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Major League Baseball
Jan. 10, 2024 7:31 a.m. ET
We’re already more than a week into the new year — about two months removed from the official start of MLB‘s offseason and five weeks out from pitchers and catchers reporting — and roughly half of the top free agents are unsigned, with several contenders and/or big-market clubs still actively looking to fill pressing needs. The longer the voids remain, the more desperate certain teams are becoming.
So, let’s rank 10 clubs that need to make at least one big move before spring training — before their Panic Meter breaks the scale.
10. Texas Rangers
A reigning World Series champion always carries the burden of at least attempting to repeat, and the Rangers are no different. Most champions make the playoffs the following year, and Texas has the offense that can support that goal, but what about pitching? They lost Jordan Montgomery to free agency, Max Scherzer is out until at least June or July, and it’s anyone’s guess how effective he’ll be coming off back surgery at 40 years old. Jacob deGrom and new addition Tyler Mahle are expected back in the rotation around the same time as Scherzer. That leaves Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Dane Dunning and Andrew Heaney as locks.
It would be in Chris Young’s best interest to acquire an established starter who would pair well with Eovaldi while the Rangers operate with a thin staff to begin the year. If re-signing Montgomery is out of their budget, a few cheaper alternatives remain. Their bullpen could use some refreshing, too. The Rangers simply need to do something on the pitching front in the next month or so.
San Diego has a lot of questions to answer, beginning with its apparent ambivalence to losing the reigning NL Cy Young winner, the best closer in baseball, and a top three hitter in the game. Blake Snell, Juan Soto, Josh Hader, Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha and others are off the roster. Nobody is completely confident that the Padres will do anything splashy, given their desire to cut salary and operate with limited financial flexibility. Yet, their remaining (and still expensive) roster is far from complete.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is their only legitimate outfielder. They desperately need pitching depth, particularly with Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Michael King expected to be limited in innings. Plus, there’s inherent pressure to maximize the window of 31-year-olds Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts while they’re still in their primes (and making a combined $630 million).
It doesn’t take Chaim Bloom serving as an advisor to figure out St. Louis could use an ace. The Cardinals did a good job of upgrading their starting five this winter, adding veteran arms Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn in an effort to improve the rotation’s 5.08 ERA, which ranked 26th in MLB last year. But a 1-2 punch of Gray and Miles Mikolas is just not enough to lead a rotation in the playoffs (or, perhaps, to them).
If the Cards are serious about making a deep postseason run — they’ve gotten past the divisional round just once since 2015 — they’ll need to add an(other) elite arm. This used to be one of the more aggressive clubs in baseball. A bigger move seems necessary for St. Louis to get back to its winning ways.
7. Chicago Cubs
The North Siders are desperate to make it back into the October dance, particularly after coming so close and falling short in 2023. Good on Chicago for landing the best manager available in Craig Counsell and beefing up the rotation with the reported signing of Shōta Imanaga. That finally puts them on the board this offseason and should take care of losing Marcus Stroman. But the Cubs also lost their best player overall to free agency, and are still actively trying to get him back.
Re-signing Cody Bellinger was always their No. 1 priority this winter, so it’s a bit of a surprise that they haven’t gotten it done yet. With or without Belli’s power in the lineup, there’s an expectation surrounding the current club — and its top-10 payroll — that it reaches the postseason. As it stands, their roster isn’t as good as it was last year. Their biggest move should still be ahead of them.
Arte Moreno’s Angels have responded to losing the best player in baseball by hiring a legitimate manager in Ron Washington. That’s a start. The next step should be filling the void in the rotation with a frontline starter. The Angels have been linked to the likes of Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery and were reported contenders for Shōta Imanaga. It’s good to see a franchise that fancies itself as being in the Los Angeles market behaving as such, though it didn’t make an offer to Shohei Ohtani. Which makes you wonder how interested the best free agents are in playing for a team that appears destined for another fourth-place finish.
