Each MLB Team's 2019 Blunder It Must Fix This Offseason

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2019

Each MLB Team's 2019 Blunder It Must Fix This Offseason

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    In the flurry of activity that takes place each MLB offseason, not every decision is a winner. The same goes for the six-month grind that is a 162-game campaign.

    In fact, all 30 teams can point to at least one transaction or decision that turned out to be a flop. In some cases, it's the move that wasn't made or the player who wasn't promoted soon enough.

    With that in mind, we've highlighted each MLB team's biggest blunder of the 2019 season and shined some light on how they might be able to fix it before the 2020 season.

AL East

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    J.A. Happ
    J.A. HappLeon Halip/Getty Images

    Baltimore Orioles: Not giving Austin Hays more of an opportunity

    A thumb injury cost Austin Hays the first month of the 2019 season, and he missed a good chunk of June with a hamstring strain, but he returned to post an .808 OPS with 11 home runs in 54 games before getting called up when rosters expanded in September.

    The 24-year-old went on to hit .309/.373/.574 with six doubles and four home runs in 75 plate appearances down the stretch.

    After waiting for months this past season, the rebuilding O's need to jump at the first chance to give the promising young outfielder everyday playing time in 2020.

             

    Boston Red Sox: Relying on the in-house bullpen options

    The Red Sox kicked off the season 13-17 in their first 30 games and couldn't recover.

    The team opted against making an outside addition to replace Craig Kimbrel at the back of the bullpen, and instead shuffled through Ryan Brasier (7/11 SV), Matt Barnes (4/12 SV) and Marcus Walden (2/6 SV) before Brandon Workman finally seized the closer's role.

    The relief corps finished 17th in the majors with a 4.40 ERA, and finding late-inning stability should be an offseason focal point.

                 

    New York Yankees: Overpaying J.A. Happ

    There's no undoing the two-year, $34 million the Yankees handed veteran J.A. Happ last offseason. And given his limited trade value, there's probably no getting around his $17 million salary for 2020.

    However, the front office can avoid further financial commitment by transitioning him into a different role.

    The 36-year-old has a $17 million vesting option for 2021 that kicks in if he reaches 165 innings or 27 games started in 2020. He was moved to the bullpen down the stretch, and structuring the pitching staff to use him in a swingman role or following an opener would put his abilities to use while ensuring his option doesn't vest.

                   

    Tampa Bay Rays: Not giving Nate Lowe more of an opportunity

    After two brief stints in the majors earlier in the year, Nate Lowe finally received his first extended MLB action in July when he hit .313/.397/.625 with five doubles, five home runs and 12 RBI in 73 plate appearances.

    Despite those impressive numbers, he was shipped back to the minors at the beginning of August when the team acquired Jesus Aguilar in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers.

    The Rays ranked 18th in the majors in runs per game (4.74), 14th in OPS (.757) and 21st in home runs (217). Lowe has 30-homer, 100-RBI potential and should be given the chance to establish himself as an impact middle-of-the-order presence.

                 

    Toronto Blue Jays: Not selling high on Ken Giles

    An ill-timed elbow injury cost the Blue Jays an opportunity to flip closer Ken Giles at the July 31 trade deadline.

    He returned strong down the stretch, converting nine of nine save chances with a 2.50 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 12.5 K/9 in 18 appearances over the final two months.

    The 29-year-old made $6.3 million in 2019, and he'll be due a decent raise in his final year of arbitration next season. Still, there should be plenty of trade interest this offseason as long as his physical checks out. The Blue Jays would be wise to seize this second chance to sell high.

AL Central

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    Bradley Zimmer
    Bradley ZimmerHannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Chicago White Sox: Bargain hunting for starting pitching

    Behind a breakout season from Lucas Giolito, another year of development for Reynaldo Lopez and 187 innings from workhorse Ivan Nova, the White Sox starting rotation was a mess.

    Bargain arms Ross Detwiler (69.2 IP, 6.59 ERA), Manny Banuelos (50.2 IP, 6.93 ERA) and Ervin Santana (13.1 IP, 9.45 ERA) were all shelled, while Dylan Covey (58.2 IP, 7.98 ERA) inexplicably made 12 starts.

    This is a young team on the rise, and healthy seasons from Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech will provide an in-house boost, but adding a quality veteran presence would be hugely beneficial.

                         

    Cleveland Indians: Relying on in-house OF options to begin year

    The Indians had an Opening Day outfield of Jake Bauers, Leonys Martin and Tyler Naquin, while Greg Allen and Jordan Luplow filled bench spots.

    While Oscar Mercado eventually emerged as the everyday center fielder and Yasiel Puig was acquired as a rental at the trade deadline, the team's outfield contingent finished with minus-1.6 WAR.

    A healthy season from Bradley Zimmer would provide an in-house boost, but making a run at free agent Marcell Ozuna or re-signing Puig would be a significant boon to the club's 2020 offensive attack.

         

    Detroit Tigers: Not selling high on Matthew Boyd

    According to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press, the Tigers turned down Alex Bregman and Javier Baez in trade offers for Michael Fulmer in 2017.

    They would be wise to avoid making a similar mistake with Matthew Boyd.

    The 28-year-old put together a breakout season with a 4.56 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 238 strikeouts in 185.1 innings. Given his age and the Tigers' window of contention, selling high now while he still features three years of team control makes a lot of sense for a club that just lost 114 games.

                 

    Kansas City Royals: Not selling high on Ian Kennedy

    In his first season as a full-time reliever, Ian Kennedy emerged as one of the AL's better closers, converting 30 of 34 save chances with a 3.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 63 appearances.

    The 34-year-old is owed $16.5 million next year in the final season of a five-year, $70 million deal, and that hefty price tag no doubt scared off potential suitors at the trade deadline.

    The Royals were "not inclined" to pay down his salary to trade him in July, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. With the team unlikely to contend in 2020, securing a solid return for Kennedy in a thin relief market is in the organization's best interest.

             

    Minnesota Twins: Not spending on starting pitching

    The Twins added several offensive pieces last winter but opted against any significant additions to the pitching staff. They bought low on Martin Perez and welcomed back a healthy Michael Pineda alongside the trio of Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson.

    In the end, they wound up with a playoff rotation of Berrios, Odorizzi and an abundance of question marks.

    With Odorizzi, Gibson, Pineda and Perez (if his option is declined) all headed for free agency, the front office can't afford to ignore the starting rotation this time. Even if it believes Randy Dobnak can hold down a spot and Brusdar Graterol is ready, further reinforcements will be needed.

AL West

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    Trevor Cahill
    Trevor CahillDaniel Shirey/Getty Images

    Houston Astros: Not giving Kyle Tucker more of an opportunity

    Kyle Tucker hit a disappointing .141/.236/.203 in 72 plate appearances during his first taste of MLB action in 2018, and despite strong numbers at Triple-A, he didn't get another chance in the big leagues until September this year.

    The 22-year-old posted a .909 OPS with 34 home runs at Triple-A and then batted .269/.319/.537 with six doubles and four home runs in 72 plate appearances over the final month with Houston.

    Meanwhile, veteran Josh Reddick had a .676 OPS after the All-Star break. It's not like the Astros were ever hurting for offensive production, but Tucker could have provided a boost far sooner than September. Setting him up for a larger role in 2020 should be a priority.

                 

    Los Angeles Angels: Bargain hunting for starting pitching

    Starting pitching featured prominently on the Angels' shopping list last offseason, and while there was a clear need for front-line arms, they settled for Matt Harvey ($11 million) and Trevor Cahill ($9.3 million) on one-year deals.

    Harvey posted an unsightly 7.09 ERA in 12 starts before he was released on July 21. Cahill had a 6.92 ERA in 11 starts over the season's first two months and spent the rest of the year pitching out of the bullpen.

    The front office needs to spend some money on pitching if it ever hopes to build a winner around Mike Trout. Gerrit Cole would be a great place to start.

