The 2017 MLB season hasn't gone as most of us expected so far.
The defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs are struggling to play above .500 ball, the AL favourite Boston Red Sox can't hit much after owning the best offence in baseball a year ago, and other 2016 playoff teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are struggling to win games.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees are first or second in their respective divisions. But the season is barely over a month old, and a whole lot can change between now and the trade deadline in three months.
For some surprising teams to hang around in playoff contention, they'll have to make some big trades. For struggling teams to make a late run at the playoffs, they too will have to make some big moves. Here are 15 moves these MLB teams need to do to keep their playoffs aspirations going.
*Stats through May 9th and are courtesy of MLB.com and ESPN.com*
15 Blue Jays Bring Back Melky Cabrera
Melky Cabrera spent two seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, and was a very serviceable hitter and defender. He last played for them in 2014, batting .301 with an .809 OPS and 3.1 WAR. But the Jays didn't meet Cabrera's price range (when does this team ever pay up its best players?) and he signed with the Chicago White Sox.
A career .285 hitter, Cabrera would be a big pickup for a Blue Jays team that lacks proven starters in the outfield who also provide good contact and nice speed. Their lineup is also deprived of lefties, which has contributed to so much frustration in 2017.
If general manager Ross Atkins can bring back Cabrera at a low price, the Jays may be able to save their season and go on a run like they did in 2015 to make the playoffs. Cabrera would fix a lot of holes on this Jays team.
14 Giants Acquire Matt Garza
The San Francisco Giants are among the worst teams in baseball right now, but nobody should be surprised since they always miss the playoffs during even years. With a great rotation powered by Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, the Giants owned the MLB's fourth-best pitching unit in 2016 -- posting an ERA of 3.65.
But so far, so bad. The Giants pitching staff has combined for a woeful 4.84 ERA, which is the second worst in the majors. Cueto, Samardzija and Matt Moore have all posted ERAs above 4.50.
The Giants have to get desperate, and trading for Milwaukee Brewers starter Matt Garza could save their season. He's off to a great start with a 2.55 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 17.2 innings pitched. Perhaps adding another solid arm in the rotation could fix the Giants struggles from the mound.
13 Rays Bring in Jose Bautista
The Tampa Bay Rays are flirting with a .500 record, and it's going to be ultra-difficult to catch the hard-hitting Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in a stacked AL East. Tampa already has a solid rotation in place, but they're going to need more help from the plate if they're going to make a run at the playoffs.
If the Blue Jays are out of the playoffs by the time of the trade deadline, then they should be willing to trade fading star Jose Bautista, even if it's to a division rival. The Rays could overpay for him by offering a pair of C+ or B-level prospects. Yes, his .174 batting average and two home runs are far from attractive, but perhaps a change of scenery is best for Joey Bats.
Tampa Bay is batting just .237 as a team with 42 home runs. If they pick up Jose Bautista, they have more power in a fairly inconsistent lineup.
12 Red Sox Snag Bartolo Colon
The Red Sox own one of the top pitching staffs in the American League, posting a 3.76 ERA and holding opponents to a .242 batting average. But $217 million man David Price has yet to pitch all season with soreness in his elbow, and knuckleballer Steven Wright opted for knee surgery which has ended his season. Also, 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello has struggled to repeat his All-Star form so far.
If Boston wants to overtake the powerhouse Orioles and Yankees, they're going to need insurance in the rotation. Why not take on Atlanta Braves pitcher Bartolo Colon? He's a 44-year-old in a contract year and will surely be as cheap as they come.
Colon is struggling with a 1-3 record and 6.27 ERA, but it's hard to ignore he won 15 games a year ago. Perhaps a new team is all Colon needs to be a top-three starter again. Dave Dombrowski loves to go all-in, and he may need a veteran like Colon to give Boston the best chance at making the playoffs.
11 Mariners Add Clay Buchholz
The Mariners once-promising rotation has been anything but spectacular in 2016. Former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez is on the disabled list and could be out long term, but even his 4.73 ERA through five starts was extremely concerning. When he comes back, it's possible King Felix isn't the dominant ruler he used to be on the mound.
Also, number two starter Hisashi Iwakuma is struggling, and the bullpen has been a mess. Seattle's 4,56 ERA is only better than the Detroit Tigers in the American League. Offence isn't a problem with Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz -- but Seattle won't go anywhere without an upgrade to their rotation.