For a variety of reasons, the Angels aren’t viewed as an attractive landing spot for upper-tier players, despite the presence of Mike Trout and a comfortable climate. Landing a big name this winter would help improve the narrative around the club, even if it wouldn’t fix its reality.
The Astros have been stagnant since Adolis Garcia’s two-homer night in Game 7 of the ALCS ended their season. Besides internally promoting Joe Espada from bench coach to manager and adding a set-up reliever in Dylan Coleman, Houston has neither upgraded its roster nor addressed its biggest contract concerns. Jose Altuvé and Alex Bregman are in the final year of their respective deals, while big decisions loom for Framber Valdez and Kyle Tucker with just two years of team control remaining.
It seems appropriate to remind that there’s been a ton of turnover within this unproven front office, particularly as it decides how exactly to sustain the club’s historic run. While team brass determine which players are a part of their future plans, 2024 could be the year Houston’s championship window closes.
Don’t be too surprised to see the Yankees on this list. Sure, they made a big splash by trading for Juan Soto and upgrading their outfield depth with Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham. But they were hankering for Yoshinobu Yamamoto for a reason: The Yankees still need starting pitching. It would be backbreaking to find even one fan who believes this rotation is complete just because it’s led by the reigning AL Cy Young winner.
Behind Gerrit Cole looms great uncertainty, in terms of both longevity and health, with Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes and Clarke Schmidt. New York still has an obvious hole now that Michael King is on the Padres, and the majority of quality starters are off the board. Is a reunion with Jordan Montgomery in the works? The upcoming season, which could be Soto’s only one in pinstripes, is too critical for the Yanks to be conservative.
The Orioles need an outright ace — not just an established arm — to lead their young roster. Since they’re unlikely to spend big on the likes of Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, their best path forward is through a trade. Acquiring someone like Dylan Cease or Corbin Burnes will also require a large amount (yet a different type) of capital, perhaps more than they are comfortable surrendering from their comically deep farm system. Oh well.
Baltimore needs to go for it while it has this surplus of prospects, some of whom are blocked on the 26- and 40-man rosters. Standing pat, as the O’s have done thus far aside from adding Craig Kimbrel, would be foolish when the rest of the team is clearly ready to contend for the Fall Classic.
Are the Red Sox even relevant? Can they stay out of the basement of the formidable AL East? Why have their offseason decisions been so polarizing? Yes, they bagged Lucas Giolito. But they lost Chris Sale. Alright, they traded for outfielder Tyler O’Neill. But they also traded away Alex Verdugo to their archenemies, and Verdugo is better at the plate than O’Neill. Vaughn Grissom playing second base every day could be an exciting development, but it’s hardly enough to make Boston a contender.
This club has been rumored to be in on multiple top-of-the-market players, but hasn’t landed anyone in that realm. There have also been rumblings about being open to trading Masataka Yoshida, who had a strong debut season at the plate (if not in the outfield). All of this makes the Red Sox’s immediate future feel really uncertain. They’re running out of time to satisfy their ravenous fan base this offseason, let alone position themselves for a playoff push.
So much fishing, so few fish caught. The Giants are seemingly always in the conversation for high-profile players. They were finalists for Shohei Ohtani, with Farhan Zaidi saying their offer was “very comparable if not identical” to the $700 million he got from the Dodgers. They were all-in on Yoshinobu Yamamoto before he followed Ohtani to Los Angeles. They were the reported front-runners for Shōta Imanaga before he reached an agreement with the Cubs. That’s all in the past four weeks alone. Their cyclical quest and failure to acquire the best player(s) available has left them with so many needs to fill, the Dodgers aren’t even in the same picture as far as the NL West is concerned.
San Francisco is in obvious need for a premier bat, though this isn’t the class for that. But the club should at the very least continue casting a wide net for starting pitching. The Giants could really use a co-ace alongside Logan Webb to get them through most of the season, especially until Robbie Ray is healthy enough to join the rotation. Thanks to their desperation, and clear books long term, it wouldn’t be surprising if they overpaid for Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, or even Marcus Stroman — if one of them would actually take their money.
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
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