Biggest Hole Every MLB Team Desperately Needs to Fill This Offseason
Every MLB team enters the offseason with multiple needs. There's no such thing as a squad with only one item on its winter shopping list, and that includes the legitimate World Series hopefuls.
Here's a thought exercise, though: What if all 30 clubs had to narrow it down to a single area? What, in other words, is the biggest hole your favorite franchise is most desperate to fill?
Let's take a look, keeping in mind that levels of desperation will vary depending on the strength of the roster in question and the team's aspirations for 2018 and beyond.
In certain cases, the glaring need is evident; in others it's a coin-toss.
American League West
Houston Astros: A late-inning reliever
The Houston Astros won the first championship in franchise history in spite of a bullpen that posted a 5.40 postseason ERA.
Closer Ken Giles (11.74 ERA in seven games) set the inauspicious tone, but the entire relief corps wobbled, forcing manager A.J. Hinch to rely heavily on members of his starting rotation.
Now, as they embark on their repeat journey with few other glaring needs, the 'Stros should go hard after the top free-agent relievers on the market, including proven late-inning aces Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
With few other obvious holes, this is where Houston should expend its energy and resources.
Los Angeles Angels: A front-line starting pitcher
The Los Angeles Angels began their offseason by signing outfielder Justin Upton to a five-year, $106 million contract extension. That doesn't solve the club's offensive issues, but it ensures Mike Trout won't be stranded alone in the Halos lineup.
More pressingly, the Angels need to acquire a front-line starting pitcher.
Garrett Richards is an ace when healthy, but he pitched in just six games in 2017 while recovering from an elbow ailment. Matt Shoemaker is coming off forearm surgery, while Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs have also battled injuries.
The Angels are stretched thin financially by Albert Pujols' contract and lack the farm system to swing a major trade, but they need to be in on the market's top arms if they want to avoid wasting another year of Trout's prime.
Oakland Athletics: A catcher
The Oakland Athletics kicked off their latest rebuild at the 2017 trade deadline and continued it in the offseason when they shipped infielder/designated hitter Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners.
The A's clearly won't chase any of the winter's top names. They could use an upgrade at catcher, however, where Bruce Maxwell—who hit .237 in 76 games and was arrested in early November on gun charges—tops the depth chart.
There are options on the market who wouldn't bust the bank, including veteran Alex Avila, whose robust .351 on-base percentage and ability to handle a young Oakland staff could be attractive to executive Billy Beane.
Seattle Mariners: A front-line starting pitcher
The Seattle Mariners rotation was beset by injuries last season, forcing the M's to send 17 different starters to the hill.
Felix Hernandez has officially fallen from his throne, Mike Leake is a mid-rotation option at best and 29-year-old James Paxton has never reached 150 innings in a season.
The M's have a more-than-competent offense and a shot to grab a wild-card spot, but they need a reliable stud.
Two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani is Seattle's dream target, but general manager Jerry Dipoto should also be in on the likes of Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta as he seeks to end the franchise's 16-year postseason drought.
Texas Rangers: A front-line starting pitcher
The Texas Rangers have ceded Lone Star State supremacy to the Astros. Now, they're trying to remain in the AL playoff picture.
To do that, they'll need an impact arm to join left-hander Cole Hamels, who posted a 4.20 ERA in 2017 and saw his strikeouts per nine innings dip from 9.0 to 6.4.
The Rangers traded Darvish to the Dodgers at the 2017 deadline and could lose Andrew Cashner to free agency. With the rest of the rotation uncertain, Texas needs to go hard after an ace or risk slipping further down the relevance ladder.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: A mid-level starting pitcher
The Chicago White Sox are in the midst of an exciting rebuild, with a loaded farm system and a bright future dawning on the South Side.
The Sox's starting rotation could soon feature tantalizing young arms such as Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carlos Rodon. In the here and now, they need to add reasonably priced innings-eaters to augment their developing core.
Chicago isn't going to break the bank for a pricey free agent, but a pitcher or pitchers in the Jeremy Hellickson/Tyson Ross/Scott Feldman mold would fit the bill.
Cleveland Indians: A first baseman
Carlos Santana is one of the more underrated bats on the 2017-18 free-agent market.
The 31-year-old has averaged 24 home runs a season over the past seven years for the Cleveland Indians, boasts a .365 career on-base percentage and posted 10 defensive runs saved at first base in 2017.
He won't command a nine-figure contract, but he may well price out of the Tribe's generally modest range.
That would leave the Indians searching for a power-hitting first baseman on the bargain shelves, and perhaps rolling the dice on a lesser name such as Mitch Moreland or Mike Napoli.
Cleveland did toss three years and $60 million at Edwin Encarnacion last offseason, but that was the richest contract in franchise history.
