Potential Offseason Targets for Each of MLB's Non-Playoff Teams
As of Monday morning, the season was officially over for 19 MLB teams. Some of them are disappointed with their overall performance. Some of them made progress and are satisfied with the direction of the organization. None were good enough to make the playoffs. All 19 will be looking to improve with an eye on playing meaningful games next October.
Four teams—the Red Sox, Indians, Dodgers and Pirates—are playing in the postseason after missing out in 2012. All made significant moves last winter with the Dodgers and Pirates each adding a front-line starter and the Sox and Tribe adding multiple impact hitters to the lineup. Turning things around in one offseason is very possible for most teams if the front office makes enough good decisions.
Here is a look at some potential offseason targets for each of those 19 non-playoff teams.
Despite having only two current players on the roster expected to make more than $1 million in 2014—Jose Altuve has a $1.25 million salary and Jason Castro is eligible for arbitration and could make close to $2 million—the Astros aren't expected to go on an all-out spending spree.
Landing one big-name free agent on a three- or four-year deal isn't out of the question, but they'll mainly be looking to fill holes in the pitching staff and the outfield with lower-cost free-agent acquisitions and trades.
Nate McLouth, OF: The 'stros had a combined .310 on-base percentage from their leadoff hitters in 2013, making it a clear area of need. While the team's center fielder of the very near future, George Springer, had a .411 OBP between Double-A and Triple-A, he also had 37 homers and 161 strikeouts. He's better suited down in the order. Adding a left fielder who can lead off and won't cost a lot like Nate McLouth (.334 OBP, 28 SB as leadoff hitter in 2013) could make sense.
Carlos Quentin, OF: When healthy, Quentin is one of the premier power hitters in the game (.866 OPS, 29 HR in 168 games in 2012-2013). But he's rarely healthy, which is why the Padres could try to trade the 31-year-old to the American League this offseason, where he can serve as the designated hitter. He's guaranteed $20.5 million over the next two seasons so the risk isn't huge if he can give them at least 80-120 games per season.
Tim Lincecum, SP: He could be open to a year on a rebuilding team if he's convinced that they'll be competitive in the last two or three years of his contract. The 29-year-old has two World Series rings, so he'd probably be the likeliest top free-agent starter to be open to the idea.
Jesse Crain, RP (pictured): If finding an opportunity to close is Crain's top priority as a free agent as opposed to looking for the biggest paycheck or the best chance to win right away, then Houston could be a nice fit. The bullpen will be a priority this winter, according to Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle.
The Marlins have made some changes to their front office, promoting general manager Michael Hill to president of baseball operations and assistant general manager Dan Jennings moving into Hill's spot. They'll look to revamp a roster that lost 100 games but are expected to do so without trading power-hitting right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, according to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com.
With a promising young rotation intact, led by Jose Fernandez, look for the Marlins to focus most of their attention on upgrading a lineup that needs help at catcher, second base and third base. Adding low-cost veterans to the pitching staff is also a likely scenario.
Yasmani Grandal, C: As highly touted as he was as a prospect and as well as he played during his rookie season of 2012 (.863 OPS in 60 games), Grandal (pictured) isn't the long-term answer at catcher with the Padres. That would be Austin Hedges, one of the top defensive catching prospects to come around in some time. Grandal's 50-game suspension for PED use doesn't help, nor does the torn ACL that makes him questionable for the start of next season. Still, the Marlins would probably love to bring the former University of Miami star back home and have a strong enough farm system to make it happen.
Alexander Guerrero, 2B: The Marlins already made a bid on the 26-year-old Cuban, according to Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun Sentinel, but they were told it wasn't competitive and are reportedly out of the mix. Don't count them out completely, though. The price could come down at some point, or Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria could decide to pay up for a power-hitting infielder who he could market to the significant Cuban-American population in the area.
Juan Uribe, 3B: The Marlins have an opening at third base, which is what Uribe will be looking for after a solid 2013 season (.769 OPS, 12 HR). He won't break the bank, however, so the Marlins could find the 34-year-old to be a perfect one-year fit.
Josh Johnson, SP: After being traded to Toronto prior to the season, Johnson's days in Miami appeared to be numbered. But nearly a year later, the 29-year-old will be looking for a one-year deal so he can try to rebuild his value after a terrible 2013 season. A pitcher-friendly ballpark in a town where Johnson was once a legitimate ace seems like a potential destination.
Chicago White Sox
The Sox freed up payroll space for the upcoming offseason by trading away Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. They also brought in some young talent, Avisail Garcia and Leury Garcia, who can help right away.
But there are still several holes to fill before this team can rise back to the top of a very tough division. It's likely they'll shop one of their young lefty starters to bring back a bat, possibly a third baseman, while the free-agent market offers plenty of potential options to help upgrade at the catcher spot and either at first base, corner outfield or the designated hitter spot.
Brian McCann, C: There are several free-agent candidates to take over for Tyler Flowers (.195 BA, 10 HR, 95 K in 84 games) as the team's starting catcher next season. McCann is the best, though, and that's where they'll likely start before working their way down, if necessary, to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Dioner Navarro, Carlos Ruiz and so on.
Jose Dariel Abreu, 1B: Even if Paul Konerko opts to return for another season, it's doubtful he'd be at the top of the White Sox's list of first base candidates. Abreu, who is now eligible to sign with teams after defecting from Cuba, is a right-handed hitting slugger who some believe can have a major impact at the plate. If there's a reason to keep Dayan Viciedo around, it's to help recruit his fellow countryman and make sure his transition to the States is a smooth one.
Chase Headley, 3B: So what if Headley's second half of 2012 (.978 OPS, 23 HR) was a bit fluky? Even if he's closer to what he did in the second half of this season (.829 OPS, 6 HR), that's still much better than most third basemen in the league. And his price tag has gone way down in the past year, especially with only one more year of team control, meaning the Sox probably wouldn't have to deplete their farm system to acquire him from the Padres.
Curtis Granderson, OF: A Chicago native, Granderson (pictured) could have two chances to come home for his next contract with the Cubs and White Sox both in need of outfield help. The Cubs don't expect to be major players in free agency, however, so the Sox would seem to have a good shot at landing the 32-year-old. Doing so would give the lineup a second veteran of 40-plus-home run seasons to go along with Adam Dunn.
Aside from replacing Dale Sveum, who was fired as the team's manager on Monday, the Cubs should be busy this offseason patching up a shaky bullpen, adding another starter and finding at least one impact bat for a lineup that doesn't exactly strike fear into opponents as currently constructed.
Team president Theo Epstein says he doesn't expect to improve his team's weak-hitting lineup by spending big money in free agency, however, so Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo may be off the table, and a Matt Garza reunion also appears unlikely.
Howie Kendrick, 2B: The Angels are looking to acquire young and controllable pitchers this offseason and it's unlikely they'll do it without trading away Kendrick or Mark Trumbo. Kendrick (.775 OPS, 13 HR), who is owed close to $19 million in the last two years of his contract, would be a major upgrade over the light-hitting Darwin Barney (.569 OPS).
Mark Reynolds, 3B/1B: Reynolds isn't close to the best option, even in a very weak free-agent market for third basemen. But the Cubs have at least two top prospects, Javier Baez and Mike Olt, who could figure into the picture in 2014 and two others, Kris Bryant and Christian Villanueva, who aren't far behind. Some combination of Reynolds (.699 OPS, 21 HR), who could also spell Anthony Rizzo at first base against tough left-handed starters, and Luis Valbuena could be enough of a stopgap until the long-term answer emerges.
Chris Young, OF: If not Choo, Ellsbury or Curtis Granderson in center field, the Cubs could look to re-sign Ryan Sweeney, who had an impressive 70-game stint (.772 OPS, 6 HR) that was interrupted by a fractured rib, or another veteran like Young (pictured), a former All-Star whose value has declined after a disappointing season in Oakland (.659 OPS, 12 HR). Even if he can bounce back slightly, the 30-year-old is capable of 20 homers, 20 stolen bases and excellent defense in center field if he plays regularly.
Scott Baker, SP: For a total of three September starts, the Cubs paid Baker $5.5 million in 2013. Another full offseason to get stronger after 2011 Tommy John surgery and the 32-year-old should be back at full strength. When last healthy, Baker posted excellent numbers with the Twins (3.14 ERA, 134.2 IP, 126 H, 32 BB, 123 K in 2011). If he can regain that form, he'd be a bargain for what it will cost to sign him for another season or two.
With a potential $40 million to spend this offseason, according to Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN, the Twins should have a fighting chance to acquire a clear ace for their rotation as well as a No. 2 starter. They have some good young arms coming up through the system, but as of now, their projected 2014 rotation might be the worst in baseball. Pitching is the clear priority.
Ervin Santana, SP: Likely to be the top-paid free agent starter this offseason, Santana (pictured) is likely to attract attention from any team who can afford him. The 30-year-old pitched like an ace in 2013 and will be paid like one this winter. The biggest concern is the 39 homers he allowed in 2012, although that would be less of a concern for the Twins because of their pitcher-friendly ballpark. That could also make Minnesota a preferred destination.
Masahiro Tanaka, SP: The top starting pitcher in Japan, Tanaka is likely to be posted this winter by the Rakuten Golden Eagles, and the Twins could be amongst the teams submitting a bid. Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN speculated last month that a club official would be watching the 24-year-old right-hander in the near future.
David Price, SP: The Rays aren't expected to shop starter David Price aggressively this winter, but if they're willing to listen on offers, the Twins could have the pieces to make them seriously consider it. It would likely take a package headed by Miguel Sano, one of the top power-hitting prospects in the game, but it could be worth it if Minnesota hopes to turn things around anytime soon.
The fact that the M's haven't been able to land any of the top free agents over the past couple of offseasons is probably a good thing. The inability of the team's core of young talent to contribute would've left the team with similar results—non-playoff team—despite having another impact player or two on the roster.
Left to go the route of acquiring several veterans on one-year contracts, general manager Jack Zduriencik could have enough roster flexibility to finally land that big name on the free-agent market, which would help fill a hole in the outfield or in the rotation.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF: The Mariners need to acquire a hitter they can build around this winter, and Ellsbury, a former star at Oregon State University, is likely to be one of their top targets. They were outbid by the Indians last winter in their pursuit of Michael Bourn, and there will be no shortage of competitors with deep pockets in the mix for the 30-year-old Ellsbury, who finished the season with a .781 OPS and 52 stolen bases.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF: Originally signed by Seattle as an amateur back in 2000, Choo had 21 big league plate appearances when the team traded him to the Indians in a deal for first baseman Ben Broussard. They've probably regretted it ever since and could be more than happy to meet his likely $18 million per season price tag to erase the memory and add one of the premier hitters in the game to their lineup.
Tim Lincecum, SP: The "bring him home" theme continues as the Mariners' major selling point with Lincecum (pictured), who already has his World Series rings and might opt to come back to his native Washington, where he starred at the University of Washington in Seattle, despite the team's struggles over the past few years. Filling out a potentially great rotation, led by Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker isn't a bad reason, either.
With five lefty hitters currently projected into their 2014 lineup—Ben Revere, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown, Cody Asche—the Phillies have made it clear that a right-handed power bat is their priority this offseason. That right-handed batter will almost certainly be a corner outfielder.
The rotation also needs shoring up, although there appears to be just one spot up for grabs after accounting for Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. While the bullpen has several candidates, they could also look for a late-inning upgrade to help bridge the gap to closer Jonathan Papelbon with Mike Adams likely out for the start of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
Nelson Cruz, OF: With Hunter Pence off the board after he signed a five-year contract extension with the Giants, Cruz (pictured) is the top right-handed hitting outfielder on the free-agent market. It will be a huge surprise if the Phillies aren't one of the top bidders for his services.
Mark Trumbo, OF: If the Angels, who are looking for young pitching this offseason, are big enough fans of the Phillies' starting pitching prospects closest to the big leagues—Jesse Biddle, Adam Morgan and Jonathan Pettibone would be at the top of that list—there could be a fit for the 27-year-old Trumbo, who has 95 homers over the past three seasons.
Roy Halladay, SP: For what the Phillies are looking for—a veteran who could be a stopgap for some of the team's pitching prospects who aren't quite ready—Roy Halladay could be a fit to return on a one-year deal. According to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is open to bringing back the 36-year-old, who had a 6.82 ERA in 13 starts this season.
New York Mets
According to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com, the Mets would only be willing to surrender a compensatory draft pick for free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (pictured), who could be out of their price range. Their search for outfield, therefore, would be limited to those free agents not offered arbitration by their current teams and the trade market.
In addition to bringing in one or two outfielders, the team could look to bring in another starting pitcher with Matt Harvey likely to miss the 2014 season due to an elbow injury. Closer Bobby Parnell is questionable for the start of the season as he recovers from neck surgery, which also puts a setup man who could close temporarily on the priority list.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF: Unless the market for Choo is filled with teams unwilling to at least match Hunter Pence's five-year, $90 million contract he recently signed with San Francisco, the Mets are unlikely to win this bidding match. And that's too bad, because he'd give the Mets a second elite hitter in their lineup to go along with David Wright.
Mark Trumbo, OF: The Angels, who aren't expected to be big spenders in free agency and have limited resources down on the farm, could be wheeling and dealing with several veteran hitters on the move. If Howie Kendrick is dealt for pitching, they could be willing to trade Trumbo for Daniel Murphy, who would replace Kendrick at second base, as well as a starting pitcher, possibly Dillon Gee, and a very good prospect (top 3-6 in the system). For a right-handed power hitter who has 95 homers since 2011 and is still under team control for three more seasons, that deal could be a win-win for both teams involved.
Scott Kazmir, SP: There's no replacing Matt Harvey, who had emerged as one of the top starting pitchers in baseball before an elbow injury ended this season and probably next. But they'll have to fill out the rotation with a lower-cost veteran who can at least give the team a chance to win every five days. Kazmir, who was a first-round draft pick by the Mets back in 2002, had a solid comeback season (4.04 ERA in 29 starts), but his price tag won't be sky high. Considering he was pitching in an Independent league in 2012, many teams will shy away from giving him a big deal after his first good season since 2008.
Francisco Rodriguez, RP: The end of Rodriguez's tenure with the Mets wasn't pretty, as he was traded to the Brewers in 2011 before his 2012 option could vest for finishing 55 games. He was also charged with assault toward the end of the 2010 season. Regardless, he could be the best fit for what the Mets need early in 2014, which is a backup plan at closer who could fill an integral setup role once Parnell is healthy.
Toronto Blue Jays
It's doubtful that the Jays' upcoming offseason will be anywhere as eventful as last season's when they made two blockbuster trades to acquire several top starting pitchers and shortstop Jose Reyes. A year later, they still need to get much better, but their farm system was depleted by those deals and taking on the big salaries limits their ability in free agency.
Finding another reliable veteran to fill out a rotation that includes R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ is tops on the priority list, although they could look for a hitter if one of their lineup regulars is traded away to acquire the much-needed starting pitcher.
Scott Feldman, SP: If the Jays shy away from the top free-agent starters and look to sign one from the next tier of free agents, Feldman (pictured) could be at the top of their wish list. The 30-year-old won't break the bank, but he pitched well enough (3.86 ERA in 30 starts) to lock down a three-year, $30 million deal this offseason.
Jason Vargas, SP: The lefty Vargas, who missed time this season recovering from a blood clot in his armpit, is likely to join Feldman at the top of the second tier of free-agent starters. Also in line for a contract in the three-year, $30 million range, the 30-year-old Vargas had a 4.02 ERA in 24 starts this season for the Angels, including a four-hit shutout against the division champion A's in his second-to-last game of the year.
Omar Infante, 2B: The failures of offseason acquisitions Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio could force general manager Alex Anthopoulos to go seeking a second baseman once again this winter. Infante could cost as much as four years and $40-44 million, but he'll solidify the spot while reuniting with Reyes, his former Marlins double-play mate.
While they could certainly fill out their 25-man roster with players who were either not terrible in 2013 or have big salaries in 2014 and are likely immovable, it won't be good enough if they want to compete with the likes of the Reds, Pirates and Cardinals anytime soon.
Look for general manager Doug Melvin to either re-sign Corey Hart to play first base or look to the free-agent market, where a handful of potential upgrades over Juan Francisco are available. The rotation could also use some help, although Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg (2.16 ERA in four September starts) isn't a bad starting five if they can stay healthy and Gallardo can rebound from a disappointing season.
Corey Hart, 1B: After missing the season recovering from separate surgeries to both knees, Hart is willing to give his longtime team a hometown discount in order to stay, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Unless the team feels it needs a left-handed hitter to balance out a right-handed heavy lineup, the 31-year-old Hart (.830 OPS, 24 HR, 33 2B, 13 SB per season from 2007-2012) could be the best fit.
James Loney, 1B: While Francisco, the team's current left-handed hitting option, brings plenty of power to the table (18 HR in 385 plate appearances in 2013), he doesn't hit for much of an average, doesn't get on base at a high rate and isn't particularly good on defense. Loney (pictured), on the other hand, doesn't provide as much power (13 HR in 594 plate appearances in 2013), but he would give the team a left-handed hitter who is very good at the other three aforementioned categories.
Colby Lewis, SP: Despite needing to strengthen the rotation, heading into the offseason with five potentially solid starters gives the team the ability to pursue a pitcher who isn't necessarily a sure thing but comes with a high reward. If Colby Lewis, who had a 3.43 ERA with 1.2 BB/9 and 8.0 K/9 in 16 starts back in 2012, can rebound after missing 2013 recovering from elbow and hip surgeries, the 34-year-old could be the 2014 version of Kyle Lohse.
Barring a complete overhaul of the roster that could happen with a blockbuster trade—any deal involving Troy Tulowitzki or Carlos Gonzalez and, to a lesser extent, Dexter Fowler, would be a blockbuster—don't expect an extremely eventful offseason for the Rockies. Their major need is pitching, and free-agent pitchers will avoid Colorado at all costs.
With that in mind, some free-agent pitchers might find the best opportunity for a job in Colorado while others have no choice if acquired via trade. Another sinker-baller, like pre-2012 trade acquisition Tyler Chatwood (3.15 ERA in 20 starts), would make a lot of sense.
Roberto Hernandez, SP: With a ground-ball rate of more than 53 percent and an ERA near 5.00 in 2013, the 33-year-old Hernandez (pictured) and Colorado could quickly find that they're a solid match in free agency. Sinker-ball pitchers aren't automatic bets to have success in Coors Field, although there's no way to know with Hernandez since he's never pitched there.
Jake Westbrook, SP: Whether Westbrook and the Cardinals each exercise their end of his $9.5 mutual option for 2014 or it's declined, the 36-year-old is very likely to be on the Rockies' radar. Armed with one of the most extreme ground-ball rates in the game (56.3 percent in 2013), Westbrook could be a solid fit as the No. 4 starter behind Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Chatwood.
Zach Britton, SP: A once-promising young starter, Britton failed to crack the O's rotation in 2013 for an extended period of time and, as was the case with Jake Arrieta, his time could be running out in Baltimore. The 25-year-old sinker-baller, who has never pitched in Coors Field, could be the 2014 version of Chatwood if given a chance to pitch in the majors every fifth day.
San Diego Padres
For a team that finished on a 16-10 run and has a solid 25-man roster heading into the offseason, it will still be hard for Padres fans to accept that there really isn't much on the "to-do list." The payroll is expected to rise by as much as 20 percent, according to executive chairman Ron Fowler, although several key players are due for raises in arbitration.
It's hard to pinpoint where the team might need to utilize any additional dollars ticketed for the roster, especially with so much money tied up in oft-injured outfielders Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin. If they come back healthy, along with catcher Yasmani Grandal (ACL surgery) and shortstop Everth Cabrera (50-game suspension for PED use), they have the makings of a very good offensive team. Ditto a rotation with Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and back-of-the-rotation options that include Cory Luebke, Eric Stults and Robbie Erlin.
Trading Maybin or Quentin, which wouldn't be easy considering their injury history, would put the team in position to pursue an outfielder. Realistically, they'll look to add one veteran starter to the group as they did during last year's uneventful winter when they re-signed Jason Marquis and didn't do much else.
Phil Hughes, SP/RP: If the price is right and Hughes (pictured) is willing to come to San Diego, one of the best locations for a pitcher looking to rebuild value, on a one-year deal without an extremely high guaranteed salary, there could be a match. The 27-year-old's past success out of the 'pen also gives the team a second option in case he isn't one of the team's best five starters at some point during the season.
Hector Santiago, SP: A trade of third baseman Chase Headley, who will be a free agent after the 2014 season, if they can't come to terms on a contract extension is a strong possibility. The White Sox are one team that will be interested and could put together a package that includes Santiago, a 25-year-old lefty who had a 3.51 ERA in 23 starts, and a prospect or two.
Howie Kendrick, 2B: Any trade of Headley would likely result in Jedd Gyorko shifting over to third base and the Padres very likely seeking a second base replacement. With the extra pitching depth potentially acquired in the Headley deal, they could then put together a package with the young starting pitching required to acquire Kendrick from the Angels.
San Francisco Giants
With one priority scratched off their list after signing Hunter Pence to a five-year contract extension, the Giants are now looking to re-sign Tim Lincecum (pictured) prior to the free-agency period. Even if they can, the team is likely just halfway done filling their top needs and will be in pursuit of another outfielder (or first baseman, with Brandon Belt moving to left field) and another starting pitcher.
Michael Morse, 1B/OF: After breaking the bank to re-sign Pence and with at least one other big-money contract slated for Lincecum or another starting pitcher, the team will probably stay away from the top tier of hitters to fill the remaining hole in their lineup. Morse wouldn't cost much after a poor season (.651 OPS, 13 HR), but the reward is high if it turns out that he can bounce back to his pre-2013 form (.861 OPS from 2010-2012).
Matt Joyce, OF: The Rays will head into the offseason with a projected outfield of Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings and either Joyce or David DeJesus, who has a $6.5 million club option for 2014. Trading Joyce would make it easier to hold onto DeJesus and they'd be able to restock their farm system by adding a solid prospect or two. The Giants could be in the market for either player, both of whom would be major upgrades over the left field platoon of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres.
Ricky Nolasco, SP: The Giants were reported front-runners for Nolasco when the Marlins were shopping him in July, and they could be in the mix to sign him as a free agent. The 30-year-old, who had a 3.70 ERA during the regular season, has a career 2.55 ERA in six starts at AT&T Park.
Los Angeles Angels
After several questionable acquisitions, most notably the mega-deals given to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in consecutive offseasons, and with a very weak farm system, one thing is quite clear: Whoever is the Angels' general manager this offseason—current general manager Jerry Dipoto isn't guaranteed to return—will be bargain-basement hunting to upgrade a roster with needs in the rotation, bullpen and third base.
The most likely route to revamp the roster is to trade proven major league hitters, with Howie Kendrick, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo the most likely to be shopped.
Kevin Youkilis, 3B: With Alberto Callaspo no longer in the picture after he was traded to Oakland in July, the team will look to fill a major void at the hot corner. Youkilis (pictured) is, by far, the free agent most capable of having a positive impact on the lineup, but he's also the biggest risk because of his lengthy injury history. Signing him to an incentive-laden deal and relying on backup options like Andrew Romine, Grant Green and Luis Jimenez in case of injury might be this team's best-case scenario.
Joe Saunders, SP: There are several free-agent options the Angels could sign for less than $3 million per season. And it's likely that 10-20 percent will turn out to be great values. Bringing back Saunders, who was the team's first-round pick in 2002 and was an All-Star with them back in 2008, could make the most sense after he had a mediocre season in Seattle (5.26 ERA in 32 starts).
Eric Stults, SP: Kendrick, Bourjos and Trumbo will draw plenty of interest in free agency, but teams aren't usually willing to trade away what the Angels are looking for—talented starting pitchers who are young and controllable. The backup plan could be acquiring someone like Stults, who isn't young—he'll be 34 in December—but he's just entering his first year of arbitration and was a very solid back-of-the-rotation option in San Diego for the past season-and-a-half (3.93 ERA in 33 starts this season; 2.95 ERA in 15 starts last season). He also wouldn't cost one of the team's top position players.
The D-Backs are reportedly looking to acquire a power-hitting third baseman or corner outfielder this offseason, which indicates that general manager Kevin Towers is willing to move one of his current outfielders to clear space. Martin Prado would move to left field if a third baseman was acquired. Either way, it's Adam Eaton, Gerardo Parra, A.J. Pollock or Cody Ross who are likely to be shopped to accommodate an acquisition at either spot.
Nelson Cruz, OF: Signing Cruz, who might be the top power hitter available on the free-agent market, would allow Towers the flexibility to shop his pitching and outfield depth for prospects if there isn't an immediate need for major league help. Adding the 33-year-old Cruz, who has averaged 27 homers per season since 2009, would give the team a legitimate power threat behind star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
Mark Trumbo, OF: Out of all of the teams who could pursue Trumbo (pictured), Arizona might be in the best position to land him. Offering former Angel prospect Tyler Skaggs could be enough straight up for Trumbo. Or they could offer third base prospect Matt Davidson and Randall Delgado, who had a strong debut with the D-Backs (4.26 ERA).
Andre Ethier, OF: The Dodgers are expected to trade one of their four outfielders this winter, and Ethier is the most likely to go. Fortunately for them, he rebuilt his value with a terrific second half (.885 OPS, 7 HR), and he'll have plenty of interest on the trade market. If the Diamondbacks are willing to take on a good chunk of his remaining contract ($71.5 million guaranteed through 2017 season), they might not have to give up much in return. On the other hand, their best chance to land him is by offering a couple of good prospects, which could be more important to the Dodgers than finding a team to take on his contract.
Roch Kubatko of MASN thinks the O's will re-sign Scott Feldman, although they appear to be in pretty good shape with Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman as a strong projected starting five. Rotation depth is important, but where they'll likely focus most of their attention is on filling holes in the outfield, second base and possibly in the closer's role if they have lost faith in Jim Johnson, who blew nine saves in 2013.
Brian Roberts, 2B: Roberts finished the season strong, and surprisingly healthy, with a .768 OPS and six homers over his past 43 games. Because of his inability to stay healthy during the past few years, however, he's a big risk if they're counting on him to play a major role in next year's team. But with Jonathan Schoop closing in on the majors, another half-season out of Roberts or another stopgap veteran may be all they need.
Raul Ibañez, OF: With a handful of in-house options to replace Nate McLouth in left field, including Nolan Reimold and Danny Valencia, the O's could sign an outfielder who might be a better fit in the designated hitter spot, such as Ibañez. And if the 41-year-old still has something left in the tank—he had a .793 OPS and 29 homers with the Mariners this season—he'd be a great value on a one-year deal that shouldn't cost the team more than $6-7 million in guaranteed salary.
Grant Balfour, RP: Although the Orioles are expected to tender a contract to Johnson, according to Kubatko, they could slide him into a setup role and pursue a more reliable closer, with Joaquin Benoit and Balfour (pictured) at the top of the list. The Tigers will likely be the front-runners to re-sign Benoit, who has 24 saves in 26 chances. Balfour, however, is a more realistic option with the A's unlikely to spend big on a relief pitcher, despite the 35-year-old's 2.59 ERA and 38 saves in 41 chances.
New York Yankees
Buckle your seat belts, because it's going to be a wild ride this winter as the Yankees try to fill several holes on their roster. Even if they land the biggest fish and re-sign second baseman Robinson Cano (pictured) to one of the biggest contracts in free agency, they'll still need to fill multiple holes in the rotation, bullpen and very likely at shortstop, third base and in the outfield.
If you thought general manager Brian Cashman made a lot out of a little in 2013, patching up several holes created by injuries on a limited budget, he would perform nothing short of a miracle if he can revamp the roster and get his team back in the playoffs in 2014.
Cashman may have more money to work with this offseason, especially if Alex Rodriguez's suspension is upheld, but rebuilding an entire pitching staff and replacing several stars in the lineup is a fairly uncommon occurrence in baseball. The Yankees might even be better off if Cano signs elsewhere so they can spread their money around.
Hiroki Kuroda, SP: The decline of CC Sabathia (4.78 ERA in 32 starts) and the retirement of Andy Pettitte could arguably make the re-signing of 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda (3.31 ERA, 59 percent quality start rate in 32 starts) an even bigger priority than re-signing Cano—at least when it comes to 2014. While the loss of Cano would be felt over the next several seasons, Kuroda's exit could result in a disastrous 2014 season.
Joe Nathan, RP: Replacing legendary closer Mariano Rivera, who is retiring, won't be easy. David Robertson couldn't hold onto the job in 2012 when Rivera went down with a knee injury, so it would be premature to think they'll give him the job now. Replacing Rivera with the veteran Nathan, who has been one of the best closers in the game over the past decade, might be the closest to a seamless transition as they can get. The soon-to-be 39-year-old is likely to void his 2014 club option, which his contract allows him to do.
Robinson Cano, 2B: If reports are correct that Cano is seeking a 10-year, $305 million deal, as was reported by ESPN.com's Buster Olney, it's almost impossible to think the Yankees would saddle themselves with another contract that would last well past the player's prime. But because that would be the case for any team in the league, chances are that the price will come down and into a range where the Yankees would feel more comfortable.
David Freese, 3B: The handful of teams seeking help at the hot corner are likely to turn to the trade market before using the weak free-agent market as a fallback plan. Players like Chase Headley and Freese could be expendable because their teams have solid replacements in-house, not to mention their value is higher than normal because of the limited options. In Freese's case, the Cardinals could hand the starting second base job to Kolten Wong and shift Matt Carpenter to third base.
Marlon Byrd, OF: Unless the Yankees are comfortable starting Alfonso Soriano in left field once again, they could be on the lookout for an affordable corner outfielder. Byrd's price has skyrocketed after a terrific season (.847 OPS, 24 HR), but the 36-year-old won't command a deal greater than two years and $14-$16 million considering he was out of baseball last season because of his dismal performance on the field, and later because of a PED suspension, and appeared to be finished as a baseball player.
Kansas City Royals
The clear priority for the Royals last offseason was starting pitching, starting pitching and starting pitching. In all, they acquired three new starters—Wade Davis, Ervin Santana and James Shields—and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie. The result was an 86-win season.
While Santana is expected to depart as a free agent, the return of Danny Duffy from Tommy John surgery late in the season and the arrival of top prospect Yordano Ventura, who was impressive in his first two big league starts, make it unlikely that they aggressively pursue a replacement. Instead, they'll finally focus their attention on finding another outfielder to go along with Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon.
To a lesser degree, thanks to the strong performance by Emilio Bonifacio after he was acquired from Toronto in mid-August (.700 OPS, 16 SB in 42 games), the team could also seek a second base upgrade.
Carlos Beltran, OF: Replacing Santana, whom the Royals paid $12 million this season, with a player making the minimum salary gives the team an opportunity to pursue some of the bigger free-agent hitters. While Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo would probably still be out of their price range, Beltran (pictured), Curtis Granderson and Nelson Cruz could be fits. The 36-year-old Beltran won the AL Rookie of the Year award with Kansas City back in 1999.
Peter Bourjos, OF: If the Royals were willing to shop a young starter like Duffy, they could land their outfielder via trade. The Angels could be willing to part with Bourjos, who is a terrific defensive center fielder with some offensive potential (.765 OPS, 12 HR, 22 SB in 2011). In this scenario, though, they could reinvest the savings from Santana's departure into adding a mid-level starter on the free-agent market.
Rickie Weeks, 2B: They'd be banking on Weeks bouncing back from a terrible offensive season, but the reward could be high if the Royals can take the 2011 All-Star off of the Brewers' hands. Due $11 million in 2014, the price on the 31-year-old wouldn't be high if the Royals took on the entire salary. They acquired Santana from the Angels last offseason for a minor league reliever while taking on all but $1 million of his $13 million salary.
With only one player, starting pitcher Dan Haren, eligible for free agency, and the team finishing on a 32-16 run, the Nats could probably stand pat this winter and head into the season as division favorites. They're still that good.
But after a disappointing season, they could look to replace Haren with one of the top starters available to ensure the rotation is more than capable of leading the team to the playoffs in 2014. The bench could also use some shoring up after an unproductive season.
Matt Garza, SP: Whether it's Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Tim Lincecum, the Nats would be incredibly difficult to match up against if one was added to a rotation that already includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.
Hiroki Kuroda, SP: If it's another one-year option the Nats prefer, there is none better than Kuroda, who hasn't yet decided whether he'll pitch in the U.S. or Japan next season. It's also not known if the Nats would be on his likely short list of teams he'd pitch for if he opts to stay.
Kelly Johnson, IF/OF: With the entire group of reserves to spend an extended amount of time on the big league roster, none were particularly productive. Adding a versatile player like Johnson (pictured), who posted a .715 OPS with 16 homers for the Rays while playing first base, second base, third base and left field, would be a huge step in the right direction.
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