The 2017 postseason ended with right-hander Charlie Morton on the mound and catcher Brian McCann behind the plate, as the Astros defeated the Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series.
But at this time a year ago, neither was on the Astros' roster. Then, over two days in mid-November, Houston signed Morton to a two-year contract to bolster its rotation depth and swung a trade with the Yankees to land McCann as a replacement for departing catcher Jason Castro.
Of course, things do not always work out so smoothly. But that's the main goal for every team with championship aspirations -- to fill a need in the winter and watch that acquisition help capture a championship the following fall.
• Hot Stove Tracker
So as the Hot Stove gets going -- with the General Managers Meetings beginning Monday in Orlando, Fla. -- here is a look at five of the most significant offseason needs that potential 2018 contenders will be looking to address in the coming months.
After three consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, star outfielder Michael Trout has still experienced just one postseason appearance and no victories in his young but illustrious career. That's something the Angels have every incentive to fix as soon as possible, and working out a deal to retain left fielder Justin Upton is a good start. But it's not enough.
The Halos need their injury-plagued starting rotation to stay healthy, but they also need help in their infield, especially with third baseman Yunel Escobar a free agent. A second baseman would be the most obvious target, given that the Angels ranked last in the Majors at the position in 2017 with a .601 OPS and 28th with minus-0.3 Wins Above Replacement. The club also could opt to replace first baseman C.J. Cron directly or by adding a third baseman and sliding Luis Valbuena to first.
Free-agent options:Neil Walker, Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, Mike Moustakas, Eduardo Nunez, Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso
Teams with similar needs: Brewers, Mets
St. Louis has fallen short of the postseason in two straight years for only the second time since the beginning of the millennium, creating a possibility for some significant shuffling. The biggest move could be for a middle-of-the-order bat -- even perhaps a trade for Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. But the Cardinals need to upgrade their relief corps as well, with seven of the team's 13 most-used bullpen arms from 2017 no longer on the roster, including Seunghwan Oh, Trevor Rosenthal and late-season acquisition Juan Nicasio.
A trade is one possibility, given the enviable position-player depth in the organization. St. Louis also could turn to the free-agent market, in particular for a right-handed arm or two to pitch in the late innings, which were a trouble spot for much of last season. (Lefties Tyler Lyons, Brett Cecil and Ryan Sherriff remain.) One question will be whether the Cardinals land one of the top available closers, such as Wade Davis, or target the setup types.
Free-agent options: Davis, Greg Holland, Nicasio, Addison Reed, Brandon Morrow, Bryan Shaw, Anthony Swarzak, Pat Neshek
Teams with similar needs: Cubs, Rockies, Twins
Cubs: Starting rotation
Chicago's quest for a repeat fell short, and to return to the heights of 2016, the club will be forced to acquire some starting pitching. Last summer's savvy trade for Jose Quintana helps -- the lefty is under team control through 2020 -- but Jacob Arrieta and John Lackey are free agents. Those are 60 starts the Cubs will have to fill, although with Quintana remaining along with Kyle Hendricks and Jonathan Lester, an ace isn't necessarily required.
That doesn't mean Chicago won't aim high, especially if Japanese right-hander Shohei Ohtani is posted by the Nippon-Ham Fighters as planned. The Cubs could also go after multiple arms for the back of their rotation, through some combination of free agency and a trade involving a young position player, such as Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez.
Free-agent options: Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Jhoulys Chacin, Trevor Cahill, Tyler Chatwood
Teams with similar needs: Yankees, Brewers, Mariners, Rangers, Orioles, Twins, Angels
Following a disappointing 2017, the Mets and new manager Mickey Callaway will hope that a healthy, effective starting rotation is the biggest change at Citi Field. But New York also needs to refresh its lineup after trading away several veterans this summer. The club certainly could stand to add an infielder, but the outfield needs attention as well, with Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson gone and Michael Conforto questionable for Opening Day as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
New York has the option to target a corner outfielder and use Conforto as its primary starter in center. But considering that the front office wants to place more emphasis on defense, acquiring a true center fielder might be the ideal move, keeping Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes in the corners, and Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo as quality depth. Lorenzo Cain stands as the most obvious solution, if the Mets are willing to pay the price.
Free-agent options: Cain, Carlos Gomez, Bruce, Austin Jackson, Jonathan Jay, Jarrod Dyson
Teams with similar needs: Giants, Mariners, Rockies, Indians
Red Sox: First base/DH
The absence of David Ortiz still looms large in Boston. Despite the team's regular-season success in its first year post-Papi, it finished a shocking 27th in the Majors in home runs, 26th in slugging percentage and 28th in isolated power. Still, the club's lineup is mostly set, barring a trade-related shakeup.
The exception is at first base or designated hitter, where Boston may look to upgrade over free agent Mitch Moreland, while placing Hanley Ramirez at whichever spot is not filled. That gives president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox some degree of flexibility, with big bats available through free agency and even on the trade market. Stanton's name will be floated, but the Marlins slugger would cost prospects, in addition to the significant price tag.
Free-agent options:J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Santana, Morrison, Alonso, Lucas Duda
Teams with similar needs: Indians, Mariners, Rockies