Each week our writers go round the table to give their thoughts on the biggest stories or questions in baseball.
What team has the biggest needs to fill to be a contender once again in 2016?
Isaac Marks- Baltimore Orioles:
The Orioles are at a crossroads. They have some young cornerstones in Manny Machado, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy and All-Star veterans like Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, but that’s not enough to contend. JJ Hardy is a decent shortstop, Jonathan Schoop is a young second baseman with some pop and recent acquisitions Mark Trumbo and Hyun-soo Kim fill in the outfield corners around Jones. There’s still the shadow of Chris Davis hanging over first base and his output and presence hasn’t been filled. He’s still available, but Trumbo can play first and someone cheaper could be signed to play the outfield.
Even without Chris Davis, Baltimore’s lineup is solid. The real problem is pitching. “Top” starters Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez both took a step back in 2015. Ubaldo Jimenez is one of the most inconsistent starters in the game and still living off that fantastic half-season for the Rockies in 2010 (not bitter). Gausman and Bundy are very talented power arms, but you can’t rely on unknowns if you want a ring. There’s no clear head of the rotation, no go-to guy for a play-in game, no ace. With most of the top-tier free agent pitching gone, the Orioles will be hard-pressed to find a rotation leader unless someone turns the corner.
Fun fact: Tillman made his MLB debut in 2009 and is still only 27. I was honestly shocked by that; he still might have room to improve and it feels like he’s been around forever. Tillman was solid in 2013 and 2014 and could recapture that form to be a facsimile of an ace until Gausman and/or Bundy figure it out, but as of right now, the Orioles feel a long ways away from contending for a World Series win.
Needs: First Base/Designated Hitter, Top Starter, Bullpen (you can never have enough bullpen arms. See: Yankees)
Patrick Brewer- Detroit Tigers:
Following a poor 2015 season, one in which the team shipped out franchise stars in Yoenis Cespedes and David Price, the Detroit Tigers are looking for a serious rebound. Just one year removed from a 74-87 finish, last place in the American League Central, the Tigers appear to be pushing all there chips into the center of the table for one final run. While many considered the trades of Cespedes and Price to be a sign of a rebuild in the immediate future, new general manager Al Avila has taken a different path entirely. So far this offseason, the Tigers have signed an ace-like pitcher in Jordan Zimmermann, a back of the rotation arm in Mike Pelfrey, added two relief pitchers in Mark Lowe and Francisco Rodriguez, and added outfield depth with Cameron Maybin.
Despite all these moves, showing the baseball world the Tigers are serious about contending in 2016, it still feels like several things are missing. While the Tigers have seemed to fix their biggest weakness in 2015, the bullpen, with the additions of Rodriguez and Lowe, there are still several areas of need for the Tigers. Even with set players at almost every position in the field, the Tigers could add some depth or, more importantly, insurance given the injury history of several of their highest profile players, such as Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and even Cameron Maybin. As for the starting staff, a trio of Zimmermann, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez is a good start, but behind them Pelfrey, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Shane Greene come with more question marks then anything else. Add to that the injury history of Verlander and several other Tiger pitchers and the Tigers could just as easily finish last as first.
So with these holes in mind, it makes a lot of sense for the Tigers to make more moves this offseason, thereby pushing their chips further into the center of the table. Guys like Verlander, Cabrera, and Martinez aren’t getting any younger, and a weak AL Central provides a prime opportunity for the Tigers to make one last push. Signing a big bat like Yoenis Cespedes, and perhaps signing another free agent pitcher such as Ian Kennedy, may push the Tigers over the top in the AL Central, and allow them to make one last World Series push before their ticking time bomb implodes.
Adam Brown- Toronto Blue Jays:
Well the obvious answer to this would be a team that’s clearly bereft of talent and in a clear rebuilding phase. I’ll take a less literal approach to the rules and pick between teams that were over .500 last season. Factoring in the off-season, the division each team respectively plays in and likelihood in player progression/regression, the standout team that looks set for a plummet back to mediocrity is the Toronto Blue Jays.
Losing David Price, 2nd place in the Cy Young award voting, legitimate Ace and a pivotal part in their remarkable second half in the 2015 season. He’s gone. More worryingly for the Jays, he’s gone to Boston to play for the bookie’s favorite for the AL East, Red Sox. Losing approximately 6 wins via rWAR is always going to be an uphill task to overcome, especially when the replacement, in this case J.A Happ before his late season renaissance in Pittsburgh last year had a mark of 1.4 being his highest in this decade. The drop off in quality is visible, real and petrifying for the Canadian club.
Elsewhere with a rotation returning back to below average, there’s a heavy reliance on a repeat performance from Marco Estrada. Last year his 126 ERA+ was nearly 40 points higher than his 2014 mark and 13 higher than any other season in his career. He also surpassed 150 innings for the first time in the season. His .217 BABIP suggests he was the recipient of copious amounts of luck last season and is a prime regression candidate, something the Blue Jays can ill afford.
Whilst the pitching is potentially fatal to their playoff chances, the offense is stillmonstrous and should win them a lot of games. Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion and reigning MVP Josh Donaldson will still terrify pitchers andmanagers alike.
The fix for the Jays is in Wei-Yin Chen. With every meaningful free agent pitchernow off the books bar Chen and Yovani Gallardo, they have their personal choice in where to add one more arm to their rotation.
The solace for the Blue Jays is they had a Pythagorean W-L of 102-60 last year, 9 wins more than their actual total. If my projected regression takes place, the hope will be their run differential will provide a more accurate representation in W-L record.