The MLB offseason is still in its infancy, but the rumor mill is already in full swing. All 30 clubs will undoubtedly make moves--both big and small--in an effort to improve. Let's take a look at what move(s) should be on the top of each team's to-do list.
The Bombers need help in a few areas as they look to get over the hump in 2021. Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ are all free-agents, and while they may not all depart in free-agency, starting pitching is definitely something GM Brian Cashman needs to address. His line-up was also far too right handed in '20 and they desperately need an impact left handed bat. But the most critical thing on New York's agenda has to be re-signing the 32-year-old LeMahieu. Since arriving in the Bronx two years ago, Lemahieu has blossomed into an absolute superstar. In the truncated 2020 campaign he led the AL in batting average and OPS, and he's finished in the top three in hits for two years running. His positional versatility gives the Yankees a ton of flexibility along their infield, and after he declined the qualifying offer New York simply has to find a way to bring him back via a multi-year deal.
The Red Sox had the 3rd worst team ERA in baseball last season, and much of that had to do with a bullpen that was horrendous for most of the campaign. A weak unit got even worse when righties Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman were shipped to Philadelphia midseason, and relief pitching simply has to be a priority for the 'Sox this winter. Enter Hand, who was spectacular for the Indians a season ago before stunningly finding himself unemployed when the team declined to pick up his option for 2021. The lefty would immediately slot into the top spot on Boston's relief depth chart, and allow guys like Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier to work out of more appropriate roles.
Baltimore was a lot more competitive in 2020 than most people expected them to be, and they'll try to build on that moving forward. The Orioles got encouraging contributions from several young everyday players, and Dean Kremer, Bruce Zimmermann, and Keegan Akin all showed promise in the rotation. The bullpen needs a veteran reinforcement though. Baltimore traded away Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, and Richard Bleier during the '20 season, and an experienced closer like Melancon would not only improve them immensely, but he'd also undoubtedly have a positive impact on the younger pitchers in the organization.
The biggest need for the defending American League champions is quite obviously the catcher position, where heralded minor leaguer Ronaldo Hernandez is actually the only backstop on the 40-man roster. Shortly after their disappointing World Series loss to the Dodgers, Tampa Bay declined Mike Zunino's option and waived both Michael Perez and Kevan Smith. There is no chance the small market Rays will swim in the J.T. Realmuto waters, but McCann would be one heck of a consolation prize. The former Tiger and White Sox catcher is skilled behind the dish and brings right handed pop. He'd in a lot of ways be a perfect addition for this team.
Toronto simply did not get enough offense from the hot corner last season, and they will surely look to upgrade from Travis Shaw this winter. And they could find a themselves a difference maker in a familiar face. The Blue Jays drafted Bryant out of high school in 2010, but rather than sign professionally the young third baseman decided to attend the University of San Diego. A few years later the Cubs made Bryant the #2 overall pick and he's won an NL MVP and a World Series title while with Chicago. His time in the Windy City appears to be coming to a close though. Bryant will be a free-agent after the 2021 season and the Cubs have made no secret of the fact that they'd move him in the right deal. The Blue Jays are a team on the rise, and a proven veteran run producer would be a big boon for them.
Chicago hired La Russa as their new manager immediately after the World Series ended, a decision that was met with immediate criticism. The Hall-of-Fame skipper has piloted three championship teams and is certainly qualified for the job, but his personality does not exactly jive with today's players. While he was an executive in Arizona La Russa was overly critical of the 49ers Colin Kaepernick and emphatically insisted he would not tolerate similar protests in his sport from his team. That brought to light comments from former players of his, notably Ron Gant, who outwardly accused La Russa of being a racist while he played for him. Most notably, though, it is now coming out that last winter La Russa received his second DUI, and the police report is worth reading. Chicago is a team on the rise in the American League and they simply do not need this distraction. This isn't a time to be stubborn, and they really should admit their mistake and move on.
Minnesota needs starting pitchers, but the free-agent market may not be the best way for them to find the help they need. Trevor Bauer is going to make an absolute fortune and will surely be priced out of the Twins' comfort level. Marcus Stroman would've been a good fit before he accepted the Mets' qualifying offer. The rest of the pool of available hurlers is unexciting, and so, it would make sense for the Twins to think outside the box. Which is where Gray comes in. The Rockies' righty has had sporadic success at the big league level but has struggled with consistency. He's set to be a free-agent at the conclusion of 2021, and both he and Colorado would likely have interest in a potential trade. The price would take some negotiating, but the Twins have the prospect capital to make it happen.
The Indians intention to trade their superstar shortstop is well known, although difficult for Cleveland fans to digest. Lindor will be a free-agent at the end of 2021, and the Indians are steadfast in their opinion that they can't afford to give him the long term deal he desires. Now comes the hard part. While every team would love to add a player of Lindor's caliber, not every one is in a position to trade cost controlled assets for the right to issue him a massive extension. Particularly after the pandemic shortened season we just endured. Cleveland would obviously love both New York teams to get involved, but to maximize their return they may have to also be willing to include starter Carlos Carrasco.
Pederson did not have a great year in 2020, but the season prior he blasted 36 home runs for the Dodgers. It's certainly possible the defending champs attempt to retain his services, but should he depart, it's hard to find a much better fit than Kansas City. Longtime Royals' left fielder Alex Gordon retired at the conclusion of last season, and this team is desperate for competent everyday outfielders.
The Tigers are absolutely desperate for bats, bats, and more bats. Only three American League teams scored fewer runs than they did in 2020, and following season ending injuries t C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop the club's offensive production completely fell apart. Convincing a hitter of Ozuna's caliber to join a team that hasn't seriously contended for several seasons would be a tall order, but money can be a strong convincer. If Detroit is willing to overextend themselves financially they could potentially plug a superstar right handed run producer into left field.
Halos' owner Arte Moreno already has massive financial obligations on his books in the form of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Albert Pujols. But there is a reason his team has not qualified for the playoffs in the American League since 2014. Their pitching is seemingly always a mess. Among AL clubs only Detroit and Boston had a worse team ERA in 2020, and unfortunately that's not exactly an aberration for this staff. Which is why the reigning NL Cy Young could help. Bauer is a little quirky, but he is incredibly talented, and is assuredly going to make a lot of money in free-agency. The Angels are not exactly in the best position payroll wise to make another giant commitment, but there could be a loophole for them. Bauer himself is on record saying he should sign one year deals the rest of his career to maximize his value. If I were LA I'd throw a huge number at him for 2021 and see if it's enough to lure him to SoCal.
Texas signed Lynn to a three year contract ahead of the 2019 campaign, and the deal has worked swimmingly for both sides. In 46 starts for the Rangers the veteran has pitched to a 3.57 ERA while striking out well over a batter/inning. He's been one of the most consistent and reliable starters in baseball since the minute he put pen to paper in Arlington, but he's also going to be 34 in May. Texas finished an AL worst 22-38 in 2020 and are not likely to be a whole lot better in the upcoming campaign. With Lynn less than a year from free-agency, it would seem to be a no brainer for the Rangers to try to hook up with a pitching needy team to capitalize on his value.
The Astros are going to be incredibly active in the outfield market this winter, as they could potentially lose all three of their starters on the grass from a year ago. George Springer, Josh Reddick, and Michael Brantley are all free-agents, and while at least one of them could return, they're assuredly going to have holes to fill. Springer in particular would be a tough loss, and early indications are he'd like to leave Houston and try to distance himself from their sign stealing scandal. If that does happen the Astros would have a big void in center field, and Bradley would bring gold glove defense and a clutch knack at the plate.
The defending AL West champions are presumably going to lose a key contributor in free-agency, as veteran shortstop Marcus Semien is almost certain to find more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. While an experienced option like Freddy Galvis is a free-agent that would probably fall into Oakland's price range, they should set their sights a little higher. In the Mets they could find the perfect match, as in Rosario and Andres Gimenez, New York has two shortstops for one position. In 2019 the 24-year-old Rosario looked like a rising star--particularly in the second half--and while he struggled a bit a year ago, he projects as a probable bounce back candidate. The Mets need pitching and the A's could offer a starter like Frankie Montas to make a deal happen. A one-for-one trade like that makes a lot of sense for both sides.
The Mariners desperately need bullpen help and they'll be in the market for multiple experienced arms to help their beleaguered relief corps. The right handed Greene is coming off an incredibly productive year and a half in Atlanta that followed a solid run as the Tigers' closer. He would bring a versatile arm that can fill multiple roles in the 'pen, and it would be a great start towards improving a unit that needs it.
