10 MLB Teams Desperately in Need of a Franchise-Altering Move
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As the 2011 season winds down and the World Series is upon us, now is an excellent time to take a look at some of the teams that are close, but need that little extra to get over the hump.
Which teams are desperately in need of a franchise altering move?
In reality, every team in the league, including even the eventual World Series champion, can always use some improvement. Like the old saying goes, "if you're standing still, you're getting passed by."
I will identify 10 teams where one big move could help them tremendously. Read on to see if your favorite team is included.
No. 10 Chicago Cubs
Starlin Castro leads the Cubs into the future
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The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series was in 1908. In 2011, the Cubs finished the season at 71-91, fifth place in the NL Central.
The Cubs have been known as the "lovable losers" for so long that anything else seems impossible. Generations of fans have come and gone over the past century.
While the Cubs do not meet my criteria of a team needing only one or two moves to make it to the next level, they are already trying to finalize a huge move that ultimately may get this franchise back in the playoff picture.
The potentially brilliant move the Cubs are attempting to close is the acquisition of Theo Epstein, from the Boston Red Sox. While Epstein is not a player, this is the most important move the Cubs could possibly make this offseason.
Epstein led the Red Sox to two world championships during his tenure in Boston. The Red Sox know that the Cubs really want Epstein so they are demanding a high price to complete this deal. The Cubs need to make this move and inject some life into their clubhouse.
In looking at the Cubs' roster, there are very few top quality players who are at or nearing their prime. Some of their best players are on the downside of their careers, such as Aramis Ramirez and Marlon Byrd. Only Starlin Castro and perhaps Darwin Barney can be considered up and coming stars, among position players.
Epstein would need to build the farm system and make some shrewd moves to bolster this roster and turn the Cubs into a contender. It will take at least three or four years for this to happen, but Epstein is someone the Cubs need to turn around this franchise.
If the Cubs ultimately get Epstein, expect them to make a serious run for Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. Current Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena is a free agent and would not be retained if the Cubs get Pujols or Fielder.
No. 9 Florida Marlins
Hanley Ramirez hopes for a big rebound in 2012
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The Florida Marlins are due to open their new stadium in Miami in time for the start of the 2012 season. Undoubtedly, the Marlins will want to make a big splash, no pun intended.
The Marlins were a very disappointing 72-90, finishing last in the NL East. The Marlins have some good players and should not have dipped to such a low level. Ozzie Guillen was hired as the new manager and will take over the helm for the 2012 season.
Guillen is a fiery and volatile competitor, but could be the right fit to light a fire under the Marlins. Florida has some fine young players in Hanley Ramirez, Michael Stanton, Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison, Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez. They are not that far away from righting the ship and being a very competitive team.
The Marlins would like to add a big bat or another front line pitcher. They have been rumored to have an interest in Albert Pujols, which would add instant excitement in Miami. With Pujols, the Marlins would likely dangle current first baseman Gaby Sanchez in a trade for a starting pitcher.
No. 8 Tampa Bay Rays
B.J. Upton will be a free agent after the 2012 season
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The Tampa Bay Rays made a late charge, and combined with the collapse of the Boston Red Sox, captured the AL Wild Card berth. The Rays were defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Texas Rangers.
Prior to the 2011 season, the Rays lost two of their top players in outfielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Carlos Pena. Offense was a major problem for the Rays this past season. They had a team batting average of only .244, the second worst in the AL.
The Rays were eighth in the league in runs scored, but trailed all of the other teams in the AL East. Look for Tampa Bay to try to upgrade their offense at one or perhaps two positions.
First baseman Casey Kotchman is a nice player but not a run producer. He hit only 10 home runs and drove in 48 runs, in 500 at-bats. You need a lot more production from this spot. The shortstop position also produced very little for the Rays.
In addition, DH Johnny Damon is a free agent. He was the highest plaid player on the Rays' roster and will be 38 years of age when the 2012 season begins. It is very questionable whether he will be back.
