Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings are still weeks away, but that hasn't stopped major free-agent and trade activity from already shaping the landscape of the offseason.
From the blockbuster that saw Prince Fielder and Ian Kinsler switch addresses, to Brian McCann's arrival in New York, to Jhonny Peralta's move to St. Louis, to Alex Rodriguez challenging everyone in MLB's Park Avenue office, the hot stove has been lit throughout the month of November.
Of course, no roster is complete before Thanksgiving. Over the next few months, the free-agent market will dissipate, franchise-changing trades will commence and the 2014 World Series champion will be formed through the hard work of executives and scouts.
Here are the teams with the most work left to do during this busy winter season.
Despite a payroll of less than $60 million in 2013, per ESPN, the Tampa Bay Rays qualified for the postseason for the fourth time in six years.
The secret to their success lies in value. Led by general manager Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay's front office accurately values their assets better than any team in baseball. Without the resources to pay top-tier talent on the free-agent market, Tampa must turn their stars into future contributors on a yearly basis.
Blessed with an eye for pitching talent, Tampa has successfully traded away Matt Garza and James Shields, both two years away from free agency at the time, for hauls that included Chris Archer and Wil Myers, respectively.
Now, with David Price two years from free agency, the time has come for Tampa to cash in their top asset for another haul of young, controllable assets.
According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, there could be a trade match between the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. With the need for a first baseman in the Rays lineup, Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland could be part of a blockbuster package.
Tampa has already placed a value on Price's 2014 and 2015 seasons. When they find a team that can give them more value, through a combination of talent and controllable assets for 2016 and beyond, a deal will be constructed.
Don't be surprised if Tampa comes out the winner.
During the final weekend of the 2013 regular season, the New York Yankees, once famously labeled as the "Bronx Bombers," trotted out this lineup:
1. Eduardo Nunez
2. J.R. Murphy
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Vernon Wells
5. Mark Reynolds
6. Travis Hafner
7. David Adams
8. Brendan Ryan
9. Zoilo Almonte
SP: David Huff
Yes, it was the last game of a season for a team eliminated from playoff contention days earlier. Yes, September baseball, after rosters expand and young players invade the team, is hard to evaluate. But folks, that is not what you have come to expect from the New York Yankees.
Despite a self-mandate to fall under the $189 million luxury tax in 2014, the Yankees are preparing to spend hundreds of millions this winter in order to improve that outfit, jump from 85 to 90 wins and land back in the postseason in 2014.
After inking Brian McCann, the work has just begun. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, New York is perusing Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Stephen Drew and Joe Nathan.
While speaking to the agents for those stars, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is waiting to engage Jay-Z in contract talks for Robinson Cano.
Expect multiple free-agent introduction press conferences at Yankee Stadium this winter.
Signing Chris Young as smart, buy-low outfield upgrade is a start, but the New York Mets have major work to do in order to field a .500 club. If there are any dreams for postseason contention in 2014, a year without Matt Harvey, general manager Sandy Alderson will have to do major work this winter.
With holes at first base, outfield, shortstop and a 180-inning arm needed to fill Harvey's void in the rotation, a winter of discontent will surface in Queens until major moves are made by the franchise.
It's not just the fans who want to see action. Mets captain David Wright, a year removed from signing an eight-year, $138 million deal to remain as the face of the franchise, is anxious for help to arrive. During an appearance with Mike Francesa on WFAN earlier this week, Wright talked about his impatience to see the team around him improve.
“Me, probably like a lot of Mets fans, are pretty impatient,” Wright said. ”I think Sandy’s probably tired of hearing from me, just checking in and seeing if there’s anything I can do. Obviously, for us, the offseason has started out somewhat slow. We signed Chris Young, but I think things start heating up come the Winter Meetings. We discussed this winter as being the time where we can spend some money, where we get flexible, where we can make some moves to get going in the direction that we need to be going.”
Due to Alderson's reluctance, per ESPN New York, to hand out $100 million deals on the open market, marginal upgrades and buy-low signings may be the way New York handles their business this winter. As long as talent upgrades are acquired, the team can break the 81-win barrier for the first time since 2008.
Beyond that? The sky is the limit in 2015 and beyond if Harvey's Tommy John surgery is successful, and the franchise obtains the right players around David Wright.
After back-to-back disappointing seasons for the Los Angeles Angels, a winter of work awaited general manager Jerry Dipoto. Thus far, he's been a very busy executive, but there's more work to do in order to mold the Angels from an underachieving outfit to contender in the loaded AL West..
Unlike many in the industry, I am a believer in both of the high-profile moves made by the Angels in the early portion of the offseason.
By swapping out Peter Bourjos, an outfielder making minimal impact for Los Angeles over the past few seasons, for David Freese, the team now boasts five players that profile as 25-plus home run hitters in 2013: Freese, Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols.
In a game starved for power, the Angels could bludgeon opposing pitchers in 2013.
If they have a lead late, the acquisitions of Fernando Salas (part of the Bourjos-Freese deal) and Joe Smith will add solid arms to a bullpen that needed an infusion of talent.
The last step to Los Angeles' busy winter: Acquire top-tier starting pitching.
Beyond the duo of Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, the Angels rotation was a tire fire in 2013. In 58 starts, the trio of Jerome Williams, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson pitched to a 5.26 ERA over 375 innings. In other words, one third of Los Angeles' season was thrown away by remarkably bad starting pitching.
According to Buster Olney of ESPN, expect Jerry Dipoto to look for starters on the trade market. If they can find the right arms to slot in behind Weaver and Wilson, a major resurgence could be on the way for the Angels.
Desperate. Lost. Confused. Pick any negative adjective to describe the direction of the once successful Seattle Mariners.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Mariners plan is to throw themselves at as many big-name bats as possible this winter, hoping one or more overlooks the current roster, perceptions of Safeco Field and distance from Latin America. Per Rosenthal's reporting:
The Mariners’ wish list includes, to varying degrees, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo. The team also wants to add a starting pitcher and a closer, but offense is the priority. The Mariners are casting the widest net possible, fearing they still might get shut out.
Regardless of the method to general manager Jack Zduriencik's madness, the Mariners need to improve a roster that hasn't finished above .500 since 2009, boasts little star talent behind Felix Hernandez and is falling behind the Athletics, Rangers and Angels on a yearly basis in the AL West.
If not for the existence of the lowly Houston Astros, the Mariners would be a last place team in search of anything to climb out of the AL West basement.
A quick look at their 40-man roster shows glaring weaknesses in the outfield, first base and designated hitter. The franchise may have to overpay to acquire impact bats, but there's little other choice if a competitive season is the goal in Seattle.
Agree? Disagree? Which teams have the most work left to do?
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