Updating 2016 MLB Contenders' Biggest Needs as Spring Training Winds Down
Spring training not only serves as training camp for MLB teams, but it provides general managers and coaching staffs the chance to evaluate their rosters and address any areas of need before the end of camp.
With the regular season quickly approaching, time is running out for teams to fill those holes, and some may be left considering in-house options who, while not ideal solutions, are the best available options at the moment.
Let's take a look around baseball to see what, if anything, each contender still needs heading into Opening Day—and a glance at the rumor mill to find out whether those teams are actively looking at outside solutions or if an outside solution even exists.
Biggest Need: A Pinch Hitter with Power
The five players who look like they'll break camp on Arizona's bench—Socrates Brito, Tuffy Gosewisch, Phil Gosselin, Chris Herrmann and Chris Owings—have hit a combined 22 home runs in their major league careers—a total Paul Goldschmidt could eclipse by the All-Star break.
Not having a masher on the bench isn't a major issue, but it's certainly a luxury most managers wouldn't mind having to call upon late in games.
How the Diamondbacks Can Fill the Need
The easy answer would be to break camp with prospect Peter O'Brien, who has crushed 92 home runs over four minor league seasons, on the bench. But doing so would stunt his development, as he wouldn't be playing every day, so it's not an option.
Free agents such as Matt Joyce and Justin Morneau have pop, but neither one fits with the D-Backs.
Should a player with pop become available over the next two weeks as teams trim their rosters, Arizona could look to make a move, shedding one of its two backup catchers (Gosewisch or Herrmann) in the process.
But chances are the club won't do anything between now and Opening Day.
Boston Red Sox
Biggest Need: Another Team to Take Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval off Their Hands
Without a glaring need to add anything to its 25-man roster, we focus on something Boston would love to see happen: another team making them an offer for Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval.
Aside from the financial aspect, moving one of the high-priced veterans would remove a potential distraction from the clubhouse and clear a path for either Travis Shaw, who can play both corner infield spots, or Sam Travis, who is strictly a first baseman.
How the Red Sox Can Fill the Need
If Boston was willing to eat all of the money left on one of the deals, it might be able to find a willing trade partner. Assuming that's not an option the Red Sox would consider, the only other possible way to facilitate a deal would be....blackmail?
Biggest Need: Nothing
A team can never have too much depth, and few teams have as much in reserve as the Chicago Cubs.
"It's different. I'm not going to deny that," Maddon told MLB.com's Carrie Muskat earlier in spring training. "It's kind of fun. The challenge will be to keep them all happy, but everybody has put their ego in their back pocket. Everybody's here to win. ... There's one objective here, and that's to win."
Chicago White Sox
Biggest Need: Another Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
It's been two years since Mat Latos last made 30 starts or threw more than 120 innings in a season, and the 28-year-old was shelled in his spring debut for Chicago, allowing seven earned runs and 11 hits over only 4.2 innings of work.
He's also the only right-handed starter in the White Sox rotation, and the team's other options (Chris Beck, Erik Johnson and the recently signed Chris Volstad) either lack experience or, in Volstad's case, haven't been effective in years.
How the White Sox Can Fill the Need
Kyle Lohse would be a low-cost flier worth taking a chance on, but with the White Sox saving some money in the wake of the Adam LaRoche disaster, you can't help but wonder whether they'd have interest in someone like Tim Lincecum, who isn't going to come cheap despite a down year in San Francisco.
Biggest Need: An Everyday Right Fielder
Marlon Byrd and Lonnie Chisenhall are set to platoon in right field for Cleveland, and while they may struggle to hit for average or get on base consistently, the pair should be good for 25-30 home runs and solid defense.
That hasn't stopped the Indians from continuing to shop for an outfield upgrade, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, who hears the club has made some of its back-end starters available—Cody Anderson, Trevor Bauer, Michael Clevinger and T.J. House—to try to facilitate a deal.
How the Indians Can Fill the Need
Cleveland has the pitching depth to move a starter for an outfielder, but payroll constraints are going to limit the kind of player the Indians can take back in return. And it's debatable whether the outfielder they could get—Cincinnati's Jay Bruce, for example—is significantly better than what they already have.
Biggest Need: A Right-Handed-Hitting Center Fielder
With Cameron Maybin likely to start the season on the disabled list as he recovers from a fractured left wrist, Detroit heads into the season with Anthony Gose in center field and Tyler Collins set to back him up.
Aside from the fact that Collins is best used in a corner spot, neither he nor Gose, both left-handed hitters, fares well against southpaws on the mound. Adding a right-handed-hitting outfielder who can hold down center field defensively would give the club some extra insurance while Maybin is on the mend.
