This offseason has not been what many in the baseball universe hoped it would be to this point but we’ve still got nearly two months until Spring Training kicks into full gear.
As we shift our focus toward the back half of free agency, some teams need to get in on the action before it becomes too late. Many top contenders have improved vastly such as the Dodgers, and other teams have taken the next logical step forward given the current status of their organization.
Others have yet to make the impactful moves necessary to compete in 2024 and beyond. Some of these teams made the postseason last year and are looking to experience continued success while some have hopes to take the next step by utilizing financial flexibility or farm system prowess.
It’s January and we’ve still got 13 of our original top 25 free agents on the board in addition to a few huge names still circulating on the trade market. This offseason is not a failure yet for any team given the options still available, but it could quickly become that for any of these teams if they don’t act fast in the next month.
After inking rival manger Craig Counsell to the largest manager deal in baseball in order to pry him away from Milwaukee, the expectations for the Cubs was a continued rise, particularly with an elite farm system to trade from and seemingly money available to spend.
Yet here we are more than a week into the new year and the Cubs have yet to make a single roster move and that is starting to irk a lot of people in Chicago.
They were a better team than many expected last season in large part due to them taking a chance on 2019 MVP Cody Bellinger, who bounced back in a major way for them. They’re in a good position right now to ultimately bring back Bellinger, who is still a free agent, but other teams are certainly still in contact with him as he is the clear highest-upside bat available.
Beyond just the Bellinger situation, the Cubs have clear holes on their roster to fill if they intend to even have a shot at competing with the National League powerhouses.
With Marcus Stroman departing and deadline pickup Jeimer Candelario signing with the rival Reds, the Cubs have holes to fill on both sides of the ball, especially in the rotation and at the corners of the infield.
The Cubs need to add another top-end starter alongside Justin Steele one way or another.
Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery are the top two pitchers available and either would be an excellent addition to this team. However, they need to maintain enough resources to bring in a first and/or third baseman.
Matt Chapman remains another option if Bellinger becomes too expensive due to other teams in need of a bat. An infield of Chapman, Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner would be unbelievable defensively, while also provided plenty of offensive punch.
Options that are slightly below those but could make a lot of sense with more upside than their assumed contract would suggest could be Rhys Hoskins or Japanese pitcher Shota Imanaga. They could even explore a reunion with Marcus Stroman too if they can’t bring in one of the top pitchers.
Ultimately, Chicago needs to find a way to add at least one starting pitcher and one impact middle of the order bat in order for this offseason to feel like any form of a success.
Reeling in one of those aforementioned stars in Bellinger, Chapman, Snell, or Montgomery feels like a borderline must at this point. They may need to pivot and get creative with adding a second piece once they’ve brought in one star via free agency.
The NL Central is wide open right now but the Cubs have some work to do to be taken full seriously heading into 2024.
This offseason has been the defintion of disappointing in Miami after a surprising playoff appearance last year. They lost Kim Ng, who built last year’s playoff team.
While their are high hopes for new President of Operations Peter Bendix coming over from the Tampa Bay Rays, he has yet to make a splash. They have added some depth pieces via trade but haven’t made a signing of note.
Coming off a playoff appearance, it would be nice to see Bendix get a little more aggressive and try to improve this team somehow.
It feels like the Marlins have essentially accepted taking a step back with a roster that frankly overachieved last year. That doesn’t mean that they can’t at least improve to a degree and fill some holes on their roster before the season.
Miami could still opt to use their pitching depth in order to improve the offense via trade, but there are some options in free agency that could provide a spark as well. With the shortstop position still wide open, buying low on former All-Star Tim Anderson could make some sense while a number of corner outfield options still remain available.
I don’t believe that this team will be all that competitive in 2024, but there is still time for them to get back into that conversation. Particularly with the young starting pitching they still have in place, despite the Sandy Alcantara injury.
Stop prospect hugging! It’s time to win.
That’s my first and foremost statement on the Baltimore Orioles right now. The Orioles were one of the best teams in baseball last year and have the best farm system in the league as they have for the past three years. This team is oozing with talent on the offensive side, to the point where they have players on the bench or in Triple-A that would be starting for half the teams in the league.
On the other side of things, the Orioles have to add a starting pitcher before the seasons begins. Kyle Bradish established himself as an ace and Grayson Rodriguez showed the immense talent he possess, but they need a third guy to lead this rotation. They have not proven to be a team that will spend any substantive money in free agency, which complicates this scenario.
