Predicting 'Winner or Loser' for All 30 MLB Teams in Free Agency

Jason MartinezContributor ISeptember 20, 2013

Predicting 'Winner or Loser' for All 30 MLB Teams in Free Agency

0 of 30

    Losing Robinson Cano in free agency would deem the Yankees offseason  "loser."
    Losing Robinson Cano in free agency would deem the Yankees offseason "loser."Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    There are still games to be played, some very meaningful, but there's no question that front offices for all 30 teams have already started preparing their offseason game plans.

    Which free agents will they target? Which of their own free agents will they try and retain? Which players should they target in a trade, and which of their own players are expendable? How much money will be available to spend? Which of their minor league players are ready to make an impact at the big league level.

    These are all questions that will be answered in the near future before each team begins its quest to perfectly execute its offseason game plan. Some teams will succeed, and some will fail at filling their biggest needs with the players they wanted.

    With a general idea of how much teams could have to spend this offseason and which positions they'll be looking to upgrade, I've predicted whether teams will be a "loser" or "winner" this offseason based on how I think they'll utilize their resources. But this isn't an indication of predicted success or failure on the actual field.

    The Boston Red Sox had plenty of holes to fill last offseason, but a ton of payroll space after a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers took several long-term contracts off their hands.

    They took full advantage and had a "winning" offseason, followed by a division title. On the other hand, the Toronto Blue Jays had a "winning" offseason followed by an injury-plagued and mostly disappointing season. The New York Yankees had a "losing" offseason that will conclude with a winning season.  

    As we all know, the games still have to be played on the field. But that doesn't take away from how important the offseason roster moves can turn out to be. We just have to wait a long time to find out the results.  

    The 30 slides are listed in order of lowest to highest 2013 Opening Day payroll, according to USA Today. Each team's pending free agents are listed with their 2013 salary, according to Baseball Prospectus, in parentheses. Those who have a club option that is very likely to be picked up are not listed. 

Houston Astros

1 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $22,062,600
    Pending Free Agents: Erik Bedard, SP ($1.15 million)
    Offseason Needs: starting pitcher(s), relief pitchers, corner outfielder

    While the Houston Astros remain committed to building through the draft and international signings, they have a new $80 million per season TV deal that started this season, and owner Jim Crane told Molly Knight of ESPN The Magazine that the team will eventually settle into the top five or 10 payrolls in baseball. He didn't give a specific timetable, though. 

    What we do know is that even if they moved into the $40 or $50 million payroll range, which would still place them at either 29th or 30th in the league with Miami, they'd have about $25-30 million to spend on new talent. Only two players, second baseman Jose Altuve ($1.25 million salary) and catcher Jason Castro (eligible for arbitration), are projected to make over $1 million. 

    Spending money for the sake of spending money, however, is not the Astros' way of doing things. They'll continue to invest in the minor league system while adding a couple of veterans and possibly trying to lure one big name to Houston.

    With only one pending free agent, pitcher Erik Bedard, the Astros won't have to worry about retaining any of their own. The 34-year-old isn't even in the rotation anymore so he doesn't appear to be in the plans for 2014. Adding a starting pitcher to anchor a young rotation could be at the top of the priority list, however.  

    Selling a free agent on the Astros' future beyond 2014 will be necessary, so targeting one who already has a World Series ring or two, as well as a couple of Cy Young awards, could be a realistic plan. If 29-year-old Tim Lincecum (pictured), who is the lone free-agent pitcher to fit that criteria, is fine with what will likely be one more rebuilding season, he could be the perfect fit for this Astros team. 

    The bullpen will also be a priority, according to Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle, after a season in which the team has blown 15 leads after the seventh inning. The closing job in Houston might not be a preference for those used to racking up save totals, but giving a long-time setup man like Jesse Crain, who dominated for the Chicago White Sox before a shoulder injury derailed his season, a chance to close for the first time in his career could entice him.

    Prediction: WINNER  

     

    Ownership has completely bought into general manager Jeff Luhnow's plan to start from scratch and take a step back in order to take a few steps forward in the near future. The farm system has quickly risen to become one of the best in baseball, and several good young prospects will arrive in Houston over the next couple of seasons.

