Rays with a major upgrade behind the plate.
With the trade deadline bearing down on us, a lot of the attention has been directed toward the top players believed to be on the market and on which teams they might best fit. Let's pause for a moment and look at things from the other direction.
The following is a list of five of the biggest offensive holes on contending teams, holes so large that merely upgrading the position to a level of minimum competence could significantly improve the given team's postseason chances. The question here isn't which teams can add the best production, but which teams can replace the worst, something the Cardinals, who would have been fifth on this list, just did by acquiring Matt Holliday to play left field.
1) Twins, 2B
Production to date: .188/.272/.238 (38 sOPS+*)
League average at 2B: .270/.336/.414
The Guilty (VORP**): Alexi Casilla (-11.7), Matt Tolbert (-9.0) and Nick Punto (-5.5).
The Targets: Freddy Sanchez (22.7), Omar Infante (7.6), Jamey Carroll (4.0) and David Eckstein (2.7).
There's no excuse for the lack of production the Twins have gotten from the keystone. They're just 2 1/2 games out in the AL Central and at least half of that can be blamed on their second basemen. Signing Mark Grudzielanek to a minor league deal, as they did on Sunday, would have been a good idea in March, but coming in mid-July it's a typically frugal and likely fruitless solution. Getting Sanchez would make them at least three wins better. Simply filling the position with player of minimal competence such as Carroll or Eckstein could cut their deficit in half.
2) White Sox, CF
Production to date: .222/.285/.309 (58)
League average in CF: .266/.336/.418
The Guilty: Brian Anderson (-5.8) and DeWayne Wise (-7.4).
The Targets: Alex Rios (9.2), Vernon Wells (8.8) and Randy Winn (6.5).
Unlike the Twins, who expected a solid season from Casilla, the White Sox entered the season without a solution in center field, which is unforgivable for a defending division champion. The good news is they may have finally found one. With Carlos Quentin coming off the disabled list, the rejuvenated Scott Podsednik (.303/.365/.390) has moved into center full time. Given the dearth of desirable center fielders on the market (Wells is owed $98.5 million over the next five years, Rios is owed $57.5 over the next six, both have no-trade clauses that would need to be bought out, and the Giants' Wild Card hopes may prevent them from giving up Winn), they might do better to shop for a backup for the fragile Quentin than for an upgrade on Podsednik in center.
3) Marlins, 3B
Production to date: .248/.289/.303 (59)
League average 3B: .260/.331/.409
The Guilty: Emilio Bonifacio (-6.6) and Wes Helms (-3.6).
The Targets: Freddy Sanchez (22.7) and Melvin Mora (-0.1).
Imagine a world in which the Marlins, currently just 3 1/2 games out in the NL Wild Card hunt, were buyers ...
4) Cubs, 2B
Production to date: .229/.283/.312 (60)
League average at 2B: .269/.337/.407
The Guilty: Mike Fontenot (-1.2), Aaron Miles (-8.0), Andres Blanco (-5.1) and Jeff Baker (-1.0).
The Targets: Freddy Sanchez (22.7), Omar Infante (7.6), Jamey Carroll (4.0), David Eckstein (2.7).
I wrote about how trading Mark DeRosa has hurt the Cubs last week. Here's more proof: The Cubs' keystone hole is the third deepest in the majors. Their situation is very similar to the Twins', but their deficit in the division is even smaller, thereby making the potential impact of an upgrade that much larger.
5) Rays, C
Production to date: .232/.262/.336 (67)
League average at C: .255/.321/.394
The Guilty: Dioner Navarro (-9.7) and Michel Hernandez (-1.1).
The Targets: Victor Martinez (22.9), Gregg Zaun (7.3), Miguel Olivo (4.2), Brian Schneider (0.7), John Buck (0.3) and Ramon Hernandez (-0.2).
The Rangers seem to have filled their first-base hole internally by moving Hank Blalock to the position, thereby opening up DH for Andruw Jones. The Braves already moved to fill their right-field hole via the Ryan Church/Jeff Francoeur challenge trade with the Mets. The Giants seem to have solved their second-base problem by giving the job to perfect-game foil Juan Uribe. So we wrap up with the Rays, who should be the top suitor for Victor Martinez, but might be too smart to give up too much for a 30-year-old catcher already making the transition to first base, a position the Rays already have manned by the AL home run leader. If they did, however, that move alone could eliminate three of the four games by which they trail the Red Sox in the Wild Card race.
*sOPS+ is adjusted OPS relative to the league average at the given position, with 100 being average.
**VORP stands for Value Over Replacement Level. It compares a player's production to replacement level for that player's position and translates the difference into runs. Replacement level is the production that can reasonably expected from a "free talent" fix such as a minor league call-up or waiver claim. By definition, teams should never fall below replacement level at a position, though they often do as the above shows. Ten runs of VORP are roughly equal to one team win.