The Rays cut their payroll from $72 million in 2010 to only $42 million in 2011. This is one of the lowest in baseball and it's obvious that this franchise does not have the resources to remain a consistent playoff contender.
However, the Rays do have some good young and inexpensive pitching, led by David Price. The Rays will have their young pitchers under cost control for another three or four years, in most cases. Then, they will lose them, as they head off to more lucrative destinations.
For this reason, the Rays have a small window to make another deep run into the playoffs. If they were to raise their payroll to even $55 - $60 million, they should be able to get a couple of quality bats that will help them increase their offensive productivity.
The Rays have three cornerstone offensive players in B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria. Upton will be a free agent following 2012, so this offseason could be the last really good opportunity to build their team enough to make a deep playoff run.
If Tampa Bay stands pat, it will be a slow slide for this franchise.
No. 7 Cleveland Indians
Asdrubal Cabrera is one of the up and coming stars in the AL
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The Cleveland Indians were in contention for much of the 2011 season. However, late in the year, the Indians faded badly and were unable to keep pace with the Detroit Tigers. Cleveland finished in second place in the AL Central, with an 80-82 record.
The Indians have nine arbitration eligible players they must make decisions on. They also control a $9 million option on Grady Sizemore, who made over $ 7.6 million in 2011. It's very questionable if the Indians exercise that option and keep Sizemore.
The Indians also have $ 14,500,000 in available money, as Kosuke Fukudome's contract is up. There is no way the Indians will make an effort to re-sign Fukudome for anywhere close to that amount.
The departure of Fukudome and Sizemore would free up some $22 million for the Indians to do some shopping. The Indians ranked ninth in the league in runs scored and 10th in ERA. They could definitely use help for both their offense and pitching staff.
Keep an eye out for Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Ludwick or Josh Willingham as potential fits for the Indians. These are solid players but below the huge cost of the elite level players like Reyes, Beltran, Fielder and Pujols.
No. 6 Cincinnati Reds
Joey Votto is one of the best hitters in baseball
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The Cincinnati Reds had a very disappointing year in 2011. Hopes were high for the Reds but they stumbled throughout the year, especially with their pitching staff. The Reds, with a record of 79-83, finished a distant third in the NL Central, 17 games behind division winning Milwaukee.
Offensively, the Reds had no trouble scoring runs. Led by Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips, the Reds were second in the NL in runs scored, with 735.
Unfortunately for the Reds, their pitching staff gave up 720 runs and had a poor ERA of 4.16. These were both 12th in the NL.
Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake combined to win 21 games against 14 losses. Beyond those two, however, the Reds' staff was a major question mark.
Bronson Arroyo had an ERA of 5.07, more than a run higher than his 3.88 of the prior season. Homer Bailey was inconsistent, although he did win nine games. Travis Wood started the season in the rotation, but was sent to the minors due to ineffectiveness. Edinson Volquez battled injury and struggled to a 5.71 ERA.
Look for the Reds to make a move to acquire a solid veteran pitcher that can help lead their staff. The top free agent pitcher is Mark Buehrle from the White Sox and I expect the Reds to make a serious run at him. Edwin Jackson, although not as consistent a winner as Buehrle, is another name that may intrigue the Reds.
If the Reds can't get that starter through free agency, look for them to trade some offense to acquire a solid leader for their young and inconsistent staff.
No. 5 Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Kemp deserves the MVP in 2011.
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The Los Angeles Dodgers have been under tremendous stress due to the contentious divorce case of Frank and Jamie McCourt. The two have reached an apparent settlement where Jamie would relinquish control of the Dodgers to Frank. For her trouble, she will receive $130 million.
This is a big step for the franchise, as they have been largely handcuffed by these legal wranglings. Frank McCourt will now have to clear one final hurdle with baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
Selig has requested the bankruptcy court to force a sale of the Dodgers. On the other hand, McCourt, wants to keep the team. If he is able to keep control of the team, it's time to overhaul this roster.
