Building Each MLB Team's Free-Agency Whiteboard Ahead of 2017 Offseason
Tossing money at a problem is typically a dangerous decision for any MLB team. Yet despite all the regrettable contracts signed through free agency, multiple squads will inevitably attempt to spend away their worries.
Yoenis Cespedes, Mark Melancon, Ian Desmond and Jose Bautista all struggled to stay healthy and/or effective after agreeing to expensive deals last winter. Rewind to 2015's offseason, and the results are scarier than any haunted house.
David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Heyward, Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Alex Gordon, Hisashi Iwakuma and Scott Kazmir all turned into hideous payroll hindrances. In an offseason with more big names than last year, some teams will end up investing in the wrong players.
That doesn't mean free agency is always a lost cause. Besides, an inspired contender must sometimes make a risky purchase in order to unlock a championship ceiling.
From World Series hopefuls to rebuilding franchises with no veterans clogging the payroll, every squad will enter the open market with a wish list. Some will want a star. Others will settle for anyone whose value has sapped enough to meet their budget.
When observing each team's needs and desires, consider that signing Japanese star right-handed starter and left-handed slugger Shohei Otani should top every organization's whiteboard. International spending caps make him a steal and whom any franchise can benefit from obtaining.
Listing him for a dozen or more teams would be repetitive, so let's focus more on specific position needs. In some cases, retaining a certain player is imperative. By piecing together a comprehensive checklist for each club, one will notice that pitching is once again in high demand.
First Wish: Retain J.D. Martinez
Second Wish: Bullpen Help
Third Wish: Affordable Outfielder if Martinez Leaves
J.D. Martinez's Herculean stint with the Arizona Diamondbacks may have simultaneously increased their desire to keep him while diminishing their odds of retaining the summer rental.
After crushing 29 homers with a .741 slugging percentage in 62 games, the 30-year-outfielder cemented his standing as an elite free agent. Because Zack Greinke will consume $34 million of their payroll next year, the Diamondbacks may balk at signing another bloated check.
While Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen praised Martinez for fueling them to a wild-card bid, he expressed uncertainty over a continued arrangement to AZCentral.com's Nick Piecoro:
"We wouldn't be where we got to without him. He changed the middle of our lineup significantly, in a way that we've obviously recognized. We'll see, and meet with J.D. We'll certainly stay engaged with him. We obviously know the type of season he's had and good for him on that. Where that takes us, I'm not exactly sure just yet."
Should Martinez leave, Christian Walker—who hit .302 with 32 homers in Triple-A—could be a cheap in-house replacement. Signing another outfielder would thus take a backseat to bolstering a bullpen regardless or whether or not they lose inconsistent closer Fernando Rodney.
Although Archie Bradley arguably deserves a ninth-inning promotion, the Diamondbacks can make better use of the converted starter if they don't restrict him to a confined role. Either way, he was their only reliever to record an ERA below 3.50 in 2017, so they need to snag a couple bullpen arms from a deep free-agent class.
First Wish: Starting Pitching
Second Wish: Relief Pitching
Third Wish: Third Baseman
The Atlanta Braves should not execute a free-agent spending spree regardless of who takes over as general manager.
A stacked farm system gives them a bright future, but it would take more than two or three solid veterans to transform a 72-90 squad into a legitimate playoff threat. They also have another year before dumping Nick Markakis' questionable $11 million annual salary.
Next offseason's ballyhooed free-agent crop is their time to pounce. This winter, however, replacing veterans R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia with another experienced midtier starter should be their top priority.
Not ready to contend just yet, signing John Lackey or CC Sabathia as a short-term placeholder would make more sense than ransacking their savings account for Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta. Atlanta can then flip that innings-eater during the summer if any of their many pitching prospects justify a big league tryout.
While rebuilding organizations do not need to prioritize relief pitching, that showed in their bullpen's 4.58 ERA. There's enough talent to go bargain shopping.
Third base derailed the lineup before rookie Johan Camargo batted .299/.331/.452 in 82 games. Since he's a career .279/.333/.369 minor league hitter who notched a .636 OPS against righties for the Braves, they would benefit from enlisting a platoon partner and/or contingency plan such as Mark Reynolds.
These are distant interests after starting pitching, which the Braves can also address on the trade market.
First Wish: Starting Pitching
Second Wish: Starting Pitching
Third Wish: Extend 2018 Free Agents
This order assumes the Baltimore Orioles will have no luck extending Manny Machado, who has one year left before he can devastate the franchise by departing. According to FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman, rivals pegged the Orioles' chances of signing a long-term deal this offseason as slim to none.
Quite frankly, the Orioles need a lot to bring Machado back to the playoffs. The offense ranked No. 19 in weighted on-base average, but they may have to merely hope for better returns from Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo.
Starting pitching demands too much attention. After registering an MLB-worst 5.70 ERA, the Orioles will look to refurbish their rotation behind Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Per MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, they plan on adding "as many as two starting pitchers from outside the organization."
If they want to afford Machado, then Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are more plausible targets than Arrieta and Darvish. They're a prime candidate to overpay for one or two solid but unspectacular options.
If they can't lock down their young superstar, the Orioles should make a concerted effort to maintain Adam Jones, Zach Britton and/or Brad Brach, who can all walk after the 2018 campaign. Losing Jones, the 32-year-old outfielder, would especially be a tough blow following a remarkably durable and consistent decade leading the club.
