MLB Trade Deadline 2009

Buzz leading up to July 31 non-waiver deadline

Manny Parra has been a huge letdown this season after a
promising 2008 campaign.

On Friday, I took a look at the five biggest offensive holes on contending teams. Today, I want to do the same sort of thing for teams in need of pitching. This won't work quite the same way because pitching roles are so fluid ("fourth starter" is a meaningless term after the first week of the season and pitchers can move up and down the bullpen depth chart as well as back and forth between the pen and the rotation according to performance and team need). Thus, rather than identify the contenders with the biggest pitching holes, I'm going to identify the contenders with the biggest need for pitching, period. Similarly, there's no need for a list of trade targets here. These teams should all be going after the same guys. You know their names by now: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Bronson Arroyo, Doug Davis, John Garland, Jarrod Washburn, George Sherrill, Chad Qualls, Francisco Cordero, Scott Downs, Danys Baez ...

Note: The five teams listed in my Friday post are ineligible here because their offensive holes take priority.

1) Brewers, SP
Rotation ERA: 4.91 (second-worst in NL).
The Guilty: Manny Parra (6.42 ERA, 16 games started), David Bush (5.51, 14 GS), Mike Burns (7.20 ERA, 5 GS) and Seth McClung (12.27, 2 GS).

Everyone knew the Brewers' rotation was going to be an issue following the departures of Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia. Finally healthy, 22-year-old future star Yovani Gallardo has helped replace one of those arms, and Braden Looper has been a solid budget-priced salve, but lefty Parra has been awful, posting a 8.47 ERA over his last eight starts as his team has gone 1-7 in those games. To make matters worse, with Bush and McClung on the DL -- not that either was pitching well anyway -- the Brewers are scrambling to find a viable fifth starter behind Parra, most recently using journeyman Burns in that spot with poor results. Just three games out in the NL Central, the Brewers could be a starting pitcher away from chasing the now-first-place Cubs down to the wire.

2) Phillies, SP
Rotation ERA: 4.77 (fifth-worst in NL).
The Guilty: Jamie Moyer (5.65, 19 GS), Chan Ho Park (7.29, 7 GS) and Antonio Bastardo (6.75, 5 GS).

The question the Phillies have to ask themselves is, "How much do we trust Rodrigo Lopez?" Twenty-six-year-old home-grown lefty J.A. Happ has filled the hole left by Brett Myers' hip surgery, and Moyer has pitched better after a rough start (7 of 12 quality starts, 4.42 ERA since mid-May), but Myers won't be back until September, and the team's 2007 closer seems likely to return as a reliever, at least for the duration of 2009. That leaves Lopez, a 33-year-old coming off Tommy John surgery with a career 4.76 ERA, as the team's fifth starter. Though he's pitched well thus far, Lopez has already had some shoulder trouble amid his four Phillies starts. With Cole Hamels having an erratic season, the Phillies need stability throughout their rotation to keep their lead in the East from eroding. Landing a top starter could also be the difference between their going deep or going home in October.

3) Angels, SP and RP
Rotation ERA: 4.61 (fifth-worst in AL).
Bullpen ERA: 4.81 (third-worst in AL).
The Guilty: Ervin Santana (6.79 ERA, 10 GS), Joe Saunders (4.94 ERA, 20 GS), Matt Palmer (4.99 ERA, 12 GS), Anthony Ortega (9.24, 3 GS); Scot Shields (6.62, 20 G), Jose Arredondo (5.55, 25 G), Kevin Jepsen (7.48, 24 G), Justin Speier (4.95 37 G), Rafael Rodriguez (6.97 ERA, 12 G) and Rich Thompson (5.40 ERA, 12GS).

