Searching for starters, closers, power bats
Addressing the single biggest needs for contending teams as the trading deadline draws closer.
The ink is barely dry on the All-Star ballots, and already the focus is on the July 31 trading deadline, which is closer than you might think.
With just over three weeks to go, teams are assessing needs, making phone calls and positioning themselves to make improvements for the final two months of the regular season.
So many teams are still in contention -- nominally, at least -- that there aren't many pure sellers. But that won't stop the many buyers from trying.
Here's a look at what the contenders need, team by team.
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox need bullpen help -- and fast. Keith Foulke has two ailing knees and a bloated ERA and has been sent to the disabled list. But their closer isn't the only problem. Veteran setup men Mike Timlin and Alan Embree have been inconsistent, too.
New York Yankees: How about a shorter list: What don't they need? The Yanks are shopping for a center fielder (Mark Kotsay) and need replacements for Mike Stanton and Paul Quantrill. Given the shaky rotation, another starting pitcher would be welcome, too.
Baltimore Orioles: Perhaps more than any other AL contender, the O's need a front-line starter. Problem is, not one is available. But if the Orioles are going to hang in with the Yankees and Red Sox, they need a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter. Sidney Ponson, it should be obvious, isn't the answer, and Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera and Rodrigo Lopez lack pennant-race experience.
Chicago White Sox: It would seem that the White Sox don't have much fine-tuning to do, given the size of their lead. But GM Kenny Williams is looking ahead to October and knows he would be better off with another experienced starter. Roger Clemens heads his wish list, though that trade won't happen. Beyond that, the Sox will take what they can find, given questions they have about Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras.
Minnesota Twins: Third base hasn't been adequately filled since Corey Koskie left via free agency this past offseason. Joe Randa's name has been mentioned frequently. Mike Lowell would be interesting, too, though his price tag might prove prohibitive.
Cleveland Indians: With the league's deepest bullpen and a solid rotation, the Indians' needs are plain and simple -- they need a bat, preferably a right-handed one for the middle of the lineup. But GM Mark Shapiro has been unable to unearth one and the Indians don't want to disrupt their rebuilding for an outside shot at the wild card.
Los Angeles Angels: The Angels have been suspiciously quiet. Traditionally, GM Bill Stoneman hasn't been one to take a lot of risks. Their pitching is ranked second in the league in ERA -- though, like everybody else, they wouldn't mind upgrading the rotation. More likely, the Angels will look to fill in around the edges and improve their depth.
Texas Rangers: Not long ago, the Rangers were seeking a designated hitter. But David Dellucci has settled into that slot nicely and the Rangers are scoring plenty of runs. Their primary need is a starter, especially now that Kenny Rogers will miss four starts sometime after the All-Star break and they realize they goofed in giving up on Ryan Drese.
Washington Nationals: Jim Bowden was always one of the busiest and most creative general managers in July while with the Reds. Now that he has a first-place team drawing big crowds and lots of attention, he should really be fun to watch. Bowden wants another top starter (Jason Schmidt, A.J. Burnett) to team with Livan Hernandez and has been calling around trying to upgrade at third base (Lowell).
Florida Marlins: Like the Yankees, the Marlins are one of those teams that are a contradiction in terms: a contender with lots of holes. They need a bat to drive in runs and are in a seemingly never-ending search to improve their bullpen.
Atlanta Braves: The Braves have withstood a slew of injuries well, thanks to their ever-productive minor-league system. But it's hard to imagine their streak of division titles continuing unless they land an outfielder who can take some of the pressure off the Joneses -- Andruw and, when he returns, Chipper.
St. Louis Cardinals: Like the White Sox in the American League, the Cardinals have their eye more on the postseason than on the stretch run. Another lefty to allow manager Tony La Russa to better mix and match out of the bullpen could be an area to strengthen and, given the age of the outfield, some bench help would be a plus.
San Diego Padres: The Padres have been looking -- without success -- for someone to fill in for Mark Loretta at second base, but now that he's a month away from returning, they might have survived the worst part of their schedule without him. Third base is an area of concern with Sean Burroughs' struggling, as is the outfield defense, particularly in center field.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Most of the D-Backs' trade talks have centered on the bullpen, where they've been deficient. The Diamondbacks have plenty to offer from their farm system (led by outfielder Conor Jackson), but don't want to deal off too much of their future for a short-term run this fall.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Now that J.D. Drew is likely lost for the year, the focus is on trying to find an outfielder. Preston Wilson's name has been mentioned frequently. Matt Lawton is another possibility. But the Dodgers have been hit so hard by injuries -- Jeff Kent went down with a strained left hamstring Tuesday -- that GM Paul DePodesta probably doesn't know where to start to patch together the team.
Sean McAdam of The Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.
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