Dodgers still faves? Cubs a move away? Who trades for Chisholm? 5 burning MLB questions

The Cubs and Cardinals are within striking distance in the NL Central. The Dodgers have been playing .500 ball the past two weeks. Elly De La Cruz is on pace to make history. The Diamondbacks appear to have serious concerns. The Marlins look to be in seller’s mode and are holding onto one baseball’s best assets.

Such developments will be under the spotlight this weekend on FOX Saturday Baseball: Cubs at St. Louis (7 p.m. ET on FOX); Dodgers at Cincinnati (7 p.m. ET on FOX); Miami at Arizona (10 p.m. ET on FS1).

Accordingly, FOX Sports MLB experts Rowan Kavner and Deesha Thosar tackle these topics and more in this week’s roundtable.

1. This Cubs‘ lineup seems to be missing something. If you’re POBO Jed Hoyer, what’s the first thing you do in the coming weeks? What’d you make of the Pete Crow-Armstrong demotion?

Thosar: The Cubs desperately need power, and that should be the top area Hoyer will target around the deadline. Entering Thursday, Chicago ranked 10th in the NL in slugging and 19th in MLB in home runs and OPS. Lucky for the Cubs, there could be a pair of big-name All-Star sluggers on the market this year. The Blue Jays are settling into last place in a loaded AL East and the longer their discomposure carries on, the more it looks like they should trade away Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and begin retooling for next year. Guerrero could find his MVP-caliber form with a change of scenery in Chicago. 

The Mets are in a similar boat with an offense that looks like it should be excellent on paper but instead is falling short of expectations again. Pete Alonso is in his walk year, and though I continue to believe the Mets won’t trade him this summer, he’s still a slugger the Cubs should be going after.

I wasn’t surprised by PCA’s demotion. It’s telling that the Cubs want him to get everyday at-bats and continue his offensive development, rather than be a part-time big leaguer and wait for an opportunity to bat from the bench. Those decisions will always be a tough balance for a front office wanting to develop its young players while understanding the club is in playoff contention. PCA proved he’s impactful in the majors, and he already hit a home run after his demotion to Triple-A, so I’m expecting him to be called back up as soon as an injury or roster underperformance occurs.

Kavner: I had some concerns about the Cubs’ offense before the year began, but they’ve been exacerbated. As is usually the case for a struggling offense, the guys they rely on most have to be better (and available). Seiya Suzuki has only played in 25 games and has been a league-average hitter when on the field. Ian Happ, who has a .549 OPS over his last 35 games, was given a couple of games off earlier this month as a mental break. Nico Hoerner, who was one of the Cubs’ most productive hitters to start the month, recently missed a chunk of time. Cody Bellinger and Dansby Swanson have both spent time on the injured list. Michael Busch has cooled off considerably since his hot start, which is to be expected for a rookie.

Despite all of that, the Cubs would be in the playoffs if the postseason started today. For that reason, I’d let this play out a bit. Hoerner, Swanson and Bellinger are all back in the lineup, which is the reason Crow-Armstrong was optioned. While I was surprised to see that move made, I understand wanting to get the top prospect more regular playing time. And, at a time Chicago is trying to get the offense going, he’s not exactly known for being an offensive force.

There’s no need to make an urgent move, but the Cubs should be buyers at the deadline. Catcher is a tough position to assimilate in the middle of the season, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them add more pop behind the plate or at a corner infield spot.

2. The Cardinals have been better of late, and the NL Central looks winnable. What do you think of St. Louis being early buyers and then potential sellers at the deadline (similar to the Angels last year)?

Kavner: The Angels were in a position where having Shohei Ohtani made them feel like they had to go all in while they still had the chance. I don’t think the same method would be wise in St. Louis. Things are on a better trajectory, certainly, and I think the Cardinals view themselves as a team that should be able to contend now. They can look at how many games back they are and think to themselves that they still have a chance, but that would be ignoring the reality of their situation. They have a losing record, the worst run differential in the division and are counting offensively on two aging players who have yet to look like the superstar versions of themselves.

I think they have to wait to see if Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado can get hot. But if those two continue to look the way they do now for the next couple of months, this Cardinals team isn’t going to do much, regardless of what they add. 

I don’t think this is a team that’s about to compete for a championship, and I wouldn’t waste any prospects trying to go for it early. This is, however, a team with a farm system that could use a jolt. If the Cards are still under .500 come July, they should recoup what value they can on their veteran players.

Thosar: It’s hard for me to believe the Cardinals are legit until they cross over that .500 benchmark. It is no doubt encouraging that they snapped a seven-game losing streak by winning eight of their next 10 games. These weren’t cheap wins either, with their latest triumphs being a sweep of the Orioles — Baltimore’s first regular-season sweep in two years — following a series win against the Red Sox. It would help if the Cards went the early-buyer route and picked up an ace, but expecting that acquisition to help turn St. Louis from maybe buyers to full-blown contention is a mighty ask. 

I think the Cardinals have to see what they’re made of from now until July to get a better idea of how much one or two trade deadline acquisitions could actually boost them. Essentially, I think they need to win more games at a consistent clip before they decide to be early buyers.

