Since the lockout has resulted in close to two very quiet months of offseason activity, teams will have plenty to do once the Major League transactions freeze is finally over, including addressing many of the positions on this list. However, some teams have already taken steps to fix their more glaring weak spots from the 2021 season (as determined by bWAR). Let’s take a look at the progress that has been made, with the note that we’ll ignore the DH position for this look at National League teams…
Braves (Catcher, -1.3 bWAR): With Travis d’Arnaud on the injured list for much of the season, Atlanta turned to a grab bag of catchers to tread water before d’Arnaud returned in August and solidified the position through the Braves’ run to the World Series. Since d’Arnaud is always an injury risk, the Braves signed Manny Pina to a two-year deal, adding a veteran complement rather than rely on a larger role for youngsters William Contreras or Shea Langeliers.
Brewers (First base -0.5 bWAR): Though Milwaukee didn’t get much from first base as a whole all year, Rowdy Tellez did hit pretty well after being acquired in a midseason trade from the Blue Jays. On paper, Tellez will be the Brew Crew’s first choice at the position, with the newly-acquired Mike Brosseau and former top prospect Keston Hiura acting as right-handed hitting complements. There’s some flexibility here for the Brewers to adjust if, say, Hiura can escape his two-year-long slump, or if the team decides to make another in-season trade for a bigger bat.
Cardinals (Relief pitching, 1.0 bWAR): It is a testament to the Cards’ general depth that their “worst” position was a comparatively solid 1.0 bWAR, as while their hitting was generally middle-of-the-pack, even their weakest bats still contributed with excellent defense. That leaves the bullpen as the relative weak link, and St. Louis has thus far re-signed veteran lefty T.J. McFarland and brought in Kyle Ryan on a minor league deal, while another veteran in Luis Garcia left to join the Padres. It’s probably more likely that the Cardinals still stick to somewhat lower-level transactions to augment their pen, as the team has some young starters on the farm that could be deployed in relief roles, if they aren’t needed for the rotation. Giovanny Gallegos pitched well in the closer’s role, though St. Louis get some added depth via a veteran with ninth-inning experience.
Cubs (Starting pitching, -1.2 bWAR): After unloading most of their veterans at the trade deadline, the Cubs indicated they weren’t willing to head into rebuild mode just yet, as they signed Marcus Stroman to a three-year, $71MM deal and claimed Wade Miley off waivers from the salary-dumping Reds. Neither represents a major long-term commit (Stroman can opt out after the 2023 season and Miley is under contract only through 2022), yet Wrigleyville’s rotation already looks much better on paper. Kyle Hendricks has another spot claimed, and the Cubs could use any of Adbert Alzolay, Alec Mills, Justin Steele, or top prospect Brailyn Marquez for the final two spots. Alternatively, Chicago could acquire a fairly inexpensive veteran arm to either be penciled into the fourth rotation spot, or to provide further competition for those younger pitchers.
Diamondbacks (Relief pitching, -3-3 bWAR): There weren’t many areas of strength for the 110-loss D’Backs, yet the bullpen was easily the team’s biggest issue. Even though the Diamondbacks face an uphill battle in contending next year, the relief corps was dire enough that Arizona felt the need for a notable bullpen signing, adding Mark Melancon for two years and $14MM. Melancon might end up being the Diamondbacks’ biggest investment in the pen, as the club has also added Keynan Middleton, Edwin Uceta, Zack Burdi, and Kyle Nelson on minor league deals and waiver claims, and could pursue a similar low-cost path with other relief additions.
Dodgers (Center field, 0.8 bWAR): Cody Bellinger’s brutal 2021 season makes him a big question mark heading into 2022. The Dodgers aren’t ready to give up on the former NL MVP, yet it’s probably safe to assume their decision to re-sign super-utilityman Chris Taylor was at least partially inspired by the need to have a backup plan in place should Bellinger again struggle at the plate. Since L.A. probably doesn’t want to use Mookie Betts or AJ Pollock in center more than they have to, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Dodgers target another center field-capable utility type or maybe just a pure outfielder in their post-lockout moves.
