With a few big names (Yasmani Grandal, Brian Dozier, Jed Lowrie) having come off the shelves in the last couple of days, it’s as good a time as any to take stock not just of what’s left out there but what’s needed out there. Here’s a list of the top 10 remaining needs among —
With a few big names (Yasmani Grandal, Brian Dozier, Jed Lowrie) having come off the shelves in the last couple of days, it’s as good a time as any to take stock not just of what’s left out there but what’s needed out there.
Here’s a list of the top 10 remaining needs among — and this is the important part — teams that have demonstrated a desire to contend in 2019 (otherwise the various needs of a team like the Orioles might take up every spot on the list).
Oh, and for the record, just because a team is not listed here doesn’t mean it is “complete.” Who is, really?
To the list!
1. Indians: Outfield help
With Michael Brantley gone and one-time top Draft pick Bradley Zimmer out until midseason, at the earliest, following shoulder surgery, the Indians’ outfield profiles as one of the worst in baseball. FanGraphs-projected WAR marks in both corner outfield spots rank 27th, and their center-field projection is also in the lower-third of all teams.
The Indians brought in Jordan Luplow and Jake Bauers in trades, but Bauers is better-suited to first base. Unless the Indians surprise us by signing A.J. Pollock or trade a starting pitcher for an impact outfielder, lower-tier free-agent options like Nick Markakis, Carlos Gonzalez and Adam Jones are the most realistic fits here. Or if the Tribe takes advantage of Jose Ramirez‘s versatility and is open to putting Jason Kipnis in the outfield again, the club could add a third baseman (Mike Moustakas?) or, for that matter, sign somebody from the deep second-base market.
2. Phillies: A star
Though I wouldn’t ordinarily advocate that a franchise make a move — especially a move the magnitude of a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado signing — to appease a fan base, the Phillies’ situation definitely rates on the extreme side. Even after some big expenditures last offseason, the Phils’ 2018 payroll was a shadow of what it was in the first part of this decade.
Basically, Philly built for this moment by … subtracting. And the way a good team came apart at the seams in September only added to the impetus to do something dramatic this offseason. They’ve gotten better via the trade for Jean Segura and the signings of Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson. But the fans will no doubt be flustered if both Harper and Machado sign elsewhere.
3. Reds: Another starter
There are other north-of-90-loss teams from 2018 that have made what I consider an earnest effort to get better this offseason (the Rangers, Padres and White Sox). But no team in that category put as many eggs in the 2019 basket as the Reds did with that blockbuster swap with the Dodgers, because Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood are pending free agents. While the Reds definitely appear improved, no rational analysis would peg them as a playoff team, particularly in as deep a division as the National League Central.
The Reds went into this offseason expecting to spend, and to date they’ve actually spent very little. President of baseball operations Dick Williams has indicated he’s not done working on the rotation. Dallas Keuchel is the dream fit, and Sonny Gray is a speculative trade fit (he worked with new pitching coach Derek Johnson at Vanderbilt). Or the Reds could pick through the likes of Wade Miley, Clay Buchholz, Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson and Ervin Santana.
4. Dodgers: Catcher
Now that assumption has turned into reality with Grandal’s departure, it will be interesting to see if the J.T. Realmuto trade talks gather momentum. Realmuto is a perfect fit for a club in need of right-handed thump, but the Marlins have obviously maintained a steep asking price.
It’s a steep drop from Realmuto to a free-agent option like Nick Hundley.
5. A’s: More starting pitching
The A’s made it to October in 2018, but, by the end, their rotation resembled Topper Harley’s airplane at the end of “Hot Shots” (it was pretty beat up, in other words). Since then, Trevor Cahill left in free agency, and Edwin Jackson and Anderson are still on the open market. Oakland re-signed Mike Fiers, but Sean Manaea won’t be available until midseason, at the earliest, following shoulder surgery, and Jharel Cotton, Daniel Gossett and prospect A.J. Puk are all coming off Tommy John surgery.
Oakland has a premier prospect in Jesus Luzardo, but relying too heavily on him is bad baseball sense and promoting him too early is (let’s get real) bad business sense. So the A’s are definitely still on the hunt for additional arms, likely waiting on some bargain signings even deeper into the offseason. Anyone up for a Bartolo Colon reunion?
6. Brewers: Second base
Good on the Brewers for seizing the moment in the Grandal market, but they still haven’t totally shored up arguably their greatest positional weakness at second base.
The Brew Crew really only needs a stopgap until prospects Mauricio Dubon or Keston Hiura are ready and did add Cory Spangenberg on a one-year deal, and the market is still deep on second basemen (Marwin Gonzalez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker, DJ LeMahieu, Josh Harrison, Logan Forsythe, etc.). Or the Brewers could reunite with Moustakas and move Travis Shaw to second again.
7. Braves: A corner outfield bat
Atlanta is going to be a really interesting ballclub in this late stage of the offseason, because there are several directions GM Alex Anthopoulos could go to put his team in the best position to repeat as NL East champs. The rotation could use a horse (Madison Bumgarner?), the back end of the bullpen has some question marks, and the Braves remain a potential landing spot for Realmuto.
But corner outfield is probably the biggest “must” on the shopping list, unless the Braves believe strongly in Adam Duvall bouncing back from a steep regression in 2018. Reuniting with Markakis is a possibility, or the Braves could look at other short-term solutions like Gonzalez or Jones.
8. Twins: Pitching help
Because of the Indians’ tight budget and the thump Minnesota has added to its order, contention in the AL Central, while still an iffy proposition, is not the total pipe dream it was a year ago. But if the Twins are as serious about ’19 as the one-year deal Nelson Cruz signing would indicate, they could likely use some added stability, either in a rotation long on options for the last spot (Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, Kohl Stewart, Adalberto Mejia and others) but short on certainty or in the back end of the bullpen, where the Twins have interesting arms aplenty but no experienced anchor.
9. Red Sox: Bullpen help
Alex Speier of the Boston Globe had a nice story last week on how the Red Sox created a data-driven system that has allowed them to get the most out of the unheralded likes of Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier. It’s a system that should continue to serve them well moving forward. But that doesn’t change the bottom line that Joe Kelly left, and, as of now, there is no serious indication that Craig Kimbrel will be re-signing with the Red Sox. Would Boston take a chance on Cody Allen for the closer role after his down ’18?
For what it’s worth, the FanGraphs projections have the Yankees at No. 1 in the bullpen department and the Red Sox at No. 21.
10. Astros: A starter
Between Keuchel’s expected departure, Charlie Morton‘s departure and Lance McCullers Jr.‘s Tommy John surgery, the Astros have lost three arms that accounted for 499 1/3 innings in ’18. So yeah, they need another starter, and we already noted some of the second- or third-tier arms available. That said, let’s not overlook the impact that could come from within. Collin McHugh will shift back to the rotation from the bullpen, rookie Josh James has electric stuff and right-hander Forrest Whitley, the Astros’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is getting close.