Blueprint for Every MLB Team to Fix Its Most Desperate Need This Offseason

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 4, 2019

Blueprint for Every MLB Team to Fix Its Most Desperate Need This Offseason

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    Anthony Rendon isn't the only World Series hero the Nationals need to bring back.
    Anthony Rendon isn't the only World Series hero the Nationals need to bring back.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    About a month into the 2019-20 Major League Baseball offseason, and quite a few teams have already taken care of some major needs.

    Yet there are many holes that must still be filled.

    We've taken a look at each team's biggest remaining need and suggested the best way to fix it. For most clubs, this involved simply identifying the best player for the job in question. For others, it involved picking out players who need to go for the sake of brightening the future.

    We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.

American League East

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    Gerrit Cole
    Gerrit ColeAssociated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: Trade Mychal Givens for Prospects

    The Baltimore Orioles don't want their pitching staff to surrender 305 home runs again, but there's nothing they can do to turn themselves from a 108-loss team into a contender overnight.

    The O's must instead look to the future by bolstering a farm system that only rose from No. 19 to No. 11 throughout the 2019 season. Whatever trades they can make, they should make.

    Because good relievers are in shorter supply than sluggers, we slightly favor right-hander Mychal Givens over first baseman/outfielder Trey Mancini as Baltimore's top trade chip. Givens is no Mariano Rivera, but his nose for strikeouts and club control through 2021 should be worth a couple of prospects.

                        

    Boston Red Sox: Trade for Josh Hader

    After experiencing a 24-win drop-off from 2018 to 2019, the Boston Red Sox haven't been shy about identifying payroll relief as a major priority.

    And yet the Red Sox are still contenders. Or at least, they will be if they keep all the players they have—up to and especially including 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts—and do something to improve a bullpen that converted only 52 percent of its save opportunities in 2019.

    Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Josh Hader, who Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic says is available, is the best possible reliever the Red Sox can get. Plus, a trade for the two-time All-Star would only add a projected $4.6 million salary to their 2020 payroll.

                             

    New York Yankees: Sign Gerrit Cole

    Though the New York Yankees won 103 games in 2019, their starting rotation did its best to sabotage the effort. It posted a 4.51 ERA and surrendered many homers over very few innings.

    After an experience like that, the Yankees absolutely should be in the market for ace right-hander Gerrit Cole. All he did in the 2019 regular season was post a 2.50 ERA with 326 strikeouts, and he somehow got even better in the postseason.

    It could take as much as $250 million to secure Cole for the long haul, per MLB Trade Rumors' estimation. Though the Yankees have been shying from megadeals like that over the last five years, they're still the Yankees. If they decide they must have Cole, they can afford him.

                         

    Tampa Bay Rays: Sign Edwin Encarnacion

    The Tampa Bay Rays have work to do if they want to repeat their 96-win season. It should start with the middle of their lineup.

    Though the Rays scored a solid 4.8 runs per game in 2019, they ranked 11th in the AL with 217 home runs. It didn't help that the cleanup spot in their lineup produced only a .697 OPS and 19 homers.

    This is where Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson would help, but dropping nine figures on either of them wouldn't exactly be a Rays-type move. It would be more like them to do a modest one-year deal with Edwin Encarnacion, who's still a 30-homer threat in his late 30s.

                              

    Toronto Blue Jays: Sign Rick Porcello

    The Toronto Blue Jays should look at 2020 as a year in which they can't make big strides from their 95-loss 2019 season.

    To this end, they made a nifty move when they acquired right-hander Chase Anderson from the Brewers on Nov. 4. But according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet, they're still eyeing a veritable laundry list of veteran free agents who could eat innings atop their rotation.

    Rick Porcello, who's fallen far since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2016, isn't the most exciting name on that list. But he's nothing if not a consistent source of innings, and his history of success with different pitching styles would make him an ideal mentor for a predominantly young rotation.

American League Central

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    Whit Merrifield
    Whit MerrifieldAssociated Press

    Chicago White Sox: Sign Zack Wheeler

    The Chicago White Sox improved from 100 losses in 2018 to 89 losses in 2019. After they signed Yasmani Grandal and re-signed Jose Abreu, another improvement is in the cards for 2020.

