Biggest Concern for Every MLB Team Heading into Hot Stove Season

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IDecember 5, 2020

Biggest Concern for Every MLB Team Heading into Hot Stove Season

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Executives and insiders have belabored the notion of the 2020 MLB offseason as arguably the most challenging in recent memory.

    But for all the talk of financial peril and the upcoming expiry of the current collective bargaining agreement, there is still a World Series to win in 2021.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers, fresh off their first title since 1988, are a likely candidate to repeat. But young and hungry American League teams in Chicago and Toronto could be aggressive this winter, not to mention a New York Mets team with a new owner desperate to contend.

    Even teams not expected to contend this year have questions to answer. How will they be more competitive? Are there trade chips they can look to maximize right now, or should they hold those chips until the trade deadline?

    Let's take a closer look at the biggest concern for each of the 30 clubs. The issues selected were chosen based on competitive outlook as well as whether certain teams are in a better position to add or subtract in the offseason. Some teams might have to thread the "buy or sell" needle, which itself could be a concern.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Spend More or Reposition?

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    Darryl Webb/Associated Press

    The Diamondbacks were aggressive last offseason, signing Madison Bumgarner to a five-year deal that surprised plenty and trading for Starling Marte.

    But Arizona's effort to get back to the playoffs failed, as the D-backs finished dead-last in the NL West.

    It is still reasonable to believe the Diamondbacks could be competitive in 2021, particularly if Bumgarner recovers and guys like Eduardo Escobar and Ketel Marte resemble more of their 2019 selves.

    That said, this team has not made the playoffs since 2017, and it lacks the depth to really make a deep run. Arizona could look to cash in on the value of Escobar (on an expiring contract) or Kole Calhoun (.864 OPS and club option in 2022) and add to its stockpile of young talent in the pipeline.

    So will general manager Mike Hazen spend in an effort to win? Or might he decide to cash in on trade value? The direction he takes could have big ramifications for the future of the organization.

Atlanta Braves: Can They Re-Sign Marcell Ozuna?

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The Braves roster is mostly set.

    General manager Alex Anthopoulos, true to his nature, spent a little extra on one-year deals to add Charlie Morton and left-hander Drew Smyly to the rotation. With Mike Soroka returning next year, that group appears pretty well rounded out. Mark Melancon is a free agent, but the bullpen is still in good shape. 

    The main question will be whether the Braves can re-sign Ozuna, who led the NL in homers (18), RBI (56) and total bases (145) while posting a career-high 1.067 OPS.

    Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported "no less" than 10 teams are interested in Ozuna. That market could grow larger (or smaller) depending on whether the universal designated hitter remains in 2021. Regardless, it suggests the 30-year-old will earn a high annual average value (AAV).

    Atlanta already entered the winter possibly needing another bat, and it cannot afford to lose production in the outfield given Nick Markakis' free agency and Ender Inciarte's struggles. However, that could also mean doling out quite a bit of cash to Ozuna in a high-AAV multiyear deal, which has hardly been a hallmark of Anthopoulos' front office.

Baltimore Orioles: More Rotation Talent Needed

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The O's are still rebuilding, but their positional talent is promising.

    Anthony Santander could be blossoming into something, and Ryan Mountcastle was terrific in his rookie campaign. Adley Rutschman and Yusniel Diaz are waiting in the wings, and Trey Mancini is just entering his prime. Though, it remains to be seen how Mancini will respond after missing the entirety of the 2020 season with colon cancer.

    The bullpen also features promising arms in Tanner Scott and Paul Fry. But there is a shortage of starting pitching in the system.

    John Means struggled (5.60 FIP) after a strong rookie year, and Jorge Lopez also had his struggles. Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer both have strong peripherals and could be special if they harness their command of the baseball. However, Baltimore needs more depth in its talent pool.

Boston Red Sox: Chris Sale's Health

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The Red Sox's primary offseason concern is addressing the starting rotation. But any potential additions will pale in comparison if the anchor of the staff, Chris Sale, is not healthy.

    Sale missed the entirety of the 2020 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery at the start of April. He is not expected to return until June or July, but it is critical the 31-year-old is healthy when he does come back.

