Los Angeles Dodgers' Miguel Rojas Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Biggest Flaw MLB's Top 10 Contenders Must Address Before 2023 Trade Deadline

Kerry Miller

Actual Major League Baseball trade rumors won't start percolating for another few weeks, but it's at this point in the season—two months in with two months to go until the deadline—when we can realistically begin playing "roster doctor" by identifying biggest flaws among the top contenders.

We'll have to wait to find out which teams will be sellers and what sort of talent will be on the trade block, but we already know the Los Angeles Dodgers will be searching for a shortstop, the New York Yankees will be shopping for a bullpen and the Texas Rangers would benefit from a bullpen overhaul.

Contenders on this list are the 10 teams who entered play on Sunday with +2000 or better odds of winning the World Series, per DraftKings.

Not appearing on this list doesn't mean we've written off the Orioles, Diamondbacks or Brewers as "pretenders." It's simply where the line was drawn in the sand.

Teams are presented in ascending order of those World Series odds.

Statistics current through the start of play Sunday.

Minnesota Twins

Minnesota's Jorge Polanco Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

World Series Odds: +2000

Biggest Flaw: Health on Offense

Second baseman Jorge Polanco spent the first three weeks of the season on the IL, played 23 games and is injured again.

Nick Gordon, Trevor Larnach and Max Kepler are also currently on the IL.

Kyle Farmer missed a chunk of the season after getting hit in the face with a pitch. Joey Gallo had a brief IL stint of his own early in the year. Alex Kirilloff missed the first five weeks. Royce Lewis is just now eligible to return after opening the year on the 60-day IL.

By what can only be considered a miracle with his injury history, Byron Buxton hasn't dealt with any major injury yet this season and is actually leading the Twins in plate appearances. But this lineup has been devoured by the injury bug, yet to produce even one hitter who currently has a bWAR or fWAR north of 1.0.

You can't just trade for health, of course, but the Twins would benefit from bringing in another utilityman to help combat the impact of the injury bug.

Perhaps Minnesota could convince Cincinnati to part with Nick Senzel if and when it's finally ready to call up Elly De La Cruz rather than continuing to watch him go viral every few days for annihilating yet another baseball in Louisville. Senzel has played second, third, left, center and right thus far this season and could become the everyday third baseman or left fielder for the Twins.

Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto's Alek Manoah Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

World Series Odds: +1900

Biggest Flaw: Back of the Rotation

Kevin Gausman has done a fine job as the ace of Toronto's staff.

Chris Bassitt had some serious regression to the mean in Saturday's loss to Minnesota, but he entered that game with a 3.03 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Not a bad No. 2 starter by any means.

And after a rough start to the year, José Berríos has been rock solid, posting a 2.88 ERA over his last eight starts.

But between Alek Manoah and Yusei Kikuchi, Toronto gets shelled a little too regularly, and can't seem to ever get into a winning groove because of it.

The Kikuchi portion of that equation isn't surprising. He has actually been a little better than last year, but is still allowing home runs at an outlandish rate and now has a 4.97 ERA in his five-year MLB career.

Manoah's downfall has been the rough part.

He had a 2.24 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 2022, finishing third in the AL Cy Young vote. But now he has by far the worst walk rate among qualified pitchers and hasn't made a particularly strong start in over a month.

Toronto might get Hyun-Jin Ryu (Tommy John surgery) back after the All-Star Break, which will kind of feel like a trade made to improve the rotation. But if Manoah doesn't turn a corner soon, the Blue Jays may need to also trade for a starter just to make it into the playoffs.

Texas Rangers

Texas' Brock Burke Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

World Series Odds: +1800

Biggest Flaw: The Bullpen

With each passing day, the Rangers are feeling like more of a legitimate threat to win the World Series.

At full strength, their starting lineup is a murderer's row.

Going through Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Nathaniel Lowe just to get to Adolis García, Josh Jung and Jonah Heim is quite the tall task for any pitcher. And then you've got Leody Taveras batting .316 in the 9-hole.

The weakest link is Robbie Grossman, and even he has six home runs.

Similar story for the starting rotation, which has thrived even without Jacob deGrom for the past month. Dane Dunning has done so well in deGrom's stead that Texas may well go with a six-man rotation if and when its prized offseason acquisition is able to return to the mound.

But the bullpen has been a mess.

Take out what Dunning has done in middle relief and what Will Smith has accomplished as a mostly OK closer and you're talking about 11 guys who have a combined ERA of 5.59 and WHIP of 1.46.

Jonathan Hernandez leads the team in holds with eight, but he has also blown three saves and has a 6.27 ERA.

Brock Burke is arguably the most reliable of the bunch, but he doesn't generate many strikeouts and has struggled since moving into a higher-leverage, late-inning role over the past few weeks.

Long story short, the Rangers need relievers. Probably several of them. But at least that is always the most plentiful asset at the trade deadline.

