SEVENTEEN TEAMS went into the All-Star break at or above .500. Even with the expanded postseason, now in its third year, only 10 clubs will play in October, and teams need to be realistic about their chances. Here's what five organizations on the edge of contention should do before the July 31 trade deadline:
YANKEES / Their .515 record and recent sweep of the Reds overstates their talent level. They had been outscored by 29 runs through Sunday—the last-place Red Sox' differential was minus-30—and New York heads into the second half missing more than $45 million in starting pitchers, with CC Sabathia out for the season and Masahiro Tanaka out until at least September. The only thing in the Yankees' favor is the weakness of the AL East—but you can't project a surge from a starting lineup whose average age is 34, and there are few in-demand prospects to deal. General manager Brian Cashman should test the market for Ichiro Suzuki and the resurgent Mark Teixeira (above) in an effort to add talent to a bottom-tier farm system.
ROYALS / The deal for ace James Shields before the 2013 season was a statement of intent: Kansas City was looking to make the playoffs in the two years before he reached free agency. Well, the Royals missed in '13, and through Sunday were seven games behind the Tigers in the AL Central and 3½ back of the Mariners for the second wild card. Their young core of hitters has largely failed to deliver: K.C. is 12th in the league in runs, 12th in OBP and 13th in slugging. The team has top prospects in shortstop Raul Adalberto Mondesi and outfielder Jorge Bonifacio; either could serve as the centerpiece of a deal for a corner outfielder, such as Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd or Josh Willingham. It would be a hefty price to pay, but so was Wil Myers for Shields two years ago.
INDIANS / They bounced back from a 24--30 start to hit the break at .500, but are 5½ games behind a Detroit team that is one of the best in the league. That means Cleveland is most likely fighting with the Mariners, Royals and the AL East runner-up for a spot in the one-game playoff. With just a one-in-six chance to pin down that slot (per Baseball Prospectus), the Tribe is better off selling. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera could help a number of teams, while starter Justin Masterson, if he proves that his right knee's healthy, could bring back a B-level prospect.
REDS / Emblematic of a National League in which no team stands out, Cincinnati is fourth in its division, eighth in the league and just three games off the best record in the circuit. The Reds survived an injury-plagued first half in which both their cornerstones, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, missed time with knee injuries. Despite playing in a hitters' park, Cincy is a pitching-and-defense team: Since the return of Mat Latos, the five-man rotation is as good as any in the NL Central, but the offense struggles to put runners on base, especially without Votto. The Reds may not be able to win the division, but Cincinnati should be able to again fill a wild-card slot by swapping secondary prospects for upgrades in the bullpen and in leftfield.
PIRATES / Expected to regress, Pittsburgh was 25--30 at the end of May and looking like a seller, but the Bucs closed the first half playing .600 baseball (24--16) and through Sunday were just 1½ games out in the division, two back in the wild-card scramble. On the other hand, the Pirates were outscored in the first half of the season; starter Gerrit Cole will return from an oblique injury soon, but the rest of the rotation—larded with retreads like Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley—misses very few bats. GM Neal Huntington has no business cashing in the products of a strong farm system to bolster a team that, at best, is playing for the second wild-card spot. He can play out the year with what he has, knowing that Alen Hanson, Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow are on the way to add to Pittsburgh's cost-controlled core in 2015 and beyond.
Which teams on the edge of contention should acquire talent at the trade deadline, and which should look toward the future?
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