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Expect more Hot Stove action from these teams

January 8, 2019

Sure, we know the ol' offseason schedule ain't what she used to be. As Bryce Harper and Manny Machado can tell you, things take a lot longer to develop than they did back in the day.But even if we re-calibrate our brains to this reality, some clubs that aim to

Sure, we know the ol' offseason schedule ain't what she used to be. As Bryce Harper and Manny Machado can tell you, things take a lot longer to develop than they did back in the day.
But even if we re-calibrate our brains to this reality, some clubs that aim to be good or great in 2019 have been suspiciously quiet, at least relative to their peers.
Here are five such clubs that we think could or should be busier in the coming weeks than they were the last two months, along with one bonus team that is kind of in a world all its own.
1. Dodgers
"Quiet" is a relative term here, because the Dodgers did sign Joe Kelly to a three-year deal and they did execute that seven-player blockbuster trade with the Reds last month. They also reconfigured Clayton Kershaw's deal and retained Hyun-Jin Ryu and David Freese.
For most clubs, that would qualify as a pretty busy winter.
The Reds trade, though, was all about eliminating some redundancies on the roster and clearing more luxury-tax-threshold space for 2019. And though Kelly is a good get for the 'pen, the Dodgers this winter have invested less in external free agents than, for example, the rebuilding Rangers have. There's more to come from the two-time-defending NL champs.
The Dodgers need a catcher, a game-changing bat and a right-handed presence in the lineup. They could fill all three needs by trading for J.T. Realmuto. They don't have as glaring a need in their rotation, but they are one of the few clubs that legitimately have the pieces (fronted by Cody Bellinger or Alex Verdugo) to entice the Indians into trading Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer.
And though I don't think this has been mentioned anywhere else, boy, wouldn't Los Angeles be a great landing spot for Harper? A truly original suggestion, I know.

2. Red Sox
Boston's been quiet by design. The Red Sox are north of the luxury-tax threshold, have the bulk of a great ballclub coming back and have been primarily focused on keeping the band together. Though they did lose Kelly and could still lose Craig Kimbrel, they've retained October hero Nathan Eovaldi and World Series MVP Steve Pearce.
But the bullpen is the one area on this club that is screaming for help and will probably get it between now and Opening Day. On paper, it pales in comparison to what the Yankees will have at their disposal. And while the Red Sox do still have the superior starting cast, the bullpen differential could matter most in the AL East race, and possibly in October.
So far, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski appears wise to have let the Kimbrel market run its course, because Kimbrel's attempts to land a record closing contract haven't worked out and it appears he'll have difficulty coming close to the free-agent deal Albertin Chapman signed with the Yankees two years ago (five years, $86 million). The situation could be ripe for a return to the Red Sox.

3. Cubs
They signed veteran utility man Daniel Descalso, so those of us who take a particular and peculiar interest in transactions involving Italian-American ballplayers would call their winter a resounding success.
But with the payroll north of $200 million after the signings of Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood in 2018, the Cubs haven't exactly set free agency aflame this winter. The biggest bit of Hot Stove hubbub related to the Cubs was a Chicago Sun-Times report that Theo Epstein had a lengthy meeting with Scott Boras about Harper at the Winter Meetings and "urged them to wait" and check in with the Cubs before signing with another club. Whether that's typical due diligence or an actual earnest attempt by the Cubs to pare payroll elsewhere so that they can sign Harper remains to be seen. The Cubs' lineup, which withered down the stretch in '18, could definitely use the help.
Harper or no Harper, the Cubs, who might be without Brandon Morrow at the start of the season, have a clear need for bullpen help in a market that has thinned.

4. Brewers
Staying in the deep and interesting NL Central, you could list both the Pirates and the Brewers here. Because the Buccos are usually on the quieter side when it comes to offseason activity anyway, I'll prioritize a Brewers team coming off a trip to the NLCS.
The Brewers need help at second base and possibly on the pitching staff. They added free-agent second baseman Cory Spangenberg in recent days but are still projected by FanGraphs to have the second-least-valuable second-base group in baseball (0.8 Wins Above Replacement), ahead of only the Orioles. They could always re-sign Mike Moustakas and put Travis Shaw back at second base, but the market remains deep at second.
The pitching conversation is more complicated. As a wider audience learned last October, the Brewers don't rely on the traditional pitching model because of their progressive use of the bullpen. A staff fronted by Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson and Zach Davies has major question marks, but Jimmy Nelson could make a strong recovery from shoulder surgery and Brandon Woodruff could emerge as a dependable starter after making an impact in the bullpen last season. So we'll see.
But would you feel better about the Brewers' chances of repeating in the Central if they acquired another proven arm (they've been rumored to be in the Madison Bumgarner market)? Or at least another Wade Miley type (maybe Miley himself)? Yes.

5. Padres
USA Today's Ted Berg had a tweet that got to the heart of the Padres' pursuits this winter. Though this club has been rumored to be interested in, well, just about every prominent player available in this Hot Stove season not named Machado or Harper, to date it has added Garrett Richards (who might not pitch at all in '19), Ian Kinsler and Greg Garcia. That might be about the level of action many of you expect from a 96-loss team that nobody's really counting as a contender this year, but GM A.J. Preller has been known to dream a bit bigger and the Padres have been known to pull off some surprises (like the Eric Hosmer blockbuster last winter).
The Padres need to solidify the left side of their infield, even it's just somebody to keep shortstop warm for top prospectFernando Tatis Jr. They've tried to find trade fits for William Myers and their glut of outfielders. They've inquired about many of the top pitchers available in trade, including Kluber and Sonny Gray.
Maybe the Padres' winter continues to be more smoke than fire. But with two retooling clubs in the division, there's opportunity to advance, and Preller is likely unsatisfied with this club's completed deals.

Bonus: Indians
The Indians don't qualify as quiet. They have been the source of a lot of action this season.
Improvement, though? Not so much. And that's why the three-time-defending AL Central champs merit a mention here.
Even if you find the value in the cost-saving trades that shipped out Yan Gomes, Yonder Alonso and Edwin Encarnacion, when taken in conjunction with the free-agent losses of Michael Brantley, Josh Donaldson and Andrew Miller, this is a much, much weaker club than the one that got swept out of the Division Series to end a disappointing 2018.
So the Indians can't possibly be done. It's hard to pick what is the bigger need for the Tribe -- the outfield or the bullpen, which, beyond 2018 trade acquisition Brad Hand, registers as pretty thin. But at least the bullpen has Hand. Thanks to the departure of Brantley from what was already an iffy unit, the Indians' starting outfield at the moment consists of Jordan Luplow, Tyler Naquin and Leonys Martin. In other words, the most experienced and dependable member of the outfield is the same guy who battled a life-threatening bacterial infection just a few months ago (that's Martin).
Given what's realistically available to the Indians in free agency with their budget, trading a Kluber or Bauer is the best way to add real impact to the outfield. But to date, no one's met their high price.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.