MLB hot stove: Top remaining needs and possible targets for all 30 teams as spring training approaches
Spring training is roughly two weeks away and there are lots of quality free agents on the board
In a little more than two weeks spring training camps across Arizona and Florida will open. Pitchers and catchers report soon and, in less than one month, Cactus League and Grapefruit League games will begin. Actual baseball is coming. Sooner than you may think.
Despite that, many MLB teams -- all 30, I'd say -- still have needs to address this offseason. Some teams have more pressing needs than others, of course, but there is always room for improvement. The free agent market still offers plenty of help -- -- and the trade market remains active. Teams need help and there are ways to get it.
So, with spring training creeping closer, this is as good a time as any to survey the league and take stock of each team's needs. As an added bonus, we'll throw in some potential targets to address those needs. Let's dive in, shall we?
Remaining need: Pitching depth
The Diamondbacks have lost Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock to free agency, plus they traded Paul Goldschmidt, which is as good a sign a team is rebuilding as you'll find. Arizona is not yet in full-blown tear-it-all-down mode though, as tradeable commodities like David Peralta, Ketel Marte, Robbie Ray and Nick Ahmed remain on the roster. With some good fortune, the D-Backs could be in the mix for a wild card spot in 2019. Another arm to lighten the load on Luke Weaver, Merrill Kelly and the bullpen wouldn't be a bad idea.
Possible targets: Clay Buchholz, Adam Warren. Buchholz had quite a bit of success with Arizona last year and a reunion on a low-cost one-year deal makes sense. Warren is a rock solid middle reliever who can throw two innings at a time and also handle high-leverage spots, if necessary.
Remaining need: High-leverage reliever
For all intents and purposes, the Braves are a Josh Donaldson injury away from fielding the exact same roster as last season. They brought Nick Markakis back and replaced Kurt Suzuki with Brian McCann. That's pretty much it. Atlanta really should've been in on Bryce Harper to play right field. He's only 26 and would fit well with their young core. Instead, Markakis returns to right field and leaves the late innings as the team's biggest weakness.
Possible target: Craig Kimbrel. The Braves reunited with McCann. Why not Kimbrel too? He'd push Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter into setup roles and the make the club that much deeper. If not Kimbrel, a one-year flier on Greg Holland may be the way to go.
Remaining needs: Innings-eater, veteran reliever
Not surprisingly, the Orioles have had a very low-key offseason after losing 115 games a year ago. They do still have some tradeable veterans in Alex Cobb and Mychal Givens and adding young talent is clearly a priority right now. As for their MLB roster needs, the O's could use a veteran innings guy to reduce reliance on youngsters like David Hess and Josh Rogers -- of course the Orioles should prioritize young players, but they can't overwork young pitchers either -- and a cheap reliever who could be flipped for a prospect(s) at the deadline.
Possible targets: Tyler Clippard, Edwin Jackson, Jim Johnson, James Shields. Jackson and Shields will give innings, if nothing else and both Clippard and Johnson are viable seventh/eighth/ninth inning relievers. They would be tradeable commodities in July.
Remaining needs: Relievers (plural)
The Red Sox won the World Series last year and they did it with Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning and starters serving as setup men in the postseason. Kimbrel is a free agent and using starters in relief each night is not something a team can do during the regular season. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are Nos. 1 and 2 on the bullpen depth chart when ideally they'd be Nos. 2 and 3. Brandon Workman and a healthy Tyler Thornburg are interesting enough. Clearly though, there's room for an upgrade in Boston's bullpen.
Possible target: Kimbrel. With Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts coming up on free agency and Mookie Betts two years away from free agency, this core is starting to get very expensive and may not be together much longer. I say the Red Sox should push their chips in on this coming season and go get Kimbrel. Back-to-back championship flags fly forever.
Remaining needs: Outfield bat, pitching depth
It has been an oddly quiet -- oddly quiet and oddly thrifty -- offseason for a Cubs team whose window is never going to get more open than it is right now. The Cubs do have three outfielders (Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber) and two super utility types who can also play the outfield (Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist) and yet it still feels like the offense needs an upgrade and the outfield is the place to do it. Also, pitching. Every contender could use more pitching depth and the Cubbies are no different.
