Building Each MLB Team's Free-Agency Wish List Ahead of 2018-19 Offseason
The American and National League Championship Series are in full swing. The baseball world's eyes are rightly focused on the here and now.
Soon enough, however, the offseason sweepstakes will commence and the MLB landscape will shift.
While we wait, here's a look at each club's free-agent wish list, based on roster needs and financial resources.
As any general manager will tell you, it's never too early to get a jump on the coming winter.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Starting pitching
After finishing 47-115 in 2018, the Baltimore Orioles' primary offseason objective is to shed salary, bolster their minor league corps and initiate a painful, protracted rebuild.
With that said, the O's will need to do something about a starting rotation that ranked last in MLB with a 5.48 ERA and doesn't have any sure-thing prospects banging on the door.
As unsexy as it may sound, veteran James Shields could be a short-term, innings-eating investment despite the 4.53 ERA he posted with the Chicago White Sox in 2018.
Boston Red Sox: A closer
The Boston Red Sox's biggest offseason priority should be locking up likely American League MVP Mookie Betts, who's entering his second year of arbitration eligibility.
On the free-agent front, they need to focus on the bullpen, which might lose All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel.
Kimbrel will likely be the most coveted reliever on the market. The Sox may be better off pursuing another name, such as David Robertson.
For the moment, ninth-inning duties in Beantown are a work in progress.
New York Yankees: Rotation help, bullpen arms and a shortstop
The New York Yankees lost to the Red Sox in the ALDS. Despite winning 100 games, they'll be looking to make significant additions.
Priority No. 1 is improving a starting rotation that leaned too heavily on shaky ace Luis Severino. A top-tier arm such as Patrick Corbin should be foremost in general manager Brian Cashman's mind.
After that, the Yanks need to shore up a bullpen that could be hit by the losses of free agents David Robertson and Zach Britton.
Meanwhile, with shortstop Didi Gregorius lost to Tommy John surgery for at least some of 2019, New York could be in the market for a shortstop. Expect ample Manny Machado rumblings.
Tampa Bay Rays: Outfield depth, relief pitching
The Tampa Bay Rays sold at the 2018 trade deadline. Most notably, they shipped out right-hander Chris Archer.
Despite that, they finished with 90 wins. A different summer strategy could have yielded a surprise postseason berth.
This winter, the Rays should guard assets such as possible American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and add around the edges. Carlos Gomez's impending exit opens a spot for a seasoned outfielder such as Michael Brantley or Adam Jones, provided they would sign a reasonable, shorter-term deal. And the free-agent status of sometimes-"opener" Sergio Romo means the Rays could either re-sign the veteran or add another versatile arm such as Bud Norris.
Toronto Blue Jays: Starting pitching, bullpen help
Like the Orioles, it's time for the Toronto Blue Jays to embrace a rebuild.
Also like Baltimore, the Jays need help in the starting rotation after trading J.A. Happ and with Marco Estrada set to hit free agency. They may need bullpen reinforcements as well after dealing closer Roberto Osuna in July.
Toronto shouldn't splurge on any high-priced free agents. But it could select from a (relative) bargain aisle that includes the likes of Derek Holland, Wade Miley and Francisco Liriano, each of whom could eat innings as a starter or slot into the relief corps.
American League Central
Cleveland Indians: Bullpen reinforcements, outfield depth and third baseman
The Cleveland Indians could lose relievers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller via free agency this winter. If so, they'll need to revamp a bullpen that's been a key part of their recent success.
In addition, the Tribe might wave goodbye to three-time All-Star Michael Brantley, creating a hole in the outfield.
Oh, and Cleveland will need to make a decision on third baseman Josh Donaldson, who posted a .920 OPS in 16 games with the Indians after they acquired him at the waiver deadline but couldn't push them past the division series.
Cleveland could re-up some or all of those players, or it could go in search of replacements within its budgetary constraints.
Chicago White Sox: Starting pitching
Like most teams in the AL Central not named the Indians, the Detroit Tigers are in unambiguous rebuild mode. They have a solid young core and a stacked farm system, but they're years away from serious contention.
