Great pitching ultimately prevails in the MLB postseason, but qualifying for October baseball in the first place requires a formidable offense.
Five teams in particular ought to be busy this winter pursuing established hitters through trades and free agency as they aspire to remain relevant in 2014.
We aren't necessarily alluding to baseball's bottom-dwellers. The Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and Miami Marlins, for example, have no sense of urgency to improve immediately. They're amid the rebuilding process and not expected to achieve contender status until later this decade.
Rather, the following teams are those with the most to gain or lose in their offensive searches. Entering spring training devoid of substantial acquisitions would doom them to finish below the .500 mark, while addressing glaring weaknesses could elevate them into the championship hunt.
Pittsburgh's pitching staff will suffer if A.J. Burnett retires, thus making lineup improvements a high priority.
2013 NL Ranks: ninth in runs scored, eighth in on-base percentage, tied for fourth in home runs
Andrew McCutchen had an outstanding individual campaign that was wholly deserving of National League MVP recognition, but there was also a perception that he carried the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup.
Right field was a revolving door until the team's August trade for Marlon Byrd, and he's now off the market. Shortstop Clint Barmes once again contributed virtually nothing with his bat, while Pedro Alvarez was McCutchen's only teammate to top 20 home runs.
Replicating last summer's offensive effort won't be enough to lift Pittsburgh back to October, and even slight roster upgrades might not suffice.
That's because the pitching staff is inevitably going to take a step back.
General manager Neal Huntington suggested to David Todd of 970 ESPN that the Pirates cannot afford to pay A.J. Burnett what it would take to deter him from retiring. He led the staff in strikeouts and innings pitched by wide margins during each of his two seasons in the Steel City.
Francisco Liriano is under contract for 2014, but the inconsistencies of his major-league career point toward regression following an impressive campaign.
Tom Loxas of Chicago Now hears that this team is targeting Jeff Samardzija to bolster the top of its rotation. Although there appear to be high-ceiling prospects that the Chicago Cubs would accept in return, Samardzija reportedly has a handful of determined suitors.
Then there's the bullpen. Many fans probably took for granted how downright dependable those relievers were in 2013. Five different guys who pitched 50-plus innings as relievers posted sub-3.00 earned run averages. Even if the personnel remains the same, it would be thoroughly shocking to witness that again.
Pittsburgh will need another legitimate power bat to offset these issues.
Beyond Adrian Beltre, there isn't another imposing hitter on the Rangers roster.
2013 AL Ranks: seventh in runs scored, seventh in on-base percentage, tied for seventh in home runs
The Texas Rangers averaged fewer than 4.5 runs per game last summer, which represents their most pathetic output since 1992. The warm weather conditions at Rangers Ballpark lend themselves to higher scoring, so the fact that this club finished toward the middle of the pack in major offensive categories is inexcusable.
Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Alex Rios—arguably the three best hitters on the club—are all well beyond their 30th birthdays. In 2014 and beyond, the Rangers cannot simply rely on their durability to mask the roster's lack of depth.
Sluggers Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli both entered free agency last offseason and opted to sign with other teams, while Nelson Cruz is currently testing the market.
Who's filling those voids?
Trades for Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton never materialized, and the farm system hasn't been producing fearsome hitters. Mike Olt had the potential to be one, but the Rangers dealt him to the Chicago Cubs last season as he continued struggling to make contact.
Not surprisingly, FOX Sports insider Ken Rosenthal expects Texas to be linked to virtually every available player with middle-of-the-order experience.
The Mets must build a functional lineup around All-Star David Wright.
2013 NL Ranks: 11th in runs scored, tied for 13th in on-base percentage, tied for 12th in home runs
Outside of David Wright, second baseman Daniel Murphy is the only reliable offensive player on the New York Mets.
That doesn't mean they need to look outside the organization for solutions at all other positions. Ike Davis was much improved at the plate following a midseason return from the minors, and former top prospect Travis d'Arnaud ought to start regularly behind the plate in an opportunity to justify all the years of scouts' compliments.
But manager Terry Collins plainly admits that the supporting cast isn't strong enough as presently constituted, per Adam Rubin of ESPN New York:
No. 1, we've got to find a bat in the middle of the lineup that produces runs. We certainly hoped Ike [Davis] could do it. He had a rough year. He's certainly not done by any means. He's still a young guy. But for us to compete, we've got to make sure we have a guy who we know is going to produce. We've got to protect David. I know that's probably our No. 1 priority right now.
Moreover, Andy Martino of the Daily News reports that the front office wants more disciplined hitters. Wright, Davis and Lucas Duda are the only current Mets whose on-base percentages were significantly better than league average in 2013.
The loss of rotation leader Matt Harvey to Tommy John surgery makes it all the more necessary for this club to add impact bats.
The Yankees won't be competitive unless they convince Robinson Cano to re-sign.
2013 AL Ranks: 10th in runs scored, 12th in on-base percentage, 14th in home runs
Much like the Texas Rangers, the New York Yankees perennially finish near the top of American League offensive rankings.
However, a slew of injuries contributed to their uncharacteristic awfulness at the plate last season. On top of that, retirements and free-agent departures have weakened a team that already wasn't deep enough to reach the 2013 postseason.
Whether it's through the acquisition of Masahiro Tanaka or somebody else, the Yankees are motivated to reinforce their pitching staff. Even so, they aren't getting anywhere near October without substantial lineup additions.
The catching situation is bleak, and the third baseman's job will fall into David Adams' lap if Alex Rodriguez's suspension holds up. In terms of adjusted OPS, that's a drop-off from 111 to 48. Joel Sherman of the New York Post hears that Robinson Cano is widely expected to re-sign, but recent history tells us that the best available players often wind up in bizarre places. If that were to happen in this case, the Bombers would have yet another gaping hole to address.
New York has a tremendous amount of spending money this offseason. The challenge will be scouring a barren free-agent market for the combination of veterans capable of curing all the club's ills.
Seattle cannot keep relying on former top prospects like Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero.
2013 AL Ranks: 12th in runs scored, 13th in on-base percentage, second in home runs
From 2009-2012, the Seattle Mariners were always dead last in the American League in runs scored. Their rise to 12th this past summer merits some light applause, but it doesn't necessarily mark the beginning of an ascension to adequacy.
A couple of the sluggers most responsible for the improvement, Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, have become free agents. Retaining them—at least in Morales' case—will require a hefty pay raise.
The M's clearly recognize their roster deficiencies. A major-league source says they're interested in Billy Butler, according to Ken Rosenthal, while FOX Sports colleague Jon Morosi tweets that they have been eyeing Matt Kemp. Absorbing their preexisting contracts won't be an obstacle considering Seattle's remarkable payroll flexibility going forward, per Baseball Prospectus.
With the division-rival Texas Rangers so motivated to sign and trade for offense, the Mariners must reluctantly overspend in terms of cash and prospects. Denying the Rangers impact players while adding to their own lineup is the only way these longtime losers can hope to contend in the AL West.
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.