Despite all of the free activity we’ve seen to date, a look at the calendar reveals that we’re not yet even halfway through the offseason, so there’s still plenty of time for teams to shore up obvious areas of need. In this post, we’ll look at what each of the 15 National League teams have done so far to upgrade their weakest positions from the 2019 season (as determined by bWAR). As you might expect, we ignore the DH category while dealing with NL clubs. The breakdown…
Braves (Catcher, 0.1 bWAR): Brian McCann’s hot start gave way to a lackluster second half, and Tyler Flowers offered some elite pitch-framing but little else either offensively or defensively. With McCann now retired and Flowers re-signed, Atlanta made a splash by signing Travis d’Arnaud to a two-year, $16MM deal. It isn’t a huge investment, though the Braves are betting that d’Arnaud’s strong 2019 performance with the Rays is a sign that he has put his past injury woes behind him. d’Arnaud was the top non-Yasmani Grandal free agent catcher available, so Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos made a decisive move to not just shore up his own backstop situation, but also remove d’Arnaud as an option for the many other clubs in need of catching help.
Brewers (Shortstop, -0.3 bWAR): After consecutive seasons of sub-replacement level play, Orlando Arcia is no longer Milwaukee’s top option at shortstop, though the former top prospect was retained on an arbitration-avoiding $2.2MM contract for the 2020 season. It seems like Arcia will lose playing time to, ironically, another former blue chip prospect who has also struggled to hit MLB pitching. Luis Urias was acquired as part of a four-player trade with the Padres, as San Diego decided after 302 plate appearances over parts of two seasons that Urias wasn’t their second baseman of the future (Fernando Tatis Jr. obviously has shortstop spoken for at Petco Park). It should be noted that Urias is only 22 years old, and he has posted strong averages and on-base numbers in the minors, so it is certainly still possible that his bat can blossom with a change of scenery. The Brewers also added veteran utilityman Eric Sogard as part of their near-total infield overhaul, and while Sogard is probably better suited for second or third base at this point in his career, he can provide further depth at the shortstop position.
Cardinals (Right field, 1.4 bWAR): Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez handled the bulk of right field duties last year, with Fowler rebounding after a dismal 2018 season and Martinez taking a significant step back at the plate after posting impressive numbers in 2017-18. Fowler’s hefty contract and no-trade clause makes him unlikely to be dealt, so he’s probably the favorite to return next season unless the Cards move him to left field as part of a wider outfield shakeup. St. Louis has a lot of outfield candidates but are short on true everyday players, so the picture could become a lot clearer if the Cardinals move an outfielder or two to address other needs. Star prospect Dylan Carlson could end up seeing some time in right field in 2020, though the Cards are probably likely to initially try him out as a center fielder as he makes his Major League debut.
Cubs (Second base, 0.0 bWAR): Addison Russell was non-tendered and Ben Zobrist is a free agent, leaving Nico Hoerner, David Bote, Ian Happ, Daniel Descalso, and the newly-acquired Hernan Perez as options at the keystone. The Cubs would love it if one of their in-house candidates (particularly a former top-100 prospect like Hoerner or Happ), claimed the job, though Happ could also be considered for center field, another position of need — Cubs center fielders combined for only 0.2 bWAR in 2019. There’s a ton of uncertainty surrounding these positions and around the Cubs as a whole, yet Chicago’s offseason seems to be at a standstill based on the twin factors of a payroll crunch and Kris Bryant’s service-time grievance. Bryant’s case won’t be decided until January at the earliest, leaving the Cubs unsure of how to market one of their biggest trade chips as they look to cut salary by any means necessary, even if that means moving established stars like Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, etc.
Diamondbacks (Right field, 0.0 bWAR): Steven Souza Jr. spent the entire 2019 season on the injured list, leaving Arizona to have to make do with veteran Adam Jones taking the bulk of right field playing time. Souza was non-tendered and Jones is off to Japan, so the D’Backs went with another experienced option by signing Kole Calhoun to a two-year, $16MM deal. Long a solid performer over his career with the Angels, Calhoun badly struggled in 2018 before bouncing back to hit .232/.325/.467 with 33 homers over 632 PA last season. In Arizona native Calhoun, the D’Backs hope they’ve found the reliable right field solution that they thought had been acquired in Souza two offseasons ago.
Dodgers (Relief pitching, 1.2 bWAR): Though the bullpen as a whole posted some very good numbers in league-wide categories, the twin concerns of Joe Kelly’s inconsistent year and Kenley Jansen’s uncharacteristically average season left L.A. fans with major questions at the back of the pen. One possible solution has already been added in Blake Treinen, who was an elite closer in 2018 but was non-tendered by the A’s after a rough 2019 season. A Treinen who approaches his 2018 form could single-handedly be all the late-game help the Dodgers need, though expect the club to bring at least a couple of new relievers into the mix, at least on minors deals.
