One difference-making commerce for every of MLB’s 6 division-leading groups

Nothing feels better to front offices than heading into the All-Star break atop the division, but mid-July is not the time to rest on your laurels and it’s certainly not time to put champagne on ice, even if you have a double-digit lead in the standings, like the Yankees and Astros enjoy. Instead, it’s time to be a shark who smells blood in the water. That means positioning your team to finish the job by making smart moves before the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

Every team, regardless of how good it is, has weaknesses. And to win a World Series, general managers must find ways to enhance their team’s chances, by improving through in-season trades and/or call-ups.

Here, I looked at the six division leaders’ biggest respective weaknesses and proposed a trade for each of them that would increase their odds of bringing home a world championship.

Yankees (60-23, 14 1/2-game lead in AL East)

Biggest weakness: Overall outfield production

Solutions: Acquire OF Bryan Reynolds in trade with Pirates for OF Jasson Dominguez

The Yankees got a good look at Bryan Reynolds this week at PNC Park. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today)

Outside of American League MVP front-runner Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ outfield has been one of the least productive in the league, particularly because of the lack of offense from Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo. Hicks has been solid defensively, but he’s hitting .234 with just five home runs and 11 extra-base hits. Gallo is batting a paltry .165 and has only 19 RBIs despite his 10 homers, though he, too, has been decent in left field. Adding an impact two-way player in the outfield could be a difference-maker in October, when the Yankees will face powerhouse teams such as the Astros, who lead the season series against them.

Bryan Reynolds is the perfect acquisition for New York. Reynolds, 27, had a breakout season in 2021 when he slashed .302/.390/.522 with 35 doubles, eight triples, 24 home runs and 90 RBIs. He made his first All-Star team and finished top 11 in the National League MVP voting. This season, Reynolds hit .194 in April and .224 in May but then heated up. He’s raised his OPS to .800 and has logged 10 doubles, three triples, 15 home runs and 32 RBIs. Reynolds won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2025 season. He is the ideal long-term solution in center field for the Yankees.

The Pirates’ trade price for Reynolds is exorbitant, as it should be. However, with the Yankees’ deep farm system, there is a path to a deal. The Pirates would like the conversation to start with shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe — that’s just not happening. But if the Yankees offered Jasson Dominguez, the 19-year-old, switch-hitting future star, the Pirates would have to consider it, even though trading Reynolds would be unpopular among their fans. Dominguez, who is at Low-A Tampa, fits the Pirates’ timeline to become contenders much better than Reynolds. He should be ready for the majors when they’re ready to win and is a much cheaper option for the foreseeable future. Parting with Dominguez would be painful for the Yankees, but they won a world championship 13 years ago and it’s time to take big swings because this team could go all the way.

Twins (47-38, 4 1/2-game lead in AL Central)

Biggest weakness: bullpen

Solutions: Acquire RHP Jorge López and RHP Félix Bautista in trade with Orioles for RHP Simeon Woods Richardson

The Twins rank 10th in the AL in bullpen ERA at 3.81 and have converted only 18 of 35 save opportunities. If they are going to maintain their lead in the AL Central, they must improve the bullpen before the trade deadline.

The best trade fit for Minnesota to address this weakness is probably the Orioles, who rank fifth in the majors in bullpen ERA at 3.26. The Orioles have done an impressive rebuilding job, but they are likely still two years away from legitimately contending, so there’s little reason to let bullpen arms stand in the way of furthering the rebuild. Therefore, a trade of their closer, Jorge López, and a set-up reliever the caliber of Félix Bautista for a future middle-of-the-rotation starter such as Simeon Woods Richardson makes sense for both teams.

López, 29, has posted a 1.79 ERA in 37 appearances and converted 15 of 19 save opportunities. Bautista, 27, has registered a 1.89 ERA in 36 appearances, with 41 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings. Woods Richardson, 21, was acquired in the José Berríos trade at last year’s deadline. He is 2-3 this season at Double-A Wichita, where he has a 3.40 ERA and a 1.132 WHIP (allowing seven hits per nine innings) in 11 starts. He’s currently on the injured list.

Astros (54-28, 13-game lead in NL West)

Biggest weakness: Offensive production at catcher

Solutions: Acquire C Willson Contreras in trade with Cubs for OF Colin Barber and RHP Misael Tamarez

Astros starting catcher Martín Maldonado is a former Gold Glove winner (2017), but he’s hitting .160 with 66 strikeouts in 187 at-bats. His backup of him, Jason Castro, is on the IL, and he was hitting .115, which forced Houston to call up his best catching prospect, Korey Lee. If Lee is not major-league ready and needs more minor-league experience, then a trade for Contreras could be the Astros’ best option. But they have a few weeks to find out more about Lee before having to part with prospects to solve the problem.

Willson Contreras, 30, has produced a career-best slash line (.274/.392/.498), along with 17 doubles, 13 home runs and 35 RBIs in 71 games and 309 plate appearances. He has posted a 3.0 WAR (Baseball-Reference) and a 147 OPS+. A free agent after this season, Contreras could be the best overall position player dealt at this trade deadline.

Colin Barber, 21, was the Astros’ fourth-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. He has slashed .314/.423/.487 at High-A Asheville with 10 doubles, seven home runs and 32 RBIs. He’s capable of playing all three outfield positions but will probably end up in an outfield corner. Misael Tamarez, 22, has a power arm that generates whiffs (70 strikeouts in 63 innings this season), but he has a long way to go with his command and control of it. He has posted a 4.00 ERA in 12 starts and three relief appearances this year at Double-A Corpus Christi.

