5 teams feeling urgency to make a splash
The Braves have put the rest of the National League on notice that they see the 2020 season as an opportunity to win a third straight division title and intend to make a variety of improvements to their roster. That’s what a flurry of activity that includes the signings of free agents Will Smith and Travis d'Arnaud represents.
Meanwhile, the White Sox went out and signaled they intend to compete in 2020 by signing Yasmani Grandal, while also locking up franchise icon José Abreu for three more years.
OK, who has next? As we’ve pointed out previously, this is a unique free-agent market for two reasons:
1. Cornerstone players at the top of the market.
2. Multiple clubs hoping to make impact acquisitions.
But there are some teams with more urgency to make acquisitions that will allow them to take the next step or continue what they have going.
Here are the five that would like to make some news:
Pitching, pitching, pitching. After all the upgrades the Phillies made last offseason, there’s more to do. Their rotation had a 4.64 ERA in 2019, which was 17th among 30 teams. Meanwhile, the bullpen was 16th with a 4.36 ERA. First things first. The rotation. Another starting pitcher or two could get them back into contention. With so many other teams shopping for the same thing, the bidding for starters may go way past comfortable.
The Angels have a short offseason shopping list. That’s the good news. Here’s what makes the list so challenging: to sign two proven starting pitchers at a time when the demand is so high. Even if they land Gerrit Cole, that’s probably not enough to get into the conversation with the Astros and A’s in the American League West. But it would be a nice start for a rotation that has Andrew Heaney, Shohei Ohtani -- who is coming back from Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched since 2018 -- and a lot of question marks.
No team has a more complicated offseason. On the plus side, the Reds have enough quality pitching to go to the postseason, which means there’s an urgency to upgrade the offense and snap a streak of five straight losing seasons. Plenty of teams would love to have this pitching staff. On the other hand, only three NL teams scored fewer runs, and thanks to a combination of unproven youngsters (like Nick Senzel) and aging veterans (like Joey Votto), the Reds can’t be exactly sure where their holes are. Upgrading at shortstop and center field or second base would be reasonable starting points.
The Nationals are following the franchise’s greatest moment -- winning the World Series -- with the most nerve-wracking offseason. General manager Mike Rizzo is hoping to keep the band together by re-signing Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Hudson and possibly Howie Kendrick. He would like to acquire another bullpen arm or two and seems to have the payroll flexibility to check most of the boxes. But the bidding for Rendon and Strasburg is expected to be intense.
5. Red Sox
This is a team to watch because almost anything seems possible, including trading away 2018 AL MVP Award winner Mookie Betts. To look at the Red Sox from one angle is to see a team good enough to win the World Series in '20 without a single major addition. Doing that would mean a payroll in the $230 million range and gambling on David Price, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi all being better than they were in '19. This is the puzzle new Red Sox baseball operations lead Chaim Bloom is dealing with as he looks for a way to remain competitive and get under the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold.