One Thing All 30 MLB Teams Need to Become a Playoff Team
The final weeks of the offseason are a time when teams look to put the finishing touches on their roster for the season ahead.
Some teams are one piece away from contention, while others just need things to break right with the group they already have. On the other side of things, rebuilding teams have certain areas they need to address from an organizational standpoint if they hope to return to contention.
What follows is my take on the one thing that each team needs in order to become a playoff team, either this season for a club viewed a contender, or long-term for rebuilding teams.
Baltimore Orioles: Starting pitching consistency
The Orioles won 93 games last season despite having just one starter win double-digit games, with rookie Wei-Yin Chen going 12-11.
In total, 12 different pitchers started a game for the Orioles and only Chen made more than 20 starts. If they hope to duplicate last season's success and return to the postseason, they'll need a far more consistent performance from the starting rotation.
Boston Red Sox: Veteran production
Last year, the Red Sox got some of their best production from guys like Will Middlebrooks and Felix Doubront as their high-priced veterans were largely disappointing and a big reason for the team's major overhaul.
Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, Joel Hanrahan, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, David Ross and Koji Uehara have all been brought aboard this offseason. Their performance will go a long way toward determining how the team performs in 2013.
New York Yankees: Offense
For a team that ranked second in the league in scoring last season and had concerns with their pitching staff all season, saying offense here may seem odd.
However, with a starting lineup slated to feature the likes of Eduardo Nunez, Chris Stewart and perhaps Jayson Nix if Derek Jeter is not ready to open the season, the team may not have quite as easy a time scoring runs this season.
Tampa Bay Rays: Run production
The Rays took steps to improve their offense this offseason, signing James Loney and trading for Yunel Escobar, as well as trading for Royals prospect Wil Myers.
Myers may not make an impact until midseason, though, and aside from Evan Longoria the team still lacks a proven run producer. Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce are solid, but the team needs to improve its middle-of-the-order run-production abilities.
Toronto Blue Jays: Team chemistry
With nine new players currently slated to be on the team's Opening Day roster, the Blue Jays have a completely new look this coming season.
Stars Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle along with Emilio Bonifacio, Melky Cabrera, Josh Thole, Maicer Izturis and Esmil Rogers are all newcomers. On paper, the Blue Jays don't look to have any clear holes, but they'll need to come together as a group quickly.
Chicago White Sox: Production from infielders not named Konerko
The White Sox got a solid season from 36-year-old Paul Konerko last season through 144 games, but the rest of the infield struggled.
Middle infielders Gordon Beckham (.668 OPS) and Alexei Ramirez (.651 OPS) both struggled offensively, and newcomer Jeff Keppinger had a solid season but is far from a prototypical third baseman with 41 career home runs.
Cleveland Indians: Frontline starting pitching
The Indians have taken steps to improve their offense this season, adding Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs and Chris McGuiness to a lineup that already included a solid core of Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera.
They also signed Brett Myers, who'll join Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson as veteran arms atop the staff. However, the rotation is suspect beyond that, and Jimenez has been far from a staff ace during his time in Cleveland.
Detroit Tigers: Bullpen
It's not so much an area that needs to be improved as it is one that needs to be sorted out. The Tigers have a number of solid arms but still need to figure out where they all fit.
Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque and rookie Bruce Rondon are all in the mix to close this coming season. The possibility remains that the team could look to add a proven closer, but either way there is a lot to be sorted out his spring.
Kansas City Royals: Production from their new starters
The Royals took the steps to improve their rotation this offseason, adding James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis and re-signing Jeremy Guthrie.
Now those guys just need to perform, and how well those guys perform behind an ever-improving young offense will determine how the Royals' immediate future goes.
Minnesota Twins: Starting pitching
The Twins got an AL-worst 5.40 ERA out of their starting pitching last season, as breakout left-hander Scott Diamond (12-9, 3.54 ERA) was the only consistent arm on their staff.
Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Rich Harden have all been added this offseason, but that rag-tag group does not a postseason-caliber rotation make. They'll need to continue to improve their staff if they want to return to the postseason.
Houston Astros: A time machine
Any way you slice it, it's going to be a while before the Astros find themselves in a position to contend, as they were a complete tear-down when it came time to rebuild.
They have some promising young pieces, headlined by Jonathan Singleton, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Jarred Cosart, but it's going to take some time.
Los Angeles Angels: A quick start
The Angels got off to a rough 7-15 start last season, with their prize offseason signing Albert Pujols following suit with a .197 average and no home runs through his first 27 games.
The team kept spending this offseason, signing Josh Hamilton, Joe Blanton, Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett and trading for Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas. They have all the pieces to contend for a title, and coming out of the gates strong would be a big first step.
Oakland Athletics: More production from unexpected sources
Last season, the A's entered the season as the odds-on favorites to finish last in the AL West, but a fantastic second half on the strength of their ability to win close games ended in a division title.
Production came from unexpected places all season, as no one expected Brandon Moss to be hitting cleanup or Josh Donaldson to be the answer at third base, among others. Those guys will be counted on to duplicate last season's success if the team is to return to the playoffs.
Seattle Mariners: Patience
The Mariners have as bright a future as any team in baseball, with perhaps the best farm system in all of baseball.
Starting pitchers Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, relievers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor, catcher Mike Zunino and shortstop Nick Franklin could all make an impact this coming season. They'll join Felix Hernandez, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero to form the core that should return the Mariners to the postseason in a few years.
Texas Rangers: A replacement bat or two
The Rangers had arguably the most feared offense in baseball for the past three seasons, but they parted ways with Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young this offseason.
The only step the team has taken to replace them thus far is the signing of A.J. Pierzynski, and if they want to make another trip to the postseason they'll need to find a way to add a bat or two between now and Opening Day, whether it's Michael Bourn, Adam LaRoche or a trade for someone like Justin Upton or Alfonso Soriano.
Atlanta Braves: A left fielder
The Braves signed B.J. Upton to replace Michael Bourn already this offseason, but they have yet to find a replacement for the retired Chipper Jones.
Adding a left fielder would make the most sense, as it would allow Martin Prado to be shifted in to play third. A power-hitting, right-handed bat would be ideal to offset the presence of left-handed hitters Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann in the middle of the team's lineup.
Miami Marlins: New ownership
Last offseason, Jeffrey Loria spent big in an attempt to put a winner on the field as the Marlins began play in their new stadium. Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell were all signed to big contracts, and expectations were high.
Instead, the team struggled mightily and finished with 93 losses. That lead to a full-blown fire sale this offseason, and the Marlins will be among the worst teams in the league this coming season as a result. Fire sales are nothing new to Marlins fans; getting a new ownership base that would allow for sustained success should be the team's next move.
New York Mets: Bullpen help
The Mets had the second-worst bullpen ERA in the league last season at 4.65, and aside from signing left-hander Aaron Laffey to a minor league deal they've done nothing to address that issue this season.
They have a good core of young talent, and their rotation will get a boost from Zack Wheeler whenever he arrives, but a good bullpen arm or two could go a long way toward making them a legitimate contender.
Philadelphia Phillies: Health
The Phillies were among the biggest disappointments in the league last season, and it was due in large part to injuries to Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
Their veteran core is still impressive enough to win, fronted by their big three of Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, but they'll need to stay healthy and productive if the Phillies are to make one more run at a title.
Washington Nationals: Play up to expectations
I'm at a loss for something the Nationals need entering the season. They have arguably the best team in the league on paper, and that's without the potential return of first baseman Adam LaRoche.
Stephen Strasburg is poised for a big season with the shackles finally off, and Dan Haren could make their great pitching staff even better in replacing Edwin Jackson. Let's just say if the Nationals don't make the postseason it will be a major shock.
