By Marc Normandin
Teams don't just have to decide if they want to be buyers or sellers at the July 31 trade deadline based on record alone. As with everything else in baseball, injuries can complicate things and turn what should have been a simple deadline into an event that could make or break a season depending on what is -- or isn't -- accomplished through trade.
With that in mind, we're going to take a look at contending teams who are dealing with significant injuries that could alter their seasons, to see just how badly they need to be active before the non-waiver trade deadline.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels were getting along fine thanks to their offense and just enough starting pitching. Jered Weaver hasn't regained his ace form, but he's been above-average and providing around 6 1/3 innings per start. Garrett Richards has been incredible whether you rely on ERA or advanced metrics to tell the tale of a season, and C.J. Wilson was doing well once again. You should read that "was" with emphasis, because Wilson's ERA climbed 0.99 points over the course of four starts, ballooning to 4.33, before he headed to the disabled list with a sprained ankle.
The Angels can't afford to lose Wilson, because for as good as Weaver and Richards have been, Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago have been bad, with equal 4.50 ERA marks. This might be a bit of a blessing, though, as it came right before the All-Star break, giving Wilson some freebie time on the schedule to recover, and also gives him some time to study what was awry in his previous four outings. If Wilson comes back in a couple of weeks looking like the lefty of old, the one who was signed to be an important arm in the Angels' rotation, then this injury could have been worth it in a weird way.
For that reason, the Angels don't need to panic about Wilson's injury. If it had been an elbow or shoulder problem that landed him on the DL and caused him to miss his first starts ever as a starter, it would be one thing, but he hurt his ankle while attempting to field a ground ball, and isn't expected to miss much time. The Angels' bats are strong enough to help out in the meantime, and there's enough time left before the deadline that, if the ankle fails to get better, the Angels should still be able to find some help.
St. Louis Cardinals
Michael Wacha is on the disabled list thanks to a shoulder injury. For all of the attention elbows get, it's the shoulders of pitchers that you never want to see injured, as the recovery process can be far more complicated. The positive news here, at least in a relative sense, is that Wacha had a stress fracture and just needs it to heal and for strength to be built back up in the region before he can resume throwing. He didn't tear any important muscles in his shoulder that could cause him serious issues or the rest of his season.
Luckily for the Cardinals, Joe Kelly has returned from his own injury and slotted into the rotation, giving St. Louis an in-house option. His first start back didn't go well, with six runs allowed in three innings against the Brewers, but he hadn't pitched in the majors since mid-April, and owns a career 3.07 ERA in 35 starts: chances are good he'll be better from here on out. Wacha is being reevaluated in a few weeks, too, so if Kelly's performance isn't up to expectations, the Cardinals might not need to wait all that long to replace him. Rookie Marco Gonzalez has also bounced up and down when the Cardinals have needed him, so (surely you are shocked) they have pitchers to choose from.
With all that being said, the Cards are aware that the NL races are tight both in their division and for a wild card spot, so chances are good they'll look to upgrade. Rumors of interest in Jake Peavy have been floating around for a bit now, and with Peavy's turn seemingly skipped in Boston coming out of the break, there's the possibility the Red Sox expect him to be gone and are already adjusting for that reality. You can't be too careful with a shoulder injury, you know, especially not a team already missing Jaime Garcia and dealing with a sub-par Shelby Miller.
Losing Yadier Molina to a torn UCL in his thumb is more of a problem. The Cardinals picked up George Kottaras to team with Tony Cruz so they'd have two backstops again, but they are not going to be able to replace Molina with Kottaras, or with anyone. Molina had a 109 OPS+ before the injury, and possessed all-world defensive skills on top of that. Potentially scooping up the just-released A.J. Pierzynski isn't going to fix the hole Molina's absence has created, and there's little else freely available on the catcher market.
This is the area the Cards have reason to panic in, but there's also not much that can be done. Competent catchers are a rarity, never mind quality ones, so St. Louis either needs to hope the rest of their roster can pick up the slack, or that someone is willing to part with a piece that's better than Cruz or Kottaras. That someone might have to be the Twins' Kurt Suzuki, an impending free agent on a losing team, or maybe Francisco Cervelli if the Yankees slide further back. The Cardinals can pluck someone with a reputation for solid receiving out of the minors, too, say, if a Peavy trade goes go down, maybe Dan Butler could head to St. Louis with him. When a possible answer is a Triple-A catcher known for his defense, though, you know there isn't much to choose from.
The Reds, on the other hand, don't have it quite so simple. If they're determined to make 2014 happen, then a little panicking is advised: they're dealing with injuries to Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, with the latter set to miss about six weeks and the status of the former a bit more unknown, and manager Bryan Price stating it would be "reckless" to "suggest that there's a due date on when either one of them will be back."