    The left-hander's credentials are outstanding. Sale holds the all-time record for strikeout-to-walk ratio and finished in the top five for the AL Cy Young in every season between 2013 and 2018. However, Sale had a steady decrease in starts and innings in both 2018 and 2019 after three straight seasons with over 200 innings pitched.

    If healthy, Sale can be the ace the Red Sox need in order to be competitive again. But if not, his contract extension signed in 2019 will became more appalling to Boston fans, especially since that money might otherwise have been used toward extending Mookie Betts.

Chicago White Sox: Are the Young Starters Ready?

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    The White Sox have a couple of issues, notably new manager Tony La Russa's legal troubles as well as a hole in right field.

    But the front office's decision on whether Chicago's young starters are up to the challenge could shape its whole offseason.

    If general manager Rick Hahn and Co. have faith in the likes of Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning to fill out the rotation, the White Sox could choose to spend big on someone like George Springer or Marcell Ozuna.

    Otherwise, Chicago might prefer to get more aggressive in signing starters and adding bullpen arms while signing someone like Josh Reddick—who would platoon nicely with Adam Engel—to play right field. Indeed, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported the White Sox are among the teams aggressively pursuing starting pitching.

    The bet here is the White Sox try to spend big on someone like Springer, but they could also go hard after second-tier starters like Jake Odorizzi or Taijuan Walker.

Chicago Cubs: Lack of Trade Value for Core Players

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    This is a pretty obvious selection. 

    The Cubs are a franchise in transition, with Jed Hoyer taking over for Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations. Chicago appears open to trading just about any player on the roster, with ESPN's Buster Olney noting that teams are keeping an eye on Kris Bryant.

    Problem is, the Cubs could struggle to get good return value for their young stars. Bryant is coming off a career-worst year (.644 OPS), has dealt with injuries in the last few years and will be a free agent next season.

    Javier Baez could garner interest even coming off a poor offensive season. But he is a fan favorite, and teams might not be keen to give up too much considering his 2020 numbers in addition to the number of free-agent shortstops hitting the market in 2022. Meanwhile, any move involving Yu Darvish or Kyle Hendricks would indicate a full-scale rebuild.

    Chicago must not have found any takers for Kyle Schwarber, whom they non-tendered earlier this week. That is not the best of indicators for Hoyer as he takes over.

Cincinnati Reds: Avoid Getting Stuck in the Middle Ground

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    What is the "middle ground," exactly?

    Well, it might look something like failing to re-sign Trevor Bauer or making a substantial upgrade at shortstop while not trading Sonny Gray in order to cash in on a weak starting pitchers' market and boost the farm system.

    The Reds want to have sustained success. But unless they re-sign Bauer and somehow pull off a trade for Francisco Lindor, it feels like Cincy could have a hard time being consistently good.

    The rotation is still decent without Bauer, but not nearly as strong as it is with him at the top. Moreover, the lineup lacks steady production at short and the outfield spots, and with regard to the bullpen, there is little depth in the middle innings.

    Cincinnati might still contend given the National League Central figures to take a step back this season. Those chances increase dramatically if it re-signs Bauer and plugs holes in the bullpen and at short.

    But the reality is Bauer will likely get the highest dollar figure in terms of annual average value, and the Reds might be hard-pressed to bring him back.

    Alternatively, dealing Gray—owed just north of $20 million in the next two years—could stock the Reds' farm with assets to help them contend down the road. Plus, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported the team is still looking at free-agent starters while dangling Gray. 

    The Reds could at least give themselves a fighting chance in 2021 by adding fringe starters and upgrading at shortstop. But watching Bauer leave and failing to maximize Gray's value now could set the farm system back and endanger the team's ability to be competitive in the future.

Cleveland Indians: Will the Possible Return Merit Trading Lindor?

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    The Indians and Lindor appear headed for a breakup, with Cleveland looking to cut costs.

    Fans might have been hoping the Dolan family would have a change of heart regarding payroll, but declining Brad Hand's option suggests that is not the case. The Indians are also almost certainly going to move Lindor if, say, it appears compensatory draft picks are going to be removed in the next CBA agreement.

