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July 16, 2009

Second-Half Prescriptions

NL

by Baseball Prospectus

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NL East-Steven Goldman

Philadelphia Phillies: Their situation is similar to the Yankees'-they have a productive yet imperfect offense and a pitching staff that hasn't lived up to expectations. They can give the offense a very small goose by turning to catching prospect Lou Marson, whose Triple-A numbers translate to .271/.353/.343 in the majors. Other offensive problems, such as Jimmy Rollins' complete breakdown, are harder to solve-MVP-level shortstops aren't freely available. Starting pitching solutions seem most likely to come from outside the organization, hence the Phillies ranking among the teams mentioned as suitors for a Halladay deal. It might be cheaper to give top prospect Carlos Carrasco a test-drive first; Carrasco has a disappointing 5.00 ERA for the season, but his ERA has been almost a run lower in his last ten starts.

Florida Marlins: In a weak division, it's unforgivable that a team that's almost good enough to make the postseason allows their effort to be crippled by a replacement-level player. Making outs atop the order, Emilio Bonifacio has given the Fish the worst production in baseball among starters at his position, and he's no great asset with the leather either. With Cameron Maybin again hinting that he might be ready (.337/.422/.489 at New Orleans), the Marlins could deal either center fielder Cody Ross or finally cut bait and deal Jeremy Hermida-if any interest remains in the latter after two lethargic, subpar years. If the deal could bring back even an average third baseman, the Marlins would improve their chances dramatically.

Atlanta Braves: The Braves have been baseball's most aggressive team at trying to fix what ails them, but even with the recent exile of Jeff Francoeur, there's work to be done, as the offense remains weak. While Nate McLouth and Ryan Church may help boost aggregate outfield production above its present rank of 28th in the majors, Garret Anderson is probably a lost cause. It also remains to be seen if Casey Kotchman will ever supply even average production at first. With their largely effective pitching staff, the Braves don't have to follow the herd in pursuit of additional arms (though another solid bullpen contributor wouldn't hurt). The Braves are 13th in the league in homers, and no player has hit even 10. Any power bat they add would have a disproportionate effect. One solution: lift Scott Rolen from the fading Blue Jays and shift the defensively arthritic Chipper Jones to first base.

New York Mets: The best move they can make is to curtail Omar Minaya's freedom to make any trades overly focused on the short term. On the last day of May, the Mets were in second place, just a half-game out; they've have gone 14-24 since, allowing 5.4 runs a game while batting .255/.319/.362 and averaging 3.7 runs scored. At the season's outset, the Mets lacked the depth to survive a hangnail, let alone fix their problems with sweeping trades. Due to the fecklessness of the Phillies, the Mets haven't been completely blown out of the race while their stars convalesce; they can only hope that this is still the case when Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and the rest finally come limping back. In the meantime, perhaps they succeed where the Braves failed with Francoeur, but even then they still have to survive a weak pitching staff that ranks 14th in the NL in strikeouts.

Washington Nationals: The Nats are obviously done for this year and probably for the next. Their path is actually shockingly straightforward: secure (or unleash) talented leadership and give it the freedom to build up the entire organization. Sign Stephen Strasburg already. Prepare to deal Nick Johnson and Josh Willingham at the very least. Renege on pledges not to trade Adam Dunn-he's only under contract for one more season and you can put the $12 million you would have given him last year towards a deeper roster. Pay Austin Kearns his $1 million buyout on 2010 and finally let him go-no team can win with a corner outfielder who has hit .210/.317/.316 over his last 151 games. Start offering two-for-one specials to most home games and hope you make up the lost ticket revenue in beer sales. It's going to be a long road back to respectability.

NL Central-Christina Kahrl

St. Louis Cardinals: Trying to keep their infield stocked has entered the realm of the bizarre, but while they might make a play for a fond renunion-say, Scott Rolen on the high side, maybe Adam Kennedy on the low-in two or three weeks we could end up wondering how they're going to get everyone at-bats should Mark DeRosa (wrist) and Khalil Greene (anxiety) both come back online. So, with Kyle Lohse back from the DL already to flesh out the rotation, turn an eye towards building a league-winning lineup, make a serious play for Matt Holliday to round out a powerhouse outfield with Colby Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick (one that doesn't rely on a Rick Ankiel comeback), and perhaps pull it off by dangling Brett Wallace and/or Chris Duncan while seeing what it will take to sweeten the pot to get either the arbitration-eligible Michael Wuertz or veteran ROOGY Russ Springer to shore up a mediocre bullpen.

Milwaukee Brewers: Even with a rotation that boasts an impressive-sounding sixth-place ranking in the league in Support-Neutral Winning Percentage, and with the news that David Bush is on the mend, the good stuff's all Yovani Gallardo pulling up a gaggle of mediocrities, so the Brewers need a starter to really make a run they can sustain. Assuming that Doug Melvin's line in the sand as far as trading either Alcides Escobar or Mat Gamel can't be crossed in course of making a play for Roy Halladay, they should target a pair of Snakes free agents-to-be like Doug Davis or Jon Garland should they be willing to pick up salary and make it worth Arizona's while. The lineup and defense are both sound, but a minor deal to add a useful complementary catcher to afford Jason Kendall a few offdays-think switch-hitters Josh Bard or Gregg Zaun-would help a team that has no depth behind the plate.

Chicago Cubs: The cupboard's relatively bare prospect-wise, so you can't really trade for temporary replacements for Geovany Soto or Ryan Dempster, who will both miss the rest of the month, putting Koyie Hill (behind the plate) and Kevin Hart (atop the bump) on the spot in their places. The Cubs need to avoid letting their lineup return to the morass they'd endured far too long this spring, and having Aramis Ramirez back already helps, but they need to remember the weapon that Mike Fontenot was last year as a carefully spotted part-timer, and build a power-oriented keystone platoon with Jeff Baker at second base.