Giants (Second base, 1.6 bWAR): This is the best bWAR of any team’s “worst” position, which isn’t surprising given how the Giants expertly juggled their roster en route to 107 victories. Tommy La Stella spending a big chunk of the year on the IL contributed to the relative lack of second base production, and a healthy La Stella in a platoon with Thairo Estrada and Wilmer Flores be the in-house answer to improving the keystone. As always, however, the Giants figure to explore their options for multi-positional names both small and large, and San Francisco has the payroll space to make a bigger infield addition if they chose that path.
Marlins (Catcher, -1.5 bWAR): With the combination of Jorge Alfaro, Sandy Leon, Alex Jackson, and Chad Wallach providing little help behind the plate, the Marlins went for the big swing and acquired Jacob Stallings from the Pirates. Miami had to give up a package of three prospects to seal the deal, but giving up two controllable minor league arms was an acceptable price for a team with the Marlins’ pitching depth. The plan now is for Stallings’ strong defense and game-calling abilities to help aid Miami’s arms at the big league level.
Mets (Catcher, 0 bWAR): After signing James McCann to a four-year, $40.6MM deal last winter, the Mets expected a lot more than a .232/.294/.349 slash line over 412 plate appearances. With backup Tomas Nido not hitting much, New York will just have to hope that McCann needed some time to adjust to a new league, and that the backstop can return to his old All-Star form.
Nationals (Relief pitching, -4.6 bWAR): No team in any positional category had a lower number than the Washington bullpen’s -4.6 bWAR, and the Nats only subtracted from their relief corps in moving Daniel Hudson and Brad Hand as part of their deadline selloff. The Nationals have added some lower-level arms as depth, and this could wind up as their tactic later in the winter, as it isn’t yet clear if D.C. will use 2022 as a reset year or if they’ll make a larger push to contend.
Padres (Catcher, 0.4 bWAR): With the Marlins ready to move on from Alfaro, A.J. Preller picked up yet another player with former Rangers ties when San Diego acquired Alfaro from Miami just prior to the lockout. The Padres’ problems at catcher were largely due to an injury-riddled year from prospective starter Austin Nola, so assuming Nola is healthy and productive, the Padres might have something of a surplus at the position (between backup Victor Caratini and top prospect Luis Campusano) if Alfaro can get on track whatsoever. Campusano’s name was floated in some trade talks with the Cubs and Nationals back at the deadline, and he has been speculatively mentioned as a trade chip again this winter.
Phillies (Third base, -0.9 bWAR): Between the hot corner, the shortstop position (-0.5 bWAR), center field and left field (1.3 bWAR each), the Phillies have a lot of holes to fill prior to Opening Day. In theory, third base could be the easiest to address if the club decides to just stay the course with Alec Bohm, who followed up a great rookie season with a mediocre 2021 campaign. Bohm would hardly be the first player to rebound from a sophomore slump, but since shortstop is also a need, the Phillies might look to acquire a multi-positional infield type who could conceivably step in at either short or third base.
Pirates (Right field, -1.5 bWAR): Since the Bucs are still rebuilding, it isn’t clear if they’ll add any significant veteran upgrades at right field or any other position for 2022. If not, waiver pickup Greg Allen has joined Ben Gamel, Anthony Alford, and 2018 first-rounder Travis Swaggerty in the mix for playing time in the corner outfield positions.
Reds (Third base, -1.4 bWAR): The experiment of Eugenio Suarez as the Reds’ starting shortstop came to a quick end, yet Suarez struggled at the plate basically all season long, and Mike Moustakas (who began the year at third base) also struggled at the plate and battled injuries. There are some real warning signs about Suarez’s lack of offensive production over the last two years, and with Cincinnati perhaps looking more towards payroll cuts than roster upgrades this winter, there’s no easy fix other than hoping Suarez and/or Moustakas can get back on track.
Rockies (Center field, 0.9 bWAR): The outfield is a need in general for Colorado, and finding a center fielder represents a particular challenge since spacious Coors Field almost demands a good defender up the middle. None of their 2021 center field options in Garrett Hampson, Yonathan Daza, or Sam Hilliard exactly fit the bill, as Hampson may be the best fielder of the bunch but might end up in the infield rather than on the grass. The Rockies reportedly had interest in Kris Bryant before the lockout, and a major signing like that would certainly fill the need for a big bat in the lineup, even if Bryant could or would be deployed at several positions rather than be used at a full-time center fielder.