- The Rockies could still add a reliever this winter but their big transactions could already be over, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding opines (Twitter link). Since the Ian Desmond signing, Colorado has been rumored to be exploring such moves as signing Mark Trumbo and trading an outfielder, though Harding doesn’t see either scenario happening.
With the new year on its way, we’re actually just six weeks or so away from the opening of Spring Training. But there’s plenty of work yet to do on the transactional side. A variety of interesting and useful free agents remain unsigned, and there are certainly some trade scenarios left to explore. Many teams have addressed needs; some, perhaps, have all but completed their offseason work. But there’s always room for improvement, and a few organizations still have significant holes to fill.
To set the stage for the remainder of the offseason, we’ll take a look at the most pressing remaining needs of every team in baseball over the coming week or so, division by division. (Hat tip to MLBTR commenter mike156 for the idea.) We often discuss things through the lens of an organization’s trajectory; thus, a rebuilding team might “need” to move some salary, while a contender might “need” an expensive starter. But with camp in sight, every club is making final calls on who’ll compete for big league jobs in the season to come (while also pursuing broader opportunities), so the focus here is on specific positions on the MLB roster. Fortunately, the task of roster analysis is made much easier by the MLB depth charts available at RosterResource.com. Each team listed below is linked to its respective depth chart, so you can take a look for yourself.
First up: the National League West. We’ll start with the reigning division champs and go in order of how these teams lined up last year. I identified three needs for each team in this particular division, though they certainly vary in importance, and future iterations could have longer or shorter lists:
- Second Base: Andrew Friedman and co. aren’t afraid to get creative, and don’t feel compelled to add big names. But the projected second base mix — which might include Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor, Austin Barnes, Micah Johnson, and Charlie Culberson — doesn’t appear to hold all that much promise. Los Angeles is rumored to be pursuing a solution, with particularly intense discussion surrounding Brian Dozier of the Twins, so the expectation remains that an outside addition will be made.
- Left Field: The in-house options are certainly more robust in the corner outfield, but that remains an area that the Dodgers could look to improve — particularly, if the team can find a true difference-maker (all the better if he hits from the right side). If Yasiel Puig remains as a semi-regular option in right, that would leave the other corner spot open to a variety of platoon scenarios, potentially involving Trayce Thompson, Scott Van Slyke, Darin Ruf, or even Hernandez or Culberson from the right side, and Andre Ethier and Andrew Toles from the left. Options? Sure, plenty. But adding an established piece to handle the bulk of the load might not only boost the lineup, but also permit L.A. to carry another of its much-loved flex players.
- Right-Handed Reliever: This isn’t a pressing need, exactly, but we’ve heard plenty of chatter about possible righty pen pieces — Joe Blanton, especially. Pedro Baez and Chris Hatcher currently rate as the top two right-handed set-up options in front of closer Kenley Jansen, so adding to that group makes quite a bit of sense.
- Third Base: San Francisco gave up a fairly significant piece to obtain Eduardo Nunez at the trade deadline last year, while shipping Matt Duffy in the trade that brought back Matt Moore. That reshuffling left Nunez as the presumptive man at the hot corner, with postseason hero Conor Gillaspie providing a platoon mate. But it’s certainly fair to argue that the organization could reap significant rewards by adding a bigger bat to play third, bumping Nunez into a super-utility role in which he could provide plenty of value.
- Left Field: Like the Dodgers, the Giants certainly have internal possibilities to fill the void in left. If a third baseman is ultimately added, that might free Nunez to spend some time there, too. (Then again … just read this.) As things stand, the position will likely be manned by a combination of unproven (albeit fairly well-regarded) players: Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson. And Gorkys Hernandez remains available as a reserve, too, though he’ll likely supplement Denard Span in center. There are a few familiar names on hand as minor-league free agents, but in the aggregate, there’s a lot of uncertainty.
- Right-Handed Reliever: The Giants’ pen has a lot of quality arms, despite the struggles in the ninth inning in 2016, and adding Mark Melancon as the closer largely closes the books in terms of needs there. But it never hurts to build depth and create competition, and the Giants could conceivably push pitchers such as Cory Gearrin and George Kontos by adding one or two alternatives.
- First Base: While Ian Desmond is apparently penciled in at first base, it still seems to make all the sense in the world to add another player there while utilizing Desmond in the outfield. Read here for more on that situation.
