Ranking each contender's Deadline needs

August 29th, 2020

Low supply, high demand. That’s the nature of Monday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline. Because mathematical contention requires little more than nine guys with a pulse and because of the financial, logistical and roster complications of this strange season, it’s pretty darn difficult to get deals done. 

Oh, but they’ll continue to try. And that’s why we’ve constructed this ranking of needs among contending* clubs, from most pressing to least pressing.

*We’ll define “contending” here as, at minimum, a 25% chance of making the playoffs at midweek, per FanGraphs’ odds. Those percentages, through Thursday's games, are listed next to each team.

1. Braves (96.4%): Starting pitching

Every once in a while, the win stat can still tell us something. Like that rookie Ian Anderson on Wednesday became the first Braves starter other than Max Fried to actually notch a victory!

That speaks to the mess of injuries and ineffectiveness that has plagued the rotation of an otherwise terrific Atlanta team this year. Even in a sport saturated with clubs looking for starting help, no team has stronger incentive to get a deal done than the Braves. And we’ve seen Alex Anthopoulos work some Deadline magic before.

Possible targets: Mike Clevinger, Zach Plesac, Kevin Gausman, Marco Gonzales, Lance Lynn, Dylan Bundy, Johnny Cueto, Alex Cobb, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, José Quintana, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, Robbie Ray, others

2. Indians (98.5%): An outfield bat

In 1938, Bob Feller hit .181 with a .501 OPS.

In 2020, Tribe outfielders, as of this writing, were batting .184 with a .557 OPS.

If Cleveland’s going to ride its great rotation to the Promised Land, the bats have to help. And it will be interesting to see if Mike Clevinger (or another arm) is moved to get that help.

Possible targets: Clint Frazier, Miguel Andújar, Shin-Soo Choo, Starling Marte, David Peralta, Kole Calhoun, Mike Yastrzemski, Matt Joyce, Kevin Pillar, Brian Goodwin, Brandon Marsh, Jay Bruce, Joc Pederson, others

3. Yankees (98%): Starting pitching

In Gerrit Cole, they have the kind of showstopper who can single-handedly dominate Game 1 of a best-of-three opening round.

After that? Uh, we’ll get back to you. The Yanks lost Luis Severino, James Paxton’s currently hurt, and who knows what they’d get from Masahiro Tanaka, Jordan Montgomery or J.A. Happ come October? There’s room to improve here (perhaps in the bullpen, too, with Tommy Kahnle out). A controllable asset would make sense, given the pending free agency of Tanaka and Paxton.

Possible targets: See Braves list

4. Rays (99.7%): Pitching reinforcements

The Rays have already added outfielder Brett Phillips and could certainly stand to improve their catching production or add a bat elsewhere. But losing Yonny Chirinos, Brendan McKay, Andrew Kittredge, Colin Poche and Jalen Beeks for the season (with Charlie Morton, Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake, José Alvarado and Chaz Roe also on the shelf) has clouded their pitching plans.

Tampa Bay has one of the deepest systems in the sport and, with the club’s World Series opportunity about as strong as it’s ever going to get, could use it to get aggressive at this Deadline. But the Rays have also mastered the art of simultaneously buying and selling and finding underrated assets in the trade market.

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Possible targets: Braves list, plus relievers Josh Hader, Keone Kela, Mychal Givens, Greg Holland, Ian Kennedy, Tony Watson, Matt Barnes, Matt Magill, Hansel Robles, Buck Farmer, others

5. Reds (45.2%): Bullpen help

If this isn’t the outright most disappointing team in baseball, it’s at least in the running. With pending free agent Trevor Bauer among the best starters in the league, the Reds could capitalize on his value. But with the NL playoff picture still pretty crowded and ownership having invested so much in this squad, don’t look for a total sell-off in Cincinnati.

Instead, the Reds will continue to look for ways to get this thing turned around. As was the case in 2019, they have underperformed offensively, and left field is an area where they could look to land a bat. But while they can talk themselves into internal improvement at the plate, there’s no escaping the need for relief from a bullpen that’s put up a 4.89 ERA. This is another team that could do simultaneous buying and selling.

Possible targets: See relievers on Rays list

6. Mets (60.7%): Starting pitching

Remember: Two NL East teams are going to make the playoffs. So as messy as this Mets season has been, there’s an argument to keep trying to make a push. The absence of Noah Syndergaard has left the Mets with a 6.16 ERA from the non-Jacob deGrom portion of their rotation.

What once profiled as a great strength is now a clear weakness, and addressing it is the only way the Mets are going to climb in a muddled division.

Possible targets: See Braves list

7. Brewers (47.6%): A bat

Losing Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas has impacted the lineup just a bit, and a slow start from Christian Yelich has compounded matters. The Brewers have demonstrated they have the pitching to compete, but they’re scoring fewer runs per game than the Pirates, so …

The upgrade here could come at catcher, third base or the outfield. But it has to come.