With new owner Steve Cohen now running the show the Amazins' are suddenly the apple of every free-agents' eye. New York needs starting pitching and a catcher--which is why you're assuredly going to hear them linked to Trevor Bauer and J.T. Realmuto--but the team's biggest need is actually center field. For too long the Mets have tried to fit a square peg into a round hole by playing corner outfielders like Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo at position number eight at the expense of their defense. Adding a real center fielder like Springer--who is also a three time all-star and a former World Series MVP--would be a huge step towards putting the Mets back on the map.
Here's a potential move that could take a while to develop and would depend on other moving parts, but this could make a world of sense. In young Austin Riley the Braves have a right handed power bat that can play both third base and left field, but his position is up in the air. That's because Atlanta would absolutely love to bring back Marcell Ozuna who enjoyed arguably his best career season for them a year ago. If he does come back the Braves would slot him immediately into left field and let Riley play third. If he departs though, the team will need to replace his offensive production. It's possible they look into a Kris Bryant trade with the Cubs that would slide Riley back into the outfield, but if nothing else materializes look for them to pivot to Brantley. The veteran owns a lifetime .297 batting average and can become an ideal left handed compliment to defending NL MVP Freddie Freeman.
The Nationals rode their dynamic rotation trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin all the way to a World Series championship in 2019, but this winter they really need to fortify the back half of their starting five. Anibal Sanchez will not return in '21 and some of the young pitchers on this staff like Austin Voth and Erick Fedde experienced growing pains when they got opportunities. Signing a proven veteran like Paxton--who will likely be open to a short term agreement following an injury plagued lost season in the Bronx--would make a ton of sense.
The Phillies simply have to find a way to keep Realmuto in the City of Brotherly Love this winter. He's the undisputed top backstop in baseball, a legitimate superstar both at the plate and behind it, and a gifted leader. Philadelphia traded for him the same offseason they signed Bryce Harper, and while the plan was for those two to usher in a new era of baseball in Philly, so far the team has very little to show for the investments. But that shouldn't prevent owner John Middleton from doubling down. He traded top prospect Sixto Sanchez to Miami for Realmuto's services, and the righty is well on his way towards becoming a legitimate ace for the Marlins. And if Realmuto departs, perhaps the most likely landing spot is with the Mets in Queens. The Phillies just cannot allow themselves to be haunted by both parts of that trade for the next several years.
Miami was one of the biggest surprises in baseball a year ago, impressively surging into the playoffs and knocking out the Cubs in the first round. As they look to build on that in 2021, one position stands out as a glaring area of need. The back of the bullpen. Yates was the best closer in baseball for the Padres two years ago, but elbow surgery knocked him out of virtually all of '20. San Diego may very well do everything in their power to keep him on the west coast but the Marlins should try to at least give him something to think about.
St. Louis is going to be in the market for offense during the offseason, and the addition they inevitably make is in all probability going to come in the outfield. Houston's George Springer would obviously be the prize of the outfield crop, but look for the Cardinals to explore the next tier of bats. Guys like Joc Pederson and Adam Eaton stand out as logical fits. The 31-year-old Eaton was an important glue guy on a Nationals team that won the World Series just over a calendar year ago, and while he's not a star, he's certainly a valuable role player. Adding him to this offensive attack to serve as a table setter for run producers like Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong would be enticing.
The Cubs currently have 60% of their 2020 starting rotation floating on the free-agent market, and it would not be out of the realm of possibility to see them lose all of Jon Lester, Tyler Chatwood, and Jose Quintana. In Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks they will still posses one of the better rotation duos, but the pair obviously will need help. Morton has become of one of the most reliable starters in baseball during his time in the American League--first with the Astros and then with the Rays--and he would be the perfect remedy. The only problem is it's unclear if the righty intends to play in 2021 or not. When he joined Tampa Bay via a two year pact in 2019 he indicated it would probably be his last contract.
Pittsburgh was the worst team in baseball last season and they're not going to be much better in 2021. A full rebuild is clearly needed in western Pennsylvania, but the Bucs' farm system is currently not in a place that would inspire much confidence for that happening sooner rather than later. Moving first baseman Josh Bell would have been a better plan this time last year when he was coming off a phenomenal 2019, but a down '20 would disincentivize selling low. That leaves the right handed Musgrove as the team's most valubale trade chip. The veteran would not bring back a huge haul, but he's a steady middle of the rotation hurler, and plenty of teams would be interested. If Pittsburgh can import one potential impact player--even if he's still a year or two away from helping--they should do it.
The Reds had plenty of pitching to advance in the playoffs in October, but they lost to the Braves because they literally didn't score a single run in 22 innings. The position most in need of an upgrade is shortstop, with veteran Freddy Galvis set to leave in free-agency anyway. There are plenty of big name options at position number six for Cincinnati to just from, starting with a potential trade for the cross-state Indians' Francisco Lindor. But that would almost certainly cost more in trade than the Reds would like, and the extension needed would basically eliminate them from the competition to retain Trevor Bauer. That leaves Semien and Didi Gregorius on the free-agent market, and while both would fit what this team needs to a tee, Semien is younger and just a little better.
The Brew Crew need to score significantly more runs in 2021 if they're going to be competitive, and with massive uncertainty at both corner infield positions--two spots that generally are associated with offense--it makes sense that their offseason search will start there. The Indians might not want to admit that they're in a rebuilding stage--instead labeling it a retooling--but it's easy to see what's really going on in eastern Ohio. The Tribe are going to trade Francisco Lindor this winter, they've shown pitchers like Mike Clevinger and Trevor Bauer the door in recent years, and they've been passed by both the Twins and White Sox for AL Central supremacy. All of that does not bode well for the club making a significant attempt to re-sign their talented switch-hitting first baseman. Santana admittedly had a rough 2020 (who hasn't if we're honest), but he's just a year removed from crushing 34 homers and driving in 93 runs. He should be on Milwaukee's radar.
Last month the Dodgers finally got over the hump and sealed the deal on a championship that had eluded them for so many years, but that's no reason to stop there. Their veteran third baseman, Justin Turner, has in so many ways become the heart and soul of this team, and there is no way the team should let him leave. Turner came up with so many clutch home runs for this team in the 2020 postseason--not to mention other years--and being from southern California there is no chance his preference is to play somewhere else in '21 and beyond. This makes too much sense for both sides to not ultimately materialize.
The Padres had the game's best closer in 2019 in Kirby Yates, and while he missed almost all of last season due to injury, their mid-season addition, Trevor Rosenthal, was lights out at the end of games in his stead. Unfortunately for San Diego, both of the veterans are currently free-agents, leaving a massive hole in their closer's spot for 2021. Luckily, there is a fantastic free-agent option for them that is already in California. Hendriks was absolutely dominant in Oakland a year ago, and over the past two seasons he's nailed down 39 of his 47 save chances. The Friars should do whatever it takes to get him headed south on the Pacific Coast Highway.
San Francisco finished 2020 with a losing record for the 4th straight season, but not all was negative in the Bay Area. Because of the expanded postseason field during the truncated campaign, the Giants finished just a single win out of a playoff spot. They need help in both the bullpen and rotation, but an under the radar need of theirs lies on the infield. San Francisco crushed left handed pitching last season, thanks in large part to Evan Longoria and Wilmer Flores. but both infielders suffered a noticeable drop off against the northpaws. Bringing in a veteran professional hitter like Cabrera, who is versatile enough to play all over the infield, would bring the team a left handed hitting bat to give their southpaw crushers a night off against a tough righty.
The Yankees have been unable to guarantee the talented young Frazier regular playing time for years at this point, and if I were Arizona, this winter I'd talk to them about what it would take to get him to the desert. The 26-year-old has hit .267 with 20 home runs in 108 games over the past two seasons, and he would be a great fit for the Snakes. All three of their projected starting outfielders swing the bat from the left side, and the right handed hitting Frazier would be able to find himself consistent playing time.
The Rockies got very little in terms of offensive production from first base last season, and addressing that has to be a priority for them this winter. Encarnacion is going to turn 38 in January and is clearly not the run producer he once was, but I wouldn't be so quick to give up on him. Even during a difficult 2020 campaign with the White Sox, the veteran crushed 10 long balls in 159 at-bats. If I could get him to come in on a one year low risk deal, if I were the Rockies I would love to see what kind of rebound he could deliver playing half of his games at Coors Field.
Justin Mears is a freelance sports writer from Long Beach Island, NJ. Enjoys being frustrated by the Mets and Cowboys, reading Linwood Barclay novels, and being yelled at by his toddler son. Follow him on twitter @justinwmears.