- Right-Handed Reliever: While the Rox are fairly heavily invested in a variety of relievers, the pen remains questionable. That’s most apparent in the team’s lack of right-handed setup options in front of presumptive closer Adam Ottavino. Currently, Jason Motte and Chad Qualls are the only two righties who seem clearly in line for such a role, with players like Jordan Lyles, Carlos Estevez, and Miguel Castro among the other options. Given the team’s investment in Desmond, excellent position-player core, and relatively promising crop of starters, now may be the time to spend a little extra to complete the bullpen.
- Starting Pitcher: “You can never have too much pitching.” Corollary: especially if you are the Rockies. Colorado likely feels comfortable with at least four of its rotation spots, but bringing in some depth and generating camp competition seems like a worthwhile course given the history of attrition in Coors Field. Investing a bit to fill some innings while reducing pressure on the team’s younger arms could go a long way towards making the Rockies a contender — and even enhancing their mid-term outlook.
- Left-Handed Reliever: The top two southpaw options in the Arizona pen, presently, are Andrew Chafin and Steve Hathaway. While the former has a fair bit of MLB experience, he was hit hard in the majors last year. And while the latter earned his way to the bigs with a solid minor-league season, and did log 9.2 K/9 over his 14 2/3 MLB frames, he also coughed up eight earned runs in that brief debut. Bottom line: depth, at a minimum, would be desirable. The D-Backs have already shown a willingness to draw a player by offering a role, when they signed Fernando Rodney to step in as the closer, and that approach may pay dividends here as well (even if it means waiting to see what players shake loose during camp).
- Right-Handed Reliever: While the need isn’t quite as pronounced, perhaps, the right-handed side of the relief corps could also stand to be buttressed. Randall Delgado is a reliable provider of innings, but hasn’t consistently delivered results. Jake Barrett, Enrique Burgos, Silvino Bracho, and Evan Marshall are each intriguing to varying degrees, but still come with uncertainty. With plenty of veteran righties still out there, it’s a fairly easy call to keep pursuing depth.
- Bench Bat: Much of the position-player side of the roster is accounted for, but the D-Backs could stand to add some pop — or, perhaps, just a useful all-around player who can play multiple roles — to their bench. Yasmany Tomas (defense) and David Peralta (health) come with big questions; other 40-man pieces such as Jeremy Hazelbaker, Ketel Marte, and Socrates Brito have yet to prove they’re capable major leaguers; and additional potential options on hand (lefties Oswaldo Arcia and Zach Borenstein) are equally uncertain. It’s not a pressing need, perhaps, but with a market still loaded with power bats, an interesting opportunity could present itself.
- Starting Pitcher: True, the Friars already signed Jhoulys Chacin and Clayton Richard. But those two hurlers are arguably their current top starters, which isn’t optimal. There’s a reason, after all, that they were available on such modest contracts. While Luis Perdomo showed quite a bit of promise last year as a Rule 5 pick, it’s perhaps preferable to at least create a situation where he doesn’t have to work at the major league level. And the other potential rotation pieces on the 40-man — Christian Friedrich, Paul Clemens, Cesar Vargas, Zach Lee, and Walker Lockett — are hardly proven commodities. San Diego has been tied to a variety of veteran free agents, including Jake Peavy and Jered Weaver, and could also look into the trade market if an opportunity arises.
- Shortstop: Luis Sardinas may still be deserving of a shot, but he hasn’t done anything to date to show he’s capable of being an everyday option at short. The other options are wanting, too: while prospect Carlos Asuaje hit well last year at Triple-A, he hasn’t played short since 2014; Jose Rondon reached the majors at just 22 years of age, but didn’t exactly master the upper minors with the bat; 21-year-old Javier Guerra struggled last year at High-A; Jose Pirela was non-tendered and re-signed to a minor-league deal after a poor showing in 2016; and Rule 5 selection Allen Cordoba is as speculative as they come, given that he hasn’t played above the Rookie ball level.
- Closer: It isn’t strictly necessary for the Pads to add a closer, as they could utilize Brandon Maurer in that role and could welcome Carter Capps back to action at some point in 2016. But there’s little reason not to explore a market that includes several former 9th-inning men who might like a crack at another stint. Pursuing that route in 2016 with Rodney paid dividends when he was flipped over the summer, and the cost of a signing could be recouped by avoiding larger arbitration raises to existing players.
The Rockies surprised most everyone when they signed Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70MM contract. But eyebrows really shot up when the team said that it intends to utilize the shortstop-turned-center fielder at yet another new position: first base.
