Welcome to the purgatory of ambiguity.
To quote Dr. Hannibal Lecter: "You don't have anymore vacations to sell..."
Decision time is growing near and I'm not talking about the insipid and overwrought attention being paid to the MLB Draft. (They're actually having "war room" coverage; WAR ROOM COVERAGE!!!!)
No, the decisions to which I refer are teams that must determine where they are in the standings and whether or not to buy and sell in the coming weeks. Depending on their philosophies; the state of their organization; the GMs' security in his job, teams have to make the determination whether or not to stand pat; be aggressive; or toss the season.
Let's take a look at the teams who have to take the leap----one way or the other----or stick to their guns and see what happens by August.
Bear in mind that there are certain teams for whom it's entirely unnecessary to discuss (the Pirates; the Orioles; the Indians) and they'll be omitted as a matter of course.
- Go For It:
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays don't technically "need" much of anything right now; they've got a deep, young starting rotation and a bullpen that's performing well. They do have questions offensively. B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena have been atrocious; the clock struck midnight on Jason Bartlett after his career-year in 2009; and Ben Zobrist is just now starting to hit for power.
They could use a bat like Lance Berkman to DH; he'd be a perfect fit and his contract is up at the end of the year with a $2 million buyout and $15 million option that the Rays wouldn't pick up; perhaps they could sign him for less after declining the option if he does well and enjoys his time in Tampa. It might win them the World Series.
Boston Red Sox
After all the questions about their offense, if you look at the stats, the Red Sox are leading the big leagues in runs scored. In context, it's misleading. They've had games in which they've scored 13, 11, 17 runs; so remove the big offensive days and they still appear as if they're going to need a power bat.
Despite all their starting pitching, they might need an arm too. John Lackey has been repugnant; Josh Beckett is on the disabled list; and Daisuke Matsuzaka is, well, Daisuke Matsuzaka.
They're an older team that has to go for it now and has the prospects to get something done. Prince Fielder is going to be available; there's Berkman; and maybe, just maybe, if he comes back healthy by July and shows he can hit it might be worth it to ask the Mets about Carlos Beltran. I'm sure they're still loitering around Hanley Ramirez. For pitching, there's Roy Oswalt; Dan Haren; and the Stone Cold Killer, Cliff Lee.
New York Yankees
The Yankees don't need anything other than for Mark Teixeira to start hitting. Possibly a bench player of the Craig Counsell variety would be an asset. Here's an interesting name to consider as a DH/outfielder----Cody Ross of the Marlins; depending on how Mike Stanton does; on how the season plays itself out, the Marlins might be willing to make a move or two and Ross can hit.
Nick Punto has been awful at the plate; J.J. Hardy is performing just as badly with the Twins as he did last year with the Brewers when he managed to get himself sent to the minors; Orlando Hudson is out with a wrist problem----an ominous sign considering his history with similar injuries. Calling about Jorge Cantu might not be a bad idea to see what the Marlins say after another few weeks of up-and-down play.
Los Angeles Angels
All of a sudden, the flopping Angels who some brilliant baseball experts were referring to as one of the "worst teams in baseball" when they got off to a slow start, are a half-game out of first place in a flawed division.
One of the "worst teams in baseball".
They need a bat after Kendry Morales's injury and have been linked to Paul Konerko. Berkman might be an option; Luke Scott or Adam LaRoche would be low-cost pickups; and they might be able to get Kevin Millwood along with Scott to bolster the rotation in one deal with the Orioles; and there's always Roy Oswalt.
Their offense will be fine, they're in a slump and the best bet if they want to try and deal with the offensive doldrums would be to promote and play Domonic Brown (currently savaging Double A pitching) in place of a player----Raul Ibanez----who's looking increasingly shot. Once Jimmy Rollins returns, their offense will begin running properly again.
They could use a starting pitcher. How funny would this be? Maybe they should call the Mariners about getting the Stone Cold Killer back!
Aside from that, there are the Millwoods out there, presumably available cheaply.