Possible targets: Christian Vázquez, Donovan Solano, Kevin Pillar, Jason Castro, Hanser Alberto, Wilmer Flores, Austin Nola, others

8. Rockies (44%): A bat

Stop us if you’ve heard something along these lines before, but the Rockies are near the top in MLB in runs per game at home and near the bottom on the road. The strong start in the standings has given way to the reality of a lineup in which only Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon have been reliable. That means the Rockies, like the Brewers, have several areas they could upgrade -- outfield, first base or catcher.

Possible targets: See Brewers list, and throw in Mitch Moreland as a first-base option

9. Astros (97.2%): Bullpen help

Rookie GM James Click didn’t just inherit a team in the midst of a major scandal but one that has been surprisingly mediocre and injury prone.

The Astros deserve credit for piecing together a functional rotation without Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and an effective bullpen that’s featured seven rookies. But the bullpen’s walk rate (12.8%) is among the highest in the game, so targeting guys with longer track records would make sense if the Astros are serious about getting back to the World Series.

Possible targets: See relievers on Rays list

10. Cubs (95.3%): A lefty reliever

What the Cubs need most is to get Kris Bryant (wrist issue and sprained finger) back and producing, because the North Siders have sagged in recent days. The bullpen need is not as pronounced as it appeared early in the season, but the Cubs do need somebody who can get lefties out. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a lefty, of course, but those are the names we’ll focus on here.

Possible targets: Tony Watson, Derek Holland, Daniel Norris, others

11. White Sox (98.4%): Starting pitching

Michael Kopech opted out, Carlos Rodón (shoulder) is out and Gio González hasn’t really panned out. The White Sox still have a very solid rotation (fronted by Lucas “No-No” Giolito), but they could afford to kick it up a notch given the competition they’re up against in Minnesota and Cleveland.

This team has the youthful enthusiasm to go on a crazy October run. But a little more stability in the starting set would amplify the effort.

Possible targets: See Braves list

12. Phillies (57%): More -- yes, more! -- bullpen help

They’ve already made two trades for three relievers (Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree and David Hale) this month, and that qualifies as a massive lift in this difficult trade environment. But do you think Joe Girardi goes to bed at night content in the complexion of his relief corps? Nah.

Possible targets: See relievers on Rays list

13. Marlins (32%): Bullpen help

It’s hard for the Marlins to accurately assess what they have, given the especially unusual circumstances of their season. And they have the added wrinkle of contending ahead of what outsiders perceived to be their schedule.

Internally, though, the Marlins had expected to take a big step forward in 2020. To their credit -- and despite all the COVID-19 difficulty -- they’ve done exactly that. Furthermore, the NL East has a bunch of dogs in it. And again, the playoff structure insists that two teams from the East are going to get into October. So why shouldn’t a Miami team that hasn’t reached the playoffs in a generation be a buyer? If the Marlins do add, it will likely be in a bullpen that has a 4.83 ERA.

Possible targets: See relievers on Rays list

14. Blue Jays (66.5%): Starting pitching

Because others in the AL have bottomed out, there is absolutely no reason why the Blue Jays shouldn’t grab a Wild Card spot. After making a strong effort to bring respectability to the rotation over the winter with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson, the front office continued to do right with the Taijuan Walker trade. With the electric Nate Pearson dealing with a flexor strain, the Blue Jays could continue to add between now and the close of business.

Possible targets: See Braves list, and the Blue Jays have also been linked to Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl

15. Cardinals (63.5%): [shrug emoji]

They’ve played about 10 fewer games than the majority of the teams on this list, and the last of their COVID-19 guys returned to baseball activities only this week. So it’s somewhat useless to evaluate this team analytically. Yes, their young left-field alignment has been a letdown so far, but it’s hard to argue for an overhaul at this stage.

Possible targets: Any outfielder mentioned above

16. (tie) A’s (100%) and Twins (99.2%): Opportunistic rotation additions

The A’s dealt for infielder Tommy La Stella on Friday night, shoring up second base. Neither of these clubs has gotten consistent length from their starters. But unless it’s a legitimate difference-maker, the price tags and roster ramifications might not be worth the effort. The A’s and Twins are in the same boat of having a legitimate World Series opportunity but not necessarily having a starting need glaring enough to sacrifice the kind of prospect pieces that are so vital to success their markets.

Possible targets: See Braves list

18. Giants (30.8%): Pitching reinforcements

Here we go again. The Giants are messing up an otherwise obvious (and potentially beneficial) sell situation by … winning baseball games!

Farhan Zaidi might have to walk the buy/sell tightrope again. Last year, it left the Giants with a second-half slide and Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith leaving for only compensatory Draft picks. So there’s an argument to more aggressively sell (Gausman, Cueto, Watson, Flores, Solano, maybe even 30-year-old rising star Yastrzemski if the return haul is overwhelming) this summer. But if the Giants add, they’ll be looking for what almost everybody else is looking for -- pitching.

Possible targets: See Rays list, but remove all the rentals

19. Dodgers (100%): Maybe an arm?

There are no perfect teams, but this is as close as we’re going to get. The Dodgers are susceptible to good left-handed pitching, which could burn them in a best-of-three seres. And their starting pitching does feature a lot inexperience once you get past Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. But if Andrew Friedman wants to sit this one out, he’s allowed.

Possible targets: See Braves and Rays list