MLB trade and free-agent matches: Solutions for each AL team’s most-pressing needs
With MLB’s Winter Meetings a little over a week away, it’s time to take stock. Over the past few weeks here at The Athletic, we’ve identified the biggest needs of each team after checking in with the front offices and predicted the contracts of the top 25 free agents. Now it’s time to come up with solutions for all 30 teams to fill their most-pressing needs and improve their organizations during the hot stove season, through free agency and/or trades.
We’ll start with the American League, then follow up with the National League on Monday. Here are my thoughts on each team and what I’m hearing in conversations with decision-makers throughout baseball.
Needs: Starting pitching, a left-handed hitter
Free-agent targets: Carlos Rodón, LHP; Nathan Eovaldi, RHP; Chris Bassitt, RHP; José Quintana, LHP; Jameson Taillon, RHP, Taijuan Walker, RHP; Kodai Senga, RHP; Zach Elfin, RHP; Ross Stripling, RHP; Josh Bell, 1B/DH; Dominic Smith, 1B; Andrew Benintendi, LF; Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF; Michael Conforto, RF; Jurickson Profar, OF
Trade targets: Kolten Wong, 2B; Luis Arraez, INF; Ian Happ, INF/OF; Jake McCarthy, OF; Josh Rojas, INF/OF; Jesse Winker, OF/DH; Alek Thomas, OF; Pablo López, RHP
The Orioles have been busy, talking with practically every team and agent in the industry. They are focused on the second and third tiers of the starting pitching market and on trying to acquire a left-handed bat for their lineup. They can offer plenty of playing time to a left-handed hitter at first base, both corner outfield spots, second base and as the designated hitter. This is going to be a fun offseason for Orioles fans because their team will make multiple moves.
Boston Red Sox
Needs: Starting pitching, outfield, bullpen, shortstop
Free-agent targets: Xander Bogaerts, SS; Trea Turner, 2B/SS; Dansby Swanson, SS; Carlos Correa, SS; Brandon Nimmo, OF; Michael Conforto, OF; Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF; Jurickson Profar, OF; Mitch Haniger, OF; Nathan Eovaldi, RHP; Chris Bassitt, RHP; Carlos Rodón, LHP; Brad Boxberger, RHP; Steve Cishek, RHP; Taylor Rogers, LHP; Andrew Chafin, LHP; Michael Fulmer, RHP; Chris Martin, RHP; David Robertson, RHP; Seth Lugo, RHP
Trade targets: Bryan Reynolds, OF; Ian Happ, OF; Anthony Santander, OF; Alec Burleson, OF; Jake McCarthy, OF; Alek Thomas, OF; Pablo López, RHP
The most important move the Red Sox need to make this offseason is finalizing a contract extension with third baseman Rafael Devers. The two sides have been far apart in negotiations, but at some point Boston needs to find a way to bridge the gap and get it done. The Red Sox have also made re-signing Xander Bogaerts a priority, and if they’re not able to, they’ll try to replace him with another quality middle infielder. They believe their rotation is interesting and underrated but also recognize they could use experienced talent in front of the current group. However, it doesn’t appear the Red Sox will be pursuing star free agents Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander. Boston has also prioritized improving its bullpen and its overall outfield talent and depth. The Red Sox have a lot of work to do between now and the end of the Winter Meetings if they want to contend in 2023.
Chicago White Sox
Needs: A left-handed-hitting outfielder, second base, a starting pitcher
Free-agent targets: Brandon Nimmo, OF; Andrew Benintendi, OF; Cody Bellinger, OF; Adam Frazier, 2B; Carlos Rodón, LHP; Chris Bassitt, RHP; Jameson Taillon, RHP; Nathan Eovaldi, RHP; Sean Manaea, LHP; Kodai Senga, RHP; Taijuan Walker, RHP; Zach Eflin, RHP; Ross Stripling, RHP
Trade targets: Kolten Wong, 2B; Brandon Lowe, 2B; Ian Happ, OF
The White Sox made an excellent hire in manager Pedro Grifol, who should be their long-term solution in that role. Now they’re working on acquiring a left-handed-hitting outfielder who is also a solid defensive player, such as Brandon Nimmo or Andrew Benintendi. They’re also looking to upgrade second base again, and prefer a left-handed hitter there as well. From what I’m hearing, they’ve been dabbling in the free-agent starting pitching market, too.