                         

    Oakland Athletics: Not locking up any core pieces

    This is nitpicky for a team that has won 97 games in back-to-back seasons while working on a shoestring budget, but it would be in Oakland's best interest to lock up some of its core pieces.

    For a team that values cost certainty, buying out the arbitration years of Matt Chapman and Matt Olson makes a lot of sense. However, the No. 1 focus should be a long-term deal for shortstop Marcus Semien, who is entering his final year of arbitration.

    Signing Khris Davis to an extension in April doesn't look like a wise move in hindsight after his disappointing 2019 season, but that can't scare the front office away from locking up other key pieces.

                  

    Seattle Mariners: Not selling high on Mitch Haniger

    The Mariners could have cashed in on the trade market after Mitch Haniger posted a 139 OPS+ with 38 doubles and 26 home runs en route to a 6.1 WAR season and an 11th-place finish in AL MVP voting.

    Instead, he stayed put despite the team's move toward a rebuild, and a gruesome injury limited him to 63 games in a disappointing season.

    The team's hot commodity this winter figures to be starter Marco Gonzales, who posted a 3.99 ERA over a career-high 203 innings and is under club control through the 2023 season. If a team comes calling with an attractive offer, the front office can't make the same mistake it did with Haniger.

               

    Texas Rangers: Failing to bolster the pitching staff

    The Rangers' decision to sign Lance Lynn to a three-year, $30 million deal proved to be one of the offseason's best. The veteran right-hander pitched to a 3.67 ERA (3.13 FIP) and struck out a career-high 246 batters in 208.1 innings.

    Despite those stellar numbers and the work of incumbent ace Mike Minor (208.1 IP, 3.59 ERA), the Rangers still finished 25th in the majors with a 5.37 starters' ERA, which paints a pretty grim picture of the rest of the starting staff.

    If this team is serious about contending for a playoff spot, further additions are necessary to bolster the starting rotation. That's to say nothing of a bullpen that finished 21st in the majors with a 4.73 ERA and lacked reliable late-inning options for much of the year.

NL East

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    Nick Pivetta
    Nick PivettaMitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Atlanta Braves: Relying on in-house relievers to start year

    Luke Jackson did an admirable job of filling the closer's role in Atlanta after Arodys Vizcaino was jettisoned and A.J. Minter struggled to the point of demotion. However, it was clear the Braves needed bullpen help at the trade deadline, and they dealt for All-Star closer Shane Greene and veteran Mark Melancon.

    Greene struggled post-trade and Melancon has been consistently inconsistent the past several seasons, so where does that leave Atlanta in 2020?

    Expecting the in-house options to suffice once again would be a mistake, even with both of those deadline additions returning next year.

                

    Miami Marlins: Not selling high on Caleb Smith

    Despite making just one start in June while battling hip inflammation, Caleb Smith was strong in July, and he was a hot commodity at the trade deadline.

    He had made 17 starts through the end of July, posting a 3.43 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 119 strikeouts in 97 innings. However, the Marlins said in June that they had "no intention" of trading him, and they held to that.

    The 28-year-old proceeded to bottom out during the season's final two months, posting a 6.39 ERA and 1.62 WHIP over his final 11 starts. If someone comes calling this winter with interest in Smith or any of the team's starters, the front office should listen, especially considering Miami is still years away from contention.

                    

    New York Mets: Gutting the farm system

    Brodie Van Wagenen stepped into the general manager role with the Mets last offseason and immediately declared them contenders. He then shipped out several of the team's top prospects to acquire Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz.

    Less than a year later, that already looks like one of the most ill-advised moves in franchise history.

    While more prospects were mortgaged to acquire Marcus Stroman at the trade deadline, the team still has some high-ceiling young talent in the form of teenage standouts Ronny Mauricio and Francisco Alvarez and 2019 draft picks Brett Baty and Matthew Allan. There's no reason any of those young players should be on the move this winter.

                   

    Philadelphia Phillies: Relying on the in-house rotation options

    While the Phillies kicked the tires on a number of the market's top starting pitchers last offseason and made a serious push to sign Patrick Corbin, they wound up sticking with their in-house options.

