Jayson Werth went off the board. Then Carl Crawford. Finally, mercifully, Cliff Lee signed, too. In all likelihood, the biggest contracts of the 2010-2011 offseason have been ratified, analyzed and celebrated.
But don’t think for a moment that the general managers, agents and Sous-Chefs of the Hot Stove (like us) have checked out for the holidays. Most teams, even the good ones, have unrequited Christmas wishes.
With two shopping months left before the start of spring training, here are the 10 most glaring needs for contending clubs:
No. 2 starter for the New York Yankees
What, you thought I would begin with the Mariners’ utility man derby? The Yankees didn’t get Cliff Lee, so no one knows who will ride shotgun with CC Sabathia. Carl Pavano, the next-best option among free agents, isn’t welcome in the Yankee Kingdom. Zack Greinke is a great talent but bad fit for the New York market. Andy Pettitte may come back, but he’s not a 200-inning stalwart anymore. The Yankees are in a quandary, and the holidays are happy in New England.
Third baseman for the Los Angeles Angels
Crawford was a perfect fit for the Angels, and they bungled it. The how-and-why isn’t too important right now. The fact remains that the Angels are starving for an impact bat. Third base is a logical spot, with Adrian Beltre the most obvious candidate. The problem: Scott Boras, Beltre’s agent, is aware of the Angels’ predicament. Beltre is said to prefer a West Coast destination, and Boras will probably see to it that he gets a handsome payday to do exactly what he wants.
No. 1 starter for the Texas Rangers
Remember: The Yankees weren’t the only team that lost on Lee. C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis starred for the Rangers at different times this year, but neither is an established ace. Texas must fortify its rotation – at the top – in order to reach the postseason for a second straight year. Greinke, Matt Garza and Fausto Carmona are viable candidates via trade.
No. 1 starter for the Minnesota Twins
Yes, the Twins need a No. 1 – not a No. 2. The Twins have a 12-game postseason losing streak, dating back to 2004, because they lack the power arms necessary to win in October. Pavano is worthy of starting in the postseason, and the Twins may indeed retain him. But if they do, they can’t describe it as an upgrade. They were absent from the Lee pursuit, but there’s no reason for them to stand by while Greinke, Garza and Carmona are out there.
No. 3 starter for the Milwaukee Brewers
Yovani Gallardo is a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter, and Shaun Marcum should thrive in the National League. But the Brewers’ rotation remains soft in the middle, and that must be addressed if Milwaukee is to compete with pitching-rich Cincinnati in the NL Central. It might be asking too much of the farm system to swing another big trade, so general manager Doug Melvin needs to gamble on the right bounce-back free agent.
Setup man for the Yankees
Kerry Wood was the Yankees’ best reliever in 2010 not named Rivera. Now that Wood is close to rejoining the Cubs, it’s obvious that Brian Cashman’s pitching concerns go beyond the rotation. The Yankees must add at least two experienced late-inning relievers, perhaps one of them a left-hander. Rafael Soriano is the biggest arm left on the free-agent market, but he’s looking to be a closer. And that’s one thing the Yankees don’t need.
Setup man for the Boston Red Sox
As you probably heard, the lineup looks pretty good. The rotation should be fine, too, as long as Josh Beckett and John Lackey pitch closer to their career norms. But getting the ball to Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon remains a concern. Matt Guerrier was a Boston target before he agreed to a contract with the Dodgers, and other relievers are falling off the board by the day. Signing the right reliever isn’t as flashy as landing Carl Crawford or Adrian Gonzalez. But this is the time to do it.
Leadoff batter for the Chicago Cubs
The Cubs scored only 81 runs from the leadoff spot this year, worst in the National League. A higher on-base percentage would help. So would more speed. But the Cubs haven’t found that player yet. Mike Quade has the same unappealing choices that he had at the end of the 2010 season: Kosuke Fukudome, Blake DeWitt, Jeff Baker and maybe Tyler Colvin. Carlos Pena should have a nice season on the North Side, but only if he comes to bat with runners on base. Don’t you miss those Brian Roberts rumors?
Right fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies
We interrupt the (very appropriate) discussion of the Phillies’ historic rotation to remind you of the following: Philadelphia batted .216 in the National League Championship Series. No matter how well you pitch, it’s hard to win when you hit .216. So, it would probably be a good idea for the Phillies to replace Jayson Werth with something more impactful than a platoon of Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown.
First baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays aren’t going to go from first to worst. They have one of the best managers in the game, and their rotation remains formidable. But someone other than Evan Longoria will need to score and produce runs, now that Crawford and Pena are gone. First base is a natural station for that sort of individual, although it’s doubtful that the cost-cutting Rays are prepared to spend lavishly on the position. And after Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee, what’s left of the free-agent class isn’t too exciting.