Predicting 'Winner or Loser' for All 30 MLB Teams in Free Agency
There are still games to be played, some very meaningful, but there's no question that front offices for all 30 teams have already started preparing their offseason game plans.
Which free agents will they target? Which of their own free agents will they try and retain? Which players should they target in a trade, and which of their own players are expendable? How much money will be available to spend? Which of their minor league players are ready to make an impact at the big league level.
These are all questions that will be answered in the near future before each team begins its quest to perfectly execute its offseason game plan. Some teams will succeed, and some will fail at filling their biggest needs with the players they wanted.
With a general idea of how much teams could have to spend this offseason and which positions they'll be looking to upgrade, I've predicted whether teams will be a "loser" or "winner" this offseason based on how I think they'll utilize their resources. But this isn't an indication of predicted success or failure on the actual field.
They took full advantage and had a "winning" offseason, followed by a division title. On the other hand, the Toronto Blue Jays had a "winning" offseason followed by an injury-plagued and mostly disappointing season. The New York Yankees had a "losing" offseason that will conclude with a winning season.
As we all know, the games still have to be played on the field. But that doesn't take away from how important the offseason roster moves can turn out to be. We just have to wait a long time to find out the results.
The 30 slides are listed in order of lowest to highest 2013 Opening Day payroll, according to USA Today. Each team's pending free agents are listed with their 2013 salary, according to Baseball Prospectus, in parentheses. Those who have a club option that is very likely to be picked up are not listed.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $22,062,600
Pending Free Agents: Erik Bedard, SP ($1.15 million)
Offseason Needs: starting pitcher(s), relief pitchers, corner outfielder
While the Houston Astros remain committed to building through the draft and international signings, they have a new $80 million per season TV deal that started this season, and owner Jim Crane told Molly Knight of ESPN The Magazine that the team will eventually settle into the top five or 10 payrolls in baseball. He didn't give a specific timetable, though.
What we do know is that even if they moved into the $40 or $50 million payroll range, which would still place them at either 29th or 30th in the league with Miami, they'd have about $25-30 million to spend on new talent. Only two players, second baseman Jose Altuve ($1.25 million salary) and catcher Jason Castro (eligible for arbitration), are projected to make over $1 million.
Spending money for the sake of spending money, however, is not the Astros' way of doing things. They'll continue to invest in the minor league system while adding a couple of veterans and possibly trying to lure one big name to Houston.
With only one pending free agent, pitcher Erik Bedard, the Astros won't have to worry about retaining any of their own. The 34-year-old isn't even in the rotation anymore so he doesn't appear to be in the plans for 2014. Adding a starting pitcher to anchor a young rotation could be at the top of the priority list, however.
Selling a free agent on the Astros' future beyond 2014 will be necessary, so targeting one who already has a World Series ring or two, as well as a couple of Cy Young awards, could be a realistic plan. If 29-year-old Tim Lincecum (pictured), who is the lone free-agent pitcher to fit that criteria, is fine with what will likely be one more rebuilding season, he could be the perfect fit for this Astros team.
The bullpen will also be a priority, according to Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle, after a season in which the team has blown 15 leads after the seventh inning. The closing job in Houston might not be a preference for those used to racking up save totals, but giving a long-time setup man like Jesse Crain, who dominated for the Chicago White Sox before a shoulder injury derailed his season, a chance to close for the first time in his career could entice him.
Ownership has completely bought into general manager Jeff Luhnow's plan to start from scratch and take a step back in order to take a few steps forward in the near future. The farm system has quickly risen to become one of the best in baseball, and several good young prospects will arrive in Houston over the next couple of seasons.
They won't be overly aggressive this winter, but expect them to land a couple of free-agent targets who can help in 2014 and beyond.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $36,341,900
Pending Free Agents: Placido Polanco, 3B ($2.75 million), Greg Dobbs, IF/OF ($1.5 million), Matt Diaz, OF ($1.25 million), Austin Kearns, OF ($700,000), Juan Pierre, OF ($1.6 million), Chad Qualls, RP ($1.15 million)
Offseason Needs: third baseman, second baseman, starting pitcher
The Miami Marlins and Astros' situations have some parallels, as both have trimmed payroll down to almost nothing, while building up an impressive farm system. But unlike Houston where there is a clear leader and strong plan in place, there's no telling which direction Miami will go. Nor is it clear whether owner Jeffrey Loria or President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest will be calling the shots.
Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reported that Loria is currently making most, if not all, of the team's baseball decisions. Regardless, the bigger question will be whether he intends to open his pocketbook back up. The poor reputation surrounding the team, especially after last offseason's blockbuster trade with Toronto, could make it challenging to convince free agents to sign there without offering top dollar.