Detroit Tigers: A mid-level starting pitcher
The Detroit Tigers initiated a long-overdue rebuild at the 2017 trade deadline, but they could still be in the market for starting pitching, according to general manager Al Avila.
"We definitely need some pitching help," Avila said during the GM meetings in Orlando, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. "Ideally, probably add a couple of starters."
Fenech name-dropped Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Matt Garza and Cashner among possible targets.
The Tigers' priority should be offloading any remaining tradable veterans and further restocking the farm system. Picking up a pitcher or two capable of chewing innings is also on the list.
Kansas City Royals: A center fielder
The Kansas City Royals could lose most of the core that won them a pennant in 2014 and a championship in 2015.
First baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas are both set to hit the open market, and both could command contracts beyond K.C.'s means.
The biggest loss, however, may be in center field, where Lorenzo Cain is also a free agent.
The 31-year-old will have multiple suitors after hitting .300 with 26 stolen bases and 15 home runs. The best option to replace him on the Royals roster, meanwhile, is 32-year-old Paulo Orlando and his .198 2017 average.
Impact center fielders are a rare commodity, and the Royals will be hard-pressed to replace Cain if he walks. In a winter of transition, this might be their toughest loss.
Minnesota Twins: A front-line starting pitcher
After rebounding from a 103-loss season to claim the AL's second wild-card, the Minnesota Twins will look to amplify their success in 2018.
That'll require adding at least one arm to supplement right-hander Ervin Santana, after whom the starting rotation is a mishmash of youngsters and question marks.
Hence word from general manager Thad Levine that Darvish is "a priority," per Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio. Levine also said the Twinkies will pursue Ohtani.
Minnesota can't be considered a front-runner for either, but their pursuit indicates a desire to dramatically upgrade the rotation.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: A front-line starting pitcher
Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman both posted plus-4.00 ERAs in 2017, and they're the good news in a shaky Baltimore Orioles starting rotation.
Overall, O's starters posted an abysmal 5.70 ERA in 2017. Tillman, Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley are all free agents. And the Orioles farm system is bereft of MLB-ready pitching talent.
That means Baltimore needs to pursue any and all impact arms if it hopes to maintain contact with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the AL East.
Boston Red Sox: A power-hitting first baseman
The Red Sox hit the fewest home runs in the American League last season and the 27th fewest in baseball. That simply won't do.
Boston needs an injection of power, and the most obvious place to get it is at first base. Mitch Moreland is a free agent, and the options after him range from unproven (rookie Sam Travis) to untenable (creaky veteran Hanley Ramirez).
There are multiple names on the market, including Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso and Lucas Duda. The best fit might be Carlos Santana, whose pop and plate discipline would complement the Red Sox's emerging offensive nucleus.
New York Yankees: A starting pitcher
The Yankees' first two orders of business are hiring a manager to replace deposed Joe Girardi and embarking on their inevitable pursuit of Ohtani.
If they land the Japanese stud, their starting rotation will be set with Sonny Gray, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and Jordan Montgomery already in the fold.
If they whiff on Ohtani, the Yanks should sign another arm rather than counting on the likes of Luis Cessa (4.75 ERA) and Bryan Mitchell (5.79 ERA).
New York blossomed ahead of schedule and got within a win of the World Series. Now isn't the time for executive Brian Cashman to take his foot off the accelerator.
Tampa Bay Rays: A power-hitting first baseman
After inking Logan Morrison to a one-year, $2.5 million contract, the Tampa Bay Rays watched him slug 38 homers and post an .868 OPS. Talk about bang for your buck.
That enviable production means Morrison will almost surely sign a longer, more lucrative contract elsewhere.
The Rays could turn to 22-year-old Jake Bauers—their No. 5 prospect, per MLB.com—or hope for more from Brad Miller, who hit .201 in 110 games.
More likely, they'll go shopping from a shelf that includes Moreland, Napoli and Adam Lind.
Toronto Blue Jays: A right fielder
After finishing 10 games under .500 and 17 games out in the AL East, the Toronto Blue Jays are apparently planning to make another run.
General manager Ross Atkins said the team intends to "add one impact arm and one impact position player for sure," per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca.
They could use help in the rotation and bullpen, but their most glaring hole is in right field, where franchise icon Jose Bautista is exiting after a dreadful farewell season.
Teoscar Hernandez impressed during a 26-game audition after coming over from the Astros in a deadline trade, but he's far from a sure bet.
Fortunately for the Jays, there are intriguing-if-flawed options on the market, including Jay Bruce and three-time All-Star Carlos Gonzalez, who could possibly be had on a short-term, show-me contract.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: A late-inning reliever
The Arizona Diamondbacks are probably going to lose outfielder J.D. Martinez and his sweet, sweet dingers to a nine-figure, free-agent payday. If so, they may go shopping, or count on in-house options such as Yasmany Tomas to bounce back and pick up the slack.
