How Every Potential MLB Playoff Team Can Solve Its Biggest Problem
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This is the awkward part of the MLB offseason when all of the major free-agent signings have happened and the best chance for an interesting move is through a trade.
Most of the free-agent signings, whether significant or incremental, have already happened. Although, thanks to Carlos Correa and agent Scott Boras, we were able to milk the shortstop’s free agency for a few weeks of headlines.
Now that Correa’s failed deals with the San Francisco Giants and then the New York Mets finally resulted in him returning to the Minnesota Twins, we’re officially done with marquee free-agent deals.
But there are still problems that need solving around MLB. Here’s how potential MLB playoff teams can do so.
New York Yankees: Trade for Bryan Reynolds
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As unlikely as it seems, the Yankees solve their biggest problem by trading for Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds.
Make no mistake, the Yankees did a nice job improving and stabilizing their team by signing Carlos Rodon after retaining Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo. This should be one of the better teams in the American League, as it was last year, with a chance to compete for a World Series.
Yet one of their biggest weaknesses remains. The outfield is still limited, with their biggest question in left field. Manager Aaron Boone anticipates competition at spring training for this spot, with options like Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera.
Trading for Reynolds would be expensive, but it would certainly answer their looming question in left field.
Toronto Blue Jays: Trade for Pablo López
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Despite not making a big splash in free agency, the Blue Jays are also having a solid offseason by addressing specific holes on the team.
They added a much-needed left-handed bat by trading for Daulton Varsho from the Arizona Diamondbacks and signing first baseman Brandon Belt in free agency.
But the biggest need was finding a mid-rotation arm after a disappointing season from José Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi.
Toronto had to find someone reliable alongside Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman. They did that by signing Chris Bassitt in free agency.
What if they could fortify that rotation even more by trading for Pablo López from the Miami Marlins?
The Blue Jays have the prospects to make an attractive offer to Miami, which is in desperate need of upgrading its offense.
Adding López would instantly make Toronto’s one of the best rotations in the AL.
Tampa Bay Rays: Sign Yuli Gurriel
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Somehow, the Rays managed to sign their longest free-agent contract in franchise history by inking Zach Eflin to a three-year, $40 million deal but still did not become a significantly better team.
It was important to sign a pitcher to make up for lost innings from the exits of Corey Kluber and Ryan Yarborough. But not having enough power at the plate is what’s holding Tampa back.
That’s why they should sign Yuli Gurriel, an older player who is two years removed from a batting title. Gurriel struggled mightily during the 2022 season, with his OPS+ dropping to 84 from 131 the previous season.
It is concerning, but in the postseason Gurriel slashed .316/.350/.368. He can still perform in big moments, and the Rays again expect to contend.
Baltimore Orioles: Sign Michael Wacha
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The Orioles have made moves along the margins but nothing that really stands out.
Worse, they have been unable to address their biggest need: a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Michael Wacha is not exactly that, but he’s arguably the best starter still available on the free-agent market. Wacha went 11-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 23 starts for the Boston Red Sox last year.
They’ve already signed Kyle Gibson, and pairing him with Wacha gives the Orioles more at the top of their rotation.
Baltimore has hope that prospect Grayson Rodriguez eventually becomes their ace. Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells could all take a step forward, while John Means is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
But the Orioles are in position to compete now in a loaded AL East. They need the pitching to match up and have shown interest in Wacha, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.
Cleveland Guardians: Making Up for Regression to Mean
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The Guardians had 17 players make their major league debuts last season on the way to a surprising AL Central title.
They addressed their most pressing offseason concerns by signing Josh Bell and Mike Zunino in free agency. It’s a strong roster with some depth across the board, but Cleveland is very reliant on young players.
The Guardians could have another dozen or so players make their big league debuts in 2023.
It will once again be a winnable division, and the formula of trusting the young guys worked last year. But it’s a relevant question of how many of those same players can maintain or build on performances from 2022.
For the most part, the acquisition portion of the Guardians’ offseason is over. So their potential for 2023 again depends largely on getting similar contributions from an unlikely number of rookies.
Chicago White Sox: Bring Back Josh Harrison
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After outbidding the New York Yankees for Andrew Benintendi and adding Mike Clevinger to their rotation, the White Sox addressed two of their biggest offseason needs.
Second base, as it has been for a couple of years now, is still a concern for Chicago. The best free-agent second baseman still available is the one who played for them last year.
They should bring back Josh Harrison, who started 85 games at second for them last year and slashed .256/.317/.370 (94 OPS+) for the season.
He posted a 106 OPS+ for Washington and Oakland the previous season. The White Sox could look at a reclamation project like Tommy La Stella, but Harrison is their best option at that spot.
Chicago declined Harrison’s $5.5 million for 2023, but given he’s still on the market, a reunion remains possible.
Minnesota Twins: Correa’s Back, Problem Solved
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So much of the Twins’ chances in the AL Central hinged on retaining Carlos Correa and remaining healthy. For about a month, it twice looked like they would not be able to do the former.
With Correa’s free-agent deals falling through with the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets, the Twins appear to have lucked into bringing back a free agent they had to fully expect to lose as recently as a couple of weeks ago.
Now that Correa is back, the Twins fortify their lineup that produced the fifth-best OPS in the AL.
Obviously, that did not result in them winning the division last year. But they were not going to be able to replicate Correa’s production, which was top among shortstops in wRC+ (140).
Houston Astros: Hire a General Manager
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Not that the Astros have struggled to operate this offseason since parting ways with general manager James Click.
Quite the opposite, actually. They added José Abreu to an already really strong lineup, essentially replacing an aging Yuli Gurriel, whose production dipped from 2021 when he won the AL batting title.
Houston also re-signed Michael Brantley, a reliable left-handed hitter who was injured during the World Series run.
The Astros seem to be operating just fine without a GM, for now. But we all understand this model is not sustainable, and eventually, they will need someone running the baseball operations.
Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell is a trusted advisor who will be part of any significant moves the Astros make, including hiring an actual GM.
Seattle Mariners: Sign Yuli Gurriel If the Tampa Bay Rays Don’t
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All the Mariners were missing was another right-handed outfielder after trading for Teoscar Hernández, their top move of the offseason.
They agreed to a one-year deal with AJ Pollock over the weekend, addressing this specific need. But they could still use someone to spell Ty France at first base and also serve as another designated hitter option.
Gurriel, now 38, would fill this role for Seattle if they make the move. He would also come at an affordable, reasonable price. The risk-reward in a signing like this leans heavily in favor of reward.
While Gurriel is aging and his production waned last season, he provides depth as a versatile infielder with experience playing at each spot throughout his career.
Texas Rangers: Bring Back Jurickson Profar
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“Potential” is a key phrase when we talk about the Texas Rangers, who have made bold, expensive moves the past two offseasons but still need to prove their worth.
It would be Profar’s third stint with the Rangers, but it would also fill a need for the team.
The Rangers could use another bat, preferably in the outfield. Profar is coming off a career-best 3.1 bWAR and posted a .723 OPS with 15 homers for the San Diego Padres last season.
As the Rangers are well aware, Profar is also a versatile defender, though mostly limited to left field in recent years.
To that point, the Rangers ranked at the bottom in wRC+ from the left field spot. Meanwhile, Profar ranked ninth among left-fielders in that area.
New York Mets: Sign Adam Duvall
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For all the work they’ve done to improve in Queens—namely signing Justin Verlander and bringing back Brandon Nimmo—it’s still pretty thin in the outfield.
After Nimmo, Starling Marte and Mark Canha, the Mets do not have a ton of outfield depth. They tried addressing this by signing ex-Yankees outfielder and New York-native Tim Locastro to a minor league deal.
But the Mets could stand to bolster this group a little more, preferably with someone on a major league deal.
Adam Duvall is just two seasons removed from helping Atlanta to a World Series title as a trade deadline acquisition. He hit 38 home runs and led the NL with 113 RBI that season, splitting time with Atlanta and the Miami Marlins.
Philadelphia Phillies: Commit to Six-Man Rotation
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The Phillies have four of their rotation arms locked down with Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suárez and newly signed Tajuan Walker (most recently of the division-rival New York Mets).
A major question for the defending NL pennant winners is who the fifth starter will be: Bailey Falter or 19-year-old top prospect Andrew Painter?
The Phillies have big plans for Painter, who turns 20 on April 10. He pitched 103.2 innings last season in the minor leagues to help get used to the workload.
But as far as workload goes, the top of Philly’s rotation could benefit from a six-man as much as anyone. Nola has a history of running out of gas toward the end of the season, so much so that his workload was managed carefully last season in the World Series run.
Including both Painter and Falter in a six-game rotation could help preserve Philadelphia’s best pitchers.