Boston Red Sox
First Wish: Power-Hitting First Baseman
Second Wish: Setup Man
Third Wish: Bench Bat
In a postseason littered with potent lineups, the Boston Red Sox's did not belong.
The regular-season's wOBA leaderboard starts with every other playoff participant besides Boston, which finished No. 20 with the fifth-worst slugging percentage (.407) and fourth-fewest home runs (168).
The Sox should improve with a full season from Rafael Devers and positive regression from Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Yet they still need a power jolt to replace the underwhelming Mitch Moreland at first base. While designated hitter Hanley Ramirez also struggled to 2017, his $22.75 million salary likely means Boston will keep him in the everyday lineup.
The Red Sox do not need to extend a megacontract to Eric Hosmer. Given his career .439 slugging percentage, they should instead seek pop from Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda or Jay Bruce.
Since Eduardo Nunez and Chris Young will join Moreland on the open market, the AL East champions should seek another position player for depth. Yet retaining Addison Reed or replacing him with another high-leverage reliever should take higher priority. That is, unless, they're comfortable relying on healthy returns from Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg.
First Wish: Starting Pitching
Relief Pitching: Relief Pitching
Third Wish: Backup Catcher/Center Fielder
With Arrieta, Lackey, Wade Davis, Brian Duensing and Koji Uehara all free to explore the open market, the Chicago Cubs are likely to lose some veteran pitchers.
Winning bidding wars for Arrieta and Davis won't be easy. Since they have both shown signs of deterioration and will be 32 next Opening Day, the Cubs should prefer not to pay both anyway. Arrieta and Davis did not perform like studs with fielding independent pitching ERAs of 4.16 and 3.38, respectively, but they will still get paid handsomely as two of the winter's marquee free agents.
They also, of course, can't afford to lose an All-Star ace and closer without any consolation prizes. Even in a down year, Lackey's pedigree and durability makes him a luxury No. 5 starter.
Team president Theo Epstein planned ahead by acquiring Jose Quintana and Justin Wilson during the season. An expected bullpen upgrade, Wilson did not make the National League Championship Series roster after permitting 37 baserunners over 17.2 innings with the Cubs, who will still have two rotation vacancies beyond Quintana, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks if their starters leave.
Alex Avila and Jon Jay are also free agents, but a deep lineup otherwise remains intact. Pitching will require too much of their resources to spend on keeping or replacing them with players of similar value.
Chicago White Sox
First Wish: Relief Pitching
Second Wish: Workhorse Starting Pitchers
Third Wish: Center Fielder
The Chicago White Sox rid their roster of every valuable veteran besides Jose Abreu in an unabashed teardown. Don't expect a sudden about-face this winter.
James Shields' unmovable $21 million is the only major salary left on the payroll, of which the San Diego Padres will cover $11 million. Still, why spend to get a 67-win team to 72 wins? Let the kids, particularly Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, learn through experience.
If anything, the White Sox should attain some veteran clubhouse leaders on one- or two-year deals. After trading David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak, some bullpen placeholders wouldn't hurt. Rather than paying to bring Swarzak back, they should find new buy-low fliers.
Of the five starters who tossed more than 70 innings, only Shields remains under contract. Even if they're empty calories, the White Sox should augment their young rotation with one or two veteran innings-eaters, a la Doug Fister, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Tillman and Scott Feldman.
Their center fielders posted an MLB-worst .269 wOBA, so Cameron Maybin or Jarrod Dyson would fit as a short-term signing they could flip. Anyone they land should be from the clearance aisle.
First Wish: Re-Sign Zack Cozart
Second Wish: Pitching
Third Wish: Pitching
Saddled with the NL's worst ERA (5.17), the Cincinnati Reds should set their sights on hurlers capable of making their rebuild a more pleasant experience.
First they should do their darndest to bring back Zack Cozart.
After failing to trade the shortstop amid a breakout campaign, they also could not reach a long-term extension. Letting the 32-year-old walk for a compensation pick after hitting .297/.385/.548 with 5.0 WAR would sting.
Cincinnati must extend an $18.2 million qualifying offer in order to receive the draft compensation. Although not an easy expenditure with Joey Votto, Homer Bailey and Devin Mesoraco making a combined $59.1 million next season, Cozart accepting that offer would avoid a long-term commitment and give them a second chance to exchange him for prospects next summer.
Based on a quiet trade market, Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer said it's "difficult to see a wide market willing to pay him enough to dissuade Cozart from accepting the qualifying offer." Per FanGraphs, he generated $40 million of value in 122 games.
Given his strong defense, they could also gamble on his injury history and out-of-nowhere offense with a three-year deal if he would accept an offer around the $35-40 million range. If he leaves, the Reds should give the starting shortstop job to Jose Peraza and focus exclusively on locating starting and relief pitching.
First Wish: Keep Carlos Santana
Second Wish: Relief Pitching
Third Wish: Corner Outfielder
Despite squandering a 2-0 American League Division Series lead to the New York Yankees, the Cleveland Indians should not overreact. Ending the regular season with a plus-254 run differential, they will return to the playoff picture without making any glossy renovations.
Their wish list focuses exclusively on retaining free agents or finding replacements of comparable value.
He's not a star, but Carlos Santana is vital to Cleveland's success. While his power fluctuates—he hit 23 homers in 2017 after tallying a career-high 34 the previous year—his on-base percentage has never dipped below .350 in eight seasons. Only Joey Votto and Jose Bautista have higher walk rates during that stretch than his 15.2 percent.
