The first round of MLB free agency kicked off on December 1st, and teams will have to find different answers for the holes in their lineups. There are 10 areas where contending teams may struggle after Round 1, but all is not lost for these squads- as long as they can get it done this offseason.
The “deepest hole ever dug” is a phrase that has been used to describe the 10 biggest holes on contending teams after Round 1 of MLB free agency. The phrase was coined by Bill James, who said that it is impossible for any team to win a championship without at least one player in their lineup.
The owners and players will eventually settle on how to divide the billions of dollars in baseball income, maybe in January, but more likely in February. For the time being, we’ll have to wait for the resumption of the shortened hot stove season, but we can still discuss baseball.
While there were a rush of deals in the days coming up to the lockout, competitive clubs still have significant openings to fill, and many elite free agents are still available. Carlos Correa (No. 1), Freddie Freeman (3), Trevor Story (4), Kris Bryant (8), Clayton Kershaw (12), Nick Castellanos (13), Carlos Rodon (14), Michael Conforto (15), and Seiya Suzuki (16) are the best remaining from Kiley McDaniel’s offseason list (17).
The Reds (pitchers Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Tyler Mahle might be available) and the Athletics (pitchers Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Tyler Mahle could be available) are the two clubs most likely to trade important players (Matt Olson and Matt Chapman plus starting pitching). The Orioles are considering trading John Means.
Let’s take a look at the ten most intriguing vacancies on competing teams to fill:
The most pressing need are for a shortstop and a center fielder.
Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Andrelton Simmons, Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Kiermaier, Brett Gardner, and Seiya Suzuki are all possible possibilities.
It was oddly quiet in the Bronx before to the lockout, as the Yankees’ greatest action was signing Jose Peraza to a minor league deal, despite the fact that he isn’t exactly the straw that stirs the drink. Is it true that the Yankees are holding their breath to see what the new luxury tax level will be? Perhaps, with Correa and Story still on the loose, they’re simply waiting to strike. Perhaps they want Freddie Freeman to play first base and provide them with a much-needed left-handed bat. They could then acquire a stopgap shortstop like Simmons, re-sign Aaron Judge with the Correa money, and hope that top prospect Anthony Volpe is ready for 2023. The hole in center field does not garner the same amount of attention as the one at shortstop, but it is still a concern. For the time being, Aaron Hicks is the starting center fielder; he’s still under contract for four more seasons, but he’s only appeared in 145 games in the last three seasons and, at 32, is approaching the age when most center fielders move to the corner. Joey Gallo is arguably a better choice, while a return engagement with the 38-year-old Gardner is the best of the remaining free-agent alternatives. A trade must be considered, but Reynolds, who finished 11th in MVP voting after an All-Star season with the Pirates, would be too pricey. Kiermaier is available, but the Rays may not be willing to deal him to a division foe.
I keep coming back to Gallo, who won Gold Gloves as a right fielder the last two seasons after playing center field for the Rangers in 2019. If he can play center field, the Yankees will be able to sign a corner outfielder. Suzuki, who hit.317/.433/.636 with 38 home runs for Hiroshima in Japan in 2021, is allegedly a target.
What they ought to do is spend! Volpe, as much as Correa is a wonderful match, may be the genuine thing. So add Freeman and Suzuki to bolster an attack that ranked 10th in the AL in terms of runs scored. Then, at shortstop, add Simmons to help solidify the defense.
The most pressing need is for a first baseman.
Freddie Freeman, Matt Olson, and Anthony Rizzo are all possible possibilities.
We’ve just assigned Freeman to the Yankees. Should Braves fans be concerned that a contract with Freeman was not signed, sealed, and delivered prior to the lockout? Without a doubt. While many in the baseball world believe Freeman will return to Atlanta, it is not a certain conclusion. The Yankees aren’t the only ones interested; the Dodgers, Blue Jays, and others are as well. Remember, the only $100 million contracts Liberty Media has ever given out were renewals to a much younger Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr.’s sweetheart deal. This team has showed little interest in signing older free players to nine-figure contracts. It’s also never had to re-sign a franchise face.
So don’t rule out Freeman departing and the Braves acquiring Olson from the Athletics in a big trade. Olson has effectively become the AL’s equivalent of Freeman since cutting down on his strikeouts in 2021, so it’s a natural fit. In 2021, Olson actually outhit Freeman (153 OPS+ vs. 133). The Braves’ farm system is average, but they do have big league players like Cristian Pache and Kyle Wright who might pique the A’s attention (it will take more than that to get Olson). For what it’s worth, Olson is from Lilburn, an Atlanta suburb, so he’ll get a lot of love from the fans as long as he hits.
Sign Freeman, that’s what they should do. The concept of a player lasting his whole career with one club may be a throwback to the days of wool jerseys, but it’s still a lovely one.
The most pressing need is starting pitching depth.
Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Rodon, Luis Castillo, and Sean Manaea are all possible targets.
The Dodgers prefer to stockpile starting pitching depth, much way some individuals collect apothecary jars, vacation magnets, or Happy Meal toys. They were down to Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, a dead-armed Max Scherzer, and bullpen games by the NLCS. The moral of the tale is that there can never be enough starting pitchers. Rinse. Repeat.
The Dodgers now have Buehler, Urias, Andrew Heaney, Tony Gonsolin, David Price, and a recuperating Dustin May… as well as Trevor Bauer. According to Alden Gonzalez, the consensus among Dodgers at the close of the season was that Bauer would not return in 2022. Still, unless they can figure out a “go away” contract, the possible $47 million they owe him ($32 million in salary plus another $15 million if Bauer uses his opt-out provision for 2023) complicates that choice, at least financially.
Kershaw and Rodon both have health issues in 2021, therefore the deeper possibilities would be Andre Jackson and Ryan Pepiot. Making another signing, including re-signing Kershaw, might hinge on the Dodgers’ trust in Gonsolin and Price, two pitchers they were hesitant to start in the playoffs (Price wasn’t even on the NLCS roster).
Sign Kershaw. That’s what they should do. All-time greats moved on even in the wool uniform days: Ty Cobb to the A’s, Babe Ruth to the Braves, and Yogi Berra to the Mets. Still, it’s difficult to see Kershaw in anything other than Dodger blue.
The most pressing need is a bat to replace Marcus Semien.
Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Seiya Suzuki, Matt Chapman, Kyle Seager, Josh Harrison, and Freddie Freeman are all possible targets.
The Blue Jays have a lot of moving parts: they want to sell one of their four catchers (not prospect Gabriel Moreno), they’re said to be marketing Randal Grichuk, and they’ll almost certainly add another starter to the rotation. The most important goal, though, should be to find a replacement for Semien. They have some leeway here:
They could sign one of the shortstops and shift Bo Bichette to second base, where he currently ranks in the sixth percentile among shortstops according to Statcast’s Outs Above Average statistic.
They may pursue a third baseman (Chapman in a trade, Seager as a free agency) and leave second base to Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio. In Toronto’s right-handed order, Seager would give a left-handed bat.
Harrison might be signed to play second base.
Maybe they’ll choose an entirely other path. The Blue Jays are said to be interested in both Freeman and Suzuki, implying that they’re seeking for another big hitter. With Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first base, Freeman seems to be an odd match, but the Blue Jays may shift Guerrero back to third base (it seems way too early in his career to make him a permanent DH).
Sign Correa, that’s what they should do. The current payroll for Toronto is $159 million, according to Cot’s Contracts. They should be more closely associated with the Yankees and Red Sox. Grichuk’s $10.3 million might be useful in this regard. With George Springer, Jose Berrios, and Kevin Gausman all on $100 million or more deals, with Guerrero and Bichette on the horizon, Correa may be too expensive for the Blue Jays. In that instance, Seager can fill in at third base for a year while the team uses its farm system depth to acquire one of the starters from Cincinnati or Oakland.
The most pressing need is for an impact player.
Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, and Kris Bryant are all possible targets.
Yes, dear readers, we’re talking about Tigers contenders. Last season, they went 77-85, acquired Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez, play in a weak division, and have two potential impact rookies in outfielder Riley Greene and first baseman Spencer Torkelson to boost an offense that ranked 11th in the AL in runs. What more do they require? On the one hand, they need Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning, their youthful starters, to develop. That should happen in principle, but there’s no certainty.