San Diego Padres

San Diego's Austin Nola Sean M. Haffey

World Series Odds: +1700

Biggest Flaw: Hitting with RISP

In 2022, San Diego ranked among the best in the business at not blowing golden opportunities. When it got a runner to third base with less than two outs, that runner scored 55.8 percent of the time, good for third-best in the majors. They also hit .254/.342/.416 with runners in scoring position.

2023 has been a much, much different story.

In the "runner on third, less than two outs" department, the Padres rank dead last in the majors with a 34.7 percent success rate. And with runners in scoring position, they have an abysmal triple-slash of .186/.287/.316. They're also slugging .237 in 45 plate appearances with the bases loaded—no grand slams—which is about as wasteful as it gets.

If only it were as simple as going out and trading for a clutch hitter.

Doing anything to improve the hitting could be huge, though.

Trent Grisham is a two-time Gold Glove winner in center field, but he's batting .185 for the year. Even that is better than both Matt Carpenter at .179 as the DH against right-handed starters and Austin Nola slugging a horrific .186 (batting .134) as the primary catcher.

You can get by with one black hole in the lineup, especially if he's providing a lot of value on defense. Three black holes, however, is too much to overcome, putting too much strain on the big four of Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Manny Machado to deliver every single night—which they really have not done thus far.

Maybe they could bring in Randal Grichuk from Colorado. The 31-year-old impending free agent is having a career year in terms of batting average, and he has never hit below .230 in a season.

New York Mets

New York's Daniel Vogelbach Sarah Stier/Getty Images

World Series Odds: +1600

Biggest Flaw: Non-Alonso Slugging

New York's starting pitching hasn't been great by any means, but are the Mets really going to try to do anything to address that via trade?

Even if you think that going to a six-man rotation would help the elderly arms of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Carlos Carrasco, José Quintana (ribs) should be back by the time they would make a trade to go that route. Just kind of need to hope and pray that the nearly $130 million being spent on starting pitching pays off by the end of the year.

Where the Mets could reasonably do some wheeling and dealing is in the slugging department.

Pete Alonso is homering at a "2022 Aaron Judge"-ish pace, but at the start of play Sunday, he was responsible for one-third of New York's mediocre overall count of 60 home runs.

It's the trio of Mark Canha, Tommy Pham and Daniel Vogelbach predominantly responsible for holding down the LF and DH duties where the Mets could look to make some changes, as they entered play Sunday with a combined eight home runs in 392 trips to the plate.

If the Giants fade, maybe the Mets bring in Joc Pederson to play left, or even have a reunion with Michael Conforto. Most likely, though, they'll let it ride with Canha and Pham in left and just go for the best slugger available to replace Vogelbach at DH.

If Oakland is willing to part with Brent Rooker, he'd fit in perfectly with the Mets.

New York Yankees

New York's Oswaldo Cabrera Cole Burston/Getty Images

World Series Odds: +1000

Biggest Flaw: Left Field, Once Again

Last year, the Yankees tried anything and everything in left field. Joey Gallo was the original plan, but that quickly became unviable. So did playing Aaron Hicks on a daily basis. Tim Locastro, Miguel Andujar, Marwin Gonzalez and even Matt Carpenter all made multiple starts in left before they finally traded for Andrew Benintendi—who got injured a month later and left them in the same predicament for the postseason.

So did the Yankees address their left field problem this offseason?

Of course not!

They went into the season banking on some sort of Oswaldo Cabrera/Aaron Hicks platoon, but the position remains an unproductive revolving door.

In addition to Cabrera and Hicks, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Jake Bauers and Franchy Cordero have each made multiple starts in left. The Yankees also recently called up light-hitting journeyman Greg Allen and even gave him a start, because why not? Of the five guys who have received multiple starts, IKF has the best batting average at .206.

In an ideal world, Giancarlo Stanton would get and stay healthy and play left field. He has spent most of his career in right (when he's not serving as the DH), but he has made 59 starts in left dating back to 2018. Even if he's a glorified statue out there, at least he can hit well enough to make up for it. (At any rate, that's Philadelphia's line of thinking with Kyle Schwarber.)

But if the Yankees are looking to solve the problem externally, perhaps we could see a Juan Soto blockbuster for a second consecutive summer if San Diego never snaps out of its 24-28 start to the year? The Padres have yet to sign Soto to a long-term deal, and finding that kind of money amid all their other massive contracts won't be easy.

Houston Astros

Houston's Jose Abreu Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

World Series Odds: +700

Biggest Flaw: José Abreu

The Astros aren't going to cut José Abreu.

Including this season, he is owed $58.5 million through the end of 2025. Even though we've seen plenty of teams bite the bullet on highly-paid under-performers in recent years—Mets cutting Robinson Canó, Diamondbacks releasing Madison Bumgarner, White Sox booting Dallas Keuchel, Angels DFAing Justin Upton, etc.—it is just about unfathomable in this scenario.

But they have to at least be entertaining the possibility of bringing in another first baseman and letting Abreu be an expensive backup/pinch hitter for the rest of the season, right?

Through 51 games, Abreu has hit no home runs and is slugging .250, which is just absurd. Prior to this year, his worst batting average in a season was .261, and he was averaging a home run for every 22.6 trips to the plate.