Veteran Clay Buchholz would be a nice pickup. He's in a contract year with the struggling Philadelpha Phillies and could come at a cheap price. Buchholz isn't getting it done with Philly, but perhaps a switch to a weak AL West would be best for him. Seattle should add a veteran like Buchholz without selling the farm. It's a win-win.
10 Twins Trade For Joaquin Benoit
The Twins aren't off to a great start in 2017, but they play in what's been a surprisingly weak AL Central Division. With some nice young hitters in Byron Buxton and Max Kepler (plus veteran Joe Mauer), Minnesota could actually hang around in the playoff race leading up to the trade deadline.
If they want to do that, they'll need to fix a bullpen that carries a 4.90 ERA and has allowed hitters to bat .262 against them. Philadelphia Phillies reliever Joaquin Benoit would be a nice addition to take care of those problems.
Benoit has posted a 2.63 ERA with 14 strikeouts in just 13.2 innings pitched. With the Toronto Blue Jays last year, Benoit racked up 24 strikeouts and a 0.38 ERA in 23.2 innings pitched. Minnesota would have a reliable reliever in Benoit, and his age (40) would probably make him another cheap pickup.
The Twins would sure get a bang for their buck if they traded for him.
9 Reds Reunite With Todd Frazier
The 2015 Home Run Derby winner was a two-time All-Star with the Cincinnati Reds, but was traded to the Chicago White Sox two winters ago. Cincinnati has to realize that was a mistake and do whatever it takes to bring back Todd Frazier's services.
Cincinnati is doing surprisingly well this season, as they hold second place in the Central Division (thanks to the porous start from the Chicago Cubs). The Reds own the third-best offence in baseball (172 runs), and the fifth-best batting average (.266). But besides the slugging from star first baseman Joey Votto, it's tough to see the Reds keeping up with the hitting.
Once the inevitable regressing takes place, they should look to bring back Frazier. He batted just .255 with the ChiSox last year and is batting .195 this year. Frazier is also in a contract year, so Chicago will be happy to give him away at the deadline. Given Frazier's previous success in Cincinnati, one has to believe a reunion would make perfect sense and help the Reds push for the playoffs.
8 Mets Trade For Jeremy Hellickson
The Mets owned the third-best ERA in baseball last year (3.58), while holding opponents to a .254 batting average. That was thanks to a Cy Young-caliber season from Noah Syndergaard and great efforts from Bartolo Colon and Jacob deGrom.
But the Mets ace will be out until the All-Star break after suffering a torn muscle in his throwing arm. Colon is now on the Atlanta Braves and Matt Harvey got himself suspended for breaking team rules. The free-falling Mets have to do something about their rotation quick, and perhaps their NL East foes -- the Philadelphia Phillies -- will be happy to help.
Veteran starter Jeremy Hellickson could fix up the Mets rotation. He's 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA and is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. Given how he's a pending free agent and unlikely to rejoin the Phillies, they could be willing to give him away at a low price.
Hellickson is an ideal fit for New York, and they have no reason not to add a veteran like him to save their season before it's too late.
7 Mariners Make Move for Alex Cobb
As mentioned earlier, the Mariners rotation (and pitching staff in general), has been a massive disappointment and really needs one or two more pieces before they can make another run at the playoffs.
Well, if the Tampa Bay Rays are far out of the playoff race by July, you can expect them to shop starting pitcher Alex Cobb -- who'll probably get more money from another team as a free agent during the winter. Cobb is 2-3 in 2017 with a 3.56 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 26 strikeouts.
Those are pretty solid numbers for a number two/three pitcher, considering he is in the offensive-friendly AL East. Cobb would instantly fix a wretched Mariners rotation that hasn't been able to stay healthy nor find any consistency. If Seattle could add Cobb to their staff, they just might turn it around and make a run for the playoffs.
6 Blue Jays Reel in Eric Hosmer
The Blue Jays offence has been so up-and-down all season long, and it's a huge reason why this team is in contention for last in the majors. With Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin missing significant time with injuries, the Blue Jays have learned that the depth on this team is...not very inspiring.
The struggling Kansas City Royals could help, as they'll likely trade away first baseman Eric Hosmer -- who is likely to sign a mega contract elsewhere this winter. Hosmer is batting .293 and is a speedy left-handed hitter -- something Toronto really, really needs.
Justin Smoak is better off as a designated hitter/bench player than a full-time first baseman. If the Jays acquire Hosmer, their lineup will have more speed and more right/left balance. Trading for him could make or break their hopes of making the playoffs.
5 Mets Acquire Francisco Liriano
Should the Mets hang around the playoff race and decide to be aggressive at the trade deadline, Jeremy Hellickson isn't the only starter they should try to add. Even if they get him, why not stop there?
Slider specialist Francisco Liriano could be one of the many victims of a major Toronto Blue Jays firesale (assuming Canada's team continues to perform as one of the worst in the majors). Liriano hasn't been great, but he would add depth to a struggling and beat-up Mets rotation.
He's 2-2 so far with a 4.44 ERA and has 30 strikeouts in 26.1 innings pitched. Liriano could also have more success in the more pitcher-friendly National League. With a solid farm system in place, the Mets could be willing to give Toronto a B-level prospect for Liriano's services.
4 Athletics Add Slugger Curtis Granderson
After two-straight miserable seasons, the Oakland Athletics have shown a bit of promise with a 15-18 record thus far. But their offence is one of the worst in baseball, hitting just .234 as a team with 42 home runs and 293 strikeouts -- the eighth-most in the entire league.
Oakland should try to add more offence while they can instead of sticking with what hasn't worked. The Mets have plenty of outfielders and should look to shop slugger Curtis Granderson, who has hit 20-plus home runs in nine out of his last 10 seasons.
With Michael Conforto, Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes in the outfield, Granderson is expendable. A pending free agent, the Mets probably won't keep 'Grandy', and he would be a fine addition to an Oakland lineup that really needs power.
3 Tigers Acquire Marco Estrada
If there was any reason for folks to believe the Detroit Tigers would make the playoffs in 2017, it would be their rotation. This team still has Justin Verlander (who was robbed of the 2016 AL Cy Young), 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer plus veteran standout in Jordan Zimmerman.
But believe it or not, the Tigers rotation just hasn't been living up to the hype so far. Though Fulmer is having another star-like season, Verlander (4.25 ERA), Zimmerman (6.21 ERA), and Daniel Norris (4.55 ERA), haven't given the Tigers much love or support on the mound.
Detroit may just be missing that one reliable starter to overtake the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. Though the Jays are struggling, Marco Estrada is 1-2 with a 3.14 ERA and has racked up 45 strikeouts. The Tigers rotation would have far more depth and having Estrada-Verlander-Fulmer could take them to the playoffs.
2 Angels Land Jay Bruce
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are second in the AL West with a 17-18 record, thanks in large part to Mike Trout having another MVP-like season while future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols continues to strike fear into opposing pitchers. But the Angels rank 20th in team batting average (.239), 21st in home runs (34), and 22nd in runs (135).
With those disappointing numbers, the Angels can't expect to make the playoffs. They need another power hitter, and Mets outfielder Jay Bruce fits the bill. Should New York be out of the playoff race in July, they'll likely trade the pending free agent (whom the Mets also shopped in the offseason).
Jay Bruce is having an All-Star season, batting .276 with nine home runs and 25 RBI with a .924 OPS. The Angels would have a strong left-handed hitter in their lineup, and the offence would surely get a huge boost. Landing Bruce could be the only piece Los Angeles needs to make the playoffs.
1 St. Louis Cardinals Make Splash for Josh Donaldson
A surprise entry? It shouldn't be. If Toronto is playing as lousy as they have through the first month of the season, they'll have no choice but to hold a mega firesale as this championship window comes to a close.
The problem for the Jays is they wouldn't get much for Marco Estrada, Jose Bautista or Francisco Liriano, who are pending free agents. They wouldn't get much for Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin, who are still good players but are grossly overpaid as players in their mid-30s. The only BIG trade chip they have is world class hitter and 2015 AL MVP, Josh Donaldson. If the Jays want to maximize the return, they'll have to trade him at the trade deadline -- as J-Don has struggled with injuries and only has one year left on his contract.
The Cardinals have a glaring need at third base, and they have plenty of depth in their farm system to orchestrate a trade. With a lack of power in their ageing lineup, Donaldson would instantly make St. Louis a front-of-the-line contender in the National League. Trading for him wold put them in the playoffs and make the Redbirds a contender.
It may seem like a long shot, but don't be surprised if Donaldson's days in both Toronto and the American League are numbered.