How the Tigers Can Fill the Need
Since the Tigers need only temporary help, they wouldn't be in the market for a significant addition. Someone like Justin Maxwell, who is in camp with Miami on a minor league deal, would be an ideal short-term option. If Maxwell, or someone similar, hits the open market before Opening Day, the Tigers could pounce.
Biggest Need: A Backup Catcher
Houston has been looking outside the organization for a backup catcher to replace the injured Max Stassi, according to a report from MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. Stassi is expected to miss at least six weeks after undergoing wrist surgery.
How the Astros Can Fill the Need
A slew of veteran catchers are in camps around baseball on minor league deals, and more than a few could find themselves back on the free-agent market before Opening Day. J.P. Arencibia, Carlos Corporan and Michael McKenry are among the more notable names who could become available.
The Astros could also look to the trade market, with a pair of American League backstops, the Tigers' Bryan Holaday and the Yankees' Austin Romine, potentially available.
Kansas City Royals
Biggest Need: Another Left-Handed Pitcher
It looks like Kansas City will head into the season with 12 pitchers but only one lefty, reliever Danny Duffy.
While the team will get Mike Minor and Jason Vargas back from injury at some point after the All-Star break and has reliever Scott Alexander biding his time at Triple-A, adding another established southpaw to the mix wouldn't be a terrible idea.
How the Royals Can Fill the Need
The seemingly easy answer would be an early-season promotion for Alexander, but to do so the Royals would have to carry one less bench player or replace Chien-Ming Wang in the bullpen. Neither seems a likely option unless Wang's solid spring (2.70 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) proves to be a complete fluke.
There are only a few left-handed pitchers left as free agents—the semi-retired Mark Buehrle, Eric Stults and Randy Wolf are the most notable—and none of them figures to interest the defending world champions. If the Royals do anything, it would be to pick up a veteran southpaw who falls victim to the numbers game elsewhere.
Los Angeles Angels
Biggest Need: An Everyday Left Fielder
Los Angeles continues to search for an everyday left fielder, tweets MLB Network's Jon Heyman, a sign that the Angels remain largely unimpressed with their projected Opening Day platoon of Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava, who have hit a combined .403 this spring.
You can't blame the Angels for continuing to look. Both career .265 hitters, neither Gentry (.125) nor Nava (.194) was of any use at the plate in limited playing time last year, and the Angels can ill afford a repeat performance.
How the Angels Can Fill the Need
They probably can't—though they tried. The Angels nearly landed Michael Saunders from Toronto in a three-team trade that fell apart, and they made an offer to Austin Jackson, who ultimately signed with the Chicago White Sox, per Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.
David DeJesus, Alex Rios and Grady Sizemore are the best of a dwindling crop of available free-agent outfielders, and the Angels lack the prospects to pull off a significant trade. Of course, should owner Arte Moreno decide that he's willing to pay the luxury tax, Cincinnati's Jay Bruce, due $12.5 million this season, could be an option.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Biggest Need: Rotation Depth
You could build a solid rotation with the pitchers the Los Angeles Dodgers will start the season without.
Brett Anderson, Mike Bolsinger, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Frankie Montas are all dealing with a variety of injuries, some more serious than others, robbing the Dodgers of the pitching depth they appeared to have heading into camp.
This is a team that can ill-afford another injury to a member of its rotation.
How the Dodgers Can Fill the Need
With a deep, talented farm system and even deeper pockets, the Dodgers have the ability to add pitching via free agency and trade. Two of the more notable unsigned starters could be Tim Lincecum and Kyle Lohse, but Lincecum could prove to be too pricey for even the Dodgers' tastes, while Lohse is coming off a dreadful season in Milwaukee (5.85 ERA, 1.46 WHIP).
Had Andre Ethier not gotten injured, perhaps the Dodgers and Cleveland could have worked out a deal for one of Los Angeles' reserve outfielders, especially with the Indians offering back-end pitching in exchange.
Biggest Need: Rotation Depth
With staff ace Jose Fernandez working under an innings limit and, after he and Wei-Yin Chen, mediocrity and inexperience filling out the rotation, Miami has been actively looking to add pitching. As far as manager Don Mattingly is concerned, the club needs as many arms as it can get.
“I don’t know if we feel like we’re 10 (starters) deep,” Mattingly told the Palm Beach Post's Tom D'Angelo. “That’s what we want to build in that minor league system.”
Per a report from the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, the Marlins made an offer to Alfredo Simon, who only recently signed with Cincinnati. Tim Lincecum, long thought to be on the team's radar, appears to be too expensive.
How the Marlins Can Fill the Need
Payroll will play a part in the team's search, which likely means the Marlins will be shopping in the bargain bin as Opening Day arrives.
MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported in January that the Marlins had some interest in Kyle Lohse, who recently held a workout for teams. If he's open to a minor league deal, he could still be on the Marlins' radar.