Giants (Second base, 0.5 bWAR): Now that the Joe Panik era is over in San Francisco, the Giants hope that youngster Mauricio Dubon can thrive as a regular second baseman. Dubon will be complemented by infielders Donovan Solano and newly-acquired Zack Cozart, picked up in a salary dump from the Angels. The keystone is far from the only problem facing the Giants, as it was one of a whopping seven positions that posted a collective bWAR of 1.4 or lower, and the Giants’ 3.2 starting pitching bWAR was the third-lowest in the league.
Marlins (Outfield, -2.0 bWAR): While the right fielders generated 1.2 bWAR, Miami had the league’s worst left field (-1.4 bWAR) and center field (-1.8 bWAR) production. Combined with the -0.5 bWAR from the bullpen and -0.1 bWAR at second base, that makes it a total of four sub-replacement positions for the 105-loss Marlins. There’s clearly a lot of work to be done, though the Fish are making an honest effort to improve by adding several veteran players, including their recent agreement with Corey Dickerson on a two-year, $17.5MM contract. Dickerson should instantly revive the moribund left field situation and add a proven bat to the Miami lineup.
Mets (Center field, 0.2 bWAR): Rumors continue to swirl about New York’s interest in Starling Marte, though the Mets have already made a lower-level center field improvement in acquiring Jake Marisnick from Houston. Even if a Marte trade with the Pirates doesn’t happen, a full and healthy season from Brandon Nimmo with Marisnick spelling him against lefty pitching and as a late-inning defensive sub should give the Mets some long-awaited stability up the middle.
Nationals (Relief pitching, 0.1 bWAR): The Nats captured their first World Series title despite season-long bullpen issues, and the club has yet to do much to its relief depth besides inking Fernando Abad and Kyle Finnegan to minor league contracts and re-signing Javy Guerra. With more pressing questions to address in the infield, the District might wait until later in the winter to pursue more veterans on low-cost deals. Daniel Hudson is being targeted for a reunion, though it may depend on whether or not Hudson can find his desired multi-year contract elsewhere.
Padres (Catcher and first base, -0.2 bWAR each): With $99MM still owed to Eric Hosmer, there isn’t much San Diego can do at first base besides hope that Hosmer rebounds from a subpar 2019 campaign. As for catcher, stay tuned, since the Padres’ seemingly nonstop trade explorations include a desire to improve behind the plate, with defensive specialist Austin Hedges more likely to be dealt than Francisco Mejia. (Austin Allen was already traded to the Athletics as part of the swap that brought Jurickson Profar to San Diego.) Even if no further trading takes place, some improvement could happen from within, as Mejia hit well despite battling injuries last year and was a consensus top-35 prospect heading into the season.
Phillies (Third base, 0.6 bWAR): Maikel Franco was non-tendered, leaving the hot corner open for Scott Kingery to finally claim a regular position in Philadelphia’s everyday lineup. It’s probably safe to assume Kingery will still do his share of bouncing around the diamond, however, especially if Philly adds another part-time infielder (beyond Josh Harrison or T.J. Rivera) or if top prospect Alec Bohm forces his way into the picture partway through the season.
Pirates (Right field, -0.7 bWAR): Shoulder problems limited Gregory Polanco to only 42 games last season, so Pittsburgh is hoping that a healthy Polanco is enough to turn right field around in 2020. It remains to be seen how actively the Bucs will shop for any veteran depth as a backup option, as speculation persists that new GM Ben Cherington could take the Pirates into a rebuild.
Reds (Second base, -0.6 bWAR): The Reds headed into the offseason intent on adding some major pieces to what they hope will be a contending team, and to that end they went big (if in a surprising manner) in solving their second base problem. Cincinnati’s four-year, $64MM deal with Mike Moustakas was notable for being the biggest free agent deal in club history, and a guarantee far beyond any projections for the Moose’s latest sojourn into free agency, as he landed only modest one-year deals in each of the last two winters. After spending virtually all of his career at third base, Moustakas played 47 games at second base for Milwaukee last season and apparently impressed the Reds enough to make him their long-term answer at the keystone.
Rockies (Center field, -1.0 bWAR): Left field was just behind with -0.9 bWAR, while the outfield as a whole combined for 0.4 bWAR, the third-lowest total of any outfield in baseball last year. Colorado is another team mired in payroll problems, trying to figure out how to improve not just the outfield, but several sub-standard positions despite a lack of available funds. Trading Nolan Arenado is the nuclear option that the Rockies may or may not be willing to explore in order to both free up payroll and add some talent to address Colorado’s many needs. In terms of the outfield, the Rox might juggle some combination of David Dahl along with Sam Hilliard, Garrett Hampson, and Raimel Tapia in left field and right field, with Ian Desmond also still on hand and looking for his long-awaited Rockies breakout.