Jeff Sullivan, Special to ESPN
By adding Eduardo Escobar and an assortment of relievers, the Diamondbacks did take some steps forward. The Rockies, less so — they added just Seunghwan Oh. These numbers are most interesting when considered relative to one another. It’s true that the Rockies did something. But they did arguably the least of any team in the hunt, outside of the Giants and Cardinals. The Rockies are tied for a playoff spot right now, but they decided to pretty much keep things as is.
This article is focusing only on the remaining two months. All we’re considering is teams trying to reach the playoffs, and not succeeding in them. As such, the American League is somewhat boring. The Red Sox got better, but they were going to be in the playoffs regardless. Same with the Yankees, who nearly kept pace with their rival. The Indians got better while running away with one of the worst divisions in memory. The Astros are almost certain to win the AL West.
This really comes down to the Mariners and A’s. Over the course of two months, the Mariners made a handful of trades, and those players are projected to add another 1.2 wins. The A’s are nearly a win below that, and that’s all Jeurys Familia. The A’s and Mariners are even, but the Mariners have made more moves to try to stay afloat.
The National League is more busy and crowded. Here it’s helpful, again, to look at the numbers in context. In the NL East, the Braves and Phillies are locked in a dogfight. But where the Phillies have added about a win and a half, the Braves are more than a half-win below that. The Braves might be more optimistic about Kevin Gausman, Brad Brach and Jonny Venters, but the projections are what they are. The Phillies seem to have made the bigger upgrades.
In the NL Central, the Cubs and Brewers also are having it out. But the Brewers added Jonathan Schoop, Mike Moustakas and Joakim Soria. The Cubs added Cole Hamels, Brandon Kintzler and Jesse Chavez. It looks like advantage goes to the Brewers, provided their infield defense works out as adequately as they expect it to. Hamels still misses bats, but he has been allowing louder contact than ever, so he’s more of a fit at the back of a rotation than at the front. The Brewers’ relative position has only improved.
We already went over the race in the NL West, where three teams are tight, but where the Dodgers did the most to get better. Which means we should turn our attention to the NL wild card. By adding Chris Archer, not to mention Keone Kela, the Pirates made a statement that they intend to contend. They’re up there tied with the Red Sox in terms of biggest improvement, a hair ahead of the Brewers. The Pirates certainly did more to get better than the Rockies and Braves.
The Pirates’ playoff chances still aren’t good — they have the NL’s eighth-best record. But they should tighten the gap on the teams in front of them because they’ve added a quality starter and a quality reliever. Kela alone might not have been enough. But with Archer, the Pirates might scramble into the second wild-card spot, where they could start — hey, look at that, Chris Archer. The Rockies, Diamondbacks and Braves have reason to be nervous.
What now? As mentioned above, only one trade deadline has passed. There’s another at the end of August. Players acquired through waiver trades in August are eligible for the playoff roster. Every team in baseball, of course, could get better, but there are a few particular key improvements I think could be made over the following few weeks. While the Rockies have been pretty quiet, they could benefit from adding a first baseman or a corner outfielder. I understand starting Ian Desmond or Gerardo Parra, but I don’t understand starting them both.
And then there are three teams that really could use a starting pitcher. I’m surprised the Brewers didn’t get one, and I think they’ll be snooping around, assuming they’re not relying too heavily on the possible return of Jimmy Nelson. The A’s and Mariners, as well, could and should be active in whatever starter market exists. It was around this time last year that the Mariners added Leake, and their rotation could use more help with Felix Hernandez looking so poor. The A’s shouldn’t let the Mariners get anything easily, since their own rotation is paper-thin. Jesus Luzardo might get called up and provide a boost, but that would be a lot of pressure to put on some very young shoulders.
I’m not sure what the August starter market will look like. I don’t know if there will be anyone better than, say, Marco Estrada or Matt Harvey available. Neither is someone a team would want to be starting in the playoffs. The first priority, however, is just getting that far, and the Mariners and A’s both could use the boost. The Rockies could look for that corner bat to try to fend off the Pirates.
The frenzy of the non-waiver trade deadline has passed, but that doesn’t mean competing executives get to exhale. Now it’s time to scout for finishing touches or for responses to sudden emergencies. The Dodgers and Pirates made the strongest statements leading up to July 31. There’s still time for the rest of baseball to try to reply.