Keeping August rental Jay Bruce is less of a necessity, but Austin Jackson can also turn his career revival into a free-agent payday. How much they're willing to spend depends on their trust in Michael Brantley staying healthy. They could buy out an $11 million club option for $1 million, an unlikely yet feasible scenario if they would rather pay Bruce and/or Jackson.
A bullpen led by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen is far from a weakness, but Bryan Shaw has quietly offered middle-inning stability with a 3.11 ERA through five seasons with Cleveland. When Miller went on the disabled list, Joe Smith arrived for reinforcements. Now both can skip town.
Playoff baseball is cruel, but Cleveland should try to run back this year's juggernaut in full form.
First Wish: Preserve Bullpen
Second Wish: Re-Sign Jonathan Lucroy
Third Wish: First Baseman and/or Corner Outfielder
Let's hope the Colorado Rockies learned their lesson from the Ian Desmond debacle.
Last year's oddest free-agent overpay posted minus-0.9 WAR in 95 games. He's due $22 million, hindering their ability to retain an avalanche of players whose contracts expired. Instead of paying above-market price for brand names, they should let Coors Field aid reclamation projects like Mark Reynolds, who joins Carlos Gonzalez and Jonathan Lucroy on the open market.
According to the Denver Post's Patrick Saunders, the Rockies would like Lucroy to stay and work with a young pitching staff. The midseason acquisition told Saunders that he would "absolutely" be interested in staying in Colorado, and money is not his only concern.
"Look, I'm a 31-year-old catcher, so I have to get going," Lucroy said. "I want a ring, or two, or three. And I think the opportunity is definitely here for that to happen."
Colorado can find another first baseman or corner outfielder who would enjoy Coors if Reynolds and/or Gonzalez leave, but Lucroy is the top choice behind the plate despite belting just six home runs.
Recruiting pitchers is not as easy, and the Rockies could require a complete overhaul. Greg Holland will decline a $15 million option, per Heyman, to join Pat Neshek and Jake McGee in free agency.
Considering the closer accrued a 3.61 ERA and 3.72 FIP, he probably did Colorado a favor. That's only if it finds cost-effective replacements, as Adam Ottavino—holder of a 5.06 ERA—might be the closer.
The Rockies need to nail the offseason to return to the playoffs in 2018.
First Wish: Starting Pitching
Second Wish: Relief Pitching
Third Wish: Outfielder
The Detroit Tigers embraced an overdue rebuild by trading J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton and Justin Verlander. Modeling past spending habits would betray their youth movement.
They're also not out of the woods yet. Miguel Cabrera, Jordan Zimmermann and Victor Martinez will earn a combined $72 million next year, and they must give Anibal Sanchez $5 million to buy out a $16 million option.
Think of them as someone learning how to live on a budget after coasting on their affluent parents' account. In prior years, they would have chased Darvish, Arrieta and Davis. Now they should target cheaper alternatives looking to restore their value with a short-term arrangement.
Signing Lackey and Luke Gregerson would not repair a group that amassed an MLB-worst 5.36 ERA in 2017. Neither would the top-shelf options. Building a playoff contender is no longer an attainable goal, so they should pivot to placeholders capable of outperforming their contracts.
Nicholas Castellanos will likely stay in right field, with Jeimer Candelario commanding third base, but they might want a left fielder with Upton and Martinez gone. Jayson Werth, Melky Cabrera or a reunion with Curtis Granderson makes sense for one or two years.
First Wish: Left-Handed Reliever
Second Wish: Designated Hitter
Third Wish: Another Left-Handed Reliever?
The Houston Astros are stacked. They will stay stacked next year, as only a few veteran contributors, most notably Gregerson and Carlos Beltran, can leave.
Acquiring Verlander essentially assured the Astros won't make a major free-agent splash. Earning $28 million next year, he's comfortably the team's richest player. Dallas Keuchel could aim for a similar haul next year, and Jose Altuve will demand superstar money once baseball's best bargain hits the open market after 2019.
A left-handed reliever is Houston's biggest unsolved need. If the AL West champions have no interest in sacrificing prospects for Britton or Brad Hand, it will find a handful of free-agent alternatives in McGee, Tony Watson, Oliver Perez and Zach Duke. Mike Minor would top the list if he and the Kansas City Royals don't exercise a $10 million mutual option.
After hitting .231/.283/.383 with minus-1.1 WAR, Beltran may have reached the end of the line. If the 40-year-old pushes off retirement, the Astros could bring him back as a cheap bench bat. Evan Gattis is a better designated hitter anyway, but he could also platoon with a left-handed free agent or Yulieski Gurriel, a right-hander with a career .661 OPS against southpaws.
They don't have many needs, so perhaps they sign two cheap left-handed relievers rather than one expensive specialist. Bringing back Gregerson or another righty would be a nice, but it'd be an unnecessary luxury following Joe Musgrove's successful transition to the bullpen.
Kansas City Royals
First Wish: Convince Free Agents to Stay
Second Wish: Hope at Least One Top Hitter Stays
Third Wish: Replace Those Who Leave
Rather than planning beyond 2017, the Royals took one last shot and missed. The ramifications could shatter their franchise.
Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain will all demand huge raises. Kansas City, a midmarket organization, already has over $103 miillion in 2018 payroll before sending closer Kelvin Herrera into his final year of arbitration.
There's virtually no chance of the Royals retaining all three stars. Two isn't probable. They must hope to least avoid catastrophe by keeping one fixture.
