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.
Jeff Todd kicked off the series with a look at the NL West, and now we’ll move across the continent and across leagues to the AL East, starting with the division champion Red Sox and moving in order of last year’s standings. Here are three needs (of varying importance) for each team in the division:
- Third Base: Boston is hoping that a healthy and in-shape Pablo Sandoval can get back to his old Giants form, though that’s no small risk given Sandoval’s disastrous 2015-16 seasons. With Travis Shaw off to Milwaukee, the Sox are left with Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge as the primary third base backup options on the MLB roster. The Red Sox didn’t hesitate to bench Sandoval after he struggled in Spring Training last year, so if he has another rough spring, the Sox could start looking for a reliable everyday option at the hot corner.
- Bench Depth: While the Red Sox have several backup options on the 25-man roster or high minors, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford recently pointed out that the team is rather lacking in proven depth pieces, and might not be able to handle an injury to one or two regulars. Adding the likes of an Adam Rosales or Trevor Plouffe (names cited as Bradford as players of interest for the Sox) would help in this regard.
- Left-Handed Reliever: The club’s decision to tender a contract to Fernando Abad was something of a surprise, given how poorly Abad fared after joining the Red Sox last summer. Robbie Ross is the primary lefty in Boston’s bullpen and while it appears the Sox feel Abad will get back on track, it wouldn’t hurt to find another southpaw. Admittedly, this is a pretty borderline “need” on what is a pretty stacked Boston roster — the Sox could potentially find another lefty reliever internally in the form of Roenis Elias, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens or perhaps even one of Eduardo Rodriguez or Drew Pomeranz (if Steven Wright reclaims a rotation spot).
- Corner Outfield: With Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders both in free agency, the Jays are left with Melvin Upton Jr., Ezequiel Carrera, new acquisition Steve Pearce and Dalton Pompey as the candidates for both left and right field. You could argue that this counts as two needs, though the Blue Jays can juggle their internal options at one corner spot and focus on acquiring an everyday outfielder to handle the other position.
- Left-Handed Reliever: Southpaw bullpen depth has been a long-standing need for the Jays, who were short on lefties even before Brett Cecil signed with the Cardinals. The team has been linked to several left-handed relievers in free agency, though given the big contracts scored by Cecil and other lefties this winter, landing one of those notable arms won’t be cheap. Toronto has added left-handers T.J. House, Brett Oberholtzer and Jeff Beliveau to minor league deals this winter, though a more proven southpaw reliever would certainly be preferred.
- Right-Handed Reliever: No reason to stop at just southpaws, as the Jays’ relief corps is pretty thin behind Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli and Joe Biagini, and it could get thinner if the Jays explore stretching Biagini out as rotation depth. The Jays are looking to duplicate their success with Biagini in another Rule 5 draft pick (Glenn Sparkman) and have a few new faces added in the minors to join their in-house bullpen options. As with the lefties, however, adding an experienced, reliable arm would go a long way to solidifying the bullpen.
- Right Field: With a Hyun Soo Kim/Joey Rickard platoon planned for left field, the Orioles have considered several free agents and trade targets for the right field slot. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an everyday option, as the O’s could form another platoon out of a new addition and one of Christian Walker, Aneury Tavarez, Adam Walker or Dariel Alvarez. With rookie Trey Mancini in line for a significant amount of DH at-bats, however, the Orioles may hesitate at allotting quite so much playing time to inexperienced youngsters.
- Designated Hitter: While the O’s are high on Mancini, it makes sense to add a veteran who can at least serve as a platoon partner should Mancini not be ready for prime time. Baltimore has been linked to free agents like Chris Carter or Pedro Alvarez for DH duties, though ideally, Mancini’s DH partner would also be able to handle playing a corner outfield role, so two needs could be addressed at once.
- Left-Handed Hitter: If the Orioles do add another bat, some left-handed pop would be preferable to add balance. Kim and Chris Davis are the only left-handed hitters projected to get regular playing time in the current Baltimore lineup.
- Starting Rotation: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and C.C. Sabathia aren’t the most rock-solid top three in the world, though they’re locked in atop the Yankees rotation. That leaves Luis Severino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell and perhaps Adam Warren battling for those last two spots. There isn’t a lot of experience in that group, and GM Brian Cashman has downplayed the idea of acquiring another starter (though the Yankees have also been linked to Jose Quintana in some trade rumors). As much as the Yankees want to see what they have in their young arms, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them add a low-cost, innings-eating veteran to compete for a rotation job in Spring Training.
- Left-Handed Reliever: Aroldis Chapman will close and Tommy Layne is a classic LOOGY, so since Joe Girardi likes to have as many bullpen options as possible, that leaves room for another southpaw. Chasen Shreve, Richard Bleier and Dietrich Enns are options on the 40-man roster, though since the Yankees have been connected to veterans like Boone Logan or Jerry Blevins on the rumor mill, they could be looking for more experience.
- First Base: As in the rotation, the Yankees are committed to young players at first, with Greg Bird penciled in as the starter and Tyler Austin getting some action against lefties (veteran Matt Holliday could also fill in, in a pinch). While Bird is reportedly recovering well from February 2016 surgery to repair a torn labrum, you have to consider a position a bit of a question mark when the first choice is a player returning from missing an entire season. It’s very unlikely the Yankees will make a move to address first base before Opening Day, though it could be an area to watch as the season develops if Bird, Austin or Holliday have injury or performance-related setbacks.
- Starting Rotation: While the Rays already have plenty of starters, what they really “need” is to decide if they’re going to be dealing one of them. Rumors have been flying all winter about teams looking to acquire one of Tampa’s starters, with Drew Smyly or Alex Cobb perhaps more likely to be on the move due to the Rays’ reportedly enormous asking price for Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi. What the Rays get in return for one of their arms (if any are dealt) will go a long way towards filling one or both of the remaining needs on this list.
- Right-Handed Hitter: Left fielder Corey Dickerson and first baseman Brad Miller are both left-handed bats who struggle against southpaws, so the Rays would be aided by adding a player who can handle one (or both) positions and add some thump from the right side of the plate.
- Designated Hitter: This would also be a natural spot for a right-handed bat, as switch-hitter Nick Franklin was only effective against righty pitching last season in part-time action. A regular DH isn’t necessary since the Rays would like to keep this position open for lineup flexibility — Wilson Ramos will likely require some DH time in the wake of knee surgery, while neither Dickerson or Miller have much defensive value — but the promise of DH at-bats could help the Rays entice a veteran hitter who might be otherwise unenthusiastic about playing on Tropicana Field’s artificial surface.