Possible target: Bryce Harper. Maybe Chicago is laying in the weeds and waiting for the right moment to pounce. The self-imposed austerity makes it unlikely. If not Harper, what about Curtis Granderson as a low-cost platoon option?
Remaining need: Starting pitcher
I can't help but feel like the White Sox set themselves -- or, more accurately, their fans -- up for disappointment with their somewhat halfhearted pursuits of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. They're in, but they're not all the way in, otherwise things around those two would not be this quiet. If the ChiSox can land Machado or Harper, great! It'll advance the rebuild and put them in position to contend sooner than standing pat. With or without Machado or Harper, the White Sox still need another starter to push Manny Banuelos down a peg on the depth chart. The last thing Chicago wants to do is overload youngsters Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito.
Possible target: Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson was sneaky good last season thanks to some changes to his pitch selection (more cutters, sinkers and curveballs). He's someone who could pitch his way into trade value in July but also not stand in the way should Banuelos, Carson Fulmer, Jordan Stephens or Spencer Adams force the issue.
Remaining need: Center field
The Reds have been very active on the trade market this winter and, as a result, they've upgraded their lineup (Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp) and their rotation (Sonny Gray, Alex Wood, Tanner Roark). There's always room for another high-end starter like Dallas Keuchel but Cincinnati does not seem inclined to meet his asking price. The Reds do need a center fielder though. Scott Schebler is penciled in as their starting center fielder and he belongs in a corner. Then again, this is the same team that played Shin-Soo Choo in center field for a season, so maybe Schebler in center isn't a big deal.
Possible target: Um, Cameron Maybin? There are few true center fielders on the free agent market right now. It's Maybin, Austin Jackson and Carlos Gomez, and none of those three are the defenders they were in their prime. My suggestion: Give the D-Backs a call about Jarrod Dyson.
Remaining needs: Outfielders, relievers
Now that the three-time defending AL Central champs have found a way to cut payroll without trading one of their top starters (what a time to be alive), the Indians can bargain shop for outfield and bullpen help. Their projected starting outfield includes Leonys Martin, Greg Allen and Tyler Naquin. Their projected setup crew includes Adam Cimber, Neil Ramirez and Oliver Perez. The AL Central is so weak that Cleveland can probably stand pat and still win the division. Are they good enough to get through the AL postseason gauntlet though? I don't think so. Upgrades are in order.
Possible targets: Tony Barnette, Curtis Granderson, Adam Jones, Sergio Romo, Denard Span. All likely to sign cheap one-year contracts. They'd help the Indians raise their own internal replacement level, so to speak.
Remaining needs: Second base, outfield
The Rockies don't absolutely need a second baseman and they don't absolutely need an outfielder because prospects Garrett Hampson and Raimel Tapia, respectively, are ready for full-time duty. And yet, doesn't it feel like they need a second baseman or outfielder? Colorado has already lost DJ LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino to free agency and they could lose Carlos Gonzalez as well. Daniel Murphy should rake in Coors Field, but, for a team coming off the first set of back-to-back postseason appearances in franchise history, I expected the Rockies to do more this winter.
Possible target: Marwin Gonzalez. He can play second, he can play the outfield, he can play wherever. If Hampson and/or Tapia prove useful, the Rockies would be able to keep them and Gonzalez in the lineup.
Remaining need: Outfield
For a rebuilding team, the Tigers are pretty well set. They have five viable starters, a solid relief crew and several young-ish position players worth a longer look in 2019. I think there's room for one more outfielder here seeing how Nicholas Castellanos is all but certain to be traded before reaching free agency next winter. JaCoby Jones, Mikie Mahtook, Christin Stewart and Dustin Peterson are the other outfielders here. Yeah, Detroit can squeeze another outfielder into the mix.
Possible target: Curtis Granderson. The Grandyman returning to Detroit would be a cool baseball thing.
Remaining needs: Rotation, catcher
The Astros have lost Charlie Morton to free agency and Lance McCullers Jr. to Tommy John surgery, and they could lose Dallas Keuchel to free agency as well. Even with Collin McHugh moving back into the rotation and Josh James poised to assume a larger role, Houston could still use another starting pitcher. They could also use a starting caliber catcher, someone better than Robinson Chirinos and Max Stassi.
