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June 19, 2013

The Lineup Card

8 Potential Buyers at the Trade Deadline

by Baseball Prospectus

1. Giants: A Starter
In this exercise two weeks ago, I wrote that Matt Cain would be just fine and was still in line to be a contributing member of the rotation in the second half. Not even mentioning the collapse of Ryan Vogelsong, I can’t even say the same about Tim Lincecum, who is giving the Giants not quite below replacement level, but certainly below-average production, for a second year running. His struggles to adjust to his middle-aged self don’t need to be documented here. I have no idea if what we saw of him as a reliever last year was real, but what we’re seeing of him as a starter seems more and more real.

With so many potential buyers, any one position may be difficult to find in the market, but starting pitching should be available. San Francisco has been linked to Northern California native Bud Norris, and there will be others as July 31 approaches. The Giants are in fourth place, and none of the teams above them are by any means uncatchable, but their rotation needs at least one upgrade to do it. —Zachary Levine

2. Orioles: A Starter
The Orioles enter Tuesday 40-31 and 2.5 games out of first place in the AL East. Over the past year, they’ve stuck to their plan and resisted making any dramatic moves, even while remaining in the thick of a pennant race. In fact, it could be argued that the last “big trade” the Orioles made was to acquire Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter from Texas for Koji Uehara in 2011… before Chris Davis was slugging 30 homers a year. But when you have an offense that is second in the American League in runs scored (342) and third in OPS (774), and a pitching staff that has allowed the second-most runs in the AL (330) and has the third-worst OPS against (760), it pays to make a move for a starting pitcher if one is available.

While the O’s may have started the season 20th in our organizational rankings, there’s still plenty of talent (prospects such as Eduardo Rodriguez, Nick Delmonico, Mike Wright, Zachary Davies are sure to draw interest around the league) to make a move for a starting pitcher like Bud Norris (1.42 WHIP, .282 BAA, 3.64 ERA), Ricky Nolasco (1.15 WHIP, .244 BAA, 3.61 ERA), or Lucas Harrell (1.57 WHIP, .280 BAA, 4.48 ERA), all of whom almost certainly will be available at the deadline. And if the White Sox realize it’s time to rebuild, a soon-to-be-healthy Jake Peavy (1.16 WHIP, .247 BAA, 4.30 ERA) could very well be dangled on the market. Norris, Nolasco, and Peavy would immediately improve the quality of Baltimore’s starting rotation and are sure to be upgrades over the performances the Orioles have received this season from the likes of Jason Hammell (1.49 WHIP, .288 BAA, 13 HRA, 5.24 ERA) and Kevin Gausman (1.62 WHIP, .333 BAA, 7.66 ERA in six starts).

When you have a legitimate shot to overtake the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays to win an American League East division title, you make the necessary moves. —Joe Hamrahi

3. Colorado Rockies Acquire a Four-Leaf Clover and a Rabbit's Foot
At the beginning of the year, we here at Baseball Prospectus had the Rockies pegged as one of the bottom feeders in the league with the proverbial snowball's chance of making the playoffs. Fast forward to the solstice and suddenly we seem a little silly. The Rockies are neck-and-neck in the NL West race and have the fourth-best run differential in the NL. Not bad. They're doing it with a pitching staff that gets ground ball after ground ball after ground ball to make up for the fact that they don't really strike many guys out. Ladies and gentlemen, the Minnesota Twins! The problem with that approach is that it puts a lot of pressure on the team's infield defense. Fortunately, the Rockies have gotten above-average (according to FRAA) performances with the glove from Nolan Arenado and Josh Rutledge, and the ever-steady Troy Tulowitzki, and outstanding offensive peformances from Tulo, CarGo, and (surprise!) a .400 OBP from Michael Cuddyer. In what has turned out to be a surprisingly weak division, it has all worked.

The Rockies need to hope that nothing goes wrong, like a major 4-6 week DL stint for Tulowitzki (oh…) that might sap their ability to turn grounders into gold. Therefore, I recommend that at the deadline, they buy a four-leaf clover and a rabbit's foot. And maybe a closer not named Rafael Betancourt. —Russell A. Carleton

4. Tigers: A(nother) Closer
The November 7 Lineup Card centered on team needs going into the offseason. At the time, I felt the biggest need on any team in the major leagues was a closer for the Tigers. More than seven months later, nothing has changed. The Tigers are likely good enough as constituted to win the American League Central, but they are going to need somebody to get the final three outs of games in October if they want to win their first World Series title since 1984. Rookie Bruce Rondon proved not to be the answer in spring training, and Phil Coke did the same in the early days of the regular season. Thus, general manager Dave Dombrowski swallowed his pride and re-signed Jose Valverde, the Tigers’ closer of the last three seasons. Valverde, though, has been showing cracks after a good start and now manager Jim Leyland is starting to lose patience, snapping at reporters last week by asking, “Who the (bleep) do you think should be the closer?” The answer to that question is simple—someone not currently in the Tigers’ organization. —John Perrotto

5. San Diego Padres: Do Something
Do you remember when San Diego nearly won the NL West in 2010? Yes, this is another one of the many weird events the San Francisco Giants wrecked en route to their first of two unlikely championships. Were it not for the Giants pipin' hot September, maybe the Padres would have won the World Series. Can you imagine? Since then they've been a non-factor, which has only been two years but it's felt like 20.

They may not necessarily be a power player, but they're square in the middle of a wacky NL West filled to the brim with other teams featuring various flaws and voids. There's a lot they need: hitting, pitching, a smaller ballpark, better uniforms, more national attention… but the mere fact that the Padres could make some transactions to compete with the Dodgers and Giants this year is another sign that we should all stop pretending to know about baseball in March. Heck, the only reason I picked the Padres to make the playoffs was because something goofy always happens. Dream big. Maybe San Diego is just one player away from being this year's NL team that sweeps Detroit in the World Series. —Matt Sussman

6. Baltimore Orioles: A Second Baseman
There's been a lot of talk of the Baltimore Orioles trying to find a top-of-the-rotation starter at the deadline, but the only problem with that is there's unlikely to be anyone nearly that good available on the trade market this summer. So while they could move a step down and go after a Matt Garza or Bud Norris, the Orioles may be better off addressing the biggest black hole on their offense—and frankly, black hole might be a nice way of describing it. For the season, Baltimore second basemen have combined to hit .208/.269/.290 with two homers on the season, and that charge has been led by Ryan Flaherty (he of the 489 OPS in 41 games). Sure, it would be great if a healthy Brian Roberts were to come walking through that door, but the odds of that happening are just slightly greater than the Mayans being correct about our civilization's demise.

Enter the underperforming Philadelphia Phillies and impending free agent Chase Utley. The oft-injured second baseman just began his rehab assignment last night and will likely return from his oblique injury by the end of the week. When Utley was hurt, he left behind a .272/.339/.475 line with seven homers in just 44 games—which would look fantastic out of either the number three or five spot in the Orioles' lineup. Now, this is predicated on two things that have yet to transpire: 1) the Phillies struggle enough to be sellers at the deadline and 2) Utley needs to stay healthy until at least the All-Star break. But if those two things can happen, this marriage makes almost too much sense. —Bret Sayre

7. Diamondbacks: A Star
At first I was going to write that the Diamondbacks needed an outfielder, but then I decided I was okay with what they had—especially because, as Ben Lindbergh explained recently, Gerardo Parra is the ever-under-appreciated. And maybe the Snakes will get Adam Eaton back from his elbow strain (but is a guy with 103 career plate appearances really Arizona’s great white hope?). Then I was going to argue that they needed a closer, but I don’t know, really: maybe Heath Bell really is just fine, especially now that he’s back in the west. The Diamondbacks have a bullpen good enough to compensate should Bell crack; in fact, J. J. Putz has almost as many saves (9) as Bell (11).

Then I decided they needed another home-run hitter to go with Paul Goldschmidt, who has hit more than a quarter of the Diamondbacks’ long balls. A disproportion like that is never a good sign; Arizona is 25th in the majors in home runs. But I can imagine other D-Backs getting hot and going deep more often: Cody Ross, perhaps, or a healthy Aaron Hill or Jason Kubel (yes, I know, “a healthy Jason Kubel”?).

What I ultimately realized is that the Diamondbacks have most of the pieces they need to win their division. What they lack is presence, and what they need is a star. They just don’t have that A-list celebrity who can sell a picture. Yet, as I write this, Goldschmidt, who was recently signed to a lavish extension, hits a walk-off homer to beat the Marlins in the ninth inning, prompting teammate Brad Ziegler to tweet: “There are no more adjectives. Goldy's late-inning heroics are far beyond anything I've ever witnessed before. #AmericasFirstbaseman.” If Goldschmidt emerges this year as the elite player the Diamondbacks hoped for when they extended him—indeed, as America’s first baseman—they may already have their star. If not, maybe they can pry Jose Bautista loose from the last-place Blue Jays. —Adam Sobsey

8. Reds: An Outfielder
The Reds have a deep roster with redundant parts in some places, but they do have one weakness: left field. Their problems at the position began on Opening Day, when Ryan Ludwick dislocated his shoulder and subsequently had surgery to repair a torn labrum. He hasn’t played since. In Ludwick’s absence, Chris Heisey initially got the bulk of the playing time, but he strained his hamstring and has been on the DL since late April. The loss of Heisey forced the Reds to rely on a platoon of Xavier Paul and Derrick Robinson, which has worked fairly well as a stopgap. On the whole, the team’s left fielders have hit .247/.319/.363. NL left fielders as a group have hit .264/.333/.437.

In a perfect world, Billy Hamilton would be tearing up Triple-A and the Reds could call him up to play center, simultaneously filling an offensive hole and sliding Shin-Soo Choo to left. In this world, though, Hamilton is hitting .243/.302/.339 and hasn’t heated up lately, so he’s unlikely to help. Ludwick threw for the first time since his surgery last Friday and won’t return until mid-August at the earliest. Even then, he might not be back to full strength. Heisey should begin a rehab assignment soon, but he’s more of a supporting cast member than a first-division starter. (PECOTA projects a .254 TAv.) Cincinnati’s in-house solutions either aren’t prepared to hit big-league pitching, aren’t close to coming back from injury, or aren’t that great to begin with.

Enter an outfielder from another organization—Alex Rios, for instance. Rios’ successful season has made him one of the only marketable trade chips on the White Sox, and he started in center as recently as 2011, so his glove would probably be better than Choo’s. He’s signed for next season at $12.5 million (plus a $1 million buyout of a $13.5 million option for 2015), a rate that looks more reasonable than it did a few years ago, and his presence would give Cincinnati some insurance in the event that Choo walks away this winter.

The Reds probably don’t have a lot of payroll room to work with—there are a few cheaper options available if Rios won’t work—but they could really benefit from an extra win or two down the stretch. Our Playoff Odds suggest that they’re a near-lock to make the playoffs as it is, but St. Louis is still slightly favored to win the Central. An upgrade in the outfield could help tip the balance toward Cincy. —Ben Lindbergh

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