Chicago Cubs: Long-term pitching options
When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took their posts in the Cubs' front office, they recognized a lack of pitching organization-wide as the team's biggest need—and rightfully so.
Jeff Samardzija appears to have a bright future, and Edwin Jackson is signed for the next four years, but the team has virtually nothing in the way of impact arms in its farm system. The rest of the Cubs rotation is a patchwork group of veterans on short deals who are likely to be moved at some point.
Cincinnati Reds: A smooth transition to the rotation for Aroldis Chapman
The Reds have as complete a roster as any in baseball following the offseason addition of Shin-Soo Choo in the leadoff spot and the re-signings of Jonathan Broxton and Ryan Ludwick.
Flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman will be moved to the rotation this coming season, and if his skills can translate to a starting role the Reds could run away with the NL Central and emerge as favorites in the National League.
Milwaukee Brewers: Four starters to step up behind Yovani Gallardo
The Brewers had the highest-scoring offense in the National League last season and return essentially the same lineup, but their pitching could be what holds them back.
Yovani Gallardo is a legitimate staff ace, but beyond him the other four rotation spots are up for grabs. If guys like Marco Estrada and Michael Fiers can take the next step it would go a long way toward improving the team's postseason chances.
Pittsburgh Pirates: A strong final two months
Each of the past two seasons, the Pirates have been in a great position to contend at the All-Star break but have tailed off at the end of the season and failed to eclipse the .500 mark.
Pitching has been a big reason for the drop-offs, and with a full season of Wandy Rodriguez and new addition Francisco Liriano the team appears to be in a better position. By season's end, Gerrit Cole, among other pitching prospects, could make an impact as well.
St. Louis Cardinals: The duo of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter pitching like aces
The Cardinals relied on Kyle Lohse as the ace of their staff for the better part of 2012, and he responded by going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA.
With Lohse gone, the team will need Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter to pitch like aces. Wainwright began to look more like himself in the second half of last season, and Carpenter returned from injury with a strong postseason, so there's plenty of reason for optimism surrounding the duo.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The starting rotation to stay healthy, pitch to their potential
The Diamondbacks have no shortage of starting pitching options entering the season, even with the trade of Trevor Bauer.
However, Daniel Hudson and Brandon McCarthy come with injury concerns and the duo of Wade Miley and Tyler Skaggs is still relatively unproven. Their offense is deep enough to contend and their bullpen is improved, so if the rotation can perform they'll make a push for the NL West crown.
Colorado Rockies: Capable starting pitching
When I say capable starting pitching, I don't mean Cy Young-caliber arms. I mean five guys who can throw a baseball well enough to get professional batters out.
The Rockies' starting pitchers posted a 5.81 ERA in 2012, by far the worst in baseball, and so far this offseason nothing has been done to improve the staff. Guys like Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio will be healthy, which should help, but this is a team that needed to add at least a few arms.
Los Angeles Dodgers: A return to form for recent superstar additions
The Dodgers spent big to shore up their rotation, adding Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, but it will be the performance of a handful of players already on the team that will determine the Dodgers' success.
If Matt Kemp can stay healthy and play like an MVP, and the trio of Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and Josh Beckett can play closer to their All-Star level than their 2012 level, the Dodgers will be bona fide World Series contenders.
San Diego Padres: A frontline starter
The Padres have as deep a farm system as anyone in baseball, and while the future looks bright for their offense, the rotation remains a question mark.
Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard are solid options and there are a handful of pitching prospects who should make a big league impact soon, but the club lacks a true ace moving forward.
San Francisco Giants: One more power bat
The Giants' offseason focus was to re-sign the key pieces from last year's team who hit the free-agent market, and they did that in reaching deals with Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Affeldt.
However, they failed to make the splash signing that many thought they would, so their offense remains average at best. Buster Posey is a star, and while both Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence have their moments, the team could really use another power hitter in the middle of the order.