Possible targets: Keuchel, J.T. Realmuto. The longer Keuchel sits in free agency, the more I think he's heading back to Houston. His price is (presumably) dropping and the two sides know each other. It's a fine fit. As for Realmuto, he is arguably the best catcher in baseball and he represents a significant upgrade behind the plate for the 'Stros. Would they give up top prospect Kyle Tucker to get him? The Michael Brantley signing and Tony Kemp's emergence may make it an easier pill to swallow.
Remaining need: Pitching depth
The Royals were very bad last year and the smart money is on them being very bad this year. The everyday lineup and bench are set, and Kansas City has a solid enough rotation front four in Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jake Junis and Brian Keller. A swingman or even a setup man would give the club a little more depth and also a possibly tradeable commodity come July.
Possible targets: Doug Fister, Daniel Hudson. Nothing exciting.
Remaining needs: Second base, bullpen
No team has been more active in the one-year contract market than the Angels. They've brought in Cody Allen, Justin Bour, Trevor Cahill, Matt Harvey and Jonathan Lucroy on one-year deals. All solid upgrades that probably aren't enough to put the Halos in position to beat out the Astros for the AL West title. David Fletcher and Tommy La Stella are currently penciled in at second base while Ty Buttrey and Hansel Robles are likely to set up Allen. Yeah, second base and the bullpen could use some help.
Possible targets: Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison, Neil Walker, Sergio Romo, Tony Sipp, Adam Warren. Might as well stick with the one-year contract theme.
Remaining needs: Catcher, second base, bullpen
Russell Martin and Joe Kelly were solid pickups who shouldn't stand in the way of further upgrades. Going from Yasmani Grandal to Martin is a considerable downgrade, and the Dodgers always seem to be one setup man short when the postseason rolls around. Why the Dodgers have decided now is the best time to reduce payroll and get under the luxury tax threshold, I'll never understand. The window is not getting any more open and Clayton Kershaw, as great as he is, is starting to show some signs of decline. Reducing payroll and increasing the likelihood of going through the Kershaw era without a title would make me nauseous if I were a Dodgers fan.
Possible targets: Josh Harrison, J.T. Realmuto.. They have the outfield depth (Andrew Toles? Alex Verdugo?) and catching depth (Keibert Ruiz? Will Smith?) to trade and Realmuto would be a massive upgrade behind the plate for a win-now team.
Remaining needs: Outfield, first base
First things first: You can forget about the Marlins spending money. They reportedly kicked the tires on DJ LeMahieu, but that never seemed all that likely. An outfielder to push Lewis Brinson or Austin Dean to the minors and a first baseman to replace journeyman Peter O'Brien are their obvious areas of need. Realistically though, their biggest need is trading J.T. Realmuto before he loses value, either through injury or by losing team control. Right now the Marlins can offer two full seasons of Realmuto. Wait until the deadline and it's only a year and a half. The longer they wait, the less team control they can offer, and the lower the return.
Possible targets: Matt Davidson, Carlos Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson. Davidson has topped 20 homers each of the last two years and he's expressed an interest in being a two-way player. The Marlins are perfectly positioned to experiment with a first baseman who can also pitch in relief on occasion.
Remaining needs: Second base, rotation
Going from Manny Pina and Erik Kratz to Yasmani Grandal might be the single biggest upgrade a contending team makes this offseason. The Brewers still have an opening at second base though -- right now Hernan Perez and Cory Spangenberg are slated to platoon at second -- and an innings guy to lighten the load on Corbin Burnes, Jimmy Nelson (returning from shoulder surgery) and Brandon Woodruff wouldn't be a bad idea. Milwaukee is set to run the highest payroll in franchise history. Can they find a little extra cash to upgrade some obvious areas of weakness?
Possible targets: Logan Forsythe, Gio Gonzalez, Josh Harrison, Wade Miley. Miley pitched well with the Brewers last season and Gonzalez finished the season in Milwaukee. Both would be quality depth options. As for second base, if Milwaukee is not going to splurge for Marwin Gonzalez, then Forsythe and Harrison are the best of the rest.
Remaining needs: Rotation, bullpen
The Twins saw the Indians reduce payroll and maybe get a little worse, and have responded by signing Nelson Cruz and doing nothing else in particular. That's not fair, they did sign Martin Perez and Jonathan Schoop and Blake Parker, but that's it? The projected opening day 25-man roster payroll is down a bit from last season despite there being room for another starting pitcher and another high-leverage reliever. Hmmm.
