As everyone keeps tabs on everyone else in an attempt to box out the other shoppers and shore up their bids at hitting October's paydirt, some needs are more obvious than others. Here's one person's short list of the moves today's contenders shoul dmake now to make sure they win tomorrow.
Skip Brian Cashman's brave talk about standing pat. This is a straightforward matter of patching up in Andy Pettitte's absence, and avoiding Sergio Mitre as a rotation regular for the month or more till Pettitte comes back. Keep in mind, the Yankees are also trying to endure A.J. Burnett's latest inconsistent season—Burnett's .457 Support-Neutral Winning Percentage looks a lot like Mitre's career high-water mark of .451 back in 2007. That just won't get it done in the AL East. Valid concerns about Lilly's flagging velocity aside, a big problem for him this season has been location against left-handers, leading to a return of the bass-ackward platoon splits that hampered his performance in 2008. With the Yankees he'd have the advantage of pitching with great run support in a ballpark that is turning out to be less of a launching pad than initially expected. He has experience pitching in pennant races, experience pitching in pinstripes, and he wouldn't come in having to be a star, just deliver effective starts consistent with his .512 SNWP and let the offense grind opponents to dust.
As for dealing Joseph, the Yankees have a crowd of options at second base, and the Cubs need to ask themselves how far they want to rely on Ryan Theriot as the answer. Joseph's hitting an impressive .309/.386/.450 in the High-A Florida State League, providing power and walks playing in a pitcher's circuit in his age-21 season.
With a 4.73 bullpen-wide Fair Run Average that betrays how little they have going for them beyond Francisco Cordero and Arthur Lee Rhodes, the Reds rate 12th in the National League, the worst mark of any of the league's contenders. During Walt Jocketty's days with the Cardinals, the Reds GM was a master at dealing middling prospects to acquire veterans, but the Reds' need is immediate and dire. Getting Lindstrom shouldn't be all that expensive, but as a hard-throwing veteran closer bound for free agency, the Astros should try to respond to the Reds' need by getting themselves a shortstop. Cozart isn't a blue-chip stud as prospects go, but he's playable, hitting .265/.330/.450 for Triple-A Louisville (and a .254 TAv), with 22 steals and 14 homers in his age-25 season; he'd fill the Astros' need up the middle immediately.
Trading for Wuertz is almost the opposite of renting Lindstrom, because he'd be a long-term fix. The A's set-up man was one of the game's best relievers last season, finishing 11th in WXRL without being a closer, and after missing the first month with shoulder trouble, he's settled back into slider-driven dominance. He's under contract through 2011 for $2.8 million with a $3.25 million club option, a relative bargain compared to what top relievers can command on the open market. The A's need outfielder, and Heisey's a grinder whose value may never be higher after popping five homers during his 10 weeks on the Reds' bench.
The Cardinals don't really know what to expect or when to expect it from veterans Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny, and rookie Jaime Garcia is beginning to show signs of wear after spending much of 2009 shelved with his recovery from Tommy John surgery, so they need a starter. Why not call on pitching coach Dave Duncan's restorative powers with yet another veteran ace looking for a new lease on life? Sheets has been healthy enough, and if his results pitching in the AL have been a mixed bag (.465 SNWP), if the A's pay the expense of employing Sheets—perhaps the reason they signed him in the first place, to escape the union's ire—it's worth giving up a utility right-hander and an organizational bat like Craig. For the A's, it's a matter of adding depth, Walters to stock Sacramento or the back of the rotation as they play out the string, and Craig to add to their woeful outfield mix.
Tied with Oakland in a ninth-place ranking in the AL in team True Average, the Sox need to punch up their offense somewhere. Obvious spots that need help are third base and DH, with Mark Teahen shelved and healing slow, and the Andruw Jones/Mark Kotsay platoon struggling to produce. Always a wheeler/dealer, Kenny Williams likes adding the occasional ex-famous person to the mix for his stretch runs—Roberto Alomar, Carl Everett, Ken Griffey Jr.—and Tejada would fit neatly within that pattern, providing the White Sox with a former MVP who might get a last lease on life at the plate while manning third base. Scott would be the more subtle addition, but his .304 TAv would provide a big dose of sock and balance. To swing the deal, the Sox would have to give the Orioles the shortstop prospect they need to land from somewhere, and the sure-handed Escobar has elicited comparisons to Omar Vizquel for his fielding. Since Harrell and Nunez are both live arms who could help in a big-league bullpen, this may seem like a lot, but Scott's under club control through 2012, providing the Sox with a lasting answer to fill their need for a lefty power bat.
The one thing potentially holding the Padres back is their offense, which is tied with the Cubs for 12th in TAv. They're leading the league in one-run wins, and the best way to avoid that coming back to bite them is to field an offense that provides wider margins to work with. So why not rent Dunn for a couple of months before he departs for free agency? Walks and his kind of power work in every venue—even Petco—and as much as the Padres are being touted as a pitching and defense team and Dunn's now infamous immobility in the outfield would seem to spoil that, the thing about the Padres' defense is that their pitchers are limiting total defensive opportunities thanks to their MLB-leading 21.3 percent strikeout rate. Balls that never enter play are the easiest to defend, and add in the benefit of pitching in Petco, and this is one glove the Pads should risk adding to give them a second pillar beyond Adrian Gonzalez to prop up their bid for an upset.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .