MLB Free Agency 2014: An Ideal Move for Every Team This Offseason
It's rare that a major-league team isn't at least planning on a major offseason move that could possibly make their team better in 2014 and beyond. If it doesn't happen, it won't be for a lack of effort. Each organization has an offseason game plan in place and will spend the next several months trying to execute it.
By now, teams have their wish lists ready to go and are in the process of contacting agents about their free-agent clients and discussing potential trades with general managers from other ball clubs.
Due to which positions they're trying to upgrade and how much money they're willing to spend, there is certainly an ideal scenario that each team is hoping will happen. While that could consist of a combination of players, a team would be extremely happy if it were able to land even one its top targets to fill a major void on its respective roster.
Here is one ideal player acquisition for each of the league's 30 teams. The slides are ordered in reverse order of the standings from 2013.
The Astros are expected to cast a wide net in their search for bullpen help and also for a potential veteran starter for the front of their rotation. But they could also use a corner outfielder to add some more punch to their lineup.
The free-agent market for corner outfielders is thin, however, after Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, and the Astros may prefer to search for a much less expensive option on the trade market. With the prospect depth they've built up in several trades over the past two years, they're in good position to be active this offseason.
One team that may be willing to deal an outfielder is the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are expected to pursue a power bat to either fill one of their outfield spots or push third baseman Martin Prado to left field. In that case, they could be willing to deal Gerardo Parra (pictured).
Acquiring the 26-year-old, who has two years left of team control, would give the team a solid option in center field if top prospect George Springer begins the season in Triple-A and a Gold Glove right fielder once Springer is ready for the majors.
In addition to his defensive prowess, the left-handed hitting Parra is a well-rounded offensive player who can get on base (.357 on-base percentage in 2011), hit for power (10 HR, 43 2B in 2013) and steal 10-15 bases per season.
Here's what the Astros' projected lineup could look like with Parra.
1 Gerardo Parra, RF
2 Jose Altuve, 2B
3 Jason Castro, C
4 Chris Carter, DH
5 Brett Wallace, 1B
6 Matt Dominguez, 3B
7 George Springer, CF
8 Robbie Grossman, LF
9 Jonathan Villar, SS
With a young core of talent on the way and a big-league roster led by stars Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, all is not wrong in Miami. The future is bright at least. But they have some big holes to fill if they're going to at least be competitive in 2014.
Colin Moran, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft, could be manning the hot corner by 2015 or 2016, but the options until then are few and far between. They could go with a veteran stopgap, such as Juan Uribe, or they could look to the trade market to find a young player who could fill the void in the short term and potentially switch positions once Moran is ready.
That player could be Mike Olt (pictured), who finds himself with a Cubs organization that already has two elite prospects, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, that would more likely be labeled with the team's "Third Baseman of the Future" tag before him.
The 25-year-old also had a terrible season in 2013, posting a .684 OPS in 107 minor-league games between the Cubs and Rangers organizations. With his value on the decline, the Marlins could try to land him at a bargain rate this winter.
Here's what the Marlins' projected lineup could look like with Olt:
1 Christian Yelich, LF
2 Derek Dietrich, 2B
3 Giancarlo Stanton, RF
4 Logan Morrison, 1B
5 Justin Ruggiano, CF
6 Mke Olt, 3B
7 Rob Brantly, C
8 Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
Chicago White Sox
After landing slugging first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu last month, the White Sox still find themselves short in the power department and could look to add some more in their pursuit for a new catcher. And this is the perfect offseason, as the free-agent market for catchers with home-run power is quite deep.
The Sox will likely be in the mix for Brian McCann, although the best value this winter could be Jarrod Saltalamacchia (pictured), who is only 28 years old and has a .763 OPS with an average of 18 homers per season since 2011, all while playing an integral role with the World Champion Boston Red Sox.
Not only did he do an excellent job managing a veteran pitching staff in Boston, but Saltalamacchia threw out 26% of attempted base-stealers. In other words, he's not one-dimensional and is worth the likely four-year, $48 million that it could cost to sign him.