Despite a 100-loss pace, the only obvious holes for the Marlins are at third base, second base and possibly in the rotation if they feel it's necessary to add a veteran to help mentor a young and talented group of starters.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports thinks Miami native Danny Valencia of the Baltimore Orioles would be an appealing option for the Marlins at third base, although he could be tough to pry away after the impressive late-season run he's having (26 for last 55, including four homers, eight doubles).
If they turn to the free-agent market, the best option could be Jhonny Peralta (pictured), who will be coming off a strong season that was marred by a P.E.D. suspension. A lineup featuring Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison and Peralta has a chance to be pretty good.
The Marlins aren't likely to be at the top of any free-agent's priority list, making for a challenging offseason. Even if Loria and the Marlins went on another spending spree, there isn't enough talent on the free-agent market to turn this team into a winner by 2014.
The best plan is to stay the course and build around their up-and-coming young talent with an eye on 2015 and beyond. Patience is necessary, though, and Loria isn't exactly known for his patience.
Tampa Bay Rays
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $57,895,272
Pending Free Agents: Jose Molina, C ($1.8 million), Luke Scott, DH ($2.75 million), James Loney, 1B ($2 million), Kelly Johnson, IF/OF ($2.75 million), David DeJesus, OF ($4.25 million; $6.5 million club option for 2014), Delmon Young, OF ($750,000), Roberto Hernandez, SP ($3.25 million), Jesse Crain, RP ($4.5 million), Fernando Rodney, RP ($2.5 million), Jamey Wright, RP ($900,000)
Offseason Needs: catcher, first baseman, relief pitcher
Last offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays traded two major league pitchers, including former All-Star James Shields, for four minor leaguers, added a few low-cost free agents and called it a winter. I certainly wouldn't have called it a successful offseason.
But here they are holding on to a wild-card spot with the season winding down and Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman is looking like a genius once again. Why should we expect anything else other than a seemingly underwhelming winter followed by a successful season on the field? I'm done questioning this team.
Working with a limited payroll once again, Friedman will have to plug holes at catcher, first base and possibly add another bat to the mix if David DeJesus' $6.5 million club option isn't exercised.
James Loney (pictured) won't be a bargain again—he signed a one-year, $2 million deal before this season—after rebounding with a strong season (.776 OPS, 12 HR, 68 RBI), so they'll have to decide if the first baseman is worth the long-term investment it will cost this time around.
The pitching staff is deep and should be able to replace veteran free-agents-to-be Roberto Hernandez and Fernando Rodney from within. The only question might be whether the team's next closer, if Rodney isn't re-signed, is currently with the organization.
The benefit of having a strong farm system is that there is always a wave of inexpensive talent on the way ready to plug holes when necessary. This will continue to be the case in the pitching staff with Triple-A starters Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome, if his current elbow injury isn't serious, likely to be in the mix for rotation spots in 2014 and several other young relievers on the rise.
Without many hitting prospects ready to contribute, though, Friedman will, once again, be on the lookout for a couple of bats to plug in for another year or two. If not Loney, expect him to sign the 2014 version of James Loney—a bounce-back candidate who could be had at a discount. First baseman Michael Morse and catcher Carlos Ruiz come to mind as possible fits.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $60,664,500
Pending Free Agents: Kurt Suzuki, C ($6.45 million; $8.5 million club option for 2014), Chris Young, OF ($8.5 million; $11 million club option for 2014), Bartolo Colon, SP ($3 million), Grant Balfour, RP ($4.5 million)
Offseason Needs: starting pitcher, relief pitcher
One of the best teams in baseball over the last year-and-a-half, the Oakland A's have done a terrific job of building through trades and the occasional free-agent splash. With only two impact players, starting pitcher Bartolo Colon and closer Grant Balfour, headed for free agency and a young core of talent in place, they're in a strong position to maintain their place as a top contender in 2014.
Colon has been the team's most consistent starter over the past two seasons, but he'll be 41 next May and becomes a riskier signing if his price goes up, as would be expected after such a strong season (16-6, 2.73 ERA). A healthy Brett Anderson and a full season of Sonny Gray should be enough to keep starting pitching lower on the offseason priority list.
Offensively, right-handed hitting outfielder Chris Young will become a free agent, and top prospect Michael Choice should step right into his place as the team's fourth outfielder with a chance to push right fielder Josh Reddick for regular playing time.
General manager Billy Beane is in a position where he could sit back, do absolutely nothing and the A's would still have one of the best 25-man rosters in the league. Expect him to make some moves, though, with the re-signing of Grant Balfour, who has 38 saves in 40 chances, a possibility and the addition of one other late-inning relief pitcher a priority if Balfour departs. Adding a low-cost veteran starter for rotation depth is also likely.
Even without a boost in payroll, expect Beane to fill these two spots with solid pitchers who will end up having great value.
San Diego Padres
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $67,143,600
Pending Free Agents: Ronny Cedeño, SS ($718,000), Mark Kotsay, 1B/OF ($1.25 million), Jason Marquis, SP ($3 million)
Offseason Needs: starting pitcher
The San Diego Padres have put together a solid roster, filled with young, controllable talent and very little holes to fill this winter. But while injuries have been partly to blame for their lack of success on the field the past couple of seasons, they probably aren't talented enough to be playoff contenders just yet, and the farm system isn't quite ready to produce another impact player.
So if they are to improve, general manager Josh Byrnes will have to be creative in the trade market, or the team's new ownership group will have to provide him with the financial resources to pursue a top free agent.
If Byrnes can rid the team of some salary by trading the injury-prone Carlos Quentin, who is probably a much better fit as a designated hitter in the American League because of ongoing problems with his knees, they could go after a more reliable outfield option such as Shin-Soo Choo or Hunter Pence, although they'd likely fall short in a bid against several big-market teams.
The rotation has a chance to be very good with Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross leading the way, and lefty Cory Luebke coming back from Tommy John surgery. Adding a front-line starter this offseason, however, could make them a force to be reckoned with.
With money tied up in Quentin and center fielder Cameron Maybin, who has also missed most of the season due to an injury, the Padres' payroll might not be as flexible as they'd need it to be in order to make a big splash in free agency. They have plenty of mid-level talent to fill holes, but lack the financial means to add top-level talent that could push them into contention next season.
They still have the selling point of a very pitcher-friendly ballpark for free-agent pitchers, which could give them an edge in pursuing one of the top free-agent starters like Ubaldo Jimenez (pictured), but it probably won't be enough to lure him to San Diego at a lesser price than other teams are willing to pay him.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $71,924,071
Pending Free Agents: Yorvit Torrealba, C ($1 million), Todd Helton, 1B ($5 million), Roy Oswalt, SP ($2.3 million), Matt Belisle, RP ($4.1 million; $4.25 million mutual option for 2014), Rafael Betancourt, RP ($4.25 million; $4.25 million mutual option for 2014), Jeff Francis, RP/SP ($1.5 million)
Offseason Needs: starting pitcher(s), relief pitcher(s), first baseman/corner outfielder
After another disappointing season, the Colorado Rockies will be searching for answers on how to improve a team with two star hitters, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, who have had a hard time staying healthy for an entire season and a pitching staff that has struggled to find consistency in the back of their rotation.
Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Tyler Chatwood give the team a solid front three, but it wasn't enough. Finding one more reliable starter this winter has to be a priority, although free agency isn't the best route for the Rockies, considering that any pitcher with more than one option will always choose the one that isn't in Colorado, one of the hitter-friendliest ballparks in baseball.
One interesting option could be Ubaldo Jimenez, who had some of his best seasons as a Rockie, and there could be less concern on either side because of the 29-year-old's previous success there (3.67 ERA in 419.2 career IP at Coors Field).
In addition to adding to the rotation, they'll need to decide if their in-house options will be adequate to cover for the losses of first baseman Todd Helton (pictured), who is retiring, and free agent-to-be closer Rafael Betancourt, who will miss the season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Moving Michael Cuddyer to first base and opening the right-field competition to Charlie Blackmon (.749 OPS through 72 games) and Corey Dickerson (.802 OPS through 60 games) is one option, although it's possible they could bring in another veteran to compete for the job.
Rex Brothers appears to have a firm hold on the closer's gig with a 1.74 ERA and 17 saves in 19 chances on the season but adding an upgrade over setup men Matt Belisle and Wilton Lopez, who have each been disappointing in 2013, could be a priority unless they believe that Adam Ottavino (2.81 ERA) can handle the high-leverage role.
The Rockies need pitching, and they're unlikely to lure much talent to pitch at Coors Field, which means that general manager Dan O'Dowd will have to trade away talent off of his 25-man roster or the farm system to get the starting pitcher they desperately need.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $72,031,143
Pending Free Agents: Henry Blanco, C ($750,000), Humberto Quintero, C ($900,000), Kendrys Morales, 1B ($5.25 million), Endy Chavez, OF ($?), Franklin Gutierrez, OF ($7 million; $7.5 million club option for 2014), Raul Ibañez, OF ($2.75 million), Joe Saunders, SP ($6.5 million, $TBD mutual option for 2014), Oliver Perez, RP ($1.5 million)
Offseason Needs: designated hitter, outfielder(s), starting pitcher
The Seattle Mariners came into the season with high hopes after adding a slew of solid veteran hitters, including Kendrys Morales (pictured) and Raul Ibañez, to balance out a young lineup. It hasn't worked out according to plan, though, as the team is on pace for a 90-loss season.
