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December 7, 2012

Overthinking It

Teams That Still Have Holes to Fill

by Ben Lindbergh

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Although this year’s Baseball Winter Meetings were regarded as relatively slow, only seven teams checked out of the Opryland without making some sort of move. While Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton remain at large and Angel Pagan was the highest-ranked free agent removed from the market, many clubs found ways to fill holes during the four-day event. But even though the most eventful week of the winter is over, it’s still fairly early in the offseason, and a number of teams left Nashville with help wanted at one or more positions. Here are six winning teams from 2012 that will have to plug holes before Opening Day to return to contention in 2013:

Oakland Athletics, Shortstop: As of today, Oakland’s shortstop depth chart is topped by 29-year-old Adam Rosales, a career .241 TAv hitter without a great glove. The A’s have been open about their desire to upgrade at the position, with Stephen Drew and Hiroyuki Nakajima named by Billy Beane as their top free-agent targets. Drew declined to exercise a $10 million mutual option that would have kept him in Oakland through 2013, but he and the team continue to discuss another deal.  The A’s aren’t depending on Drew: the team reportedly engaged in trade talks for Yunel Escobar and Asdrubal Cabrera in Nashville and could go after Jhonny Peralta if Drew departs. While the outcome is no clearer than it was a week ago, A’s director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the team was able to “lay some groundwork” that could lead to a solution later this winter.

Chicago White Sox, Catcher: The White Sox filled a hole at third base on Wednesday when they inked Jeff Keppinger to a three-year contract, but they weren’t able to settle their backstop situation. When the Sox acquired catcher Tyler Flowers in the Braves’ 2008 trade for Javier Vazquez, they thought they’d found the successor to A.J. Pierzynski, a conviction that was strengthened by Flowers’ .297/.423/.516 line across two minor-league levels in 2009. But Flowers took steps back both at the plate and behind it in 2010, and rather than hand him the starting job the following season, the Sox brought back Pierzynski on a two-year deal. Now Pierzynski is on the open market again, and after hitting a career-high 27 home runs last season, he may command too much money for the Sox to re-sign him. Rick Hahn says he wouldn’t worry about heading into the season with Flowers as the starter, but the GM can’t be completely comfortable with a catcher who owns a career K rate as high as Mark Reynolds’ the year Reynolds set the single-season strikeout record.

Tampa Bay Rays, Outfield and DH: The Rays spent their stay in Nashville trading for Yunel Escobar and signing James Loney, giving them a productive shortstop and, well, a person who plays first base. They could still use a big bat at DH or in right field and might surrender surplus pitching to get one, whether it belongs to Wil Myers, Billy Butler, Justin Upton, or someone who hasn’t already been tied to Tampa Bay in talks. Well-seasoned rookie Brandon Guyer is an in-house option at either position

Detroit Tigers, Closer: The Tigers insist they’re not interested in Rafael Soriano and are committed to closing out games with Bruce Rondon, a hard-throwing minor-league strikeout machine who’ll turn 22 on Sunday and has yet to make his major-league debut. Soriano’s agent, Scott Boras, isn’t buying it, and it’s hard to blame him. When Victor Martinez tore his ACL last January, Detroit GM Dombrowski dismissed the possibility of signing a first baseman and moving Miguel Cabrera to third, saying, “We’re not looking at that as a full-time option.” A little over a week later, Boras had persuaded Tigers owner Mike Ilitch to sign Prince Fielder to a massive multi-year deal. Boras managed the same maneuver with Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez in previous offseasons, and it’s possible that he could do the same with Soriano.

Philadelphia Phillies, Third Base and Outfield: In need of a third baseman to succeed Placido Polanco, the Phillies appear to be closing in on a deal that would replace positional placeholder Kevin Frandsen with Michael Young’s below-average bat, weak glove, and award-winning intangibles. They completed one trade on Thursday, acquiring Twins outfielder Ben Revere, but they’re not necessarily done making outfield improvements. With Revere installed in center, the Phillies could sign Cody Ross or pursue a swap for a veteran corner bat to split time with John Mayberry Jr. and Domonic Brown. And given the increased revenue from television contracts in the Phillies’ future and Ruben Amaro Jr.’s penchant for the dramatic move, it’s not completely out of the question that he could still sign Michael Bourn and shift Revere to left.

Cincinnati Reds, Left Field: This position would be filled if the Reds could convince last season’s left fielder, Ryan Ludwick, to return, but he has yet to accept the two-year offer they extended days ago. Chris Heisey is the fallback option already on the roster, though the Reds clearly view him as a part-time player. *Update: Ludwick signed with Cincinnati on Friday.* 

New York Yankees, Half a Lineup: If the season began today, the Yankees would be forced to start David Adams at third base, Chris Stewart at catcher, Eduardo Nunez at DH (assuming Derek Jeter were recovered enough to play short), and Chris Dickerson in right field, with barely any bench. That group wouldn’t look much like Yankees lineups of yore, but the Steinbrenner family’s newfound financial responsibility doesn’t permit much multi-year splurging. Aside from announcing another injury to Alex Rodriguez and watching their free-agent options dwindle, the Yankees were inactive at the Winter Meetings. They reportedly have interest in Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, and Jack Hannahan and could bring back Ichiro Suzuki and/or Raul Ibanez, but with almost as many question marks as sure things dotting their depth chart, it’s getting late early for them this offseason.

Other needs: Miami Marlins: 3B; Houston Astros: DH; Cleveland Indians: 1B/LF/DH; New York Mets: OF; Royals, SP

Jason Martinez provided research assistance for this story.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

15 comments have been left for this article.

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