We have entered the dog days of the offseason.(non-tender deadline, Winter Meetings, etc.) have passed and hot stove activity has slowed during the holidays. Once the calendar flips to January, teams will be in bargain-hunting mode, and we'll begin counting down the days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
Offseason activity may have slowed but every team -- every single one -- still has work to do. The perfect roster doesn't exist and there's always a spot than can be upgraded. Some clubs are more desperate to improve than others, but every team could use an upgrade or three. Here are five teams planning to contend next season that still have a glaring roster need.
1. Atlanta Braves: Shortstop
Projected starter: Vaughn Grissom
Why they're here: They're here because of who's not here: Dansby Swanson. The Braves were unable to re-sign Swanson , so now shortstop is wide open. Grissom performed well when he was first called up this past season, though he cooled down late, and he's not a natural shortstop. The Braves have Grissom working with infield guru Ron Washington, who helped turn Marcus Semien in a very good defensive shortstop earlier in his career.
"That's why they're giving me time with him right now, to get him right," Washington told The Athletic about his work his Grissom last month. "Get him thinking right, getting him to understand the nuances of being a shortstop, the things you have to do, the way you have to go about your business. You know, he's a young kid. A young kid that's just used to going out there, putting the glove on and playing. There's a lot more to playing defense than just putting the glove on and going out there, and if the ball comes to you, you catch it."
Top shortstop prospect and 2019 first rounder Braden Shewmake was just OK in Triple-A in 2022, though he's a solid defensive shortstop, and could get a look next year. That said, Atlanta's World Series window is wide open. It's one thing to call up Grissom or Michael Harris II to help cover for injuries during the season. It's another to go into the season with an unproven kid as Plan A, especially at a crucial up the middle position like shortstop.
Ideal target: Willy Adames. Milwaukee Brewers GM Matt Arnold said he intends to keep Adames -- "We want to put a really good product on the field in 2023 and (Adames will) have to be part of that if we're going to do that," Arnold told MLB.com at the Winter Meetings -- but the Brewers said that about Josh Hader right up until they traded him. The Braves could offer the Brewers upper level high-end pitching prospects and Adames comes with two years of control, plus he'd help replace the offensive thump Atlanta lost in Swanson.
Realistic target: Elvis Andrus. It has been nearly 17 years since the Braves signed Andrus as an amateur out of Venezuela. He later went to the Texas Rangers in the Mark Teixeira trade and now, at age 34, things could come full circle with Andrus returning to Atlanta as a stopgap until Shewmake is ready, or Grissom shows he can handle shortstop defensively. José Iglesias, another unsigned free agent, is an acceptable answer here as well. Also, Andrus (and Iglesias) would be easy to cast aside should Grissom or Shewmake really force the issue next summer.
Under-the-radar target: Taylor Walls. With Wander Franco set to hold down shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays for the foreseeable future, Walls is an overqualified utility guy. He hasn't hit yet (.182/.281/.288 in 642 big league plate appearances) but he is gifted defender and a no-doubt-about-it shortstop defensively. The Braves have an offense good enough to carry a light-hitting No. 9 hole shortstop. If they're not sold on Vaughn's glove or Shewmake's bat, Walls as an elite defensive stopgap until someone better comes along could make sense in the post-Swanson era.
2. Chicago White Sox: Second base
Projected starter: Romy Gonzalez
Why they're here: Second base has been a black hole on the South Side for a long time now. They haven't had a full-time second baseman post even a 2-WAR season since Tadahito Iguchi in 2006, and they had three players start at least 24 games at the position in 2022. Their leader in games played at second, Josh Harrison with 90, is a free agent, and the ChiSox received a .238/.278/.351 line from the position overall. That's just not going to cut it.
"Josh was absolutely tremendous in the clubhouse. And he was the player we basically expected him to be. A solid contributor offensively and defensively at the position and good in the clubhouse," GM Rick Hahn told NBC Sports Chicago after declining Harrison's club option last month. "Ultimately, it comes down to resource allocation. We do have some internal options, and perhaps there's a way to balance the lineup a little bit better by an addition at that spot. We'll see."
Gonzalez has power and prospect pedigree, though his 34.4 percent strikeout rate and 2.8 percent walk rate between Triple-A and the big leagues this year suggests an aggressive approach ripe for exploitation. Also, Gonzalez played every position other than first base, center field, and catcher in 2022. He's versatile and the White Sox would have no trouble getting him into the lineup after bringing in a new second baseman. It's not a new second baseman or Gonzalez. It can be a new second baseman and Gonzalez.
Ideal target: Luis Arraez. Arraez has limitations defensively -- his range at second base will really be tested with the anti-shift rules set to kick in next year -- but he's arguably the best bat-to-ball hitter in the game, and there were signs he is coming into some power in 2022. Chicago has already added one lefty contact bat this offseason (Andrew Benintendi), though you can always fit another, and Arraez's on-base ability would be a welcome addition to an offense that lost José Abreu to free agency. Alas and alack, I would bet against a trade of this magnititude with the AL Central rival Minnesota Twins.
Realistic target: Jean Segura. Segura just feels like a White Sox player, doesn't he? Clutch Jean brings contact ability and a flair for the dramatic, plus he's a good bet for double-digit steals and homers. Segura is likely to sign a short-term contract and would represent a meaningful addition at a position the White Sox have been trying to solve for more than a decade now.
Under-the-radar target: Gleyber Torres. Torres has popped up in trade rumors since the deadline and while the New York Yankees won't give him away (especially not with DJ LeMahieu's status uncertain given his foot injury), they are open to discussing him. . Is there a Torres for Hendriks trade to be made? Either way, Torres has not become the star he was projected to be as a prospect, but he's an above-average second baseman, and the White Sox would have him for two years.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers: Center field
Projected starter: Trayce Thompson
Why they're here: Cody Bellinger's stunning two-year decline led to a non-tender earlier this offseason and left the Dodgers without a natural center fielder. Thompson is best suited for a corner, ditto prospect James Outman, and while Mookie Betts is certainly athletic enough and good enough defensively to play center, he's an all-world defender in right. And besides, shifting Mookie over just moves the outfield need from center to right. It doesn't really solve anything.
"I would say somebody that can manage center field is probably a top priority, yeah," manager Dave Roberts said during the Winter Meetings.
We could have gone with shortstop here, that position is also a question too with Trea Turner leaving as a free agent, though Los Angeles appears comfortable with Gavin Lux at short and some combination of Chris Taylor and Max Muncy (and prospect Michael Busch) at second. Center field is much more uncertain. If Thompson and Outman don't work out, the Dodgers will have a pretty significant hole at a crucial up-the-middle position.
Ideal target: Bryan Reynolds. He's a very good hitter, he can play center field, he's three years away from free agency, . Reynolds is a perfect fit for the Dodgers both now and long-term. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a very high asking price and understandably so ( ), but the Dodgers have an extremely deep farm system, particularly in upper-level arms. They have as good a chance to match up with the Pirates for a Reynolds trade as any team in the sport.
Realistic target: Jackie Bradley Jr. According to park-adjusted OPS, Bradley has not been even an average hitter in a full 162-game season since 2018. You can't expect him to contribute offensively at this point, though he remains a well-above-average defender in center field. Teams these days favor players with an elite skill (like Bradley's glove) over more well-rounded players who aren't great at anything, and that's Bradley. He'll come cheap (possibly even on a non-roster deal to spring training) and there are a few familiar faces in the clubhouse with Betts and J.D. Martinez.
Under-the-radar target: Cristian Pache. Pache has not hit during his various MLB stints, not even a tiny little bit (.156/.205/.234 in 332 plate appearances), but he is a premium defensive center fielder and someone a team with a stacked lineup (though not as stacked as the last few years) like the Dodgers can hide as the No. 9 hitter. Slot him in at the bottom of the lineup, let him catch everything hit his way, and pinch-hit whenever an important at-bat finds him. Pache is expendable because the Oakland Athletics acquired center fielder Esteury Ruiz in the Sean Murphy three-team trade. The Dodgers have done great work getting young hitters to level up. Help Pache go from awful to merely below-average offensively and they'd have a nifty player on their hands.
4. New York Yankees: Left field
Projected starter: Aaron Hicks
Why they're here: Andrew Benintendi left as a free agent and Hicks played his way out of the lineup this past season, both with poor numbers offensively and occasional lackadaisical play in the field. Earlier this month GM Brian Cashman said he's comfortable with Hicks as his left fielder going into 2023, though those comments were of the "what's the general manager supposed to say about a player under contract?" variety more than a ringing endorsement.
"We are prepared to go with what we have internally. Aaron Hicks has rehabbed his knee from the video). "Obviously Oswaldo Cabrera was fantastic in his little audition of outfield work (late in 2022). Those are the primary defaults with (Estevan) Florial. Ultimately, we'll stay engaged and see where it takes us. We know there's an area there we'd love to upgrade if we can, but that doesn't mean that we will."and he's doing really well. He'll be ready to go in spring training," Cashman said last week (
Cabrera did fine work during his two-month cameo late in the season, though if you gave Cashman a truth serum, I'm guessing he'd tell you he prefers Cabrera in a super utility role that optimizes his versatility. Bottom line, Yankees not named Aaron Judge hit .232/.291/.360 in over 2,300 plate appearances after the All-Star break this past season, and they were overmatched (again) by the Houston Astros in the postseason. The Yankees need another bat and left field is an obvious place to add that bat.
Ideal target: Bryan Reynolds. Yeah, this guy again. He's good and Harrison Bader is a year away from free agency. The Yankees could play Reynolds in left field in 2023, and then slide him back over to center to replace Bader in 2024. Reynolds is the ideal target for many outfield-needy teams, Yankees included., and he fits what the Yankees need as a switch-hitter with power and on-base ability, and multiple years of control. Reynolds is a center fielder, though left field at Yankee Stadium is spacious, and the Yankees prefer to play a center field-caliber defender in left. Also,
Realistic target: Max Kepler. took away arguably the best available free agent outfielder, making a trade more likely. Kepler is definitely available because the Twins have five lefty hitters for the two corner outfield spots and DH (Kepler, Joey Gallo, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Matt Wallner), and he would give the Yankees a sorely needed left-handed bat. As a pull-heavy lefty, Kepler would figure to benefit at least somewhat from Yankee Stadium's short right field porch, and the new anti-shift rules could boost his batting average a bit.
Under-the-radar target: Dylan Carlson. A year ago Carlson finished third in the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year voting and was close to untouchable. Then, following a down 2022, the St. Louis Cardinals included him in a "pick two of these four" player pool in their Sean Murphy trade offer, according to The Athletic. You have to give up something good to get a player like Murphy, but a year ago Carlson would have been off-limits. The Cardinals are open to discussing him, clearly, and the Yankees have a history of buying low on former top prospects who may be falling out of favor with their current organization. That's how they acquired Hicks from the Twins in the first place.
5. San Diego Padres: No. 4-5 starter
Projected starter: Seth Lugo
Why they're here: Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea struggled down the stretch and were then lost to free agency, plus top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore was included in the Juan Soto trade, so San Diego is short on rotation depth. Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove are a formidable 1-2-3 punch. Nick Martinez and Lugo, the current No. 4-5 starters, probably fit better in the bullpen though, ditto Adrian Morejon. Also, erstwhile top prospect Ryan Weathers allowed 101 runs in 123 Triple-A innings in 2022. Hard to count on him as rotation depth at this point. He's a reclamation project.
"It depends who's out there, who's available," GM A.J. Preller said about his search for rotation depth at the Winter Meetings. "Again, I think Nick Martinez, he'll get every opportunity here and we see him as a starter. I think the group that we had at Triple-A, I think that will be a big focus for us is getting that group, along with talking about a guy like Adrian Morejon and getting those guys extended out and being real options for us, and we'll kind of look from outside as well. I don't think it's a situation where, hey, we need eight, we need nine. I think it's a situation where we want to be comfortable with what we have and go from there with it."
Keep in mind the Padres will need rotation help beyond 2023. Musgrove is signed long-term, but Darvish and Snell will become free agents after next season, so adding a pitcher with either long-term control or a multi-year contract would be ideal. Preller is very aggressive and ownership has pushed the competitive balance tax payroll up to $266.7 million, per FanGraphs. The back of the rotation could still use a boost though. If this stacked Padres team has an Achilles heel, it's rotation depth beyond that 1-2-3.
Ideal target: Tyler Glasnow. As with almost all Rays players, it's a matter of when Glasnow will be traded, not if. , so it's easy to think they'll trade him next offseason. Keep in mind though Glasnow did just come back from Tommy John surgery. Tampa Bay can't really afford him getting hurt again and sabotaging his trade value. I'm certain they're open to moving Glasnow now (because they're open to moving anyone at anytime). Glasnow would give the Padres another ace-caliber starter and a pitcher they could keep for more than one year.
Realistic target: Corey Kluber. Nathan Eovaldi is the best available free agent starter, yet his market has been surprisingly quiet this winter. I suspect that has more to do with his 2022 back injury than draft pick compensation after rejecting the qualifying offer. Kluber is no longer a frontline starter but he is reliable, and he'll come on an affordable short-term contract given his age (37 in April). I know the Padres would prefer a pitcher with control beyond 2023, but if Eovaldi's back is truly a concern, a multi-year deal might not be a great idea. Kluber as a one-year stopgap is a better option than forcing a multi-year arrangement with a pitcher who comes with questions just to say you have someone beyond 2023.
Under-the-radar target: Ian Anderson. Even after including top prospect Kyle Muller in the Sean Murphy trade, the Braves have plenty of upper-level pitching depth in righty Bryce Elder and 2020 first rounder Jared Shuster. Anderson has backslid since getting NL Rookie of the Year votes in 2020 and 2021, . A fresh start in a new organization could do wonders. The Padres haven't had much success finishing off the development of young pitchers the last few years (Gore, Weathers, Eric Lauer, Chris Paddack, Cal Quantrill, etc.) but that doesn't mean they should stop trying. Anderson represents a chance to buy low on a talented pitcher with four years of control remaining.