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The Astros won seven of nine games against the New York clubs in a recently concluded stretch. It was a favor, in a way, to the Mets and Yankees.
For it was a midseason reminder that this is what playoff pitching is going to look like — the Mets and Yankees combined to score 16 runs and hit .139. So, it was good it wasn’t the playoffs because the Mets would have been swept four-nothing, and the Yankees would be down three-games-to-two. And it was good it came well before not only the playoffs, but also the Aug. 2 trade deadline. Because it became more obvious that the Mets and Yankees each need to find a bat (or two).
Consider what the New York clubs have done against the two best run-prevention teams they have faced in 2022. Those are the Astros and Rays for the Yankees, who in 15 games against that duo have hit .162 with a weighted runs created plus of 62 (38 percent below average) compared to .255/128 in all other games (all stats going into the weekend). Credit to the Yankees’ pitching that they were 9-6 overall, notably 7-3 against Tampa Bay. The Mets were 2-6 against the Astros and Dodgers, hitting .207 with a 74 wRC+ compared to .262/114 otherwise.
Neither team is likely to overly rely on internal solutions. There is some push for the Mets to summon top prospect Francisco Alvarez to be at least the DH. But philosophically, general manager Billy Eppler is hesitant to call up a player straight from Double-A, especially one who is doing very well (particularly for his age), but not dominating, and one he is concerned will have a savior tag applied during a pennant race. The Yankees are more likely to use Miguel Andujar or Estevan Florial (both performing well at Triple-A) to help find a trade replacement for Joey Gallo, whose chances of being a Yankee on Aug. 3 are slim.
So where will the New York teams find bats, when multiple contenders also will be looking?
I will take Nationals GM Mike Rizzo at his word that Juan Soto will not be available — but that sure was strange timing for a story to pop up in the last week about further attempts to extend the star.
You can find executives who think the Pirates will trade Bryan Reynolds and those who do not — what they agree is the asking price will be set so high as to make a deadline deal unlikely. The same essentially is said about the Orioles’ Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins.
Another complicating factor is that the playoffs are expanding this year from five teams in each league to six, increasing the number of teams who at least want to believe they are contending. The near certainty is that worthy walk-year bats on non-contenders will be traded.
Here are some main candidates with pros and cons:
1. Andrew Benintendi, Royals
He is a contact guy who can handle good pitching, but he is a lefty Mark Canha, which is to say he will do it without much power.
2. Josh Bell, Nationals
You always feel you want more out of him, but the switch-hitter handles lefties and righties well, and limits strikeouts because he is a good two-strike hitter. But he has lost 3 mph in average exit velocity at a time when many teams value the hard-hit ball more than ever. His teammate, Nelson Cruz, is a DH only who faltered after being traded to the Rays during last season and turned 42 on July 1. But after a poor start, Cruz has hit well the past two months, albeit without his familiar career power.
3. Willson Contreras, Cubs
Teams express concerns about injecting an at-times inattentive catcher into their ranks in an era when detail is more vital than ever behind the plate. But there is little doubt about his bat and fearlessness in big spots. But would you get an upset player concerned he is hurting his free agency, if he were turned into a hitter only down the stretch? Teammate Ian Happ will be a free agent after next season — are teams buying his significant strikeout reduction?
4. Trey Mancini, Orioles
A professional hitter, but one whose power is too absent in 2022. Teams could be more interested in Anthony Santander, a switch-hitter who at times underperforms his skills, but one who can’t be a free agent until 2025.
5. Brandon Drury, Reds
He is having his best season, and has versatility and unquestioned power. But he also has some stat inflation, hitting at home at the Great American Ballpark, and no track record of being a difference-maker. As one personnel head said, “If he is the second-best hitter you traded for, that’s good.” But a GM noted the Braves added Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler to limited fanfare and championship results last year and said, “If you can add a good hitter, add a good hitter and hope they get hot at the right time.”
To that end, I wanted to do another list of five under-the-radar hitters, about whom I think teams should at least be inquiring between now and Aug. 2:
1. Jose Abreu, White Sox
Chicago has been a mess (its run differential is actually worse than the Orioles’). But the AL Central still has not gotten away from the White Sox. Plus, they are a win-now team. Also, Abreu has shown loyalty to stay, and Jerry Reinsdorf is known as perhaps the most loyal owner. This could only happen if the White Sox fall completely out of it and, even then, perhaps only with the idea of trading him then re-signing him as a free agent in the offseason. I think Abreu is the new Cruz — a hitter who will play for years with power and a clutch streak.
2. Ji-Man Choi, Rays
Tampa Bay will not give up on the playoffs, but the Rays are comfortable walking and chewing gum at the same time. In baseball parlance: They’re willing to trade from their major league roster if they see a way to still contend now while especially keeping an eye on future payrolls and talent base. Choi and Yandy Diaz are the kinds of arbitration eligibles the Rays might decide will cost too much in 2023, so why not get assets now? I wonder how many teams would prefer Choi taking playoff at-bats over, say, Benintendi?
3. Garrett Cooper, Marlins
Miami feels a pressure to win as much as possible this year and offense is short already. But Cooper is oft-injured. He is 31. He is a free agent after next season. He is unlikely to be part of whenever Miami has sustained winning. I am biased here because every time I see Cooper, he has superb at-bats. Teams will see his .400 average on balls in play and think his .321 average is unsustainable (Bell, Benintendi and Mancini might also incur that critique). Miami would rather move Jesus Aguilar, a free agent after this season or perhaps even Soler, if a contender were willing to absorb the two years at $24 million left after this season (Soler went on the IL on Friday with a back ailment). I just think Cooper can hit good pitching and would ask the same Choi versus Benintendi question with Cooper versus Bell.
4. CJ Cron, Rockies
The Rockies did not trade Jon Gray or Trevor Story in their walk years last season, so the chance of them giving up Cron, with a reasonable $7.25 million owed next year, is not strong, especially since this organization has a tendency to be insular about keeping their own and delusional about how close to winning it is. Cron has dramatic home-road splits. But his power plays anywhere, and he takes good at-bats.
5. Mitch Haniger, Mariners
The oft-injured Haniger has hardly played this season due to an ankle sprain and is still not yet ready. He has exploitable holes in his swing, but real power — the playoffs are devilish because you can’t have strikeout albatrosses in your lineup, but usually the team that hits the most homers wins a series. Seattle hasn’t made the postseason since 2001 and will wait until the eleventh hour if it were to become a seller — much like fellow AL West teeterers the Angels and Rangers. But in Julio Rodriguez, Kyle Lewis and Jarred Kelenic (if there is still belief in him), the Mariners have a potential outfield of the future, and Haniger is in his walk year.