Mets (52-31, 3 1/2-game lead in NL East)

Biggest weakness: Offensive production from the DH spot

Solutions: Acquire 1B/OF/DH Trey Mancini in trade with Orioles for RHP Dominic Hamel and RHP Calvin Ziegler

The Mets have not gotten enough offense from their designated hitters and a trade for Trey Mancini makes sense on so many levels. Mancini, 30, has been the face of the Orioles for several years. But he will decline his side of a 2023 mutual option after this season, according to sources, and become a free agent, so the Orioles should trade him before the deadline.

Mancini, who overcame stage 3 colon cancer, has hit 21 or more home runs in each of his last four seasons. This year, he’s slashed .280/.354/.423 with 15 doubles, eight home runs and 33 RBIs. Mancini is batting .299 against fastballs and .278 against breaking balls and ranks in the 9th percentile in the league in xwOBA, the 92nd percentile in xBA and the 82nd percentile in max exit velocity. His ability to play first base and the outfield corners would give the Mets more flexibility and allow them to give other players days off down the stretch.

The Orioles will continue to focus on acquiring pitching at this trade deadline, and fair compensation for Mancini would be something like right-handers Dominic Hamel and Calvin Ziegler. Hamel, 23, was the Mets’ third-round pick in the 2021 draft. He’s gone 5-2 with a 3.84 ERA in 14 appearances (13 starts) this season at High-A Brooklyn, striking out 71 in 63 1/3 innings. Ziegler, 19, was the Mets’ second-round pick in 2021. He’s posted a 3.57 ERA in 10 starts this season at Low-A St. Lucie, with 57 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings. He’s also walked 21 and has a lot of work to do on command and control. However, if the Orioles could get two quality arms like this for a rental, it’s a no-brainer.

Brewers (47-37, 2 1/2-game lead in NL Central)

Biggest weakness: Middle-of-the-order thump

Solutions: Acquire 1B/DH Josh Bell in trade with Nationals for 2B Tyler Black

Adding Josh Bell would give the Brewers’ lineup a big boost. (Brad Mills/USA Today)

The Brewers are sixth in the NL in runs scored, which puts them behind all but the Padres among the current NL postseason field, and they are 10th in hits. They could really use another big bat in the middle of the order and Josh Bell makes the most sense to me. The switch-hitting Bell, 29, will be a free agent after this season. He has slashed .310/.393/.502 with 18 doubles, 12 home runs and 47 RBIs. He has played in 84 of Washington’s 85 games.

In return, the rebuilding Nationals would do well if they could land second baseman Tyler Black in a one-for-one deal. The Nationals won’t get any of the Brewers’ better prospects for a rental, even one of Bell’s caliber, but landing Black, 21, would be a smart play. The Brewers selected Black out of Wright State with the 33rd pick in last year’s draft. He’s off to a great start in pro ball, getting on base at a 40 percent clip at High-A Wisconsin, with 13 doubles, four triples and four homers in 271 plate appearances, along with 11 stolen bases. It might seem like a high price for a rental, but this is a sellers’ market and there won’t be a lot of quality hitters available at the deadline.

Dodgers (53-29, 6-game lead in NL West)

Biggest weakness: Outfield and closer depth

Solutions: Acquire RHP Scott Barlow and OF Andrew Benintendi in trade with Royals for OF Andy Pages, RHP Gavin Stone, OF Jake Vogel and cash considerations

The Dodgers don’t have any significant weaknesses and they’re clearly the team to beat in the NL West. However, you can never have enough talent or depth as contingencies for injuries or subpar player performances, so if you’re the Dodgers, why not add another closer and a Gold Glove left fielder?

Craig Kimbrel has 14 saves this season, but he’s also blown three save opportunities since May 30 and carries a 4.82 ERA, which isn’t much better than the 5.09 ERA he posted last season with the White Sox after he was traded at the deadline. Enter Scott Barlow, who could start off as the eighth-inning set-up reliever and give manager Dave Roberts another option at closer in the regular season and postseason. Barlow, 29, has a 2.39 ERA in 34 appearances, with 13 saves in 15 opportunities. He’s under team control through the 2024 season.

Outfielder Chris Taylor just went on the IL with a fractured foot, and although the Dodgers have sufficient fill-ins with Gavin Lux, Trayce Thompson, Jake Lamb and Zach McKinstry, let’s be real: They are the Dodgers. So, acquire Benintendi to play above-average defense in left field, and when Taylor comes back, he can always play second base with Max Muncy returning to DH. Benintendi, 28, has slashed a career-best .319/.388/.405 and will be a free agent after this season.

In return, the Royals would get a haul of solid prospects, with outfielder Andy Pages as the headliner coming back. Pages, 21, has batted just .245 this season at Double-A Tulsa, but he has 16 doubles, 15 home runs, 47 RBIs and an .838 OPS. Stone, 23, was the Dodgers’ fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft and he’s having a dominant year at High-A Great Lakes and Tulsa, posting a combined 1.34 ERA in 15 starts, with 99 strikeouts and 22 walks in 74 innings. The final piece of the deal would be outfielder Jake Vogel, 20, who was the Dodgers’ third-round pick in 2020. He has reached base at about a 35 percent clip this season with 12 doubles, seven triples and nine stolen bases in 12 attempts at Low-A Rancho Cucamonga. All said, this would be a strong long-term return for the Royals, even though a deal like this would initially be unpopular in Kansas City.

(Top photo of Trey Mancini: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)


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