Morales and Ibañez have been the team's most productive hitters and could be brought back, although both are better fits at the designated hitter spot, so it's more likely that they aim to bring back just one with an eye on one of the top free-agent outfielders.
While the rotation has the potential to be very good with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma leading the way, they'll need top prospect Taijuan Walker's first full season in the majors to go smoothly and Danny Hultzen to stay healthy. Regardless, they could use one more veteran starter and should look to do better than Joe Saunders, who has a 5.16 ERA in 31 starts.
For years, the Mariners were considered to have some of the best young talent in the game closing in on the majors. The ones who have arrived haven't made a major impact, though, which is a big reason why the team has struggled over the last few seasons.
Adding an impact hitter like Jacoby Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran and a starting pitcher like Washington native Tim Lincecum could give them the spark necessary to turn them into playoff contenders. And they've reportedly been in the mix for some of the top free agents over the past couple seasons before having fallen short.
Don't be surprised if they're connected with some big names, once again, this winter. But until they can show the ability to outbid big-market teams for the best free agents, it won't be a surprise to see them come up empty-handed.
New York Mets
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $73,396,649
Pending Free Agents: Aaron Harang, SP ($7 million), Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP ($1.5 million), Johan Santana, ($25.5 million; $25 million club option for 2014), David Aardsma, RP ($?), Tim Byrdak, RP ($?), Pedro Feliciano, RP ($1 million), Frank Francisco, RP ($6.5 million), LaTroy Hawkins, RP ($1 million)
Offseason Needs: outfielders, starting pitcher, relief pitcher(s)
Finally free of the massive salaries that Jason Bay and Johan Santana were pulling in for years, the New York Mets should have one of their most active winters in some time. The clear priority had appeared to be the outfield, but Matt Harvey’s elbow injury, which will likely require Tommy John surgery, now has starting pitching a close second.
Juan Lagares has some promise, but it’s hard to pencil in any outfielders currently in the organization into starting spots for next season. Expect Sandy Alderson to leave no stone unturned in his search, which is expected to include the deep group of outfield talent on the free-agent market.
While there are five pretty good starters whom the Mets can pencil into the 2014 rotation—Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia and prospect Rafael Montero—they’ll need to add some depth. There will be plenty of mid-rotation veterans to choose from, including Jason Hammel, Scott Kazmir and Jason Vargas, who would allow the Mets to keep Montero in Triple-A to start the season and possibly shift Mejia to a bullpen role.
Alderson isn’t the kind of general manager who will spend money just because he has it. But expect him to land one of the top free-agent outfielders from a group that includes Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo (pictured), Nelson Cruz and Hunter Pence, along with taking a good share of calculated risks in order to help fill out the pitching staff.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $75,802,500
Pending Free Agents: Mike Pelfrey, SP ($4 million)
Offseason Needs: starting pitcher(s), first baseman, outfielder
Trading away Justin Morneau in August ensured that the Minnesota Twins would only have one player, starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey (pictured), headed for free agency this winter. The 29-year-old, who appeared to be getting stronger as the season went along (3.73 ERA in 14 starts between June and August) before getting knocked around in his last few outings, is a candidate to return.
Bringing Pelfrey back would help but this rotation needs at least two other starters capable of pitching near the top of the rotation or it's tough to expect a major turnaround from a team that is 21 games under .500 heading into Wednesday. Manager Ron Gardenhire recently reiterated that point in an article by MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger.
With Morneau's $14 million salary off the books and several top hitting prospects closing in on the majors, the Twins are likely to re-invest on their pitching staff, so that young prospects Kyle Gibson, Trevor May and Alex Meyer are forced to earn their ticket to the big leagues as opposed to being rushed out of necessity.
Not only is pitcher-friendly Target Field a strong selling point, the Twins have two of the top prospects in the game, third baseman Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton, on the fast track to Minnesota.
Neither is likely to make an impact in 2014 but a free-agent starter who is seeking at least a four-year deal, like former Twin Matt Garza or Ervin Santana, could see the team returning to prominence in 2015 and beyond with so much young talent closing in on the majors.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $77,772,800
Pending Free Agents: Kelly Shoppach, C ($1.5 million), Jason Giambi, DH ($750,000), Jason Kubel, OF ($7.5 million; $7.5 million club option), Ubaldo Jimenez, SP ($5.75 million), Scott Kazmir, SP ($1 million), Matt Albers, RP ($1.75 million), Rich Hill, RP ($1 million), Joe Smith, RP ($3.15 million)
Offseason Needs: starting pitcher, relief pitcher, designated hitter, third baseman
A very active winter has paid off for the "Tribe," who are just a half-game out in the wild-card race and have already clinched their first winning season since 2007. Whether they're willing to continue spending in free agency isn't clear, but it's likely that re-signing Ubaldo Jimenez (pictured), who appears to have finally turned things around after a couple of rough seasons, would be on the agenda.
