MLB Free Agency: 1 Top Target for Every Non-Playoff Team to Improve in 2013
The 20 MLB teams that didn't make the playoffs in 2012 will be working this offseason to reverse their fortunes.
The general managers of the non-playoff teams will be monitoring the free-agent market to see if any of the players available can possibly help turn around those fortunes.
For more fiscally-conscious teams, they'll be looking for low-risk/high-reward-type players—those diamonds in the rough that perform like a $10 million superstar yet cost pennies on the dollar.
Others will make a play for the more high-value players, looking for what they believe will be an immediate impact.
Whatever the case, all of the 20 teams that finished on the outside looking in are indeed searching for the missing pieces to their roster puzzles.
Here is a list of one potential target that each non-playoff team could be focusing on to improve their fortunes for the 2013 season.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Elvis Andrus
The Arizona Diamondbacks will enter the 2013 season with three potential internal candidates to fill the position of shortstop.
None of them are likely to inspire confidence.
Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald and Cliff Pennington are the current choices. Bloomquist and McDonald are much better suited for reserve roles, and Pennington's bat is a major question mark.
To that end, Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus would be a perfect solution.
With prospect Jurickson Profar currently waiting in the wings in Texas, the Rangers will have a decision to make regarding Andrus.
The Diamondbacks certainly have pieces in their farm system to dangle, and outfielder Justin Upton could be in play in an exchange as well.
Boston Red Sox: Adam LaRoche
With first baseman Adrian Gonzalez now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Boston Red Sox have a fairly large hole to fill at first base.
The market for available first basemen is not strong, but one particular player could be an excellent fit: Adam LaRoche.
LaRoche's successful return from shoulder surgery in 2012 puts him at or near the top of available power hitters. Add to that an excellent glove, and the Sox have a solution that fits their needs.
Given the fact that LaRoche is 33 years of age, I'm not offering more than a three-year deal. Then again, I doubt any other team will be offering more either. LaRoche at three years and $36 to $40 million would certainly be a deal I'd make in a minute.
Chicago Cubs: Shaun Marcum
The Chicago Cubs shed about $50 million in expiring contracts this year, but that doesn't mean they'll be on a spending spree this offseason.
The Cubs have been there and done that with regard to spending outlandish sums of money and seeing no return. To that end, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer will be cautious this offseason. The plan is likely to reflect a pattern of buying players with upside at reduced prices.
To that end, starting pitcher Shaun Marcum could be a good fit.
Marcum missed over two months of the 2012 season with elbow issues. Considering he had Tommy John surgery in 2009, that certainly raises a red flag.
However, Marcum returned in August and finished the season with three consecutive quality starts for the Milwaukee Brewers.
In addition, there's familiarity within the Cubs organization. Manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio know Marcum well from their days with the Brewers.
This is definitely a fit for the Cubs—Marcum can help stabilize a shaky starting rotation and provide a somewhat lower-cost option.
Chicago White Sox: Chase Headley
With few options available on the free-agent market for third basemen, the Chicago White Sox will likely have to look at trade options to fill the void.
With the White Sox picking up the option on Gavin Floyd's contract for the 2013 season and the re-signing of Jake Peavy, they have depth in the starting rotation—something that can be utilized this winter.
The San Diego Padres are in search of pitching, and they happen to have a third basemen who could be a fit in Chicago: Chase Headley.
Headley is coming off a career year (.286 BA, 31 HR, 115 RBI), and the Padres have prospect Jedd Gyorko waiting in the wings.
The Padres could decide to keep Headley and move Gyorko to second base, but if the right package of pitching is offered, Headley could possibly be pried from their hands.
Cleveland Indians: Kevin Youkilis
For the Cleveland Indians, signing corner infielder Kevin Youkilis would make sense in several ways.
First, his production is far superior to that of Casey Kotchman. Kotchman would have had the lowest on-base percentage in the American League (.280) had he qualified with enough plate appearances.
Second, Youkilis can be used at third if and when the Indians employ Carlos Santana at first. Youkilis' production at third is also superior to that of Jack Hannahan as well.
Third, Youkilis enjoyed an excellent relationship with manager Terry Francona during their days with the Boston Red Sox.
Lastly, Youkilis adds a right-handed bat to a lineup that was exploited last season for its lack of right-handed pop. The Indians hit just .233 with 38 home runs all year from the right side.