But similar to Yasmani Grandal last year for the White Sox, this multiple-time All-Star seems to have simply lost the ability to hit Major League pitching.

Per FanGraphs, Abreu has been the least valuable player among qualified hitters with an fWAR of negative-1.2. Baseball Reference also has him in dead last at negative-1.4 bWAR.

With Jose Altuve back in the mix, perhaps Houston could look to slide Mauricio Dubón over to first base. It's just about the only position he has never played at the MLB level, but he's versatile enough to figure it out.

If that's a no-go, Colorado's C.J. Cron should be available.

Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay's Shane McClanahan Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

World Series Odds: +600

Biggest Flaw: Starting Pitching Depth

In Shane McClanahan, the Tampa Bay Rays have one of the top candidates for the AL Cy Young. He seems to have gotten the walks under control, issuing just one free pass in his past two starts. And that has brought his ERA back down below the 2.00 threshold.

In Zach Eflin, the Rays also have a strong second fiddle to McClanahan. Eflin has gone at least six innings in each of his last five starts and will enter Tuesday's start against the Cubs with a 3.17 ERA for the year.

Beyond that duo, though, it's question marks galore for a team with six pitchers on the 60-day IL.

Tyler Glasnow returned from the injured list over the weekend for just his third regular-season MLB appearance since June 2021. If he's able to stay healthy and pitch as well as he did from 2019-22—2.75 ERA, 12.7 K/9—that would be a massive step in the right direction for Tampa Bay's starting rotation.

Even if we assume Glasnow makes positive contributions from now through October, though, 22-year-old rookie Taj Bradley has been just OK as the occasional fourth starter, and the combination of Jalen Beeks as an opener and Josh Fleming as a long reliever/spot starter has been a band-aid solution for the fifth spot in the rotation.

We've gotten no news on Drew Rasmussen since he landed on the 60-day IL (flexor strain) on May 12, but if he can actually return in mid-July as opposed to undergoing a third Tommy John surgery, that would help immensely.

But if Rasmussen joins Jeffrey Springs and Shane Baz on the list of Rays starters who won't pitch again in 2023, you've got to assume they'll be looking at add at least one, maybe two starting pitchers ahead of the trade deadline to ensure they win the loaded AL East.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles' Miguel Rojas Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

World Series Odds: +500

Biggest Flaw: Shortstop

While the Dodgers seem to be done experimenting with Mookie Betts at shortstop—putting him there for just six innings dating back to May 2—it's certainly not because they've solved the problem.

Since losing Gavin Lux to a torn ACL during spring training, shortstop has been a season-long dilemma for Los Angeles. Miguel Rojas and Chris Taylor have gotten the bulk of the starts, but the former is batting .210 with no home runs while the latter is hitting .193 (albeit with seven home runs) and is even more of a defensive liability.

In addition to giving Betts a few starts, the Dodgers also called up Luke Williams for a three-game audition when they were really grasping at straws.

None of it has worked.

For the year, "Dodgers shortstop" is hitting .202/.257/.351 while providing league-average production on defense.

If the White Sox end up embracing a fire sale—nowhere near a sure thing in the wide-open AL Central—Tim Anderson to the Dodgers could be a match made in heaven.

If not Anderson, though, Los Angeles could set its sights elsewhere in that woebegone division to Cleveland's Amed Rosario. He's not hitting well thus far in 2023, but Rosario was a .282 hitter with 41 home runs and 50 stolen bases from 2019-22. A change of scenery could do him some good, and even his "not hitting well" is better than what Dodgers shortstops have mustered to date.

Atlanta Braves

Atlanta's Joe Jiménez Alex Slitz/Getty Images

World Series Odds: +450

Biggest Flaw: The 7th Inning

Overall, Atlanta is arguably the best team in baseball. At any rate, it entered play on Saturday with both the National Leagues' best record (31-20) and its best run differential (+56).

But for some strange reason, Atlanta has been a trainwreck in the seventh inning, outscored by 20 runs in that frame this season.

The inability to hit in the seventh inning is just plan bizarre. The Braves have scored at least 40 runs and hit at least a dozen home runs in each of the first, second and eighth innings, but they are triple-slashing .189/.302/.265 in the seventh inning, scoring just 15 runs.

But that "situational hitting" isn't really something that can be addressed via trade. Just kind of got to hope that Sean Murphy (1-for-14), Ozzie Albies (2-for-21) and Marcell Ozuna (2-for-18) quit batting a collective .094 in the seventh.

They can at least try to address the poor pitching, though, as the seventh inning has been their worst by far in terms of both ERA (5.65) and OPS allowed (.842).

Ideally, some combination of Jesse Chavez, Collin McHugh, Kirby Yates, A.J. Minter and Joe Jiménez would be able to solve that problem without seeking outside help. However, that hasn't been the case so far, even though all five of those guys have put up respectable overall numbers.

If the problem doesn't resolve itself, Atlanta could be a good landing spot for Aroldis Chapman.


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