The struggles of their left side of the infield duo, Asdrubal Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall, could also initiate the possibility of a Jhonny Peralta reunion. He could play shortstop or third base, while giving the team a much-needed right-handed power bat in the lineup.
Jimenez's return to form ensures he'll void his $8 million club option—his contract stipulates that he would earn that right should he be traded; he was traded from Colorado to Cleveland in July 2011—and also makes it likely that several big-market teams will be in the mix for his services.
With so much money tied in the offense—there is nearly $46 million guaranteed in 2014 to five hitters—they might not be able to compete for any of the top starting pitchers without a big boost in payroll. They have a solid group of starters in Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McCallister and Danny Salazar, although top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer is having an up-and-down season in Triple-A.
Re-signing lefty Scott Kazmir, who is having a solid comeback season, might be the more realistic possibility and that won't be enough to propel the Indians to the next level.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $79,555,000
Pending Free Agents: John Buck, C ($6 million), Justin Morneau, 1B ($14 million), Clint Barmes, SS ($5.5 million), Marlon Byrd, OF ($700,000), Jeff Karstens, SP ($2.5 million), Kyle Farnsworth, RP ($1.25 million)
Offseason Needs: starting pitcher, first baseman/corner outfielder, shortstop
The Pittsburgh Pirates' front office won't have too much time to enjoy the team's most successful season since 1992. There are roster holes to fill, and they could take a $7.5 million hit on a player who may not be able to contribute in 2014.
Starter Wandy Rodriguez (pictured), who has been on the disabled list since June because of a strained flexor tendon and persistent forearm pain, has a $13 million player option (Houston would have to pay $5.5 million) that he'll very likely exercise. He'll be a question mark heading into spring training, however, and the Bucs can't assume he'll be healthy moving forward.
Staff ace A.J. Burnett will also be a free agent, leaving a void in the rotation in front of Francisco Liriano, who is under contract for $8 million, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton. Top prospect Jameson Taillon is closing in on the majors, but midseason is a more realistic expectation.
If the team hopes to re-sign Burnett or another free-agent starter, along with taking on Rodriguez's salary, it could limit their ability to add another bat to the lineup. Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau, who were both acquired in August trades, are free agents, and the team could, once again, be looking for upgrades at first base and right field, as well as shortstop.
A boost in payroll to add a top-of-the-rotation starter and another impact bat could make them one of the most dangerous teams in baseball heading into 2014. My guess is that they won't go all out with the presence of Taillon and outfield prospect Gregory Polanco making their decision not to spend heavily on free agents much easier.
While this decision could prove to be the right long-term move, they could have a tough time repeating their 2013 success next season without an aggressive approach to free agency.
Kansas City Royals
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $81,491,725
Pending Free Agents: Carlos Peña, 1B ($2.9 million), Jamey Carroll, IF ($3.75 million; $2 million club option for 2014), Miguel Tejada, IF ($1.1 million), Bruce Chen, SP ($4.5 million), Ervin Santana, SP ($13 million)
Offseason Needs: second baseman, outfielder, starting pitcher
Expected to lose Ervin Santana (pictured), one of the of the top starting pitchers of 2013, to free agency, the Kansas City Royals will need to decide if they have enough in house to adequately make up for his loss.
Prospect Yordano Ventura, who had a sparkling big league debut on Tuesday, will likely join James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie with Wade Davis, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer, Luke Hochevar and Felipe Paulino, all options to fill out the rotation.
The presence of another top pitching prospect, Kyle Zimmer, who could also be ready at some point in 2014, could give the team enough confidence to keep starting pitching lower on the priority list and focus on finally upgrading at the second-base spot and in the outfield.
The Royals might not get to the playoffs—they're 2.5 games out in the wild-card race—but they will end the season with a winning record, which is a big step up from a 90-loss season in 2012 and should give this frustrated fanbase plenty of reason to be optimistic for the future.
