Who needs what? Contenders need to fix these problem areas at MLB trade deadline

Just a few more days until aspiring contenders across Major League Baseball get down to the dirty details of separating wants from needs.

Put simply: Every team wants Juan Soto. Not everybody needs him.

So while the most alluring piece on the trade market in perhaps decades dangles before everybody but the Washington Nationals, who appear bent on doing the dirty work for incoming owners, the reality is nobody has limitless prospect capital, nor flawless rosters as the calendar turns toward October. That’s just one reason why a Soto deal may be more likely to happen in the winter, which will leave two full seasons for an acquiring team to enjoy the skills of the game’s preeminent hitter.

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But now, with just days remaining before Tuesday’s trade deadline? There’s a gaggle of teams with legitimate World Series aspirations, and flaws that leave them less than championship caliber. Let’s break down the biggest needs here:

Gerrit Cole is in his third season with the Yankees.Gerrit Cole is in his third season with the Yankees.

Gerrit Cole is in his third season with the Yankees.

Yankees: Starting pitcher

We’ll start by mastering the obvious, a need that grew more glaring after the acquisition of Andrew Benintendi ensured this squad’s left-handed punch wouldn’t be reliant on a viable Joey Gallo. Now, with a double-digit division lead in hand, the question becomes, “How do we win the World Series?”

And a question that had many potential answers at the start of the year has reared its head again: “Who’s our Game 2 starter?”

With Gerrit Cole again providing a season that can be termed ace-worthy even if shy of Cy Young Award standards, the Yankees know who will lead off their quest for 11 victories and their first championship since 2009. Yet while they’ve still won two-thirds of their games, a recent skid in which they’ve lost 10 of their last 16 only highlighted the uneasy feeling that would come with one of Nestor Cortes, Jordan Montgomery or Jameson Taillon starting a Game 2 (and, potentially, a Game 6).

Cortes remains fantastic, an All-Star pitching to a 2.48 ERA, but at 101 ⅔ innings, he’s already nearing last year’s 108-inning mark between the majors and minors. While a big divisional lead ensures they can limit Cortes’ remaining workload, he’ll still be in uncharted waters. Montgomery (4.26 ERA in July) and Taillon (5.04 after six shutout innings Thursday) have fallen just shy of top-of-rotation bona fides, while Luis Severino remains on the injured list and Domingo German an emergency-only option.

Unearthing one of their better prospects to acquire the Reds’ Luis Castillo should come with little hesitation, especially since Castillo comes with one more year of club control.

And there’s a decent chance the Yankees may face this quandary in 2023, too.

Dodgers: High-leverage reliever

Craig Kimbrel is in his first year with the Dodgers.Craig Kimbrel is in his first year with the Dodgers.

Craig Kimbrel is in his first year with the Dodgers.

The machine never breaks. L.A. will miss ace Walker Buehler for four months and lost virtually an entire bullpen to injury at various points, including Daniel Hudson (torn ACL), Blake Treinen (shoulder), Tommy Kahnle (forearm) and Brusdar Graterol (shoulder). Closer Craig Kimbrel has been an experience. Yet led by Evan Phillips, the second-shift bullpen has been equally dominant and the club is playing nearly .700 ball.

As the playoffs near, and Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin all provoke varying questions about how deep they may last in October matchups, why not create Bullpen of Death, Part III?

That equation may partially be filled by Dustin May, the 100-mph throwing starter who began as a reliever and could serve a useful playoff pit stop in the bullpen as he comes back from Tommy John surgery. But flooding the zone with more swing-and-miss guys could give manager Dave Roberts a more coherent approach come October.

With two months for the Dodgers to get their hands on them – imagine Tanner Scott, David Bednar or even Matt Moore exposed to their pitching lab – L.A. can concoct a punishing formula of high-end five-inning starts and then play the matchup game all the way into November.

Rays: Power bat

It’s easy to write off the field of wild-card hopefuls, but despite inherent disadvantages, some are better poised to move on. With Shane McClanahan and Corey Kluber in tow, the Rays can punch through the wild card series and still have a fighting chance in a Division Series.