Houston Astros: Ed Wade's kamikaze run to nowhere enters its second season, and with Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt almost unmoveable from the roster with their long-term deals, there's really nothing to do but make the best of this year's equally feeble race for relevance. There aren't really prospects they can afford to deal, so they're limited to asking after second-rate relievers to shore up a third-rate bullpen. Trying to tear down, their best play would be to see what people would give them for the last two months of Jose Valverde's or Miguel Tejada's contracts. A wild suggestion? Help out a weak defense by moving Tejada to third base already, and put Jeff Keppinger and/or Geoff Blum to short; nobody's going to sign Tejada to play short this winter, so maybe he'll thank you later. And if you decide you like Keppinger at short well enough for 2010, you won't have to shop for Tejada's replacement, will you?

Cincinnati Reds: Losing Jay Bruce to a broken wrist, at least until late August, cinched it-playing in a bandbox, the next-to-worst offense in the league won't overpower teams, not even with Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Votto back. So deal with it and give a good rotation something to work with by calling up Drew Stubbs (hitting well enough in Louisville that it translates to .253/.347/.349 with 26 steals) to provide Gold Glove-caliber defense in center and that dose of OBP and speed that Willy Taveras hasn't. And take offers on Ramon Hernandez in case anybody wants a playoff-tested veteran backstop, because he's not doing the Reds much good.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Neal Huntington's moved slowly but patiently, dealing away veteran placeholders for depth to shore up an organization run off the rails by mismanagement. Now's the time to try and forgo another depth deal and see if you can get the Giants to give up pitching prospect Tim Alderson for Adam LaRoche and Freddy Sanchez. That sounds like a lot, but both vets could be free agents after the season (LaRoche will be, and Sanchez needs to achieve 600 PA to guarantee his 2010 option, and that's going to be thisclose at his present rate of play with what's left on the schedule); maybe giving San Francisco an entire right side of an infield to boost their bid for a playoff appearance does the trick.

NL West-Jay Jaffe

Los Angeles Dodgers: Snubbed via the All-Star selection process, Matt Kemp can't even get respect from his own manager despite a .320/.384/.495 first-half performance. Joe Torre has batted him seventh or eighth in 45 of 87 games, and in the top five in just 11 games, this despite the fact that his OBP is third on the team behind Manny Ramirez and-wait for it-Juan Pierre. Oh, and he's also stolen 19 bases (second on the team to Pierre) in 23 attempts. Even with Rafael Furcal heating up after a frigid three-month slump, moving Kemp to the leadoff spot would give one of the team's most effective hitters at least another 50 PA over the course of the second half, adding runs to the Dodgers' ledger.

Colorado Rockies: A 29-13 run under interim manager Jim Tracy has turned the Rockies into NL Wild Card favorites if not the actual leaders of that race. To reach October, they'll need bullpen reinforcements, particularly given the recent loss of Alan Embree to a broken leg and the fact that Manny Corpas will return despite bone chips in his elbow. First and foremost, they could really use a groundballer capable of handling a set-up role. The Diamondbacks' Chad Qualls (1.1 WXRL, 63.8 GB%, and a 33/5 K/BB ratio) fits the bill and is likely to be available and relatively affordable. They could stand to add some depth, too; Matt Herges, a staple of their 2007 run who was just released by the Indians, is an obvious option.

San Francisco Giants: Don't look now, but the Giants lead the Wild Card race despite ranking last in the league in EqA and getting subpar production from every lineup position except third base (Pablo Sandoval) and center field (Aaron Rowand). They could use an upgrade at every other position, though their payroll lobligations suggest they're stuck with catcher Bengie Molina and shortstop Edgar Renteria. First base, where Travis Ishikawa is hitting just .269/.324/.430, is probably the best place to start, and they could give their offense a real shot in the arm by prying Nick Johnson loose from the Nationals. Adding his bat would be worth it even if they had to take on the dead weight of the contracts of Austin Kearns or Ronnie Belliard.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Projected by PECOTA to contend for both the NL West flag and the Wild Card, the Diamondbacks are arguably the NL's most disappointing team. They've certainly got a couple of parts to sell off in pending free agents Doug Davis and Felipe Lopez; Jon Garland has a mutual option for 2010, and could be included in that group as well. Among the players in their young, underachieving nucleus, Stephen Drew, Mark Reynolds, and Miguel Montero are the only ones who might draw interest on the trade market. Montero particularly interested the Red Sox back in the spring; the Diamondbacks, who also have the capable Chris Snyder behind the plate, should revisit those discussions in the hopes of prying Michael Bowden and/or other prospects from their ranks.

San Diego Padres: Adrian Gonzalez is the poor man's Mark Teixeira, minus the switch-hitting part-an excellent all-around player with power, plate discipline, and a good glove. And the Padres, with a depleted team that's nowhere near contention, should strive to get a Teixeira-like return for their star slugger, the kind of multi-prospect raid on another team's system that can provide several cogs for a future contender. Gonzalez is ridiculously affordable ($3 million this year, just $4.75 million for 2010, and a $5.5 million club option for 2011 that apparently has no buyout). Losing him will make for an extremely bland major league product in San Diego in the near term, though the sight of 275-pound behemoth Kyle Blanks playing first base on a daily basis might offer some amusement. The point is that since the Padres have leverage, they don't actually need to deal him yet, and they shouldn't unless they're offered a package that changes their future.

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

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