The Hot Stove has been a deep Friar. The Padres have taken what might be an insurmountable lead in the race to “win the winter.” As for nearly everybody else, well, we were expecting -- given all the uncertainty in the air -- a slow-moving market, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen.
But as Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak put it, “January is the new December.” So perhaps the non-Padres portion of the market will move soon.
With that in mind, these are 10 teams that have been pretty quiet, to date, but have some heavy lifting ahead of them.
The Phillies greatly needed clarity in their front-office structure, and they achieved it with the monumental hiring of Dave Dombrowski on Dec. 11. But you don’t bring in Dombrowski if you’re not serious about making a push for the postseason, and the Phils have a lot of work to do if they’re going to make such a push. Their bullpen in 2020 was one of the worst in baseball history, their rotation lacks depth, their starting shortstop (Didi Gregorius) is a free agent, they have a long-unresolved issue in center field, and -- oh yeah -- they are in danger of losing one of the best catchers in the game (J.T. Realmuto), who doubles as their cleanup hitter. They have to address all of this while simultaneously trying to lower their payroll. We hope you got some rest between gigs, Mr. Dombrowski, because there’s a lot of work ahead here.
The “Wanted: Outs” sign has hung on the Halos’ door for as long as any of us can remember, but that need was particularly evident in 2020. Angels starters had the second-worst ERA in the Majors, and the bullpen blew an MLB-worst 14 saves. It is incumbent upon new general manager Perry Minasian to fix this mess. When you have Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon on your roster and Joe Maddon in your dugout (with all of them costing a pretty penny) and you haven’t been to the playoffs since '14, you don’t engage in long-range planning. The Angels need to win now, and it will be interesting to see how far they stretch the budget to make that happen.
3. Blue Jays
While the Padres have seemingly acquired every trade candidate, the Blue Jays have seemingly inquired on every free agent. Not only do they have the financial flexibility to do a big deal (or deals), but they have positional flexibility on their roster to kick the tires on infielders, outfielders, designated hitters and catchers. They are also open to the idea of a blockbuster trade and have the pieces to pull it off. To date, all of this discussion has resulted only in a couple of waiver claims, but Toronto appears ready to pounce in this market in a meaningful way in order to augment its burgeoning young ballclub.
It’s silly to get swept up in the horse race of the offseason, but if were we pressed to rank ‘em right now, then the White Sox have probably pulled ahead of the Twins in a lot of people’s minds with their addition of Lance Lynn to an exciting group on the South Side. Minnesota, meanwhile, has to figure out whether it will retain beloved DH Nelson Cruz, and it has holes on its pitching staff with Jake Odorizzi, Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard and Sergio Romo all having reached free agency and May having left for the Mets. The free agencies of Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza also leave the Twins in search of versatility and bench depth.
It was the National League Cy Young Award-winning pitching of Trevor Bauer that helped the Reds overcome one of the Majors’ most disappointing offenses (.212 average) and reach the playoffs. But Bauer is likely leaving, and the offense is still bad. So while the Reds won’t be spending the kind of money they did a year ago, when they committed $164 million to Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama and Wade Miley, they unquestionably have needs to address in the rotation and at shortstop if they’re going to contend again this season.
Two of the Cardinals’ cornerstones -- Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright -- have reached free agency. And with both players in their late 30s, there are serious decisions to be made about the price attached to sentimentality. Even if St. Louis brings them both back, the club still has to decide what to do at second base after declining Kolten Wong’s option, and it has to address a glaring absence of offense in the outfield and/or third base.
Not one, not two, but 10(!) key players for the defending American League West champs have reached free agency, and executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane is reportedly leaving the club for a new business venture. So there’s a lot of heavy lifting to be done, and as tends to be the case, Oakland will have to do it on a limited budget. It is always fascinating to watch this club put the pieces together, but the potential departures of shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendriks make this an especially challenging situation.
Cleveland will not only soon have a new name, but in all likelihood, a new shortstop. Francisco Lindor will probably be dealt between now and Opening Day, and with all due respect to Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, that trade could well be baseball’s biggest blockbuster of the offseason. Because the Tribe tries to avoid major rebuilding projects, it will be interesting to see if a deal can be swung that brings in a young and ready Major League piece, particularly in an outfield that had historically awful output in 2020.
The landmark hiring of general manager Kim Ng was a fantastic start to the offseason after a surprise playoff run in 2020, and now Ng has to keep the momentum going. The Marlins are in pursuit of help in the back end of the bullpen after declining their option on closer Brandon Kintzler (with veteran setup man Brad Boxberger also reaching free agency). Miami could also stand to upgrade its catching outlook, as Jorge Alfaro has yet to assert himself. The Marlins have the bodies to fill out a lineup and a rotation, but there could be opportunities to improve the club’s offensive projection and starting depth in order to build off 2020’s gains.
We could put the crosstown Mets here, if only because fans are expectant of a blockbuster. But while the Mets have already addressed their bullpen and catching situation, the Yankees have been quiet, and the budget limitations created by prior splurges on Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole might keep them that way. But the Yankees obviously must determine whether they will outbid other clubs for DJ LeMahieu, and if not, they will have to reconfigure their infield. They also must address a rotation that, with Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ all free agents, has a ton of question marks beyond Cole.