    Nick Pivetta (5.38 ERA) and Vince Velasquez (4.91 ERA) both struggled to the point that they were moved to the bullpen, while Jake Arrieta (4.64) didn't come close to living up to his $25 million salary.

    The temptation will be there to go with Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Arrieta, Pivetta and Velasquez once again next season, especially with prospects Spencer Howard and Adonis Medina on the horizon. However, there is too much money invested in this team to simply hope for the best from the incumbent arms once again.

                     

    Washington Nationals: Not giving Carter Kieboom more of an opportunity

    The Nationals called up top prospect Carter Kieboom for 11 games at the end of April and beginning of May, and while he slugged two home runs, he hit just .128 with 16 strikeouts in 43 plate appearances.

    That wound up being the only MLB action he saw this year, as he was sent to the team's spring training complex in September.

    With Asdrubal Cabrera, Brian Dozier and Howie Kendrick all headed for free agency, there's a real chance that Kieboom will be the team's starting second baseman next season, so more MLB exposure would have helped ease the transition. It's hard to say he didn't earn it with a .303/.409/.493 line and 43 extra-base hits at Triple-A. Adding another veteran to block his path this offseason would be a poor allocation of funds.

NL Central

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    Daniel Descalso
    Daniel DescalsoTim Warner/Getty Images

    Chicago Cubs: Over-reliance on the status quo

    The Cubs won 387 games and made the playoffs four consecutive times from 2015 to 2018, winning a World Series title along the way.

    Fending off complacency in the face of consistent success is vital, and when the front office cried poor this past winter, it was a hearty endorsement of the status quo. In the end, a two-year deal for utility man Daniel Descalso was the team's biggest offseason move.

    Significant change could be coming to the roster, and manager Joe Maddon has already been shown the door. After a sedentary offseason last year, a shake-up is exactly what this club needs.

              

    Cincinnati Reds: Not focusing on controllable arms

    While other presumptive non-contenders were content to sit on their hands and rebuild for another season, the Reds took a bold approach last offseason, adding Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark and Alex Wood in an effort to bolster a weak rotation.

    All three players were rentals when they were acquired, and while Gray was wisely signed to an extension before the start of the season, Wood is facing free agency and the team traded Roark to Oakland. Trevor Bauer was acquired at the deadline with control through next season, but there's no guarantee he'll stay beyond 2020.

    Did the Reds truly believe they were playoff contenders in 2019? A step forward was possible with improved pitching, but after losing 95 games in 2018, a short-sighted approach didn't make much sense. If they're going to be active on the trade market this winter, the focus should be on players who are controllable beyond 2020.

                  

    Milwaukee Brewers: Not spending on starting pitching

    Say what you want about a bullpen-centric approach and the value of multi-inning relievers in the postseason.

    The Brewers found themselves in a one-game playoff facing Max Scherzer, and they were forced to counter with Brandon Woodruff, a pitcher who had made just two appearances since July 21 and had not pitched more than three innings since July 16.

    At some point, the Brewers will have to spend some money on starting pitching. Their roster is too talented to be done in by a flawed approach to building a pitching staff. After finishing with just 34 quality starts in 162 games, it's time to solidify the rotation.

                 

    Pittsburgh Pirates: Failing to find a clear direction

    The Pirates traded for Chris Archer and Keone Kela at the 2018 trade deadline with an eye on contending in 2019.

    Then they traded workhorse starter Ivan Nova to cut costs, failed to use that money elsewhere, entered the season with Erik Gonzalez as their starting shortstop, and made a handful of other decisions that seemed to run counter to the previous year's deadline approach.

    They lost 93 games, and the 2019 season was an unmitigated disaster in more ways than one. Firing manager Clint Hurdle could be just the start of a busy offseason. If they're going to take a step back, they need to commit to it. If they're going to try to contend, they need to do the same.

                   

    St. Louis Cardinals: Failing to unclog the outfield logjam

    The Cardinals were reportedly open to moving an outfielder at the trade deadline, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, but nothing happened. Marcell Ozuna will be a free agent this winter, but even his likely departure does little to unclog a crowded outfield situation.