With Felix Bautista out for the year, the one move made so far by Baltimore was adding veteran Craig Kimbrel to an already fairly strong bullpen. Now is the time for the Orioles to finally decide to move some young talent in an effort to set the team up to contend in the playoffs.
As I’ve been harping all winter, Dylan Cease still makes the most sense as an affordable arm with two years of control who has ace potential. Corbin Burnes could be another option but he’s essentially a rental who Baltimore would be unlikely to pay next offseason.
If they’re willing to spend a little on the open market, Jordan Montgomery would be a phenominal fit as a truly stable veteran pitcher. It feels unlikely that he’ll be within their price range given the market for pitchers so far.
They could take a chance on Shota Imanaga, given that he could provide a lot more value than his contract. Marcus Stroman could also be an option as one of the few pitchers who has been at least a No. 3 starter in recent years.
However it happens, there needs to be a starting pitcher added to this roster for this offseason to not seem like a true failure.
San Francisco Giants
This time last year was a particularly rough time for the Giants after being extremely close signing both Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa, but missing out on adding any true star power. This team has somehow remained competitive with a roster of largely platoon type players and solid veterans, but everyone knows they are in search of star power.
They started that attempt to add stars by signing Korean superstar center fielder Jung Hoo Lee to a six-year deal. This was an excellent move as the Giants now have their center field and a top of the order bat who has some of the most impressive contact skills of any player coming over to MLB from overseas.
Additionally they brought in Tom Murphy to backup young star catcher Patrick Bailey and recently traded for former Cy Young Robbie Ray to help improve the rotation.
While he is recovering from Tommy John Surgery still, Ray was one of the best pitchers in baseball just a few years ago and should be an upgrade in the rotation when healthy.
This may seem like a solid amount of moves but the Giants entered this offseason expected to be a huge spender as they attempt to make their way back into contention. They still have holes and money to make it happen.
It seems like they are one of the frontrunners for reigning Cy Young Blake Snell, as well as veteran Jordan Montgomery. Bringing in one of those two would make the the Giants rotation much more formidable heading into the season.
Even if they strike out atop the market, they need to add an arm regardless.
They’re also in on top power bats Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman who would both have a clear spot in the heart of the lineup for San Francisco. Much like the Cubs, adding someone from the top-end pool of players still left feels like a must.
With the Dodgers looking better than ever and the Diamondbacks coming off a World Series appearance, the Giants have much more work to do in the coming weeks. Adding an impact bat has to happen even with the addition of Lee and another pitcher is nearly as important.
Toronto Blue Jays
This offseason in Toronto feels like last offseason in San Francisco…disappointing.
There was a few hours in which Blue Jays fans were fairly confident that Shohei Ohtani was making his way to Canada. That didn’t last long and they continued to miss out on other top free agents after missing out on the best player in the world.
They pivoted to re-signing center fielder Kevin Kiermaier and bringing in veteran utility man Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Both of these players will have a role in Toronto but they do not change the outlook at all in terms of contention. The Blue Jays almost feel closer to a retool at this point than they do to contending with the best of the American League.
Similarly to the other large market teams like Chicago and San Francisco detailed above, the Blue Jays are likely making a strong push to either bring back Matt Chapman or bring in Cody Bellinger at this point. They’re going to need more offensive power to improve a lineup that fell short. Because they have yet to add much, bringing in one of those bats to fill Chapman’s spot from last year may not even be enough.
Toronto could still be in play for pitching as well given that other teams in their division are trending the right way while they have not improved at all this winter. I’m not sure Toronto can make a run at the playoffs without two legit additions to their roster. This team is in possibly the most precarious situation of them all with a blurry path to contention.
Honorable Mention: Every Other AL East Team
While these teams have already been active and have a little more clarity on their path than the first five teams, the AL East is going to be a bloodbath once again.
The Yankees added Juan Soto but they need more pitching given their injury struggles and lack of depth after that trade with San Diego. The Rays shed salary as they always do but have more question marks than usual across various positions.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox traded their oft-injured ace, got a second baseman in the process, and signed a starter but have yet to actually spend big money as many thought they were preparing to do this winter.
This division is so loaded and it remains to be seen who is going to be the serious favorite for it in 2024. Every team in the race needs to continue improving in order to challenge the two Texas teams for the American League this season.