Needs: Catcher, power bat, develop young players and prospects
Free-agent targets: Willson Contreras, C; Christian Vázquez, C; Mike Zunino, C; Josh Bell, 1B/DH; Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF; José Abreu, 1B/DH; Joey Gallo, OF/DH; J.D. Martinez, DH; Mitch Haniger, OF; Wil Myers, 1B/OF; Trey Mancini, 1B/OF; Brandon Drury, INF/OF
Trade targets: Sean Murphy, C; Gabriel Moreno, C; Alejandro Kirk, C; Luis Campusano, C; Bryan Reynolds, OF; Anthony Santander, OF; Adolis García, OF; Daulton Varsho, OF; Randy Arozarena, OF
The Guardians had 17 rookies make their major-league debuts last season but still managed to reach the ALDS and come within one win of the ALCS. Their surprise season led to manager Terry Francona being named AL Manager of the Year and team president Chris Antonetti being named MLB executive of the year. So how do they build on 2022? They are working to upgrade at catcher by trying to trade for Sean Murphy of the A’s or Gabriel Moreno or Alejandro Kirk of the Blue Jays. They are also looking at free agent and trade options for a middle-of-the-order power bat. Beyond that, it’s all about developing their talented young players.
Needs: Offense, athleticism around the diamond, starting pitching
Free-agent targets: Veteran players they can sign on short-term deals, then deal at the trade deadline for prospects
Trade targets: Young, long-term solutions all over the diamond and on the mound
With new president of baseball operations Scott Harris and manager A.J. Hinch, Detroit has a strong management tandem in place to help rebuild the franchise. However, the problem is that the previous regime failed miserably in their rebuilding process, making poor draft and trade decisions; combine that with significant injuries and regression of the organization’s top pitching prospects and the Tigers find themselves three to five years from being contenders. They don’t have a lot of position players to build around outside of Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Javier Báez and Austin Meadows. They don’t have a lot to trade from outside of their bullpen and farm system. Don’t be surprised if they make some top prospects-for-top prospects type deals.
Needs: Hire a general manager, first base, catcher, lineup length, possibly center field
Free-agent targets: Justin Verlander, RHP; José Abreu, 1B; Brandon Nimmo, CF; Cody Bellinger, 1B/CF; Josh Bell, 1B/DH; Willson Contreras, C/DH; Dominic Smith, 1B; Christian Vázquez, C; Tucker Barnhart, C
Trade targets: Christian Walker, 1B; Bryan Reynolds, CF; Cedric Mullins, CF
The Astros are favored to repeat as World Series champions in 2023, and there isn’t much heavy lifting needed with their roster this offseason outside of trying to retain their ace, Justin Verlander, finding an upgrade at first base, adding another catcher behind Martín Maldonado, and perhaps upgrading center field. José Abreu would be a perfect fit for them at first base and DH. I also like the idea of Cody Bellinger because I think manager Dusty Baker could get him back close to his 2019 MVP form, and Bellinger’s above-average defense at first base and in center field aligns with the Astros’ needs. Brandon Nimmo would be another nice fit in center field, but it’s more likely they stick with Chas McCormick and spend their money on Verlander and a first baseman. Since they parted ways with James Click, the Astros have operated without a GM and owner Jim Crane has made all of the final baseball operations decisions, but they also need to hire someone for the role.
Kansas City Royals
Needs: Starting pitcher, bullpen, a right-handed bat, a backup catcher
Free-agent targets: Not known
Trade targets: Not known
The Royals are under new leadership with J.J. Picollo taking over as head of baseball operations and Matt Quatraro hired as manager after he spent the last four years as bench coach for the Rays, where he worked with one of the game’s best managers, Kevin Cash. The Royals have not had a winning season in eight years, and owner John Sherman, whose group has run the team since 2019, simply ran out of patience with the former regime. Picollo has made it clear to other GMs and agents that his offseason goals are to add a proven veteran starting pitcher, improve the bullpen, and add a right-handed bat to the lineup, likely an outfielder, as he waits for the team’s strong young nucleus — led by Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino — to develop. The key to the Royals’ future success will be finding ways to improve the development of their pitchers at all levels in their system. Don’t expect Kansas City to be big spenders this offseason as they’ll likely wait until they’re closer to becoming contenders in a couple of years. But don’t be surprised if they end up trading center fielder Michael A. Taylor and infielder/outfielder Hunter Dozier this offseason, if they can find the right deal.