Targeting and signing veteran second baseman Omar Infante and one of the lower-cost free-agent outfielders, such as Marlon Byrd, Corey Hart or Nate McLouth, should be enough to go with the solid core of talent already in place and push the Royals into the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $82,976,944
Pending Free Agents: Corey Hart, 1B/OF ($10 million), Yuniesky Betancourt, IF ($900,000), Mike Gonzalez, RP ($2.25 million)
Offseason Needs: starting pitcher, first baseman
The Milwaukee Brewers have the ability to pencil in decent major leaguers in each of the 25-man roster spots. But that doesn’t mean they’re in particularly strong position heading into the offseason. On the contrary, they’re in a very difficult position of not knowing what to expect from too many of their players, young and old.
Superstar Ryan Braun will be returning from a PED suspension. Aramis Ramirez is approaching his mid-30s and can no longer play every day on a pair of bad knees. Rickie Weeks has slumped for long periods of time in each of the last two seasons.
And while the starting rotation has been very good in the second half, they aren’t the most trustworthy group. Only Kyle Lohse was consistently good for the first three months of the season, while staff ace Yovani Gallardo had an ERA close to 5.00.
While it’s not expected that Milwaukee would be a major player in free agency, adding one more reliable starter and one more solid middle-of-the-order bat to the group would go a long way in turning this team around.
The good news is that first baseman Corey Hart (pictured) would like to stay with the team and would do so at a reduced price, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. But he’ll be coming back after missing the entire 2013 season with surgeries on both knees, which would just add to the uncertainty of next season.
Bronson Arroyo is the model of consistency, even more so than Lohse, and would be an excellent fit for this team. He’d be a good fit for a lot of teams, though, and the current state of the Brewers might not be the preferred destination for a pitcher that will be 37 at the start of next season.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $89,100,500
Pending Free Agents: Wil Nieves, C ($800,000), Eric Chavez, 3B/1B ($3 million), Willie Bloomquist, IF/OF ($1.9 million)
Offseason Needs: third baseman/corner outfielder, relief pitcher
General manager Kevin Towers made some questionable moves last offseason, but it was the critics who appeared to be wrong after a strong start by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
But a few months later, the blockbuster trade that sent Justin Upton to Atlanta has not turned out well in their favor, and the team has since faded from playoff contention and will reportedly seek to add a power bat in the winter, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic.
The overall roster is in good shape, with several young prospects nearly ready to contribute, giving Towers some trade ammunition—he has prospect depth to trade or to fill roster spots, so he can trade a veteran or two—to seek a power-hitting third baseman or corner outfielder.
While the preferred route would probably be free agency, he’s unlikely to find his bat in a weak third-base market. Expect Martin Prado to remain at the hot corner with Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson (pictured) possibilities to fill a corner outfield spot.
The D’backs have several million dollars tied up in unreliable relievers, including Heath Bell (due $5 million in 2014), David Hernandez (due $2 million in 2014) and J.J. Putz (due $7 million in 2014), and their current closer is due for a raise on his $3.15 million salary in arbitration. It’s hard to expect a flexible payroll situation when they could have close to $20 million invested in four relief pitchers.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $89,778,192
Pending Free Agents: Brian McCann, C ($12 million), Freddy Garcia, SP/RP ($1.3 million), Tim Hudson, SP ($9 million), Paul Maholm, SP ($6.5 million), Luis Ayala, RP ($1 million), Scott Downs, RP ($5 million), Kameron Loe, RP ($1.05 million), Eric O'Flaherty, RP ($4.32 million)
Offseason Needs: catcher
The majority of the roster will remain intact in 2014 for an Atlanta Braves team that has already reached 90 wins and is closing in on a division title. This could be a very different team next season, however, if All-Star catcher Brian McCann (pictured) signs elsewhere.
With several big-market teams, including the Red Sox and Texas Rangers, likely to pursue a catcher, McCann’s chances of remaining a Brave appear slim. Fortunately for Atlanta, they could have a pretty good replacement in place if the power hitting Evan Gattis can become at least an adequate defensive catcher. And if not, the free-agent market is fairly deep at catcher this winter.
Without too many other holes to fill, Atlanta could put all their financial eggs in one basket and sign McCann, a Georgia native, to a long-term contract extension. If not, they can turn to Gattis or prospect Christian Bethancourt, one of the top defensive catchers in the minors, or look to a free-agent market that could include former Braves farmhand Jarrod Saltalamacchia, John Buck, Carlos Ruiz and possibly Kurt Suzuki.
While either backup plan would be a downgrade from McCann, they’d have some money left over to add some depth to their bench and an already very strong pitching staff.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $90,993,333
Pending Free Agents: Chris Snyder, C ($?), Wilson Betemit, 1B/3B ($1.75 million; $3.2 club option for 2014), Michael Morse, 1B/OF ($6.75 million), Brian Roberts, 2B ($10 million), Alexi Casilla, IF ($1.7 million; $3 million club option for 2014), Nate McLouth, OF ($2 million), Scott Feldman, SP ($6 million), Jason Hammel, SP ($6.75 million), Francisco Rodriguez, RP ($?)