While there’s little reason to suspect that Desmond isn’t capable of handling the position defensively, it’s a bit of an odd fit. Desmond has settled in as a solid-but-not-great hitter who contributes quite a bit on the bases, making for an offensive profile that isn’t substantially better than a variety of other players who are presumably available for much less money. His real value lies in the fact that he can do those things while also playing premium defensive positions.
It’s debatable just how good of an outfielder Desmond will be going forward, as his initially strong metrics slipped over the course of the 2016 season. He could probably still contribute all over the infield, too, as he retains the athleticism and arm strength that made him a quality shortstop in the not-so-distant past. (The miscues, alas, probably mean he won’t again play short unless a mid-season need arises.) That versatility led some to suggest that Desmond could sign as a Ben Zobrist-type, everyday utility player.
To be fair, Colorado could plan to keep Desmond at first for just a single season, shifting him back to the outfield in 2018. And the team could value the fact that he’d represent an option elsewhere if there’s an injury. But free-agent contracts are signed primarily for the contributions that a player provides in the early years of a deal, and it’s arguable that Desmond will represent a fairly middling overall option at first, which is traditionally the realm of quality batsmen who simply can’t field other positions.
Of course, the Rockies also still possess a seeming glut of left-handed-hitting outfielders. Desmond makes a good bit of sense as a right-handed outfield piece to join that mix, with one pre-existing player being cashed in via trade. Both Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl can handle center; Carlos Gonzalez is still viewed as an everyday corner piece; and Gerardo Parra was signed to be a heavily-used fourth outfielder. All four hit from the left side, as do other potential MLB options such as Jordan Patterson and Raimel Tapia.
So, whatever the team’s true intentions, it remains plausible to imagine that a trade will open up a move of Desmond to a corner outfield spot, with the Rockies adding another player (or multiple players) to play at first. The free-agent market remains chock full of possibilities. Mark Trumbo and Mike Napoli could be signed as everyday options, though only the former has clearly been linked to Colorado. We’ve heard of at least some interest on the Rox’ behalf in Chris Carter, who might conceivably take the lion’s share of the work while being paired with a lefty bat. Brandon Moss, Logan Morrison, Pedro Alvarez, and Adam Lind could represent left-handed platoon options, with any number of righties joining them to face opposing southpaws. Luis Valbuena and Trevor Plouffe are primarily third basemen, but could also represent fits. (Highly-regarded prospect Ryan McMahon could also be a factor at some point; the left-handed hitter only just turned 22, and didn’t exactly dominate at Double-A last year, but could conceivably be ready later in 2017.)
There are trade possibilities, too, whether or not that might come in a hypothetical swap involving one of the outfielders. Colorado has explored a deal for White Sox slugger Jose Abreu, who would represent a major acquisition. His teammate, Todd Frazier, is surely also on the blocks, and could conceivably be shifted across the diamond from third, though that’s pure speculation. It’s hard to see any other established regulars being made available at this stage; the Padres’ Wil Myers, for example, would probably only be dealt at a tremendous price. And other quality, controllable pieces likely wouldn’t be available unless the Rockies were willing to part with Dahl or a top prospect. But part-time options — most notably, perhaps, Matt Adams of the Cardinals — could well be had for a modest return.
Given the lay of the land, what’s your best bet as to how the Rockies end up filling their first-base job in 2017? (Answer options randomized; app users can weigh in here.)
In the wake of Edwin Encarnacion’s signing, there are now a whole lot of power hitters who could be next in line to sign. That situation provides much of the impetus behind the latest notes column from Jon Heyman of Fan Rag. You’ll want to read the whole thing to get his full take on the market, but here are a few notable items of information:
- The Athletics’ entry into the chase for Encarnacion helped push the action that led to his signing, per Heyman. Oakland proposed two separate scenarios, he notes, one of which would’ve been a straight two-year, $50MM deal and the other of which would have tacked on a third-year option in exchange for an opt-out clause. Before those offers pushed the Indians to boost their own deal, Encarnacion had been fielding many less-desirable possible arrangements. Indeed, the Blue Jays were mostly engaged with their former star on one-year possibilities most recently, Heyman notes.
- With Encarnacion now off to Cleveland, the many remaining sluggers will be looking to land with a variety of other suitors. Heyman suggests that the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Rangers are all “very likely” to add bats, while listing a number of other teams that could get involved as well. That includes the Rays, Giants, Phillies, White Sox, Angels, and Rockies, each of whom has at least some interest in the remaining market.