According to Heyman, the Royals "love" Hosmer and are prepared to make a "serious offer" to their first baseman. They won't stand a chance if agent Scott Boras gets his way. Per Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star, an NL executive expects the agent to pursue an eight-year, $200 million contract for the career .283/.342/.439 hitter.
This might be a bad time to add that Alcides Escobar, Jason Vargas and Melky Cabrera are also free agents. Minor can join them by declining the mutual option.
If a doomsday scenario befalls the Royals, they should switch to discount targets and commence the rebuild that would have behooved them in July. The lineup is likely to endure at least two major downgrades requiring a short-term remedy.
Los Angeles Angels
First Wish: Corner Infielders
Second Wish: Second Baseman
Third Wish: Left Fielder (If Justin Upton Opts Out)
Allow Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia to identify the Los Angeles Angels' offseason priority.
"The obvious talking point this winter is going to be our offense," Scioscia said, per the Los Angeles Times' Pedro Moura.
Indeed. The Angels finished with an AL-low .307 wOBA, which is awful considering Mike Trout hit .306/.442/.629. Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips did not propel them into the offseason, and both can exit if the former opts out of the remaining four years and $88.5 million left on his deal.
Their first basemen ranked last in wOBA, and third baseman Yunel Escobar will also test free agency. If Upton stays, they need to go dumpster diving for infield help, as he, Trout, Albert Pujols and Andrelton Simmons would make nearly $94 million next year. They can at least shed salary by buying out Ricky Nolasco's and Huston Street's club options for $1 million each.
If Upton heads elsewhere, the Angels could then target Hosmer and Moustakas. Phillips, Duda, Neil Walker and Todd Frazier are more sensible options, with Trout and Pujols hooked to enormous long-term deals.
The pitching staff is no juggernaut, but the young unit could improve considerably. If healthy, Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney and Parker Bidwell would form a competitive rotation in 2018.
A lineup led by a perennial MVP candidate needs to become a strength. Or at least not a liability.
Los Angeles Dodgers
First Wish: Lineup Depth
Second Wish: Re-Sign Brandon Morrow
Third Wish: Starting Pitching Depth
Even if they lose Darvish, the Los Angeles Dodgers still have Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Julio Urias could return from shoulder surgery late next year, and Walker Buehler could work his way into the rotation.
They also will pay $17.7 million to Scott Kazmir and $11.5 million to Brandon McCarthy, so re-signing Darvish doesn't seem like a safe bet despite the franchise's deep pockets. If they watched Greinke sign with a division rival after posting a 1.66 ERA, how much loyalty will they show to a rental who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015?
Kershaw led the rotation with 175 innings pitched, so they might continue to stockpile their organization with arms as insurance. Yet any signing will probably be of far lesser stature than Darvish.
Their starting lineup might already be set if they trust Joc Pederson to bounce back in a platoon with Enrique Hernandez. If not, Alex Verdugo could earn a starting job alongside Chris Taylor or Yasiel Puig.
Signing a corner outfielder to replace Granderson isn't necessary, but they will want an extra bench bat or two with Chase Utley also entering free agency. The Dodgers will almost certainly buy out Andre Ethier's $17.5 million club option, so they can easily afford one new infielder and outfielder.
Prioritizing Brandon Morrow over Darvish may appear certifiably insane. He's a 33-year-old with a long injury past who didn't stick in the rotation. He also found new life in the bullpen, recording 50 strikeouts, nine walks and a 2.06 ERA in 43.2 innings.
The righty has continued to demonstrate his value as a setup man to Kenley Jansen during the postseason, during which he has yielded one run and two hits over 6.1 innings. He shouldn't cost a fortune due to a limited track record, but he has delivered elite production since late May.
While the Dodgers are deep enough to survive losing any of their free agents, retaining Morrow would help their bullpen maintain 2017's NL-best 3.38 ERA.
First Wish: Cheap Starting Pitching
Second Wish: Cheap Shortstop
Third Wish: Cheap Relief Pitching
Unless the Miami Marlins move Giancarlo Stanton, it's difficult to see them adding any more significant salary.
The star slugger's salary skyrockets from $14.5 to $25 million next year, giving the organization $95.3 million in payroll before handling arbitration for Marcell Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto, Dan Straily, Justin Bour, Derek Dietrich and Miguel Rojas. MLB Trade Rumors projected those six receiving $27.5 million.
Last year's $115.4 million Opening Day payroll was astronomical for their standards, and new ownership has reportedly indicated a desire to diminish their player investment. According to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, owners Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman proposed slashing the payroll to $90 million in their operation plan filed to MLB.
Trading Stanton still would not lower them below the $90 million threshold, so Miami must trade multiple players before seriously exploring free agency. And if they're cleaning house, that means another rebuild should lessen any desire to sign veterans.
Edinson Volquez undergoing Tommy John surgery makes a veteran starting pitcher their top need, but they likely must settle for someone at the bottom of the barrel. They can use a shortstop after trading Adeiny Hechavarria to the Tampa Bay Rays, but the market is bleak beyond Cozart, who is out of their price range anyway.
If they can find a taker for Junichi Tazawa and/or Brad Ziegler, a discount reliever would make a more pressing concern since they dealt David Phelps and AJ Ramos during the season.
Don't expect Miami to sign anyone exciting.
