The 2016 Cubs knew they had some proven pieces after reaching the postseason in ’15. They added Ben Zobrist and John Lackey, who helped put them in position to go get Aroldis Chapman for an October run.
You can’t get everything you need in the offseason, but you better fill the holes you have then, or it could be a long season. Here are the biggest needs among teams chasing the Astros, along with some possible fits to get them to the Trade Deadline next July:
1. Rangers: No. 1/2 starter/closer
Pitching figures to be the most sought after commodity this offseason, with the demand for front-of-the-rotation and ninth-inning arms bigger than the supply. Texas is one of at least four ambitious clubs that need both. It’s been a while since the Rangers’ World Series in 2011-12, but ownership is determined to get back to the postseason. General manager Jon Daniels admits he needs “to remake half the staff,” and he should have some financial flexibility to do so.
2. Cubs: No. 1/2 starter/closer
The Cubs are in better position than the Rangers because they already have Jon Lester and Jose Quintana behind unstated ace Kyle Hendricks, who has a 2.94 ERA over 590 career innings. They badly need bullpen depth, as well as a closer to replace Wade Davis, who tops of this year’s closer market.
3. Red Sox: First baseman who hits for power
Despite a long lineup that includes Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez and Andrew Benintendi, Boston was last in the AL in home runs. The situation could be worse in 2018, as Dustin Pedroia is likely to miss the start of the season after surgery on his left knee.
4. Indians: First baseman or designated hitter
Re-signing Carlos Santana seems the obvious choice, but he’s in broad demand and Cleveland spent heavily last winter to grab Edwin Encarnacion, who can play first but presents a backward step defensively.
Viable solution: Sign the underrated Mitch Moreland, who remains a solid two-way player at first base.
5. Cardinals: Closer/No. 3 starter
Despite talk about Martinez or another big bat, the emergence of Paul DeJong and Tommy Pham put the offseason focus back where it should be, on the staff. The struggles of Trevor Rosenthal and Seung Hwan Oh in 2017 make it imperative to add a proven closer, and the rotation needs a veteran to replace Lance Lynn.
Viable solution: Sign Davis to close and starter Alex Cobb.
6. Orioles: Two starting pitchers
Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are a good start on a strong rotation, but Baltimore is losing Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman and Wade Miley, who together made 86 starts last season. There’s financial flexibility to chase proven free agents, but this traditionally hasn’t been a team that relied heavily on that avenue.
7. Mariners: Center fielder
Give Jerry Dipoto for being one of the few general managers to have already filled a hole with last week’s trade for first baseman Ryon Healy. That was a low-cost move, so this can be a more aggressive addition.
Viable solution: Lorenzo Cain. He may not be Jarrod Dyson defensively, but he’s a pro’s pro who can still handle center. Cain has been worth 20.5 fWAR the last five years, which ranks 22nd among position players. He’d fit perfectly behind previous free-agent signings Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz to try to wring some more fun out of the Felix Hernandez era.
8. Twins: Closer/starting pitcher
There’s a lot to like about the position-player inventory, with the clear challenge being to build a pitching staff that can support it. The payroll is probably going to have to go up to get an immediate infusion, but back-loaded deals could work, as Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier are in the last season of their contracts.
Viable solution: Sign Greg Holland and Tyler Chatwood. It would be great to add a starter who is more of a known quantity, but Chatwood seems ready to thrive moving away from Coors Field and would present an opportunity for new pitching coach Garvin Alston and the organization’s pitching infrastructure.
9. Diamondbacks: Right fielder with power
There’s probably no hanging on to Martinez, who homered his way to the top of this free-agent class. But the market presents a way to add a slugger who may outperform him in 2018.
Viable solution: Sign Carlos Gonzalez. He’s been something of an enigma the last few years but closed 2017 with a roar (.325, 8 homers, 31 RBIs and a .990 OPS in his last 50 games), no doubt benefitting from the excitement of a playoff race. Jay Bruce is also an option, but taking a flier on Gonzalez could pay off big.
10. Angels: No. 1 and 2 starters
Billy Eppler is forced to try to pull off the ultimate offseason Hail Mary. It’s unrealistic to think he can fill those needs, but maybe he can hit a home run with one signing.
Viable solution: Sign Shohei Ohtani (maybe he’s always wanted to play with Mike Trout?) and Zack Cozart. Might as well strength the lineup and hope for big things from young starters Parker Bridwell, Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney.
Bonus: Dodgers: Bullpen depth in front of Kenley Jansen
Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson, who were key pieces of manager Dave Roberts’ bullpen, are free agents, and the rotation is likely to get younger with Walker Buehler arriving at some point during the 2018 season.
Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.