Here's what the White Sox's projected lineup could look like with Saltalamacchia:
1 Alejandro De Aza, CF
2 Alexei Ramirez, SS
3 Adam Dunn, DH
4 Jose Dariel Abreu, 1B
5 Dayan Viciedo, LF
6 Avisail Garcia, RF
7 Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
8 Gordon Beckham, 2B
9 Conor Gillaspie, 3B
Not only did the Cubs get great production out of Scott Feldman (pictured) in his three months with the team—posting a 3.46 ERA in 15 starts—but he also brought back the team's current projected closer for 2014, Pedro Strop, and another projected rotation candidate, Jake Arrieta, in a trade with Baltimore.
The Cubs might have bigger problems in trying to fix their lineup for next season, but the quickest way back to the .500 mark after averaging 96 losses from 2011-2013 could be to build a reliable rotation while waiting for several elite hitting prospects to arrive from the minors beginning in 2015.
And there was no starter more reliable than Feldman during his stint with Chicago. Over his last 12 starts with the club, he had a 75% quality start rate, and he allowed two earned runs or less in seven of those starts.
After spending the majority of his nine-year career in the American League and posting an ERA above 4.50, the 30-year-old's successful stint in the National League could lead him back to Chicago on a three-year, $30 million deal.
Here's what the Cubs' projected rotation could look like with Feldman back in the mix:
1 Jeff Samardzija, RHP
2 Edwin Jackson, RHP
3 Travis Wood, LHP
4 Scott Feldman, RHP
5 Jake Arrieta, RHP/Chris Rusin, LHP
There may not be another hole in baseball more gaping than the one in the Twins' rotation. Their current No. 1 starter, Kevin Correia, might be a solid No. 5 on a good team. The top of Minnesota's priority list this offseason might look like this: "1. Starter, 2. Starter, 3. Starter ... ".
The expectation is that they'll have money to spend this offseason—Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN estimated that they could add $40 million to the payroll—and could target the "Big Three" on the free-agent market (Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez) along with Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, who is likely to be posted this offseason.
Landing any one of those players would be a terrific staring point for the Twins, who have expressed interest in Santana (pictured), according to Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN. With the biggest risk in giving the 30-year-old a long-term deal being a potential return to his 2012 form—when he allowed a league-high 39 homers with the Angels—pitcher-friendly Target Field could be a strong selling point in bringing Santana to town.
Here's what the Twins' projected rotation could look like with Santana:
1 Ervin Santana, RHP
2 Kevin Correia, RHP
3 Samuel Deduno, RHP
4 Vance Worley, RHP
5 Kyle Gibson, RHP
With an eye on finally making a big splash in free agency, Seattle is reportedly interested in former Mariners outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and Oregon native Jacoby Ellsbury (pictured), according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
Both are expected to command in excess of $100 million, so it's likely the M's are willing to spend big dollars this offseason. While the versatile Choo would fit in any team's lineup, Ellsbury's return to the Pacific Northwest after an impressive postseason run with the Red Sox would be the move that most excites the fan base.
It will also further help an already very strong starting rotation with the speedy center fielder chasing down balls behind them in Safeco Field.
Here's what the Mariners' projected lineup could look like with Ellsbury:
1 Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2 Dustin Ackley, LF
3 Kyle Seager, 3B
4 Justin Smoak, 1B
5 Nick Franklin, 2B
6 Michael Saunders, RF
7 Abraham Almonte, DH
8 Mike Zunino, C
9 Brad Miller, SS
The heart of the Phillies' current projected lineup includes left-handed sluggers Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown. With an opening in right field, it makes sense that the Phillies are targeting a right-handed power-hitter this offseason.
Nelson Cruz is expected to be the guy they most aggressively pursue, considering that he's one of the lone options on the free-agent market that fits that criteria. Despite his 50-game P.E.D. suspension late in 2013, his track record of success is consistent enough that teams won't shy away from offering him a long-term deal.
After a disappointing season, the Phillies probably can't afford to sit back and do nothing. My guess is that general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. makes up for last year's blunder of signing Delmon Young to be his right fielder and inks Cruz this time around.
Here's what the Phillies' projected lineup could look like with Cruz:
1 Ben Revere, CF
2 Jimmy Rollins, SS
3 Chase Utley, 2B
4 Ryan Howard, 1B
5 Nelson Cruz, RF
6 Domonic Brown, LF
7 Cody Asche, 3B
8 Erik Kratz, C
New York Mets
Jason Bay's bust of a contract is finally off of the books. Does that mean the Mets will go out and sign another productive corner outfielder to an even bigger deal this winter?
