Matching Up MLB Team Weaknesses with Free Agents' Strengths
The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers have each filled major voids for left-handed power hitters for the middle of their respective lineups, while the St. Louis Cardinals didn't waste time upgrading at the shortstop position. Out west, the Los Angeles Dodgers filled out the hole in the back of their rotation while the Angels picked up a former World Series MVP to man the hot corner.
It's been much busier than normal prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, but there are plenty of holes still left to fill for teams and a lot of free agents who can fill them.
Here are eight of the more notable roster weaknesses that could be strengthened in free agency.
Boston Red Sox Catcher
The biggest name is off the board after the division rival New York Yankees signed Brian McCann to an $85 million deal, but the Boston Red Sox still have some options to fill their void behind the plate.
Re-signing Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who posted a .763 with 18 homers and 27 doubles per season with the Sox from 2011 to 2013, is still a possibility—they contacted his agent earlier this month, according to Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors. His asking price, however, could be more than they're comfortable giving him, especially after McCann's five-year deal.
Because they prefer a stop-gap as they await the arrival of top catching prospects Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, it might make more sense to bring in John Buck, A.J. Pierzynski or Kurt Suzuki on a short-term deal.
While they'd lose some offense with Saltalamacchia departing, they could re-allocate the savings to help retain Mike Napoli and/or bring in a big-name outfielder, such as Carlos Beltran or Shin-Soo Choo.
Suzuki (pictured) could be a solid buy low pickup after back-to-back poor seasons at the plate. If he can return to his 2009-11 form, when he averaged 14 homers, 26 doubles and 68 runs batted in per season with the Oakland A's, he'd form a strong enough tandem with David Ross to ensure there isn't a significant drop-off. The 30-year-old, if signed to a two-year deal or given a club option for a second season, could also slide into Ross' backup role in 2015.
Detroit Tigers Closer
After struggling to hold leads in consecutive postseasons, the Detroit Tigers' biggest priority entering the offseason was to find a reliable closer. Fortunately, the free-agent market for late-inning relievers might be the strongest and deepest of all time.
Joe Nathan might be considered the best of the group, but it appears that they're targeting former San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson. According to Lynn Henning of the Detroit News, the two sides are moving toward a deal after Wilson and his agent met with new Tigers manager Brad Ausmus last weekend.
Assuming the Tigers can save a few million dollars by opting for Wilson over Nathan, they could have a better shot at adding a new setup man, as well. Jesse Crain, Edward Mujica and Francisco Rodriguez would all be solid fits to set up for the 31-year-old Wilson.
Wilson's signing, if it does happen, could set off a chain reaction where closers Nathan, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney all sign new deals within a week.
Los Angeles Angels Starting Pitching
The Angels made it clear that they were interested in adding young, controllable starting pitchers this offseason and were willing to trade a major league hitter to accomplish that goal.
While Peter Bourjos, who was traded to St. Louis in a deal for third baseman David Freese, didn't have enough value to land them the starting pitcher they were looking for, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, they could still trade slugger Mark Trumbo.
Continuing to deplete their young position player depth could also come back to haunt them, though, so look for the Halos to turn to the free-agent market to find a mid-rotation starter to fill the void behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
After Jason Vargas bolted for Kansas City on a four-year deal—the Angels reportedly offered three years, according to Mike DiGiovanna of the LA Times—they could turn their attention to two other lefties, Scott Kazmir or Paul Maholm.
The 29-year-old Kazmir (pictured) is coming off a terrific season, in which he posted a 4.04 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 9/2 K/9 in 29 starts for the Cleveland Indians. His price could be limited, however, because his previous major league season resulted in a 5.94 ERA in 29 starts for the Angels in 2010. In between his big league stints, Kazmir had a 5.34 ERA in 12 starts for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Independent Atlantic League.
Minnesota Twins Starting Pitching
No starting rotation is in worse shape than the Minnesota Twins. This is an ideal offseason, fortunately, to make some improvements.
They're unlikely to add a true "ace" unless they utilize a very strong farm system to acquire a David Price or Max Scherzer, but free agency offers several capable top-of-the-rotation candidates to lead the Twins for the next four or five seasons.
Former Twins pitcher Matt Garza (pictured), along with Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, headlines a deep group of starters who would be penciled into the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the rotation. Landing one of those three is ideal, however, as it will be tough to beat the Yankees in the bidding for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, which is expected to take place sometime in December.
