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July 15, 2011

Future Shock

Five Non-Trade Solutions

by Kevin Goldstein

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I do a lot of radio, and the most frequent question I've received this week is “Now that we are at the break, who is going to win Division X?” We can try to answer the question, but we don't know what the contending teams will look like down the stretch. For the next two weeks plus one weekend, contending teams (and some that only think they are in contention) will be burning the phones looking to add an impact player, or maybe just that small piece to help put them over the top. Still, there are plenty of teams that have an answer to their problem right under their nose; all it will take is a phone call and a bit of paperwork to get an instant upgrade from their minor-league system. Here are five problems for contending teams, easily solved.

Chicago White Sox
The Problem: Left field. Juan Pierre has been hitting of late, but all that means is that his season average is up to a whopping .269/.330/.314. He also has the sudden and mysterious defensive problems that have changed him from a decent little left fielder with a horrible arm to a bad left fielder with a horrible arm.

The Solution: Dayan Viciedo. The 22-year-old Cuban is having a breakout year at Triple-A Charlotte, hitting .325/.374/.535 in 87 games. Possessing some of the best bat speed in the minors, he has the ability to hit for both average and power, and he's made tremendous strides in his approach. Trust me, his 25 walks over 342 at-bats might not look like much, but it actually represents a massive step forward. He's not better defensively than Pierre; at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds he's more of a round mound of bat pound (sorry, Charles Barkley), but he could add much-needed life to a White Sox lineup that currently scares opponents with just two players—Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin.

Cincinnati Reds
The Problem: Left field. Johnny Gomes has great energy and an equally great haircut, but he's also regressed for two straight years. Now he’s sitting at.218/.345/.417. He still can hit lefties, but that's the absolute limit of his value, and his 190 plate appearances against right-handers with a .173/.305/.365 line is one of the reasons the Reds are still under .500.

The Solution: Yonder Alonso. Critics were confused when the Reds used the seventh overall pick of the 2008 draft on a first baseman with Joey Votto in the fold, but they've slowly converted Alonso to left field, where he's at least adequate. To damn with faint praise, he's certainly no worse than Gomes. He has never developed the power normally associated with a first baseman or left fielder, but he makes up for it with a high batting average, walks, and plenty of doubles, not to mention no platoon issues; he would give Dusty Baker some much-needed lineup flexibility.

Cleveland Indians
The Problem: Second base. Look, Orlando Cabrera is a great human being whose contributions to a young team on a clubhouse level cannot be accurately calculated. He also has a .279 on-base percentage, and Mother Theresa couldn't make up for that with her saint-like makeup.

The Solution: Jason Kipnis. The Indians took care of their third-base problem by bringing up Lonnie Chisenhall before the All-Star break, so what's Kipnis still doing in Columbus? He's hitting .297/.380/.506 without a weakness in an offensive game than includes walks, speed, and at least average power. He proved on Sunday that he can hit good stuff by turning on a Julio Teheran fastball on the inner part of the plate for a home run to give the US an early lead in the Futures Game. He does everything better than Cabrera other than lead, but his bat can lead the Indians to much-needed second-half victories.

New York Yankees
The Problem: Starting pitching. Freddy Garcia has been fantastic, but he's also thrown more than 100 innings once in the last five seasons. Bartolo Colon has been equally surprising, in a good way, but he's also 10 innings away from his highest season total since his 2005 Cy Young-winning campaign, his medical records are currently being reviewed by Major League Baseball, and he's coming off a brutal outing during which it looked like he was injured. When the Yankees last needed an extra starter, they went out of their way to acquire Brian Gordon, who is now starting for the SK Wyverns. In case you are wondering, that's in Korea.

The Answer: Adam Warren. Warren is not a savior. He's not even a star, nor does he project to be one. What he does do is keep his team in the game with an average to plus fastball, two average secondary pitches, and the ability to throw strikes. He's the kind of pitcher that is unlikely to throw a shutout, but equally unlikely to get rocked. He's gone five-plus innings in all but three starts this year for Triple-A Scranton, and has never allowed more than four earned runs in a single outing. If Colon ends up on the shelf, that spot belongs to Ivan Nova, but Warren deserves to be Plan B over another overwrought roster shuffle.

Tampa Bay Rays
The Problem: Left field. Sam Fuld has his own Twitter hash tags, a highlight reel loaded with exciting diving catches, giveaway capes, and even a feature piece about him in a recent issue of the New Yorker. It's too bad he's just not very good at baseball; after setting the world on fire in one of the flukiest Aprils in recent memory, he's been flirting with the Mendoza line since to drop his season line to .238/.299/.351, which would be unacceptable even for a non-competing team. It was a great story, but it's time to close the book on this one; he was in the minor leagues until his late 20s for a reason.

The Answer: Desmond Jennings. Jennings seemed to be on the verge of getting his chance before a finger injury landed him on the disabled list, but it shouldn't be long after his return for him to get the call. One of the better all-around athletes in the minor leagues, Jennings has 12 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts over 83 games for Triple-A Durham while also hitting .275 with plenty of walks. He projects as a 20/20 player in the big leagues, and will likely be an everyday player in 2012, but he's also ready to replace Fuld now.

   A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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