Possible targets: Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel. Seriously, give me one good reason why the Twins shouldn't sign Keuchel or Kimbrel. Note: "They'll cost a lot of money" is not a good reason.
Remaining need: Swingman
New Mets GM Brodie Wagenen has done nice work improving his lineup, bullpen, and overall depth. The club could still use a quality swingman/sixth starter type to help protect against the inevitable rotation injury -- that's not intended to be a knock against the Mets, every team needs a sixth (and seventh) starter at some point -- and provide length out of the bullpen. At this point Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares are better than any realistically available center fielder.
Possible target: Francisco Liriano. He has experience in the rotation and in the bullpen, and he'll come cheap. It's a fit.
Remaining need: Rotation depth
Truth be told, the Yankees do not need Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. The position player core is plenty good enough as it is. That said, I'd argue every team needs a prime-aged superstar talent. There's never a bad time to add that guy. The Yankees seem content to let them sign elsewhere though, which is weird at best and unforgivable at worst. Among actual needs, the Yankees do need to replace Sonny Gray and add a viable swingman/sixth starter type, especially given CC Sabathia's recent heart procedure.
Possible target: Francisco Liriano. For the same reasons he makes sense for the Mets. Also, the Yankees. I don't see a good reason for them to pass on either.
Remaining needs: Catcher, starters (plural)
Re-signing Mike Fiers and signing Marco Estrada were solid enough moves. Those two are poised to join Daniel Mengden, Frankie Montas and Chris Bassitt in the Athletics rotation. There's room for another starter or two here. The lineup and bullpen are strong. Now the A's just need a starting staff capable of helping them repeat (or even improve upon) their 97-win season, especially since they won't sneak up anyone next year. Replacing Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate is also on the offseason to-do list.
Possible targets: Brett Anderson, Clay Buchholz, Gio Gonzalez, Jeremy Hellickson, Edwin Jackson, Wade Miley, Ervin Santana. There are still a lot of low-cost one-year free agent starters on the market who would represent an upgrade for Oakland. Martin Maldonado is the best free agency has to offer behind the plate.
Remaining needs: Manny Machado or Bryce Harper
Yeah, that's pretty much it. Sure, the Phillies could use another starting pitcher and maybe one more reliever, but Machado and Harper are the big names. They've been planning for this offseason for a long time -- a very long time -- and I don't see how losing out on Machado and Harper would qualify as anything less than a massive failure. They have the money and they have the need. The Jean Segura, David Robertson and Andrew McCutchen additions were very good. Now put the cherry on top with Machado or Harper.
Possible targets: Machado and Harper. Might as well throw Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and Mike Moustakas in here as well.
Remaining needs: Shortstop, starting pitcher
At the moment the Pirates are planning to play Erik Gonzalez at shortstop and use Jordan Lyles as their fifth starter, at least until top prospect Mitch Keller is ready. Payroll is way down and the NL Central is the deepest and toughest division in baseball. Surely the Pirates could do better than Gonzalez and Lyles, right? Even if we rule out Manny Machado and Dallas Keuchel as targets for financial reasons, there are upgrades available in free agency.
Possible targets: Clay Buchholz, Freddy Galvis, Jose Iglesias, Wade Miley. C'mon, Pirates. Make an effort.
Remaining need: Third baseman
More than anything, the Padres need to remain patient. They are not one move away from contention, but they have a tremendous amount of talent in the farm system, and much of it is due to arrive this season. The only thing San Diego does not have in their farm system is a long-term third baseman. The Wil Myers experiment has been called off and the tentative starters at the hot corner right now are Ty France and Greg Garcia.
Possible Targets: Manny Machado, Mike Moustakas.. He's young enough to fit in well with the core and great enough to accelerate the timetable on the rebuild. I don't think it'll happen, but gosh, Machado to the Padres makes an awful lot of sense. Moustakas would be an okay fallback plan.
Remaining needs: Outfielders (plural)
The Derek Holland and Drew Pomeranz pickups were nice low-cost additions to add rotation depth. The Giants still need outfield help though. Badly. Prospect Steven Duggar is poised to play full-time in center field, but the Mac Williamson/Chris Shaw corner outfield combination leaves a lot to be desired. San Francisco might be in a quasi-rebuild. That's not enough of a reason to eschew veteran free agent outfielders entirely.
