Roughly one-quarter of the way through the 2023 regular season, teams have a good sense of where they need to improve.
Some of those improvements will come from within, whether it’s an established player rounding into form or a young player making the most of an opportunity. But others will need to come via the trade market.
The Aug. 1 Trade Deadline may be more than two months away, but a number of teams are likely already looking down the road and starting to make a list of potential trade targets to address their biggest weaknesses.
Here's a position-by-position look at some of the contenders (and would-be contenders) that fall into this category. (All stats below are through Wednesday's games.)
Although he produced just four homers with a .649 OPS over 110 games last season, the Padres opted to stick with Austin Nola as their starting catcher. The 33-year-old has posted a .472 OPS in his first 32 games this season, and his framing and throwing metrics grade out poorly. San Diego also lost young backstop Luis Campusano to a torn ligament in his left thumb. Adding a new catcher in the middle of a season is never easy, given the defensive responsibilities of the position, and the list of trade targets who would provide a noticeable upgrade over Nola isn’t long. Nevertheless, trading for a catcher could be on San Diego’s to-do list this summer, assuming the typically aggressive club gets on track after a disappointing start to the season.
First base: Astros
The Astros surely didn't expect to find themselves in this category so soon after signing José Abreu to a three-year, $58.5 million contract. However, the veteran has slashed just .220/.269/.262 with no home runs over 42 games in a Houston uniform, and no team has gotten a lower OPS from its first basemen than the Astros (.501). With Abreu under contract through 2025, Houston will continue to exercise patience, but if he’s still not hitting by the All-Star break, the club may have no choice but to look for an alternative, even if it’s just a short-term fix for the rest of 2023.
Second base: Blue Jays
The Blue Jays own MLB’s second-lowest OPS at second base (.493) while using a rotating crew of Whit Merrifield, Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio at the position. Espinal and Biggio have combined for three homers and a .453 OPS overall across 141 plate appearances. Playing Merrifield more at second base makes sense, but Toronto has been using him in the outfield on occasion to avoid overexposing Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho against left-handed pitching. Targeting a right-handed platoon outfielder who would allow Merrifield to play second base full time could be an easier solution than trying to trade for a second baseman.
After Trea Turner followed Corey Seager out the door in free agency, the Dodgers planned to give Gavin Lux a chance to establish himself as their new starting shortstop, but Lux suffered a season-ending knee injury during Spring Training. With Miguel Rojas and Chris Taylor combining to handle shortstop duties, the Dodgers have MLB’s fifth-lowest OPS (.623) at the position, and their shortstop defense hasn't been anything special. Unless they have plans to play Mookie Betts at the position more often, which is unlikely, the Dodgers are probably going to be in the market for a shortstop.
Third base: Twins
Jose Miranda took the reins at third base for the Twins after the club traded Gio Urshela to the Angels in the offseason, but Miranda was optioned to Triple-A after hitting .220 with a .593 OPS and recording -5 outs above average on defense over his first 35 games. The Twins are in prime position to make a postseason run thanks in large part to their rotation (as well as their spot in a weak division), but they need to bolster their lineup, starting with the hot corner.
With the Cardinals sitting eight games below .500 and the Pirates starting to fade after a surprising start, the Brewers have a chance to run away with the NL Central, but they need more offensive production from their outfield. The club lost rookie center fielder Garrett Mitchell to season-ending shoulder surgery, and Brian Anderson has had to play more third base than anticipated after Luis Urías strained his left hamstring on Opening Day, leaving the club quite thin out there. Although the Milwaukee outfield defense has been superb, the team has the game's sixth-lowest outfield OPS (.676) -- including an MLB-low .506 OPS in right field.
Designated hitter: Mariners
Seattle hasn’t used a set DH over the past few seasons, preferring instead to rotate a bunch of players at the spot. The Mariners have done that again in 2023, but that plan has yielded a .139 average and .471 OPS -- both MLB lows. AJ Pollock, who signed a one-year, $7 million deal with Seattle in the offseason, has posted a .411 OPS over a team-high 51 PAs at DH, compared to a .911 OPS in 28 PAs as an outfielder. The Mariners also had an unproductive DH situation last season, leading to a trade with the Royals for Carlos Santana (now with the Pirates).
Starting rotation: Orioles
With the expectation that prospect Grayson Rodriguez would soon be ready for the Majors, the O’s didn’t make wholesale changes to their rotation this offseason, adding Kyle Gibson as a free agent and trading for Cole Irvin. Baltimore has managed to go 28-15 despite getting a 4.96 ERA from its starting staff, including a 6.57 ERA from Rodriguez and a 10.66 ERA from Irvin. The Orioles could get John Means back from Tommy John surgery this summer and have prospect DL Hall waiting in the Minors, but it’s likely they’ll need more than that to stick around in what is shaping up to be an intense race for the postseason in the American League.
One of the most surprising teams in baseball this season, the Rangers are 26-17 with a +87 run differential through 43 games, combining an elite offense with a solid rotation. But while Texas’ one-year, $1.5 million deal with veteran closer Will Smith has worked out well, the rest of the club’s bullpen has been lacking, especially since Dane Dunning had to join the starting staff after Jacob deGrom went on the IL. While many contenders will be searching for bullpen help at the Trade Deadline, arguably none needs it more than the Rangers, whose relief corps has the fifth-highest ERA (4.48) and the ninth-highest FIP (4.40) in the Majors.