MLB Teams Needing a Big Winter Splash

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2016

MLB Teams Needing a Big Winter Splash

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    Desperation can only be born out of an impending deadline. As it pertains to sports, that boundary could be a trade deadline or the beginning of the season.

    In the case of baseball and this offseason, that's the start of spring training in 2017. But that's only a hard deadline for those teams looking to compete this summer. Those in rebuilding mode don't need to concern themselves with 2017, as they can make a deal when the time feels right or an enticing offer comes along.

    So consider this a list of playoff contenders—or those, at least, that can compete—that need to become more active as we enter the final stages of the offseason. 

Texas Rangers

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    In both the trade and free-agent markets, it's important that teams stick to their internal plans and refrain from making any reactive moves.

    But in the case of the Texas Rangers, it must be difficult for fans to watch the club remain idle as the AL West-rival Houston Astros go on a shopping spree, earning the designation as this offseason's most active team.

    Most notably, the Astros acquired corner outfielder Josh Reddick and designated hitter Carlos Beltran, two bats that should help Houston improve its disappointing third-place finish in 2016.

    After the Astros won the 2015 AL Wild Card Game, they were a trendy pick to unseat the Rangers in 2016. A poor start and erratic performance left them out of the playoff picture. But given Houston's activity, there's even more reason to believe it'll be a threat to the Rangers in 2017.

    Texas did re-sign Carlos Gomez to play center field after Ian Desmond left for the Colorado Rockies in free agency. But the Rangers are still in need of a designated hitter, following Beltran's departure. The team acquired him at the trade deadline last season after Prince Fielder was forced to retire.

    Texas is in a tough spot. Of the three candidates best suited to fill the role, Toronto Blue Jays sluggers Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion are unlikely to sign in Texas.

    Bautista and the Rangers have a checkered history. His bat flip in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS left the Rangers perturbed. That spilled over into last season, when Bautista and Texas second baseman Rougned Odor got into a fight that sparked a benches-clearing brawl.

    A Bautista-to-the-Rangers signing is about as likely as warm weather in the upper Midwest in December. Encarnacion remains an option, but there haven't been many rumblings.

    That leaves Mark Trumbo, MLB's home run champ in 2016. A couple of weeks ago, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported that Texas had interest in the right-handed slugger. The Rangers have been quiet on the Trumbo front since.

    But such a signing could greatly impact the AL West race.

New York Mets

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    Let's assume that a talented but injury-riddled New York Mets pitching staff comes back healthy in 2017.

    That still leaves the team with one of baseball's worst offenses. New York finished near the bottom of MLB in every relevant offensive category, and the trade-deadline acquisition of Jay Bruce, the NL RBI leader at the time, did little to help the Mets' postseason push.

    Priority No. 1 this winter was re-signing Yoenis Cespedes. Check. But Cespedes was part of last year's team, which means the club can expect the status quo. Without Cespedes, the Mets offense would have struggled even more.

    But if New York expects to keep pace in an NL East the Washington Nationals should be favored to win, the Mets need to upgrade their offense. Third baseman David Wright is coming off his second straight injury-shortened season, which means they could look for an insurance policy should Wright's back give him further issues.

    The team also could unload Bruce, part of a logjam in the outfield. Such a deal could net the Mets a bat at a position of need.

    If they don't do anything significant, it puts unbelievable pressure on the pitching staff. The Mets, unquestionably, have one of the most talented starting rotations in baseball.

    But it's also one that deals with a lot of setbacks.

    Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom all suffered serious injuries last season. Noah Syndergaard dealt with bone spurs, which can be severe, though the right-hander pitched through the trouble.

    To assume the group will remain healthy throughout the season is a risky proposition. If the team can rely on its pitching staff, New York would need little offense.

    Given the litany of previous injuries, though, that doesn't seem like a safe bet.

Baltimore Orioles

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    The Baltimore Orioles might remain on this list as long as they're contenders in the AL East.

    Traditionally, Baltimore likes to wait until the waning hours of the offseason—quite literally in some instances—to improve. The Orioles signed pitcher Yovani Gallardo on Feb. 25, after pitchers and catchers had reported.

    The club also had a deal in place with Dexter Fowler before he backed out and signed with the Chicago Cubs on Feb. 25.

    In some cases, this late-breaking strategy may help the bean-counting Orioles. But it still creates urgency if Baltimore hopes to contend in an AL East that could be baseball's most competitive division in 2017 and one that can expect to see improved Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees teams.

    The Orioles need power. Baltimore general manager Dan Duquette told the Baltimore Sun's Eduardo A. Encina that he won't go after Jose Bautista. However, Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo would be solid fits—especially given their familiarity with the division.

    As players linger on the open market, their value diminishes. And given that the three aforementioned hitters have similar skill sets, they could compete with one another. A price war is exactly what the Orioles want.

    Wait too long, though, and other teams could see the market as advantageous as well. Ultimately, though, that leaves Baltimore in need of roster additions.

Detroit Tigers

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    If you believe the Detroit Tigers are aiming for a rebuild in 2017, you could make an argument that they don't belong on this list. But as the offseason progresses, there's reason to believe Detroit might take one more shot at winning the AL Central. 

    Yes, the Tigers have been open in saying they would like to scale back payroll. That has likely become more of a priority, given that the new collective bargaining agreement imposes stiffer penalties on teams that incur the luxury tax.

    But given that the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox are rebuilding, and the Kansas City Royals are moving veterans, the Cleveland Indians are the only remaining contender in the division.

    Of course, coming off a World Series appearance, the Indians will be the heavy favorite to repeat as AL Central champions. But the team does rely greatly on its pitching staff—one that saw late-season injuries to starters Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco.

    Considering the fragility of pitching arms, that can be risky. The 2016 New York Mets, coming off a World Series appearance, had an imposing starting staff. But they struggled with injuries to their starting staff all year.

    That opens the division to a Tigers team that still has talent. Adding a player could prove tricky, given the team's self-imposed financial restrictions. But even an under-the-radar signing could give them an edge if the AL Central ends up being a tightly contested race.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Not to take any credit away from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won the NL West in 2016 despite a record number of injuries, but the San Francisco Giants sputtered over the last two months of the season.

    The Giants led MLB with 30 blown saves last season. To be clear: That's 30 games, though not all lost, that San Francisco led late in an NL West that Los Angeles won by four games.

    Well, San Francisco remedied that this winter by signing Mark Melancon, one of baseball's top closers over the last three seasons.

    The division will not be nearly as easy to win in 2017.

    Los Angeles had arguably the most arduous list of offseason tasks of any MLB team. It had to re-sign starting pitcher Rich Hill, third baseman Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen, the best in baseball at his position, according to FanGraphs WAR for relievers.

    All drew interest from multiple teams.

    But now that they've accomplished that, the club looks much like it did in 2016. Given that the division should be tougher—including a Colorado Rockies team that has been active this offseason—the Dodgers need to make a splashy acquisition.

    That's likely the reason L.A. has been linked to trade talks involving Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who hit 42 homers last season. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via colleague Mark Townsend) reported Los Angeles is willing to include Jose De Leon, a top pitching prospect, in a potential deal.

    Such a move would make the Dodgers the favorite to repeat as NL West champs and likely the biggest threat to unseat the Chicago Cubs in the NL in 2017.

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