The biggest team needs yet to be addressed

The biggest team needs yet to be addressed

3:11 AM UTC

The Winter Meetings are over. The winter, however, is not.

Most of the top free agents are still available. There are clearly trades yet to be made. Teams that fancy themselves contenders still have holes to fill – in some cases, lots of them. There’s not a single team that thinks it has its full and complete 2024 Opening Day roster in-house right now, not even the Braves. There’s still so much more to happen.

But which clubs have the biggest needs to address? In order to not list dozens here, we’ll set ourselves two rules:

  • Only contending teams, which we’ll define as the top 24 teams in 2024 projected WAR at FanGraphs. Sorry, Angels and Pirates.
  • We’re not going to bother with pitchers. You know who needs a pitcher right now? Everyone.

We’ll also use a little subjectivity here. For example, Houston’s first basemen do not rate very well (projected 25th-most fWAR), but since Jose Abreu is entering the second year of a three-year contract, it’s hard to see them actually making a change there. The same goes for Detroit at shortstop (29th), where it’s clearly Javier Báez’s job even though that hasn’t worked out very well so far.

Last year, we did this, and accurately predicted that the St. Louis rotation absolutely was not going to miss bats. We also said the Rangers’ outfield wasn’t going to be very good. Can’t win them all, we suppose.

The biggest current needs, as we see them, roughly ordered by position, with FanGraphs’ positional WAR projections in parentheses …

Red Sox: Catcher (projected: 28th)

Ahead of only the White Sox and Rockies is no place to be for a team that’s trying to improve. No team had a higher strikeout rate from its catchers than Boston in 2023, and none of the Red Sox backstops rated as a positive defender. (Connor Wong was outstanding at throwing out runners, but he gave that value back in framing and blocking.) It’s probably not as urgent as Boston’s more desperate need in the rotation, yet it seems like a new front office won’t simply roll back the same Wong/Reese McGuire combo, either.

Potential fixes: Sign Mitch Garver to split time between catcher and DH; trade for old friend Christian Vázquez (MIN)

Cubs: First base (projected: 26th)

Entering 2023, the Cubs had what seemed a perfectly reasonable plan for first base, which was to use veterans Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini to buy some time for prospect Matt Mervis to reach the bigs. It didn’t go great. Hosmer was released in May, Mancini at the end of July, and Mervis struggled while collecting just 99 plate appearances. By the second half, Cody Bellinger was playing more first than center, and trade acquisition Jeimer Candelario was seeing time there, too. Now, four of those five names are out of the organization, and handing the job to Mervis seems unlikely. Fortunately, there is a good fit available on the free-agent market.

Potential fixes: Sign Rhys Hoskins before the Brewers do

Brewers: First base, second base, third base (projected: 29th, 27th and 28th, respectively)

Might as well just lump them all together, because aside from shortstop Willy Adames – himself a subject of trade rumors – Milwaukee has some serious needs in the infield. We still don’t know the Brewers’ direction, and won’t until they decide whether to move ace starter Corbin Burnes, but either way, the infield they have now can’t be the infield they carry into the season. We’ll assume that Brice Turang gets another shot at second, and corner infielder Tyler Black (Milwaukee’s No. 4 prospect) is probably in the mix somewhere, but outside additions would seem to be a necessity.

Potential fixes: Bring back Carlos Santana; sign Hoskins or Brandon Belt; trade for Isaac Paredes (TB)

Red Sox: Second base (projected: 23rd)

One of the biggest problems the Sox had in 2023 was that the middle infield was wildly unsettled and generally unproductive; they were 29th in WAR at second and 26th at short. It looks a little better now that Trevor Story is healthy and likely to be the regular shortstop again, but it still leaves a ton of questions at second, where Enmanuel Valdez and Pablo Reyes aren’t full-time options, and with Ceddanne Rafaela potentially to see more time in the outfield. Fortunately, this is one spot where there seems to be multiple options available via trade, so it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to fill. The only issue is that between this, and catcher, and the pitching staff, there’s a lot of places new front office leader Craig Breslow needs to direct his focus.

Potential fixes: Trade for Jorge Polanco (MIN), Brandon Drury (LAA) or Jonathan India (CIN); sign Tim Anderson, who is reportedly willing to move from short to second.

Mariners: Second base (projected: 25th)

This isn’t the biggest Seattle need – we’ll get to the outfield shortly – but Mariners second basemen hit .205/.293/.313 last year. While it’s at least plausible they’d just roll with some kind of Josh Rojas/Jose Caballero/Ryan Bliss combo, they’re likely going to need to add some outside bats after how much of their 2023 lineup has been sent elsewhere. As with Boston, there’s options to be found here.

Potential fixes: Identical to Boston’s options

Marlins: Shortstop (projected: 27th)

Miami could also use a catcher, but we’ll focus on shortstop here, where last year’s group was unproductive (-0.4 WAR, 29th-best), and now Joey Wendle and Garrett Hampson have moved on. It’s possible that Jacob Amaya is part of the solution here, but a .752 OPS in Triple-A isn’t exactly lighting it up, and Jon Berti is more of a utility player than an everyday shortstop. Team execs are openly discussing their desire to add at the position, though it’s not exactly a strong free-agent market, so a trade might be a better route.