The Angels need pitching, period. In the bullpen, Shields and Arredondo were supposed to be ace set-up men for new closer Brian Fuentes, but both were terrible in the early going, Shields' season was ended by June knee surgery, and Arredondo is now battling elbow inflammation. Their replacements have been slightly hit-unlucky, but also more than slightly hittable. Their rotation was decimated early on by the death of Nick Adenhart and preseason injuries to John Lackey and Ervin Santana. Lackey has returned to form (2.93 ERA over his last eight starts), but Santana has been awful despite flashing brilliance just often enough to avoid being booted out of the rotation (three quality starts out of ten, with just one run allowed in each). Now, Saunders has allowed 30 runs in his last 25 2/3 innings, posting a 9.82 ERA over his last five starts. It's now the rotation that's the larger problem as 60 percent of it is comprised of Santana, Saunders, and 30-year-old rookie Matt Palmer. The Angels have won 12 of their last 14 despite these pitching woes and injuries to Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero (Saunders and Santana took the two losses), building a 3 1/2 game lead in the process, but they'll give it all back soon if they don't fix their rotation.

4) Astros, SP
Rotation ERA: 4.25 (eighth in the NL).
The Guilty: Felipe Paulino (5.80, 10 GS), Russ Ortiz (5.55, 12 GS), Brian Moehler (4.92, 16 GS), Mike Hampton (4.74, 17 GS) and Brandon Backe (6.75 ERA, 1 GS).

That rotation ERA may not look so bad, but this is a classic case of stars and scrubs. Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, sure, but Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler and Russ Ortiz? Seriously? Oswalt and Rodriguez have combined for a 3.21 ERA over 41 starts, but the other three have combined for 45 starts and a 5.01 ERA. I suppose the same might be said about the Rockies' back three of Jason Hammel, Jason Marquis, and Jorge de la Rosa, but Marquis did make the All-Star team and leads Colorado in ERA, and Hammel has a better mark than any of the Astros' back three. The Rockies' larger pitching problem was their bullpen, which they recently addressed by trading for Rafael Betancourt (in fact, they'd occupy this spot had they not already made that deal). As for the Astros, the 37-year old Moehler has pitched well since a brief DL stay in late April (7-3, 3.84), but Ortiz has a 9.47 ERA over his last four starts, and Hampton has a 7.30 ERA over his last three and has already been on the DL once this season himself. It could be that Lance Berkman's recent calf strain makes this all moot, but as of today, the NL Central is wide open and the 'Stros are right there, two games back.

5) Yankees, SP
Rotation ERA: 4.55 (seventh-worst in AL).
The Guilty: Chien-Ming Wang (11.38 ERA, 9 GS), Phil Hughes (5.45 ERA, 7 GS), Alfredo Aceves (8.10 ERA, 1 GS) and Sergio Mitre (5.91 ERA, 2 GS).

This has turned into a curious list. If the Yankees, Angels, and Phillies all need so much pitching, what are they doing in first place? Well, the Yankees, Angels, and Phillies also happen to have the three most productive offenses in baseball and have thus far been able to out-hit their pitching problems. When the postseason rolls around, they'll all get to drop their fifth starter, but it will get much harder to out-hit their remaining pitching problems because they'll be facing teams such as the Dodgers, Red Sox and Tigers, who are, respectively, second, second, and third in their league rankings in run prevention. The Yankees' inclusion here is also curious given that they signed two big-time free agent starting pitchers over the winter (three if you count re-upping Andy Pettitte) and both have been healthy and effective, though not completely dominant, thus far.

The problem is that Chien-Ming Wang was terrible, then hurt, then slightly less terrible, and now may be done for the year with a rotator cuff tear (he'll see Dr. James Andrews Tuesday to find out if it actually is torn), and Joba Chamberlain is quickly approaching his innings limit for the season (assumed to be 150, he's already over 100 and has been pitching deeper into games since the break). If the fragile A.J. Burnett or the 37-year-old Pettitte (currently sporting a career-worst 4.67 ERA) should break down, the Yankee rotation could fold like a cheap card table under the weight of CC Sabathia. Hughes lurks in the bullpen, but he's been so good there (he has an active streak of 23 1/3 scoreless innings in which he's struck out 28 batters), the Yankees seem reluctant to restore him to the rotation, particularly given the chance that they won't get much more than the production listed above. For now, their fifth starter is Sergio Mitre, another Tommy John reclamation case who hadn't started in the majors since 2007 (and in his case didn't start much in the majors before 2007 either). Prospect Ian Kennedy is out for the year following surgery. Alfredo Aceves is an uninspiring alternative. Like the Angels, the Yankees are riding high (9-1 since the break), but their rotation may not make it all the way to the finish line as currently assembled.


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