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We are closer to the start of spring training than the end of the World Series, but doesn't it feel like MLB's offseason has barely gotten underway? Granted, we have seen major trades (Juan Soto) and blockbuster signings (Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto). The pace of the hot stove league has been slow though, which only means there's a lot of action ahead of us.

As always, some teams have been more active than others this offseason, and some teams need a lot more help than others too. No team has been more bold than the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals aggressively attacked their needs as well, and so did the New York Yankees. Shoutout to the Kansas City Royals too. They're making an effort.

Other teams, well, we're still waiting for them to do something this offseason. Something impactful that meaningfully improves their postseason and/or World Series odds. I know it's not the deepest free-agent class, but there are a lot of frustrated fan bases out there. They just want to see their team get better. That's not unreasonable. Never feel guilty for wanting your team to improve.

With that in mind, here are five teams with designs on contention this coming season that have had a fairly quiet offseason to date. These are five teams we hope are more active in the 2024 half of the winter than they were in the 2023 half.

1. Baltimore Orioles

What they've done: Signed Craig Kimbrel

What they should do: Add a high-end starter. Why weren't the O's in on Yamamoto, exactly? He's only 25 and he was available for nothing but money (not even draft pick compensation). Yamamoto fits Baltimore's contention window and youth movement perfectly, and while he may have (likely would have?) turned down the Orioles and picked the Dodgers anyway, as far as we know Baltimore didn't even make an attempt to sign him. Couldn't at least try? Make him say no to you.

Even with John Means returning from Tommy John surgery, the Orioles need another quality starting pitcher. That was obvious last offseason, throughout the 2023 regular season, and again in the postseason, when their starters allowed 13 runs in eight innings in three games. Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell are the best available free agent starters, though the trade market is a better match for the O's given their wealth of prospects (they don't have enough roster spots for all these infielders). Dylan Cease would be ideal because he comes with two years of control, but even one year of Corbin Burnes would go a long way to improving their World Series odds in 2024. 

Why they should do it: Well, for starters, the Orioles won 101 games and the AL East in 2023. Do that and you should add to your roster and try to get better the next year. That is Competitive Sports 101. Also, Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson won't make the league minimum forever. The O's will never have as much financial flexibility with this core as they do right now. If they're not going to use that flexibility to improve the team now, when will they? Wanting a team to get better after a 101-win season is not sacrilege. It should be expected.

2. Chicago Cubs

What they've done: Hired Craig Counsell

What they should do: Something? Anything? That's an oversimplification, but for real though, the Cubs shockingly hired Counsell a week into the offseason, and they've done nothing other than sign a few players to minor-league contracts since. They're the only team in baseball that has not traded for a major leaguer or signed a major-league free agent this offseason. Counsell is a great manager and an upgrade over the incumbent David Ross, but surely the front office knows it must improve the roster.

The good news is opportunities still exist. Cody Bellinger, who was so good for the Cubs last year, remains available and a reunion makes sense for both sides. Matt Chapman's market has been very quiet, and although his strikeouts can be frustrating, he offers power and top-shelf defense at third base. He'd make the Cubbies better. There are quality relievers sitting in free agency and the Cubs are in position to make noise in that market. They can offer money and opportunity.

I think that, ideally, the Cubs would re-sign Bellinger, swing a trade for Shane Bieber, and upgrade the bullpen with someone like Robert Stephenson or Hector Neris. Bieber is not the pitcher he was at his Cy Young peak, though the Cubs don't really need him to be that, and the one year of control figures to keep the cost down. There is no shortage of ways this Cubs roster can be improved.

Why they should do it: Chicago missed the postseason by one game in 2023 and, if not for a final week in which just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong, they would have been playing October baseball. There's a solid foundation in place -- Ian Happ, Justin Steele, Seiya Suzuki, Dansby Swanson -- but there are parts of the roster that need help. So, go improve them. A postseason spot is there for the taking and the NL Central is winnable.

3. Houston Astros

What they've done: Signed Victor Caratini, acquired Dylan Coleman

What they should do: Add a big outfield bat. I thought maybe the Astros were lying in the weeds in Soto, though it doesn't seem like they were ever serious about pursuing him despite having an open outfield spot and pitching to trade. Just imagine being a pitcher and having to face this lineup:

  1. 2B Jose Altuve
  2. LF Juan Soto
  3. 3B Alex Bregman
  4. DH Yordan Alvarez
  5. 1B José Abreu
  6. RF Kyle Tucker
  7. CF Chas McCormick
  8. C Yainer Diaz
  9. SS Jeremy Peña

Soto didn't happen but the Astros still have that open outfield spot (unless they really want to play Jake Meyers every day). They may not want to spend big on Bellinger with Altuve and Bregman a year away from free agency, so how about Jorge Soler? His poor defense can be hidden in Minute Maid Park's small left field (he and Alvarez can split left field and DH time) and Soler has the pull power to pepper the Crawford Boxes. We saw it in the 2021 World Series.

