Perfect Fits for MLB Teams Still Needing a Big Offseason Splash

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2014

Perfect Fits for MLB Teams Still Needing a Big Offseason Splash

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    Any MLB team can make a big offseason splash—it's merely a matter of meeting an asking price, whether it be from a free agent or another club in a trade.

    But when that splash isn't a good fit—much less a perfect one—it can not only derail a team's playoff aspirations but, sometimes, set a franchise back years.

    Without question, Seattle has made this winter's biggest splash so far, lavishing Robinson Cano with a 10-year, $240 million deal. While nobody questions that Cano fills a need for the Mariners, his deal has limited the team's ability to fit other pieces into their budget, making him far from a perfect fit.

    Other clubs, including the Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals have all made waves with their moves in the Hot Stove League as well.

    While much of the available talent this winter has found new homes, there are still some talented players to be had—and a handful of teams that are still looking to make a big splash of their own.

    Let's take a look at 10 squads who could still make waves between now and Opening Day—and what player fits on each of their respective rosters like a glove.

    *Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of

Atlanta Braves: Howie Kendrick

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    Atlanta needs a second baseman. Los Angeles needs pitching.

    That said, you'd think that a deal sending Howie Kendrick from the Angels to the Braves in exchange for a pair of minor league pitchers would have been consummated already, but alas, that's not the case.

    According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution's David O'Brien, the Braves aren't pursuing Kendrick.

    But they should be.

    Kendrick would represent a massive upgrade for the Braves, both in the field and at the plate. Due roughly $19 million over the next two years, Kendrick's contract isn't a major burden, unlike the four years and $54 million remaining on Brandon Phillips' deal in Cincinnati.

    Atlanta's ownership group will certainly point to incumbent second baseman Dan Uggla and the $26 million left on his deal that runs through 2015—along with the team's unfavorable TV deal—as reasons why the team can't afford to add Kendrick.

    While those are legitimate excuses, upgrading the position is a must if the Braves hope to defend their division crown in an improved NL East.

    The Angels would presumably ask for top pitching prospects like Lucas Sims or Mauricio Cabrera in exchange for Kendrick, but that's an unrealistic asking price—and the Braves aren't about to deal either one. But if there's one thing the Braves have to spare, it's young pitching.

    The likes of David Hale, Aaron Northcraft and even 2013 first-round pick Jason Hursh could all be used as part of a package to pry the 30-year-old infielder away from Los Angeles. 

Baltimore Orioles: Kendrys Morales

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    Trading for outfielder David Lough was a shrewd move, but neither that nor the potential signing of free-agent closer Fernando Rodney would qualify as a big splash in Baltimore's inner harbor.

    Signing free agent first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales would.

    Last month, Fox Sports' Jon Morosi reported that the Orioles had interest in Morales, but that the fact they'd have to surrender a first-round draft pick to sign him is a real hurdle for the team to get past. 

    Whether the Orioles jump over that hurdle or barrel into it, they cannot allow the loss of a first-round draft pick keep them from improving the 2014 roster.

    Morales spent 2013 with the Mariners, hitting .277 with 23 home runs, 80 RBI and a .785 OPS as the team's primary designated hitter, a role that he'd likely occupy in Baltimore while also providing the team with a solid backup for Chris Davis at first base.

    Owner of a career .280/.333/.480 slash line, the switch-hitter has hit extremely well in limited action at Camden Yards, posting a .413 batting average with three home runs and an OPS of 1.177 over 46 at-bats.

Chicago Cubs: Masahiro Tanaka

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    While prospects like shortstop Javier Baez and outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler represent a bright future for the Cubs, Chicago lacks any big-time prospects for the starting rotation, a situation that will need to be dealt with in the near future.

    Signing Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka could help make up for that lack of talent on the mound.

    Tanaka, 25, will still be in the prime of his career when the next wave of positional talent makes its debut in Chicago, ensuring that the Cubs would have a front-of-the-rotation arm in place, regardless of what happens with Jeff Samardzija, whose future at Wrigley Field is uncertain.

    More importantly, signing Tanaka would send a message to the team's loyal fans that, while the team is rebuilding, it's not opposed to spending money to bring the right players in to supplement its homegrown talent.