    Still, the White Sox should have doubts about their starting rotation. Lucas Giolito enjoyed an All-Star breakout in 2019, but Chicago's starters nonetheless posted an ugly 5.30 ERA.

    Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg would be an ideal savior, but neither fits the White Sox's price range. Zack Wheeler, on the other hand, just might. If nothing else, the righty's high-octane fastball would fit with what the White Sox already have going on in their rotation.

                              

    Cleveland Indians: Trade for Whit Merrifield

    The world is waiting on the Cleveland Indians to trade superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor. But with their payroll in a non-disastrous state, their focus should not be on subtracting but adding.

    The Indians would benefit from balancing their left-leaning lineup with a right-handed hitter. Ideally, said hitter could play second base, left field, center field, right field or all four of those positions.

    In other words, they should covet Whit Merrifield. The 2019 All-Star isn't yet a year removed from signing an extension with the Kansas City Royals. But since they're rebuilding and he'll turn 31 in January, he's an obvious trade chip.

                   

    Detroit Tigers: Trade Matthew Boyd for Prospects

    The Detroit Tigers' major malfunction in 2019 was in the batter's box and not on the mound, but they're otherwise in the same boat as the Orioles. Their future beyond 2020 matters more than 2020 itself.

    The Tigers do have the No. 9 farm, but that figure marks only a small step forward after the system began 2019 ranked at No. 11. Some sort of bold catalyst is therefore in order.

    The Tigers' best chance of landing a haul on the trade market resides with left-hander Matthew Boyd. Though he slumped with a 5.51 ERA in the second half of 2019, his 11.6 strikeouts-per-nine rate and club control through 2022 could attract a crowd on the market anyway.

                           

    Kansas City Royals: Trade Whit Merrifield for Prospects

    Now that the sale of the Royals to John Sherman is official, they can and should start taking their rebuild more seriously.

    By all rights, the Royals' consecutive 100-loss seasons and good-not-great No. 10 farm system should have them ready to trade anyone and everyone. But the top priority should be finding a home for Merrifield before his late-arriving prime ends and his trade value plummets accordingly.

    As of now, Merrifield is a versatile defender whose glove, bat and legs have helped him rack up 13.5 wins above replacement since 2017, per Baseball Reference. Between that and his club-friendly contract, he's the perfect subject for a bidding war on the trade market.

                            

    Minnesota Twins: Sign Zack Wheeler

    Rather than test the open market, All-Star righty Jake Odorizzi accepted a $17.8 million qualifying offer to stay with the Minnesota Twins in 2020.

    Because the Twins still boast an extraordinary degree of financial flexibility, their next move might be to go all-out for Cole or Strasburg. But since they need at least two and arguably three more starters, it perhaps isn't fair to expect the Twins to blow what flexibility they have on one or the other.

    As far as their alternative options go, Wheeler would fit well as either a No. 2 behind Jose Berrios or a No. 3 behind Odorizzi. He also isn't likely to cost so much that the Twins have nothing left for anyone else.

American League West

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    Anthony Rendon
    Anthony RendonTim Warner/Getty Images

    Houston Astros: Trade for Jon Gray

    If fumbling a 3-2 lead in the World Series was the injury, the insult for the Houston Astros could involve severe penalties from the MLB's investigation into sign-stealing accusations against them.

    Or, the insult might simply be losing Gerrit Cole to free agency. Though the Astros undoubtedly want to keep him, their payroll situation might preclude them from doing so. They're only about $14 million in average annual value away from triggering the luxury tax's $248 million third rail.

    Instead of re-signing Cole, the Astros must consider how they might replicate the initial risk they took on him. A deal for Colorado Rockies right-hander Jon Gray, whose 96.1 mph fastball and nasty slider are just waiting to be fully unlocked, would do the trick.