    But Cleveland still needs to be smart. Merely moving Lindor to alleviate payroll concerns is foolish, and the Indians still have every right to sell very high on a switch-hitting shortstop who slugs, steals bases and plays premium defense.

    The worst-case scenario has Lindor moving at the deadline, in which case he will still have plenty of suitors and could spark a bidding war.

    All that being said, it is worth wondering whether the Indians will truly get the return someone of Lindor's caliber deserves.

Colorado Rockies: Failing to Get Enough (or Anything) for Nolan Arenado

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The Rockies have a similar problem to the Indians.

    A player of Arenado's stature would normally net a huge return. But the fact he has an opt-out after this season and is owed almost $200 million in the next six years could very well scare potentially interested teams away, especially given the financial state of the game. At the very least, those factors figure to lessen the offers Colorado receives.

    But, like Cleveland and Lindor, the Rockies also have some urgency in their effort to trade Arenado because he will almost certainly opt out prior to 2022. Unlike the Indians, the Rockies have a shallow farm system lacking in quality arms.

    The Rockies are unlikely to risk Arenado walking next winter, but they might also have to accept a somewhat disappointing return. If they can find a real suitor, that is.

Detroit Tigers: More Run-Producers Needed

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Tigers were smart to hand out one-year deals to C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop last year. Will they follow that same formula this season?

    Detroit finally debuted some its highly anticipated arms in 2020, including Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. Right-hander Matt Manning is not far behind.

    However, the youngsters in the lineup struggled. Willi Castro was excellent, and Victor Reyes has upside in center. But Isaac Paredes, Christin Stewart and Daz Cameron all hit below the Mendoza Line.

    The Tigers need some bats and could benefit from on-base guys who can also hit for power. The question is just how much they are willing to spend.

    Perhaps simply re-signing Schoop and replacing Cron with someone like Carlos Santana could be in the cards. Or maybe Detroit will bet on Jurickson Profar's improved discipline (career-high .343 OBP in 2020) and versatility.

Houston Astros: Lack of Bullpen Depth

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Astros face unique circumstances in that they have three starting-caliber outfielders all entering free agency. But the bigger issue is the bullpen.

    Houston's relief unit ranked just 16th in fWAR in 2020, per FanGraphs. The Astros also cut ties with former closer Roberto Osuna, and both Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski are among those headed for the open market.

    Fortunately for the Astros, there are a number of quality relievers available this winter. Unfortunately, addressing the bullpen is almost always a priority for contenders, and Houston could face steep competition for some of the best arms.

    Plus, re-signing either Springer or Michael Brantley will push Houston that much further to the luxury-tax threshold, thereby limiting the amount they have to spend on the bullpen.

Kansas City Royals: Are They Going Too Fast, Too Quickly?

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Early indications suggest the Royals feel they can be more competitive in 2021.

    Kansas City signed left-hander Mike Minor to a two-year deal worth $18 million, with a club option in 2023. It seems unlikely the Royals would have made a multiyear offer if they did not feel good about their competitive window, which apparently ramped up with the debut of Brady Singer and a strong third season from Brad Keller. 

    But is this team really ready to contend?

    The Royals ranked 13th in the AL in runs scored and 11th in OPS, and that included a sensational campaign from veteran backstop Salvador Perez.

    Granted, the likes of Hunter Dozier, Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler had somewhat underwhelming seasons. Still, the lineup lacks a steady run-producer in the middle of the order, and both Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi are low-OBP guys.

    The Royals might be overly optimistic with respect to their roster, which could cost them the chance to capitalize on the potential value of guys like Merrifield, Soler or left-hander Danny Duffy.

Los Angeles Angels: Rotation Woes

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    It feels like the Angels have needed more starting pitching for years now—probably because it is true.

    The Dylan Bundy acquisition paid huge dividends for the Halos last year. Griffin Canning (3.99 ERA) managed to be effective, and Jaime Barria had a 3.62 ERA in 32.1 innings.

    But Andrew Heaney's stuff has yet to translate to strong numbers, and L.A. would assuredly be more comfortable adding an arm or two to the rotation given the absence of impact pitchers in the system.

    Of course, a good number of teams are also in the market for starting pitching this year. Teams like the Blue Jays, Braves and Royals have also been quick to pay up for mid-tier arms, which should be a hint that the competition for some of the better arms will be quite fierce. 

    Los Angeles appears to have figured out its shortstop situation after acquiring Jose Iglesias from the Orioles. However, starting pitching is—once again—remains a big concern.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Bolstering the Back End of the Bullpen

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The defending World Series champions have few flaws heading into the offseason.

    Los Angeles' rotation could get even better with the debut of David Price, and the Dodgers are more than capable of either re-signing Justin Turner or even making a blockbuster deal for the likes of Lindor or Arenado.

    However, the bullpen needs a makeover.

    The Dodgers have multiple late-inning arms on the free-agent market, including Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez and left-hander Jake McGee.

    Los Angeles is already indicating it will be a player for some of the top relief arms, with MLB Network's Jon Morosi reporting the Dodgers have interest in Brad Hand. The Dodgers will also hope Corey Knebel can return to form after acquiring him from the Milwaukee Brewers, much like Treinen did for them after a down year in 2019.

Miami Marlins: Not Enough Slugging

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    The Marlins were the feel-good story in baseball after reaching the postseason for the first time since 2003. Miami benefited from a shortened season and expanded playoffs, but so what?

    Well, the honeymoon is over, and it is time for the Bottom Feeders to come back to earth.

    The reality is the Marlins do not have nearly enough offense to make another playoff push in 2021. Miami ranked 11th in the NL in runs scored, 11th in OPS and 13th in slugging.

    Veterans such as Miguel Rojas, Garrett Cooper and Jesus Aguilar all produced, but Lewis Brinson continued to struggle. The team's future infield of Isan Diaz (who played just seven games) and Jazz Chisholm (.563 OPS in 21 games) simply are not ready yet.

    The Marlins are in essentially the same position as the Tigers: The young arms are intriguing and here to stay, but the lineup lacks oomph. Perhaps a full season of Starling Marte will help matters, if the Marlins don't flip him at the trade deadline.

Milwaukee Brewers: Still Trying to Contend Versus Adding to the Farm

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Milwaukee had been among the most successful teams in the NL in 2018 and 2019. It also vastly outperformed its Pythagorean win-loss records.

    The Brewers' luck caught up with them in 2020, as their lackluster lineup ranked 12th in runs scored and 13th in OPS. Most of the offseason additions—Justin Smoak, Avisail Garcia and Eric Sogard—flopped, and both Keston Hiura and Christian Yelich regressed, though Yelich gradually improved as the season went along.

    This team is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Brewers obviously struggle to generate offense, and they lack dependable arms in the rotation. Simultaneously, Milwaukee has the 26th-best farm system in baseball, per Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter.

    The Brewers are not going to be big spenders in free agency. How will they toe the line between trying to be competitive in 2021 and stacking the farm over the remaining eight years left on Yelich's contract?

    The solution might be trading Josh Hader, who could possibly net MLB-ready talent and other young assets.

Minnesota Twins: The White Sox Spending Big

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    The Twins need rotation depth, and they will also have to figure out how to replace Eddie Rosario after waiving him earlier this week. Re-signing Nelson Cruz is another priority.

    But Minnesota's biggest concern might actually be Chicago spending big.

    The White Sox are poised to take their place atop the AL Central, and they are also in a prime position to be aggressive in free agency.

    The Twins have some payroll flexibility as well. But Chicago might well outbid Minnesota for potential rotation or bullpen targets. Naturally, this would only strengthen the South Siders while forcing the Twins to resort to alternatives.

    It should be said Minnesota figures to improve. A lot of its bats struggled, and the Twins should also get a full year of Michael Pineda, who started just five games due to a 2019 suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

    But the White Sox are coming on fast, and might jump the Twins in the Central with some shrewd offseason acquisitions.

New York Yankees: Juggling LeMahieu with Starting Needs

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Yankees have to deal with a confluence of factors this offseason.

    New York has a high payroll, one that will only grow larger if they re-sign DJ LeMahieu. Still, the Bronx Bombers would love to bring back LeMahieu, who produced 7.9 fWAR in the last two years, per FanGraphs.

    However, the Yankees also have serious needs in the rotation, especially considering Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ are all free agents. How will general manager Brian Cashman juggle these priorities?

