MLB Desperation Meter: How Worried Should Your Team Be About Its Offseason?
Being desperate is never a good look.
Try telling that to the MLB teams who have yet to address glaring roster needs this offseason, while the free-agent and trade markets continue to dwindle and Opening Day draws ever closer.
For some teams, this winter has already been a rousing success.
For others, rebuilding is the name of the game and the offseason is of little consequence beyond flipping trade chips and continuing to stockpile controllable talent.
However, for 10 MLB teams, it's time to activate the desperation meter.
After lumping the other 20 teams into four distinct categories, we ranked the 10 teams who should be most worried about their offseason so far.
No Reason for Offseason Desperation During a Rebuild
Rebuilding is not about immediate gratification. It's about staying the course and waiting for young talent to develop. These teams fit the bill.
The Braves have done things the right way.
They've committed to rebuilding and built one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, giving their prospects time to develop while plugging roster holes with short-term veteran additions.
While they may still be a couple years away from making a legitimate push toward contention, there is already an impressive offensive core in place with Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies penciled into starting jobs and Ronald Acuna expected to join them in short order.
If even a couple of their high-end pitching prospects develop as hoped, they'll be set up nicely for long-term success.
Chicago White Sox
Props to general manager Rick Hahn for the work he's done bolstering the White Sox farm system.
Dating back to the winter meetings last year, a whopping 12 of the team's top 20 prospects—per MLB.com—have been added to the organization via trade or the draft. And that doesn't include Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who exhausted their prospect status.
The future is incredibly bright.
The immediate future is a different story, but there's no reason to mortgage what they've spent the past year stockpiling. Just look to the North Side and follow the blueprint.
The Reds have topped 90 losses each of the past three seasons and there's still work to do before they are ready to call themselves contenders again.
Most of the questions are on the pitching side of things.
The rotation has the potential to be a strength if Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey are healthy and young guys like Luis Castillo and Robert Stephenson can take another step forward.
Those are big ifs, though.
For now, the focus remains on farm-system development and internal player assessment before they consider making any splashy offseason moves.
The Tigers dove headfirst into rebuilding at the trade deadline when they shipped out Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila.
That trend has continued this winter as Ian Kinsler was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels.
There's not much left in the way of moveable pieces on the roster, so now the No. 1 priority will be prospect development.
Among the team's top 20 prospects, Franklin Perez (1), Daz Cameron (5), Jake Rogers (7), Isaac Paredes (9), Grayson Long (14) and Dawel Lugo (15) have all been acquired via trade since last summer.
Kansas City Royals
The mass free-agency exodus of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Mike Minor, Jason Vargas and Alcides Escobar has left the 2015 World Series champions at a turning point.
The door has slammed shut on their window of contention and they're left with a roster that's lacking in controllable impact talent and a farm system devoid of top-tier prospects.
The question now is whether they'll start selling off remaining pieces like Kelvin Herrera, Danny Duffy, Whit Merrifield and Scott Alexander in an effort to restock the system.
Either way, there's no sense of desperation in the first year of what figures to be a lengthy rebuild.
So far, the Athletics have opted to hold onto moveable pieces like Khris Davis, Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman and Blake Treinen.
In fact, they actually swung a trade to acquire bounce-back candidate Stephen Piscotty and his team-friendly contract from the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Oakland front office committed to a full rebuild last summer and there's no reason to think they've they'll walk that back before the offseason is over.
In fact, with plenty of good, young talent on the MLB roster, this could be a team to watch in 2018.
San Diego Padres
Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported last week that the Padres had emerged as the "clear-cut favorites" to sign free agent Eric Hosmer.
If that happens, great.
If not, they're still focused on two or three years down the road, not 2018 and there will be other high-profile free agents to target along the way before the Friars are ready to contend again.
Need to Decide on a Direction Before We Can Be Considered Desperate
Are they buyers, sellers or simply going to stand pat? Your guess is as good as mine.
The Pirates have some intriguing trade chips, starting with ace Gerrit Cole.
