Evaluating the five biggest problem positions for contending teams
The production by Minnesota second basemen has been embarrassingly bad
The Mets should stop hoping and trade for Hawpe, DeRosa or Holliday
Surprising Cincinnati is a bat short of being a real contender
Braves general manager Frank Wren can be scolded for leaving class act Tom Glavine for curbside pickup, but give him credit for a move most general managers won't make: the preemptive trade. Instead of wasting another month kidding himself that the Braves could fix their outfield issues internally, Wren stepped up with the rare June impact deal to get Nate McLouth from the Pirates. McLouth isn't the force that weepy Pirates fans think he is -- he's a solid .260 career hitter -- but he is a needed upgrade for the Braves.
Meanwhile, the clock should be ticking for other clubs when it comes to problem positions, and a solution at the July 31 trading deadline may be too late. With Wren's realism in mind, here are the biggest problem positions for contenders, with possible solutions offered.
1. Twins at second base: The production by Minnesota second baseman has been embarrassingly bad (.181/.239/.247). Toss in the weak bats swung by the Nick Punto-led shortstops (.240/.315/.311), and the Twins, despite their deserved reputation for being a sound fundamental team, could be the greatest fielding team in history and still wind up a .500 team. The middle infielders have combined for just 20 extra-base hits all season. I don't think the Twins should think they're going to get a whole lot more from Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla and Brendan Harris at second base.
2. Giants at first base: Cactus League slugger Travis Ishikawa was a mirage, managing only six extra-base hits once the real games began. San Francisco first basemen were last with a .640 OPS (25 percent below average at the position) and a .335 slugging percentage with two home runs. Isn't this supposed to be the easiest position to find offense?
Solution: The Giants may have to use left-handed pitcher Jonathan Sanchez to get Jorge Cantu or Nick Johnson, or possibly trade for Miguel Tejada or a discounted Garrett Atkins to play third base, with hackmeister Pablo Sandoval set at first.
3. Mets in right field: New York's offense is so shaky right now that it can't afford 40-year-old Gary Sheffield to go down. Mets right fielders have hit one home run (fewer than Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo) and scored only 17 runs while putting up a pathetic hitting line of .246/.329/.324. The Mets are kidding themselves if they believe all they need to do is ride out this injury storm for Carlos Delgado to come back from hip surgery as an offensive stud, for Ryan Church play well again -- which he hasn't done for more than a year since his concussion problems began -- for Fernando Martinez to be big-league ready at 20, for Jose Reyes to get his legs strong soon and for Sheffield to hold up playing the outfield every day.
4. White Sox in center field: I'm stretching the definition of a contender to include Chicago, which really hasn't given any indication it can be anything more than a .500 team. Kenny Williams is one of the most aggressive GMs in the game, but his lack of a decent solution at such a key position for four years running is perplexing. Williams has tried 14 center fielders since Aaron Rowand left, and the average 162-game production from that bunch is .240 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs -- numbers that would look great compared to the abysmal production he is getting there this year: .219, no homers, four RBIs, 13 runs. Ouch. And no, Scott Podsednik is no more the answer than a comeback from John Cangelosi.
Solution: I guess Ryan Spilborghs would be an upgrade, but nothing that would get the Sox back into contention.
5. Take your pick: Reds in left field, center field or at third base: The Reds are a bat short of being a real contender, and they have three obvious areas that need attention. The left fielders are the worst in baseball at .223 (with zero stolen bases), center fielder Willy Taveras predictably doesn't get on base nearly enough for a guy with no pop, and the third basemen (.196, five home runs, one steal) have been awful.
Solution: DeRosa would be a nice fit in left field or at third base.
Dishonorable mentions: Red Sox at designated hitter and shortstop; Rays at catcher; Tigers in left field; Braves in right field.
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