By Cliff Corcoran
The Hot Stove may still be preheating thanks to the Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes leaving the door open for several teams to land one of these big-time talents, but that just gives everyone more time to size up the market. To that end, here's a look at the most pressing need of each of this past season's 10 playoff teams.
Minnesota Twins: Pitching
The Twins reached the playoffs in 2017 thanks to a coalescing young lineup and a bit of luck, despite the performances of their pitchers. In the 104 games not started by Ervin Santana or Jose Berrios this past season, the remaining Twins starters posted a 5.57 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. The bullpen was better only by comparison. Minnesota's relievers ranked 22nd in the Majors with a 4.40 ERA in 2017, and that was with 105 2/3 innings of a 3.49 ERA from veteran "closers" Brandon Kintzler and Matt Belisle, the first of whom was sent to Washington at the Trade Deadline and the latter of whom is now a free agent.
Well aware of this weakness, as well as their opportunity to break away from the pack in the American League, the Twins have opened this offseason in dogged pursuit of pitching upgrades. General manager Thad Levine told MLB Network Radio on Sunday that the Twins are having "active conversations" with the agents of starters Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, as well as multiple relievers. Other reports say the Twins have also reached out to other teams about possible trades for Jake Odorizzi, Gerrit Cole, Brad Hand, Alex Colome and Raisel Iglesias. Much of that is just the team doing due diligence and feeling out the market, but Levine described both Darvish and Ohtani as priorities for Minnesota. Either would be a tremendous upgrade.
Colorado Rockies: Relief pitching
Although a look at the Deserved Run Averages of Colorado's starting pitchers is likely to ruin a Rockies fan's day, the team does have youth and depth in the rotation. It lacks in the bullpen now that three of the Rockies' four best relievers from this past season -- closer Greg Holland, Deadline addition Pat Neshek and lefty Jake McGee -- have reached free agency. As much as the overflow in their rotation might be able to contribute out of the bullpen, the collapse potential from the starters suggests that the rotation may consume the team's pitching depth itself, leaving the bullpen to fend for itself. More than simply adding another All-Star closer, the Rockies need to add depth in the 'pen.
As with the Twins, the Rockies are well aware of this soft spot on the roster and will explore all options, including a potential reunion with Holland. However, unlike Minnesota, they haven't taken up much space in the rumor mill thus far, generating only a soft note of interest in Kintzler.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Catcher
As fun as it would be to see what J.D. Martinez could do in Arizona over a full season, the team is unlikely to have the payroll flexibility required to retain its Deadline addition. That leaves a huge hole in right field, but the D-backs do have warm bodies to fill it, even if none of them generate the kind of heat Martinez can. The outfield and bullpen are reportedly the front office's focus, but a more efficient use of their limited funds would be to upgrade behind the plate. Per Baseball-Reference's bWAR, Arizona's catchers were 1.2 wins below replacement in 2017, and that was with a positive 1.8 win contribution from Chris Iannetta, who is now a free agent.
Among the best catchers on the market is not only Iannetta, but also 2016 D-backs backstop Welington Castillo, whom the new front office non-tendered last December. Castillo didn't have much success as a pitch-framer for Arizona two years ago, but he was far better with the Orioles last year while also having a career year at the plate. Castillo is four years younger than Iannetta and a year younger than Jonathan Lucroy, who will likely be more expensive. A reunion would make a lot of sense for the D-backs, but given last year's non-tender, it seems unlikely for now.
Boston Red Sox: First base
No one expected Mitch Moreland to replace David Ortiz's bat in the Red Sox lineup. Still, it was a shock to see the Red Sox finish last in the American League in home runs in 2017. Only the Braves, Pirates and Giants hit fewer round-trippers than Boston this past season. Rafael Devers, who homered twice in the Division Series in addition to his 10 regular-season taters, will help correct that to some degree in the coming season. However, with Moreland a free agent again, adding a big bat at first base or designated hitter would go a long way toward restoring the Red Sox to their customary position as one of the most powerful lineups in the AL.
Boston doesn't appear to be a likely destination for Stanton or Ohtani, but it could pursue Martinez as a DH or try to swing another trade with the White Sox, this time for Jose Abreu. The Red Sox have also reportedly had meetings with the agents for Carlos Santana and Logan Morrison. The top free-agent first baseman on the market, 28-year-old Eric Hosmer, isn't quit the power threat of some of those already mentioned, but he is the best all-around athlete of the bunch and has hit .354/.404/.485 in 109 career plate appearances at Fenway Park.
