The prize of the free agent hitting class, expect Josh Hamilton to have many suitors.
As the 2013 MLB free-agent period officially kicks into high gear this week with the general managers meetings in Indian Wells, Calif., many teams will begin filling the holes that ruined their 2012 seasons.
While every team could use good pitching, there are several teams represented at these meetings that will likely focus on upgrading their offense. Whether they were a cellar dweller or contender, several teams saw their seasons submarined by a lack of consistent and timely hitting.
Several interesting options are out on the market this year—players who could pay immediate dividends for their new teams.
The prize of the offensive class is undoubtedly Josh Hamilton. Nobody questions his five-tool ability; the only caveats for potential suitors will be his injury issues and his well-documented off-field issues.
Below Hamilton, there are several other players who could find themselves the object of a bidding war in the coming weeks. Michael Bourn, Adam LaRoche, Mike Napoli, Kevin Youkilis and Nick Swisher are some of the secondary names who could also make a big impact.
Some teams need more help than others. Here are six different organizations that need to add an impact bat (or two) to their lineup this offseason.
The Rays made a great charge at the end of last season, going 36-22 to close out 2012 and finishing just 3.0 games out of the last wild-card spot. For them, pitching was certainly not the problem.
Their incredibly talented young staff carried the load most of the season, leading MLB in ERA (3.19) and WHIP (1.17). Most, if not all, of their pitchers will be back for 2013, making them an early favorite for next season.
However, they need to do something about their lineup. They finished 18th in MLB in runs scored, which is not going to cut it in the AL East.
A cheap corner infielder like Youkilis or James Loney would provide a much-needed boost to the erratic Rays offense.
This statement has been written countless times since the days of A-Rod and Bret Boone, but it bears repeating: Seattle can’t score runs.
With Felix Hernandez at the height of his power, the Mariners need to upgrade their inept offense before they miss their window. They have a nice foundation with Dustin Ackley and a potential gem in Kyle Seager, but that is simply not enough to get them to the next level in the suddenly ultra-competitive AL West.
With virtually no consistency from their outfield last year, the M's need to upgrade this area immediately. Hamilton is likely too risky an investment for their taste, even if it means passing on a chance to weaken a division rival.
Michael Bourn, though, represents a very tantalizing option who could join Ackley atop the lineup for years to come.
While the Nationals will benefit from Bryce Harper having a year of MLB experience under his belt, and a healthier Ryan Zimmerman, they also played a dangerous game in 2012 as their offense rode a career year from Adam LaRoche en route to 98 wins.
With their first baseman now a free agent, the Nats will need to make sure they upgrade their offense to avoid any kind of playoff collapse like this season. If they can’t bring LaRoche back, they will need to replace his production.
Jayson Werth looked lost at times, Michael Morse regressed after a career year in 2011 and both players battled injuries all season. While both will certainly be better, that may not be enough to replace the lost production.
The first base options aren’t great, but one intriguing choice would be Mike Napoli. His versatility makes him a big asset, as does his 20-plus home run power.
While the Sox did give themselves enormous payroll relief when they sent Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers, they also took a huge hit in the offense department. They’ll need to begin the process of rebuilding their lineup right away if they hope to contend in the AL in the near future.
Their biggest need is at first base, where Loney finished out the year in relatively forgettable fashion. The Sox will be big-time players for LaRoche and Napoli, who will come at less of a commitment in both years and dollars than would somebody like Nick Swisher.
An intriguing wild-card possibility in this first base search is Youkilis. The manager that ran him out of town is gone, he can go back to first base where he was healthy and won a Gold Glove, and he’d be re-embraced by the players and fans in Boston immediately.
After they acquired Gonzalez and Crawford as well as Hanley Ramirez, it seemed like the Dodgers would be all set for offense. However, the fact remains that the L.A. squad finished 26th in MLB in runs scored.
Crawford will miss the start of the season and Gonzalez struggled to find his power stroke while hitting just three home runs in 145 at-bats. With Shane Victorino and Andre Ethier hitting free agency, the Dodgers will need to find a long-term solution for at least one of the outfield spots.
Should they choose not to re-sign Ethier, Bourn presents a very good alternative who can hit at the top of the lineup and set the table for sluggers Gonzalez and Ramirez. They also could take a look at Swisher, who provides power and versatility from the corner outfield and first base spots.
The Reds are another surprise entry on this list given that they finished with 97 wins and won their division for the second time in three years.
However, it was not the offense that drove last year’s Reds team to success. Bitten by the injury bug, with Joey Votto and Scott Rolen missing large chunks of time, the Reds managed to finish just 21st in MLB in runs scored and OBP.
Bourn is a perfect fit for this team. They need an outfielder, a leadoff guy and somebody who can get on base frequently. The speedster can certainly provide all of that, as he has demonstrated with Houston and Atlanta.
The Reds would be wise to move quickly for Bourn, and if they acquire him they’d immediately become a team to beat in the NL.