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These 7 contenders are still seeking upgrades

January 2, 2019

Not many years ago, January was the month for cleanup work. General managers sought a finishing touch or two for their rosters. Meanwhile, unsigned free agents felt a sense of urgency to make a deal.No more. These days, the Hot Stove blazes through all of January. While a few teams

Not many years ago, January was the month for cleanup work. General managers sought a finishing touch or two for their rosters. Meanwhile, unsigned free agents felt a sense of urgency to make a deal.
No more. These days, the Hot Stove blazes through all of January. While a few teams are close to being set, others have serious work to do. Let's see what seven contenders have on their lists:
1. Astros
Biggest need: starting pitcher

With 2018 rotation stalwarts Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton out of the picture, president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow looks to upgrade a rotation that will include Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Collin McHugh and perhaps a selection of highly regarded youngsters (Josh James, Forrest Whitley, Corbin Martin). Luhnow, who had interest in James Paxton, Nathan Eovaldi and J.A. Happ at the beginning of the offseason, may open the campaign with this group and evaluate as the season unfolds. Madison Bumgarner, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke could all be on the market at some point in 2019.

2. Red Sox
Biggest need: closer

The Red Sox have a pair of late-inning relievers -- Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier -- with closer-type stuff, either of whom could replace free agent Craig Kimbrel. But they've never been full-time closers, and on a team attempting to win another World Series in a tough division race, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is shopping hard for bullpen arms. If he doesn't re-sign Kimbrel, look for the Red Sox to make a run at Adam Ottavino, and perhaps others.
3. Mets
Biggest need: center field

General manager Brodie Van Wagenen has dramatically rewritten the Mets' narrative by upgrading his team here, there and everywhere. But there's still work to do. Who will play center field? Is he comfortable with Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo there? Is free agent A.J. Pollock a fit? Could Van Wagenen pry prospect Kyle Tucker from the Astros? The Mets could also use additional pitching.
4. Cubs
Biggest need: closer

Brandon Morrow, who didn't pitch after the All-Star break, may start the season on the disabled list after undergoing an elbow procedure. So while the Cubs could be a surprise bidder for Bryce Harper, the closer situation must be addressed. At this point, there are plenty of options on the free-agent market, including Zach Britton and Kimbrel.
5. Phillies
Biggest need: offense

The Phillies are making big plays for both Manny Machado and Harper, and if it comes down to money, they could land both. Getting just one would be a franchise-changing moment, and, after the earlier acquisitions of Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen, make the Phillies arguably baseball's most interesting team in 2019.
6. Indians
Biggest need: outfield

The Indians have gotten through two months of the offseason with a championship-caliber rotation intact thanks to other deals that lessened the need to deal Corey Kluber for salary relief. At the moment, 25-year-old Jordan Luplow is penciled in to start in left as the Indians sort through a bunch of outfield options.
7. Braves
Biggest needs: rotation, outfield

The Braves would like a veteran starter to put atop their rotation, and if that sounds like Keuchel would be a perfect fit, you may be onto something. But Atlanta apparently is unwilling to go five seasons for a contract, so Keuchel continues to check out his options. As for acquiring a right fielder, Carlos Gonzalez or perhaps a reunion with Nick Markakis seem to be the most likely scenarios.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.