The Winter Meetings have come and gone, but the offseason has remained mostly quiet. That’s as true for the rebuilding teams as it is the contenders, some of whom have been busy and some of whom have yet to stir. But with Christmas coming and a new year on the horizon, all of those teams with World Series aspirations still have moves they can make to get better ahead for 2018. Here are the 14 teams who either won a playoff spot last year or are in good position to contend for one next season and the biggest holes they have yet to fill. (For those wondering where the Blue Jays, Royals, Mets, Pirates and Giants are: Those teams strike me as trending down, too cash-strapped, and/or with too much work to do to be labeled true contenders. The Angels get an initial pass because they are the one team to aggressively address their needs this offseason.)
Yankees: Third base
Like the second Death Star, the Yankees as currently constructed are a fully armed and operational team in need of some cosmetic patches. Case in point: third base, unoccupied thanks to the trade that sent Chase Headley to the Padres for salary relief. Rookie Miguel Andujar is atop the depth chart there, but New York would be wise to find some veteran help at the position. A reunion with Todd Frazier, who was only slightly above-average overall but provided some big hits in pinstripes upon coming over in a deadline deal, makes the most sense for a team already boasting a superweapon of a lineup.
Red Sox: Designated hitter
This spot might as well have J.D. Martinez’s name penciled into it, but be it him or someone else, the Red Sox have to do something to add another bat to their lineup. The perennially average Mitch Moreland—re-upped on a two-year deal—won’t cut it. And while Hanley Ramirez has shown the ability to be a David Ortiz-level thumper, his 2017 (a 95 OPS+ and -0.3 WAR) and propensity for the disabled list make him a bad bet. So, too, does Boston’s likely desire to limit his playing time given a $22 million vesting option for 2019 that’s based on his number of plate appearances. Martinez is the ideal fit, but the Red Sox shouldn’t care who gets the at-bats if they can swing a big stick.
The Indians are reportedly set to replace Carlos Santana with Yonder Alonso, which is like trading in a Mercedes for a Toyota Corolla, but either way, consider the formerly vacant position of first base filled. Next on their list should be another corner outfielder to replace free agent Jay Bruce and provide backup for Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall, both too injury prone to count on as starters. Cleveland can probably do better than in-house option Abraham Almonte, a slick defender with a noodle bat. Melky Cabrera would fit the bill, or the cost-conscious Indians could try to buy low on Jose Bautista or Carlos Gonzalez.
Twins: Starting pitching
Minnesota went from 103 losses in 2016 to a wild-card spot in ’17, but to have any hopes of repeating or improving upon that finish, the Twins need far more from their rotation then what they have at the moment. Ervin Santana is a stalwart presence, and Jose Berrios has the stuff to be an ace, but the rest of their starters are an uninspiring collection of mediocre arms with poor peripherals. Minnesota’s decision-makers have openly expressed their desire for an ace like Yu Darvish, but for a small-market franchise, the Twins are better off aiming for a mid-rotation guy like Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb who can eat up innings at better than league average. That would be a massive upgrade from what they already have.
Teams that win the World Series with a vaunted core of young stars don’t normally have a lot of needs in the offseason, and that’s true of Houston. The Astros’ lineup is the envy of baseball, and the rotation is blessed with high-impact arms. But it’s the bullpen that could use some reinforcements. The postseason exposed just how shaky a group that was, particularly from the left side, with Francisco Liriano called upon to get big October outs despite being, well, Francisco Liriano. Former Cubs closer Hector Rondon is a good start, but Houston shouldn’t stop there; as the defending champions with an eye on a repeat, there’s no reason to.
Rangers: Starting pitching
Texas briefly lit up Twitter on Tuesday night with news that general manager Jon Daniels will be having a quiet, intimate dinner with Darvish, late of the Rangers and now a free agent. But with the team insisting that, no, the two are just friends and there’s nothing serious going on, Daniels should turn his attention to a pitching market that still offers plenty of value. Texas has been active already, adding Doug Fister, Mike Minor and Matt Moore, but those arms aren’t exactly reliable, and the team’s depth has already taken a hit with the loss of Martin Perez to a broken elbow. More is needed; Daniels might consider texting Cobb to see which of Dallas-Fort Worth’s finest restaurants he hasn’t tried yet.