If they want to add an impact player, such as Shin-Soo Choo, that's what they'll have to do.
According to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com, Choo is the only player the Mets would surrender a draft pick to sign. The Reds have extended a qualifying offer to the 31-year-old, who will most certainly decline and seek a long-term deal. As a result, the Mets would give up a second-round pick if they were to sign him.
The Mets probably can't afford a repeat of what happened with Bay, whose credentials were even stronger than Choo's when he was signed to a four-year, $66 million deal prior to the 2010 season. But the current state of the roster, and specifically the outfield, should give them enough incentive to take a risk on Choo.
Here's what the Mets' projected lineup could look like with Choo:
1 Eric Young Jr., LF
2 Daniel Murphy, 2B
3 Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4 David Wright, 3B
5 Ike Davis, 1B
6 Juan Lagares, CF
7 Travis d'Arnaud, C
8 Ruben Tejada, SS
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have several rotation options for 2014, and many of those options are very good pitchers or were very good pitchers at one time. And in a few cases, some were very good prospects. But injuries have decimated the pitching staff and what they really need right now is some stability.
It's unlikely that they'll break the bank on a top starting pitcher this winter, but a mid-level veteran could fit into their budget on a three-year, $24-33 million deal. That should be enough to land Arroyo, who has never been on the disabled list since entering the league in 2000 and continues to be effective into his mid-30's.
Joining a rotation that includes another iron man, Mark Buehrle, who has never been on the disabled list during his long and successful career, should give the Jays a lot of confidence that they won't have to use 13 starters to get through a 162-game season as they did in 2013.
Here's what the Blue Jays' projected rotation could look like with Arroyo:
1 R.A. Dickey, RHP
2 Mark Buehrle, LHP
3 Bronson Arroyo, RHP
4 Brandon Morrow, RHP
5 J.A. Happ, LHP
With six of eight players in Milwaukee's projected lineup being right-handed hitters, and with one of those, first baseman Juan Francisco, being the most likely to be replaced this offseason, a left-handed hitting first baseman would seem to make a lot of sense for the Brewers.
If it's the free-agent market where they prefer to shop this winter, they have a few options, including James Loney (pictured), Kendrys Morales and Justin Morneau. All three would likely be upgrades to Francisco, who hit 13 homers in 89 games with Milwaukee last season but also struck out 95 times while posting a dismal .300 on-base percentage.
But Morales is limited defensively and Morneau, although he's stayed healthy while averaging 18 homers over the past two seasons, appears to be on the decline. He's also three years older than Loney, who rebounded from an awful 2012 season to hit .299 with 13 homers for the Rays.
His lack of power makes him more affordable, but he showed in the first half of 2013 (.832 OPS, 9 HR, 22 2B) that the power potential does exist.
Here's what the Brewers' projected lineup could look like with Loney:
1 Norichika Aoki, RF
2 Jean Segura, SS
3 Ryan Braun, LF
4 Aramis Ramirez, 3B
5 Carlos Gomez, CF
6 James Loney, 1B
7 Jonathan Lucroy, C
8 Rickie Weeks, 2B
Regular readers of my work here at Bleacher Report already know my take on why Ubaldo Jimenez might return to the exact place that all major league pitchers try to avoid. Just in case you're not one of those readers, I'll fill you in.
The unpredictability of how a pitcher will perform in the hitter-friendly conditions of Coors Field makes any acquisition a risk. But since Jimenez was a highly successful pitcher during his time with the Rockies, as well as a positive clubhouse presence and hard worker, the concern from both sides probably decreases.
The bigger concern is why the 29-year-old right-handed struggled so badly from 2011 until he finally turned things around early this season. If the Rockies think that he's figured it out and will continue to pitch well over the next several seasons, they shouldn't have any problem with trying to bring him back to Colorado this winter.
Here's what the Rockies' projected rotation could look like with Jimenez:
1 Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP
2 Jorge De La Rosa, LHP
3 Jhoulys Chacin, RHP
4 Tyler Chatwood, RHP
5 Drew Pomeranz, LHP
San Francisco Giants
Losing Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito to free agency after each struggled in 2013 shouldn't be a big deal. But considering that journeyman Yusmeiro Petit is the team's best option as the No. 4 starter behind Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum, the Giants will be aggressive in their pursuit of at least one more starting pitcher this winter.