Then again, they have to do something about a starting rotation that ranked 26th in the game with a 5.07 ERA and lost fireballing rookie Michael Kopech to Tommy John surgery.
A pitcher like Clay Buchholz won't set the South Side ablaze with excitement, but it's the type of low-risk, incremental move the ChiSox should make.
Detroit Tigers: Starting pitching, bullpen help
Like most teams in the AL Central not named the Indians, the Detroit Tigers are in unambiguous rebuild mode. Is there a echo in here?
They may trade players such as right-hander Michael Fulmer to stock their farm system with an eye on the future. At the same time, they need to address a pitching staff that finished 23rd in MLB with a 4.58 ERA.
A starter such as Liriano, Estrada or even erstwhile ace Matt Harvey could be an interesting, lower-cost gambit for the Tigers as they seek to return to relevance.
Kansas City Royals: Starting pitching
Yep, there's definitely an echo in here.
The Kansas City Royals made a disastrous decision to sort of go for it in 2018 and wound up mired in last place at 58-104. They won't make that mistake again and will surely place all of their emphasis on the draft and young, controllable talent.
They will also need to address a starting rotation that finished 24th with a 4.89 ERA, which could mean inking a reclamation project such as Chris Tillman on the cheap.
Minnesota Twins: A closer, a 1B/DH and at least one middle infielder
After making the postseason in 2017 but finishing below .500 in 2018, the Minnesota Twins fired manager Paul Molitor.
The changes can't end there.
The Twinkies also need a closer to front a bullpen that posted a 4.45 ERA. They'll need a power-hitting first baseman/designated hitter if franchise icon Joe Mauer retires, too.
Additionally, the trade-deadline departures of Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier opened a need in the middle infield, despite the impending arrival of prospect Nick Gordon.
American League West
Houston Astros: A catcher, a top-level starting pitcher, a power bat
The Houston Astros repeated as AL West champs and are trying to repeat as MLB champs.
One blemish during the regular season? The catching trio of Brian McCann (.212 average), Max Stassi (.226 average) and Martin Maldonado (.231 average), whose collective offense didn't befit a title contender.
Houston could go the trade route and try to acquire an impact backstop such as the Miami Marlins' J.T. Realmuto. Or, it could target a free agent such as Wilson Ramos, who hit .306 with an .845 OPS between the Rays and Philadelphia Phillies.
With the combined 41 home runs of Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez hitting free agency, the Astros may also seek a power bat capable of playing designated hitter and/or the outfield.
And if the Astros don't re-sign left-hander Dallas Keuchel, they may also be on the hunt for a top-tier starting pitcher, although budget constraints could limit them to more middle-of-the-pack options.
Los Angeles Angels: Starting pitching, a catcher, infield depth
The Los Angeles Angels won't have two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani in the rotation in 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, and they'll be without Garrett Richards because of a combination of Tommy John surgery and free agency.
If they can make it work financially, the Halos should pursue an ace such as Corbin.
That may be tough, since they could also use an upgrade at catcher, where they're counting on the inexperienced duo of Francisco Arcia and Jose Briceno. They also need depth in the infield, where they're leaning on unproven youngsters David Fletcher and Taylor Ward.
Here's the bottom line: If the Angels want to entice Mike Trout to sign a lifetime contract, they'll need to be aggressively active this winter.
Oakland Athletics: A catcher, starting pitching, bullpen depth
After a surprise 97-win season that earned them a wild-card berth, the Oakland Athletics should be buyers this winter within their limited means.
They could bring back veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy or shop for a replacement.
They could also use depth in the rotation and bullpen, with Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Jeurys Familia and Edwin Jackson all ticketed for free agency.
To build on their latest small-market success story, Billy Beane and Co. need to get creative.
Seattle Mariners: Starting pitching, a power bat
The Seattle Mariners missed the playoffs for the 17th consecutive year, the longest active streak in baseball.
Not coincidentally, their starting rotation finished 21st in the game with a 4.35 ERA, the worst mark of any club with a winning record.
The M's need to go after an ace. They also need to either re-sign designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who clubbed 37 home runs with 97 RBI in his age-37 season, or ink a comparable bat to replace Cruz's production.