Offseason Needs: corner outfielder, second baseman, designated hitter, starting pitcher
Without making too many notable or high-priced acquisitions, general manager Dan Duquette has done a terrific job of turning the O’s into a competitive team that is currently making a playoff push for the second consecutive season. If they’re going to continue their winning ways, he’ll need to fill a handful of roster voids this winter.
Kevin Gausman is expected to step into a rotation that includes Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and possibly Miguel Gonzalez or Zach Britton. Dylan Bundy’s elbow injury, however, will keep him out for most, if not the entire 2014 season so bringing in another starter to provide depth is probably on the agenda.
The lineup will also need some reinforcements, although 21-year-old prospect Jonathan Schoop could be handed the second-base job with Brian Roberts heading for free agency.
Schoop didn’t have a great season in Triple-A (.697 OPS, 9 HR in 70 games), however, and also missed much of the season with a back injury, so don’t expect him to go into camp without competition. That competition could come from the free-agent market.
While Schoop’s presence and potential is enough to keep second base low on the priority list, no clear replacement for Nate McLouth in left field means that outfield could be at the top of the list, as well as designated hitter, unless they feel that Danny Valencia’s recent success isn’t a fluke.
A strong core of talent remains in Baltimore, so it’s not absolutely necessary for Duquette to make a splash in free agency. They have some big salaries coming off the books (Roberts and Jason Hammel combined to make $16.75 million in 2013), however, and re-investing that money into one impact bat or starting pitcher while filling the other holes with low-cost veterans might be the way to go.
The open designated hitter spot also gives them some flexibility to add a player with some health risk, including Carlos Beltran (pictured), who will be 37 in April and has a history of knee problems. Resting the eight-time All-Star from the outfield a couple times per week could give him a better chance to remain productive late in his career.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $104,304,676
Pending Free Agents: Dioner Navarro, C ($1.75 million), Ryan Sweeney, OF ($?), Scott Baker, SP ($5.5 million), Kevin Gregg, RP ($?), Matt Guerrier, RP ($3.75 million),
Offseason Needs: outfielder(s), starting pitcher(s), relief pitcher(s), third baseman
Team president Theo Epstein acknowledges that the team’s offense is nowhere close to where it should be, but still doesn’t expect to be a major player in free agency, according to Carrie Muskat of MLB.com.
Talent is on the way with four elite hitting prospects down on the farm, but it’s unrealistic to think they’ll make an impact in the majors next season. So while they might not be willing to go on an all-out spending spree to improve the team, year three of the Epstein regime cannot be another loser in Chicago; they’ll have to do something.
Despite Epstein’s claim that free agency won’t be the way to turn this team around, filling a major void in the outfield with Jacoby Ellsbury (pictured) or Shin-Soo Choo would sure help and shouldn't be ruled out.
Even in a clear rebuilding season, the Chicago Clbs signed Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million deal, brought in Scott Baker ($5.5 million) and Scott Feldman ($6 million) on one-year deals and signed Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa to a two-year, $9.5 million deal.
Expect a similar theme this winter, but with more focus on the offense. Signing one of the top outfielders to a long-term deal and then filling out the rotation and bullpen with lower-cost one- and two-year deals should be enough to set expectations on a winning 2014 season.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $107,491,305
Pending Free Agents: Shin-Soo Cho, OF ($7.375 million), Cesar Izturis, IF ($800,000), Bronson Arroyo, RP ($6.5 million), Zach Duke, RP ($700,000), Nick Masset, RP ($3.1 million), Manny Parra, RP ($1 million)
Offseason Needs: center fielder
With the emergence of lefty starter Tony Cingrani and the team’s top prospect, hard-throwing right-hander Robert Stephenson on the fast track to the big leagues, it’s likely that Bronson Arroyo’s career in Cincinnati will end after eight terrific seasons. Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake all return and Cingrani would step into Arroyo’s spot.
This ability to replace Arroyo with a player making close to the league minimum allows them to focus their attention on either re-signing Shin-Soo Choo or signing another free agent like Curtis Granderson (pictured) who could play center field in 2014 and possibly move to a corner spot if prospect Billy Hamilton proves he can step into the lineup and do more than just steal bases.
The pitching staff is still in terrific shape, so general manager Walt Jocketty’s top priority would be the offense, which could lose free agent Choo and has several players who are underperforming in 2013, including Brandon Phillips (.710 OPS), Todd Frazier (.711 OPS), Zack Cozart (.661 OPS) and Ryan Ludwick (.626 OPS).