Los Angeles Angels
Needs: Shortstop, a corner outfielder, a left-handed starting pitcher, utility infielder
Free-agent targets: Trea Turner, SS; Dansby Swanson, SS; Andrew Benintendi, OF; Brandon Nimmo, OF; Cody Bellinger, OF
Trade targets: Gleyber Torres, SS; Bryan Reynolds, OF; Nico Hoerner, SS; Willy Adames, SS
The Angels have been the busiest front office this offseason, already acquiring their starting pitching, utility infield and corner outfield targets. Los Angeles improved its rotation by signing left-hander Tyler Anderson to a three-year, $39 million deal and secured a quality backup infielder, Gio Urshela, in a trade with the Twins. Urshela is expected to be the backup at first base, shortstop and third base, and will provide plus defense on both infield corners off the bench. He’ll also give the Angels protection for the oft-injured Anthony Rendon at third base and provide a platoon option at first base with Jared Walsh. Earlier this week, the Angels traded three fringe pitching prospects to the Brewers for right fielder Hunter Renfroe, who hit 29 home runs last season and was worth 2.7 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. Next up on their agenda: shortstop. They’ve been scouring both leagues for a trade option, but also could surprise the industry and sign one of the star free-agent shortstops (Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Dansby Swanson). With the team for sale, the question is, do the Angels have more selling value with a more talented roster or should the front office keep the payroll as low as possible? It’s a complicated question that only team owner Arte Moreno can answer. The Angels have made it clear to teams that Shohei Ohtani will not be traded this offseason, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be dealt before the 2023 trade deadline if they’re not in contention for the postseason. Ohtani, who is signed through next year, wants to play for a winner. He is not expected to engage in talks with Los Angeles about a contract extension until he knows who the owner will be and believes they’ll improve the team enough to get to the playoffs.
Needs: Shortstop, a second catcher, a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder
Free-agent targets: Carlos Correa, SS; Xander Bogaerts, SS; Trea Turner, SS; Dansby Swanson, SS; José Iglesias, SS; Christian Vázquez, C; Omar Narváez, C; Mike Zunino, C; Jorge Alfaro, C; Tucker Barnhart, C; Roberto Pérez, C; Mitch Haniger, OF; Wil Myers, OF; Trey Mancini, OF; Andrew McCutchen, OF; Adam Duvall, OF; Aristides Aquino, OF
Trade targets: Anthony Santander, OF; Randal Grichuk, OF; Daulton Varsho, OF; Jorge Soler, OF; Avisaíl García, OF; Victor Robles, OF; Bryan Reynolds, OF; Ramón Laureano, OF; Kyle Isbel, OF; Hunter Dozier, OF
The Twins shocked the baseball world last offseason when they landed free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa; however, that move was short-lived, as he opted out of the contract after one year. The Twins would like to re-sign Correa, but at this point they are unwilling to go to the $250 million to $325 million that’s likely required. They do have the payroll flexibility to make a run at the elite free-agent shortstops. Minnesota would also like to acquire a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder who could platoon in right or left field, along with a quality backup or second catcher. The Twins are creative and think outside of the box, so you never know what they’ll do next, but it’ll probably be bold.
New York Yankees
Needs: Re-sign Aaron Judge, bullpen, left field
Free-agent targets: Aaron Judge, OF; Brandon Nimmo, OF; Andrew Benintendi, OF; Michael Conforto, OF; Taylor Rogers, LHP; Andrew Chafin, LHP; Michael Fulmer, RHP; Brad Boxberger, RHP; Seth Lugo, RHP; Chris Martin, RHP
Trade targets: Bryan Reynolds, OF; David Bednar, RHP; Alex Lange, RHP; Scott Barlow, RHP; Joe Mantiply, LHP; Camilo Doval, RHP; Jason Adam, RHP; A.J. Puk, LHP; Alexis Díaz, RHP
The Yankees’ offseason is all about trying to re-sign their face of the franchise, Aaron Judge, which will cost them a contract in the vicinity of $330 million. They really can’t do much else until Judge makes his decision. But he’s their top priority, and they’re doing everything they can to bring him back. The Yankees have already re-signed Judge’s friend, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, to a two-year deal with a club option. Next on their agenda is rebuilding the bullpen after the departures of Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and Chad Green, and an injury-riddled season that included Tommy John surgery for Scott Effross, which takes him out of the picture for next season. The Yankees are satisfied with their shortstop situation; they have rookie Oswald Peraza and veteran Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and know their long-term answer Anthony Volpe will probably debut sometime in 2023. They feel they’re OK at third base if DJ LeMahieu is healthy, with Josh Donaldson backing him up. The Yankees are getting calls on second baseman Gleyber Torres, but it’s doubtful they’ll move him, at least not until Volpe is ready, with the plan to eventually shift Peraza to second base. They are also trying to figure out if Oswaldo Cabrera could be their answer in left field, but some in the organization would prefer to keep him as a bench player and try to sign Andrew Benintendi or Brandon Nimmo to add more on-base percentage and contact at the top of the lineup. Judge must come first, but the Yankees have a lot of work to do to improve their lineup and bullpen if they want to reach the World Series next year. I doubt Judge will sign elsewhere, but if he does, I expect the Yankees to quickly pivot and attempt to sign Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom along with an outfielder such as Nimmo.