This is a make-or-break offseason for general manager Jerry Dipoto, who needs to get Seattle over the hump or pack his bags.
Texas Rangers: Starting pitching, a third baseman
It's time for the Texas Rangers to shift into unequivocal rebuild mode.
With that said, they'll have holes to fill.
Most notably, the Rangers could use depth in the starting rotation. They're unlikely to pick up club options on Doug Fister (4.50 ERA) and Matt Moore (6.79 ERA), and Yovani Gallardo (5.77 ERA) and Bartolo Colon (5.78 ERA) probably won't return.
Texas will also await the retirement decision of third baseman Adrian Beltre. If the likely future Hall of Famer doesn't hang it up, he might return to Arlington for a victory lap and to mentor the team's young players.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: A corner outfielder, a catcher, bullpen depth
The Atlanta Braves blossomed ahead of schedule in 2018 and won the National League East.
To keep the momentum going, the Braves might bring back outfielder Nick Markakis, who made his first All-Star team at age 34 and provided needed leadership. Conversely, they could pursue an analogous player with pop and experience.
They also might seek to retain or replace veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki, unless they're prepared to count on Tyler Flowers and his .239/.319/.390 career slash line.
Finally, Atlanta should upgrade a bullpen that finished 17th with a 4.15 ERA.
They're young, they're hungry and they have plenty of work to do.
Miami Marlins: Bullpen depth
The Miami Marlins have no impending free agents of note and are all-in on a budget-tightening strategy. The odds of them signing any notable free agents hover between "zero" and "nope."
Still, the Fish could shop for an arm or two to fill out a bullpen that finished last in baseball with a dismal 5.34 ERA.
They won't bring in elite names such as Kimbrel, but it would behoove them to at least pad the roster with guys who can soak up innings and prevent any prospects from being overtaxed.
That is, of course, assuming the Marlins care. Which is always an open question.
New York Mets: Bullpen depth
Sorry, New York Mets fans. You're in the same boat as the Marlins. We know it hurts, but there it is.
You're an also-ran team that needs to blow it up and add young talent. Trading shiny players such as ace Jacob deGrom to stock the farm makes sense.
As for free agency, the Mets could pad a bullpen that finished 28th with a 4.96 ERA.
Like the Marlins, the Mets should seek veterans with the ability to chew innings and mentor/offer respite to whatever potential-laden pitchers they call up.
Philadelphia Phillies: A power-hitting infielder, a power-hitting outfielder
You know where this is going.
The Philadelphia Phillies have the need and payroll flexibility to sign both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this winter.
It probably won't happen, but it's a tantalizing hypothetical.
In September, sources told Heyman it was within the realm of possibility. Now, we get to rub our hands together and picture the eventuality.
Go ahead, Phillies fans. You're permitted to dream.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: A starting pitcher, a middle infielder
The Chicago Cubs have some tough choices to make after getting bounced in the NL Wild Card Game by the Colorado Rockies.
The first is whether to exercise Cole Hamels' $20 million club option. On the one hand, Hamels posted a 2.36 ERA and struck out 74 in 76.1 innings after coming from Texas to Chicago in a trade-deadline swap.
On the other hand, the four-time All-Star has been in decline and turns 35 in December.
On top of that, the Cubs need to make a decision on shortstop Addison Russell, who was suspended 40 games for violating MLB's domestic violence policy. Should they go after a marquee player such as Machado, or wait it out and allow Russell to return?
It's a difficult call.
Cincinnati Reds: Starting pitching
The Cincinnati Reds should let mercurial right-hander Matt Harvey walk in free agency and look to trade speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton.
They'll also need to make a decision on All-Star Scooter Gennett, who can become a free agent after the 2019 season: lock him up long-term or trade him for prospects.
On the free-agent front, the Reds should avoid any costly contracts as they continue to rebuild, but they should add arms to a rotation that finished 25th in the game with a 5.02 ERA.
Milwaukee Brewers: Starting pitching and bullpen depth
The Milwaukee Brewers' offseason strategy will be dictated by how they perform in the postseason.
If they get past the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series and especially if they win it all, they might be content with minimal additions to a fairly complete roster.
