These teams still have holes to fill

December 11th, 2022

The Winter Meetings are over, but the winter is not, and there’s still work to be done. There are a handful of high-end free agents available, and trades to be made, and really there’s not a single team out there – regardless of whether they’ve already made an addition or not – that can realistically sit back, relax and say: Yes. We’re done.

But the landscape has shifted, hasn’t it? Strengths are different than they were a week ago, for some teams, and others have lost players they thought maybe they’d have back. It’s worth resetting what contenders need to do, and how they can accomplish that.

The first thing we need to do is separate out the bottom group of teams, which we’ll do by going over to the FanGraphs WAR projections, and eliminating the 10 lowest-projected teams for 2023. Nine of the 10 weren’t anywhere near .500 in 2022 anyway – the Giants, at exactly .500, will likely lose their irreplaceable ace Carlos Rodón – and while you conceivably could see San Francisco or Arizona challenge for one of the Wild Card spots in 2023, these are generally the teams with rosters where the biggest hole is “almost everywhere.”

That leaves us with 20 contenders, or at least teams that might like to think they are. (These are current as of Friday morning, though it does not include Boston’s agreement with Masataka Yoshida, who does not yet have a projection as a player without MLB experience.)

Then, we’ll look at some of the positions with the lowest projections. Of course, it's more of a guideline for us than a general rule, and we’ll add a little subjectivity in that. That’s because projections are not ironclad predictions, and because new additions might make for players moving positions, so there are a lot of moving parts here. For example: The Angels are projected to have the 27th-best first base situation, but we think they’ll bet on Jared Walsh’s return to health and the depth provided by Gio Urshela rather than make a move. The Orioles don’t rate well at short, but Jorge Mateo is an acceptable stopgap, and they have highly regarded prospects coming. You get the idea. We’ll skip those types here.

(We’ll also ignore bullpens. Every team, at all times, could use another reliever.)

All of which leaves us with these notable trouble spots.

Astros C (projected: 29th)

It’s possible that Houston doesn’t actually see this as a weakness, because it did just win a World Series with Martín Maldonado, who has earned a rightful reputation as a highly regarded handler of pitchers. But he did hit only .186/.248/.352, a year after he hit only .172/.272/.300. That’s a 63 OPS+ over 805 plate appearances, which is almost unthinkably poor offense. That speaks to the quality of his catching, but he does turn 37 next summer, and the Astros did feel the need last summer to acquire Christian Vázquez, who started two World Series games, including the Game 4 no-hitter. Vázquez is now a free agent.

Potential fixes: Trade for Danny Jansen; re-sign Vázquez; sign Omar Narváez

Red Sox 2B (projected: 27th) or SS (projected: 19th)

This depends entirely on which spot Trevor Story plays, though there’s a great deal of concern over whether Story still possesses the arm strength to play the left side. (Our view: no.) Boston probably should just replace Xander Bogaerts with Carlos Correa or Dansby Swanson, though it seems unlikely given the confounding direction of the organization over the last year. But Story at short with incumbents Christian Arroyo and Enrique Hernández at second seems a tremendous downgrade, and leaving Story at second without a big-ticket shortstop means the options are limited. This might mean second-tier veterans like Elvis Andrus or, perhaps, José Iglesias, who has had two previous stints with the team, including a briefly red-hot run late in 2021.

Potential fixes: Sign Iglesias; trade for Amed Rosario, Nick Ahmed or Paul deJong

  • Orioles SP (projected: 28th)

Your mileage on the Orioles as a contender may vary, but it’s clear they took a huge step forward in 2022, and the path is clear to supplement the continued pipeline of young talent with a big move right now. The most obvious spot to do that is in the rotation, which wasn’t terribly strong last year even as the rest of the team got better, and no, signing Kyle Gibson does not count. They know this, of course, and there are a few different ways to go about this. It’s not at all too soon to give a big contract to a top ace like Carlos Rodón – remember that the Cubs did exactly that after 89 losses in 2014, adding Jon Lester – but there’s a potential argument to spread depth around in the forms of Chris Bassitt, or Nathan Eovaldi or Michael Wacha. It’s got to be someone, though. Maybe multiple someones, since the roster currently has few high-salary names.

Potential fixes: Don’t overthink this, just sign Rodón

Braves LF (projected: 30th)

The Braves might be busy worrying about its shortstop situation with Swanson still unsigned, but, as seems to be true each year, there’s a left field problem. They do seem to solve that each time by picking a veteran out of a hat and watching him perform, but right now, the depth chart reads Marcell Ozuna (who can’t really field or throw and has an 84 OPS+ over the last two years) and Eddie Rosario (who isn’t a strong fielder and had a 64 OPS+ in 2022). Maybe they’ll just bring back Adam Duvall, or hope Rosario is healthier, or promote the next A-ball player you’ve never heard of. But fortunately for them, there are plenty of veteran corner outfielders available on short-term deals.