Still, it seems reasonable to assume that if the Tigers can contend — and by contend, we mean assuming the current 10-team playoff system remains in place, rather than some bloated 14-team system that makes two-thirds of the teams in the majors legitimate “contenders” — it will be because the young pitchers are better. If they continue to suffer, Ted Williams will not be enough.
Furthermore, this brings up a tough topic that the Detroit front staff must address: Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera owes the Tigers $64 million over the next two seasons (plus a $8 million buyout). Cabrera’s last solid season was in 2016, which was six seasons ago. Last season, Tigers DHs hit.192/.255/.282. Cabrera wasn’t all that horrible, but he did bat a lot worse as a DH than he did at first base, and the non-Cabrera DHs hit a lot better. 147. Castellanos or Schwarber can absorb DH at-bats, fill in for Cabrera in the outfield, and provide the Tigers with the cleanup hitter they need. If they go that approach, Bryant is the superior defender.
Sign Schwarber, that’s what they should do. Why do so many AL clubs avoid using the designated hitter? Schwarber’s left-handed power bat will assist to balance out the right-handed batters. Torkelson and Baez will be paired with Jeimer Candelario and Robbie Grossman, who are also switch-hitters (and Greene bats lefty as well).
The most pressing requirements are a big bat and a starting pitcher.
Kris Bryant, Trevor Story, Freddie Freeman, Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber, Bryan Reynolds, Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Tyler Anderson are all potential possibilities.
The Mariners, like the Tigers, are in need of another batter; in fact, they tied Detroit for 697 runs in 2021. The Mariners made a splash with Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray and Adam Frazier at second base (Mariners second basemen had an OPS of 27th in the majors), but Frazier isn’t the big hitter they need, and they’ve given up Kyle Seager and his 35 home runs. The Mariners have a $100 million payroll with capacity to expand (they had $170 million payrolls from 2016 to 2018 before rebuilding), and Jerry Dipoto keeps hinting at more to come.
Carlos Correa doesn’t appear to fit with the team’s commitment to J.P. Crawford at shortstop, thus Bryant and Story make the most sense to play third base. Although Dipoto likes to rotate players in the outfield, they might deploy Schwarber as a pure DH. Freeman is the intriguing longshot here. Don’t rule out the possibility since the Mariners have been surprise free agency winners in the past, such as Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.
What they should do: Mariners supporters might wish for Freeman (Ty France would be a good DH), but we’ll take Bryant. Then, using some of the top talent from one of baseball’s best farm systems, sign Castillo (no, not Julio Rodriguez). 2001 was, after all, a very long time ago.
The most pressing need are at center field, left field, shortstop, and third base.
Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Kris Bryant, Kyle Seager, Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Villar, Kevin Pillar, Brett Gardner, Odubel Herrera, Kyle Schwarber, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Kris Bryant, Kyle Seager, Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Villar, Kevin Pillar, Brett Gardner, Odubel Herrera, Kyle Schwarber, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson
We’ve got the latest on MLB’s first lockout since 1990, as well as where things stand with free agency (which is presently stalled). Complete coverage »
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With Andrew McCutchen and Odubel Herrera about to become free agents, and Didi Gregorius and Alec Bohm coming off disappointing seasons (the Phillies placed 28th in WAR at shortstop and 27th at third base, respectively), Dave Dombrowski needed to do some offseason shopping at Costco: Purchase in quantity. The Phillies instead spent their pre-lockout time visiting Dollar General, completing a few small trades while the lineup’s huge gaps remained unfilled. The issue is that the payroll has already reached $177 million. While they need a big-ticket star like Correa, Bryant, or perhaps Schwarber (poor defense… a Phillies tradition! ), Dombrowski may need to spread the money around. Aside from the Yankees, no front office will be under greater pressure to act than the Phillies’. After all, Dombrowski was hired to win, and that’s exactly what he does. In 2021, the Phillies failed to win.
What they should do: I can’t picture Gregorius and Bohm playing defense together again this season. Bryson Stott, a shortstop prospect, is available, but he will need to spend time in Triple-A. Bryant is an ideal match for this spot, as you could at the very least give Bohm another chance at third base while Bryant plays outfield. If Bohm falters, Bryant should be moved to third. So, Bryant and… Schwarber, can you play center field?
The most pressing need is starting pitching depth.
Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle, Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, and Chris Bassitt are all possible targets.
