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MLB trade deadline: Four contenders' most glaring needs with time running out

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 7/28/2021 Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY
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In a year of the imperfect ballclub, there’s no such thing as a perfect fit as Major League Baseball’s trade deadline looms Friday afternoon.

Yet with roughly 17 teams harboring hopes of contention, some needs are more glaring than others. And some teams are much more realistically one or two moves away from the promised land than others. The abolition of the Aug. 31 non-waivers trade deadline means the time is now for every little roster woe and depth quandary, forcing teams to self-evaluate but also employ significant foresight with more than a third of the season remaining. Not an enviable task.

a group of baseball players standing on top of a field: Red Sox players and manager Alex Cora look on during a pitching change. © David Butler II, USA TODAY Sports Red Sox players and manager Alex Cora look on during a pitching change.

With that, USA TODAY Sports explores the five most glaring needs for top teams before the buzzer sounds at 4 p.m. ET Friday:

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Brewers: Power bat on the corners

Here’s a concept you should grasp now than later: The Brewers are prohibitive favorites to win the National League pennant.

Oh, the odds may not say so and the hype almost always bypasses Dairyland, but no team has the tools and the path to the Fall Classic like Milwaukee. For now, nobody can match their three shutdown starters in Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes. They should have a stress-free ride to the NL Central title.

And while the best teams in the NL, record-wise, will be battling it out in a wild-card game followed by an emotional NLDS, the Brewers should have homefield advantage against the incomplete Mets or whomever might catch them in the NL East.

So, time to go for it.

The Brewers tried and failed to land Justin Turner in the winter, and since have seen Travis Shaw and Daniel Vogelbach succumb to injury as their first and third base production ranks in the bottom quadrant of the NL. Meanwhile, Christian Yelich’s injury woes (and at the moment a breakthrough case of COVID-19) have essentially neutralized another big bat.

Shoring up those deficiencies may require luck and a good bit of creativity.

Certainly, the Brewers could damn the torpedoes and go get Josh Donaldson – along with the $57 million or so remaining on his contract. That would impair their flexibility in coming seasons, however, while adding a 35-year-old who’s had his own injury woes the past several seasons. Would it be easier to add a league-average hitter from a fellow contender, such as Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager or San Diego first baseman Eric Hosmer (who’s due $59 million himself, albeit over four years)?

While those moves on paper would not look like needle-movers, they’d still represent significant upgrades over what the Brewers have received at those spots and come at virtually no acquisition cost.

a baseball player holding a bat in front of a crowd: Christian Yelich has a .748 OPS in 67 games this season. © Jeff Hanisch, USA TODAY Sports Christian Yelich has a .748 OPS in 67 games this season.

Red Sox: Game 2 playoff starter

Sure, they still need to hold off the Rays, and there are a few other problem spots to workshop – most notably first base – but the Red Sox have risen to meet every challenge this year, most notably beating back the Yankees into near irrelevance. So, a couple years ahead of schedule on a re-tooling, they should be happy just to reach the playoffs, right?

Nope.

Boston is both versatile and potent, capable of playing shutdown defense and also pounding the ball out of the yard thanks to MVP-caliber performances by Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers and the versatility of Kike’ Hernandez and Alex Verdugo, among others. Come playoff time, it should be an easy decision to hand the ball to All-Star and October-tested right-hander Nathan Eovaldi.

And then what?

Boston’s 2-5 starters – Martin Perez, Nick Pivetta, Eduardo Rodriguez and Garrett Richards – have performed capably, yet all carry signs of October vulnerability. Richards, for one, has acknowledged struggling with the game’s outright ban on sticky substances, while Perez’s high WHIP and tepid strikeout numbers might not play so well against playoff lineups.

Who, then, might they add to lengthen out that rotation?

They could certainly do worse than take a flier on Michael Pineda. While Big Mike is only recently back from a stint on the injured list due to elbow inflammation, he’s been a remarkably consistent performer, when healthy, over the course of his career, pitching to a 1.18 WHIP and punching out nearly nine batters per nine innings. The final two months of the season would provide even more onramp to bounce back from his elbow woes, and he’d come at far less cost and complication than a top-shelf arm on the trade market.

Of course, it’s possible Pineda or someone similar would not dislodge any of the Sox’s current hurlers from a playoff rotation. But it would give manager Alex Cora options – and you can never have enough power arms come playoff time.

Mets: To Be Determined

Too soon?

We don’t mean to make light of the Mets’ constant and almost comedic rotation woes. They have handed the ball to 16 pitchers to start games this year, and seven of them are currently on the 10- or 60-day injured list. That’s forced them into a habit of naming starters just hours before game time. Is that sustainable? Well, consider that TBD Guy Jerad Eickhoff gave up as many runs – 10 – as outs recorded in a 12-5 thumping by the Braves on Tuesday.  

No, the Mets need serenity, now, in a rotation so in flux it threatens to let all the sub-.500 pretenders in the NL East back in the race. We like Kyle Gibson for the job, though the Texas Rangers should have many suitors for him once the Scherzer market shakes out. Would the Mets cash inThos more prospect capital for a rental like Jon Gray, who’d bring a touch more dominance but come at a higher cost? Those are key questions the front office must ponder in these final hours.

Really, it’s all moot if the most important of them all – Jacob deGrom – can’t come back and get deep into games as he battles forearm tightness. Yet it’s incumbent for the Mets to act like he’ll be there in October – and hopefully with another live arm next to him.

Dodgers: Multi-inning relief

Sure, any contender would love Scherzer in their life. For the Dodgers, though, Scherzer is more insurance policy than anything else. With Clayton Kershaw on his way back from forearm tightness, they figure to go down the stretch and into the playoffs with a strong 1-2-3 rotation punch: Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and Kershaw.

Far be it from us to ever call Mad Max redundant, but his 2021 numbers - 3.46 Fielding Independent Pitching, 0.89 WHIP and 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings - are strikingly similar to the Dodgers’ big three: Kershaw is at 2.97/0.98/10.7, Buehler 3.20/0.91/9.2 and Urias 3.53/1.06/9.5.

No, what might make more sense for L.A. is a multi-inning reliever who can bridge the gap from their less durable starters to a bullpen filled with oft-dominant one-inning guys. No, you don’t need Scherzer to supplant Tony Gonsolin and David Price to chase down the Giants. But it would be nice to have a capable veteran to piggyback with the other two guys on days they pitch.

The Dodgers could do worse than pick over the Pirates’ carcass for Chris Stratton, who has posted a 2.58 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings. Stratton has pitched at least two innings in 11 of his 41 appearances. Should the Cardinals adopt a seller’s stance by Friday, Giovanny Gallegos – who has a 0.72 WHIP in 53 innings over 45 games -would make another fine option.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB trade deadline: Four contenders' most glaring needs with time running out

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