The Biggest Holes Remaining on Contending Teams
In spite of a barren free agent market, the hot stove heated up this month, thanks to a robust trade market. Blockbuster trades involving Chris Sale and Adam Eaton sent valuable players and elite prospects flying every which way as teams scrambled to get their hands on their roster’s missing piece. Even some top tier free agents came off the market, as players like Yoenis Cespedes, Rich Hill, and Aroldis Chapman ended up signing on with previous employers.
Yet even with the flurry of activity, there is still much to be settled. A bevy of mid-level free agents remain unsigned, and there are a number of enticing potential trade targets to be had, perhaps most notably some of the Chicago White Sox veterans should the pale hose decide to rebuild even further. With a few months of offseason left on the docket, plenty more action surely awaits.
With so much offseason business still to settled, which teams stand to upgrade the most? Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent remaining holes on the league’s contenders, and try to discern just what they could do to fix their most glaring weaknesses.
Washington Nationals: Corner IF and OF
The Nationals have been busy this winter, entering discussions for seemingly every big fish, from Andrew McCutchen to Chris Sale, but inthe end the only big splash they have made was the acquisition of Adam Eaton. It’s unclear if Eaton is a strong defensive option in centerfield, but his all-around skills on offense mean he will easily fill the biggest hole on Washington’s roster.
But even with Eaton, the Nationals have big weaknesses left. Grizzled veterans Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are two of the Nationals’ most recognizable players and are likely entrenched at their respective corner outfield and infield positions due to their large contracts. Zimmerman, however, was dreadful last year, posting a 67 wRC+, and Werth wasn’t much better, running a fine 101 wRC+ that, combined with a poor display in left field, was not enough to make him a valuable contributor.
Werth, in the final year of a seven year pact with Washington, is owed $21 million this year, while Zimmerman is set to earn $46 million through 2019. Those onerous commitments mean the Nationals probably won’t set them on the bench, but if the Nationals want to put their best team on the field in 2017, the bench might be the best place for one or both of them. Zimmerman and Werth are the two worst projected performers in the Nationals’ lineup for 2017, and the only weaknesses on an otherwise stacked roster.
There are still some interesting corner infield and outfield options on the market, ranging from big names like Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo, to lower profile players like Luis Valbuena and Michael Saunders. The Nationals will probably be a top team next year regardless if they bench their veteran albatrosses, but if they want to max out their team, moving on is in their best interest.
Detroit Tigers: Center
Field Interestingly enough, the Tigers created their biggest weakness themselves, when they traded Cameron Maybin to the Angels early in the offseason. Detroit looked to be getting out in front of the market in an effort to jump-start a rebuilding effort, but after the White Sox began to tear down and as the Royals indicated they weren’t pushing hard for 2017, the Tigers were left in an awkward position. They might still be the second best team in the AL Central, but that preemptive trade has left them without a Major League center fielder.
Maybin is no superstar, but he is coming off of a year in which he hit a quality .315/.383/.418 while providing serviceable defense in center field. With Maybin gone, the Tigers are left without any palatable options. 24-year-old Jacoby Jones is currently listed as the Tigers’ number one center fielder, a year after he posted just a .243/.309/.356 at Triple-A, and had a 35 wRC+ in a quick 28 plate appearance call-up to the majors. Backing up Jones is Tyler Collins, who will be 27 next year and ran an 84 wRC+ in the majors last year, along with a 70 wRC+ in Triple-A. Neither has any place as a starter on a playoff contender.
Unfortunately for Detroit, there’s no take-backs on their trade with Los Angeles, and Maybin will be patrolling the outfield alongside Mike Trout in 2017. The Tigers could look for a reunion with Austin Jackson, who had plenty of success as a Tiger before falling on rough times in recent years. Colby Rasmus is another potential center field target who likely would not cost much on the free agent mark. Still, any option the Tigers could opt for in free agency wouldn’t be as simple as rolling with their solid starting center fielder from last year. It remains to be seen if the Tigers will simply continue to rebuild even as the rest of their division does so as well, or if Detroit will scramble to paper over their weaknesses as next season approaches.
Baltimore Orioles, Starting Pitching
The Orioles’ issues with developing quality pitching are well-known. Countless pitching prospects, such as Brian Matusz, Dylan Bundy, and even current stars Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton, came up as highly promising starters in the Orioles’ system, only to run into major problems along the way. Arrieta developed into a star elsewhere, while Britton had to make a move to the bullpen before surprisingly flourishing. Pitchers like Bundy, Chris Tillman, and Kevin Gausman all still possess both potential and numerous question marks.
Likewise, the Orioles’ starting rotation is among the league’s worst. That doesn’t have to be a death sentence, as Baltimore’s rotation struggled to a collective 4.72 ERA last season, but the team still managed to pull out a Wild Card spot. Even so, it’s hard to envision the Orioles heading into next year with this group of pitchers and again finding success.
Gausman headlines the rotation, and he appears solid, coming off his best season as a major leaguer. But he is not yet a prototypical ace, and beyond Gausman, the staff trails off immediately. Tillman has been inconsistent in recent years, and the Orioles are slated to give plenty of innings to Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley, players who were replacement level last year. Their home run-happy offense papered over the rotation’s weaknesses in 2016, but Baltimore cannot count on that again.
The dilemma facing the Orioles is the absolutely tepid pitching market. With the star-closer trio of Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman all signing for greater than $60 million, it appears likely that the three top pitchers to sign this offseason will all be relievers. The best remaining starters are the likes of Ivan Nova and Jeremy Hellickson. At this point, the O’s best option might be to simply take a flyer on a veteran like Doug Fister or Colby Lewis. Either way, unless their younger internal options make significant strides, the rotation looks likely to be Baltimore’s downfall in 2017.