    New York is one of the few teams in baseball that consistently generates enough revenue to throw caution to the wind, even in an offseason like this one. But there could also be some pressure to get closer to the luxury-tax threshold.

    LeMahieu is going to command one of the biggest deals on the market and has interest from a number of teams. Morosi reported "many in the industry" expect the Yankees to bring him back to the Bronx, but they might then only be able to afford fringe adds in the rotation.

New York Mets: Somehow Missing on All Marquee Free Agents

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The Mets' concern is also fairly straightforward, considering the buzz following new owner Steve Cohen and the expectation New York will spend big this winter.

    What if they fail to sign any of their top targets?

    The Mets have already gotten the ball rolling by signing right-handed reliever Trevor May. It is possible they could mix bullpen adds with starting needs by moving Seth Lugo to the rotation. But the top names still make sense for New York.

    Trevor Bauer would give the Mets another front-line starter alongside Jacob deGrom. He would also provide insurance with both Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard headed for free agency. Star catcher J.T. Realmuto is arguably the best fit for New York after the team declined Wilson Ramos' club option.

    The Mets are in an excellent position to be aggressive and stake their claim to top free agents. But there is the chance these players see stronger foundations or better opportunities elsewhere, which would be nightmarish for New York.

Oakland Athletics: Accounting for Bullpen Departures

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The A's might have the most needs of any contender. Oakland has to find a new double-play combination up the middle and could also use more left-handed pop, especially in the outfield.

    But the biggest strength of the team—the bullpen—is being depleted, which naturally makes it the biggest concern. 

    Oakland ranked first in bullpen ERA in 2020. But veteran arms Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit are both free agents, as is closer Liam Hendriks. 

    Hendriks' likely departure is especially impactful. The Australian ranked first among relievers in fWAR (5.2) in the last two years, per FanGraphs, easily outpacing runner-up Kirby Yates. He was a bona fide stopper at the end of the pen and one of the most valuable weapons in the game.

    The A's can pivot by signing someone like Yates or Mark Melancon, if they come up with the money. In any case, accruing some arms to revamp the bullpen and keep it a strength is fairly imperative for Oakland this winter.

Philadelphia Phillies: Just About Everything

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    Phillies fans should be concerned about darn near everything this offseason.

    Philadelphia hoped signing Bryce Harper and trading for J.T. Realmuto during the 2018-19 offseason would make the club competitive. When the Phils failed to make the playoffs, they doubled down by signing Zack Wheeler, only to miss out on October baseball again in 2020.

    Now, the Phillies are being gutted. Both Realmuto and Didi Gregorius are free agents, depriving Philly of two run-producers at premium positions. The team does not appear to be in any position to re-sign these guys, either.

    Philadelphia reportedly lost $145 million in 2020, and owner John Middleton has already stated the losses will impact payroll. Not to mention, the front office is still up for grabs after former general manager Matt Klentak stepped down.

    In a cruel twist of fate, Philadelphia is also watching Sixto Sanchez—whom they included in the deal for Realmuto—become a star while its own rotation flounders and the team stands to lose its All-Star backstop after just two years.

    These are troubling times for the Phillies, who are in danger of wasting the best part of Harper's prime.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Selling, but Not Selling Too Low

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Pirates actually have assets who could be very appealing to numerous contenders, notably in the rotation.

    Left-hander Steven Brault had a 3.38 ERA in 42.2 innings in 2020. The 28-year-old also has three years of club control remaining, and Morosi reported teams are reaching out to Pittsburgh to inquire about Brault's services.

    Joe Musgrove is a guy who has not made a ton of noise in terms of the rumor mill, but he could also be on the move. Musgrove had a 3.86 ERA and 3.42 FIP in eight starts while striking out a career-high 12.5 per nine innings. The Californian will not be a free agent until 2023, so he is another controllable arm that teams could pursue.

    Pittsburgh needs to shop these guys and stack assets to speed up the rebuild. But they also cannot afford to sell too low. The depressed nature of the starting-pitching market should garner some decent offers for Brault and Musgrove, and the Bucs need to maximize their respective values.

