Inside Baseball | Needs and targets for MLB’s contending teams
Every contender needs help somewhere — even the Houston Astros, the World Series champions who made the best move of the winter and look like a powerhouse for the ages.
No one’s perfect, though some are a lot closer than others. Here’s a long look at the contenders/hopefuls, and their potential wish lists.
The one major issue looks like the back end of the bullpen. Manager A.J. Hinch smartly covered that very same potential problem by calling upon starters Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers to close out huge victories in last year’s postseason derby, and there are some who believe McCullers has the right “motor” to become a long-term closer.
But things would be easier if the favorite to repeat simply acquired a closer via trade. They came close to adding Zach Britton last year, but as noted in this space last week, Kelvin Herrera is the most obvious target this time around since he’s currently dealing. Britton is due back in a couple weeks and could come into play as well, of course.
For now, we’ll assume Alex Colome, who’s struggling uncharacteristically, if mostly off the radar. If we’re going to get picky they could look at a corner outfielder as well, but that answer probably comes from within.
Potential targets: Herrera, Britton, Colome, Brad Hand, Jon Jay, Denard Span.
The rotation has always been the expected area of need, and nothing’s changed.
The group is serviceable, especially with that vaunted lineup, but behind ace Luis Severino, no one looks like a playoff dominator. Sonny Gray has it in him somewhere, and CC Sabathia is clutch, but a top-of-the-rotation starter remains the need.
The Yankees, who have made perhaps more consistently good trades than anyone in recent years but may regret not pressing harder for Gerrit Cole this winter, definitely have the prospects to do what they want. But the issue is that there are no obvious answers out there.
If they could somehow talk the Giants out of Madison Bumgarner, that would perfectly fill the need for an ace. But barring a miracle like that, they may have to settle for a No. 2-3 type starter. Chris Archer may be the most talented starter out there, but it’s hard to see Tampa Bay helping the Yankees. Michael Fulmer, Cole Hamels and Danny Duffy are among others who could potentially help, but none are pitching like Cole at present. Hamels, though, may be a non-starter due to the Yankees’ desire to stay under the $197 million luxury tax threshold due to his $24 million salary.
Greg Bird is probably the answer at first base, but if he doesn’t prove healthy, they could take a look there, too.
Potential targets: Bumgarner (highly unlikely to go anywhere), Archer, Fulmer, Duffy, Mike Moustakas, Jed Lowrie.
3. Red Sox
They are, in some ways, the best-rounded team out there, with no obvious weaknesses or needs. The lineup looks stacked now that Xander Bogaerts is healthy and rolling, the rotation also looks quite good now that David Price is back in it after a short stay on the sidelines (his absence didn’t even last a Fortnite; sorry for the pun), and the bullpen looks better than anyone figured.
Barring future rotation worries, the one small thought would be to shore the innings in front of superstar closer Craig Kimbrel. Tyler Thornburg could be due back soon, so even this may not be a real need.
They also aren’t getting much production at catcher despite carrying three of them, so that might be a second thing to look at.
Potential targets: Brad Brach, Hand, Nate Jones, Ryan Buchter, Darren O’Day, Wilson Ramos, Jonathan Lucroy.
The Cubs have been tied to Manny Machado early and more recently, and they are planning to make a run at the best player almost sure to hit the market. Their infield is excellent as is, but can you imagine Machado joining Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo to form an all-time quartet – at least until the end of the year?
Addison Russell is one of the Cubs’ great young nucleus off to a slow or so-so start, but he’d start a nice package for the Orioles, who are expected to seek infield help as well as starting pitchers (and probably more).
The bullpen that some saw as a worry has looked excellent so far. Yu Darvish looks like the weak link in the rotation, but his job obviously isn’t vulnerable with five-plus years to go, so the Cubs are a rare contender who don’t have to worry about rotation help or even pen aids.
Potential targets: Machado.
The Nats most of all need good health, with concerns lingering about Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton and Ryan Zimmerman. Mark Reynolds was a nice add for first base, and Matt Adams has been a Godsend, so there are options at first.
Murphy is expected back before too long, but someone who could play both first and second might make sense, just in case. Michael Taylor hasn’t repeated his nice 2017 to date and Eaton is out again (he hopes to be back in six weeks), so perhaps they could take a look at the outfield, too.
Sean Doolittle has solved the long-running closing problem, but bullpen depth is a consideration. It doesn’t look like there’s anyone good enough who’s going to be available to help their star-packed and deep rotation.
Potential targets: Lowrie, Brach, O’Day, Buchter, Nate Jones, Adam Jones, Jay.
Even before the Keynan Middleton injury, the Angels looked short in the pen. And even before Matt Shoemaker went down, they looked like they might lack a little depth in the rotation, too.
This is a very good and exciting team that may well contain the two best players on Earth (more on that in Inside Baseball notes). But the pitching staff will need reinforcements – and that means both starters and relievers.
One more thing to keep an eye on could be right field, where the normally dependable Kole Calhoun has struggled all year.
Potential targets: Hand, Britton, Herrera, Hamels, Francisco Liriano, Dan Straily, Wei-Yin Chen, Brad Brach, Nate Jones, Duffy, Buchter, O’Day, Colome, Jay, Span.
The injuries to Taijaun Walker and Robbie Ray have tested their rotation depth, with mixed results (Matt Koch has looked good, beating two greats — Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw — but beyond that it’s a mixed bag at best). They were one of the nine teams that looked at Machado, but the rotation has to be the focus.
Potential targets: Archer, Fulmer, Andrew Cashner, Liriano, Straily, Chen, Machado.
They went from baseball’s best bullpen to among the worst when Andrew Miller went out, following the loss to free agency of Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith over the winter. Miller’s back, but he and Cody Allen probably need a little help.
Danny Salazar isn’t making much progress, but the rotation remains one of the best with a remaining vaunted quartet. They are relying heavily on Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, and it might be nice to see a reinforcement in the outfield. They also need to hope Jason Kipnis reverts to career form. If not, they too could take a look at Machado.
Potential targets: Machado, Hand, Buchter, Brach, Nate Jones, O’Day, Buchter, Jay, Span.
The most obvious need is the same need they had this winter, and never addressed, and that is the rotation. With Chase Anderson on the DL, the need is pretty acute at present. The name that’s been most speculated as being linked to the Brewers is Chris Archer, and the Brewers have the prospects to get it done (they could also afford his contract). This is a lower priority, but second base and catcher could be a couple other areas to consider.
Potential targets: Archer, Andrew Cashner, Straily, Ramos, Lucroy, Lowrie.
The Braves have played their way into buying position, thanks to some great stuff from two 20-year-olds and a 21-year-old (also some holdover veterans, including the fabulous Freddie Freeman).
However, there are some possible spots for upgrades.
They don’t really have a bona fide closer, which is their most obvious need. A veteran starter wouldn’t hurt. And third base remains something to watch; Jose Bautista may prove to be the answer, but he’s coming off a rough year and hasn’t played that position in awhile. It’s possible they could turn to yet another big-time prospect, Austin Riley, to man third if Bautista doesn’t pan out, too. Of course, Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos likes Bautista from their Jays days, but he’s also the guy who acquired Donaldson for Toronto.
One thing’s for sure; they should have a lot of money saved up after perennially sticking to a tight budget.
Potential targets: Herrera, Britton, Colome, Donaldson.
There are no obvious weaknesses; they mainly need Matt Carpenter, Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler to hit to career norms. But if there’s one spot that they could look to upgrade, it may be third base.
The rotation has been in flux due to some injuries, but they seem to have some decent options there, with youngster Jack Flaherty and especially with the ultra-talented Alex Reyes close to getting back. The pen looks fine with Jordan Hicks setting up and surprise closer Bud Norris on their games, and veteran Greg Holland there, in case.
Potential targets: Donaldson, Moustakas, Machado.
This Rockies team is the opposite of past Rockies teams — a team that generally pitches well but struggles to hit and fails to play well at home.
What they really need is some power, presumably either to play first or a corner outfield spot. Ian Desmond has struggled, but he could move to a corner outfield spot if they come up with the right first baseman. Jose Abreu would be the perfect guy, if they can pry him away from the White Sox (unlikely). But corner players with power shouldn’t be that difficult to find.
The rotation has been solid, but like any contender, they’ll take a look there. Wade Davis has been brilliant in the pen, but the other relief imports aren’t doing as well, so they could seek pen depth, too.
Potential targets: Abreu, Adam Duvall, Lucas Duda, Lowrie, Nate Jones, Brach, O’Day, Hand, Buchter.
The Robinson Cano ban is a psychological downer for this seemingly star-crossed franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs for longer than anyone despite some very good teams and seasons (hard as it is to believe, it’s been since they won 116 games in 2001).
The offense will take a hit, undoubtedly. But the small silver lining is that the $11 million-plus savings they will have from the 80-game ban gives them some extra spending money, maybe enough for a couple payers. It’s hard to imagine GM Jerry Dipoto standing pat, and you know he’ll consider every possible angle: New center fielder Dee Gordon will now move back to his preferred second base, which he won’t mind. But they may need to seek offense as well as a starter, too, now.
Potential targets: Liriano, Straily, Duffy, Cashner, Billy Hamilton, Adam Jones.
The Phillies are another team that could go many different ways. They could look to the closing job since Hector Neris lost that full-time gig following a few blown saves; they could augment a rotation that hasn’t been bad at all; or, they could consider right field and/or a left-side infield position for upgrade.
The closer seems like the most pressing issue at the moment, but they’d please a lot of people if they’d consider bringing back the beloved Cole Hamels (probably a long shot). Shortstop J.P. Crawford wasn’t off to a great start before going down with an injury, and we all know how much the Phillies executives – almost all of whom were in Baltimore when Manny Machado was selected third overall – love Machado. They also love Zach Britton from Baltimore days, and he’d fit as well.
Potential targets. Hamels, Britton, Herrera.
They already made one trade, and Devin Mesoraco could solve their catching issue. But if not, J.T Realmuto would be the pie-in-the-sky get (even Mets people question whether they have enough to do a deal).
The pitching staff is also an area of concern, as the rotation beyond the top two of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard hasn’t been great. Another lefty in the pen would also be nice.
Potential targets: Realmuto, Jonathan Lucroy, Wilson Ramos, Buchter, Hand.
This is a tough one. The Diamondbacks’ recent losing streak, and more importantly, the return of Justin Turner, keep their hopes alive. But there are obviously a lot of issues here at present.
All-time great pitcher Clayton Kershaw is currently on the disabled list, as is Hyun-Jin Ryu. Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger aren’t repeating their fabulous 2017 seasons, and Joc Pederson isn’t repeating his fabulous 2017 postseason (more here on the Dodgers).
They’d be better off acquiring a shortstop, they aren’t getting big production from the corner outfield spots and that bullpen – as great as it was last year – is a mess. They talked about Britton last year. The other issue, of course, is that they are intent on staying below the luxury-tax threshold.
The good news is that Andrew Friedman is practiced at creating productive bullpens out of very little. But there’s a lot of stuff happening here.
Potential targets: Machado, Britton, Herrera, Nate Jones.
There was a lot going on with the Twins late in the winter, and at the time it seemed the good might equal or even overshadow the bad (they signed Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison and traded for Jake Odorizzi while they lost Ervin Santana to injury for the beginning and Jorge Polanco to a ban for 80 games).
They actually made a lot of seemingly cost-efficient buys.
But underperformance by some of their core kids and a disastrous bullpen has cost them so far. The pen is the obvious area to address, as it has been arguably the worst in the game.
Potential targets: Britton, Herrera, Brach, Nate Jones, Realmuto, Lucroy, Ramos.
18. Blue Jays
They are a rare team smack dab in the middle, so they could go either way: buy or sell.
In another division, they may be more apt to go for it, but even a decent team looks to be in trouble in the AL East. So the chance they sell can’t be discounted – and that could easily include superstar third baseman Josh Donaldson.
If they do become a buyer, it’s pretty apparent what their needs are: the rotation, a middle infielder, the outfield and now perhaps a closer.
Potential targets: Too early to say.
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