If they fall short, the Brew Crew could pursue an ace such as Corbin or a decorated reliever such as Kimbrel, provided they can make it work financially. More conservatively, they could re-sign waiver acquisition Gio Gonzalez and/or exercise their club option on Joakim Soria.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Infield depth
The Pittsburgh Pirates acted like sellers last winter and shipped out ace Gerrit Cole and outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
They acted like buyers at the trade deadline and acquired right-hander Chris Archer.
What the Bucs will do this offseason is anyone's guess. But they'll need to make decisions in the infield, where Josh Harrison, Jung Ho Kang and Jordy Mercer could all exit, though Pittsburgh has club options on Harrison and Kang.
Are they rebuilding? Are they retooling? Stay tuned.
St. Louis Cardinals: Bullpen depth, a left-handed power bat
The possible departure of Bud Norris—an underrated relief arm who posted a 3.59 ERA in 57.2 innings with the St. Louis Cardinals—could leave the Redbirds with a hole in the bullpen.
Additionally, while St. Louis is unlikely to re-sign veteran Matt Adams, it may want a left-handed power bat with defensive flexibility.
Or, the Cards could go big and ink a superstar such as Machado, though that might be more of a pipe dream than a reasonable notion.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Starting pitching and a center fielder
Corbin, maybe the best free-agent starting pitcher on the market, is sure to incite a bidding war that might leave the Arizona Diamondbacks in the dust.
Likewise, they could lose toolsy but injury-prone outfielder A.J. Pollock.
Even if they retain players such as Buchholz and infielder Daniel Descalso, the Snakes will have to restaff key positions as they seek to get back to the postseason after a disappointing third-place finish in 2018.
Colorado Rockies: Bullpen depth, outfield and second base
The Colorado Rockies signed closer Wade Davis to a three-year, $52 million deal last winter, the richest-ever contract for a reliever on a per-season basis. Still, Colorado's 'pen finished with a 26th-ranked 4.62 ERA.
The Rockies might double down on the strategy and pursue more relief help. They'll have to decide if they want to bid on free-agent second baseman DJ LeMahieu, replace him with another free agent or hand the reins to a prospect such as Brendan Rodgers.
They also might need reinforcements in the outfield if they decide not to exercise Gerardo Parra's 2019 option considering Carlos Gonzalez is bound for free agency.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw, Clayton Kershaw and Clayton Kershaw
The Los Angeles Dodgers will surely seek to tinker with their roster this winter, adding bullpen depth and maybe a bat or two. They might even go wild and pursue Machado, despite the presumed return of young star shortstop Corey Seager from Tommy John surgery.
Let's get real, though: L.A.'s top priority is figuring out what's up with Clayton Kershaw.
The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner and one-time NL MVP can opt out of his contract. If he does, he'll instantly become the most coveted starting pitcher available.
Cite his injuries. Mention his bumpy postseason resume. Counterpoint: He's Clayton Kershaw. He's a franchise player in every sense of the word. Los Angeles must do what it takes to retain his generational services.
San Diego Padres: Infield depth
The San Diego Padres are a rebuilding club with few impending free agents of note. After signing Eric Hosmer to a franchise-record eight-year, $144 million pact last winter only to watch him flop, the Friars are unlikely to be big players in free agency this year.
They could add some middle-infield depth, however, assuming Freddy Galvis isn't retained.
A veteran such as Jed Lowrie or Neil Walker could bridge the gap until exciting prospects such as Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias are ready to take over at the big league level.
San Francisco Giants: Outfield depth, starting pitching or...a new direction?
The San Francisco Giants are at a crossroads. Core contributors to their even-year dynasty such as Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner remain on the roster. Yet their window appears to have closed.
Do the Giants blow it up, tank for a few seasons and try to rebuild the farm? Or, do they add some depth to the outfield and starting rotation via free agency and hope for a turnaround?
Both paths are fraught. Other than Bumgarner (assuming they exercise his affordable option), the Giants have few marquee trade assets. They've also got a ho-hum minor league system and toil in a deep division.
Enjoy the memories of champagne and confetti, San Francisco fans. They might be all you have for a long while.