The larger issue could be in the bullpen, however. Closer Fernando Rodney was far from exemplary in 2017, but his potential departure leaves a hole in the relief corps.
Right-hander Archie Bradley (1.73 ERA) could assume closing duties. If he does, the Snakes will need to fill his role as setup man. If he doesn't, they'll need a ninth-inning guy.
Either way, Arizona should mine a market that features seasoned relievers such as Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Addison Reed.
Colorado Rockies: A late-inning reliever
The Colorado Rockies bullpen went from a 5.13 ERA in 2016 to a 4.40 ERA in 2017. Not coincidentally, the Rockies made the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and only the fourth time in franchise history.
Holland, Neshek and left-hander Jake McGee, all key members of Colorado's pen, are free agents. A strength could become a weakness in a mile high minute.
Convincing elite pitchers to come to Coors Field is a tough sell, but the Rockies need to dive deep into the relief-pitcher market if they want to maintain contact with the D-backs and Los Angeles Dodgers out West.
Los Angeles Dodgers: A setup reliever
The Dodgers are stacked up and down the roster. That's why they're the defending NL champs.
However, they could lose a key piece of their bullpen in setup man Brandon Morrow. The 33-year-old posted a 2.06 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings behind closer Kenley Jansen, giving L.A. a lethal late-inning combo.
The Dodgers might bring Morrow back, though his price tag is sure to rise precipitously. They could also go after one or more of the previously mentioned arms.
What they can't do is let Morrow leave and stand pat.
San Diego Padres: A back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher
The San Diego Padres have pitching talent in the pipeline, with prospects such as MacKenzie Gore, Cal Quantrill, Adrian Morejon and Anderson Espinoza hoping to make an impact down the road.
For now, the rebuilding Friars need placeholders to fill out the rotation behind Clayton Richard and youngsters Dinelson Lamet and Luis Perdomo.
Don't expect a splash on the level of Darvish or Arrieta, or even an arm from the next tier. San Diego would be a good landing spot for a guy like Tillman, however, who could rebuild his value in a low-pressure environment while plying his trade at pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
San Francisco Giants: A power-hitting corner outfielder
Not sure if you've heard, but the San Francisco Giants are in on Giancarlo Stanton.
After finishing dead last in baseball in home runs and OPS in 2017, the Giants have been in hot pursuit of the Miami Marlins masher this winter, and made a formal trade proposal to the Fish.
San Francisco's outfield was a mess last season, with veterans Denard Span and Hunter Pence wobbling in center field and right field, respectively, and left field devolving into a tire fire. That's not the only reason San Francisco lost 98 games, but it's high on the list.
Stanton and his 59 home runs would go a long way toward rectifying the situation, even if acquiring him would decimate the Giants' payroll and gut their farm system.
No matter what, San Francisco needs to inject some power, and the outfield is the most obvious place to do it.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: A front-line starting pitcher
The Chicago Cubs could lose closer Wade Davis, weakening a bullpen that was exposed during the 2017 postseason. They also could lose Arrieta and veteran right-hander John Lackey, opening two holes in the starting rotation.
There's a case to be made for either one being their biggest issue, but we'll go with the starting rotation.
Jon Lester is entering his age-34 campaign, lefty Jose Quintana is coming off an up-and-down year and control artist Kyle Hendricks has never eclipsed 200 frames in a season.
The Cubs could use another ace as they try to hang with the Dodgers for the Senior Circuit's alpha-dog position.
Whether it's inking Darvish, reuniting with Arrieta or wooing Ohtani, executive Theo Epstein has his work cut out for him.
Cincinnati Reds: A starting pitcher
The Cincinnati Reds are rebuilding. Their 2018 starting rotation could feature an array of unproven arms. As such, they could use at least one reasonably priced innings-eater.
Forget Darvish, Arrieta and Ohtani. Sail past the the next tier of names, including Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb.
The Reds should go bargain shopping and look for arms that can be had on the cheap and will take pressure off their hurlers of the future. Think Francisco Liriano or Jesse Chavez.
It isn't sexy, but it's a necessary part of the process.
Milwaukee Brewers: A front-line starting pitcher
After giving the Cubs a shocking challenge in 2017, the Milwaukee Brewers will try to break through and make the playoffs.
Their offense was buoyed by big contributions from third baseman Travis Shaw and first baseman Eric Thames, who smacked a combined 62 home runs.
On the pitching side, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson led a surprising rotation, but Anderson has yet to reach 160 innings in a season and Nelson is recovering from shoulder surgery.
