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.