                

    Los Angeles Angels: Sign Gerrit Cole

    No team needs starting pitching as badly as the Los Angeles Angels. Their rotation finished 2019 with a 5.64 ERA and an MLB-low 0.8 WAR

    How the Angels should approach fixing this problem is the real question. They could splurge on one or two guys, or perhaps pursue a total makeover of their rotation by spreading their money around on as many as five guys.

    Our vote is for the Angels to pursue the surest possible thing, which is Cole. And as long as the money's right, the Orange, California, native may be thrilled with the idea of joining his hometown team and forming a superstar duo with three-time MVP Mike Trout.

                   

    Oakland Athletics: Sign Cesar Hernandez

    The Oakland Athletics began the offseason with shockingly few real needs. But after trading Jurickson Profar and non-tendering Blake Treinen, Ryan Buchter and Josh Phegley, that's no longer the case.

    Of the needs that just opened up, second base is the one in most immediate need of repair. The position put out only 0.6 WAR in 2019, and none of the three in-house competitors for the gig—Sheldon Neuse, Franklin Barreto and Jorge Mateo—is a sure thing.

    This should be Oakland's cue to pursue a low-risk deal with Cesar Hernandez, who became available when the Philadelphia Phillies non-tendered him Monday. He's nobody's idea of a star, but the A's can at least gravitate toward his .352 career on-base percentage.

                     

    Seattle Mariners: Capitalize on Interest in Omar Narvaez

    Perhaps more so than with any other team, what the Seattle Mariners need to do is a good question.

    They entered the winter with spots for a couple of starting pitchers, but one has since been filled by righty Kendall Graveman and another is expected to be taken by an as-yet-unnamed starter. They're otherwise in rebuilding mode, yet they already boast MLB's No. 4 farm system.

    According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, however, the Mariners are willing to move catcher Omar Narvaez. With Yasmani Grandal and numerous other catchers off the free-agent board, they stand to fetch a good price for Narvaez's well-above-average stick. They might as well seize the opportunity.

                      

    Texas Rangers: Sign Anthony Rendon

    When the offseason began, starting pitching was arguably the Texas Rangers' biggest need. But now that Kyle Gibson is slotted behind Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, that's no longer the case.

    What the Rangers need most now is a third baseman who could improve on what they got out of the position in 2019. That's a low bar to clear, as their third basemen managed only 0.3 WAR.

    The Rangers might gravitate toward Josh Donaldson, but he's no Anthony Rendon. The Rangers should put what financial flexibility they have left toward a long-term deal for Rendon and hope his spectacular 2019 season was merely the start of his reign as a superstar.

National League East

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    Stephen Strasburg
    Stephen StrasburgAssociated Press

    Atlanta Braves: Sign Madison Bumgarner

    The Atlanta Braves have already added Will Smith to their bullpen and Travis d'Arnaud to their catching corps. They've also retained relievers Darren O'Day and Chris Martin, and outfielder Nick Markakis. 

    Yet the Braves still have a Josh Donaldson-sized hole at third base. And while they could leave well enough alone with their starting rotation, it would benefit from a veteran innings-eater who could be what Dallas Keuchel was the down the stretch of 2019.

    We give a slight edge to a starter as a more pressing priority. It's frankly hard to fathom a better fit than four-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion Madison Bumgarner, who's been a 200-inning machine when he hasn't been dealing with fluke injuries.

                      

    Miami Marlins: Sign Nicholas Castellanos

    The Miami Marlins are yet another rebuilder, but their farm system is in terrific shape, and they're basically out of must-move trade chips.

    The Marlins should therefore make a play for some dignity after losing 203 games across 2018 and 2019. They might achieve some by adding to an offense that's fresh off scoring the fewest runs in the National League.

    For instance, the Marlins might make good on their rumored interest (per MLB.com's Joe Frisaro) in Nicholas Castellanos. There's room for the South Florida native in the Marlins' squeaky clean books, and they'd be buying an extra-base-hit specialist.

                     

    New York Mets: Trade for Starling Marte

    As they strive for a step forward from their 86-76 campaign in 2019, what the New York Mets need most is debatable. Starting pitching, relief pitching and a center fielder generally seem like equal issues.

    But since the Mets' in-house arms aren't lacking in upside, our pick is for center field to get an outside addition. The position was worth only 0.2 WAR in 2019, and the projected starter for 2020 (Brandon Nimmo) would arguably work better as a fourth outfielder.

    Fortunately for the Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Starling Marte seems to be available on the trade market, and the Mets have interest in him, per MLB Network's Jon Heyman. His offensive upside and defensive skill set make him a perfect fit for what the Mets need.

                     

    Philadelphia Phillies: Sign Gerrit Cole

    The Philadelphia Phillies focused on upgrading their offense last winter, but disappointing returns from additions such as Bryce Harper and Jean Segura aren't the only reasons they won only 81 games in 2019.

    The Phillies also struggled on the mound, where their starters notably posted a 4.64 ERA. Aaron Nola was the only guy they could rely on. Barring any newcomers, they're slated for more of the same in 2020.

    Gerrit Cole is atop the Phillies' offseason wish list, according to Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Though they could pivot to Stephen Strasburg or someone else, giving in to Cole's price tag is certainly their best bet for the improvement they seek.

                   

    Washington Nationals: Re-Sign Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

    Though the Washington Nationals were able to bring back catcher Yan Gomes, the World Series champs are still tasked with re-signing or replacing Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Howie Kendrick and many other free agents.

    Certainly, the holes left by Strasburg and Rendon loom largest. The former is a franchise mainstay who truly became one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2019. The latter joined the ranks of the game's best third basemen with an offensive breakout highlighted by a 1.010 OPS and 34 home runs.

    Rather than one or the other, we're going to cheat and stump for the Nats to re-sign both Strasburg and Rendon. Both are equally important for maintaining the magic that guided the team through 2019.

National League Central

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    Starling Marte
    Starling MarteJohn Hefti/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: Trade for Whit Merrifield

    With respect to the Chicago Cubs' needs in their rotation and bullpen, their lineup sure would benefit from a guy who can play second base and center field and also bat leadoff.

    The Cubs got a grand total of 0.2 WAR out of second base and center field in 2019. Their leadoff spot, meanwhile, finished dead last in MLB with a .294 OBP.

    In light of all this, it came as no surprise when Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reported in October that Whit Merrifield would be an offseason priority for the Cubs. Actually getting him would go a long way toward putting the disappointment of their 84-win season firmly in the past.

                         

    Cincinnati Reds: Sign Marcell Ozuna

    Because they won only 75 games in 2019, the Cincinnati Reds might have entered the winter with a firm resolve not to repeat their aggressiveness during the 2018-19 offseason.

    Evidently, they instead mean to double-down on it. The Reds scored big with their signing of slugging infielder Mike Moustakas on Monday, and Passan subsequently hinted it would not be their last big move of the winter.

    If so, the Reds should prioritize an upgrade for a left field spot that produced only 0.2 WAR in 2019. That's where Marcell Ozuna is more of a natural fit than Nicholas Castellanos, as he's a true left fielder with All-Star upside.

                       

    Milwaukee Brewers: Trade Josh Hader for MLB-Ready Talent

    The Brewers have lost Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal and Drew Pomeranz to free agency, and they opened still more holes by non-tendering Travis Shaw, Jimmy Nelson and three others Monday.

    Though the Brewers did make an intriguing trade for Luis Urias and Eric Lauer, it also cost them Zach Davies and Trent Grisham. Put it all together, and what you see is an 89-win team that's shed a lot more talent than it's gained this winter.

    Trading Josh Hader might be the Brewers' best hope of a magic bullet. If they find the right buyer, they might turn his elite talent and four years of club control into several pieces they could plug in right away.

                

    Pittsburgh Pirates: Trade Josh Bell for Prospects

    Though other teams had worse seasons than the Pirates in 2019, the sheer ugliness with which they lost 93 games gave them little choice but to overhaul their leadership.

    Now that this project has essentially been completed, their depth chart should be next. What they have at the major league level simply isn't good enough to contend in 2020, while their farm system ranks in the middle of the pack at No. 17.