The Brew Crew should resist any offers to trade talent from their well-stocked farm system. They should, however, try to sign at least one top-tier arm, even if it means increasing a payroll that Spotrac ranks 26th in the game.
Pittsburgh Pirates: A left-handed reliever
If the Pittsburgh Pirates opt to dismantle the ship and start over, they'll aggressively shop outfielder Andrew McCutchen, ace Gerrit Cole and any other pieces that can return a prospect haul.
If they decide to make another run at the postseason, their most obvious need is a left-handed reliever.
On Monday, the Bucs claimed lefty Sam Moll off waivers from Oakland, per MLB.com's Adam Berry, meaning they now have four southpaw relievers on their 40-man roster: Moll, Jack Leathersich, Nik Turley and closer Felipe Rivero.
None besides Rivero is a sure thing, meaning the Pirates could keep shopping from a list that includes decent options such as Fernando Abad and Jake McGee.
St. Louis Cardinals: A power bat
The St. Louis Cardinals don't have any glaring holes. The (hopeful) return of top pitching prospect Alex Reyes from Tommy John surgery boosts the starting rotation. The bullpen could use reinforcements but isn't a disaster. The lineup is littered with quality hitters.
What the Cards lack is a legitimate basher to tie it all together.
Hence the rumors and chatter linking St. Louis to Stanton. As with San Francisco, the Marlins slugger could deplete the Cardinals farm system and burden their payroll, but he'd also strike fear in the hearts of all opponents—including the rival Cubs—and could get the Redbirds back among the NL elite.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: A third baseman
The Atlanta Braves are still reeling from the international signing scandal that cost them 13 prospects and led MLB to ban former general manager John Coppolella for life.
Still, baseball goes on, and the Braves remain a rebuilding team on the rise with some high-level prospects knocking on the door of the big leagues.
One position where Atlanta lacks depth is third base. The Braves could roll with the duo of 23-year-old Johan Camargo and 23-year-old Rio Ruiz, but neither is a lock to perform adequately over a full season.
The free-agent shelves aren't bursting with third basemen, but Atlanta could target versatile speedster Eduardo Nunez or a veteran power bat such as Todd Frazier to balance its youthful lineup.
Miami Marlins: A starting pitcher
The Marlins' goal this winter is to shed salary. Giancarlo Stanton is the big fish, but look for the new ownership group led by Derek Jeter to explore trades for any and all assets.
It's safe to say, then, that the Marlins won't be in on Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta. Still, they could use some help in the rotation after their starters finished 26th in baseball with a 5.12 ERA and only Dan Straily and Jose Urena made more than 20 starts.
A veteran such as Wade Miley could chew innings and would come cheap. It's not inspiring, but Marlins fans need to prepare themselves for the choppy waters ahead.
New York Mets: A reliable relief pitcher
The New York Mets are crossing their fingers for a healthy rotation. Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler all battled injuries in 2017, and Matt Harvey is an enigma. Yet, if that group can rebound alongside Jacob deGrom, New York's starting core could again be a strength.
It's a huge "if," which makes it tempting to suggest New York should target a starter such as Lance Lynn or John Lackey.
The more pressing need, however, could be in the bullpen. Mets relievers ranked 29th in baseball with a 4.82 ERA last season, and the club has few palatable options beyond AJ Ramos, Jeurys Familia and Jerry Blevins.
A reunion with Addison Reed is a possibility, or the Mets could dip into a group of proven bullpen assets that includes Brandon Kintzler and Pat Neshek.
Philadelphia Phillies: A starting pitcher
The Philadelphia Phillies have a massive amount of payroll flexibility. They're also a young, rebuilding franchise that was recently buried under the weight of bad contracts.
The key, then, is to spend smart.
The Phils are unlikely to throw nine figures at anyone, but they can and should explore the market for a veteran starter or two to augment a rotation that features 24-year-old Aaron Nola, 27-year-old Jerad Eickhoff and 25-year-old Vince Velasquez, assuming he's healthy.
The Phillies aren't going to contend in 2018, but they should spend some of their capital to ease the workload on their young arms.
Washington Nationals: A late-inning reliever
With right fielder Bryce Harper, second baseman Daniel Murphy and left-hander Gio Gonzalez all entering their contract years, the Washington Nationals are in full-throttle win-now mode.
They're also a pretty complete team capable of contending as constructed.
The Nats could use help in the bullpen, which they fortified last season with the additions of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler.
Kintzler is a free agent, as are Matt Albers, Joe Blanton and Oliver Perez, which means Washington needs to get busy.
Re-upping some or all of their own free-agent relievers would be a start, but the Nationals should also target the likes of Greg Holland and Wade Davis.
The Harper era is probably ending after 2018. It's time to pull out all the stops.