Ranking the MLB Teams Most Likely to Be Active This Offseason

Chris SbalcioCorrespondent IDecember 8, 2011

Ranking the MLB Teams Most Likely to Be Active This Offseason

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    With the Winter Meetings in full swing, the Hot Stove has finally begun to heat up.  General managers are busy making and receiving offers of all sorts, checking in on the latest rumors, and maybe asking their owners for just a little more money to pull in one of those prized free agent additions.

    We now have a much clearer picture of the actual "contenders" for this year's offseason battle.  There are a handful of teams that will more than likely jump into the fray, and a few that already have.  Some come as a bit of a surprise, while some come as expected.

    Lets go a little more in-depth on each of these teams and which areas they will be looking to upgrade in the coming weeks.

    *Note:  While I originally included the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in this ranking, both clubs have since made a plethora of moves to some big time free agents (Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, C.J. Wilson, and Albert Pujols), so I will be focusing on the teams that are still likely to be active, not the ones who were active and are likely done now.

Boston Red Sox

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    So far, the Red Sox have only made one move since the end of their traumatic defeat at the end of the 2011 season, and that was to bring in Bobby Valentine as their new manager.

    Jonathan Papelbon has jumped ship and gone to Philadelphia to close for the three aces, leaving the Red Sox without a closer.  David Ortiz is set to return to Boston, but J.D. Drew's contract is up, so there is room for an upgrade in right field.  Carlos Beltran or Michael Cuddyer are the two most likely free agent candidates, but it remains to be seen how much money Ben Cherington will be willing to spend.

    The real problem area for Boston, however, is the rotation.  With both John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox will be suffering from a lack of pitching unless they bring in some help this offseason.  With Mark Buehrle having been scooped up by the Marlins and C.J. Wilson signing with the Angels, someone like Edwin Jackson might be their only option left.  That is, unless they plan on re-visiting the Japanese posting system with Yu Darvish, who was posted yesterday.

Chicago Cubs

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    When Theo Epstein jumped off of the sinking ship in Boston and joined the Cubs, there was little to no doubt that he would make a major move this offseason.  The Cubs are still a few years away from competing for the division title, but that doesn't mean Theo won't go after some of the impact players of this year's free agent pool.

    The Cubs have been heavily linked to first baseman Prince Fielder, only 27 years old and already an established power-hitting superstar in the Cubs' very own division.  At such a young age, signing Fielder to a long-term deal now would still benefit the Cubs when they become relevant a little ways down the road.

Texas Rangers

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    The Texas Rangers are in trouble, that's for sure.

    With their main division rivals, the Angels, coming out of seemingly nowhere to scoop up arguably the best overall hitter and the best overall pitcher of this year's free agent market, it would seem to be that Rangers are no longer the favorites to win the AL West division, much less the AL pennant again.

    The Angels now boast one of the best rotations in baseball, and they created it by inserting their rivals' ace into their number-3 spot.  And adding the already-legendary bat of Albert Pujols to the lineup?  That's just plain unfair.

    Texas needs to sign a starter, ASAP.  A rotation of Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison, and closer-turned-starter Neftali Feliz just isn't likely to get it done in 2012, and I think they know it.  Placing an aggressive bid for Yu Darvish might be the only way the Rangers can salvage this offseason at this point, as the only other option on the free agent market would be Edwin Jackson, who has NO shot at being an ace for Texas.

Washington Nationals

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    I feel for the Nationals, I really do.

    It's hard not to root for the underdogs, and for their entire existence, the Nationals have been perennial underdogs.  However, their moment in the spotlight is approaching, but they need to be ready for it.

    Stephen Strasburg is the best young pitcher in the game.  Period, end of story, that's all.  Unfortunately, besides for Jordan Zimmermann, there really isn't much to talk about in the Nats' rotation.  The Washington lineup is actually quite formidable, and will only get better when Bryce Harper breaks through to the majors, but unfortunately for the Nationals, hitting doesn't win championships, pitching does.  However, that doesn't mean they won't try to sign an impact bat, as they have been connected to Prince Fielder for the past few weeks.  All I'm saying is that it isn't the area they need to focus on.

    The Nationals need to convince a starter that DC isn't so bad.  We've already seen Mark Buehrle balk at an offer from them this offseason, and they are starting to get understandably frustrated with their failed attempts at luring free agents.  Maybe it's time for a trade.  Oakland's Gio Gonzalez is one possibility, as is Tampa Bay's James Shields, but both would likely come with a high price tag, prospects-wise.  

    Maybe the Nationals will surprise everyone and steal the Yu Darvish show, but for some reason I feel like there will be another team that might want him a little bit more...

New York Yankees

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    In my opinion, Brian Cashman is playing out this offseason brilliantly thus far.

    Why, you might ask?  After all, hasn't he done almost NOTHING this winter?  Why yes, he has done pretty much nothing, but that could just be all part of the plan.

    The only moves Cashman has made this offseason are to sign CC Sabathia to an extension, re-sign Freddy Garcia to a one-year deal, and win the bidding rights to Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima.

    Nothing major, just letting the Marlins and Angels attract all the attention ... for now.

    You see, Cashman didn't want C.J. Wilson.  He also didn't want to overpay for Mark Buehrle.  And there was simply no room for Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder.  So, does Cashman want anyone this offseason?  As far as everyone is concerned, no, no he does not.

    However, in reality, he wants Yu Darvish.  He just doesn't want us to know it.

    You see, the Japanese posting system is a complex and fragile operation for a GM to maneuver.  It is a blind auction, with the highest bidder winning the rights to negotiate with the posted player.  There is no way to know who submits a bid, or for how much.  So, by keeping quiet, you can keep that mystery, and perhaps blindside some of the other bidders with an aggressive bid.

    I think that is exactly what Cashman is trying to do.  He wants other teams to think he's not interested, which wouldn't be hard to believe after the whole Kei Igawa fiasco.  So, when the Yankees' bid is entered, opposing teams may not have fully prepared for its inclusion, weakening their offers, handing the Yankees the victory.

    Yu Darvish is the only chance the Yankees have at acquiring an ace this offseason, and it will cost them very little (for the Yankees, that is) in payroll money, which under the new CBA is the only money that matters.

    The Yankees need quality starting pitching, they have for a few years now, and they might just get it this offseason ... from Japan.