Adding one of the aforementioned free agents, in addition to a mid-level starter such as Bronson Arroyo, Scott Feldman or Ricky Nolasco, might be necessary if they're going to rise from the bottom of the AL Central in 2014.
New York Yankees Starting Pitching
From the sound of things, the Yankees are going all out this offseason in an attempt to avoid from falling any further back from the World Series champion Red Sox. They've already re-signed Derek Jeter, agreed to terms with Brian McCann and are the front-runners for Carlos Beltran, according to George A. King III of the New York Post.
But unless they can address their biggest priority, which is to bring in two front-line starting pitchers, they're not returning to the postseason anytime soon.
They're expected to bid aggressively on Japanese star Tanaka, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, but they can't be sitting around empty-handed if they lose out. Ensuring that they have a co-ace to team with CC Sabathia, who struggled in 2013, is a necessity.
Garza, Jimenez (pictured) and Santana are the top three starters on the free-agent market. All will end up being overpaid, but that shouldn't be the Yankees' concern. They are one of the few teams that can afford to overpay, because of the huge amount of revenue dollars they bring in. And they're also the team with the most to lose if they aren't able to upgrade their rotation.
Seattle Mariners Outfield
With a young and talented infield in place—Justin Smoak at first base, Nick Franklin at second base, Kyle Seager at third base, Brad Miller at shortstop—the Seattle Mariners can focus their attention on adding some talent to their outfield this winter.
It's likely that they'll continue to set their sights high after losing out on free agents Michael Bourn, Prince Fielder and Josh Hamilton in recent years, but with the knowledge that they'll eventually need to overpay to land one of the big names. And there are plenty of big names available on the free-agent market.
Jacoby Ellsbury, who many, including myself, believe will end up in Seattle, is on their wish list along with Shin-Soo Choo (pictured), according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, while Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted that they are after Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz.
While it could take more than either of the aforementioned players to turn the M's into a legitimate AL West contender, it's a step in the right direction and could make it easier in the future to lure players out to the Pacific Northwest.
Tampa Bay Rays First Base
There are some interesting possibilities on the trade market to help the Tampa Bay Rays plug their hole at first base, including Ike Davis, Mitch Moreland and Trumbo. But they could look to repeat last offseason's success by signing a player who struggled in 2013 at a bargain rate and hope for a return to form.
After a terrible 2012, James Loney signed a one-year deal for only $2 million last offseason and gave the Rays a .778 OPS with 13 homers, 33 doubles and 75 runs batted in, which was very much in line with his pre-2012 numbers. If they were to go that route again, Michael Morse (pictured) might be the most similar free agent to Loney.
The 31-year-old Morse, who posted an .861 OPS with 64 homers and 198 runs batted in during a 346-game stint with the Washington Nationals from 2010-12, battled multiple injuries in 2013 on his way to a .651 OPS with only 13 homers in 88 games between the Mariners and Baltimore Orioles.
Even if the injuries weren't the main cause for his struggles, a one-year deal for $5 million or less would be well worth finding out if he can return to form and provide a much-needed source of power in the middle of the Rays' lineup after Evan Longoria and Wil Myers.
Toronto Blue Jays Second Base
As of right now, the Toronto Blue Jays have Maicer Izturis penciled into their starting second base spot. Unless they think he can bounce back from his terrible 2012 season (.597 OPS in 107 games), that's likely to change sometime before the start of spring training.
Even if that doesn't mean they'll sign Robinson Cano, whose current asking price of $300 million isn't likely to be met by any team, the free-agent market offers a handful of solid upgrades led by Omar Infante (pictured).
They'll have some stiff competition, though, to sign the 31-year-old Infante. The Yankees say they aren't waiting around for Cano's asking price to drop and would likely be the front-runners if they are serious about ending their pursuit of their longtime star second baseman.
If not Infante, the Jays could add veteran Mark Ellis, who would provide steady defense and at least a slight upgrade over Izturis at the plate. Brian Roberts could be a solid buy-low option after finishing the 2013 season healthy and on a roll at the plate with a .736 OPS and six homers over the last two months.
Kelly Johnson, if the Jays think he'd be adequate in an everyday role after spending last season as a utility man for the Rays, would provide the Jays with another power source while 36-year-old Rafael Furcal could shift over from shortstop after missing 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
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