Cincinnati Reds: Bronson Arroyo

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    Re-signing Bronson Arroyo may not seem like a big splash on the surface, but when a team's biggest offseason move was adding veteran utility player Skip Schumaker to the mix, keeping Arroyo around would be a huge move in comparison.

    The Reds know what they're getting in Arroyo, who has spent the last eight seasons in Cincinnati and went 105-94 with a 4.05 ERA and 1.27 WHIP while averaging 2.3 BB/9 and 5.9 K/9 over 211 innings per year.

    As with any player who is closer to his 40th birthday than his 30th, there's some risk in signing Arroyo to a multi-year deal. But few pitchers have been as consistent or reliable as he has been since 2006, and re-signing the veteran would give the Reds some much-needed rotation depth.

    The team needs that depth when you consider that neither Johnny Cueto nor Mat Latos can stay healthy over a full season and that Homer Bailey is entering the last season of his contract, making him a potential trade candidate.

    With Arroyo at the back-end of the rotation, the Reds can let prospects like Tony Cingrani and Robert Stephenson continue to develop in Triple-A, where Cingrani can perhaps learn to stop relying as heavily on his fastball as he did in 2013.

Cleveland Indians: Ubaldo Jimenez

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    The Indians have already lost one of their starting pitchers from last season in Scott Kazmir, who signed with Oakland, and they are ill-equipped to handle the loss of a second starter, Ubaldo Jimenez.

    Luckily for Cleveland, Jimenez's market has been nearly non-existent, leaving the door open for the Tribe to keep the soon-to-be 30-year-old at the front of their rotation. After pitching to an ERA above 10.00 in his first four starts of 2013, something clicked, and Jimenez was one of baseball's best performers thereafter.

    From the time he made his fifth start of the season on April 29 through the end of the season, Jimenez went 13-7 with a 2.61 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 over his last 28 starts. He got even better as the Indians geared up for a run at the playoffs, allowing a total of five earned runs over his six starts in September, holding opponents to a .230/.261/.263 slash line.

    As is the case in Cincinnatiwhen middling role players and reclamation projects are the big moves that a team makes during the offseasonre-signing a player who everyone, from the front office to the fan base, had all but assumed would be playing elsewhere in 2014 qualifies as a big splash.

Los Angeles Angels: Masahiro Tanaka

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    After splurging on high-priced free agents Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in the past two offseasons, the Angels have remained relatively quiet this winter, turning to low-cost signings and the trade market as they attempt to position themselves to contend in a rapidly improving AL West.

    Even with the additions of Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, the Angels simply don't have the pitching they need to shut down the best lineups that the American League has to offer.

    As Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal notes in his latest column, the team's quest to avoid the $189 million luxury tax threshold is silly—an extension for Mike Trout will immediately put the team over the limit, anyway—so they might as well bite the bullet now.

    Masahiro Tanaka is the player that the Angels should be willing, once again, to break the bank for, as they did with Pujols and Hamilton.

    Not only would Tanaka immediately improve the team's rotation, but as Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson continue to climb into their mid-30s, Tanaka will still be in his late 20s, the prime years of his career. Assuming that Skaggs reaches his potential, he and Tanaka would form a solid foundation for the team to build a future rotation around.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Masahiro Tanaka

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    The Dodgers certainly don't need to make a big splash; when you field a veritable All-Star team on a daily basis, it's hard to make a move that would qualify as such. Signing Masahiro Tanaka is about the only move that would register as such.

    Magic Johnson and the Dodgers ownership group wasted little time in flexing their financial muscle after taking control of the team from former owner Frank McCourt in 2012, adding salary via trade and free agency.

    Per Cot's Contracts, the Dodgers have a 2014 payroll of nearly $207 million. That number doesn't include salaries for Clayton Kershaw, A.J. Ellis and Kenley Jansen, which have all yet to be determined in arbitration.

    Tanaka, expected to fetch a contract worth more than $100 million—plus a $20 million posting fee that will be due to his former team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles—would certainly send the Dodgers into the year with the highest payroll in team history.

    While it may seem like overkill to add Tanaka to a rotation that includes Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, it actually makes plenty of sense for the Dodgers to open their wallets once again. Both Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley are coming off of injury-filled seasons, while Kershaw is eligible to become a free agent after the 2014 campaign.

    Signing Tanaka would not only improve the Dodgers rotation in 2014, but it would also serve as insurance should Beckett or Billingsley not be able to come back. Should the unthinkable happen—Kershaw reaching the open market—the Dodgers would be able to move forward with a formidable trio of Greinke, Tanaka and Ryu at the front of the rotation.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Ike Davis

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    In no way, shape or form am I suggesting that the Pirates should consider trading right-hander Nick Kingham (or a comparable prospect) to the Mets for Ike Davis—USA Today's John Perrotto reported in mid-December that Kingham was who New York asked for—but I would not give up on trying to trade for Davis, either.

    If ever there was a player who desperately needed to escape from New York, it's Davis, who has simply worn out his welcome and, between injury and the pressure of playing in the media capital of the world, has become a shell of his former self.

    That said, the Pirates simply cannot go into the 2014 season with the four-headed monster of Gaby Sanchez, Andrew Lambo, Chris McGuiness and Travis Ishikawa at the position.

    Adding Davis, who is a major bounce-back candidate should he ever get away from Citi Field, would not only give the Pirates a potential long-term solution at the position, but his left-handed bat would help to balance out what is a very right-handed heavy Pittsburgh lineup.

Tampa Bay Rays: Grant Balfour

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    Few teams are as good at dealing with pitchers who are reclamation projects than Tampa Bay, but what troubles Heath Bell may be too much for even Joe Maddon and his staff to fix.

    Heading into the season with Bell as the team's closer is a less-than-ideal scenario—and the team lacks an established option to fall back on should Bell implode.

    Grant Balfour, who should be closing games for the Orioles, remains a free agent thanks to Baltimore's medical staff convincing the team to walk away from the two-year, $15 million deal that the two sides had agreed to.

    Two doctors—Dr. Koko Eaton and Dr. Tim Kremchek—both took issue with Baltimore's findings, as noted by Balfour's agent, Seth Levinson, via ESPN's Jerry Crasnick:

    Grant is completely healthy and that was told to us today by Dr. Koco Eaton, a well-respected club physician. Dr. Eaton’s opinion is based upon the fact that the MRI which was taken today is the same as the MRI which was taken in 2011 as a condition of the 3-year contract that Grant signed with the A’s.

    Dr. Tim Kremchek, another well-respected club physician, reviewed the Orioles’ medical report and advised that he is remarkably impressed that there has been little change in Grant’s arm for almost 10 years.

    Now factor into the equation that Grant was a 2013 All Star, pitched 65 games and another 3 scoreless innings in the post season with a 94-95 mph fastball. The only reasonable conclusion is that Grant is healthy and the Orioles at the last moment changed their minds.

    Eaton is Tampa Bay's team doctor, while Kremchek performed elbow and shoulder surgeries on Balfour in 2005.

    Balfour spent four years in Tampa Bay (2007-2010), going 14-7 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 203 relief appearances. Durable and consistent, making at least 50 appearances per year since 2008 in both a setup role and as a closer, Balfour would only make Tampa Bay's bullpen that much stronger.

Toronto Blue Jays: Matt Garza

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    After making the biggest splash in recent memory heading into the 2013 season, things have been very quiet in Toronto this winter.

    The Blue Jays desperately need to add another established starter to the rotation, ideally one with experience pitching in the AL East and that won't cost the team a draft pick or prospects to acquire.

    Enter 30-year-old right-hander Matt Garza.

    After he recovered from a stress fracture in his elbow as well as a lat strain, he made a combined 24 starts for the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers, going 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.

    A consistent performer who posts sub-4.00 ERAs and knows how to get batters out, Garza was part of Tampa Bay's division-winning clubs in 2008 and 2010, going 34-31 with a 3.86 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 95 games for the Rays.

    Aside from his experience in the division, what makes Garza a perfect fit for the Blue Jays is that they don't have to sacrifice anything other than cash in a deal—allowing the team to continue to re-stock a minor league system that was depleted to acquire the likes of Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes last winter.