After re-signing Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million deal, they might not want to spend big dollars on a starter from the top-tier of free agents. But if they can land one from the top of the next tier of free-agent starters, they'd be in good shape heading into 2014.
Dan Haren might be the best of that group.
After a terrible start to the 2013 season, the 32-year-old Haren bounced back to post a 3.29 ERA with 18 walks and 84 strikeouts over his final 87.2 innings. What happened in his first 82 innings (6.15 ERA) is what's keeping him from being in the same conversation with Ervin Santana and Matt Garza, and it's why he'll settle for being San Francisco's No. 4 starter.
Here's what the Giants' projected rotation could look like with Haren:
1 Matt Cain, RHP
2 Madison Bumgarner, LHP
3 Tim Lincecum, RHP
4 Dan Haren, RHP
5 Yusmeiro Petit, RHP
San Diego Padres
Pitchers looking to resurrect their once-promising careers should line up for a chance to pitch with the Padres on a one-year deal. The pitching-friendly atmosphere in San Diego not only limits runs, but it boosts confidence on the road and, ultimately, a pitcher's value on the open market.
No pitcher needs San Diego more than Josh Johnson after his disastrous one-year stint with the Blue Jays. When he was health enough to take the mound, the 29-year-old posted a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts.
If the former Marlins ace takes a discounted one-year deal with the Padres and is able to make 25-30 starts, he could more than make up for it in free agency next offseason.
Here's what the Padres' projected rotation could look like with Johnson:
1 Ian Kennedy, RHP
2 Andrew Cashner, RHP
3 Josh Johnson, RHP
4 Tyson Ross, RHP
5 Cory Luebke, LHP
Los Angeles Angels
With a clear need for rotation help and limited resources to be active in free agency, the Angels are expected to make Mark Trumbo available on the trade market in order to acquire a young and controllable starting pitcher.
The Rays, who are in need of a first base replacement for James Loney, could be among the interested teams. And they could be the best fit with their plethora of young starters.
If they'll part with Jeremy Hellickson (pictured) or even a multi-player package that includes Jake Odorizzi, the Rays could land an inexpensive power-hitter, and the Angels will land their young and controllable starter.
Hellickson, whose value could be down after a rough second half, is still only 26 and won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season.
Here's what the Angels' projected rotation could look like with Hellickson:
1 Jered Weaver, RHP
2 C.J. Wilson, LHP
3 Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
4 Garrett Richards, RHP
5 Joe Blanton, RHP
General manager Kevin Towers has expressed interest in trading for a power-hitting third baseman or outfielder this offseason, and he has the pitching depth to make it happen.
A straight-up trade of pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs for Angels slugger Mark Trumbo might not work, but a multi-player deal with those two being the key players involved is realistic and could help each team tremendously.
Trumbo, who is averaging 32 homers and 94 runs batted in during his three big league seasons, would give the team a second right-handed hitting power threat in the middle of the order to pair along with MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt.
Here's what the Diamondbacks' projected lineup could look like with Trumbo:
1 Adam Eaton, CF
2 Aaron Hill, 2B
3 Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4 Miguel Montero, C
5 Mark Trumbo, LF
6 Martin Prado, 3B
7 Cody Ross/Gerardo Parra, RF
8 Didi Gregorius, SS
The O's are currently in need of a starting left fielder, and the Dodgers are known to have interest in trading Andre Ethier, who finished the 2013 season strong (.873 OPS, 8 HR in final 82 games) after a slow start.
If Baltimore is willing to take on a large portion of Ethier's remaining contract ($71.5 million through 2017), they could land the 31-year-old without giving up much in return. And if the Dodgers will pick up $25 million of the tab, the acquisition would amount to a four-year, $46.5 million deal for a very good player who is still in the prime of his career.
Here's what the Orioles' projected lineup could look like with Ethier:
1 Nick Markakis, RF
2 Manny Machado, 3B (expected back from knee surgery early in the season)
3 Chris Davis, 1B
4 Adam Jones, CF
5 Andre Ethier, LF
6 Matt Wieters, C
7 J.J. Hardy, SS
8 Danny Valencia, DH
9 Jonathan Schoop, 2B
New York Yankees
When the Yankees' offseason is complete, there could be as many as 10-12 new faces on the 25-man roster. Yes, they have that many holes to fill. But none would be more important than landing Masahiro Tanaka, a Japanese star who is expected to be available this winter via the posting process.
