For the first time in many years, every division race in baseball is wide open. In the American League, six teams are within six games of the final wild card. Whereas the July 31 trade deadline signaled the symbolic end to most team’s season and triggers player fire sales, this time more teams will look to bolster their rosters with a realistic shot at the playoffs.
Here is a handicapping of the playoff contenders and their roster needs. For the sake of greater simplicity we will assume that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have already made their major acquisition; obtaining closer Houston Street from San Diego.
Toronto Blue Jays
The on again, off again Blue Jays are relying on power production and solid pitching to remain in the hunt. After spending big money the past two off-seasons, the playoffs are as close for the Blue Jays than at any time in recent memory. The Jays’ balanced offense is bolstered with the presence of home run threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to compliment a starting nine as good as many in the league.
A back-end starter and a short reliever would be critical components to propelling Toronto into the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1993.
New York Yankees
Hard to picture the Yankees still being a viable contender after losing four of their five starting pitchers. The offensive side of the ledger is solid enough to remain in the hunt, but a top three starter should be top of the want list.
A team anchored by Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano are already in a good position, as each can reduce the likelihood of a major slide. The remainder of the batting order could use an experienced bat. The Mariners are among the worst teams in the AL in most offensive categories.
Kansas City Royals
Taking three of four from the Indians this past weekend seems to have reversed the team’s slide. The Royals are only 2 games out of the last wild card spot and could use a back-end of the rotation starter to bolster a solid staff. Having only two players with over 10 home runs emphasizes the Royals’ need for a middle of the order bat to remain in the hunt.
Just when you think the Indians are beginning to click, they stumble again. After taking the first three road contests against division leader Detroit, Cleveland lost two of three against the Twins and three of four against Kansas City; returning home one game below .500.
Carlos Santana has erupted at the plate, but the Indians need more plate production to supplement a top-heavy rotation. Adding another starter would be a secondary priority. Should the Tribe scuffle at the start of their home stand, the scales may tip for the Indians to be sellers more than buyers.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays should be well out of the playoff race by now; after having their starting rotation decimated by injury. If not for the effort of David Price and the timely hitting from a balanced (but unspectacular) offense, the Rays would be looking at potentially 100 losses. With such a gap to overcome and a lineup that manufactures runs more than overpower opponents, the Rays may be looking to sell of prized asset Price (pending free agent) and re-tool their roster for a 2015 playoff run.
Chicago White Sox
Jose Abreu is having a monster rookie campaign; and Chris Sale is having a Cy Young caliber season. beyond that, the White Sox are not a dangerous offensive squad and somewhat shaky pitching staff. At some point opposing teams will pitch around the Cuban-born slugger, contributing to a greater standings slide. There is only so much that Sale can do to stop losing streaks. Another middle of the order bat and a middle of the rotation starter would keep the Sox in the mix.
Boston Red Sox
Before the Toronto series, the Sox were beginning to gain momentum and raising optimism that the team was still in the hunt. Now after losing three of four to their division foe, the Sox are again on the outside looking in. The trade of Jake Peavy could be the first legitimate sign that the Sox are cashing in their chips for an off-season of roster changes. Mike Carp demanding a trade is another indication that Boston may be hanging up their Red Sox sooner rather than later.
If not for the parity of the division and the bunched-up wild card standings, many of the aforementioned teams would already be making off-season plans. But there is presently no dominant team in the American League that can simply run away with the final playoff berth. With that said, there will likely be many last-second decisions on the playoff worth of many of these teams; with several switching to sellers in a definite buyers market.