3. How surprised would you be if the Dodgers don’t end up as the top seed in the National League?

Thosar: Not that surprised. The Dodgers can keep doing everything right, as they have been to begin the season, and still find themselves looking up … at the Phillies. The current NL East division leader is consistent and eager to keep their successful start to the season going. Though the Dodgers lead the league in offense (12.5 fWAR, 121 wRC+) it’s not as if the Phillies are so far behind them (9.9 fWAR, 115 wRC+). When it comes to pitching, the Phillies arguably have the deepest rotation in baseball, and certainly the best starting five in the NL. Plus, the Phillies are a more cohesive, unaltered group than the superteam that is the Dodgers, where new players are still familiarizing themselves with one another.

Kavner: I think they have to be the favorites, but I would not be surprised if the Braves or Phillies ended up the top seed, especially considering that they’ll be pushing each other for 162 games while the Dodgers look like they’ll run away with the NL West. Now, if the top seed doesn’t end up being one of those three teams, I would be shocked.

4. Over or under 90 stolen bases for Elly De La Cruz this season? Thirty homers? (Note: These two benchmarks have never been reached in the same season.)

Kavner: As I mentioned in my latest buy/sell column, a lot has to go right for De La Cruz to reach the century mark, but the traits are all there. He has the boldness, the speed and the instincts. He is walking more often and chasing less. He plays for a team that needs his spark to generate offense. And an environment with bigger bases and pickoff limits will help his cause. The question is whether he can get on base frequently enough — and stay healthy enough — to do it, but I’m buying in.

And since I’m taking the over on 90, I’m going to take the slight under on 30 dingers, because those hits might need to stay in the yard if he’s going to snag 100 bases. Even if he doesn’t get to 30 homers, the first 25-100 season would be plenty sweet. No one has even recorded a 20-90 before, and I feel confident we’re going to see that this year.

Thosar: Under — but just under. It’s pretty spectacular that EDLC is currently on pace for 99 stolen bases after becoming the first player to swipe 30 bags this season. Then throw in the fact that the next-closest player is Brice Turang with 18 stolen bases, and it really does seem like De La Cruz could easily eclipse 90. But I’m expecting his legs to get tired by August or September, because his increase in playing time from Year 1 to 2 is significant, as long as he can stay healthy. 

He could still prove me wrong, but I’ll be cautious and instead of bold on his stolen-base total. As far as home runs, I think the summer months playing against teams that are out of contention will give EDLC a solid opportunity to crush dingers and bank on his first 30-30 season. After all, the Reds host the Rockies and Marlins right before the All-Star break.

5. Bigger concern for the Diamondbacks: Corbin Carroll or the starting rotation? 

Thosar: The rotation. Arizona’s 4.37 starters ERA has fallen to the bottom-third of the league. Besides a trade-deadline acquisition, there’s no quick path to the situation improving. Eduardo Rodríguez (left lat strain) and Merrill Kelly (right shoulder strain) are still several weeks away from returning to the rotation. Southpaw Jordan Montgomery has continued to struggle since his extremely late signing and delayed season debut. These days, the D-backs are drifting with a four-man rotation, all while they have ground to make up in the NL West. It’s difficult to string wins together when the starting pitching is that inconsistent and unreliable.

Carroll, meanwhile, has started to show flashes that indicate he could be close to breaking out of his sophomore slump. But, even if that slump lasted a full season, Arizona must be built to withstand it. Carroll isn’t being asked to carry the club on his own, but that perceived pressure could be part of why he’s in a slide, in addition to the league adjusting to him in the box. The D-backs’ offense isn’t as dominant as the Yankees‘ or the Dodgers’, but it’s in decent shape. Arizona’s 104 wRC+ is ranked 10th in MLB.

Kavner: It has to be Carroll. I know the starting pitching hasn’t been great, and the Merrill Kelly shoulder injury stinks, but I think they can cobble together a decent enough staff with Zac Gallen, Brandon Pfaadt and Jordan Montgomery to compete. Eventually, Eduardo Rodríguez should finally make his Arizona debut, too. But as good as Joc Pederson and Ketel Marte have been, this team isn’t going to do much if Carroll (.557 OPS) and Gabriel Moreno, who were both so vital to the D-backs’ run last year, don’t get going soon.

Bonus: What team would you like to see trade for the Marlins’ Jazz Chisholm?

Kavner: The two teams I’m looking at are the Royals and Phillies. Kansas City’s immediate turnaround from a 106-loss season has been thrilling to watch, but the Royals might need to add more depth to the lineup to win the division. The Phillies, meanwhile, have a combined .545 OPS from their center fielders and a .614 OPS from their outfielders, which both rank in baseball’s bottom five. There are so few other holes on this team, and with the infield raking across the diamond, this might be the time to make a splash in the outfield in an effort to hold off the Braves and get back to the World Series.

Thosar: The Phillies. They certainly don’t need Chisholm’s boost, given that their offense is currently one of the best in baseball without him. But their current center fielder in Johan Rojas has just a 61 OPS+ through his first 42 games of the season. We’ve seen the Phillies fall short of winning it all these past couple of seasons in part because they didn’t address their obvious weaknesses going into the playoffs. Trading for Chisholm would address a vulnerability, and signal to the rest of the league that the Phillies aren’t messing around this year. This can be a low-risk, high-reward acquisition, knowing Dave Dombrowski is popular for pulling off splashy moves at the deadline. Chisholm showcasing his talent in the playoffs, on a Philly team that lets players be themselves, would be a sight to see.

Rowan Kavner is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the L.A. Dodgers, LA Clippers and Dallas Cowboys. An LSU grad, Rowan was born in California, grew up in Texas, then moved back to the West Coast in 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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