Atlanta: Sign Elvis Andrus for Insurance at Shortstop
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Atlanta lost homegrown star Dansby Swanson to the Chicago Cubs in free agency. Losing Swanson’s production of the past two years is significant.
Last season, Swanson was second in fWAR (6.4) among shortstops. Now, they are set to rely on Vaughn Grissom, an 11th-round pick from 2019, to replace Swanson.
Grissom performed well when he first made the jump from Double-A last August, hitting .347/.398/.558 with a 165 wRC+ in his first 26 games. But most of his appearances were at second base.
Atlanta needs to figure out if he can be the answer at shortstop. And if not, plugging in a veteran like Elvis Andrus is the next-best option for trying to make up for what was lost with Swanson’s departure.
Milwaukee Brewers: Get Something for the Pitching Surplus
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Trading away Kolten Wong and Hunter Renfroe to cut some payroll signals the Brewers’ readiness to make significant changes.
It’s not a full teardown, but it’s an acknowledgement of them not being good enough as currently constructed. They are in an interesting spot because the NL Central is still a winnable division, but there should be no illusions about where Milwaukee sits among the National League’s elite.
It’s time for the Brewers to move into a new era while trying to remain competitive in the National League’s weakest division.
If Corbin Burnes isn’t traded for a haul before Opening Day, it will be a shocker to see him still on the team past the trade deadline. Burnes is the Brewers’ most valuable trade asset, and considering their ceiling is on but so high, it’s time to cash in.
St. Louis Cardinals: Add a Starter Who Will Be Around After This Season
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The Cardinals’ biggest need was met by signing Willson Contreras in free agency to replace the legendary Yadier Molina, who retired after last season.
There is an interesting contrast here, since Molina was mostly famous for his defensive prowess and Contreras’ five-year, $87.5 million deal is largely because of what he can do with the bat.
But signing Contreras makes it a successful offseason, given the rest of their team is already in place and poised to compete for another NL Central title.
The issue for St. Louis is that nothing it has done so far this off-season really separates this team from the rest of the National League and other contenders across baseball, who continue making bold moves.
The Cardinals have a pitching rotation full of expiring contracts. Of their five starters, only Steven Matz is guaranteed a contract after 2023.
A trade for Pablo López or Tyler Glasnow, both under team control through 2024, would give St. Louis the frontline starter it was not able to sign in free agency and also someone who is sure to be around past this year.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Trade for Bryan Reynolds Once the Yankees Don’t
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The Dodgers have been actively pursuing trades for a center fielder for at least a month now. It remains their biggest need and No. 1 priority.
As mentioned earlier, Reynolds could really help the Yankees’ outfield situation, where there is not a great option at left field, or any discernible depth.
But it’s the Dodgers who have the most to offer the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose trade demands are reported to be unrealistic, per the New York Post‘s Jon Heyman.
The Dodgers have one of the best farm systems in baseball. They could provide a package of prospects the Pirates crave, like some combination of pitchers Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot and Gavin Stone as the centerpiece.
The Yankees do not appear to have the appetite, nor the exact resources like high-level pitching prospects, to meet the Pirates’ demand.
San Diego Padres: Listen to Nelson Cruz
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The Padres’ two-year flirtation with Cruz was finally consummated with an agreement on a one-year contract for $1 million.
They should not have as high hopes as they did before with the longtime power hitter entering the mix. The 42-year-old is coming off his worst season in more than a decade, hitting just .234 with 10 homers for the Washington Nationals last season.
Ignoring whatever power Cruz still has left, his voice and leadership will be expected to provide value in a very talented Padres locker room.
Cruz is a former teammate of Manny Machado (Orioles, 2014) and Juan Soto (Nationals, 2022). He is also a well-respected, accomplished player who should command the attention of Fernando Tatis Jr. and others on the team.
When he speaks, they should all listen.
San Francisco Giants: Sign Gary Sánchez
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The Giants have a need at catcher, and Sánchez is the best still available in free agency. His most recent campaigns are not exactly encouraging for what his potential was once believed to be.
Sánchez hit .205/.282/.377 in 128 games for the Minnesota Twins last season after being traded from the New York Yankees. He is still a proven player, more so than the Giants’ other options at the position in Joey Bart and Blake Sabol.
It seems like forever ago when Sánchez posted a .923 OPS with 53 home runs in the first 175 major league games from 2016-17. But even if Sánchez is something between that and what he’s been most recently, it’s worth the Giants kicking the tires on a likely upgrade at catcher.