The Reds had been playing well in large part due to finally being healthy. Billy Hamilton began to hit after a rough start to the season, and Votto as well as Jay Bruce returned from stints on the DL to give Cincinnati the middle of their order back. Now, they're relying heavily once more on Devin Mesoraco keeping up his out-of-nowhere season that features a 169 OPS+ -- his previous career-high was last year's terrible 77 mark -- and for the likes of Todd Frazier and Hamilton to continue to be difference-makers. Phillips isn't the hitter he used to be, but he's still a steady hand at second, and even a down year from Votto meant a quality campaign.
So, the Reds can search around and try to bring in bats to replace these two, but there won't be many available at the deadline. They aren't trying to hang on to a playoff spot, but they are only 1.5 games out of the NL Central and are just a game back of a wild card spot. That makes simply waiting for Votto and Phillips to come back difficult, as it's not like the season is looking out of reach. They could try to pry someone like Ben Zobrist from the Rays, since he's in the last year of his deal and has a $7.5 million option for 2015, but it's Ben Zobrist and it's the Rays, meaning he won't come cheap.
Someone like Zobrist who can move all around the diamond would be the way to go, though, since he could help as a buffer against future holes due to injury, and could slot in wherever necessary, even at shortstop. "Someone like Zobrist" is basically just a list with his name on it, however, so if it's not that, then the Reds might just have to sit and hope they can hang on while the lineup isn't at full strength. Again.
New York Yankees
Losing Masahiro Tanaka is inarguably the single worst thing that could have happened to the Yankees on the injury side. He owned a 159 ERA+ and was averaging almost 7 1/3 innings per start, which helped to save the bullpen for all of the other Yankees' starters, most of whom don't even look like they're attempting to play the same sport during their turns on the mound. That's not hyperbole, either: three of the Yankees' starting pitchers from 2013 own ERA+ marks in the 70s, where average is 100. One of them is CC Sabathia, whose season is very likely over due to a knee injury. There's a reason they were willing to take a chance on Brandon McCarthy bouncing back by taking him out of Arizona, but even if he does, it's not enough.
The Yankees had one great pitcher, and possibly no good ones. They added McCarthy, but lost a Cy Young candidate. They've played .500 ball with that being the case, and sit five games out of a mediocre AL East, and 3.5 games out of an even more mediocre AL wild card race. Tanaka will be out for at least six weeks, but if the PRP injections don't repair the partial tear as is hoped, Tommy John surgery could be in his future, causing him to miss the rest of 2014 and a significant chunk of 2015 as well. This is terrible news for the Yankees, as there just might be too many teams vying for too few playoff spots for them to get away without Tanaka for the rest of the year: this might even be the case even if Tanaka "just" misses the six weeks.
They don't have a ton of options to choose from at deadline time, either. The Sox aren't about to trade Peavy to the Yanks, and the Rays aren't going to trade David Price there, both because they're division rivals and also because the Yankees don't have the prospects to pry him loose. Jeff Samardzija was already dealt, as was Jason Hammel, and pitchers like James Shields aren't going anywhere even if the Royals start to falter in the next couple of weeks. Many pending free agents aren't pitching well (Justin Masterson) and are probably too expensive for New York to acquire (Masterson again), so they're in a difficult spot. They weren't able to produce much internally to plug their initial holes, either, so it's not like the farm system is ready with an answer for them.
The Yankees are in a bad spot, and the offense isn't strong enough to pull them out of it. Tanaka was the hope, and with him lost, things are not looking great for the next six weeks, and possibly longer. It's the Yankees, so it's difficult to count them out, even with a lacking farm, but things are not looking good in this post-Tanaka world, regardless of how long it lasts.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have spent 61 days of the 2014 season in first place in the AL East, but the last was on July 3: in the ensuing time, they dropped four games back of the Orioles in the East, and 2.5 games out of the wild card, behind the Angels, Mariners and Royals. Their season isn't over by a long shot, but a few recent injuries are going to make things more difficult on them.
Brandon Morrow has been out since early May with a strained finger, and while they survived that well enough, that loss has been added to with Brett Lawrie (fractured finger from a hit by pitch) and Edwin Encarnacion, who strained his quadriceps. The good news is that Encarnacion's prognosis improved quickly, with doom and gloom projections quickly replaced by reports that he'd only miss a couple of weeks in total, a chunk of which would occur during the All-Star break. As it stands, the Jays will get his bat back in the lineup before July is at an end, and that's a good thing: he's batting .277/.368/.591, but has been even better than that since April ended and his barrage of homers began. Encarnacion has hit .307/.393/.722 since May 6, and there isn't a team in the league that can afford to lose that production for long.
So long as Encarnacion returns on time, and Jose Bautista can avoid any further hamstring issues, the Jays' lineup should be in relatively good shape. It's been above-average to this point, and both the East and AL in general are mediocre enough that above-average could do the trick. If there are any complications with either player between now and the deadline, though, and a longer timetable is introduced, they might want to get on the phone quick before their first possible playoff appearance since 1993 slips away.
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Marc Normandin writes and edits for Over the Monster, a Boston Red Sox blog, as well as SB Nation's baseball hub. He's one of many behind the e-book "The Hall of Nearly Great," and has written for BaseballProspectus, ESPN, and others. You can follow him on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin