can pitch in Safeco, as he did well last year before being traded. This year, he has continued to impress since his breakout campaign in 2021, pitching to a tune of a 2.89 ERA with a 139 ERA +.
Time to sit back and watch our phones looking for Passan bombs. Many of us will get our hearts broken (probably me) when our teams trade our one competent player. For some, this will be like getting gifts on Christmas. I thought it was going to be like Christmas last year, and then the Cubs traded 11 players in a span of 24 hours. The 72-hour period leading up to the trade deadline is one of my favorite times of the year as a baseball fan. Happy hunting! I hope your team is a buyer and not a seller. Most importantly, let the chaos begin.