First Wish: Relief Pitching
Second Wish: Starting Pitching
Third Wish: Second Baseman
The Milwaukee Brewers did not need free agency to turn around their franchise. Recruiting Eric Thames from Korea was the biggest signing of their rebuild, and he now joins Ryan Braun as the only players under contract before arbitration.
Payroll flexibility makes Milwaukee a sneaky candidate to snag some impact free agents. While landing an Arrieta, Darvish or Davis remains a long shot based on past spending habits, it should pursue midtier options to bump an 86-win squad into playoff territory.
Ace Jimmy Nelson will miss part of 2018 with a shoulder injury suffered late in September. The bullpen also lacks a stable setup man.
Josh Hader will help on one of those fronts, so the wish list's order depends on how Milwaukee plans to use him. While the rookie lefty registered a 2.08 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 47.2 innings from the bullpen, his future still belongs in the rotation.
While the lineup is largely set, Walker and Eric Sogard could create an opening at second base by both leaving. It would behoove the Brewers to retain at least one of them following Jonathan Villar's disappointing campaign.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Haudricourt, Sogard and Swarzak each "expressed keen interest in returning." Keeping Swarzak should be a top priority, as he submitted a 2.33 ERA in 77.1 frames for the White Sox and Brewers. He gives them a high-leverage bridge to Corey Knebel, which could ease their comfort in sliding Hader into a starting role.
First Wish: Pitching
Second Wish: Pitching
Third Wish: Pitching
A year after tallying baseball's worst record, the Minnesota Twins gave the New York Yankees an early scare in the AL Wild Card Game. They got there because of a torrid offense that ranked third behind the Cubs and Rockies in wOBA after the All-Star break.
That was despite missing star slugger Miguel Sano for over a month. A young, cheap offense will return around Joe Mauer, who hit .305/.384/.417 in the penultimate year of a megacontract. There's little to accomplish on the offensive end unless Brian Dozier is amenable to extending his contract, which expires next offseason.
Pitching is an entirely different story. The team finished No. 25 in FIP with MLB's second-lowest strikeout percentage. It didn't help that they traded Brandon Kintzler and regifted Garcia when a late-July losing streak persuaded them to sell.
They need one or two new starters behind Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson. Matt Belisle and Dillon Gee, two of their most productive second-half relievers, are free agents.
Courtesy of the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino, Twins owner Jim Pohlad is well aware of their weakness.
"There's no question we have work to do on the pitching," Pohlad said. "It's just absolutely obvious. It has to be added, for sure, whether it comes from within or without. You won't know the within part until the season develops."
A bullpen founded on finesse would benefit greatly from signing one or two power pitchers. Maybe they can bring Garcia back for more than a week as a back-end rotation upgrade. They risk backpedaling back to mediocrity without bolstering their pitching staff.
New York Mets
First Wish: Infielder
Second Wish: Durable Starting Pitcher
Third Wish: Relief Pitching
The New York Mets' wish list may run deeper than three lines.
A nightmare season compelled them to trade pending free agents Duda, Bruce, Granderson, Walker and Reed. Jose Reyes will follow them all on the open market.
A starting rotation that was supposed to dominate is now a major question mark. They must hope Noah Syndergaard can return to form a lethal duo alongside Jacob deGrom, but Matt Harvey (6.70 ERA) and Steven Matz (6.08 ERA) struggled mightily when on the mound.
Along with Seth Lugo locking down a spot, a unit ravaged by injuries can use a steady veteran akin to the role Bartolo Colon filled from 2014 to 2016. The bullpen brandished the NL's worst ERA (4.82), and replacing Reed with Ramos marks a downgrade.
The lineup is an even messier situation. Although Michael Conforto might not be ready for Opening Day, Brandon Nimmo earned the right to cover the rising star after wielding a .379 on-base percentage. Given their defensive woes, starting Juan Lagares in center field is wiser than bringing back Bruce or another corner outfielder
Outfield did not make the cut, but Mets general manager Sandy Alderson could potentially think otherwise. Constructing an infield around budding shortstop Amed Rosario is a greater concern.
The Mets can accept Asdrubal Cabrera's $8.5 million club option to start at second or third. Wilmer Flores will likely platoon with him or Dominic Smith, who hit .196/.262/.395 with minus-0.6 WAR during his debut.
Whether it's Frazier handling the hot corner or Walker returning to play second (or both), they need at least one more infielder to put the offense back on track.
New York Yankees
First Wish: Starting Pitching
Second Wish: Corner Infielder/Designated Hitter
Third Wish: Starting Pitching
Whether or not Masahiro Tanaka opts out of his remaining three years worth $67 million, starting pitching is the Yankees' utmost concern.
That's partly because they have no other weaknesses. They ranked third in wOBA behind Houston and Cleveland despite playing most of 2017 without Greg Bird, who has fueled their postseason offense with three homers.
Although they will probably want to keep or replace Todd Frazier and Matt Holliday, even that is not a necessity. Chase Headley can slide back to third with a crowded outfield of Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier taking turns at designated hitter.
Their stacked bullpen isn't cheap, as Aroldis Chapman and David Robertson will make a combined $30.2 million in 2018. If Tanaka stays, the Evil Empire may play it safe in free agency to avoid soaring over the luxury tax.
Yet CC Sabathia's expiring contract still creates at least one opening behind Tanaka, Luis Severino and Sonny Gray. If they're ready to trust Chance Adams with a big league role, re-signing Sabathia for one or two years would keep them afloat. Although the same can be said for everyone, signing Otani is their feasible dream scenario.
Yankees fans are accustomed to big splashes, but these aren't the 2009 champions powered by hired mercenaries. General manager Brian Cashman and Co. have constructed a playoff squad sooner than anticipated with shrewd trades and player development. They should not betray that progress to overpay Hosmer, Moustakas, Arrieta or Darvish.
Besides, they will want to save up for when Bryce Harper, Machado, Kershaw and Josh Donaldson headline next offseason's remarkable free-agent class.
First Wish: Center Fielder
Second Wish: Pitching
Third Wish: Catcher
Although the Oakland Athletics' frugality helped inspired a book and movie, even they need to spend some money.
When they pick up Jed Lowrie's club option, they will owe him, Matt Joyce and Santiago Casilla $6 million each. With Khris Davis due a raise following a 43-homer season, MLB Trade Rumors expects them to pay $25.1 million to eight arbitration-eligible players.
Having started each of the last four seasons with a payroll between $81 and $87 million, they have enough financial resources to round up some veterans. This does not mean they're chasing stars. They're simply looking for this year's versions of Lowrie, Joyce and Alonso.
Rookies Matt Olson and Matt Chapman led their offense to MLB's fifth-best wOBA (.334) after the All-Star break, but their center fielders finished 2017 with minus-0.6 WAR. While Oakland tends to chase on-base fiends on sale because of limited contact and athleticism, it should reverse course and sign a plus defender to mitigate Davis' and Joyce's shortcomings at the corners. Dyson fits perfectly as a platoon partner for Jake Smolinski.
With Stephen Vogt gone, Oakland should also explore the catcher market. Avila or Chris Iannetta would provide a power spark. Rene Rivera, who had a solid season (.252/.305/.431) in the batter's box, would guide a young rotation behind the plate.
Speaking of pitching, Oakland's 4.70 ERA placed No. 21 in the majors. Finding the right veteran starter and bullpen depth could turn the 75-win team into a wild-card sleeper.
First Wish: Starting Pitching
Second Wish: Relief Pitching
Third Wish: Veteran Depth Bat
Odubel Herrera's $3.35 million marks the Philadelphia Phillies' only guaranteed salary. They entered last year with a $100 million payroll.
They can go on a spending spree if they please, but they should preserve flexibility for next year's star-studded class. Even on the heels of Rhys Hoskins' astounding debut, they're not ready to start the next phase of their rebuild.
Strong opening results from Hoskins, Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro erase the need to sign any short-term starting position players. Third base remains a problem area, but shortstop J.P. Crawford spent most of his time there in September. If the prospect regains shortstop from Freddy Galvin, perhaps Cesar Hernandez could slide over if Scott Kingery seizes control of second.
So instead of offering a huge contract to Moustakas, who notched a .314 on-base percentage and 2.2 WAR along with 38 homers, they should settle for a veteran willing to play a limited role and guide a young clubhouse. Perhaps they can orchestrate a reunion with Werth or Howie Kendrick.
Pitching, however, should consume their attention. Last year, they paid Hellickson the $17.2 million qualifying offer and acquired Clay Buchholz to steer a young starting staff. They will try again this winter to fill the rotation behind Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff.
While Lynn or Cobb could be in play, they should avoid a costly long-term risk by pursuing midtier options such as Vargas and Tyler Chatwood.
After hitting the jackpot in an offseason trade for Neshek, the Phillies cashed out by sending him to the Rockies. Rather than pay for his All-Star campaign, they should take some chances on Gregerson or Joe Blanton enjoying a bounce-back season on a short deal.
If their young players continue to progress in 2018, the Phillies can then start dreaming big.
First Wish: Cheap Relief Pitching
Second Wish: Power-Hitting Infielder
Third Wish: A Bigger Budget
Unless the Pittsburgh Pirates unload Andrew McCutchen, they don't have much money to spend in free agency. And if they trade a franchise icon to save cash, why would they turn around and buy lesser players?
Signing outside help is not in Pittsburgh's M.O. Beyond the team retaining Ivan Nova, Daniel Hudson marked last year's marquee acquisition.
The bullpen still bears room for improvement, but their treatment of Juan Nicasio indicated little willingness to open their pockets for another reliever. They placed the pending free agent on revocable waivers and watched him go to the St. Louis Cardinals. Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Stephen J. Nesbitt, general manager Neal Huntington said he wanted to play someone who factors into their 2018 plans.
They could use a reliever like Nicasio, but he apparently pitched himself out of their price range by posting six saves, a 2.61 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. A deep crop gives them plenty of cheaper, but flimsier alternatives to fill the middle innings.
Pittsburgh's position players are all fine, but they together belted baseball's second-fewest home runs (151) and third-worst wOBA. Since they don't have the means to fix this by enlisting Moustakas or even a Walker reunion, their options are limited.
San Diego Padres
First Wish: Starting Pitching
Second Wish: Shortstop
Third Wish: Anything
A 71-91 record undersells how bad the San Diego Padres were in 2017.
They finished last in scoring and tied the Texas Rangers for the ninth-most runs allowed. Their minus-212 run differential gave them a 59-103 expected record, so don't mistake them as a young team on the rise.
San Diego is still awful. Don't expect the Padres to do much about it.
In a similar spot last year, they brought in Jhoulys Chacin and Trevor Cahill on one-year deals that both paid dividends. Unless Chacin is convinced he needs Petco Park after registering a 1.79 home ERA and 6.53 ERA on the road, they will probably fill his spot with a cheaper placeholder.