    Dexter Fowler is signed to an expensive contract, Harrison Bader is a defensive standout in center field who can't hit, Tyler O'Neill has 30-homer potential but still hasn't gotten an extended look, Lane Thomas showed some flashes and Jose Martinez remains a productive hitter without a true defensive home.

    Now top prospect Dylan Carlson is knocking on the door after a monster season in the upper levels of the minors. The Cardinals can't keep playing musical chairs in the outfield. It's detrimental to the development of guys like Bader and O'Neill, and makes for an uncertain future for Carlson.

NL West

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    Greg Holland
    Greg HollandHunter Martin/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks: The Greg Holland experiment

    All signs indicated Archie Bradley would take over the closer's role in Arizona—that is until veteran Greg Holland was signed to a one-year, $3.25 million deal on Jan. 31.

    The 33-year-old Holland began the season with 11 straight scoreless appearances, nailing down seven saves in the process, but the wheels quickly fell off. When he was released Aug. 9, he had a 4.54 ERA with five blown saves in 22 chances.

    Meanwhile, Bradley took over the closer's role when he recorded his first save of the year on July 30, and he went 18-of-19 on save chances with a 2.10 ERA and .198 opponents' batting average the rest of the way. The closer job should be his from the jump in 2020.

                

    Colorado Rockies: Failing to bolster the pitching staff

    The Rockies won 91 games and the NL Wild Card Game in 2018 on the strength of a vastly improved pitching staff. They thought those improvements would carry over and failed to make any notable additions to the staff while losing their top reliever, Adam Ottavino.

    Instead, massive regression from 2018 Cy Young candidate Kyle Freeland (6.73 ERA) and an ugly year for high-priced closer Wade Davis (8.65 ERA) highlighted the club's struggles on the mound. The team ERA spiked from 4.33 (20th in MLB) to 5.56 (29th in MLB), and the Rockies fell to fourth in the NL West standings.

    It's always tough to lure free-agent arms to Coors Field, but another quiet offseason won't cut it.

               

    Los Angeles Dodgers: Not more aggressively improving the bullpen

    The Dodgers gave Joe Kelly a three-year, $25 million deal to serve as the primary setup man to Kenley Jansen, but that was the only notable addition to a bullpen that needed multiple new faces.

    They would have been better off spreading that money around to a handful of quality middle relievers to provide better depth.

    With Jansen looking far more hittable this year and Kelly struggling to live up to that contract, the relief corps could derail the Dodgers as they look to get over the hump after back-to-back World Series losses.

            

    San Diego Padres: Not adding a veteran presence to the rotation

    The Padres have a wealth of young pitching, and several of those arms got an extended MLB look this season, including Chris Paddack (3.33 ERA, 153 K, 140.2 IP).

    However, the lack of a veteran inning-eating presence led the team to use 16 different starters, with only Joey Lucchesi (163.2 IP) eclipsing the 150-inning mark.

    A few years ago, the Braves supplemented a young rotation by bringing aboard workhorse veterans R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon to eat innings while the prospects continued to develop. A similar approach would make sense for the Padres, with Tanner Roark (4.35 ERA, 165.1 IP) and Ivan Nova (4.72 ERA, 187.0 IP) among the potential free-agent fits.

             

    San Francisco Giants: Not selling high on Madison Bumgarner

    A 19-6 July convinced the Giants front office to hold on to top trade chips Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith at the deadline.

    An 11-16 August quickly dashed their wild-card hopes, and the deadline was left looking like a missed opportunity. The did well to flip relievers Drew Pomeranz, Mark Melancon and Sam Dyson, but they could have done more.

    They also could have shopped Bumgarner last offseason, when teams might have been more willing to pay a premium for a full year of his services. There's no clear-cut trade chip on the roster like that this offseason, but if someone comes calling for a franchise stalwart like Brandon Belt or Brandon Crawford, the front office needs to do what's best for the club's long-term outlook.

            

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

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