Needs: Everything except catcher, with an emphasis on offense, defense, pitching and prospects
Free-agent targets: Inexpensive players who are short-term options and can be dealt at the trade deadline for prospects
Trade targets: Prospects and players who aren’t arbitration-eligible
The biggest move the A’s have made thus far this offseason is transitioning Billy Beane from head of baseball operations to a senior advisory role and handing the reins to GM David Forst, who will now run the department. Beane had been the club’s executive vice president of baseball operations since October 2015 and has been with the organization for 33 years. He never was able to lead the A’s to a World Series title, but he consistently overachieved with the limited resources at his disposal. Forst takes over with arguably the weakest roster, top to bottom, the A’s have ever had and without a deal for a new stadium in sight. The A’s need to improve in every area except catcher, and they’re expected to be busy trading from their one position of strength. The long-term plan is for Shea Langeliers to be their everyday catcher, which makes veteran Sean Murphy available, along with catching prospects Tyler Soderstrom, Kyle McCann and Daniel Susac. The Rays, Guardians, Cardinals and Twins have had conversations with Oakland about their catchers.
Needs: Middle infield, right-handed-hitting corner outfielder, a left-handed reliever
Free-agent targets: Trea Turner, SS; Carlos Correa, SS; Xander Bogaerts, SS; Dansby Swanson, SS; Taylor Rogers, LHP; Andrew Chafin, LHP; Josh Bell, DH; Adam Duvall, OF; AJ Pollock, OF; Mitch Haniger, OF; Wil Myers, OF; Aristides Aquino, OF; Trey Mancini, OF/DH; J.D. Martinez, DH
Trade targets: Kolten Wong, 2B; Gleyber Torres, 2B; Brandon Lowe, 2B; Ian Happ, OF; Bryan Reynolds, OF; Anthony Santander, OF; Lourdes Gurriel Jr., OF; Randal Grichuk, OF; Avisaíl García, OF; Jorge Soler, OF; Hunter Dozier, OF; Joe Mantiply, LHP
The Mariners made the biggest trade of the offseason, so far, when they acquired two-time Silver Slugger Teoscar Hernández from the Blue Jays for reliever Erik Swanson and minor-league pitcher Adam Macko. Hernández will play right field for Seattle and hit in the middle of the lineup. Team president Jerry Dipoto’s next goal is to upgrade second base or shortstop, with the idea that if they add a shortstop, incumbent J.P. Crawford would move to second base. The Mariners are expected to be in the bidding for one of the big four free-agent shortstops. However, they prefer to go the less-expensive trade route and have had discussions with the Yankees (on Gleyber Torres), the Brewers (Kolten Wong) and the Rays (Brandon Lowe). Seattle also would like to add a left-handed reliever and will probably solve that need via free agency. Finally, the Mariners seek a right-handed hitter who could platoon with either Jarred Kelenic in left field or Jesse Winker at DH. There’s no doubt Dipoto and the Mariners will make a few more moves this winter, so get your popcorn ready.
