Tuesday, December 9, 2014

10 Contenders at the Winter Meetings

Aces Scherzer, Lester, Shields hold key to the FA market
As the Winter Meetings got underway yesterday, all of MLB's major contenders are looking to shore up weaknesses on their rosters.

A number of those contenders have a hole, or at least a weakness, at the hot corner. This should make the only real free agent 3rd baseman of any note, Chase Headley, a very popular and ultimately wealthy man.

There are a number of teams who either were on the borderline, or who actually lost, in 2014 who could jump right up into contention with the right moves. However, most of them need multiple moves still to get there.

The Chicago White Sox have decided that they want to be one of those bounce-back clubs. The Chisox first executed a deal to bring in a strong #2 starting pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, to pair with ace Chris Sale. Then the club signed the top closer on the market, David Robertson.

Much of the rest of the market, both free agent and major trade, is waiting on the decisions of the top three starting pitchers. Once Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields make their decisions, it should open the floodgates for the 2nd tier guys, as well as get trade talks heating up for available frontline types like Cole Hamels.

Here's a look at 10 teams who clearly enter 2015 as contenders right now, 5 in each league, and their more obvious needs, along with some potential fixes that could happen at the Winter Meetings or shortly thereafter.

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Washington Nationals
Team clearly needs an infielder, just where is the question? Anthony Rendon was exceptional at both 2nd and 3rd base. With Ryan Zimmerman now locked in at 1st base, they need to find someone to play one or the other, and find a permanent home for Rendon. Resigning Asdrubal Cabrera is the most logical move. But wouldn't Chase Headley look great in a Nats uniform?

Los Angeles Dodgers
Do they really believe they have any semblance of a competitive left-side infield? Do they really believe they have a front-line catcher? I don't, on either count. There has been a lot of talk about Cole Hamels in the media, and great starting pitching can cover a lot of sins. They have an outfield glut to trade from, with Matt Kemp the most likely to go. That still would leave Puig, Ethier, and Crawford with young Joc Pederson ready to play every day. If I'm LA, I'm looking to fill that left-side infield. How about Jimmy Rollins, maybe in a Hamels package? If not, you have the lesser but younger Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jed Lowrie troika available.

Saint Louis Cardinals
This looks like a serious NL Pennant contender to me, but for one thing: I'm really concerned about the ability of the rotation to physically hold up. Something tells me they'll stand pat. But if I were them, I'd reach out and sign one of the free agent SP arms. A proven reliability guy like James Shields would seem to be a perfect Cardinal fit, from where I sit.

San Francisco Giants
The defending World Series champs would love to take a run at ending their every-other-year streak, rather than fall back in 2015. They are finalists in the Jon Lester sweepstakes, which should be announced some time today or tonight. That pursuit aside, they have a gaping hole at 3rd base with the Panda gone. This should be yet another team looking hard at Chase Headley.

Chase Headley might be the perfect Panda replacement

Pittsburgh Pirates
A very interesting team that has been very quiet so far this off-season. Two straight Wildcard appearances for the Bucs have them hungry for more. How hungry? Are they willing and able to spend money? Because if they want to take a next step, maybe even get back at all, they need another starting pitcher, even after bringing A.J. Burnett back, and could use a shortstop upgrade. The shortstop is available on the market in Stephen Drew, Jed Lowrie, or Asdrubal Cabrera. So are the arms, with possibly affordable options like Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong, Justin Masterson and Brandon McCarthy. This is a place that James Shields or Ervin Santana would work well. They could always resign Francisco Liriano. Even a lesser guy like Kyle Kendrick could provide valuable, experienced innings. They need something more, for sure.

Baltimore Orioles
Buck Showalter is good, and in 2014 he was great. But he's not good enough to make this team win again without addressing the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. Let's say all three of Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado returns healthy and has a strong season. That's asking a lot, but with Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy as well, it's the minimum needed. How about Michael Morse as a LF/DH in Camden Yards? Seems like a match made in O's heaven to me. This might be a good fit for a veteran who wants to win and can bring some speed, such as Emilio Bonifacio.

Detroit Tigers
Having VMart back and a fully healthy Miguel Cabrera will be huge. But this team needs another run-producer. They could really use it from a corner IF/OF type, even if J.D. Martinez is for real and Nick Castellanos takes a step forward. Melky Cabrera and Alex Rios might be nice fits in Motown. And since this team is in win-now mode, a one-year shot on a 5th outfielder season from Ichiro Suzuki could be a nice Torii Hunter substitute.

Kansas City Royals
A lot came together all at once for the Royals last season. Now Hosmer and Moustakas have to prove they can do it over a full season. There has been talk of breaking up the shutdown Herrera-Davis-Holland back end bullpen trio. Especially with the loss of starter James Shields, that sounds like crazy talk to me. This team needs to find a similar starting pitcher, and all the names mentioned for the Pirates come to mind, especially Jake Peavy. He's a winner and a staff leader-type. And how about a Colby Rasmus in CF, allowing Lorenzo Cain to possibly become an All-Star rightfielder playing every day there?
Jake Peavy could fit well as a James Shields replacement in KC

LA Angels of Anaheim
Los Angeles, Anaheim, whatever they are, is a very good team. But like a few other very good teams, they have big questions in the rotation, especially if they actually do move C.J. Wilson. A lefty DH/IF/PH bat with experience and pop would be a nice addition. Someone like Kendrys Morales fits the bill perfectly. Emilio Bonifacio checks off a few boxes as well as a versatile switch-hitter. And bottom-feeding one of the lesser expense but reliable SP options would be a good idea, someone in the Kyle Kendrick or Ryan Vogelsong price range.

Toronto Blue Jays
This team has to be taken seriously now. Picking up one of the top players in the game at a position of growing scarcity in 3rd baseman Josh Donaldson, as well as a proven, veteran leader at catcher in Russ Martin, will do that for you. They join a lineup that already included Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion. Do you entrust this obvious run at the postseason to the current group of 2nd basemen? How about Stephen Drew to play there, and give you an option should Reyes' legs act up again? And this team looks like a perfect landing spot for a proven closer like Rafael Soriano, if he can be had at the right price. Asdrubal Cabrera could provide excellent versatility, and Emilio Bonifacio could fit here for all these same reasons.

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