The potential of adding a dominant starting pitcher just entering the prime of his career would be a major boost to an aging Yankees squad. The 25-year-old would not only bring youth to a pitching staff led by 33-year-old CC Sabathia, who had his worst big league season in 2013, but his impact on the city could rival what Hideo Nomo brought to Los Angeles when he came to the United States as a 26-year-old in 1995.
Here's what the Yankees' projected rotation could look like with Tanaka:
1 CC Sabathia, LHP
2 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
3 Ivan Nova, RHP
4 David Phelps, RHP
5 Michael Pineda, RHP
Kansas City Royals
The young Royals lineup is so close to breaking out and becoming great. Adding a veteran hitter like Marlon Byrd, who is coming off of a terrific 2013 season, could only help in that process.
Actually, Carlos Beltran or Shin-Soo Choo would help much more, but Kansas City isn't expected to spend the kind of money it would take to land either of those players.
Byrd, on the other hand, might not cost more than two years and $20 million after he posted an .847 OPS with 24 homers in 2013. At 36 years of age and returning from a terrible 2012 season—in which he was released and then hit with a 50-game P.E.D. suspension while unemployed—his price can only rise so high.
And that's unlikely to exceed the Royals' price range.
Here's what the Royals' projected lineup could look like with Byrd:
1 Alex Gordon, LF
2 Emilio Bonifacio, 2B
3 Eric Hosmer, 1B
4 Billy Butler, DH
5 Marlon Byrd, RF
6 Mike Moustakas, 3B
7 Salvador Perez, C
8 Lorenzo Cain, CF
9 Alcides Escobar, SS
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports is reporting that the Nationals hope to trade for an "elite" starting pitcher this winter and names Max Scherzer (pictured) of the Tigers as a potential target.
In his last year before hitting free agency, Scherzer could be made available by Detroit, and the Nats could find that one year of the 21-game winner is less costly than paying big money for a top free-agent starter.
If they can pull off a deal without including Anthony Rendon, it would be even more ideal.
Here's what the Nationals' projected rotation could look like with Scherzer:
1 Stephen Strasburg, RHP
2 Gio Gonzalez, LHP
3 Max Scherzer, RHP
4 Jordan Zimmermann, RHP
5 Ross Detwiler, LHP
Despite an impressive performance during a September call-up, center field prospect Billy Hamilton is probably not ready to make a big impact in the majors. The 23-year-old speedster had a .308 on-base percentage in his Triple-A debut, and that won't translate to big-league production, no matter how fast he is.
Ideally, they would have had Shin-Soo Choo on board for two years before they could hand the job to Hamilton in 2015. But the focus could now turn to acquiring a hitter who could play an adequate center field for year one of his contract before shifting to a corner spot once Hamilton is ready.
Aside from Choo, the best option to fill that role would be Curtis Granderson, a longtime center fielder who started 11 games in left field and nine games in right field in 2013. He'd also give the Reds a third left-handed hitting power threat to go along with Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, helping to fill out their everyday lineup in homer-friendly Great American Ballpark.
Here's what the Reds' projected lineup could look like with Granderson:
1 Brandon Phillips, 2B
2 Curtis Granderson, CF
3 Joey Votto, 1B
4 Ryan Ludwick, LF
5 Jay Bruce, RF
6 Todd Frazier, 3B
7 Zack Cozart, SS
8 Ryan Hanigan, C
The re-signing of Geovany Soto shouldn't hinder the Rangers' likely pursuit of Brian McCann (pictured), the top catcher on the free-agent market.
With several holes to fill throughout the lineup, Texas can utilize the designated hitter spot to rest veteran players such as McCann while keeping their bats in the lineup. Having a solid backup like Soto is necessary.
They'll have to compete with the likes of the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies to land the 29-year-old McCann, but they might covet him just a bit more than either of those teams.
Here's what the Rangers' projected lineup could look like with McCann:
1 Ian Kinsler, 1B
2 Elvis Andrus, SS
3 Alex Rios, RF
4 Adrian Beltre, 3B
5 Brian McCann, C
6 Mitch Moreland, DH
7 Jurickson Profar, 2B
8 Craig Gentry, LF
9 Leonys Martin, CF
Tampa Bay Rays
A year after landing first baseman James Loney on a one-year, $2 million deal, the Rays will once again head into the offseason looking for the next great value pickup.