- Mark Trumbo is probably now the player with the highest earning capacity who has yet to sign, but his landing spot remains hard to peg. Beyond the Orioles and Rockies, Heyman says, “a couple more opportunities may have cropped up” of late.
- It seems unlikely that the Blue Jays will punt a pick to sign Jose Bautista (which they’d technically be doing, as they’d no longer be in line for the comp pick they stand to gain when he signs elsewhere), he adds, even if he’s now available on a one-year pact. Toronto does need to make some outfield additions, though, and Heyman writes that the club has kept tabs on free agents Michael Saunders and Brandon Moss, along with “many others.” The Orioles are also said to have interest in Saunders, as has been suggested previously, and Heyman suggests that the Phillies — who’d prefer to add a lefty bat — have some interest in Moss.
- Mike Napoli was said to be seeking a three-year deal earlier this winter, but this report now indicates that he’s seeking a two-year contract, which seems quite a bit more plausible. The Rangers are reportedly a “strong possibility” for Napoli, though Heyman notes the possibility of the ever-popular “mystery team” in Napoli’s market, suggesting that Napoli has at least one suitor that has yet to be linked to him publicly.
- While the Dodgers are willing to give up Jose De Leon in a trade that would net them Brian Dozier from the Twins, they’re not willing to include first base prospect Cody Bellinger or well-regarded right-handed pitching prospects Yadier Alvarez or Walker Buehler alongside De Leon. Heyman writes that some clubs feel the Dodgers are being “stingy” with their prospects and overvaluing their minor league talent, though as he points out, that approach worked to their benefit with regards to Corey Seager and Julio Urias (although none of the names listed are as well-regarded as that pair was).
- In addition to Jered Weaver, veteran right-handers Jake Peavy and Colby Lewis are on the Padres’ radar. Peavy would love the opportunity to return to San Diego, where he established himself as a star and won the 2007 National League Cy Young Award. I’ll point out that Lewis, too, has some connections to the Padres, as GM A.J. Preller was in the Rangers’ front office when Lewis returned from Japan and cemented himself as a Major League-caliber arm.
The Rockies have at least “checked in” with the representatives of free-agent righty Greg Holland, GM Jeff Bridich acknowledged to MLB.com’s Thomas Harding. Bridich acknowledged only that show of interest, while noting that he expects most other organizations have done the same.
There are yet more intriguing suggestions, though, that Colorado’s interest is more serious. In particular, Drew Creasman of BSNDenver.com cites an unnamed source for the proposition that the Rox have made Holland an offer of a multi-year contract. Bridich declined to comment on that rumor in his discussion with Harding.
Needless to say, the connection between Holland and the Rockies isn’t terribly surprising. Colorado has been looking for ways to bolster its pen, with Bridich citing a possible need to take calculated gambles to do so. The team already placed a wager on lefty Mike Dunn, who landed a surprisingly large, three-year pact.
For his part, Holland is no doubt searching for a chance to regain his prior status as a premium late-inning arm. While there figure to be plenty of suitors, the Rockies might be one of relatively few teams that could conceivably offer him a ninth-inning job — though that’s far from certain, given the presence of Adam Ottavino and others. Contract value and role will no doubt be of primary importance, though presumably Holland will also need to weigh the risks of spending half his time pitching at the lofty altitude of Coors Field.
With the top three closers and several other premium relievers already off the market, attention figures to shift to Holland and others in earnest in the new year. The 31-year-old missed all of 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and wasn’t himself in 2015 before going under the knife. Before that, though, he was one of the game’s very best relievers. From 2011 through 2014, he compiled a sterling 1.86 ERA with 12.6 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 over 256 1/3 innings.
- MLB.com’s Thomas Harding runs down a number of roster questions for the Rockies in his later Inbox column, noting within that he still expects GM Jeff Bridich to add another reliever either via trade or free agency. Harding also writes that Bridich is considering the possibility of adding a veteran catcher prior to Spring Training as well. The Rox have been asking for potential front-of-the-rotation pitchers in trade talks for Charlie Blackmon, Harding adds, which explains to some degree why the Rockies don’t appear to have had much in the way of advanced trade talks regarding Blackmon. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects a $9MM salary for Blackmon next year. He’s controlled through 2018 via arbitration and is fresh off a career year in which he slashed .324/.381/.552 with 29 homers and 17 steals.