    They won't be overly aggressive this winter, but expect them to land a couple of free-agent targets who can help in 2014 and beyond.

     

Miami Marlins

2 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $36,341,900
    Pending Free Agents: Placido Polanco, 3B ($2.75 million), Greg Dobbs, IF/OF ($1.5 million), Matt Diaz, OF ($1.25 million), Austin Kearns, OF ($700,000), Juan Pierre, OF ($1.6 million), Chad Qualls, RP ($1.15 million)
    Offseason Needs: third baseman, second baseman, starting pitcher

    The Miami Marlins and Astros' situations have some parallels, as both have trimmed payroll down to almost nothing, while building up an impressive farm system. But unlike Houston where there is a clear leader and strong plan in place, there's no telling which direction Miami will go. Nor is it clear whether owner Jeffrey Loria or President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest will be calling the shots.

    Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reported that Loria is currently making most, if not all, of the team's baseball decisions. Regardless, the bigger question will be whether he intends to open his pocketbook back up. The poor reputation surrounding the team, especially after last offseason's blockbuster trade with Toronto, could make it challenging to convince free agents to sign there without offering top dollar.

    Despite a 100-loss pace, the only obvious holes for the Marlins are at third base, second base and possibly in the rotation if they feel it's necessary to add a veteran to help mentor a young and talented group of starters. 

    Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports thinks Miami native Danny Valencia of the Baltimore Orioles would be an appealing option for the Marlins at third base, although he could be tough to pry away after the impressive late-season run he's having (26 for last 55, including four homers, eight doubles).

    If they turn to the free-agent market, the best option could be Jhonny Peralta (pictured), who will be coming off a strong season that was marred by a P.E.D. suspension. A lineup featuring Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison and Peralta has a chance to be pretty good. 

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    The Marlins aren't likely to be at the top of any free-agent's priority list, making for a challenging offseason. Even if Loria and the Marlins went on another spending spree, there isn't enough talent on the free-agent market to turn this team into a winner by 2014.

    The best plan is to stay the course and build around their up-and-coming young talent with an eye on 2015 and beyond. Patience is necessary, though, and Loria isn't exactly known for his patience. 

     

Tampa Bay Rays

3 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $57,895,272
    Pending Free Agents: Jose Molina, C ($1.8 million), Luke Scott, DH ($2.75 million), James Loney, 1B ($2 million), Kelly Johnson, IF/OF ($2.75 million), David DeJesus, OF ($4.25 million; $6.5 million club option for 2014), Delmon Young, OF ($750,000), Roberto Hernandez, SP ($3.25 million), Jesse Crain, RP ($4.5 million), Fernando Rodney, RP ($2.5 million), Jamey Wright, RP ($900,000)
    Offseason Needs: catcher, first baseman, relief pitcher

    Last offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays traded two major league pitchers, including former All-Star James Shields, for four minor leaguers, added a few low-cost free agents and called it a winter. I certainly wouldn't have called it a successful offseason. 

    But here they are holding on to a wild-card spot with the season winding down and Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman is looking like a genius once again. Why should we expect anything else other than a seemingly underwhelming winter followed by a successful season on the field? I'm done questioning this team. 

    Working with a limited payroll once again, Friedman will have to plug holes at catcher, first base and possibly add another bat to the mix if David DeJesus' $6.5 million club option isn't exercised.

    James Loney (pictured) won't be a bargain again—he signed a one-year, $2 million deal before this season—after rebounding with a strong season (.776 OPS, 12 HR, 68 RBI), so they'll have to decide if the first baseman is worth the long-term investment it will cost this time around.

    The pitching staff is deep and should be able to replace veteran free-agents-to-be Roberto Hernandez and Fernando Rodney from within. The only question might be whether the team's next closer, if Rodney isn't re-signed, is currently with the organization.  

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    The benefit of having a strong farm system is that there is always a wave of inexpensive talent on the way ready to plug holes when necessary. This will continue to be the case in the pitching staff with Triple-A starters Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome, if his current elbow injury isn't serious, likely to be in the mix for rotation spots in 2014 and several other young relievers on the rise. 

    Without many hitting prospects ready to contribute, though, Friedman will, once again, be on the lookout for a couple of bats to plug in for another year or two. If not Loney, expect him to sign the 2014 version of James Loney—a bounce-back candidate who could be had at a discount. First baseman Michael Morse and catcher Carlos Ruiz come to mind as possible fits.

     

     

Oakland Athletics

4 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $60,664,500
    Pending Free Agents: Kurt Suzuki, C ($6.45 million; $8.5 million club option for 2014), Chris Young, OF ($8.5 million; $11 million club option for 2014), Bartolo Colon, SP ($3 million), Grant Balfour, RP ($4.5 million)
    Offseason Needs: starting pitcher, relief pitcher

    One of the best teams in baseball over the last year-and-a-half, the Oakland A's have done a terrific job of building through trades and the occasional free-agent splash. With only two impact players, starting pitcher Bartolo Colon and closer Grant Balfour, headed for free agency and a young core of talent in place, they're in a strong position to maintain their place as a top contender in 2014.

    Colon has been the team's most consistent starter over the past two seasons, but he'll be 41 next May and becomes a riskier signing if his price goes up, as would be expected after such a strong season (16-6, 2.73 ERA). A healthy Brett Anderson and a full season of Sonny Gray should be enough to keep starting pitching lower on the offseason priority list.

    Offensively, right-handed hitting outfielder Chris Young will become a free agent, and top prospect Michael Choice should step right into his place as the team's fourth outfielder with a chance to push right fielder Josh Reddick for regular playing time.      

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    General manager Billy Beane is in a position where he could sit back, do absolutely nothing and the A's would still have one of the best 25-man rosters in the league. Expect him to make some moves, though, with the re-signing of Grant Balfour, who has 38 saves in 40 chances, a possibility and the addition of one other late-inning relief pitcher a priority if Balfour departs. Adding a low-cost veteran starter for rotation depth is also likely.

    Even without a boost in payroll, expect Beane to fill these two spots with solid pitchers who will end up having great value.

San Diego Padres

5 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $67,143,600
    Pending Free Agents: Ronny Cedeño, SS ($718,000), Mark Kotsay, 1B/OF ($1.25 million), Jason Marquis, SP ($3 million)
    Offseason Needs: starting pitcher 

    The San Diego Padres have put together a solid roster, filled with young, controllable talent and very little holes to fill this winter. But while injuries have been partly to blame for their lack of success on the field the past couple of seasons, they probably aren't talented enough to be playoff contenders just yet, and the farm system isn't quite ready to produce another impact player.

    So if they are to improve, general manager Josh Byrnes will have to be creative in the trade market, or the team's new ownership group will have to provide him with the financial resources to pursue a top free agent.  

    If Byrnes can rid the team of some salary by trading the injury-prone Carlos Quentin, who is probably a much better fit as a designated hitter in the American League because of ongoing problems with his knees, they could go after a more reliable outfield option such as Shin-Soo Choo or Hunter Pence, although they'd likely fall short in a bid against several big-market teams.

    The rotation has a chance to be very good with Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross leading the way, and lefty Cory Luebke coming back from Tommy John surgery. Adding a front-line starter this offseason, however, could make them a force to be reckoned with. 

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    With money tied up in Quentin and center fielder Cameron Maybin, who has also missed most of the season due to an injury, the Padres' payroll might not be as flexible as they'd need it to be in order to make a big splash in free agency. They have plenty of mid-level talent to fill holes, but lack the financial means to add top-level talent that could push them into contention next season. 

    They still have the selling point of a very pitcher-friendly ballpark for free-agent pitchers, which could give them an edge in pursuing one of the top free-agent starters like Ubaldo Jimenez (pictured), but it probably won't be enough to lure him to San Diego at a lesser price than other teams are willing to pay him.

Colorado Rockies

6 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $71,924,071
    Pending Free Agents: Yorvit Torrealba, C ($1 million), Todd Helton, 1B ($5 million), Roy Oswalt, SP ($2.3 million), Matt Belisle, RP ($4.1 million; $4.25 million mutual option for 2014), Rafael Betancourt, RP ($4.25 million; $4.25 million mutual option for 2014), Jeff Francis, RP/SP ($1.5 million)
    Offseason Needs: starting pitcher(s), relief pitcher(s), first baseman/corner outfielder

    After another disappointing season, the Colorado Rockies will be searching for answers on how to improve a team with two star hitters, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, who have had a hard time staying healthy for an entire season and a pitching staff that has struggled to find consistency in the back of their rotation.

    Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Tyler Chatwood give the team a solid front three, but it wasn't enough. Finding one more reliable starter this winter has to be a priority, although free agency isn't the best route for the Rockies, considering that any pitcher with more than one option will always choose the one that isn't in Colorado, one of the hitter-friendliest ballparks in baseball. 

    One interesting option could be Ubaldo Jimenez, who had some of his best seasons as a Rockie, and there could be less concern on either side because of the 29-year-old's previous success there (3.67 ERA in 419.2 career IP at Coors Field).  

    In addition to adding to the rotation, they'll need to decide if their in-house options will be adequate to cover for the losses of first baseman Todd Helton (pictured), who is retiring, and free agent-to-be closer Rafael Betancourt, who will miss the season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

    Moving Michael Cuddyer to first base and opening the right-field competition to Charlie Blackmon (.749 OPS through 72 games) and Corey Dickerson (.802 OPS through 60 games) is one option, although it's possible they could bring in another veteran to compete for the job.

    Rex Brothers appears to have a firm hold on the closer's gig with a 1.74 ERA and 17 saves in 19 chances on the season but adding an upgrade over setup men Matt Belisle and Wilton Lopez, who have each been disappointing in 2013, could be a priority unless they believe that Adam Ottavino (2.81 ERA) can handle the high-leverage role. 

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    The Rockies need pitching, and they're unlikely to lure much talent to pitch at Coors Field, which means that general manager Dan O'Dowd will have to trade away talent off of his 25-man roster or the farm system to get the starting pitcher they desperately need. 

     

Seattle Mariners

7 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $72,031,143
    Pending Free Agents: Henry Blanco, C ($750,000), Humberto Quintero, C ($900,000), Kendrys Morales, 1B ($5.25 million), Endy Chavez, OF ($?), Franklin Gutierrez, OF ($7 million; $7.5 million club option for 2014), Raul Ibañez, OF ($2.75 million), Joe Saunders, SP ($6.5 million, $TBD mutual option for 2014), Oliver Perez, RP ($1.5 million)
    Offseason Needs: designated hitter, outfielder(s), starting pitcher 

    The Seattle Mariners came into the season with high hopes after adding a slew of solid veteran hitters, including Kendrys Morales (pictured) and Raul Ibañez, to balance out a young lineup. It hasn't worked out according to plan, though, as the team is on pace for a 90-loss season.

    Morales and Ibañez have been the team's most productive hitters and could be brought back, although both are better fits at the designated hitter spot, so it's more likely that they aim to bring back just one with an eye on one of the top free-agent outfielders. 

    While the rotation has the potential to be very good with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma leading the way, they'll need top prospect Taijuan Walker's first full season in the majors to go smoothly and Danny Hultzen to stay healthy. Regardless, they could use one more veteran starter and should look to do better than Joe Saunders, who has a 5.16 ERA in 31 starts.

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    For years, the Mariners were considered to have some of the best young talent in the game closing in on the majors. The ones who have arrived haven't made a major impact, though, which is a big reason why the team has struggled over the last few seasons.

    Adding an impact hitter like Jacoby Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran and a starting pitcher like Washington native Tim Lincecum could give them the spark necessary to turn them into playoff contenders. And they've reportedly been in the mix for some of the top free agents over the past couple seasons before having fallen short.

    Don't be surprised if they're connected with some big names, once again, this winter. But until they can show the ability to outbid big-market teams for the best free agents, it won't be a surprise to see them come up empty-handed.  

     

New York Mets

8 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $73,396,649
    Pending Free Agents: Aaron Harang, SP ($7 million), Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP ($1.5 million), Johan Santana, ($25.5 million; $25 million club option for 2014), David Aardsma, RP ($?), Tim Byrdak, RP ($?), Pedro Feliciano, RP ($1 million), Frank Francisco, RP ($6.5 million), LaTroy Hawkins, RP ($1 million)
    Offseason Needs: outfielders, starting pitcher, relief pitcher(s)

    Finally free of the massive salaries that Jason Bay and Johan Santana were pulling in for years, the New York Mets should have one of their most active winters in some time. The clear priority had appeared to be the outfield, but Matt Harvey’s elbow injury, which will likely require Tommy John surgery, now has starting pitching a close second. 

    Juan Lagares has some promise, but it’s hard to pencil in any outfielders currently in the organization into starting spots for next season. Expect Sandy Alderson to leave no stone unturned in his search, which is expected to include the deep group of outfield talent on the free-agent market.

    While there are five pretty good starters whom the Mets can pencil into the 2014 rotation—Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia and prospect Rafael Montero—they’ll need to add some depth. There will be plenty of mid-rotation veterans to choose from, including Jason Hammel, Scott Kazmir and Jason Vargas, who would allow the Mets to keep Montero in Triple-A to start the season and possibly shift Mejia to a bullpen role.

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    Alderson isn’t the kind of general manager who will spend money just because he has it. But expect him to land one of the top free-agent outfielders from a group that includes Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo (pictured), Nelson Cruz and Hunter Pence, along with taking a good share of calculated risks in order to help fill out the pitching staff. 

Minnesota Twins

9 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $75,802,500
    Pending Free Agents: Mike Pelfrey, SP ($4 million)
    Offseason Needs: starting pitcher(s), first baseman, outfielder

    Trading away Justin Morneau in August ensured that the Minnesota Twins would only have one player, starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey (pictured), headed for free agency this winter. The 29-year-old, who appeared to be getting stronger as the season went along (3.73 ERA in 14 starts between June and August) before getting knocked around in his last few outings, is a candidate to return. 

    Bringing Pelfrey back would help but this rotation needs at least two other starters capable of pitching near the top of the rotation or it's tough to expect a major turnaround from a team that is 21 games under .500 heading into Wednesday. Manager Ron Gardenhire recently reiterated that point in an article by MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger.

    With Morneau's $14 million salary off the books and several top hitting prospects closing in on the majors, the Twins are likely to re-invest on their pitching staff, so that young prospects Kyle Gibson, Trevor May and Alex Meyer are forced to earn their ticket to the big leagues as opposed to being rushed out of necessity.

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    Not only is pitcher-friendly Target Field a strong selling point, the Twins have two of the top prospects in the game, third baseman Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton, on the fast track to Minnesota.

    Neither is likely to make an impact in 2014 but a free-agent starter who is seeking at least a four-year deal, like former Twin Matt Garza or Ervin Santana, could see the team returning to prominence in 2015 and beyond with so much young talent closing in on the majors.   

Cleveland Indians

10 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $77,772,800
    Pending Free Agents: Kelly Shoppach, C ($1.5 million), Jason Giambi, DH ($750,000), Jason Kubel, OF ($7.5 million; $7.5 million club option), Ubaldo Jimenez, SP ($5.75 million), Scott Kazmir, SP ($1 million), Matt Albers, RP ($1.75 million), Rich Hill, RP ($1 million), Joe Smith, RP ($3.15 million)
    Offseason Needs: starting pitcher, relief pitcher, designated hitter, third baseman

    A very active winter has paid off for the "Tribe," who are just a half-game out in the wild-card race and have already clinched their first winning season since 2007. Whether they're willing to continue spending in free agency isn't clear, but it's likely that re-signing Ubaldo Jimenez (pictured), who appears to have finally turned things around after a couple of rough seasons, would be on the agenda. 

    The struggles of their left side of the infield duo, Asdrubal Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall, could also initiate the possibility of a Jhonny Peralta reunion. He could play shortstop or third base, while giving the team a much-needed right-handed power bat in the lineup.  

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    Jimenez's return to form ensures he'll void his $8 million club option—his contract stipulates that he would earn that right should he be traded; he was traded from Colorado to Cleveland in July 2011—and also makes it likely that several big-market teams will be in the mix for his services. 

    With so much money tied in the offense—there is nearly $46 million guaranteed in 2014 to five hitters—they might not be able to compete for any of the top starting pitchers without a big boost in payroll. They have a solid group of starters in Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McCallister and Danny Salazar, although top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer is having an up-and-down season in Triple-A.

    Re-signing lefty Scott Kazmir, who is having a solid comeback season, might be the more realistic possibility and that won't be enough to propel the Indians to the next level.

Pittsburgh Pirates

11 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $79,555,000
    Pending Free Agents: John Buck, C ($6 million), Justin Morneau, 1B ($14 million), Clint Barmes, SS ($5.5 million), Marlon Byrd, OF ($700,000), Jeff Karstens, SP ($2.5 million), Kyle Farnsworth, RP ($1.25 million)
    Offseason Needs: starting pitcher, first baseman/corner outfielder, shortstop

    The Pittsburgh Pirates' front office won't have too much time to enjoy the team's most successful season since 1992. There are roster holes to fill, and they could take a $7.5 million hit on a player who may not be able to contribute in 2014.

    Starter Wandy Rodriguez (pictured), who has been on the disabled list since June because of a strained flexor tendon and persistent forearm pain, has a $13 million player option (Houston would have to pay $5.5 million) that he'll very likely exercise. He'll be a question mark heading into spring training, however, and the Bucs can't assume he'll be healthy moving forward. 

    Staff ace A.J. Burnett will also be a free agent, leaving a void in the rotation in front of Francisco Liriano, who is under contract for $8 million, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton. Top prospect Jameson Taillon is closing in on the majors, but midseason is a more realistic expectation. 

    If the team hopes to re-sign Burnett or another free-agent starter, along with taking on Rodriguez's salary, it could limit their ability to add another bat to the lineup. Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau, who were both acquired in August trades, are free agents, and the team could, once again, be looking for upgrades at first base and right field, as well as shortstop.

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    A boost in payroll to add a top-of-the-rotation starter and another impact bat could make them one of the most dangerous teams in baseball heading into 2014. My guess is that they won't go all out with the presence of Taillon and outfield prospect Gregory Polanco making their decision not to spend heavily on free agents much easier.

    While this decision could prove to be the right long-term move, they could have a tough time repeating their 2013 success next season without an aggressive approach to free agency.

Kansas City Royals

12 of 30

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $81,491,725
    Pending Free Agents: Carlos Peña, 1B ($2.9 million), Jamey Carroll, IF ($3.75 million; $2 million club option for 2014), Miguel Tejada, IF ($1.1 million), Bruce Chen, SP ($4.5 million), Ervin Santana, SP ($13 million)
    Offseason Needs: second baseman, outfielder, starting pitcher

    Expected to lose Ervin Santana (pictured), one of the of the top starting pitchers of 2013, to free agency, the Kansas City Royals will need to decide if they have enough in house to adequately make up for his loss.

    Prospect Yordano Ventura, who had a sparkling big league debut on Tuesday, will likely join James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie with Wade Davis, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer, Luke Hochevar and Felipe Paulino, all options to fill out the rotation. 

    The presence of another top pitching prospect, Kyle Zimmer, who could also be ready at some point in 2014, could give the team enough confidence to keep starting pitching lower on the priority list and focus on finally upgrading at the second-base spot and in the outfield.

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    The Royals might not get to the playoffs—they're 2.5 games out in the wild-card race—but they will end the season with a winning record, which is a big step up from a 90-loss season in 2012 and should give this frustrated fanbase plenty of reason to be optimistic for the future. 

    Targeting and signing veteran second baseman Omar Infante and one of the lower-cost free-agent outfielders, such as Marlon Byrd, Corey Hart or Nate McLouth, should be enough to go with the solid core of talent already in place and push the Royals into the playoffs for the first time since 1985. 

     

     

Milwaukee Brewers

13 of 30

    Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $82,976,944
    Pending Free Agents: Corey Hart, 1B/OF ($10 million), Yuniesky Betancourt, IF ($900,000), Mike Gonzalez, RP ($2.25 million)
    Offseason Needs: starting pitcher, first baseman

    The Milwaukee Brewers have the ability to pencil in decent major leaguers in each of the 25-man roster spots. But that doesn’t mean they’re in particularly strong position heading into the offseason. On the contrary, they’re in a very difficult position of not knowing what to expect from too many of their players, young and old.

    Superstar Ryan Braun will be returning from a PED suspension. Aramis Ramirez is approaching his mid-30s and can no longer play every day on a pair of bad knees. Rickie Weeks has slumped for long periods of time in each of the last two seasons.

    And while the starting rotation has been very good in the second half, they aren’t the most trustworthy group. Only Kyle Lohse was consistently good for the first three months of the season, while staff ace Yovani Gallardo had an ERA close to 5.00. 

    While it’s not expected that Milwaukee would be a major player in free agency, adding one more reliable starter and one more solid middle-of-the-order bat to the group would go a long way in turning this team around. 

    The good news is that first baseman Corey Hart (pictured) would like to stay with the team and would do so at a reduced price, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. But he’ll be coming back after missing the entire 2013 season with surgeries on both knees, which would just add to the uncertainty of next season.

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    Bronson Arroyo is the model of consistency, even more so than Lohse, and would be an excellent fit for this team. He’d be a good fit for a lot of teams, though, and the current state of the Brewers might not be the preferred destination for a pitcher that will be 37 at the start of next season.

Arizona Diamondbacks

14 of 30

    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $89,100,500
    Pending Free Agents: Wil Nieves, C ($800,000), Eric Chavez, 3B/1B ($3 million), Willie Bloomquist, IF/OF ($1.9 million) 
    Offseason Needs: third baseman/corner outfielder, relief pitcher

    General manager Kevin Towers made some questionable moves last offseason, but it was the critics who appeared to be wrong after a strong start by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    But a few months later, the blockbuster trade that sent Justin Upton to Atlanta has not turned out well in their favor, and the team has since faded from playoff contention and will reportedly seek to add a power bat in the winter, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic

    The overall roster is in good shape, with several young prospects nearly ready to contribute, giving Towers some trade ammunition—he has prospect depth to trade or to fill roster spots, so he can trade a veteran or two—to seek a power-hitting third baseman or corner outfielder.

    While the preferred route would probably be free agency, he’s unlikely to find his bat in a weak third-base market. Expect Martin Prado to remain at the hot corner with Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson (pictured) possibilities to fill a corner outfield spot.

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    The D’backs have several million dollars tied up in unreliable relievers, including Heath Bell (due $5 million in 2014), David Hernandez (due $2 million in 2014) and J.J. Putz (due $7 million in 2014), and their current closer is due for a raise on his $3.15 million salary in arbitration. It’s hard to expect a flexible payroll situation when they could have close to $20 million invested in four relief pitchers.

Atlanta Braves

15 of 30

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $89,778,192
    Pending Free Agents: Brian McCann, C ($12 million), Freddy Garcia, SP/RP ($1.3 million), Tim Hudson, SP ($9 million), Paul Maholm, SP ($6.5 million), Luis Ayala, RP ($1 million), Scott Downs, RP ($5 million), Kameron Loe, RP ($1.05 million), Eric O'Flaherty, RP ($4.32 million)
    Offseason Needs: catcher

    The majority of the roster will remain intact in 2014 for an Atlanta Braves team that has already reached 90 wins and is closing in on a division title. This could be a very different team next season, however, if All-Star catcher Brian McCann (pictured) signs elsewhere.

    With several big-market teams, including the Red Sox and Texas Rangers, likely to pursue a catcher, McCann’s chances of remaining a Brave appear slim. Fortunately for Atlanta, they could have a pretty good replacement in place if the power hitting Evan Gattis can become at least an adequate defensive catcher. And if not, the free-agent market is fairly deep at catcher this winter.