Biggest Need: An Ace
Minnesota came within three games of a wild-card spot last season despite boasting a rotation full of middle-of-the-roard arms, and the Twins return essentially the same group in 2016.
Tyler Duffey, Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, Tommy Milone and Ervin Santana are all, at best, No. 3 starters, while the Twins have to try to get some value out of Ricky Nolasco, who has pitched to a 5.64 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over two years in a Twins uniform and is due $25 million through 2017.
How the Twins Can Fill the Need
It's not as if aces are readily available, and while the Twins have plenty of young talent—Byron Buxton, Nick Gordon and Miguel Sano, among others—to potentially trade for one, doing so would only shift the need from the rotation to the lineup or, in Gordon's case, the farm system.
Speaking of the farm, the team's top pitching prospect, Jose Berrios, has the stuff and makeup to develop into a front-of-the-rotation arm. But it'd be completely unfair to expect the 21-year-old to pitch like one when he finally makes his MLB debut at some point during the regular season.
New York Mets
Biggest Need: A Capable Backup Third Baseman
The spinal stenosis that limited David Wright to 38 regular-season games in 2015 isn't going away, and as a result, the defending National League champion New York Mets have no idea how often their captain will be able to take the field in 2016.
"I think we’re hoping that he’ll play 130 games or so," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told the New York Post's Steve Serby. "We’re gonna make sure that he’s not overworked. So it’s important for us to find somebody who can play 30 games or so at third base when he’s not."
Eric Campbell and Wilmer Flores are slotted to step in when Wright needs a day off, but Flores is best utilized as a middle infielder, while Campbell, a career .231 hitter over parts of two big league seasons, thus far has been a below-average defender at the hot corner.
How the Mets Can Fill the Need
Re-signing Juan Uribe, who eventually landed in Cleveland, or making a run at David Freese, who eventually went to Pittsburgh, would have solved the problem.
With no real options available via free agency, the Mets will roll with what they have to start the season. Should Wright be forced to the sidelines far more often than the team anticipates, the Mets will have to seriously consider moving some of their pitching depth to address the issue.
New York Yankees
Biggest Need: A Capable Backup First Baseman
Mark Teixeira hasn't played in more than 120 games since 2011, and entering his age-36 season, there's no reason to believe he's about to reverse that trend.
With Greg Bird out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery, the New York Yankees are counting on Dustin Ackley, who has logged a total of 106 innings at the position, to serve as the primary backup. Third baseman Chase Headley could also find himself shifting across the diamond on occasion.
How the Yankees Can Fill the Need
The Yankees could have made a run at Pedro Alvarez, who attended high school roughly 15 minutes north of Yankee Stadium, but decided to pass. Chris Parmelee, in camp on a minor league deal, represents the team's best in-house option to spell Teixeira when needed.
Biggest Need: Another Reliable Starting Pitcher
No other team does a better job of making mediocre pitching look great than Pittsburgh, so perhaps the concerns we have over Jon Niese, Juan Nicasio and Ryan Vogelsong are overblown.
Niese has been a reliable innings-eater for years, but he's also been shelled this spring, allowing 12 earned runs and 13 hits over 11 innings of work.
At the other end of the spectrum, Nicasio has been lights out, with 24 strikeouts over 15 scoreless innings, but his best regular-season work has come as a reliever. Vogelsong, meanwhile, has posted an ERA above 4.50 and a WHIP above 1.45 in two of the past three seasons.
How the Pirates Can Fill the Need
Should another inexpensive starter become available before Opening Day, the Pirates could look to add some additional depth, and Jeff Locke is always an option as a spot starter.
But the team's best chance of shoring up the rotation rests on the arms of prospects Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon, both of whom should be ready to contribute by the All-Star break, if not earlier.
San Francisco Giants
Biggest Need: Rotation Depth
You couldn't blame Giants fans for freaking out a bit, given that Chris Heston's 5.65 spring ERA is the group's best by nearly three full runs in San Francisco's projected starting rotation.
Obviously, you can't put too much stock in spring training stats. Nobody is concerned about Madison Bumgarner atop the rotation, and both Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are being paid big bucks to pitch up to their career stat lines. Let's assume they come close.
But neither Matt Cain nor Jake Peavy can be reasonably counted upon to eat a bunch of innings, and after Heston, the Giants lack experienced options to call upon.
How the Giants Can Fill the Need
San Francisco will do what every other team in need of rotation help will do—scour the daily transaction sheets to see which veteran arms have been released back into the free-agent market and then act accordingly.
If the Giants had a preference, it may be to add another lefty to the mix, as Bumgarner is the only southpaw in the rotation.
Biggest Need: An Everyday Center Fielder
Leonys Martin and Shawn O'Malley have tons of speed, which will allow them to cover plenty of ground in center field and cause problems when they get on base.
