11 teams with unfinished business before spring

January 24th, 2020

The heaviest of the heavy lifting has been completed in what has been a hopping Hot Stove. But with less than three weeks to go until the first pitcher-and-catcher report dates of Spring Training, there is still work to be done.

What follows is a list of the 10 biggest remaining needs. First, two notes about the list.

A. We’re focused here primarily on realistic sources of upgrade on teams with a realistic chance of contending. Certainly, there are many other positions of perceived need out there, but if teams have shown no real inclination toward addressing them or are in a transition state in general, there’s no sense getting into that here.

B. Let’s just ignore bullpen needs, because it’s a short list of teams that don't have a need in the ‘pen in this environment. And the remaining relief market is pretty thin, anyway.

1. Cardinals: A power bat
No truth to the rumor that the Cardinals' logo currently contains just a bird and no bat, but last season, this club ranked 23rd in the Majors in slugging percentage and isolated power, 25th in total bases and 27th in extra-base hits. None of this prevented them from winning the National League Central, but the lack of firepower was apparent in the NL Championship Series. Marcell Ozuna’s departure doesn’t help.

The Cardinals might not do a thing. They might rely on internal upside and the hope for bounce-back years from their established talent. But in what is again a winnable division, that’s a potentially riskier stance than forking over the cash it would take to land doubles machine Nicholas Castellanos to increase the extra-base output or trade for Joc Pederson or somebody else who can shore up the lineup from the left-handed side.

2. Rangers: A right-handed bat
It has been a hugely productive offseason for general manager Jon Daniels and Co., though the Rangers, having missed out on Anthony Rendon, haven’t made quite the splash they hoped for going into the winter.

Todd Frazier was added to the infield, but the Rangers are still on the hunt for a higher-upside right-handed bat, and this is yet another spot Nicholas Castellanos would make a lot of sense. Landing him would really legitimize the Rangers as a contender in an American League West that suddenly appears much more complex in the wake of the Astros’ punishments for sign-stealing allegations.

3. Indians: Outfielder
The Indians have nine outfielders on their 40-man roster. But Franmil Reyes (1.4) and Oscar Mercado (1.0) are the only two projected by Steamer to be worth at least 1 Win Above Replacement this season, and it’s still an open question whether Reyes will actually make it work defensively or get the bulk of his at-bats at designated hitter.

Bringing back Yasiel Puig on a budget-friendly deal would sure augment the effort for the Indians in an increasingly interesting AL Central.

4. Cubs: Lineup help
Articulating the Cubs’ needs is tricky, especially with the front office toying with a major shakeup (Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber are among their trade options) that addresses the long-term finances and future.

But the present-day club still has the seeds of a competitor. And if we take it at face value right now, the Cubs got an 81 wRC+ out of second base (23rd in MLB) and 87 wRC+ out of center field (16th). So those are obvious areas for potential improvement. Maybe the solution comes in-house with prospect Nico Hoerner at second and Ian Happ in center. Or maybe Jason Heyward shifts to center and the Cubs land a right fielder, as they did with Nicholas Castellanos last summer. Whatever the case, the Cubs, who haven’t spent a single dollar on the big league roster this winter, need a boost.

5. Reds: Outfield bat
It’s difficult to project what the Reds will get from their new center fielder and leadoff man Shogo Akiyama, who had attractive on-base skills in the Japanese Pacific League. They’re excited about what he and Mike Moustakas will bring to what was a lackluster lineup in 2019.

But if we can get greedy, you’d still like to see the Reds, who have Aristides Aquino and Jesse Winker penciled in at the outfield corners and no real clarity on Nick Senzel’s role, do more in an NL Central that looks to be there for the taking. Cincinnati has been linked to Nicholas Castellanos all winter. If the Reds can’t land him, they’ll likely stick with what they’ve got.

6. Nationals: Third baseman
Asdrúbal Cabrera was let go by a sub-.500 Rangers club last August, only to deliver a .323/.404/.565 regular-season slash and some big postseason moments for the eventual World Series champions. Now, he’s penciled in as the Nats’ everyday guy at third base, and maybe, in light of this club’s magic touch with veteran retreads, that (along with the addition of Starlin Castro and the availability of prospect Carter Kieboom) will prove to be plenty enough. General manager Mike Rizzo seems to think so.

But with Anthony Rendon gone, you can understand why fans are clamoring for an upgrade. Still, short of landing Kris Bryant via trade, it’s likely what you see is what you get here. The Nats might be more likely to add on in-season.

7. D-backs: Center fielder or second baseman
Ketel Marte had a breakout 2019 in which he garnered some NL MVP Award support. But making the shift from second base to center seemed to take a toll on his body (his season ended with a stress reaction in his back), and the D-backs’ preference was to acquire an everyday center fielder and lock Marte back in at second.

With Kevin Pillar the top option remaining in free agency and Starling Marte trade talks not gaining much momentum, the D-backs could shift their attention to second and leave their Marte in center. Brian Dozier, Brock Holt, Jason Kipnis and Wilmer Flores are some of the available options at second. If the D-backs trade left-hander Robbie Ray, perhaps that’s a way to address this need.

8. Rockies: Catching help
Whether the Rockies should be on this list, given the rules established above, is debatable. Aside from the Nolan Arenado trade talks, which led to nothing but agita, the team has not shown an inclination toward touching the Major League roster this winter.

The Rox have at least addressed catching with the Minor League signings of Drew Butera and Elias Diaz, but, given Tony Wolters’ offensive struggles, the team ranked 28th in baseball in catching WAR last season and is projected by FanGraphs to rank 29th this year. Bringing back Jonathan Lucroy with the hope that he can bounce back might be worth a gamble here for a team that could use a bounce-back as a group.

9. Dodgers: Right-handed power
All the hand-wringing over the Dodgers’ quiet winter is overblown. This club still projects to maintain a stranglehold on the NL West, and it has all the firepower it needs -- in terms of prospects and dollars -- to make a splash at the Trade Deadline.

But if the Dodgers opt to make a splash sooner, it will most assuredly be the acquisition of thump from the right-hand side. Right now, Justin Turner is the only threat from that side, until or unless A.J. Pollock bounces back. Kris Bryant and Mookie Betts are clear fits in the trade market, but it’s getting late in the game for a seismic swap.

Again, though, the Dodgers probably have the luxury of kicking this conversation down the road if they want.

10. Twins and Angels: More starting pitching
Let’s cheat and sneak an extra team on this list of 10, because these two clubs are variations of the same theme. They both, surprisingly, added a major bat (Anthony Rendon for the Halos, Josh Donaldson for the Twins) in lieu of a top-end starter, but they’ve both been active in the pitching market, too. The Angels acquired Dylan Bundy, Julio Teheran and Matt Andriese while getting Shohei Ohtani back as a rotation option, and the Twins retained Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda while also adding Homer Bailey and Rich Hill.

So they’re probably both done. But take note that these clubs are still projected by FanGraphs to be in the lower third in the Majors in rotation WAR. Ohtani will only pitch once a week, while Hill and Pineda won’t be available to the Twins at the start of the season. Given the need for something more bankable near the top of the rotation, a Robbie Ray pursuit in trade talks makes sense for both clubs who, at the very least, will likely continue to look for help as the season evolves.