The bullpen may be able to survive especially if Brad Lidge continues to look as terrific as he did this past weekend and they get Ryan Madson back in a reasonable amount of time for him to be a factor.
San Diego Padres
They need a bat.
With that pitching from top-to-bottom and Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres are for real and will hang around contention all year long. They can get Berkman if they want him, but he'd have to play the outfield. I suggested weeks ago that they go after Shin-Soo Choo. Ross, Jose Guillen or Scott would provide at least an improvement on their popgun offense.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Can they take on money with the divorce proceedings of the McCourts? Oswalt and Lee might win the Dodgers the World Series and it's doubtful that manager Joe Torre has any interest in preserving youth for the future.
- Hold your fire:
Toronto Blue Jays
They're hanging in there with the tough part of their schedule coming up. They have a wealth of young pitching and the offense has been hitting with a power that's not to be believed.
It was thought that they'd be clear sellers at the deadline, but doing so now would be insane even though they're not true contenders----the AL East makes the vision of contention for the Blue Jays a fantasy. But they've played well and to start clearing out the house now makes no sense unless they're bowled over in a trade offer. That's highly unlikely.
They're a mediocre team with a short starting rotation; a superlative bullpen; and a questionable lineup. Going for it now with Roy Oswalt would be a similar error as the gaffes that caused the team to fall from the 2006 pennant winner to overpaid and overhyped mishmash that is eating money (Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis) left-and-right for said players to work for other clubs.
They're close enough to the Twins to justify making a "tweak" move to improve, but doing something crazy makes no sense. Forget the Wild Card. The Tigers should wait and see what happens.
Chicago White Sox
They're supposedly teetering on cleaning house and I think they should hold their fire.
No, this isn't a Mike Francesa-style "I want them to keep trying so I can be right" (I picked the White Sox to win the World Series, you see.) As awful as they've been, it's a little too early for the White Sox to give up on the season.
If you look at the veterans in their starting rotation who've underperformed (Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd); the bats who haven't hit (A.J. Pierzynski and Gordon Beckham) and there's reason to think they can still make a run with the talent they have on the roster. With the awful start, they're still only 8.5 games out of first place and the Twins have issues. Give it some time would be my advice.
Ordinarily, the Rangers would be a team that should go for it now. They have so much young pitching and enough power to score runs that they're going to hang around the top of the AL West all year long. They need a starting pitcher; and maybe some ancillary bullpen help; but no one knows if the sale of the club and financial maze will affect player moves. Roy Oswalt would be an ideal fit, but can they do it?
They're holding their own; they have a lot of young pitching but need a bat. Billy Beane is aggressive and a Berkman-type acquisition would help them greatly. They're on the precipice of contending based on little more than the division they're in. If they were in the AL East, I'd say sell, sell, sell----especially Ben Sheets while he's healthy.
For right now? Hang around and see what happens.
Troy Glaus has been ripping the ball over the past month and they're overcoming the regular injuries that send Chipper Jones to the sidelines; Yunel Escobar's helium-filled head; and the struggles (to put it mildly) of Melky Cabrera and Nate McLouth.
They need a bat. Still.
Glaus can't stay this hot forever.
Could they use another starting pitcher? Yes. Don't discount the possibility of a Braves-Millwood reunion.
New York Mets
The Mets are in a tricky situation. They're almost unbeatable at home----it's not a ridiculous notion that they could stick in contention in a similar way to the 1987 World Series-winning Twins, who squeaked into the playoffs at 85-77; went 56-25 at home; 29-52 on the road, and walked away with the title.
With the emergence of young talent like Jenrry Mejia, the Mets do have the goods to get Dan Haren; but is it worth it?
The Mets should wait; see what happens when Carlos Beltran gets back and hope for a bargain in a trade while monitoring the big fish like Lee, Oswalt and Haren.
I'm starting to think Fredi Gonzalez might be in trouble if the Marlins continue to stumble.
That strategic....I'm not sure what to call it....botch from yesterday----in which he conceded the go-ahead run to the Mets in the bottom of the eighth inning----was inexplicable under any and all circumstances. I don't care how good your lineup is; how occasionally shaky the opposing team's closer is; you cannot----even if you have the Phillies, Yankees or Marlins bats----let the go-ahead run score in the eighth inning. You can't do it. Period.
Calling up Mike Stanton creates a bit of a logjam that will be temporarily resolved with the demotion of Cameron Maybin; but if they slump, Cody Ross, Jorge Cantu and a few others could be moved.
Stephen Strasburg is set to land and the Nationals will get a jolt from his appearance; they've been digging around Oswalt and are serious about trying to win; but they need a right fielder who can hit and some starting pitching. Mortgaging the future before they see how much of an impact Strasburg has is a mistake. Jose Guillen could be had from the Royals and has been hitting the ball out of the park.
I'm not sold on them.
They're leading the league in runs scored, but need a power bat. They've got impressive starting pitching, but Aaron Harang's been inconsistent. Their bullpen has been up-and-down. Before doing anything crazy, GM Walt Jocketty should wait a month before making an aggressive move on an arm. Aroldis Chapman might be a second-half weapon better than anything they could trade for on the mound.
St. Louis Cardinals
Thanks to the Ryan Howard contract extension with the Phillies, the Cardinals can't take on any long-term money because they have to concern themselves with keeping Albert Pujols after 2011. Since I'm not sold on the Reds, the Cardinals are still going to end up coming out on top of the NL Central.
If they could bolster the rotation with a Millwood, then that would be the way to go. I'm sure they'd love to get their hands on Haren, but may not have the money or the prospects to make it happen. One name to keep an eye on with the Cardinals late in the season----if he comes back to pitch at some point----is Brandon Webb.
They're in disarray with the ownership change and endless controversy, but haven't been so terrible that they should clear out the house now. Aramis Ramirez needs hitter's Cialis; but the pitching's been pretty good. They need a bat, but should wait to see where they are in a month.
San Francisco Giants
With that pitching, they'll be in contention all year long. If they think the acquisition of Pat Burrell will solve their offensive woes, they can forget it. Berkman's an idea; Scott or Ross a short-term offensive boost; if they had the financial wherewithal, Carlos Lee is a proven hitter.
As they are, the pitching can take them to the playoffs once Tim Lincecum gets straight.
The pitching has been the big problem after the superlative Ubaldo Jimenez. Injuries have robbed them of their depth and they're going to need a starter. Someone affordable and available like Millwood if they want to play it safe; or Lee if they go for it. They have the prospects to get such a thing done.
- Bag it:
Do you know a useful tool to judge whether a team is any good or not? Look at their roster. Go ahead. Look at the Mariners roster. Click here. I'll wait.
Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four; steaksteaksteaksteak....
How many players on that roster----who could presumably be available----would you currently like to have on your team?
How many can you say, "I'd love to have that guy,"?
The Stone Cold Killer, Cliff Lee? Yes.
You want Ichiro? He's an expensive, selfish, losing player.
Milton Bradley? Chone Figgins? Casey Kotchman? Ian Snell? Jason Vargas?!?
The Mariners need to sell high on Lee. Soon. Before he gets hurt.
They're going nowhere. Poorly constructed and a mishmash of talent, they don't have enough pitching in the rotation or the bullpen; won't be able to keep Prince Fielder after next season; and have many holes to fill.
Put Fielder on the block and move him.
I'm not going into my familiar rant about their flaws, but they have to try and recoup something from Webb if he returns----and they might be able to get a couple of good prospects for him if he shows he's healthy for the short-term; he could put someone over the top. Haren is the interesting case. He's locked up long-term and doesn't have a no-trade clause. Put him in a big ballpark like Citi Field and his issue with allowing homers disappears.
They could get something for Adam LaRoche from a team like the Angels and a few other of their pieces.
The Diamondbacks are a mess; the team's terrible; clear it out.