San Diego Padres: Shortage of Late-Game Impact Relievers

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The Padres were another squad that appeared to arrive ahead of schedule and suddenly established themselves as legitimate contenders. But the bullpen needs work.

    San Diego lost closer Kirby Yates early in the year because of injury. This eventually led the Friars to trade for Trevor Rosenthal. Now, both are free agents. The Padres also gave up Cal Quantrill in the Mike Clevinger deal, which is yet another arm to account for this offseason.

    As good as Drew Pomeranz has been, it seems unlikely the Padres want him entrenched as their closer, and Emilio Pagan blew five saves in 2020. Craig Stammen's peripherals were OK, but he also struggled to be effective.

    This is all a way of saying San Diego desperately needs another late-game reliever, whether it's re-signing Yates or adding someone else to the roster.

    The rotation could also use help, given Clevinger going under the knife for Tommy John and Garrett Richards heading for free agency. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported the Friars were among the teams interested in signing Bauer and trading for Blake Snell.

    But the Padres have the knowledge that young starters like Adrian Morejon, Luis Patino and MacKenzie Gore are all coming up soon, if not on the Opening Day roster come next spring.

    The bullpen should be the first thing general manager A.J. Preller looks to address.

San Francisco Giants: Go Big or Wait Till 2022?

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    The Giants' biggest concern might be the general lack of clarity 2021 entails.

    San Francisco's late-season woes have cost them a playoff spot in each of the last two seasons. The Giants went 22-32 over the last two months in 2019 after being in the hunt at the trade deadline. This season, San Francisco lost four of their last five to miss out on a wild-card spot.

    This team is just good enough to make things interesting, but it's not quite good enough to make it into the postseason. So, time to take some shots in free agency, right? Well, not necessarily.

    The Giants do not always make the same noise as the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox, but they are still a big-market club. Still, it might be wise for general manager Farhan Zaidi to resist spending until next winter, when Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford are free agents and San Francisco is also almost certain to buy out both Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto.

    Morosi reported the Giants are interested in Marcell Ozuna, though that interest is "somewhat contingent" on whether the universal DH is in play for 2021. It seems Zaidi and Co. will do their due diligence.

    Still, it might be just as smart to make subtle improvements in preparation for a spending spree next year.

Seattle Mariners: Lack of Boppers in the Lineup

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    The Mariners have reason to be optimistic about their outlook.

    Seattle's rotation looks quite enticing. Justus Sheffield, 24, had a 3.58 ERA and should only continue to improve if he slashes his walk rate. Marco Gonzales had a 3.10 ERA and led all of baseball in strikeout-to-walk ratio. 

    Yusei Kikuchi had a 3.51 expected ERA, per Baseball Savant. He also has a strong fastball/slider combination, which should alleviate concerns over the 5.17 ERA. Justin Dunn's peripherals are less encouraging, but he—like Sheffield—is still just 24 years old.

    But the M's need more lineup production. Seattle ranked 11th in the AL in runs scored and 14th in OPS. Kyle Lewis is the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, and guys like Dylan Moore and Ty France figure to be major contributors alongside veteran third baseman Kyle Seager.

    Still, Seattle could use more offense, especially if it finds vets on one-year deals. Offensive improvement might also come internally if youngsters like Jake Fraley and Taylor Trammell are ready to contribute. Top prospect Jarred Kelenic might still be a year away.

St. Louis Cardinals: Offense, Offense and More Offense

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Cardinals' most pressing problem, apparently, is the lack of payroll flexibility the team has this winter.

    St. Louis declined its option on veteran second baseman Kolten Wong, and the cost-cutting continued when the Redbirds non-tendered reliever John Brebbia, who missed all of 2020 with Tommy John.

    However, the biggest concern is the lineup. The Cardinals ranked 14th in the NL in both runs scored and OPS, even with a resurgent season from Paul Goldschmidt and a breakout year from Brad Miller.

    Even if St. Louis believes guys like Tommy Edman and Paul DeJong bounce back, it still might not be enough to account for the lack of slugging in the lineup. The Cardinals' hesitancy in re-signing Ozuna last winter has come back to haunt them, especially now that payroll concerns seem to be front and center.

