The 1 trade every contender needs to make

July 7th, 2021

The Trade Deadline is three weeks from Friday, and while a handful of teams figure to be sellers during the coming weeks, more than two-thirds of the league is still within striking distance of a postseason berth.

What moves would help those teams make a run with an eye toward October? Some of the teams below might ultimately wind up selling off pieces by the end of the month, but as of Tuesday, each of these 21 clubs took the field within 7 1/2 games of a postseason spot.

Some teams have more than one hole to fill, but here’s a look at the most glaring need for each team as executives look to bolster their rosters for the second half.

AL East

Red Sox: First baseman
Boston’s .663 OPS at first base ranks 12th in the AL, though Bobby Dalbec has 10 home runs in 226 at-bats. The Red Sox lineup is predominantly right-handed -- Rafael Devers and Alex Verdugo are the only everyday lefties, while Marwin Gonzalez is a switch-hitter -- so adding a left-handed bat would be preferable.
Potential fit: , Rockies

Rays: Starting pitcher
It’s unclear when -- or if -- the Rays will get injured ace Tyler Glasnow back. (He’s optimistic he’ll return before the postseason, but it’s still too early to say.) In his absence, Tampa Bay hasn’t been able to replace his top-of-the-rotation production; entering Wednesday, the Rays only have two starters with an ERA+ better than league average: 41-year-old Rich Hill and soft-contact specialist Josh Fleming. Perhaps rookies Shane McClanahan or Luis Patiño will step forward to fill the void, or prospect Shane Baz or veteran Chris Archer will provide a late-season boost, but adding a frontline starter would help the Rays in their effort to overtake the Red Sox.
Potential fit: , Rangers

Blue Jays: Relief pitcher
Toronto’s acquisition of Adam Cimber was a start, but the Blue Jays -- who also acquired Trevor Richards from the Brewers Tuesday in a deal for Rowdy Tellez -- are in need of more relief help for the second half. The Jays have dealt with their share of injuries this season (then again, who hasn’t?), but in an ultra-competitive AL East, Toronto will need to bring in a relief arm or two (not to mention at least one starter) to take aim at the division title.
Potential fit: , Pirates

Yankees: Starting pitcher
The Yankees’ roster doesn’t have many holes, though underperformance by players such as Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu and Clint Frazier gives off a different impression. If those players can bounce back in the second half, the most glaring need is a starting pitcher to slot in behind Gerrit Cole and Corey Kluber, assuming the latter can return from the injured list and regain his early-season form.
Potential fit: , Pirates

AL Central

White Sox: Second baseman
The biggest second-half acquisitions for the White Sox would be the return of Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert, but Nick Madrigal’s season-ending injury left a gaping hole at second base that Chicago will likely address before the Trade Deadline. Given Madrigal’s age and control, a rental second baseman would be the logical move for the White Sox, who will also be in the market for bullpen help like nearly every other contender.
Potential fit: Pirates

Indians: Outfielder
Eddie Rosario’s abdominal injury was a big blow to the Cleveland lineup, taking away one of the club’s more productive hitters. The Indians’ outfield has a collective .713 OPS (10th in the AL), making a solid outfield bat a must-add for the second half. Cleveland could also use some starting pitching depth, even with Zach Plesac set to rejoin the rotation from the injured list.
Potential fit: , D-Backs

AL West

Astros: Relief pitcher
Houston could get some relievers back from the injured list in the coming weeks (Joe Smith, Bryan Abreu, Josh James and perhaps Pedro Báez), but adding a dependable reliever to pair with Ryan Pressly would make Houston a strong favorite in the AL West.
Potential fit: , Twins

Athletics: Relief pitcher
Houston isn’t the only AL West contender in need of bullpen help. Oakland’s relief corps features just two dependable late-inning options (Yusmeiro Petit and Lou Trivino), though Sergio Romo has been better of late. Adding another high-leverage reliever would go a long way for the Athletics, who could also use another power bat such as Nelson Cruz.
Potential fit: , Rockies

Mariners: Outfielder/DH
The surprising Mariners won’t be dealing away any of their prime young assets for short-term fixes, but GM Jerry Dipoto has always been willing to make a deal when the right one presents itself. Seattle could certainly use an arm or two in both the rotation and bullpen, but the lineup needs to be better if the Mariners plan to contend for a postseason spot. Adding an outfielder or a designated hitter on an expiring contract could help the cause without blocking the path for top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez in the long-term.
Potential fit: , Twins

