Execs discuss: Which teams still have a big move up their sleeve?

January 27th, 2024

With the sun preparing to set on January and Spring Training reporting dates inching closer by the day, it feels like we’ve exhausted the conversations about the top free agents still looking for jobs.

Where will Cody Bellinger land? What about Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Jorge Soler or Matt Chapman? These guys have to sign soon, don’t they?

Yes, these players -- and many others -- are still looking to settle their situations for 2024 and beyond, but what about the teams that could/should be signing them?

(Insert your “Why don’t the Dodgers just sign all of them?” joke here.)

Los Angeles has certainly been the busiest club this winter, signing Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Teoscar Hernández, James Paxton, Joe Kelly and Jason Heyward while also trading for Tyler Glasnow and giving him a contract extension.

The Dodgers have dominated the Hot Stove headlines, but they’re far from the only team to make significant moves this offseason. The Reds’ additions include Jeimer Candelario, Nick Martinez, Frankie Montas and Emilio Pagán; while the Royals added Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, Hunter Renfroe, Chris Stratton and Will Smith. The Cardinals remade their rotation with the signings of Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn. The D-backs followed up their World Series appearance by re-signing Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and adding both Eduardo Rodriguez and Joc Pederson. The Mets haven’t been big-game hunting, but they brought in Sean Manaea, Luis Severino and Harrison Bader among others.

A number of other clubs have signed at least two free agents including the Giants (Jung Hoo Lee, Jordan Hicks), Astros (Josh Hader, Victor Caratini), Tigers (Jack Flaherty, Kenta Maeda) and Blue Jays (Yariel Rodriguez, Kevin Kiermaier). And let’s not forget the Yankees, who traded for Juan Soto and signed Marcus Stroman.

So which teams have big moves left in them? We polled a number of big league executives to see who they believe would benefit most from another key addition or two, and while seven different teams were mentioned by the 10 front-office folks we talked to, the Orioles, Cubs, Yankees and Giants were brought up most often. The Angels, Padres and Blue Jays also received votes as clubs that still have work to do this winter.

“The Orioles still need a starting pitcher,” one American League executive said. “They had a great year [in 2023] and have a terrific young core, but adding a veteran starter would go a long way if they hope to repeat [as AL East champions].”

Baltimore’s big move to this point was the one-year, $13 million deal given to closer Craig Kimbrel, replacing All-Star Félix Bautista, who underwent Tommy John surgery in October. The Orioles’ rotation currently features Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, John Means, Dean Kremer and Tyler Wells, and while Baltimore isn’t expected to shell out the cash to sign either Snell or Montgomery, a trade -- for White Sox righty Dylan Cease, perhaps? -- could still be in the cards.

“That would make sense for them,” a National League executive said. “But I don’t know that they have the same pressure on them to make a move as the bigger markets do. They could use it, but I don’t know if their fans would be as upset if they didn’t.”

“I think [Orioles GM Mike] Elias might just roll out every single prospect and win that way,” another NL exec said, pointing to Baltimore’s highly ranked farm system.

The Cubs signed Shōta Imanaga to replace Stroman in the rotation, but Chicago has yet to address the potential hole in the lineup that would be created should Bellinger sign elsewhere. Of course, the Cubs could simply bring Bellinger back, which most execs believe will be the ultimate outcome. Chapman is also in play for the Cubs, who would turn a relatively quiet offseason into a productive one if they were to sign both hitters.

An NL executive predicted that the Giants -- who recently signed Hicks with the idea of converting him into a starter -- will sign Snell to pair with Logan Webb atop the rotation.

“Snell to San Francisco and Bellinger to the Cubs are very obvious fits,” an NL executive said. “I could see Toronto getting in there on Bellinger, as well.”

Another exec who predicted a Snell-Giants match also pegged the Yankees as the team to sign Bellinger, who could see time at first base, center field and DH in 2024, then potentially take over at first base in 2025, if New York declines Anthony Rizzo’s club option at the end of this season.

“I don’t know if those are the exact moves,” the exec said. “But I think both of those clubs have money to spend and need to do something to make a splash.”

Another NL exec also believes the Yankees will make another notable move, though he didn’t specify whether that would be Bellinger, Snell or somebody else.

“[GM Brian Cashman] has one more move up his sleeve,” the executive said.