Moving Yangervis Solarte to shortstop is not a long-term solution, so even Reyes or Alcides Escobar would marginally help. General manager A.J. Preller acknowledged the need for outside help, per MLB.com's AJ Cassavell.
"We'll look at the guys available in free agency and possible trades," Preller said. "And then we've got to weigh that out versus some guys who are starting to come through the pipeline that we feel are Major League shortstops."
The Padres probably won't spend much until rising closer to contention, but a minimal payroll allows them to sign some short-term pieces if desired.
San Francisco Giants
First Wish: Third Baseman
Second Wish: Center Fielder
Third Wish: Affordable Relief Pitching
The San Francisco's two biggest needs happen to align with two of Kansas City's top free agents.
Their third basemen, a role aptly filled by Nunez before a midseason trade, collectively batted .229/.284/.333 with 19 homers and minus-1.8 WAR. No team hit fewer home runs (128) with a lower slugger percentage (.380), so Moustakas would fit perfectly if money was not a factor.
Money, of course, is always a factor, and seven Giants will earn over $15 million from them in 2018. (The Red Sox are on the hook for nearly all of Pablo Sandoval's salary.) Moustakas would add another name to that alarming list.
They also need a center fielder who can play the position, as Denard Span submitted minus-27 Defensive Runs Saved. The 33-year-old should move to left field, where the Giants received no offensive production.
If not for their financial constraints, Cain would be another ideal target. Maybe Maybin is more in their price range.
While Mark Melancon has not given San Francisco the shutdown reliever it desired, he will still net $20 million next year regardless. He has not fixed the club's leaky bullpen, but general manager Bobby Evans should not repeat last year's mistake and overpay another closer.
First Wish: First Baseman
Second Wish: Outfielder
Third Wish: Pitching Depth
Pitching topped the Seattle Mariners' whiteboard this summer, when general manager Jerry Dipoto acquired Mike Leake, David Phelps, Erasmo Ramirez and Marco Gonzales. He can now devote that energy to assembling a playoff-quality lineup.
It won't require grand-scale changes, as he already has a strong foundation in Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. Mike Zunino and Mitch Haniger also exploded down the stretch, so Seattle could field a top-10 offense by locating a quality first baseman and outfielder.
Luckily for Dipoto, there's a high supply and limited demand for free-agent first basemen. He should retain Alonso or sign Duda or Morrison without breaking the bank.
Per MyNorthWest.com's Shannon Drayer, Dipoto plans to add another outfielder but not necessarily a center fielder to replace Dyson. He expressed confidence in Haniger handling center, which would allow him to chase a corner outfielder with more pop.
With Leake owed $17 million next year, any pitching additions will likely be of the organizational-depth variety. Perhaps they bring in someone else to vie for the final rotation spot or a middle-inning bullpen role, but they can capitalize on a market that has deprioritized the type of position players they need.
St. Louis Cardinals
First Wish: Relief Pitching
Second Wish: Starting Pitcher
Third Wish: Josh Donaldson One Year Early
St. Louis is deep for a team that missed the postseason. After finishing No. 10 in wOBA and No. 8 in FIP, the NL Central club might consider itself one or two substantial moves away from catching the Cubs or at least a wild-card spot.
In addition to trading Leake in August, the Cardinals could lose Lynn, Nicasio, Duke and Seung Hwan Oh in free agency. Trevor Rosenthal underwent Tommy John surgery in late August, so they must completely revamp their bullpen around southpaws Tyler Lyons and Brett Cecil. Davis or Holland could headline that transformation.
If Lynn signs elsewhere, he leaves the rotation is good hands. Brandishing a 3.38 FIP in 18 career MLB starts, Luke Weaver is ready to form a formidable trio alongside Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha. They will hope to wring decent innings out of Wacha while potentially awarding the No. 5 slot to rookie Jack Flaherty.
Some depth will help, but don't expect them to open their checkbook for Lynn. MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch wrote that "it does not appear as if Lynn is on their list of targets." She said a younger starter or temporary veteran acquisition will likely take his place.
Given their depth, any offensive upgrade must be significant, a la Donaldson or any of Miami's outfielders. Martinez is the only free agent who qualifies, and St. Louis already has plenty of outfielders.
In a separate article, Langosch also said the Cardinals will shop their surplus of outfielders. They may successfully sidestep free agency in favor of trades, especially if the Toronto Blue Jays make their star third baseman available.
Tampa Bay Rays
First Wish: Keep Logan Morrison or Lucas Duda
Second Wish: Reload Bullpen
Third Wish: Cheap Replacement for Alex Cobb
Tampa Bay isn't known to open its wallet. Then again, buying during the summer also signified a steep departure from the norm.
The Rays must replace several free agents. One of the winter's top five available starters, Cobb is probably a goner. Duda, Morrison, Steve Cishek, Tommy Hunter, Sergio Romo, Colby Rasmus and Trevor Plouffe will pitch their services across baseball.
Morrison probably played his way out of St. Petersburg by smashing 38 home runs. MLB.com's Bill Chastain called the idea of the 30-year-old staying with the Rays a "long shot." In that case, they should work to woo Duda, whose 30 long balls and .818 OPS may come at less cost because of a .217 batting average and multiple injuries suffered over the past three seasons.
