The Mets made the biggest splash of the Hot Stove season last Thursday, acquiring shortstop Francisco Lindor and right-hander Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland.
Landing two players of that caliber -- especially a star as magnetic as Lindor -- is notable in any context. But it was especially huge for the Mets, given their place in a competitive National League East headlined by the three-time defending division champion Braves. According to FanGraphs’ Dan Szymborski, his ZiPS system had the Mets seven games behind Atlanta in the projected standings before the trade. Now, the two teams are virtually even, with the Mets’ chances of making the postseason jumping roughly 31 percentage points, up to 72.4%.
In fact, ZiPS shows that at the time of the Lindor trade, the Mets had the most to gain of any team, in terms of playoff probability, by making a five-win addition to their roster (or roughly the combined impact of Lindor and Carrasco). But there are many other clubs that would derive a comparable bump from such a move.
Working off Szymborski’s calculations, here are five of the teams that could benefit most from a Mets-sized splash, and one way in which each could pull off that sort of feat. Note that these suggested moves are not necessarily at that five-win level -- those are difficult to find -- but still would provide a significant boost to each team’s October hopes.
This is a time of opportunity in Anaheim. Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon are superstars in their primes, and the American League West might be as ripe for the taking as it’s been in a while. Houston and Oakland both are likely to lose multiple key players, while Seattle and Texas don’t appear ready to leap back to the top of the standings just yet. New Angels general manager Perry Minasian has replaced Andrelton Simmons with José Iglesias at shortstop and added closer Raisel Iglesias but has yet to land the sort of difference-making player who could change the balance of power in the West.
One splashy move: Signing free-agent right-hander Trevor Bauer. Starting pitching has been a sore spot for the Angels, and while Dylan Bundy turned out to be a terrific buy-low addition last year, the team’s rotation still ranks just 19th in FanGraphs' projected WAR. With Shohei Ohtani far from a sure thing at this point, paying the price to land the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner -- projected at about 4 WAR -- would be the best way to help Trout return to the postseason.
They seem to be in the mix for quite a few impact players this offseason but so far have not landed any, with re-signing lefty Robbie Ray their one notable move. However, it figures to be more of a matter of who and when than if. The Blue Jays jumped from 95 losses in 2019 to 32-28 in the shortened ‘20 campaign, making the postseason behind a young core of position players and last year’s big free-agent acquisition, Hyun Jin Ryu. The club still finished behind the Rays and Yankees in the division, but with Tampa Bay saying goodbye to Blake Snell and Charlie Morton and the Yankees also having a quiet winter, there’s an opening here for Toronto.
One splashy move: Signing free-agent outfielder George Springer. While the Jays could go in a few different directions -- and snatching DJ LeMahieu from the Yanks would undoubtedly be satisfying -- Springer is probably the best fit. He would be a defensive upgrade in center over Randal Grichuk and would bring a winning history, not to mention his elite bat. Springer could help make the club not only a division contender, but a championship contender.
Really, this could be any of the top four teams in the NL Central. Setting the Mets aside, the Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers and Reds each ranked among the five teams with the most to gain from a five-win jump, according to ZiPS. That’s because of how tightly packed together those clubs are. Yet none has stepped forward this offseason to try to improve its roster. (In fact, the division’s most notable moves have been subtractions, headlined by Chicago’s Yu Darvish). As for the Cardinals, they have managed to squeeze into the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, but their roster is lacking in high-ceiling talent. About all St. Louis has done this winter is decline Kolten Wong’s club option and (as of yet) fail to re-sign longtime faces of the franchise Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.
One splashy move: Trade for third baseman Nolan Arenado. While St. Louis has been connected to the Rockies' star in the past, this is probably a big stretch, given the six years and $199 million remaining on Arenado’s contract, and his post-2021 opt-out clause. But perhaps the Cards could get creative, given all of the big contracts set to come off the club’s books after this season (Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, Andrew Miller and Carlos Martínez). Assuming his 2020 offensive slump was the product of a strange, shortened season, Arenado would be a massive upgrade at third over the 35-year-old Carpenter, who has struggled for the past two years.
While the Hot Stove has mostly been at a quiet simmer thus far, the Nats have been relatively active, addressing a thin lineup by trading for first baseman Josh Bell and signing left fielder Kyle Schwarber. Washington addressed two major areas of need and now has quite a bit more thump behind Juan Soto and Trea Turner, but frankly, the work should not be done. The Lindor trade made that clear, with ZiPS now seeing the Nats as a clear third behind the Braves and Mets.
One splashy move: Signing free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto. The Nats’ questionable depth means that general manager Mike Rizzo also could make a meaningful addition at second or third base, or even in the starting rotation, where there are lots of question marks behind the Big Three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. But Nats catchers, led by Yan Gomes, sit near the bottom of FanGraphs’ projections, while Realmuto has a strong case as the best all-around backstop in the game. If Washington is willing to make the necessary financial commitment, that would go a long way toward helping it challenge Atlanta and New York.
The Lindor trade helped Minnesota, whose ZiPS postseason probability ticked up to nearly 75%, with Cleveland receding to a clear third in the AL Central. On the other hand, the Twins have watched the division’s other prime contender, the White Sox, trade for Lance Lynn and now reach a deal with free agent Liam Hendriks, per sources. The Twins have been comparatively quiet, and if they are going to keep pace with Chicago and capture their third straight division crown, some reinforcements are in order -- even beyond the seemingly inevitable return of Nelson Cruz.
One splashy move: Trade for Luis Castillo or Sonny Gray. Both starting pitchers have come up in trade talks, with the Reds entertaining further payroll cuts, and both project among the top 20 pitchers in MLB (with Castillo a bit above Gray). The Twins’ rotation is strong at the top (Kenta Maeda, José Berríos) but somewhat shaky below that, especially given that Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill are free agents. While Minnesota could be content with acquiring back-of-the-rotation depth, having Castillo or Gray supplant fifth-starter options Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe would be the best way to counter the White Sox. Such a move would cost the Twins prospect wealth, but neither righty would break the bank.