Colorado Rockies: Francisco Liriano
The Colorado Rockies are going to have a hard time convincing any quality starting pitcher to come pitch half of their games in Denver.
After what can only be described as a disaster for the starting rotation in the 2012 season, the rotation is the obvious area of need for the Rockies.
Maybe they can convince southpaw Francisco Liriano to take his talents to the Mile High City.
Liriano will likely get looks from several teams, but his pattern of inconsistency could deter some teams from offering long-term lucrative contracts. The Rockies could swoop in with a deal.
Honestly, no pitcher at this point relishes the thought of pitching at Coors Field. But in Liriano's case, it could be the best offer he receives.
Houston Astros: Lance Berkman
I've said this before and I'll say it again: Lance Berkman returning to Houston is a perfect fit.
Berkman played in just 32 games last season, mainly because his lower body just wouldn't cooperate, specifically his knees.
Making him the everyday designated hitter as the Astros head to the AL West not only saves Berkman's legs, it gives the Astros a bat that obviously still has some life.
Kansas City Royals: Kyle Lohse
Just off to the east of Kauffman Stadim in Kansas City lies the city of St. Louis. The Kansas City Royals had a birds-eye view of starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, who compiled a 30-11 record and 3.11 ERA in the past two seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Royals should persuade Lohse to make the trek 242 miles west.
Quality starting pitching is what the Royals need—Lohse could certainly help provide that.
Royals owner David Glass promised to spend on starting pitching, and he has done so with the acquisition of Ervin Santana. Adding Lohse would give Royals fans faith that Glass is backing up his promise.
Los Angeles Angels: Zack Greinke
This one should be pretty obvious.
Los Angeles Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto shipped off three organizational top-25 prospects to acquire starting pitcher Zack Greinke last July from the Milwaukee Brewers.
This offseason, DiPoto has already wiped additional payroll off the books with the trade of Ervin Santana and the decision to decline the option on Dan Haren's contract for the 2013 season.
If DiPoto is unable to re-sign Greinke, he's going to need a big towel to wipe all that egg off his face.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Hiroki Kuroda
The Los Angeles Dodgers have six veteran starters returning in 2013: Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Josh Beckett, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley.
However, there is concern about Billingsley's tender right elbow, and Lilly is returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the final four months of the season.
Hiroki Kuroda is certainly a known entity in L.A., and he could consider pitching for the Dodgers again if he's not in the plans for the New York Yankees.
Kuroda was solid in his four years with the Dodgers, posting a 3.45 ERA and more often than not the victim of poor run support. He would absolutely give the Dodgers a quality arm they wouldn't have to worry about.
Miami Marlins: Kevin Youkilis
The Miami Marlins traded third baseman Hanley Ramirez and prospect third baseman Matt Dominguez during the 2012 season.
Without question, a priority for the Marlins this offseason is filling the hole left behind.
Signing Kevin Youkilis would help fill that hole.
The Marlins certainly aren't looking to significantly increase payroll—they tried that last offseason with not-so-good results.
But there simply aren't a whole lot of great options on the market, and while Youkilis will likely cost more than what the Marlins were hoping to spend, it could be a buy that pays off in the end.
Youkilis won't get anything close to big money or more than two or three years—not with an injury history that's reared its ugly head over the past three seasons. But the on-base capability and potential for 20 to 25 home runs with 90 RBI is definitely still there.
Milwaukee Brewers: Mike Adams
The Milwaukee Brewers bullpen is going to take on a vastly different look in 2013.
Closer John Axford will be back, but setup man Francisco Rodriguez will be gone, and there's no guarantee that Kameron Loe, Manny Parra and Jose Veras will be back either.
Mike Adams would be a great fit behind Axford.
Adams has been one of the most reliable right-handed relievers in baseball over the past five seasons. The Brewers will need strength in the back end to support a young starting rotation. Adding Adams would be a great start.
Minnesota Twins: Anibal Sanchez
This might be a bit of a stretch, as the Minnesota Twins have stated they're looking for affordable starting pitching.
But at some point, they have to come to the realization that at least some money needs to be spent to bolster the American League's worst starting rotation in 2012.
Anibal Sanchez would certainly be a good start.
The final two months of Sanchez's 2012 season—regular season and playoffs—should have been more than enough to show the Twins that he's capable of leading at the top of the rotation. While the price will indeed be significant, quality "affordable" starting pitching is hard to find.