While a first base bargain might not exist on the free-agent market this time around, one could be available on the trade market. If Ike Davis' days are numbered with the Mets after struggling terribly in the first half of the past two seasons, the 26-year-old could be moved in the right deal.
For what he'll make in arbitration—likely no more than $4 million—and for what he's capable of producing (32 HR, 90 RBI in 2012, despite his first half struggles), it could be worth the risk.
Here's what the Rays' projected lineup could look like with Davis:
1 David DeJesus, LF
2 Ben Zobrist, 2B
3 Evan Longoria, 3B
4 Wil Myers, RF
5 Matt Joyce, DH
6 Desmond Jennings, CF
7 Ike Davis, 1B
8 Yunel Escobar, SS
9 Jose Lobaton, C
Free agent Ubaldo Jimenez, who pitched like an ace for most of 2013, will be tough to replace unless the team is willing to go all out in free agency once again to sign one of the top starters available.
With that scenario being highly unlikely, look for the Tribe to scour the middle of the market for a good value. Expect them to find that the best fit could actually be veteran Tim Hudson, whose price will be reasonable because he's 38 years old, returning from ankle surgery and struggled early in the 2013 season.
Hudson's 2.73 ERA over his last 10 starts, however, and expected return to full health well before the start of spring training will ensure that he will receive plenty of interest. A team on the rise like the Indians could win him over though.
Here's what the Indians' projected rotation could look like with Hudson:
1 Justin Masterson, RHP
2 Tim Hudson, RHP
3 Corey Kluber, RHP
4 Zach McAllister, RHP
5 Danny Salazar, RHP
Los Angeles Dodgers
A year after landing the top free-agent starter on the market, Zack Greinke, along with Korean ace Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers will likely be at it again after falling just short in their quest of a World Series title under the new ownership group.
A general manager told Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com that the Dodgers could afford to acquire Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka via the posting process and have the minor-league talent to trade for Rays ace David Price (pictured).
If the Dodgers are willing to put together a package that starts with their top two prospects, shortstop Corey Seager and left-hander Julio Urias, they could field a rotation that rivals the "four aces" of the Phillies—Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels—back in 2011.
Here's what that Dodgers' projected rotation could look like with Price:
1 Clayton Kershaw, LHP
2 David Price, LHP
3 Zack Greinke, RHP
4 Hyun-jin Ryu, LHP
5 Josh Beckett, RHP
After their bullpen let them down in the postseason in back-to-back years, it's unlikely that the Tigers will go into 2014 without a legitimate closing option. In fact, they could go after the best option, which happens to be Joe Nathan.
Even at 38 years of age (he'll turn 39 later this month), Nathan is still one of the best closers in the game and is expected to land a multi-year deal this offseason. Several teams are looking for late-inning help but the Tigers' window of contention is still wide open, and there might be no better investment than a shutdown closer.
Here's what the Tigers' projected bullpen could look like with Nathan:
CL Joe Nathan, RHP
SU Bruce Rondon, RHP
SU Drew Smyly, LHP
MID Al Alburquerque, RHP
MID Luke Putkonen, RHP
MID Jose Ortega, RHP
LR Jose Alvarez, LHP
Marlon Byrd's acquisition in late August finally gave the team some stability in their lineup at the right field spot. But they're back where they started, with Garrett Jones and Jose Tabata being the current projected starters at first base and right field.
While bringing back Byrd is likely an affordable option the Bucs, adding former Brewer Corey Hart to play first base leaves open an opportunity for top outfield prospect Gregory Polanco to debut at some point in 2014.
In the meantime, the Bucs could go with some combination of Jones, Tabata, Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez (Hart would move to RF when Sanchez plays first base) until Polanco is ready.
Adding Hart to the middle of the order at what would be a discounted rate—he's returning from separate surgeries to each knee that kept him out of action for the entire season—would be a huge boost if he returns to his previous form (.857 OPS, 29 HR, 83 RBI from 2010-2012).
Here's what the Pirates' projected lineup could look like with Hart.