- The Blue Jays reportedly turned down the Rockies’ ask of Marcus Stroman as part of a deal for Charlie Blackmon earlier this winter, and that seems to have ended the Jays’ chance of landing the outfielder, MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm writes. “Talks quickly died” between the two clubs once Stroman wasn’t made available, and Chisholm doesn’t think Toronto has enough other trade chips to get Colorado’s interest.
- Just over three months after outrighting Rafael Ynoa in September, the Rockies have brought back the utilityman. The 29-year-old Ynoa totaled 202 PAs with the Rockies from 2014-15, but he took only five trips to the plate with Colorado last season. All told, he has batted .281/.306/.372 in 207 plate appearances with the Rockies and .270/.344/.364 in nearly 4,000 minor league PAs. Along with Ynoa, Colorado picked up righty C.C. Lee. The Taiwan native pitched in Japan last season after garnering minimal major league experience from 2013-15 with the Indians. Once among Cleveland’s top prospects (BA ranked him fourth in the organization after the 2011 season), the 30-year-old owns a 4.50 ERA, 8.74 K/9, 4.24 BB/9 and 34 innings in the majors.
- The Rockies formally announced their 2017 coaching staff, including new hires Tony Diaz (first base coach), Duane Espy (hitting coach), Jeff Salazar (assistant hitting coach) and Ron Gideon (major league coach). This is Espy’s second stint as Colorado’s hitting coach, having previously worked in the job from 2003-06 under then-manager Clint Hurdle. Diaz, Salazar and Gideon are all getting their first experience working on a big league coaching staff, though they’re all longtime fixtures in the Rockies organization.
6:56pm: Cleveland, Texas, and Oakland appear to be the three most likely destinations at present, Bowden adds. On the N.L. side, the Rockies are said still to be “monitoring” the developments while the Marlins aren’t involved.
6:13pm: In addition to the Indians and Blue Jays, the Rangers, Astros, and Athletics have all made offers to Encarnacion, according to ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (who cites team sources for each organization). As noted below, there’s apparently at least one other organization that has dangled a proposal as well.
Each of those five clubs have put multiple years on the table, per Bowden, who notes that some of the offers include opt-outs following the 2017 campaign. Two suitors, in particular, are said to be engaged in negotiations “at a rapid pace” with Encarnacion’s reps. It’s not known which of the five organizations are pushing hardest at present.
2:35pm: The Indians are “pulling out all the stops” to land Encarnacion, although they might ultimately not be able to afford him, a source tells Fan Rag’s Jon Heyman. Kinzer tells Heyman that two teams have been especially enthusiastic in their pursuit of Encarnacion, although he doesn’t say who.
- Kinzer says he is surprised Encarnacion isn’t yet signed. He acknowledges the “glut” of power hitters remaining on the free agent market (presumably including players like Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli, Jose Bautista and Chris Carter) but says he felt Encarnacion and Yoenis Cespedes stood above that group.
- Encarnacion has gotten three- to four-year offers from six teams, Kinzer says. Most of those offers were for three years. National League teams have been involved in Encarnacion’s market as well as American League teams.
- Encarnacion’s priority, though, has been to return to the Blue Jays. The Jays, of course, made a significant offer to Encarnacion, but that offer came right around the opening of free agency, and Kinzer says the timing wasn’t quite right for Encarnacion, who wanted to assess other teams’ interest. After the Jays signed Kendrys Morales and then Steve Pearce, Kinzer and Encarnacion felt it wasn’t likely Encarnacion would return to Toronto. “We never had any idea that the Blue Jays were going to move that fast,” Kinzer says. He acknowledges the two sides have spoken recently, but says Encarnacion is coming to grips with the fact that he probably won’t be a Blue Jay next season.
- Kinzer says he expected significant offers from teams like the Red Sox and Yankees early in free agency. Those apparently didn’t materialize, and Kinzer says he believes the threat of a lost draft pick had an impact on Encarnacion’s market. The absence of a new CBA early in the offseason was a factor as well, he adds.
- Kinzer feels it wasn’t a mistake that Encarnacion didn’t discuss an extension with the Jays once the 2016 season started. He says that when he negotiated Starlin Castro’s extension with the Cubs, it was a significant distraction for Castro, affecting his eating and sleeping habits. Encarnacion, meanwhile, was very productive in his final year before free agency.