Mariners: Starting pitching
In the time it takes you to read this sentence, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto will likely have completed at least one trade for a minor league reliever he probably previously dealt away. But for all his frenetic swaps, Dipoto has yet to address Seattle’s biggest issue this winter: a rotation that was ruined by injuries last year and is dangerously thin. If the Mariners hope to break their 16-year postseason drought, they can’t be caught again in a situation where someone like Ariel Miranda is their leader in innings pitched. Darvish would be a perfect fit here, but anyone competent and durable would do just fine.
Nationals: Fifth starter
On a team loaded with stars, there’s not much else to do but fill in at the margins. That’s been Washington’s offseason so far, with the signing of backup first baseman Matt Adams as the only notable transaction in the nation’s capitol (baseball-wise, anyway). There have been rumors that the Nationals are interested in Jake Arrieta, but while he would create a monolithic rotation alongside Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, the Nats should save their money and aim instead to upgrade on the last spot in the starting five, one currently being held by rookie Erick Fedde. That should cost far less and be much easier to do than talking Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, into yet another deferred money deal from ownership.
Cubs: Lefty setup
Chicago won only 92 games last year in a drop from its World Series high, but all the pieces are in place for better in 2018, even with Arrieta likely gone for good. The offense remains young and stacked, and the rotation should be fine with new signing Tyler Chatwood slotting in at the back; likewise in the bullpen, where former Dodgers setup man Brandon Morrow should help a unit that torched too many leads. One notable missing piece, though, is a reliable lefthander for that relief corps. Former Tigers closer Justin Wilson, acquired midseason, was a flop on the North Side, losing manager Joe Maddon’s trust so completely that he was left off the team’s NLCS roster. Maybe Chicago would have better luck with a veteran arm like Zach Duke, Boone Logan or Tony Watson.
The Cardinals’ biggest hole has already been addressed with the trade that landed them All-Star outfielder Marcell Ozuna from the fire-selling Marlins. But St. Louis would do well to bolster its ninth-inning options in the bullpen; last year saw nothing but struggle from Trevor Rosenthal (now injured) and Seung-hwan Oh (a free agent). Luke Gregerson is in the mix, but the 33-year-old righty is better suited to middle relief or setup. While the market is short on dominant closer types, the Cardinals reeling in Wade Davis or Greg Holland would go a long way toward shoring up a trouble spot.
Brewers: No. 1 starter
Surprise contenders last season, the Brewers have seen their window open unexpectedly early. Now, they have to take advantage of that opportunity by making a big splash at a position where they need the most help: the top of the rotation. Milwaukee’s initial forays into adding to a mediocre starting five have been mediocre themselves; Yovani Gallardo and Jhoulys Chacin do not add up to a postseason place. Arrieta or Darvish would fit the bill, or the Brewers could use their enviable prospect stash to make a move for Rays ace Chris Archer. Either way, the time is right for Milwaukee to go big.
Dodgers: Right-handed setup man
Like the Astros, there’s not much you need to change about the Dodgers, whose biggest move so far has been to shed salary to better their financial outlook for next winter’s free-agent bonanza. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement for this offseason, though, and it starts in the bullpen, where the departure of Morrow has left a vacancy in the righthanded setup role ahead of closer Kenley Jansen. Whether Los Angeles goes with a premium option or tries the Morrow route again with a failed starter who boasts elite stuff isn’t important; what matters is adding depth to try to avoid a scenario like “eighth-inning man Pedro Baez.”
Diamondbacks: Outfield (either right or left)
As with the Red Sox, this position probably has J.D. Martinez’s name all over it. And like Boston, Arizona’s fallback option here—Yasmany Tomas, a bust since coming over from Cuba as one of the old front office’s costlier mistakes—isn’t very appealing. Luckily for the D-Backs, the free-agent market is rife with outfielders who shouldn’t cost too much; Bruce, Lorenzo Cain and Gonzalez all come to mind as reasonable options to replace Martinez if he moves elsewhere.
Rockies: Rotation depth
Assuming the Rockies decide to go with some kind of Ian Desmond/Ryan McMahon pairing at first base, the team should be set on offense. And a bullpen that was nothing special last year has been bolstered by the signings of Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee, with Addison Reed, Davis and last year’s closer Holland also on their radar. So as always with Colorado, let’s put the emphasis on the rotation, which lost the unexciting but functional Chatwood and has little depth behind youngsters Jon Gray, German Marquez and Kyle Freeland. The Rockies don’t need an ace; they just need some useful veterans who won’t mind pitching at altitude and can chip in five-to-six serviceable innings a turn. The market is full of those types, and while Jeremy Hellickson or Trevor Cahill is nowhere near a sexy signing, guys like that could make all the difference as the Rockies attempt to hold on to a wild-card spot.