George A. King III of the New York Post reported on a potential Cole-for-Clint Frazier swap with the Yankees last week, though there hasn't been any further movement to this point.
Andrew McCutchen bounced back with a productive season (121 OPS+, 28 HR) and All-Star Josh Harrison fits on almost any team thanks to his versatility, so they could both be theoretical trade chips. Flame-throwing closer Felipe Rivero could be the most valuable piece on the entire roster.
On the flip side, there is still a solid core in place and they're just two years removed from a 98-win season, so the front office might not be ready to wave the white flag with this group quite yet.
Rebounding for a playoff spot, selling big and reshaping the trade market or slipping into a spot of irrelevance in-between—it's all on the table for the Pirates.
Tampa Bay Rays
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times touched on the current state of the Rays prior to the winter meetings:
"They're going to trade at least a couple of their bigger-named, higher-salaried players, ceding ownership's request to cut payroll. Then, based on what they can get back and what their realistic chances are to compete for a playoff spot, determine whether to keep going and commit to an extensive makeover of their roster rather than their typical re-tooling.
That would put in play just about anyone making substantial money, including franchise faces such as 3B Evan Longoria, RHP Chris Archer and (albeit less likely) CF Kevin Kiermaier. Previous All-Stars such as closer Alex Colome, OF/DH Corey Dickerson and catcher Wilson Ramos. Key pieces like Jake Odorizzi and Adeiny Hechavarria."
Nothing has come to pass to this point and the Rays have found a way to contend in the past with less talent than they have on the current roster. So for now, it's hard to know exactly what to make of the current direction of the franchise.
Toronto Blue Jays
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is focused on building the "best possible team" for 2018, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.
Statements like that will continue to throw water on rumors of a potential trade of star third baseman Josh Donaldson, who will reach free agency next offseason.
However, Atkins hasn't exactly been hard at work upgrading the roster this offseason, either.
Infielders Aledmys Diaz and Gift Ngoepe were acquired in trades and right-hander Taylor Guerrieri was claimed off waivers from the Rays—those are the only outside additions to the 40-man roster to date.
For a team that finished 10 games under .500 and 17 games back in the AL East, that doesn't inspire much confidence.
Can We Just Go Ahead and Start the Season Now?
If Opening Day were tomorrow, these teams would have to feel good about their chances for the upcoming season. Whether it was a complete roster to begin with or it's been a busy offseason, these teams are set for 2018.
The biggest loss for the Diamondbacks in free agency—aside from rental slugger J.D. Martinez—was closer Fernando Rodney.
However, with ace setup man Archie Bradley now presumably moving into the closer's role, former All-Star Brad Boxberger acquired from the Rays and a full season from prospect Jimmie Sherfy, a case can be made that the relief corps is actually stronger.
The rotation still lines up as one of the best in baseball, and the offense has all the key pieces back from a group that was averaging five runs per game before the Martinez trade. They're ready to rock and roll for 2018.
The Indians lost a pair of key pieces this offseason in first baseman Carlos Santana and workhorse reliever Bryan Shaw.
It's a deep market for both first basemen and middle relievers, though.
Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda and Mark Reynolds all represent potential options at first base, and the Tribe has already shown interest in Morrison, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
As for the reliever market, Tyler Clippard, Matt Belisle, David Hernandez, Sergio Romo, Craig Stammen and Drew Storen are some of the remaining non-closer options.
Big picture, neither departure creates a big enough hole to think the Indians wouldn't again be among the AL favorites, even if no further outside additions are made.
With Joe Smith and Hector Rondon already signed to address the bullpen, the Astros might have the most complete roster in baseball here in the middle of December.
The only remaining question is how they'll distribute the 509 plate appearances that are available following the retirement of Carlos Beltran.
Defensive standout Jake Marisnick and former top prospect Derek Fisher appear to be the leading in-house candidates to step into larger roles, assuming Marwin Gonzalez continues to serve in a super-utility capacity.
Simply put, the reigning champs are not going anywhere.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers still need to do something to address the loss of setup relievers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson.
