Biggest needs for teams in the hunt as trade deadline nears
Texas Rangers need a first baseman to boost the club's offense
The Angels did well to get Dan Haren but still need more starting pitching
The New York Mets could use an offensive upgrade at second base
As Saturday's non-waiver trade deadline draws closer, it's time to shift attention from the supply side of the market (focused on which players are available) to the demand side by looking at some of the biggest holes on contending teams and how they might be able to fill them. Teams don't necessarily need to add extremely productive -- and thus costly -- players to improve, but can often achieve similar gains at a fraction of the price by replacing extremely unproductive players, sometimes with as little as a league-average arm or bat.
NOTE: sOPS+ adjusts OPS to the standard of the position, with 100 as average; VORP is Value Over Replacement Player, a measurement that calculates a player's production relative to a replacement-level player at his position.
Hole: First base
Production to date: .199/.294/.317 (51 sOPS+)
MLB average at 1B: .272/.357/.463
The Guilty (VORP): Chris Davis (-7.2), Justin Smoak (-6.1)
Potential Targets (VORP): Russell Branyan (6.9), Adam LaRoche (6.2), Jorge Cantu (5.1), Lyle Overbay (3.3),
Though trading the organization's top hitting prospect within the division may hurt in the long run, sending Smoak to Seattle for Cliff Lee two weeks ago cost the 2010 Rangers nothing. Yet, as much as Smoak struggled in his major league debut (.209/.316/.353 in 275 plate appearances before the trade), reinstalling Davis (.200/.245/.244 in 49 PA since the trade) has been a step backwards. As a result, the Rangers' hole at first base remains the largest offensive drain among the major league contenders according to sOPS+. With the Angels refusing to go away, upgrading their rotation with Sunday night's acquisition of Dan Haren and plugging their third-base hole with the acquisition of Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis's return from the disabled list, the Rangers may need one more move to properly ice the division and maximize their postseason potential.
Hole: Second Base
Production to date: .234/.307/.289 (66 sOPS+)
MLB average at 2B: .265/.332/.391
The Guilty: Luis Castillo (-0.8), Alex Cora (-6.1), Ruben Tejada (-4.9)
Potential Targets: Dan Uggla (26.2), Kelly Johnson (29.9), Jeff Keppinger (14.3), Cristian Guzman (8.0), Adam Rosales (8.1), Mark Ellis (4.9), Ty Wigginton (9.3)
Only three National League teams have scored fewer runs per game than the Mets this year. Even the Padres have slipped past them of late. With Carlos Beltran having returned to push Jeff Francoeur out of the lineup, they've solved one problem (or will have as soon as Beltran starts hitting), but a far larger drain on their offense has been the lack of production from the keystone. The Mets consider themselves buyers, but at just a game over .500 (and just a half game ahead of the selling Marlins), they are in danger of falling out of contention. Their surest route back into the playoff picture is with a meaningful upgrade at second base. Special bonus: goosing the market for second basemen will make life tougher for the rival Phillies, whose second basemen (primarily Wilson Valdez) have hit just .212/.259/.338 since Chase Utley injured his thumb. With Utley likely out until September, the Phillies would be well advised to secure a proper stop-gap such as Keppinger, Rosales, or Wigginton, making it well worth the Mets while to at least drive up the price on those players.
Hole: Left field
Production to date: .239/.316/.311 (66 sOPS+)
MLB average in LF: .269/.337/.431
The Guilty: Juan Pierre (-9.4)
Potential Targets: Adam Dunn (30.1), Corey Hart (26.9), Jayson Werth (24.7), Jose Bautista (24.4), Luke Scott (25.5), Jack Cust (20.1), Jose Guillen (18.7), Scott Podsednik (10.4)
Yes, Pierre leads the majors in stolen bases, but even with those 35 steals factored in (as well as his American League-leading 12 times caught stealing), he has been the worst left fielder in all of baseball according to VORP, costing the White Sox a full win relative to the production they could have received from a replacement-level player. Fangraphs' WAR, which factors in Pierre's highly-rated defense, ranks him 20th among starting left fielders and 46th with non-starters factored in. Yet, Pierre not only continues to start, he and his .320 on-base percentage have led off 92 of the White Sox's 97 games. That's pure obstinacy on the part of Ozzie Guillen, as the ChiSox recent surge has happened despite Pierre, not because of him. Upgrading left field, particularly given the quality of talent available, could secure the division for Chicago.
Need: Starting pitching
Starters' ERA: 4.39 ERA
MLB average Starting Pitcher: 4.21 ERA
The Guilty: Scott Kazmir (6.92 ERA, 17 GS), Matt Palmer (9.00, 1 GS), Sean O'Sullivan (3.00 ERA, 1 GS)
Potential Targets: Roy Oswalt (3.42 ERA, 20 GS), Brett Myers (3.24 ERA, 20 GS), Ted Lilly (3.88 ERA, 17 GS), Livan Hernandez (3.12 ERA, 20 GS), Jake Westbrook (4.74 ERA, 20 GS), Jeremy Guthrie (4.46 ERA, 20 GS)
Getting Dan Haren was a nice upgrade for the Angels, but because they sent Joe Saunders to Arizona in the deal and O'Sullivan to Kansas City for Callaspo, they still have just four effective starters. So why are the Angels on this list? Because with Kazmir and Palmer on the DL, their fifth starter right now is "TBA" and the ERA of the Angels fifth starters this season is 6.79. At the moment, the Halos' best option for that final spot seems to be 23-year-old righty Trevor Bell, who has put up a 6.05 ERA in 15 appearances out of the bullpen this year and posted a 10.80 ERA in four starts for the Halos last year.
Need: Relief pitching
8th Inning: 4.74 ERA
MLB average 8th Inning: 3.88 ERA
The Guilty: Joba Chamberlain (5.66 ERA, 41 1/3 IP), David Robertson (4.76 ERA, 34 IP), Chan Ho Park (5.74 ERA, 31 1/3 IP)
Potential Targets: Scott Downs (2.41 ERA, 41 IP), Shawn Camp (2.92 ERA, 49 1/3 IP), Aaron Heilman (3.60 ERA, 45 IP), Koji Uehara (2.35 ERA, 15 1/3 IP)
When the Yankees moved Chamberlain back to the bullpen, he was supposed to return to being the dominant set-up man he was in late 2007 and early 2008. Instead, he has brought the inconsistency he showed in the rotation to the 'pen, helping to make the eighth the most problematic inning for the Yankees other than the sixth (when starters typically start to tire and relief pitchers frequently become involved). With Robertson and Park also struggling and Alfredo Aceves and lefty Damaso Marte on the disabled list, the Yankees are running out of in-house alternatives. They still have the majors best record and look like a safe bet to make the playoffs, but the defending world champions will need to lock down those set-up innings if they want to go deep into the postseason again.