    While St. Louis has the young talent and prospects to possibly pull off a deal for an impact bat like Arenado or Lindor, the Redbirds have not given any indication they are willing to take on big contracts or make big-money offers in the near future.

    Still, payroll issues do not alleviate the need for more offense.

Tampa Bay Rays: Is It Worth It to Trade Blake Snell?

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Snell's name has been bandied about as a potential trade candidate, with the defending AL champs looking to slash payroll.

    But the Rays have to ask what trading Snell would accomplish. If they are not receiving an MLB-ready bat with slugging upside (plus plenty more) in return, is it really worth it to move the left-hander? 

    Snell had a 3.24 ERA in 11 starts during the regular season and was one of Tampa Bay's strongest postseason performers. He is still young (28) and is under contract through 2023.

    Isn't it possible the Rays could merely try to trade him in the next couple of years? Sure, moving Snell would lessen the payroll. It would also almost certainly make Tampa Bay worse. 

    The Rays already lost Charlie Morton in free agency. They have arms in the system, but none have the kind of experience and success Snell already has under his belt.

    There is also this: If the past two years have proved anything, it is that strong rotation performances trump a deep bullpen in October. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Washington Nationals...or Rays manager Kevin Cash.

Texas Rangers: Possible Snell and Gray Trades Lessen Interest in Lance Lynn

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Simply put: The Rangers have too many concerns to list. They ranked dead-last in the AL in runs scored and OPS and also have rotation needs. Texas' farm system is rather shallow as well.

    However, the Rangers do have one of the top trade assets this winter in Lance Lynn.

    The 33-year-old was a popular target ahead of the August deadline, though the Rangers elected to retain him. Lynn is a workhorse who ranks fifth in baseball in fWAR in the last two seasons, per FanGraphs. He is also on an $8 million salary for 2021.

    That last part is especially important. Guys like Robbie Ray and Drew Smyly have already been snatched up for that value or higher, and Lynn has simply been better (and healthier) than both in the last couple of years.

    Texas should have a market for Lynn. But Snell or Gray being made available could alter the landscape a bit. There is a chance a Snell or Gray trade could actually change the landscape for better, depending on the return the Rays or Reds would hypothetically get for their starters.

    But the presence of those guys on the market might also drive ideal trade partners away from the Rangers, which would be bad news.

Toronto Blue Jays: Rounding Out the Rotation

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Blue Jays seem more and more interested in signing George Springer, who would be another big bat and an improvement in center field.

    That said, Toronto should be most concerned with the lack of depth in the rotation.

    The Blue Jays signed Robbie Ray in an aggressive move, though he is coming off the worst year of his career. Ray, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanner Roark comprise the current rotation, with Nate Pearson also likely in the mix. But the rest remains uncertain.

    General manager Ross Atkins needs more arms. Morosi reported Toronto could pursue a reunion with J.A. Happ, and Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet reported the team is interested in Garrett Richards (via TC Zencka of MLB Trade Rumors). 

    Regardless, the Blue Jays could use a couple of arms to bolster a rotation that produced just 0.7 fWAR besides Ryu last year, per FanGraphs.

Washington Nationals: The Window Might Be Closing

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Nats won the World Series just two seasons ago. Yet, their window of contention appears to be shutting rather rapidly.

    Max Scherzer is a free agent after 2021. Stephen Strasburg is coming off another injury, and Patrick Corbin experienced a steep decline in velocity (and effectiveness) last year, per Baseball Savant.

    So, the team's No. 1 strength is a bit of a question mark. The lineup is more questionable. Washington has legitimate star power in Juan Soto and Trea Turner. But the Nats need their youngsters to make strides, and it hasn't happened.

    Victor Robles took another step back in 2020, and Carter Kieboom still doesn't look ready to take over third base full-time. This is concerning, considering the Nats already lack positional talent in the pipeline. 

    Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Washington is "unlikely to be a major player" for infielders like Kris Bryant or DJ LeMahieu. So, how do they improve the roster?

    The Nats could opt for low-cost signings paired with one bigger signing, such as Ozuna in right field or Justin Turner at third base.

    In any case, Washington might only have a couple of more seasons—if that—to really make a run at another World Series.

         

    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, unless otherwise noted.