They did take a flier on Tom Koehler, who was quietly effective out of the bullpen after joining the Blue Jays in an August waiver trade, but the relief corps still needs further help.
Other than that, this team looks ready for another World Series push.
Prospects Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo appear to be next in line to make a homegrown impact after the team has claimed back-to-back NL Rookie of the Year awards through Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. Those two could wind up making a bigger impact than any outside additions.
New York Yankees
Adding Giancarlo Stanton to an offense that already led the majors in home runs (241) and ranked second in runs scored (858) is borderline unfair.
Add to that what might be the league's best bullpen and a starting rotation that will benefit from a full season of Sonny Gray and the return of veteran CC Sabathia, and it's tough to find a glaring hole on the roster.
As it stands, the team could be relying on a pair of rookies—Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar—to man second and third base, respectively. However, those two have enough upside and the rest of the lineup is deep enough that they can afford to weather some growing pains.
Last season, the Nationals failed to properly address the relief corps and it quickly surfaced as a glaring hole in the first half of the season.
This time around, they'll have full seasons of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and recently re-signed Brandon Kintzler at the back of the pen as well as a healthy Koda Glover.
Throw in a full season of Adam Eaton, who played just 23 games last season after posting a 6.2 WAR with the White Sox in 2016, and the Nats have a chance to be an absolute force in the NL East.
It's Been a Productive Winter, but There's Still Work to Do
These teams have made some notable additions already, but they still have at least one glaring hole to address. While there's no reason for desperation at this point, let's just say they're happy Opening Day is still months away.
Are the Cubs going to sign Yu Darvish?
Are they comfortable with newcomers Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek battling it out for the closer's job this spring?
The roster already looks awfully good on paper, enough to make them the favorites in the NL Central once again, even if they're quiet the rest of the offseason.
It doesn't feel like that's going to be the case, though.
Signing Bryan Shaw and bringing back Jake McGee has filled two of the three holes that free agency created in what was an improved Rockies bullpen.
The closer's role is still in flux, though.
That was from Wednesday and he remains unsigned.
Wade Davis and Addison Reed are also still available in free agency and Alex Colome looks like a readily available trade chip in Tampa Bay, so the team has options.
Something needs to be done about the back of the bullpen before the rest of those dominoes fall, though.
Los Angeles Angels
Getting Shohei Ohtani has already made the Angels one of the biggest winners of the offseason.
Throw in the additions of Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart to plug two gaping holes on the infield and a new deal with Justin Upton, and this team starts to have the look of a bona fide contender.
But what are they going to do about the bullpen?
The trio of Blake Parker, Cam Bedrosian and Jim Johnson doesn't exactly give the impression that the game is over after six innings, and losing multi-inning weapon Yusmeiro Petit (91.1 IP, 2.76 ERA) is going to hurt more than people think.
They've come this far, so there's no reason to skimp on the pen.
St. Louis Cardinals
In the long run, missing out on Giancarlo Stanton and trading for Marcell Ozuna instead could wind up being in the Cardinals' best interest.
They're now better positioned financially to make a run at Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson next offseason, and they managed to land the middle-of-the-order bat they were seeking without parting with the likes of Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Carson Kelly, Tyler O'Neill and Jordan Hicks.
It's the same story as we've seen with some of the other teams on this list, though: What about the bullpen?
Luke Gregerson was a nice addition and his two-year, $11 million deal looks like a bargain compared to what other relievers are getting.
However, he struggled when asked to close games in Houston and there's really no other viable ninth-inning option on the roster.
10. Miami Marlins
Desperate and worried don't feel like the right words to describe Miami Marlins fans.
At any rate, the Marlins didn't really fit into any of the prior categories, so we'll slot them here at No. 10 in our offseason desperation rankings.
Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon and Edinson Volquez have already been shown the door and more moves seem likely. Catcher J.T. Realmuto has requested a trade, and outfielder Christian Yelich is getting ready to meet with the front office.