New York Mets: Rafael Soriano
The New York Mets still have issues to contend with financially. But it would sure help if they could start putting fans back in seats at Citi Field.
The best way to do that is to field a team that's competitive night in and night out. With the state of their current bullpen, that's not always a given.
Adding closer Rafael Soriano would certainly help in that regard.
All Soriano wants is a chance to close. With Mariano Rivera returning to the New York Yankees for one more season, he won't have that chance next season.
Soriano will be costly. But how much longer can the Mets survive in a brand-new stadium drawing just 20,000 to 25,000 fans?
Spending money to get people in the seats can help in alleviating some of that financial burden. The price the Mets pay to acquire Soriano would be worth it in the long run.
Philadelphia Phillies: Michael Bourn
The Philadelphia Phillies find themselves in a strange position this offseason.
For the past several years, they've focused on adding to a solid core and continuing to stay atop the NL East Division.
This winter, they'll be looking to rebuild at several important positions, like at third base and the outfield.
Michael Bourn could be an important addition in helping to rebuild a solid core.
Bourn's leadoff abilities, tremendous speed and solid defense up the middle would certainly help supplement the bats of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Mike Napoli
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in need of offense. They're also in need of flexibility.
Mike Napoli can help provide both.
Napoli's ability to play both catcher and first base gives Pirates manager Clint Hurdle several options. He can utilize Napoli at first when Michael McKenry is behind the plate or use Napoli behind the plate and move Garrett Jones to first.
Napoli's right-handed bat would certainly help supplement the offense of Andrew McCutchen and give the Pirates another weapon in the middle of their batting order.
San Diego Padres: Brandon McCarthy
The San Diego Padres will be looking to add to their starting rotation during the offseason. With new owners in place, they'll have some additional money to dangle.
Starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy could be an excellent fit.
McCarthy featured a sub-3.30 ERA during his two years with the Oakland Athletics. Pitching half his games at Petco Park, McCarthy could easily accomplish that feat time and time again.
Shoulder injuries are certainly a concern, so it's likely the Padres won't have to commit huge dollars. But the upside is a pitcher who now features a strong command of the strike zone and the ability to miss bats.
Seattle Mariners: Nick Swisher
After scoring the fewest runs in the American League for the past four seasons, the Seattle Mariners' biggest priority this offseason is finding some offense.
Right fielder Nick Swisher would help in that regard.
Swisher's flexibility allows manager Eric Wedge to either use him in right field or in place of Justin Smoak at first base if Smoak continues to disappoint.
Either way, having Swisher's bat in the middle of the Mariners lineup would absolutely help in at least getting them out of the cellar in the American League in terms of scoring runs.
Tampa Bay Rays: Grady Sizemore
The Tampa Bay Rays have never been a team to spend lavishly during the offseason, and it's likely that won't change this winter.
However, offense is a burning need for the Rays. With upgrades needed at first base, catcher, designated hitter, shortstop and the outfield, Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has his hands full.
One way Friedman could help bolster his offense on the cheap is by going after a player who epitomizes low risk/high reward this winter: outfielder Grady Sizemore.
Sizemore's bat is likely still potent; it's the lower body that is suspect at this point. If Friedman can put together a minimum deal laden with incentives, he might just find an impact bat for a struggling offense.
Provided, of course, that Sizemore can actually get on the field and stay there.
Toronto Blue Jays: Dan Haren
The Toronto Blue Jays have to still be reeling after seeing three of their starting pitchers out for much of the season with injuries.
Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek and Brandon Morrow were lost for major chunks of the 2012 season, leaving former manager John Farrell to piece together a starting rotation that finished the year with a 4.82 ERA.
Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos will be shopping for arms this winter. One of those arms could be Dan Haren.
After experiencing a slowdown in velocity and a bad back, Haren rebounded somewhat in the second half for the Los Angeles Angels. He posted a 6-5 record and 3.58 ERA after the All-Star break, featuring the sharp command (1.123 WHIP) that has defined his career.
Haren is a workhorse, throwing 216 innings or more for seven straight seasons from 2005 to 2011 before slipping to 176.2 innings last season. Provided he has no more issues with his back, Haren can continue to be that workhorse and provide the Jays with quality innings along the way.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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