1 Starling Marte, LF
2 Jordy Mercer, SS
3 Andrew McCutchen, CF
4 Pedro Alvarez, 3B
5 Corey Hart, 1B
6 Neil Walker, 2B
7 Russell Martin, C
8 Garrett Jones/Jose Tabata, RF
Although they have two pretty good internal candidates to replace closer Grant Balfour, elevating either Ryan Cook or Sean Doolittle to the role would create another hole in the seventh or eighth inning. In order to avoid a decline in overall bullpen performance, they'll be better off paying up for a veteran closer to pitch the ninth.
Since these are the small-market A's, we can't expect them to pay too much for a closer. Former Giants closer Brian Wilson could come at a discount, however, since he only pitched 19.2 innings in 2013 after returning from Tommy John surgery.
The 31-year-old was quite effective, though, and likely made enough of an impression to land a closer's gig in 2014. But a one-year deal with a team like Oakland would give him a full year to prove that he's worth a bigger multi-year deal next offseason, when there won't be as many closers on the free-agent market.
And it will allow the A's to keep the same formula of Doolittle-to-Cook-to-the closer that worked so well last season.
Here's what the Athletics' projected bullpen could look like with Wilson:
CL Brian Wilson, RHP
SU Ryan Cook, RHP
SU Sean Doolittle, LHP
MID Dan Otero, RHP
MID Jerry Blevins, LHP
MID Jesse Chavez, RHP
LR Evan Scribner, RHP
The young Braves pitching staff didn't lose any steam once their veteran anchor Tim Hudson was lost for the season with a fractured ankle in July. It doesn't mean that they couldn't benefit from his return, however.
Next season, though, it just might be more of a Hudson-type and not actually Hudson in this role, since Hudson could be in line for a bigger contract than Atlanta is willing to pay him.
That cheaper version of Hudson could be Colby Lewis, who missed all of 2013 while recovering from elbow and hip surgeries. The 34-year-old, who had a 3.93 ERA with 2.4 BB/9 and 8.1 K/9 for the Rangers from 2010-2012, would be a solid option in the fourth or fifth rotation slot, and he would allow young lefty Alex Wood to pitch out of the bullpen or continue developing as a starter in Triple-A.
Here's what the Braves' projected rotation could look like with Lewis:
1 Mike Minor, LHP
2 Kris Medlen, RHP
3 Julio Teheran, RHP
4 Colby Lewis, RHP
5 Brandon Beachy, RHP
St. Louis Cardinals
The plan is for Trevor Rosenthal to continue pitching in the closer's role while Carlos Martinez, who was so effective in the primary setup role throughout the playoffs, will prepare to be a starter in spring training.
That doesn't mean he can't be moved back to the bullpen once the season starts, but just in case he wins a rotation spot or heads back to the Triple-A rotation, the Cards should prepare for that scenario by signing Jesse Crain, the top setup man on the free-agent market.
While he could opt to sign with a team that gives him a chance to close, the large number of experienced closers on the free agent market could make that search difficult. Signing a multi-year deal to be the primary setup man for a World Series contender isn't a bad consolation prize.
Here's what the Cardinals' projected bullpen could look like with Crain:
CL Trevor Rosenthal, RHP
SU Jesse Crain, RHP
SU Carlos Martinez, RHP
MID Kevin Siegrist, LHP
MID Seth Maness, RHP
MID Randy Choate, LHP
LR Lance Lynn, RHP
Boston Red Sox
Carlos Beltran is an eight-time All-Star. He has a Rookie of the Year Award and multiple Gold Glove awards. He also has over 2200 career hits, 358 homers, 308 stolen bases and is one of the most productive postseason hitters of all-time.
What he doesn't have is a World Series ring.
The Red Sox have won three World Series championships in the last decade and just happen to be in the market for an outfielder with Jacoby Ellsbury likely to bolt as a free agent. The ability to slide Shane Victorino over to center field or plug youngster Jackie Bradley, Jr. into the spot leaves right field wide open for the 36-year-old Beltran, who says he wants to play for three or four more seasons.
If the Sox will shell out a three-year deal worth $54-60 million, Beltran will be their No. 3 hitter on Opening Day 2014.
Here's what the Red Sox's projected lineup could look like with Beltran.
1 Shane Victorino, CF
2 Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3 Carlos Beltran, RF
4 David Ortiz, DH
5 Jonny Gomes/Daniel Nava, LF
6 Mike Carp, 1B
7 Xander Bogaerts, SS
8 Will Middlebrooks, 3B
9 David Ross, C