The Dodgers got a great year from Matt Kemp, who should be the NL MVP. Starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw is my pick for the NL Cy Young award, also. Even with these two having incredible seasons, the Dodgers finished 82 - 79 and third in the NL West.
Andre Ethier had a down year, as did James Loney. Neither player had more than 65 RBI. The Dodgers also got a terrible year from Juan Uribe, who signed a three year $21 million dollar contract prior to the 2011 season.h
Attendance was down in LA and there was an apathy that pervaded the fan base. This has got to worry McCourt, so if he successfully regains control of the team, expect him to try and make a big move. Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, as well as Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols could be targets for this franchise.
No. 4 San Francisco Giants
Tim Lincecum leads one of the best pitching staffs in baseball
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The San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010 and seemed poised to make another deep playoff run in 2011. Unfortunately, an incredible run of injuries derailed the team and they ran out of gas in August.
The Giants lost two of their top hitters, Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez, to season ending injuries. Another top hitter, Pablo Sandoval, missed about five weeks with a broken hand. Closer Brian Wilson ended the season on the DL, as did outfielder Nate Schierholtz.
Every main position player on the roster missed significant time due to injury, except Aubrey Huff, and he had a down year. The Giants also received poor years from Cody Ross, Miguel Tejada and Andres Torres.
GM Brian Sabean tried to bolster the offense by acquiring Carlos Beltran, Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera prior to the trade deadline. These moves were not enough for the Giants to stop Arizona from winning the division.
The Giants' pitching staff was excellent. They had four pitchers. Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner and Vogelsong, who finished the season in the top ten in the league in ERA. The bullpen also pitched well from top to bottom.
The Giants just could not create enough offense to help their stellar pitching. San Francisco had the lowest number of runs scored in the entire National League. The Giants are looking to add a bat or two. They could use a shortstop and center fielder, although any outfield slugger would do.
The problem in San Francisco is that their season ending salary for 2011 was just under $125 million. Management has said they do not want to increase it beyond that level, although they could be persuaded to for the right offensive players.
The Giants must also work to lock up Matt Cain to an long term contract, as he will be a free agent following the 2012 season. Tim Lincecum will be a free agent after the 2013 season, so the Giants would be well served to extend each of them, or they risk losing them to a big money offer.
The Giants will look at Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, but I don't think either will land in San Francisco. The Giants are also looking to make a deal for Carlos Beltran, but his agent, Scott Boras wants a long term contract, which would be a big risk for the Giants.
The Giants expect to have Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez back and at full strength for the 2012 season. That will help the offense immensely.
I believe the Giants will make a serious run at Jimmy Rollins and Michael Cuddyer. Those two would be a good fit and not as expensive as Reyes or Beltran. Rollins would be the shortstop and lead-off hitter the Giants need and Cuddyer gives the team a proven bat in left field.
No. 3 New York Yankees
Derek Jeter is a fan favorite in New York
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When the New York Yankees do not win the World Series, they view the season as a failure. At a minimum, they expect to make a deep run into the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, the Yankees lost to the Detroit Tigers in the first round.
Offensively, the Yankees scored more runs than every other team in baseball, except the Boston Red Sox. The offense, although starting to show some age, is still very potent and dangerous.
It was the pitching that let the Yankees down this year. I expect the Yankees to dig into their very deep pockets and try to bolster their pitching staff.
CC Sabathia holds an option and it is possible that he may step away from the nearly $100 million he could get through the 2015 season. If he does this, he will become a free agent, but the Yankees will likely re-sign him anyway.
The remainder of the Yankee pitching staff has question marks. Two of the 2011 starters, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon are free agents. Garcia went 12-8 this past season with a 3.62 ERA. Garcia is 35 years old, however, and one wonders if he can keep this going. Colon will be 39 years old early in the 2012 season, but did win eight games this past year. I doubt the Yankees keep him.