    The Pirates should cash in Starling Marte, but we'll go a step further and say Josh Bell should go too. Between his 37-homer breakout in 2019 and his three remaining years of club control, Bell's value is at its peak. It might get still another boost from a relatively weak free-agent market for first basemen.

                      

    St. Louis Cardinals: Trade for Trey Mancini

    They may have won the NL Central in the end, but the St. Louis Cardinals still endured a season-long offensive struggle in 2019. To wit, they barely outscored the Pirates.

    This should call for a major free-agent signing, but indications are (h/t Mark Saxon of The Athletic) that club owner Bill DeWitt Jr. doesn't want to increase payroll. If that's true, the Cards may have to look for a relatively lost-cost hitter on the trade market.

    Trey Mancini, who's projected to earn only $5.7 million after breaking out with an .899 OPS and 35 homers, would fit the bill. The Cardinals could then hope that Harrison Bader would cover for Mancini's defensive limitations in the outfield.

National League West

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    Madison Bumgarner
    Madison BumgarnerDaniel Shirey/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks: Sign Nicholas Castellanos

    The Arizona Diamondbacks are on the border between seller and buyer. But with 85 wins in their immediate past, a flexible payroll and a deep farm system to work with, they should be a buyer.

    The Diamondbacks have needs in their bullpen and around their infield, but right field simply cannot go unfixed. It was worth 0 WAR in 2019, and its depth chart is a man down after the non-tendering of Steven Souza Jr. on Monday.

    A left-handed hitter who would balance Arizona's right-leaning lineup would be ideal. But since those options are lacking, the D-backs should pursue the best right fielder available: Nicholas Castellanos.

                       

    Colorado Rockies: Trade for Omar Narvaez

    The Colorado Rockies lost 91 games in 2019 and their payroll is pretty much maxed out. A situation such as this might make them amenable to a brief retooling period.

    But while other teams might love to get their hands on the Rockies' top trade chips, they're still part of a core that produced back-to-back postseason berths in 2017 and 2018. There might not be much separating the Rockies from a bounce-back season in 2020.

    The best thing they can do is boost their offense, specifically at a catcher's spot that was an offensive black hole in 2019. A trade for Omar Narvaez, who's coming off an .813 OPS and 22 homers, would do nicely.

                   

    Los Angeles Dodgers: Sign Gerrit Cole

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have won seven straight NL West titles, not to mention more regular-season games than any other team since 2013. Yet they still seek their first World Series title since 1988.

    Though the Dodgers have made an effort to police their payroll in recent seasons, they may be ready to treat their championship drought as a desperate-times-call-for-desperate-measures affair. Per Jon Heyman of MLB Network, they have their eye on Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon.

    Any of the three would obviously help, but none so much as Cole. He would fill the hole left by Hyun-Jin Ryu's free agency and form an elite trio alongside Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw.

                    

    San Diego Padres: Trade for Matthew Boyd

    The San Diego Padres have rounded out their depth with moves for Jurickson Profar, Trent Grisham and Zach Davies, but they've yet to make a big splash.

    If and when they do, it will almost certainly be to the benefit of their rotation. They've been poking around aces for a couple of years at this point. Actually acquiring one (or a reasonable facsimile) would be a huge help in getting them to their first winning season since 2010.

    Because their payroll has already skyrocketed, the Padres are better off using their top-ranked farm system to trade for a top-of-the-rotation starter. Matthew Boyd is the most realistically available option, and he fits the profile of a guy who'd benefit from a move to the NL and specifically into Petco Park.

                   

    San Francisco Giants: Re-Sign Madison Bumgarner

    After a surprisingly respectable 77-85 season in 2019, what the San Francisco Giants want is to have it both ways. 

    According to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said in November that the organization wants to play "meaningful baseball" in 2020. It wants to do so, however, "in a way that creates flexibility for us."

    This could indicate the Giants will add, but not to the extent that they'll pursue the Coles, Strasburgs and Rendons of the world. But this doesn't rule out a reunion with Madison Bumgarner, who's badly needed in a rotation that looks naked without him.

                    

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. Payroll data courtesy of Roster Resource. Salary arbitration projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.

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