Washington Nationals: Catcher
The D-backs need a catcher because their only good one from this past season, Iannetta, is a free agent. The Nationals need a catcher because they didn't have a good one this past season. As a group, the Washington backstops were last in the Majors with a -3.6 bWAR. Free-agent addition Matt Wieters had his worst Major League season on both sides of the ball, and what little opportunity his backups had was wasted. Wieters picked up his $10.5-million player option earlier this month and is likely to rebound a bit. However, for a team hoping to cap Bryce Harper's walk year with a championship, the Nats need to think of Wieters as something between a sunk cost and an overqualified backup.
Per a mid-November report in the Washington Post, the Nats are halfway to this conclusion, intending to reduce Wieters' workload, and showing interest in trading for the Marlins' J.T. Realmuto, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter. Even if they can't pry Realmuto from the rebuilding Marlins, there are readily available upgrades on the free-agent market in Lucroy, Castillo and Iannetta, giving the Nats no excuse should they fail to upgrade their starting catcher this offseason.
Cleveland Indians: First base
This one is pretty straightforward. Carlos Santana is a free agent, and Cleveland has no clear in-house replacement for him. A reunion seems obvious, but the free-agent market for first basemen is deep this offseason, and, as a result, so is the list of teams in need of help at the position and thus interested in Santana. Hosmer, Morrison, Moreland, Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda, Mark Reynolds, Adam Lind and ex-Indian Mike Napoli are the other top names out here, but first base can also be a landing spot for big sluggers who lack defensive prowess, such as Jay Bruce or Neil Walker. The Indians haven't tipped their hand yet, though one thing that seems safe to assume is that they won't swing an in-division deal for Abreu.
Chicago Cubs: Starting pitching
The mid-July acquisition of Jose Quintana was a proactive move by the Cubs to bring in a quality starting pitcher under contract for three more seasons (via club options for 2019 and '20) in advance of the current free agencies of Arrieta and John Lackey. However, even with Quintana, the Cubs' rotation is at best four deep, and that would be with lefty reliever Mike Montgomery taking another stab at the transition back to starting. With Quintana, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks up top, the Cubs don't need to go after big-money pitchers, but given their title aspirations, they could easily justify the investment, provided they also add an innings-eater or two for depth.
Already there have been reports of mutual interest between the Cubs and righty Cobb, who pitched under Cubs manager Joe Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey with the Rays. Cobb would arrive as a mid-rotation arm with upside heading into his second full season since May 2015 Tommy John surgery. The Cubs have also spoken with Lynn's agent. Those two would fit the bill perfectly for Chicago, but there will be competition for their services.
New York Yankees: Starting pitching (and manager)
Much like the Cubs, the Yankees made a proactive rotation addition at the Deadline, in their case by adding Sonny Gray, who has two team-controlled years remaining. They still enter the offseason with their rotation left short by free agency. CC Sabathia, Deadline addition Jaime Garcia and Michael Pineda (who had Tommy John surgery in July) have all hit the open market. A reunion with Sabathia is something in which both sides have interest, but the Yankees may hold off on making any rotation moves until Ohtani makes his decision. The Yankees are widely regarded as the favorites to land the Japanese two-way stud, and adding him would change their rotation.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Relief pitching
As I detailed in the wake of their World Series defeat, the Dodgers don't have all that much work to do coming off a 104-win season which ended in Game 7 of the World Series. They're losing Darvish to free agency, but they have the rotation depth to survive that. That's less true for the bullpen, from which Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson have become free agents. L.A. has reportedly shown some interest in trading for Zach Britton's walk year, but they could just as easily find what they want on the free-agent market, with a reunion with Morrow among these possibilities.
Houston Astros: Relief pitching
The Astros got the starting pitcher they needed in their buzzer-beating wavier trade for Justin Verlander. They now have depth to spare in the rotation, which could help populate the bullpen, as was the case in their championship run in October. However, another experienced high-leverage arm or two would be preferable to a full season of A.J. Hinch's Casey Stengel impression from this past postseason. There are plenty of relief arms out there for the Astros to court, and given incumbent closer Ken Giles' postseason struggles and the team's lack of other high-end needs, it's not outlandish to think that Houston's interest may go all the way to top of the free-agent class.
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Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.