Uh, 30 teams could use Cliff Lee
As of this morning, there were 9 teams in the American League within 8 games of one another and 9 teams in the National League within 4.5 games of each other. None of the NL teams are more than 2.5 games out of a playoff spot. Only Toronto is more than 3.5 games out right now. Obviously, all of these teams have holes and could use some help, but here’s the rub: for whom does it make sense to give up their top prospects to get a Cliff Lee or other top-notch rental?
In the American League, the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox are all legitimate contenders and are battling for two playoff spots. Toronto, the 9th of the 9 teams lurking, isn’t a serious contender (post about the 2010 Blue Jays coming shortly). The Twins, White Sox, and Tigers are battling it out in the AL Central, and only the Twins have a positive run differential so far. Finally, the Rangers and Angels are in contention in the AL West, and don’t look now, but the Texas Rangers have the second best record in baseball.
In the National League, the Braves, Phillies, and Mets are within 2 games of a playoff spot. In the Central, the Reds and Cardinals play with four also-rans and the loser should be in contention for the Wild Card. And in the West, somehow, some way, the Padres still have best record in the NL. The Dodgers, Rockies, and Giants are all within 4.5 games, and I think at least one of them will make a big run; I know I keep doubting them, but the Padres have probably already made their big run.
So all told, we have 17 teams that have a shot at the playoffs (excluding only Toronto) and 8 playoff spots. The Yankees and Rays could definitely use another pitcher; the Red Sox need a bat and could use a pitcher (and health). The Twins have holes, but no more than anyone else. They could use a top-flight pitcher to sit atop their solid albeit unspectacular rotation. The White Sox and Tigers need more pitching, but mostly they need their current players (particularly the White Sox) to play better. The Rangers and Angels could both use another pitcher (should I even keep saying that?) and the Angels could use a bat with Kendry Morales out and Hideki Matsui not hitting.
In the National League, everyone can use everything. The Braves and Giants probably have enough pitching, and the Phillies and Cardinals are most likely set with their lineups. The Mets need to get everyone healthy (including Carlos Beltran) and get Jason Bay hitting; also, whatever gets Oliver Perez out of the rotation would be a good thing. The Jeff Suppan experiment isn’t working out for the Cardinals so far, so they’ll be looking to upgrade their rotation. The Reds need help in the rotation and in the outfield. The Dodgers are a mess. I don’t know what to say about the Padres, except “good job so far.” The Giants are hitting this year, kind of (ok, they’re actually hitting). And I’m not sure what to make of the Rockies (especially with Tulowitzki hurt).
Anyway, the big fish in the pond is Lee, and if I were in charge of the following teams, I’d have serious conversations about getting him now.
The Rays: First of all, the regular season means more to them because they have the other two best teams in baseball in their division. So those 15 or so games he’ll pitch in the regular season would mean a lot more to them. Also, they definitely have the pieces to do this and might want to consider taking a shot; they won’t re-sign him, but the two draft picks they’ll get for letting him walk will soften the blow.
The Twins: I personally think the Twins have just about everything except a top of the line starting pitcher. This would solve that. The Twins are notoriously risk-averse though regarding deadline deals, so this would go against their nature. But they have a chance this year to win the whole thing and should seriously consider Lee.
The Phillies: Ha.
The Mets: I’m still not sure about these guys; was the first half for real? Or was it mirage? Johan Santana has been an average starter and they don’t have anyone better. Mike Pelfrey has been good (but isn’t actually this good) and R.A. Dickey is currently their third-best pitcher. And the Mets are one team that isn’t shy about making trades.
I think the Rays and Twins have the most incentive to get this done, because I’m not sure either can win the whole thing without him. And what’s the point of hanging around for 6 months if you can’t close the deal?