The pile of rubble the team eventually trots out on Opening Day isn't going to be pretty and it will almost certainly represent a step backward from last year's 77-85 showing.
Big picture, there's nothing wrong with a rebuild in Miami.
The team hasn't had a winning season since 2009 and they weren't going to be contenders in 2018 even before they started shipping out stars.
However, at some point, the front office's long-term plan to return this team to contention is going to have to become more clear.
9. Texas Rangers
New is always scary when it comes to sports philosophy.
With that in mind, the Texas Rangers potentially trotting out a six-man rotation this coming season is enough to earn them the No. 9 spot in these rankings.
Starter-turned-standout-reliever Mike Minor, bounce-back candidate Matt Moore and veteran Doug Fister have already been added to a starting staff that also includes Cole Hamels and Martin Perez.
There have also been talks of stretching Matt Bush out as a starter this spring and there is still plenty of offseason left to sign another mid-level starter or swing another trade.
At first, the idea of a six-man rotation seemed like a ploy by the Rangers in their pitch to Shohei Ohtani, as it would have better mirrored his pitching schedule in Japan.
However, given the additions they've made and the fact that the 33-year-old Hamels threw just 148 innings last season, it still makes sense.
That doesn't make it any less scary, though.
8. Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies were in a prime position to make a splash this offseason with money to burn and an emerging young core ready to begin a push back toward contention.
Slugger Carlos Santana (three years, $60 million) and relievers Tommy Hunter (two years, $18 million) and Pat Neshek (two years, $16.25 million) have already been added in free agency.
A good start, but that can't be it, right?
While adding a power bat with strong on-base skills and a pair of proven setup relievers would constitute a successful offseason for a lot of teams, the Phillies still have a glaring need in the starting rotation.
Aaron Nola emerged as a legitimate staff ace last season and there is potential behind him, but right now he's the only clear-cut long-term piece in the rotation.
With a relatively thin starting pitching market next offseason behind Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel, who are both strong candidates to stay put, spending now on someone like Arrieta, Darvish or Cobb makes sense.
7. Minnesota Twins
Nothing has been finalized with Darvish just yet, and the free-agent market still has Arrieta and Cobb as high-end options to bolster the starting staff as well.
Until one of those players is added to the mix, though, the desperation meter will continue to climb.
Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios were a terrific one-two punch last season, and Kyle Gibson and Adalberto Mejia are both capable back-of-the-rotation starters.
However, if this team wants to return to the postseason and hopes to keep pace with teams like the Astros and Yankees, adding another top-tier starter is a must.
Becoming the latest team to rely on Fernando Rodney to close games doesn't exactly ease concerns about the bullpen, either.
6. Milwaukee Brewers
Losing Jimmy Nelson for an extended period of time in 2018 following September shoulder surgery has made the Milwaukee Brewers a prime potential landing spot for one of the market's top arms.
Chase Anderson and Zach Davies are both quality starters and longtime Brewer Yovani Gallardo has returned home to provide some depth at the back of the staff, but this team could be a top-tier starter away from getting over the hump and into the postseason.
If they're not enamored with Arrieta or Darvish, they also have the chips to swing a trade; it's just a question of what starters are actually available.
Patrick Corbin, Gerrit Cole and Michael Fulmer are probably the three most prevalent names floating around the rumor mill, but none of them is a sure thing to be dealt.
There's also a hole to fill at second base unless the team is comfortable with some combination of Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard and Hernan Perez assuming that role.
For a team that looked poised to make a splash this winter, Gallardo can't wind up as the biggest addition.
5. New York Mets
No offense to Anthony Swarzak, who was brilliant out of the bullpen for the White Sox and Brewers last season, but he's not the missing piece for the New York Mets.
If anything, he's a slight downgrade from Addison Reed, whom he's essentially replacing in the eighth-inning role.
So far, that's been the only notable addition for the Mets.
The front office has failed to add depth to a starting rotation that was decimated by injuries the past two seasons, second and third base are still projected to be manned by Wilmer Flores and Asdrubal Cabrera, and the team is no closer to finding a taker for Matt Harvey.
Even if a few things break right and the rotation stays healthy, does this current roster really stack up to teams like the Dodgers, Nationals, Cubs and Diamondbacks on the NL side?
This looks like a fringe contender at best and another complete disaster at worst if they don't kick their offseason into gear.
4. Boston Red Sox
It's almost become a foregone conclusion that J.D. Martinez is going to wind up with the Boston Red Sox.
But what if he doesn't?
Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reported last week that Martinez prefers to sign as an outfielder—not as a DH—which could pose a problem for the Red Sox.
His injury history also makes him more attractive as a DH, as it might be the best way to assure he tallies 500-plus plate appearances—something he's only done twice in his career.
There's really no equivalent fallback plan on the free-agent market and the Red Sox have already taken themselves out of the first base market by re-signing Mitch Moreland.
The starting rotation is also a question behind Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz.
David Price couldn't stay healthy last season, Rick Porcello crashed back to earth after his Cy Young performance, Eduardo Rodriguez is recovering from knee surgery, and Steven Wright is facing domestic assault charges.
Seeing the rival Yankees land Giancarlo Stanton also pushes the desperation meter that much higher.
3. Baltimore Orioles
There's no team in more desperate need of a reality check than the Baltimore Orioles.
The starting rotation was an absolute dumpster fire last season, and that's not going to change by shopping around the middle of the free-agent market and then waiting to clean up the scraps at the end of January.
It's time to blow it up.
Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton and Brad Brach are all free agents next offseason.
They're stuck with the $115 million that's owed to Chris Davis over the next five seasons—a strong contender for the worst contract in baseball—but they might be able to dump Mark Trumbo and Darren O'Day if they take on a good chunk of their remaining money.
Machado alone would bring a huge prospect haul, but the front office has to market him with the realization that he's a one-year rental and no team is going to gut its farm system to acquire him.
The worst-case scenario for the Orioles would be no movement on the trade market and a couple of ill-advised two-year, $24 million deals for Andrew Cashner and Jason Vargas in hopes the rotation can go from 30th in ERA to 20th.
And there's a good chance that's exactly where their offseason is headed.
2. Seattle Mariners
For all the wheeling and dealing that GM Jerry Dipoto has already done this winter, are the Seattle Mariners really that much better?
Dee Gordon will be a nice table-setter for the team's sluggers, Ryon Healy was a good addition as a controllable power bat, and Juan Nicasio will bolster the relief corps.
The biggest area of need was starting pitching, though.
And aside from a waiver claim on left-hander Sam Moll, they've yet to add any starting pitching.
Methinks they might have been counting the Ohtani egg before it hatched.
James Paxton has never topped 150 innings in a season, Felix Hernandez is now a middle-of-the-rotation starter, Mike Leake is a capable No. 4 guy who can eat innings, and the likes of Erasmo Ramirez, Marco Gonzales and Ariel Miranda are nothing more than No. 5 starters and useful depth on a legitimate contender.
Luckily, the market for starters has been slow to unfold and there are still plenty of options available.
However, until they add someone, it's hard to think this is the Mariners team that finally snaps a postseason drought that dates back to 2001.
1. San Francisco Giants
If Pablo Sandoval and Jarrett Parker break camp with starting jobs this spring, the San Francisco Giants front office should be gutted.
The team has reportedly been "interested" in all sorts of different players this offseason.
But to this point, they've added only two: Rule 5 pick Julian Fernandez and minor league free-agent Luigi Rodriguez.
That's not going to be enough to make a 98-loss team a contender.
Neither is banking on bounce-back seasons from guys like Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Hunter Pence, Mark Melancon and Denard Span.
They're all capable of more than they showed last year, but that's far from a guarantee.
Maybe they wait out the market and wind up with something like Todd Frazier on a two-year deal and Jay Bruce for three years.
That's perfectly fine.
For now, they appear to be wandering aimlessly around the free-agent and trade markets, occasionally crashing into a player hard enough for someone to report their "interest" in him.