But neither one offers much at the plate. Martin, a career .255/.305/.361 hitter, is the superior defender, while O'Malley is a defensive liability who has posted an impressive .366 on-base percentage but has hit only .241 in limited playing time over the past two years.
How the Mariners Can Fill the Need
As noted when looking at Detroit's center field situation, nothing is available on the free-agent market, which means the Mariners would have to swing a trade. But there's no surefire upgrade they could target at this point, and there's no help in the upper levels of the team's farm system.
Having traded for Martin over the winter, Seattle will roll with this platoon until injury, ineffectiveness or both force its hand.
St. Louis Cardinals
Biggest Need: Rotation Depth
St. Louis heads into the season with an impressive starting rotation, something that many thought to be impossible after it lost John Lackey in free agency and Lance Lynn to season-ending Tommy John surgery.
But the Cardinals rotation is also fragile, with Jaime Garcia, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright all having missed significant time with various injuries over the past few years. While prospects Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales offer some insurance, there's little help coming after them.
How the Cardinals Can Fill the Need
Like every other team that can use extra rotation depth, St. Louis will scan the waiver wire over the next few weeks for arms who could serve as organizational depth and make a spot start or two if needed.
Trading for another arm seems unlikely, as most of the Cardinals' top prospects are themselves starting pitchers who will factor into the rotation plans as early as next season, aside from the aforementioned Cooney and Gonzales, who figure to see time with the Redbirds in 2016.
Tampa Bay Rays
Biggest Need: A Middle-of-the-Lineup Masher
Among American League teams in 2015, only the Chicago White Sox crossed home plate less frequently than Tampa Bay, which ranked 25th in baseball with 644 runs scored.
While the team added Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce over the offseason, Dickerson struggles to produce away from Coors Field, while both Morrison and Pearce are part-time players, limiting their impact.
How the Rays Can Fill the Need
Youngsters such as Mikie Mahtook, Richie Shaffer and Steven Souza Jr. could all potentially fill the need, but there's no clear path to regular playing time for any of them.
The most likely scenario is that the Rays will open the season with what they have, and should a legitimate, controllable game-changer become available as the season progresses, they'll look to flip some of their pitching depth to bring him aboard.
Biggest Need: Rotation Depth
After Cole Hamels, who is coming off his eighth consecutive 200-inning season, you'd be hard-pressed to find a starting pitcher in Texas' rotation that you'd feel comfortable calling durable.
Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Martin Perez have all missed significant time with various injuries over the course of their careers, while Yu Darvish is still working his way back from the Tommy John surgery that kept him sidelined for all of 2015.
While the Rangers have some intriguing names in camp—Chi Chi Gonzalez, A.J. Griffin and Jeremy Guthrie are the most notable—a team can never have too much pitching.
How the Rangers Can Fill the Need
Texas has already been linked to free agent Kyle Lohse, with MLB Network's Jon Heyman listing the Rangers as one of the team in attendance at his recent showcase.
You can be sure he won't be the only experienced starter the team shows interest in, and chances are that Texas will look to add an arm who doesn't make the cut elsewhere.
Toronto Blue Jays
Biggest Need: A Leadoff Hitter
In trading Ben Revere to Washington for reliever Drew Storen, Toronto dealt away its best option to hit atop one of baseball's most powerful lineups. While the team has some options to fill the spot, none of them is close to ideal.
Troy Tulowitzki's run-producing potential is dramatically lessened if he's hitting leadoff, while neither Ryan Goins nor Kevin Pillar gets on base consistently enough to serve as a table-setter. Devon Travis could be that player, but he's out until at least May as he recovers from November shoulder surgery.
How the Blue Jays Can Fill the Need
Ideally, Dalton Pompey would have shown enough in spring training to supplant Michael Saunders as the team's everyday left fielder, as he has the prototypical speed we've come to expect from a leadoff hitter and posted a robust .371 on-base percentage over parts of six minor league seasons.
But he's not yet ready for prime time.
Without a surefire upgrade available, Toronto isn't likely to do anything to address the issue other than try different in-house options until something clicks.
Biggest Need: Nothing
As is the case with one other contender on this list, Washington heads into the regular season without a glaring need. In the few instances where the Nationals could potentially benefit from an upgrade, the club has multiple in-house options ready to step in.
Danny Espinosa's hold on shortstop is tenuous at best, but the Nationals have prospect Trea Turner waiting in the wings to take over and Stephen Drew in reserve. The back end of the rotation will soon be bolstered by the arrival of top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito, who the team believes is nearly big league-ready.
After Giolito, the team has additional pitching depth with A.J. Cole, Taylor Hill, Taylor Jordan and Yusmeiro Petit.
Unless otherwise noted, all spring training statistics courtesy of MLB.com and are current through March 24. All other statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts (via Baseball Prospectus).
Hit me up on Twitter to talk all things baseball: @RickWeinerBR.