A.J. Burnett was an enigma, as he went 11-11, but had a poor 5.15 ERA. Rookie Ivan Nova came through with a 16-4 record and 3.74 ERA. Phil Hughes battled injury problems throughout the year.
Even with Sabathia, Nova and Garcia, the Yankees should still go out and try to get another quality starting pitcher. Mark Beuhrle, Paul Maholm and C.J. Wilson are likely targets for the Yankees.
If the Yankees hope to win another World Series with this group, the time to act is now. Derek Jeter is getting older and Alex Rodriguez has also been slowed by injuries. The window for this core group of Yankees is closing. This may be their last chance, so expect them to be aggressive in their quest for pitching.
No. 2 Philadelphia Phillies
Roy Halladay is a Cy Young candidate yet again
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The Philadelphia Phillies and their fans were bitterly disappointed when the Phillies were knocked out of the playoffs by the St. Louis Cardinals, in the first round. As one looked at the faces of the players and fans, you could tell they were in total shock and disbelief.
The same feelings of disbelief happened to this franchise last year when they lost to the eventual world champion Giants, in the NLCS.
The Phillies were led by their strong starting pitching staff of Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt and Worley. The bullpen was decent, but were forced to rely heavily on Ryan Madson, after Brad Lidge went down with an injury. Madson had 32 saves for the Phillies this past season and Antonio Bastardo added eight more.
The devastating Achilles injury to Ryan Howard will likely cause him to miss some time early in 2012. Chase Utley is starting to show his age and Raul Ibanez will leave as a free agent.
After two narrow playoff series losses in the past two years, the Phillies will make some moves to solidify their team. They will make a run at signing closer Heath Bell and also a corner outfielder.
The Phillies have Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence at two of the outfield positions, but the third spot is a question mark. The talented Domonic Brown could be the answer, but at this point, is still a question mark. Raul Ibanez is now a free agent and the Phillies have not shown interest in bringing him back.
The Phillies also have to make a decision on Jimmy Rollins, who is also a free agent. If they are unable to re-sign Rollins, the Phillies will need a top flight shortstop to replace him.
Carlos Beltran could get a serious look from the Phillies. If the Cardinals do not pick up the option on Rafael Furcal, which is likely, he could surface in Philadelphia.
The Phillies do not want another disheartening playoff loss, so they will do everything in their power to re-build their team and go all the way.
No. 1 Boston Red Sox
Jon Lester led the Red Sox with 15 wins
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The Boston Red Sox had a total melt down in September, allowing the Tamp Bay Rays to catch them and win the AL wild card berth. This was a devastating collapse and the franchise is still reeling.
Manager Terry Francona has left the organization and GM Theo Epstein is likely off to Chicago to head up the Cubs' organization. Francona and Epstein are the pair who led the Red Sox to their two World Series titles.
Stories have come out that Red Sox pitchers were drinking in the clubhouse during games when they weren't pitching. This shows a lack of respect to the manager and fellow teammates when players do these kinds of things.
This is a franchise in disarray and they need to re-group quickly.
Boston led all of baseball in runs scored, but their pitching was suspect. Only Jon Lester and Josh Beckett were consistently effective, so the Red Sox will likely try to make some changes to their starting rotation.
Look for Boston to make a run at Mark Buehrle, C.J. Wilson, Paul Maholm and Edwin Jackson this offseason. With closer Jonathan Papelbon a free agent, the Red Sox may also have an interest in Heath Bell
Expect to See a Lot of Roster Moves Following the World Series
Jose Reyes is one of the top free agents on the market
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There are four marquis free agent hitters right now in the free agent pool. These are Reyes, Pujols, Fielder and Beltran.
Free agency opens shortly after the World Series, then will see the fully lit hot-stove league heating up.
Only one team will end the season happy, the rest will all just have to "wait til next year." It will be very interesting to see how this market unfolds.