As the calendar approaches June, the balance of power starts to shake out in MLB’s standings. Both teams expected to contend and those we expected little from have quickly established themselves as organizations in the hunt for a playoff spot this season.
Unfortunately for these teams, there are only five playoff spots up for grabs in the American League and the National League. With 12-plus teams all fighting for a spot in the playoffs, each club’s general manager will be spending the next two months looking for pieces to give themselves a greater advantage over fellow contenders.
Here are the top trade fits for baseball’s top contenders at this point in the season.
Boston Red Sox: Tony Watson, reliever, San Francisco Giants
While Boston’s trio of Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel have pitched very well this season, it could stand to add a strong left-handed reliever to its bullpen. San Francisco may be hopeful it can contend for a playoff spot, but its 11-16 record in May is a shift in the wrong direction.
If San Francisco opts to sell, Boston should make a call on Watson. The 32-year-old signed with San Francisco this offseason after he excelled in the bullpen last year with Los Angeles Dodgers. During his stint in Los Angeles, Watson registered a 2.70 ERA in the regular season and a 2.57 ERA in the postseason. He offers plenty of playoff experience and excels against right-handed batters, which would make him the perfect piece to plug in with Boston’s three right-handed relievers.
New York Yankees: Chris Archer, starting pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays
While Boston’s farm system lacks the upper-echelon prospects to land a star, its rivals in New York are under no such limitations. Whether it requires quantity or quality, the Yankees can come to the negotiating table with everything a seller could desire. Given this power, New York will aim to acquire an excellent starting pitcher who is cost-controlled for multiple seasons, which would fill the team’s greatest need and help maintain its budget.
Archer fits the bill perfectly and while it would require an in-division deal with the Rays, Tampa Bay would certainly be open to it given all New York can offer. Archer, whose 4.29 ERA is made significantly better given he holds a 2.33 ERA in six May starts, is in the midst of a very team-friendly contract. According to Spotrac, the 29-year-old is owed $30.25 million combined over the next four seasons.
Cleveland Indians: Kelvin Herrera, closer, Kansas City Royals
For Cleveland fans, the confidence when watching a game quickly evaporates whenever the bullpen takes over. Cleveland’s bullpen now has the worst ERA in baseball (6.13). The front office will certainly make calls all around baseball and examine the price of standouts However, when they finish exploring the market, they’ll find Herrera to be the right fit.
Herrera, who holds a 0.83 ERA and 0.74 WHIP in 21.2 innings this season, has converted 12-of-13 save opportunities for Kansas City. The righty would allow manager Terry Francona the ability to mix in Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and Herrera throughout the late innings and give the team more stability in the late innings.
Houston Astros: Brad Hand, closer, San Diego Padres
Houston could go in a number of ways in the next two months, either targeting an outfielder, catcher or relief pitchers. In the end, the ideal scenario is landing the 28-year-old southpaw with electric stuff who manager A.J. Hinch could use anywhere.
The concerns over closer Ken Giles are overstated. While his 4.50 ERA seems high, it drops to 1.02 when you remove two of his blowup appearances when he allowed seven runs in 1/3 of an inning. Improving the bullpen still remains an area of need. Hand would be under team control through the 2021 season and could either serve as Houston’s closer or be part of a committee with Giles, Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock to rotate in the eighth and ninth innings after Houston’s starter goes six-plus innings.
Seattle Mariners: J.A. Happ, starting pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto will be the most aggressive decision makers this season. Seattle already acquired outfielder Denard Span and reliever Alex Colome, but upgrading the rotation remains the team’s greatest need.
The duo of James Paxton and Marco Gonzalez is strong, but the team could stand to improve on its collective 4.14 ERA. One name for Seattle to target will be Happ, a 35-year-old southpaw who could allow Seattle to push Felix Hernandez into more frequent matchups against back-end starters for opposing teams.
Los Angeles Angels – Raisel Iglesias, closer, Cincinnati Reds
The Angels head into June in the thick of a fight for the AL West crown or a wild card spot. One area they must continue to address is their bullpen, which could become one of the best in the league if they can land Iglesias.
Los Angeles already lost Keynan Middleton for the next 18-plus months due to Tommy John Surgery. Iglesias, who is under team control through 2020, is one of the most underrated relievers in baseball. Since he emerged as Cincinnati’s primary closer last season, the 28-year-old carries a 2.36 ERA, 120 strikeouts and converted 37-of-41 save opportunities across 99 innings pitched.