The Rays signed Corey Kluber to provide an experienced presence to a rotation that would otherwise be led by sophomore ace Shane McClanahan and three rookie pitchers, Shane Baz, Drew Rasmussen, and Luis Patino, who have never thrown 100 innings in a big league season. Rasmussen had a 1.93 ERA in 10 starts with the Rays, so those are some good arms to fantasize about (although he averaged barely four innings per start). With Tyler Glasnow expected to miss the most of the season and Corey Kluber at danger of injury, another seasoned innings eater may be beneficial. That’s not true. The Rays tried it with Rich Hill and Michael Wacha last year, with mixed results. They should plan forward for 2022, and they have the deep agricultural system to do so.
What they should do: On the Reds and A’s, I listed all six starters. The man at the top of the list is Castillo. He’ll be under club control for two more seasons and is set to earn a projected $8 million in arbitration — Hell, if they can move Kiermaier and his $12.1 million contract, they’ll be able to reduce their payroll while boosting the squad (Manuel Margot, Brett Phillips and Josh Lowe are all capable of playing a plus center field).
The most pressing need: a bullpen? Defense? Outfield?
Andrew Chafin, Collin McHugh, Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, Adam Ottavino, Tony Watson, Jake Diekman, Carlos Correa, and Seiya Suzuki are all possible targets.
The Jackie Bradley Jr.-Hunter Renfroe trade was unexpected, yet Boston’s motivation was as much about preferring prospect Alex Binelas as it was about hoping Bradley would recover from his injury. With the Brewers, he has 163 hits. After losing Eduardo Rodriguez to the Tigers, the Red Sox added James Paxton (who is coming off Tommy John surgery), Michael Wacha, and the ageless Rich Hill to round out a rotation that will benefit from Chris Sale pitching for the whole season. Alex Cora, as we saw in the playoffs, didn’t have much faith in his bullpen, thus we put a number of relievers above.
However, I’m curious whether Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom has anything greater in mind. The Red Sox had the greatest hitting average on balls in play in the majors, yet they also had the lowest batting average on grounders. Is this a hint that Correa is in the mix? To enhance the defense, they may move Xander Bogaerts to third and Rafael Devers to first (and hedge against Bogaerts exercising his opt-out clause after 2022). Perhaps moving Renfroe cleared the door for Suzuki to play right field.
What they should do: They need a solid lefty reliever at the very least, and Chafin was the best in 2021 outside of Josh Hader. But, wow, Correa is a perfect match. That may secure Bogaerts’ departure, but that may happen anyway, and Correa is the superior long-term match at the moment.
The most pressing need is for a shortstop.
Carlos Correa and Trevor Story are two possible targets.
Are the Angels a playoff team? They will be if Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon can play close to 300 games. Noah Syndergaard has 30 starts. Reid Detmers also had a breakthrough performance. Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh both had better performances. Shohei Ohtani’s heroic work continues. Okay, you get the picture. Sure, the Angels could use some pitching assistance — Ohtani’s 4.1 WAR was the greatest by an Angels pitcher since Garrett Richards in 2014, despite the fact that he only pitched 130 innings — but they also have a massive hole at shortstop.
With a.254/.295/.371 batting line and minus-19 Defensive Runs Saved, the Angels’ shortstops finished lowest in the majors in WAR (Jose Iglesias rated very poorly at minus-20 DRS). Tyler Wade was acquired from the Yankees, although he’s more of a utility player than a regular starter. In the early phases of Trout’s $426.5 million contract, with Rendon earning $36 million in 2022 and then $38 million through 2026, it’s difficult to see the Angels dishing out another megadeal. Not to mention the fact that Ohtani will be a free agent after 2023. The Angels, on the other hand, are around $24 million under the current luxury tax (which should at least be raised a little), and Justin Upton’s $28 million is set to expire after 2022. There’s considerable leeway here.
Sign Story is what they should do. Look, with Arte Moreno, you never know, but it’s difficult to picture the Angels paying Trout, Rendon, and Correa. If his shoulder checks out, Story is the more plausible fit. Even said, the Angels may decide to invest more in the starting rotation. Why not persuade Clayton Kershaw to go 30 miles south on I-5?
(Dodgers supporters… are you still there, Dodgers fans?)