Counting on Hamilton to take Choo’s spot after a poor Triple-A season is risky with the decline of so many Cincinnati Reds hitters so they must be aggressive in free agency. Unfortunately, several teams will be aggressive in their pursuit of Choo, who would be a major loss to this Reds lineup.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $114,090,100
Pending Free Agents: A.J. Pierzynski, C ($7.5 million), Geovany Soto, C ($2.75 million), Lance Berkman, DH ($10 million; $12 million club option for 2014), Jeff Baker, IF/OF ($1.75 million), Nelson Cruz, OF ($10.5 milion), David Murphy, OF ($5.775 million), Matt Garza, SP ($10.25 million), Colby Lewis, SP ($2 million), Jason Frasor, RP ($1.75 million), Joe Nathan, RP ($7 million; $9 million club option for 2014 can be voided by player)
Offseason Needs: catcher, outfielder, starting pitcher, designated hitter
Acquiring outfielder Alex Rios in early August gave the Rangers a head start on the offseason. General manager Jon Daniels will still have plenty of work to do, though, as he’ll need to find another outfielder, catcher, starting pitcher and possibly even a designated hitter.
It’ll be challenging to fill so many roster holes, but the Rangers will have plenty of payroll space to work with and several intriguing options, including Braves catcher Brian McCann, who will be one of the top free agents available.
The starting rotation will, once again, be led by Yu Darvish and expected to include lefties Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez. Alexi Ogando is a strong candidate to join them, although he could move to the bullpen permanently if Joe Nathan voids his $9 million club option and Neftali Feliz moves back into the closer’s role.
This scenario would likely require the team to bring in another starter if Matt Garza (pictured) bolted as a free agent.
Re-signing Garza and Nelson Cruz might even be more likely now that each has lost value. Garza hasn’t pitched well since being acquired from the Cubs in July, and Cruz is serving a 50-game PED suspension. It doesn’t mean they won’t be highly coveted free agents, but it could make each player more willing to strike a deal to return before the start of free agency.
Doing so would clear Daniels’ offseason plate even further so he can work on the catching situation and trying to figure out how Jurickson Profar fits into the lineup.
St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $115,222,086
Pending Free Agents: Rafael Furcal, SS ($7 million), Carlos Beltran, OF ($13 million), Chris Carpenter, SP ($12.5 million), Jake Westbrook, SP ($8.75 million; $9.5 million mutual option for 2014), Edward Mujica, RP ($3.2 million)
Offseason Needs: shortstop, starting pitcher, relief pitcher
The St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system is so good that they have two pretty good options to replace right fielder Carlos Beltran if he departs as a free agent. If Oscar Taveras, one of the top prospects in the game, isn’t ready to step in after an injury-plagued 2013, then Allen Craig can move to right field and left-handed hitting slugger Matt Adams gets the regular first-base job.
That doesn’t mean they’ll let Beltran walk, though. Just because they can go the cheaper route and still field a competitive team doesn’t mean they won’t spend the money in order to keep the proven talent on the major league roster and maintain strong depth throughout the organization.
Where they do not have a big-league ready option is at shortstop, the team’s clear priority heading into the offseason. They won’t be the only team after Stephen Drew (pictured), but they probably need him more than any other team.
Retaining starting pitcher Jake Westbrook, who has a $9.5 million mutual option, might not be necessary with all of the great young pitching already in the majors and the expected return of lefty Jaime Garcia from shoulder surgery. But it also wouldn’t hurt to keep him and shouldn’t affect the team’s ability to fill any other needs.
Signing Drew, who is having a strong season in Boston (.771 OPS, 13 HR), would be a major upgrade and would help make up for any drop in production resulting in the loss of Beltran. Also expect the team to re-sign closer Edward Mujica or sign another veteran free agent, such as Joaquin Benoit or Grant Balfour, to anchor a young and talented bullpen.
2013 Opening Day Payroll: $116,056,769
Pending Free Agents: Dan Haren, SP ($13 million)
Offseason Needs: starting pitcher
Despite what will likely be a disappointing ending to a season that results in the team falling short of a wild-card spot, the Washington Nationals are finishing strong, and the window for World Series contention isn’t close to shutting on them.
They have one free agent, starting pitcher Dan Haren (pictured) and are in a much better position to fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation than they were last offseason. Rookies Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, along with journeyman Ross Ohlendorf, have each provided the "Nats" with strong pitching performances in the second half.
Setup man Drew Storen's rough season is cause for concern and could give the team enough of a reason to pursue a top reliever in free agency once again.
It’s quite possible that they stand completely pat this winter and would still enter 2014 as playoff contenders. Don’t expect general manager Mike Rizzo to sit around and watch, though, as a young and talented Braves team isn’t expected to decline and with the division rival New York Mets and