The Astros have enviable rotation depth, though they could also use another bullpen arm (to replace Neris), which just makes them like every other team in the game. To me, it feels like they have an opportunity to add a big bat to a lineup that already has several big bats. Maybe it's Soler, maybe it's Bellinger, maybe it's Rhys Hoskins (as a DH only). Whoever it is, the lineup spot is available. 

Why they should do it: The sun is beginning to set on this era of Astros baseball. Altuve and Bregman are a year away from free agency and they're in their 30s (well, Bregman will be soon). Justin Verlander turns 41 next month. Tucker and Framber Valdez are two years away from free agency and thus far extension talks have gone nowhere. The best the farm system had to offer was sent to the New York Mets to get Verlander back. Upgrading the roster before the window closes on this core is a no-brainer.

4. Seattle Mariners

What they've done: Signed Mitch Garver, traded for Luis Urías, traded Jarred Kelenic and Eugenio Suárez for salary relief

What they should do: Bring in multiple bats. I thought the Mariners would get involved in the Soto chase, especially after the Kelenic and Suárez trades cleared almost exactly as much 2024 money as Soto is projected to receive through arbitration. Seattle needs the bat and had the young pitching to trade. Instead, they mostly sat the chase out, and they bowed out of the Shohei Ohtani race fairly early. I think it's fair to say Seattle has done more subtracting than adding this winter.

The Mariners have roughly $130 million on the books for 2024 (including arbitration projections), which is south of last year's $137 million Opening Day payroll and well below the franchise record $158 million payroll in 2018. The Mariners need multiple offensive upgrades -- Ty France stopped hitting around the 2022 All-Star break and Julio Rodríguez is slated to be flanked by Cade Marlowe/Dylan Moore and Dominic Canzone/Sam Haggerty platoons. Someone like Bellinger should be in play here. Bellinger and Soler or Hoskins, really. There's no reason Seattle can't bring in multiple bats.

The young pitching the Mariners could have dangled for Soto (Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, etc.) could be flipped elsewhere for offense. The Tampa Bay Rays have been rumored as a possible trade partner in recent weeks, with Isaac Paredes a fit for Seattle. It's worth calling the Dodgers about Michael Busch too. He's done all he needs to do in Tripe-A and doesn't have an MLB roster spot. Max Kepler is another possibility. Call the Minnesota Twins about him. Bellinger and Paredes, or Kepler and Hoskins, would make this lineup so much deeper and better.

Why they should do it: The Mariners snapped their 21-year postseason drought in 2022 and then fell one game short of a postseason spot in 2023. That's pretty disappointing, and fans, understandably, are upset, especially after the Kelenic and Suárez salary dumps. Seattle has such an impressive rotation -- Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby can go toe-to-toe with any 1-2-3 in the game -- and Garver, Julio, and J.P. Crawford are a solid offensive core. Don't let ending the postseason drought be the high point for this group. Improve the roster and make a real run in 2024.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

What they've done: Re-signed Kevin Kiermaier, signed Isiah Kiner-Falefa

What they should do: Sign Bellinger. The Blue Jays made a run at Soto, and that didn't work out. They made a run at Ohtani, and that didn't work out either. Then they tried for Yamamoto, and were not among the finalists. The Blue Jays get an A for effort, but at the end of the day, they came up empty. Re-signing Kiermaier was a good move and Kiner-Falefa is useful in moderation. Otherwise this is another team that has subtracted (Chapman, mostly) more than it has added this winter.

Clearly, Toronto has money to spend. It was willing to give bundles of it to Ohtani or Yamamoto. Even with Kiermaier returning, Bellinger is such a clear and obvious fit for a Blue Jays team that still lacks a DH, and needs left-handed contact bats to balance out the righty-heavy lineup. Manager John Schneider could rotate four outfielders (Bellinger, Kiermaier, George Springer, Daulton Varsho) through the DH spot and hey, maybe that'll help keep Springer on the field.

The rotation is set -- Chris Bassitt, José Berríos, Kevin Gausman, and Yusei Kikuchi form a strong foursome -- and the bullpen is sneaky deep. The Blue Jays can prevent runs. Scoring them has been an issue at times, in part because their lineup is susceptible to bat-missing righty relievers. Bellinger addresses so many needs for them. Lefty bat, athleticism, excellent defense. I'm not sure there's a better match between player and team in free agency right now.

Why they should do it: Although they're still so young, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are only two years away from free agency. Gausman and Springer only have so many peak years remaining too. Toronto is still looking for its first postseason win of the Bichette/Vlad Jr. era and there's something of a ticking clock here. The Blue Jays can't kick the can down the road any further. The time to win with this core is now, not in two or three years.