The non-waiver Trade Deadline is fast-approaching, and executives for contending clubs are weighing how aggressive they ought to be in shoring up their rosters between now and Aug. 1. Quite often, late-breaking developments compel action, and we've had quite a few of those developments this month.
It's time, then, for a trade-related installment The Freak-Out Factor™, a 1-10 scale, with 1 being relative calm and 10 being a five-alarm fire worthy of a Deadline binge.
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw's continued back issues
Freak-Out Factor: 9, or one for every walk Kershaw's issued in 121 innings this season
Hey, it's Kershaw we're talking about here. He was a legitimate National League MVP Award candidate before he got hurt, and you could make a convincing argument that he held more value to his club than any individual player on any contender. So the news this week that Kershaw's back did not respond well to a simulated start and that back surgery is, as manager Dave Roberts put it, "a possibility" is an upsetting situation for a Dodgers team that has not exactly led the league in injury luck this year.
The only reason I'm not putting this at a full-bore 10 out of 10 is because the division-rival Giants have scuffled lately (and more on them in a second) and because the Dodgers are about as well equipped, in prospects and finances, to make impact deals at the Trade Deadline as anybody.
But yeah, the thought of not seeing Kershaw on the Dodger Stadium mound again this year? Pretty freak-out worthy.
Indians: Shoulder issues for Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes
Freak-Out Factor: 5, which doubles as the number of runs scored by Brantley this season
Hard to know how to rate this one, so we'll just go straight down the middle with it.
The news in November that Brantley needed surgery on his non-throwing right shoulder was unsettling. At that time, it would have been darn near impossible to imagine that the Indians would have him in their lineup just 11 times by July 22, and yet not only lead the American League Central comfortably but be one of only two AL clubs averaging more than five runs per game. The very low-profile addition of Rajai Davis, the emergence of AL Rookie of the Year Award candidate Tyler Naquin, a more consistent season from Lonnie Chisenhall and a breakout from utilityman Jose Ramirez have made the Brantley hit far less impactful than imagined. Gomes, really, was a non-factor offensively all year, and if defense is the primary concern, the Tribe can feel reasonably comfortable with Roberto Pérez and Chris Gimenez behind the dish.
Having said all that, you'd still feel better about Cleveland's chances of ascending through October if Brantley's steady bat were back in the mix or the lineup was lengthened some other way. Right now, Brantley's return is questionable, at best, so it will be interesting to see whether the Indians, who are already on the hunt for relief help, find a way to land Jonathan Lucroy or an outfielder.
Giants: 0-5 since the All-Star break
Freak-Out Factor: 7, or one for every week Hunter Pence has been out
It's pretty clear that maintaining that even-year magic we're accustomed to seeing in October is going to require the usual even-year magic on the in-season transaction wire (Cody Ross and Javier López in 2010, Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence in '12, Jake Peavy in '14), because the Giants have some issues in the back end of their bullpen. They also have some troublesome lineup spots, with Pence having aggravated his right hamstring injury on rehab assignment earlier this week and Matt Duffy still working his way back from a left Achilles issue.
Also of note: Beginning July 28, the Giants will have a stretch in which 23 of 26 games will come against contending clubs (Cubs, Nats, Marlins, Orioles, Pirates, Mets and Dodgers). Big test ahead.
Mets: Rotation injury scares aplenty
Freak-Out Factor: 9, for the difference between Matt Harvey's 2016 win total (4) and his 2015 win total (13)
Never would have thought, going into the year, that we'd see the Mets with a potential need to add a starting arm at the Trade Deadline, but here we are. The Mets get bumped up a notch on the Freak-Out scale as a nod to Sandy Alderson's "Panic City" remark last summer. Panic City is alive again given the thoracic outlet syndrome surgery that landed Harvey on the shelf, the delayed return of Zack Wheeler, the bone spur that has impacted Steven Matz's pitch selection and the fact that Noah Syndergaard has had three instances this season in which he's dealt with some sort of arm issue.
Can the Mets overcome all this and still make a run at the Nationals? Absolutely they can, and Syndergaard eased some concerns on Tuesday by not allowing an earned run over 5 2/3 innings against the Cubs.
But the injury issues in the starting group and the offense's issues with runners in scoring position have erased the margin for error.
Orioles: 7-9 in July, AL East lead withered
Freak-Out Factor: 9.8, which doubles as the number of hits allowed per nine innings by O's starters
The Orioles, for my money, owned the most tenuous of the six division leads at the All-Star break, and not just because the two-game edge edge was also the smallest (though that didn't help). It's just hard to imagine a club holding on when it has a 5.69 ERA from its Nos. 2-5 starters, and, sure enough, what was a five-game edge going into this month evaporated.
Baltimore has an ample enough offense (five guys with north of 15 homers) and one of the best bullpens in the game (especially once Darren O'Day comes back), so I don't mean to go the fear-mongering route with that mark above. But until or unless Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman -- the two most significant sources of upside in this group -- prove they can move the needle consistently and/or the O's acquire another arm via trade (something that will be difficult to do with a somewhat thin farm system), this is where we're at, in my estimation.
Cubs: 10-16 going back to June 20
Freak-Out Factor: 3, for the number of guys expected to join them this weekend (Dexter Fowler, Joe Nathan and Mike Montgomery)
The Cubs were never going to break any modern-day record records, OK? The season has a way of evening things out, and while Chicago's absurd start to the season wasn't built on smoke and mirrors, it was built on some unbelievably strong (and healthy) starting pitching and an offense that didn't even seem to notice Kyle Schwarber was missing. The Cubs had so many blowout wins early on that it was easy to overlook the need to upgrade the bullpen -- until it wasn't.
Inevitable regression did arrive, and losing Fowler for a month was a particularly major blow to the top of the order (the Cubs' relative slide coincided directly with his trip to the disabled list).
The odds, though, are still overwhelmingly in favor of the Cubs winning the NL Central. The swap for Montgomery helped address the need for lefty relief, Fowler is coming back and we'll see what Nathan has left in the tank. The only reason I'm giving the Cubs a 3 instead of a 1 or 2 on the Freak-Out scale is because it's prudent to maintain a healthy amount of trepidation when dealing with the team that kicked Billy Sianis and his billy goat out of Wrigley. But a 3 is really not high enough to warrant moving Schwarber in a swap.
Rangers: 4-12 in July, AL West tightening
Freak-Out Factor: 8.5, or what the division lead was at the start of July
The Astros have seriously hit their stride in the past couple months, and their surge coincided conveniently (and, for Rangers fans, frustratingly) with the injury hits that ravaged what had been a surprisingly strong rotation, sans Yu Darvish. Darvish is back now, so that's a big boost -- potentially bigger than any Deadline acquisition. You've also got to love Texas' depth in trade chips -- including, notably, Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo -- that'll aid its ability to patch up its pitching staff.
But the Rangers get a high rating here because they do, indeed, need those patches. And the offense is an issue, as well. Prince Fielder is hurt, and so is Shin-Soo Choo (again). Texas has dropped 14 of 18 and been outscored 132-76 in that span. And though the Rangers have dominated the Astros (9-1, head-to-head) so far, they've still got nine games left each other, in August and September. Those games will determine how the (AL) West was won.