There are a lot of teams that consider themselves playoff contenders going into the second half of the MLB season, which could lead to a lot of aggressive moves before the trade deadline.  

For the sellers hoping to unload talent during a lost season, this could be a great opportunity to bring back some top prospects after a bidding war.

While there will only be so many players to go around on the trade market, these teams are likely to be extremely aggressive in the coming weeks as they try to better themselves for the final months of the season.


Houston Astros

Even with All-Star Game starter Dallas Keuchel, the Houston Astros rotation needs help. Injuries and other factors have left a lot of question marks about who will even fill the roles, let alone provide quality innings.

Manager A.J. Hinch recently explained the necessity to add starting pitchers, per Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle:

You always feel like an extra pitcher or two would be ideal, and some of that is out of just strengthening a strength, and some of it is not really knowing what’s in store moving forward on a couple different spots on our team. We’ve leaned on our bullpen a lot, we’ve got a couple young starters, we’ve got (Scott) Feldman coming back from injury, we’ve alternated a lot of different guys out of the fourth and fifth spot. So I think it’s important for us to always maintain having a strong starting pitcher when you get into these last 70 games. Everyone’s always connected us to a lot of starting pitchers, but obviously, July can be tricky.

The good news is his prayers could be answered in the form of one of the best pitchers on the market.

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports explained: “The Astros have keen trade interest in Reds starter Johnny Cueto, and it appears he may even be their top target, if as expected Cueto hits trade market soon, people familiar with their thinking say.”

Cueto—who finished second in the Cy Young Award voting last season—has been the victim of poor run support this year with the struggling Cincinnati Reds. Still, his 2.73 ERA and 0.902 WHIP prove he is still among the league’s best.

Putting him on a team that can score runs like the Astros could lead to a lot of wins for the rest of the regular season and possibly postseason.

Of course, completing a deal for Cueto won’t be easy. As Bob Nightengale of USA Today noted, Houston is just one of a few teams trying hard to acquire the 29-year-old pitcher:

The Astros will have to be willing to part with some of their prized prospects, but it might be worth it to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.


Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins were one of the biggest surprises in the first half of the season, coming out of the All-Star break with a 49-40 record. However, they will not be able to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot unless they find a way to upgrade a big weakness in the bullpen.

Glen Perkins has been outstanding with 28 saves and a 1.21 ERA, but even with these stats, the club only ranks 18th in the majors with a 3.71 bullpen ERA. Meanwhile, Blaine Boyer and Aaron Thompson have been overworked all season long.

As a result, the team is looking for external help to potentially ease some of the stress from the back of the bullpen.

“The Twins’ primary concern is their bullpen, and they’re doing their due diligence in exploring possible upgrades, sources say. Among their potential targets: The Padres’ [Joaquin] Benoit,” wrote Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

Even though he’s 37 years old, Benoit has valuable closer experience and is seemingly only getting better as his career progresses. Over the past year-and-a-half with the San Diego Padres, he has 10 wins and a 1.86 ERA.

On the other end of the spectrum, a struggling player such as Steve Cishek could represent a high-upside option who shouldn’t cost too much. As Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe noted, the Twins are one of the teams interested in the former closer:

The Falmouth native had been sent to Double A to work out a mechanical issue, which he did, according to manager Dan Jennings, even though he didn’t have a good outing against Boston last week. Yet Cishek, who has been a successful closer, is drawing interest. The Twins, Tigers, Blue Jays, Red Sox, and others have been watching Cishek of late.

The current 5.14 ERA is concerning, but he might be worth the risk after totaling 73 saves in the past two seasons.


Pittsburgh Pirates

Josh Harrison was a big part of the lineup both physically and emotionally, so losing him for about seven weeks could be devastating for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

According to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune, the organization has taken a look at some potential additions to the lineup to make up for Harrison’s absence:

As Biertempfel noted, finding a new leadoff hitter should be a top priority for the Pirates, and Ben Revere is as solid of an option as you can find. He is currently hitting .297 with a .337 on-base percentage and 21 stolen bases.

He has a knack for getting himself on base and into scoring range for the teammates behind him to bring him home.

Meanwhile, Jeff Francoeur could represent a quality platoon option opposite Gregory Polanco, who has just a .152 batting average and zero extra-base hits against left-handed pitchers this season. It also likely won’t take much to acquire a struggling player like Francoeur from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Neither of these players would be able to directly replace a versatile producer like Harrison, but each could represent a quality upgrade to the current squad for a reasonable price on the trade market.


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