They are also in danger of losing ample bullpen production. Cishek and Romo both paid major dividends when joining Tampa Bay. Hunter emerged as their premier setup man by recording a 2.61 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 58.2 innings. They all bolstered their value, complicating the Rays' chances of preserving the fortified unit.
Replacing Cobb presents less of an obstacle, as unleashing Brent Honeywell seems like the simple solution. Any free-agent signing would be a one-year rental to augment that top prospect and Jake Faria. It could take higher precedence if the Rays trade Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi.
First Wish: Bring Back Yu Darvish (Or Another Top SP)
Second Wish: More Starting Pitching
Third Wish: Outfielder
After averaging 88 wins per season from 2010 to 2016—a stretch including five playoff trips and consecutive World Series appearances—the Rangers fell into mediocrity and traded Darvish. A return to the playoffs hinges on escorting the ace back to Arlington.
Texas' pitching staff posted a 5.04 FIP and MLB-worst 16.3 strikeout percentage despite receiving 22 starts from Darvish. Cole Hamels, who submitted a 4.20 ERA, 105 strikeouts and 53 walks in 148 underwhelming innings, is no longer a front-line starter qualified to carry a middling staff.
The Rangers need a top hurler and one or two additional starters to fill the rotation. Perhaps that means retaining Andrew Cashner in spite of his minuscule 3.1 strikeouts-minus-walks percentage, the lowest rate of any qualified starter in 2017. Martin Perez, currently the team's second starter, tallied the second-worst clip.
Considered a strong contender for Otani, they might need him more than anyone. As noted by Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, the incoming two-way sensation wore Darvish's number on his old Japanese squad. The Rangers' "sterling" reputation that is fortified by the former Rangers ace could help them woo the 23-year-old, whom the AL West club started recruiting in 2012.
If Carlos Gomez signs elsewhere, Texas should find a replacement. It can be a corner outfielder if they are comfortable handing center field to Delino DeShields Jr., as 35-year-old Shin-Soo Choo is better served as the designated hitter.
Cain fits, but his salary won't if Texas succeeds in signing a top-shelf starter. Inking Gomez to another one-year deal in line with 2017's $11.5 million is likely the best solution.
Toronto Blue Jays
First Wish: Jose Bautista's Right-Field Replacement
Second Wish: Middle Infielder
Third Wish: Back-End Starting Pitching
While the Blue Jays enter the offseason at a crossroad, one thing regarding their uncertain future looks clear: Jose Bautista won't be a part of it.
Toronto declined an $18 million mutual option with the slugger, now a free agent who can play elsewhere for the first time since 2008. Finding someone who boasts the same popularity and bat-flipping acumen will be virtually impossible. Replacing his 2017 production, on the other hand, will be easy.
Most available outfielders can top his .295 wOBA and minus-0.5 WAR. At this stage of their careers, Granderson provides a similar skill set at a higher level. As they hope for a bounce-back from Troy Tulowitzki, former Rockies teammate Gonzalez is a viable buy-low option if he accepts a short-term arrangement.
Devon Travis will develop into a franchise mainstay if he stays on the field. He has played 213 games over three years, so the Blue Jays can't hold their breath. They need a better insurance policy than Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney.
Tulowitzki isn't a beacon of durability, either, so they can use someone like Nunez, Sogard or even Stephen Drew with experience manning both middle-infield positions.
Aaron Sanchez can restore Toronto's rotation as an above-average unit, but a No. 5 starter would provide more flexibility in the event of another injury.
If everything breaks right, the Blue Jays can join the AL's wild-card frenzy next year. But those odds are low enough that they should instead consider shopping Donaldson and other veterans before they can leave next winter.
First Wish: Finish Bullpen Overhaul
Second Wish: Bench Bats
Third Wish: No. 5 Starter
Washington could be ruined next offseason, so another swift playoff exit won't suffice in 2018.
Right as Harper, Murphy and Gio Gonzalez's contracts expire, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg will each receive seismic raises to earn a combined $75.7 million in 2019. The Braves and Phillies, meanwhile, are biding their time with swarms of young talent.
If the Nationals are not careful, next season may be their last chance to win it all.
By acquiring Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, they repaired a desolate bullpen for both 2017 and 2018. They still must renovate the rest of the unit with Blanton, Kintzler, Perez and Matt Albers going into free agency.
Signing Davis or Holland, however, would be foolish considering their awaiting financial dilemma. If they want to succeed in October, they must explore more midlevel options like Morrow, Hunter, Nicasio and Smith.
Adam Eaton should return from an ACL injury to replace Werth in the starting lineup, and Michael Taylor has proven a worthwhile starter until top prospect Victor Robles is ready. While they don't need to splurge for another big bat, they may require an entirely new bench to replace Kendrick, Ryan Raburn and Jose Lobaton. After hitting .303/.363/.513 in a limited role, Adam Lind may decline a $5 million mutual option to pursue more playing time elsewhere.
Given their win-now predicament, Washington should not pinch pennies for offensive depth. It should welcome back Lind with open arms if he exercises his end of the clause. Kendrick's versatility proved a valuable asset behind a lineup suffering injuries to Eaton, Harper and Trea Turner alongside frequent day-to-day ailments plaguing Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman.
A No. 5 starter is another story. With Scherzer and Strasburg paid handsomely to form baseball's best one-two punch, a fill-in for the injured Joe Ross can merely be an innings-eating stopgap. After all, Washington won the NL East by 20 games last year.
Before worrying about losing Harper and Murphy, its primary concern is building a team best suited for a long postseason run.