Tampa Bay Rays
Needs: A left-handed bat, a veteran starting pitcher, more offense
Free-agent targets: Brandon Nimmo, OF; Andrew Benintendi, OF; Cody Bellinger, OF; Michael Conforto, OF; Joey Gallo, OF; Jurickson Profar, OF; Josh Bell, DH; Dominic Smith, 1B; José Abreu, 1B; J.D. Martinez, DH; Jameson Taillon, RHP; Corey Kluber, RHP; Kyle Gibson, RHP; Zach Elfin, RHP; Michael Wacha, RHP
Trade targets: Ian Happ, OF; Anthony Santander, OF; Alek Thomas, OF; Jake McCarthy, OF
The Rays want to improve their offense this offseason and are especially focused on adding a left-handed power bat to the middle of their lineup. They also want to acquire a veteran starting pitcher, something they try to do every offseason, to provide bulk innings, mentorship and leadership for their many talented young pitchers. Several free-agent left-handed hitters who are in their prime years would help the Rays, including Cody Bellinger, Brandon Nimmo and/or Andrew Benintendi, but there are also veteran bats such as Michael Brantley who would boost their lineup and help teach their young hitters. It’s always more likely the Rays fill their needs through trades than free agency, but remember they made a significant bid for Freddie Freeman last offseason before he signed with the Dodgers, so you never know.
Needs: A starting pitcher, left field, bullpen
Free-agent targets: Jacob deGrom, RHP; Justin Verlander, RHP; Carlos Rodón, LHP; Chris Bassitt, RHP; Nathan Eovaldi, RHP; Jameson Taillon, RHP; José Quintana, LHP; Taijuan Walker, RHP; Zach Eflin, RHP; Michael Wacha, RHP; Corey Kluber, RHP; Brandon Nimmo, OF; Andrew Benintendi, OF; Cody Bellinger, OF; AJ Pollock, OF; Jurickson Profar, OF; Mitch Haniger, OF; Wil Myers, OF; Michael Conforto, OF; Taylor Rogers, LHP; Kenley Jansen, RHP; Michael Fulmer, RHP; Chris Martin, RHP; Andrew Chafin, LHP; Brad Boxberger, RHP; Adam Ottavino, RHP; Seth Lugo, RHP; Carlos Estévez, RHP; David Robertson, RHP
Trade targets: Not known
Texas has new leadership with Chris Young taking over as head of baseball operations and future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy coming out of retirement to manage the team. The Rangers are focused on trying to sign an elite starting pitcher, with an eye on Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodón. If they fail to land one of those three, they are expected to play in the second and third tiers of starting pitchers, which include Chris Bassitt, Kodai Senga, Nathan Eovaldi, Jameson Taillon, Taijuan Walker, Zach Elfin and José Quintana. They also want to upgrade in left field and improve their bullpen. The Rangers are expected to be active in trades and free agency to fill their three big needs.
Toronto Blue Jays
Needs: A starting pitcher, a left-handed-hitting outfielder, swing-and-miss relief help
Free-agent targets: Brandon Nimmo, OF; Andrew Benintendi, OF; Cody Bellinger, OF; Justin Verlander, RHP; Carlos Rodón, LHP; Ross Stripling, RHP; Nathan Eovaldi, RHP; Chris Bassitt, RHP; Jameson Taillon, RHP; José Quintana, LHP; Andrew Chafin, LHP; Brad Boxberger, RHP; Chris Martin, RHP
Trade targets: Dylan Carlson, OF; Alec Burleson, OF; Lars Nootbaar, OF; Oscar Gonzalez, OF; Scott Barlow, RHP; David Bednar, RHP; Brock Burke, RHP; Jhoan Duran, RHP; Félix Bautista, RHP; Alexis Díaz, RHP; Alex Lange, RHP; Joe Jiménez, RHP; Trevor Stephan, RHP; James Karinchak, RHP; Camilo Doval, RHP
The Blue Jays’ goals entering the offseason were to add a starting pitcher, a left-handed-hitting outfielder to better balance their lineup, and swing-and-miss bullpen arms. Last week they traded Teoscar Hernández to the Mariners for right-handed reliever Erik Swanson, who will significantly help their bullpen now and left-handed prospect Adam Macko, who should help their ’pen sometime in 2023 or 2024. Trading Hernández opens up an outfield spot where the Blue Jays can add a much-needed left-handed hitter, and they’ve already had discussions with Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi and Cody Bellinger. In terms of starting pitching, the Blue Jays are interested in trade and free-agent possibilities, and they’ll also continue to find ways to add more power arms to their bullpen. They are expected to trade one of their catchers – Danny Jansen, Gabriel Moreno or Alejandro Kirk — to add a left-handed-hitting outfield, more bullpen help and/or a starting pitcher.
(Top photo of Brandon Nimmo: Rich Schultz / Getty Images)
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