Atlanta Braves: Cole Hamels, starting pitcher, Texas Rangers
No one expected the Braves to be at this point so soon, but everything is clicking for them. However, the organization must strengthen its rotation and add a veteran presence if it wants to be taken seriously in the postseason. The benefits of Hamels go beyond his experience and ability to serve as a mentor for many of Atlanta’s young arms. The 34-year-old can also bring expertise and familiarity with the playoffs, given he has 98 1/3 postseason innings on his resume.
According to Spotrac, the veteran carries a $20 million club option for the 2019 season and the team can avoid it through a $6 million buyout. This flexibility would allow Atlanta to evaluate where its young starters are at the end of the season and either bring Hamels back or clear $16 million off the books to spend in free agency.
Washington Nationals: J.T. Realmuto, catcher, Miami Marlins
According to FanGraphs, Washington’s catchers entered Friday ranked 21st in batting average (.205) and 26th in OPS (.602). Given the Nationals’ strength is their pitching staff, adding one of the league’s best catchers is a logical move for Washington.
While Realmuto missed a few weeks to start the season, the 27-year-old has been outstanding at the plate since his return. In 35 games, Miami’s catcher carries a .312/.374/.532 slash line with six home runs and 18 RBI. Paired with his skills behind the plate throwing out baserunners, Realmuto would provide a dramatic upgrade at catcher for the Nationals.
Philadelphia Phillies: Manny Machado, shortstop, Baltimore Orioles
Philadelphia could go a number of directions in the next two months in search of a big piece to add to its lineup and firmly establish itself as a contender. The greatest fit for them now and potentially in the future is Baltimore’s dynamic shortstop and the top player available this trade season.
The first benefit of landing Machado is obviously the addition of his bat. Through 56 games, the 25-year-old owns a .324/.392/.612 slash line with 16 home runs, 15 doubles and 45 home runs. Even more impressively, the veteran has drawn nearly as many walks (25) as strikeouts (34). An even nicer bonus for Philadelphia, it could use the remainder of the season to show Machado the benefits of playing with the Phillies.
Milwaukee Brewers: Jed Lowrie, infielder, Oakland Athletics
The Brewers head into June struggling to find production in the middle infield, but the lineup still ranks in the top 14 in runs scored (245) and OPS (.726) this season. Milwaukee could also use another veteran presence in the clubhouse who can bring postseason experience.
Lowrie checks off multiple boxes as a utility infielder with excellent production this season and is known as a leader in the clubhouse. The veteran infielder entered Thursday with a .299/.362/.493 slash line, nine home runs, 14 doubles and 39 RBI. For a team with a league-worst OPS (.545) from its shortstops and a .646 OPS from its second basemen that ranks in the bottom third of the league, Lowrie could fill in at either position.
Chicago Cubs: Yusmeiro Petit, relief pitcher, Oakland Athletics
While plenty of starting pitchers on the market will be mentioned as potential fits for Chicago, the bullpen might be more of a need for the Cubs this season. Especially given MRI results showed no structural damage in Yu Darvish’s pitching arm.
Chicago will explore the market, but its focus should be on further strengthening its bullpen. Petit, who has served in a number of roles throughout his career, would slot in perfectly as a utility reliever. He owns a 3.18 ERA and 1.15 WHIP this season and is under team control through 2019 with a club option for the 2020 season.
St. Louis Cardinals: Josh Donaldson, third base, Toronto Blue Jays
It still doesn’t appear Donaldson’s shoulder is healthy given he carries a .234/.333/.423 slash line with five home runs and 16 RBI in 36 games. Yet the 32-year-old is just a season removed from his third consecutive season with 30-plus home runs and a .900-plus OPS.
Toronto’s third baseman should be much healthier by July and if he can return closer to his pre-2018 form, he would fit perfectly into the Cardinals lineup. The addition of Donaldson could allow the team to shift Matt Carpenter to second base, a direct area of need given the team’s collective .617 OPS from the position.
Colorado Rockies: Justin Smoak, first base, Toronto Blue Jays
Despite half of their games being played in Coors Field, the Rockies’ first basemen rank 29th in OPS (.567) and slugging percentage (.318). If Colorado can upgrade at first base, it could return to having one of the most productive lineups in baseball.
Since last season, Smoak is enjoying some of the greatest success among his peers. In over 800 at-bats since 2017, Smoak ranks seventh in OPS (.870), eighth in slugging percentage (.509) and 11th in batting average (.265). The 31-year-old carries an affordable club option for the 2019 season. He’d fit perfectly into Colorado’s lineup and his power would further improve in Coors Field.