And they’re one of the rare contenders who probably need an offensive boost more than another arm.

Wander Franco will return from hamate surgery, but Kevin Kiermaier and Mike Zunino are out for the year, Manuel Margot is out at least another month with a patella injury and Harold Ramirez is also shelved. Meanwhile, Rays designated hitters have slugged just 10 homers, more than just five teams in the majors. Outfielder Brett Phillips has a .480 OPS while rookie Josh Lowe remains unproven.

It’s time for some cheap sock, be it from old pal Avisail Garcia, intra-division option Trey Mancini or a similar big leaguer-for-big-leaguer swap with another mid-major contender.

Phillies: Someone to catch the ball

Hey, if you’re serious about winning it all, you have to at least pay fleeting tribute to keeping the other team off the board, locking it down when you have the lead, flexibility.

Then again, that hasn’t stopped the Phillies from rolling out a slo-pitch softball squad, and they’re still in contention.

You have to admire the commitment to the bit. The Phillies rank last in the majors in defensive runs saved (-19). They’re last in FanGraphs’ overall defensive rating (-19.7) and outs above average (-28) and their shortstops rank 27th in overall defense. And they’ll enter Friday’s play tied for the final wild card.

Relief could be coming over the next month if Bryce Harper’s broken thumb recovers and he’s cleared to play right field despite a damaged ligament in his elbow. But there’s no guarantees about that or whether shortstops Didi Gregorius and Bryson Stott merely play the position capably. Better to grab a Michael A. Taylor or even an Andrew Velazquez merely to ensure the season doesn’t ride on a funny, late-inning hop.

Mariners: Starting pitcher

Julio Rodriguez is the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year.Julio Rodriguez is the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year.

Julio Rodriguez is the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year.

They’re among the better candidates to land Soto, what with a trade-happy GM, a hungry fanbase, lots of prospects and the delicious concept of Soto and Julio Rodriguez batting 1-2, or 2-3, or 3-4, or whatever, for the next two to 15 years.

But Seattle has a real shot this year, its chances of going a round or two probably better than the lottery ticket of winning the Soto sweepstakes. Unfortunately for them, two of their young starting pitchers, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby, will run into innings restrictions (or so it’s believed) down the stretch and possibly in the postseason.

Kirby has already exceeded his career high of 96 innings and been sent to Class AAA Tacoma once to manage his workload. Gilbert, possibly their best starter starting pitcher, is just 12 innings shy of his career high and figures to hit the industry standard “danger zone” sometime in September.

So, why not make the rotation better and lighten the load on the youngsters all at once? That acquisition could come in the form of a veteran innings consumer like Cole Irvin or Jordan Lyles, or a greater swing for the fences in Tyler Mahle, Frankie Montas or the coveted Castillo. All of them could return in 2024 and create healthy postseason depth.

That extra arm could make the difference in winging to the postseason by the thinnest of margins, or hosting the best-of-three wild card round in the Pacific Northwest.

Guardians: A sign of life

Good on Cleveland for getting a hard-hitting, All-Star presence in second baseman Andres Gimenez in exchange for franchise shortstop Francisco Lindor, even if it took a year for all parties (including replacement shortstop Amed Rosario) to adjust to new leagues.

Now, show the fans you care just a little.

The Guardians have been a decent story this year, most notably another MVP-caliber season from Jose Ramirez, the emergence of rookie outfielder Steven Kwan and the recent promotion (and immediate excellence) of outfielder Nolan Jones. Cleveland is two games out of first and 2 1/2 games out of the wild-card race, with a secret weapon in its possession for the latter race: AL Central residency.

So why not swing a little bigger than shopping controllable starters for future gains? How about taking a bigger swing and upgrading a ghastly offensive catching situation by beating the Mets and others to Willson Contreras?

It’s been an ugly few years for fans having to watch beloved players like Lindor, Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley go elsewhere. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Guardians rank next-to-last in the AL in attendance. No better way to rebrand than by offering hope.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB rumors, trade deadline: Biggest needs for top teams in baseball