Potential fixes: Trade for Ezequiel Duran (TEX), Gabriel Arias (CLE) or Jorge Mateo (BAL); sign Tim Anderson or Amed Rosario, even though each are better served at second than shortstop

Mariners: Left field (projected: 29th)

So far, Seattle’s offseason has largely consisted of trading away Eugenio Suárez and Jarred Kelenic, while choosing not to offer Teoscar Hernández a qualifying offer, so of course they need bats, and they know that. There’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that corner outfield bats tend to be relatively easy to find; the bad news is that they’re hardly the only contender who needs those bats, as you’ll see in the next few items.

Potential fixes: Sign Jorge Soler or Joc Pederson to split OF/DH time; trade pitching to Reds for Spencer Steer; trade for Randy Arozarena (TB)

Padres: Left field and center field (projected: 28th and 25th, respectively)

That’s right, the Padres are still contenders, even after trading away Juan Soto. While it’s hard to argue that your roster is better without an all-time great hitter, they did at least add a large infusion of pitching talent to a staff that desperately needed innings. The issue now is that without Soto and Trent Grisham, San Diego has exactly one starting-quality outfielder in Fernando Tatis Jr., and a need to contend in 2024 given all the large contracts in the infield. We hesitate to say “they’ll sign 2022 KBO MVP Jung Hoo Lee because he’s close friends with Ha-Seong Kim,” but the fit really does make a great deal of sense, and moving Soto does open up some salary space.

Potential fits: Sign Lee or Kevin Kiermaier for center; sign Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Teoscar Hernández for a corner; trade for Randy Arozarena (TB)

Guardians: Center field and right field (projected: 26th and 22th, respectively)

Thirty-six different outfielders hit 18 or more homers last year, which is exactly as many as Guardians outfielders hit as a group: 18. If an entire outfield hitting only 18 home runs seems like not very many, that would be correct, but it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what that means. We hadn’t seen a full-season outfield with such a low homer total since 1989, when the Astros also had 18. We hadn’t seen a full-season outfield hit fewer homers since the 1976 White Sox – that’s right, the shorts team – had only 17 nearly a half-century ago. (They lost 97 games.) Steven Kwan is safe in left, but it’s hard to see Myles Straw getting another 500 plate appearances in center. It’s so dire that choosing a strong bat with a weak glove might make sense here.

Potential fits: Trade for Anthony Santander (BAL); sign Joc Pederson/Jorge Soler, or Lourdes Gurriel Jr./Teoscar Hernández

Dodgers: Left field (projected: 26th)

With Mookie Betts looking like a full-time second baseman, the Dodgers’ outfield consists of James Outman in center, a platoon veteran in right (Jason Heyward, who doesn’t play against lefties) and a ton of question marks. Understandably, the Ohtani derby is holding things up, but we’re assuming that Chris Taylor, Miguel Vargas and Michael Busch – i.e., a few of the players who just lost second base time with Betts’ move – aren’t really going to be the full-time answers here.

Potential fits: Sign Teoscar Hernández or Jorge Soler, but only if they don’t get Ohtani; sign Michael A. Taylor; trade for Randy Arozarena (TB)

Mets: Left field (projected: 16th) or right field (20th)

It’s been a quiet winter in Queens so far, though absolutely no one expects that to continue. Understandably, the Mets’ priority is on starting pitching, and they’ll give Starling Marte every chance to rebound next to Brandon Nimmo. But for as much fun as DJ Stewart was late last year, the team won’t simply hand him a starting job. Jeff McNeil might see time out here as well, but he’s also needed at second, and didn’t really hit last year, either.

Potential fits: Sign Teoscar Hernández, Michael A. Taylor or Jorge Soler; sign Jung Hoo Lee; trade for Randy Arozarena (TB)

Blue Jays: Left field (projected: 25th)

Last year, more than 97% of innings in left field for Toronto were taken by either Daulton Varsho (who looks likely to move to center) or Whit Merrifield (who is a free agent). In 2023, the Jays made it a priority to improve defense and speed over power, and now it seems they may be trending back the other way, in part because of their disappointing run-scoring last year, and in part because Brandon Belt, Matt Chapman and Kevin Kiermaier are all free agents. Unlike some of the other teams here, Arozarena probably isn’t an option, as the Rays and Jays are direct competitors in the AL East.

Potential fits: Sign Joc Pederson; bring back Teoscar Hernández or Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Giants: Center field (projected: 14th)

We hardly need to recite the issues of the Giants: Lack of power. Lack of star power. You know the score here. But what’s new is how the dominos of the rest of the offseason are falling. They won’t get Soto, obviously. It seems unlikely they’ll get Ohtani. They still seem in on Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but so are a lot of teams, and if they strike out there, can they really go through another winter without a big win? They might end up being the team that goes after Cody Bellinger, despite the risk there, because they have to.

Potential fits: Bellinger or bust? (Or sign Kevin Kiermaier or Harrison Bader for better defense in a difficult outfield.)

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