Potential fixes: Sign Michael Conforto or Andrew McCutchen

  • Cardinals SP (projected: 21st)

The Cardinals are in a somewhat different situation than Baltimore, because they actually have a ton of depth; you could argue that there are seven different starters that you’d feel comfortable with here, though many have injury concerns. But what they don’t have is an ace, or someone who can really miss bats, because last season, St. Louis starters had a mere 18.3% strikeout rate, seventh-weakest, and mostly surrounded by non-contenders. That contact-heavy approach worked somewhat due to the team’s annually strong defense, and somewhat due to the death-to-hitters ballpark they call home. Rodón would be ideal, though the five-year deal with Willson Contreras may put an end to that thought.

Potential fixes: Sign Rodón, but they won’t, so there might not be a great solution for the strikeout need. Nathan Eovaldi would at least add some velocity.

  • Twins SP (projected: 19th)

Copy-and-paste the entire Cardinals section. Minnesota does have better depth than you think, especially with Kenta Maeda expected to return from Tommy John surgery at or near the start of the season. But the Twins don’t have anyone who resembles a No. 1 – or maybe even a No. 2 – in a postseason rotation, and several of their veteran starters reach free agency after 2023 anyway, diminishing that depth. Rodón is the only one who approaches that tier, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement if and when he goes elsewhere.

Potential fixes: Sign Rodón, trade for Pablo López, sign Chris Bassitt

Dodgers SS (projected: 15th)

Trick question! Unlike other spots on this list, 15th isn’t terribly poor. But it’s also hard to see, in reality, the Dodgers replacing Trea Turner with Gavin Lux, in part because Lux’s arm strength is unimpressive even just in the context of second basemen. There’s also the secondary effect here that Dodgers second basemen project at just 17th, a problem that could easily be rectified if you move Lux back over to the keystone. The Dodgers annually run one of the highest payrolls in the sport, so it’s somewhat unfair to look at their inactivity this winter without noting that they did go get Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts in recent years, but also they’ve done very little this winter. Turning the next Shelby Millers into the next Evan Phillipses only goes so far, so many times.

Potential fixes: Sign Correa. It’ll annoy a portion of the fanbase. They’ll get over it. (Or trade for Amed Rosario.)

Phillies CF (projected: 27th) or RF (projected: 26th)

This one gets trickier than it ought to be. The projections see that Brandon Marsh has a mere 88 OPS+ in his career, but we note that he’s a good fielder who won’t even turn 25 until later this month and showed considerable improvement with the bat after being traded, and we think more highly of him, though maybe as a platoon bat. (See: we’re not always blindly following the numbers.) But with Bryce Harper out for the first half of 2023, Nick Castellanos might spend more time at DH – not that he had a successful Philadelphia debut anyway. They might just stay internal, and give some time to Dalton Guthrie or Matt Vierling or Darick Hall (as a DH). But there’s an argument, anyway, to find a very narrow kind of skill set, a right-handed bat who can fake the short side of a CF platoon with Marsh, while being able to spend some time in the corners when Kyle Schwarber or Castellanos DH.

Potential fixes: Sign AJ Pollock? Is that exciting? Maybe just stand pat here and see how it plays out internally.

  • Rangers OF (LF: projected 29th, CF: 26th, RF: 27th)

Are the Rangers contenders? We’re not totally convinced, but given all the big moves they’ve made over the last 14 months, they certainly would like to be, and they qualify by our cutoff here. It won’t happen with an outfield that had the third-weakest offense in the game in 2022 and hasn’t made any improvements yet, though there are some interesting young players you might expect to take a step forward. Even if they do, they can't do it alone.

Potential fixes: Sign Andrew Benintendi or Conforto; bring back Joey Gallo; trade for Max Kepler

  • Marlins everywhere (Projected position players: 26th)

Like the Rangers, we’re not convinced the Marlins are in the race in 2023, but they have the starting pitching to be, if they can just add a bat … or two … or three. (They reportedly tried for Josh Bell and Cody Bellinger but came up short.) They’ll stick with Jazz Chisholm Jr. at second base. They’re probably not going to unseat Jacob Stallings at catcher. Otherwise? There’s not a single lineup spot that should be considered settled, other than that they’ll give Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García chances somewhere to recover from disappointing Miami debuts.

Potential fixes: Don’t trade pitching for bats, because the pitching is strong, but not deep. Sign all the rebound veterans you can. Luke Voit. Gallo. Dom Smith. J.D. Martinez. Trey Mancini. Conforto, if you can.