Potential targets: Carlos Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Bryce Harper, Adam Jones. Point: Handing out yet another long-term contract probably isn't a smart move for the Giants given their current payroll situation. Counterpoint: You don't get a chance to sign Bryce Harper every offseason. Sign him now and San Francisco is that much closer to contention both this year and going forward.
Remaining need: Bullpen depth
The biggest thing the Mariners need to do right now is continue shopping Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce and Kyle Seager. Seattle has committed to a rebuild and those three well-paid veterans have no long-term value to the franchise. They might have to wait until the trade deadline to find suitors, if they do at all. In the meantime, GM Jerry Dipoto says he wants to add bullpen help, and he's already done that with Hunter Strickland and Cory Gearrin. Another reliever would be a worthwhile addition though.
Potential targets: John Axford, Tyler Clippard, Daniel Hudson, Jim Johnson. Nothing crazy. Just a cheap reliever who can be flipped for a prospect(s) before the trade deadline.
Remaining need: Lefty bench bat
The Cardinals have addressed their offense (Paul Goldschmidt) and their bullpen (Andrew Miller) this offseason, which were their two biggest needs. They could do one of two things now: One, make a run at Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, or two, shop for bargains in February and March. The latter seems much more likely to me, but gosh, St. Louis adding Machado or Harper would change the balance of power in the NL Central.
Potential target: Derek Dietrich. He's a lefty and he can play all over the field. Nice little bench piece for an NL contender.
Remaining need: High-leverage reliever
The Rays came into the offseason hoping to land Paul Goldschmidt or Nelson Cruz. They settled for Yandy Diaz and Avisail Garcia. Not great! Tampa has enough interesting pieces on offense to make noise in the AL East though. Their biggest remaining need is another late-inning reliever. Someone to replace Sergio Romo. With Ryne Stanek and Diego Castillo expected to get regular work as an opener, it leaves the underrated Jose Alvarado and slider specialist Chaz Roe for the ninth inning. Another body for the seventh or eighth inning would work.
Potential targets: Tony Sipp, Adam Warren, Alex Wilson. The Rays are going to bargain shop, always and forever, and I suspect any reliever they bring in will make everyone go "huh, how about that."
Remaining need: Pitching depth
Drew Smyly and Shelby Miller are two nice rolls of the dice for a rebuilding team. They're also very risky, and if they don't work out, it could mean a lot of work for youngsters like Ariel Jurado and Yohander Mendez. The Rangers could use a veteran swingman to soak up innings in long relief situations, and also make spot starts to make sure Smyly and Edinson Volquez are not overworked as they return from Tommy John surgery.
Potential targets: Christian Bergman, Erik Goeddel. Two relievers with years of arbitration-eligibility and team control remaining beyond 2018. Sexy? No. Functional? Sure. Pitching depth is one of those things you'd rather have and not need than need and not have.
Remaining need: Pitching depth
The Blue Jays are in an interesting place. On the position player side, they have several young big leaguers worth an extended look (Lourdes Gurriel, Danny Jansen, Billy McKinney) plus some top prospects due to arrive soon (Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.), so, while they could obviously upgrade in several spots, standing pat is justifiable. That means adding arms is the way go to. An extra starter, an extra reliever, so on and so forth.
Potential targets: Tyler Clippard, Jim Johnson, Adam Warren. A flippable reliever with high-leverage experience, basically.
Remaining needs: Re-sign Bryce Harper, rotation depth
The Nationals have done good work addressing their needs this winter. Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki are upgrades behind the plate, Brian Dozier is a nice gamble at second, Patrick Corbin is a boost to the rotation, and Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough are solid additions to the bullpen. At this point, the top priority has to be re-signing Harper given his importance to the franchise. Even with Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton penciled into the outfield, Harper gives the Nationals their best chance to win in 2019 and beyond. A depth starter to take it easy on Joe Ross as he returns from Tommy John surgery (and also hedge against Anibal Sanchez in case last year's success was a mirage) wouldn't be a bad idea either.
Potential targets: Harper, Harper, and also Harper. On the pitching front, guys like Francisco Liriano, Adam Warren, and a reunion with Jeremy Hellickson make the most sense.
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