In-season fixes for 5 preseason AL hopefuls
The Indians, A's, White Sox, Mariners and Red Sox all entered the season with high hopes, but we're almost halfway through the season and all five of those American League clubs reside below .500. The good news is that all is not lost, and there is a chance they can get back in the race.
I've ranked those five teams based on their likelihood of making a postseason run, and I've broken down what needs to happen for them to jump-start their seasons.
1. Cleveland Indians
The Indians are best positioned among this group, with a rotation that leads the Majors with 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Simply put, Cleveland's staff has the potential to dominate opponents throughout the second half of 2015.
The problem: The Indians have struggled to hit with runners in scoring position (27th in MLB with a .222 average in such situations) and rank 28th in defensive efficiency ratio.
The solution: The promotion of Francisco Lindor should solve some offensive and defensive woes, but Cleveland's collective .620 OPS from its third basemen is a dilemma that needs to be addressed. Aramis Ramirez -- who is set to retire following the season -- is a logical trade target as he toils for the rebuilding Brewers. He has struggled a bit this year but could benefit from a move to a competitive environment.
2. Oakland A's
The A's have the second-best run differential in their division (plus-43) and sit tied for the AL lead with 43 quality starts. In other words, they are much better than their 33-41 record indicates.
The problem: Sean Doolittle's shoulder woes have derailed the bullpen, which has posted an MLB-worst 4.63 ERA.
The solution: There is too much risk in investing heavily in a "name closer," so general manager Billy Beane should target a buy-low arm with a track record of success, just as he did with Edward Mujica in May.
Joaquin Benoit could be a pitcher of interest to Oakland. He was relegated to a setup role when San Diego acquired Craig Kimbrel, and the struggling Padres might be willing to flip Benoit for a prospect who could help in the next couple of years. And we know Beane is always willing to be creative when it comes to making trades.
3. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners entered 2015 with a lot of hype, and some reason for optimism still exists. With a rotation led by Felix Hernandez, the club has the arms to stay in virtually any game.
The problem: Several factors have landed the Mariners in their current hole -- they're 33-40 and in fourth place in the AL West -- but the biggest problem has come down to offense. And for those following, much of the blame has been pinned on Robinson Cano, the club's highest-paid player.
The solution: Realistically, Seattle needs Cano to improve at the plate. The Mariners would be in much better shape if the second baseman found a way to hit as he did last year. Cano has been striking out at a career-high clip without offsetting the extra swings and misses with power. In fact, his season-to-date HR/FB rate is sitting in a career-low spot by a wide margin.
If the offense doesn't improve, Seattle's best hope is trying to add an impact reliever and trying to win a lot of low-scoring games behind that rotation. Francisco Rodriguez, who has a 1.00 ERA while closing for Milwaukee, could be that guy.
4. Boston Red Sox
Why are the Red Sox buried in the cellar of the AL East? Many critics have pointed to the club's pitching woes. And though a true ace certainly would help, this club was not constructed to win games by a 2-1 margin.
The problem: The Sox retooled their roster around big bats, with designs to bludgeon their competition on a nightly basis. But to date, the offense ranks near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories.
Despite strong plate discipline, the club has underperformed offensively at multiple positions, including first base, third base and both corner-outfield spots.
The solution: I would suggest that Boston deal first baseman Mike Napoli for another bullpen arm and shift left fielder Hanley Ramirez to first. Doing so would open up left field for another player, possibly the high-ceiling Rusney Castillo or the defensively gifted Jackie Bradley Jr.
Boston's deep and talented lineup could start to click at some point, but a move to boost next year's squad should not be ruled out.
5. Chicago White Sox
Trades and free-agent signings can only do so much for a franchise in need of a drastic turnaround, and the 2015 White Sox -- who have the worst run differential in the AL -- are evidence of that lesson.
The problem: The club's biggest struggle has come on the offensive side. At this time, the White Sox rank last in the AL in almost every offensive category, with the lack of production coming from all corners of the field. Both middle-infield spots and the outfield slots have arguably been the biggest culprits to date.
The defense has not done much to mitigate these problems, ranking among the worst on that side of the ball as well.
The solution: Chicago's rotation has dominant potential, a fact that could help the club inch back into contention. But despite their tremendous talent, the White Sox will need to experience an across-the-board offensive improvement to make real noise in the AL Central.
A general manager can potentially fix one, maybe two holes during the season. But when underperformance is so prevalent, he simply has to ride it out and hope his players can rebound and reach their full potential.