Angels: Starting pitcher
The Angels have survived the absence of Mike Trout to this point, climbing back to the .500 mark as they seek their first postseason appearance since 2014. The rotation’s 5.26 ERA ranks 13th in the AL, so adding a starter (or two) would seem to be the obvious move for GM Perry Minasian if Los Angeles plans to be in the mix down the stretch.
Potential fit: , Royals

NL East

Mets: Starting pitcher
The Mets’ offense has struggled for most of the season, but recent setbacks for both Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard have accentuated the need for New York to add a starter to slot in behind Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker. The Mets have plenty of talent in the lineup; as long as Francisco Lindor can bounce back and Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith can continue their recent production, the offense should correct itself without any major acquisitions.
Potential fit: , Twins

Nationals: Starting pitcher
Max Scherzer continues to do his thing at the age of 36, but the rest of the Washington rotation has been inconsistent all season. There is no timetable for Stephen Strasburg’s return, while Jon Lester looks like his best days are behind him. The NL East is still up for grabs, making the addition of a starter (or two) the clear direction for the Nationals if they want to contend.
Potential fit: , Rockies

Braves: Impact bat
That may sound vague, but the Braves have a couple of options depending on who they can acquire. In a perfect world, a left fielder would be the ideal candidate, but Atlanta could also add a third baseman and move Austin Riley to left field. Either way, the need for an additional offensive weapon is clear cut.
Potential fit: , Rangers

Phillies: Relief pitcher
This feels like an annual thing for the Phillies, who have struggled to put together a solid bullpen for several years. Philadelphia could also use some back-of-the-rotation help, but the Phillies’ 4.78 bullpen ERA ranks 12th in the NL and shows no signs of getting better. Philly’s biggest problem? The team’s farm system ranked 23rd in MLB Pipeline’s preseason rankings, leaving a scarcity of quality prospects from which to deal.
Potential fit: , Rangers

NL Central

Brewers: Third baseman
Luis Urías has held his own at the hot corner, but the Brewers could use an upgrade to bolster their lineup. Having already addressed first base (Rowdy Tellez) and shortstop (Willy Adames), Milwaukee is clearly trying to boost its offense to give its stellar pitching staff some run support.
Potential fit: , D-backs

Reds: Relief pitcher
Following Tuesday's walk-off loss to the Royals, the Reds’ 5.29 bullpen ERA ranked 14th out of 15 NL clubs, making the bullpen the obvious area of weakness in Cincinnati. Seven different relievers have earned at least one save this season, so adding a lockdown ninth-inning option would benefit the Reds, who have a stable of relievers with ERAs north of 5.00.
Potential fit: , Marlins

Cubs: Starting pitcher
The Cubs’ lineup has struggled during the recent slide, but if Chicago is going to add, the rotation should be the top target. The rotation’s 4.58 ERA ranks 13th in the NL thanks to inconsistency from every starter not named Kyle Hendricks. Of course, the lengthy losing streak has dampened most hopes that the Cubs -- who traded Yu Darvish this offseason -- will become big buyers in the coming weeks.
Potential fit: , Tigers

Cardinals: Relief pitcher
The return of Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas from the injured list should remove the need to add a starter, but the Cardinals’ bullpen could certainly use some help. St. Louis will likely try to add another relief arm that manager Mike Shildt can trust in the late innings to go with Giovanny Gallegos, Alex Reyes and Génesis Cabrera.
Potential fit: , Mariners

NL West

Giants: Starting pitcher
Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani have been a solid 1-2 punch for the Giants, but the back end of the rotation has been impacted by injuries. Adding some rotation depth should be at the front of San Francisco’s list, as the Giants’ roster doesn’t have many other holes that need to be addressed.
Potential fit: Danny Duffy, Royals

Dodgers: Starting pitcher
The Dodgers were already in need of a starter before Trevor Bauer was placed on administrative leave, making it possible that Los Angeles will need to add two arms to the rotation this month. Julio Urías has already set a career high with 99 1/3 innings pitched, while Tony Gonsolin missed two months with a shoulder injury. Top pitching prospect Josiah Gray also missed two months, and there are questions as to whether he can make an impact in the Majors this season.
Potential fit: , Twins

Padres: Starting pitcher
San Diego could use some bullpen help and an outfield bat, but the rotation is arguably the club’s biggest need given Dinelson Lamet’s health, Blake Snell’s inconsistency and Ryan Weathers’ potential workload limitations (he’s thrown 51 1/3 innings, more than half of his career-high 96 from 2019).
Potential fit: , Twins