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    Without too many other holes to fill, Atlanta could put all their financial eggs in one basket and sign McCann, a Georgia native, to a long-term contract extension. If not, they can turn to Gattis or prospect Christian Bethancourt, one of the top defensive catchers in the minors, or look to a free-agent market that could include former Braves farmhand Jarrod Saltalamacchia, John Buck, Carlos Ruiz and possibly Kurt Suzuki.

    While either backup plan would be a downgrade from McCann, they’d have some money left over to add some depth to their bench and an already very strong pitching staff.

Baltimore Orioles

16 of 30

    Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $90,993,333
    Pending Free Agents: Chris Snyder, C ($?), Wilson Betemit, 1B/3B ($1.75 million; $3.2 club option for 2014), Michael Morse, 1B/OF ($6.75 million), Brian Roberts, 2B ($10 million), Alexi Casilla, IF ($1.7 million; $3 million club option for 2014), Nate McLouth, OF ($2 million), Scott Feldman, SP ($6 million), Jason Hammel, SP ($6.75 million), Francisco Rodriguez, RP ($?)
    Offseason Needs: corner outfielder, second baseman, designated hitter, starting pitcher

    Without making too many notable or high-priced acquisitions, general manager Dan Duquette has done a terrific job of turning the O’s into a competitive team that is currently making a playoff push for the second consecutive season. If they’re going to continue their winning ways, he’ll need to fill a handful of roster voids this winter.

    Kevin Gausman is expected to step into a rotation that includes Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and possibly Miguel Gonzalez or Zach Britton. Dylan Bundy’s elbow injury, however, will keep him out for most, if not the entire 2014 season so bringing in another starter to provide depth is probably on the agenda.

    The lineup will also need some reinforcements, although 21-year-old prospect Jonathan Schoop could be handed the second-base job with Brian Roberts heading for free agency.

    Schoop didn’t have a great season in Triple-A (.697 OPS, 9 HR in 70 games), however, and also missed much of the season with a back injury, so don’t expect him to go into camp without competition. That competition could come from the free-agent market.

    While Schoop’s presence and potential is enough to keep second base low on the priority list, no clear replacement for Nate McLouth in left field means that outfield could be at the top of the list, as well as designated hitter, unless they feel that Danny Valencia’s recent success isn’t a fluke.

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    A strong core of talent remains in Baltimore, so it’s not absolutely necessary for Duquette to make a splash in free agency. They have some big salaries coming off the books (Roberts and Jason Hammel combined to make $16.75 million in 2013), however, and re-investing that money into one impact bat or starting pitcher while filling the other holes with low-cost veterans might be the way to go.

    The open designated hitter spot also gives them some flexibility to add a player with some health risk, including Carlos Beltran (pictured), who will be 37 in April and has a history of knee problems. Resting the eight-time All-Star from the outfield a couple times per week could give him a better chance to remain productive late in his career.

Chicago Cubs

17 of 30

    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $104,304,676
    Pending Free Agents: Dioner Navarro, C ($1.75 million), Ryan Sweeney, OF ($?), Scott Baker, SP ($5.5 million), Kevin Gregg, RP ($?), Matt Guerrier, RP ($3.75 million), 
    Offseason Needs: outfielder(s), starting pitcher(s), relief pitcher(s), third baseman 

    Team president Theo Epstein acknowledges that the team’s offense is nowhere close to where it should be, but still doesn’t expect to be a major player in free agency, according to Carrie Muskat of MLB.com.  

    Talent is on the way with four elite hitting prospects down on the farm, but it’s unrealistic to think they’ll make an impact in the majors next season. So while they might not be willing to go on an all-out spending spree to improve the team, year three of the Epstein regime cannot be another loser in Chicago; they’ll have to do something.

    Despite Epstein’s claim that free agency won’t be the way to turn this team around, filling a major void in the outfield with Jacoby Ellsbury (pictured) or Shin-Soo Choo would sure help and shouldn't be ruled out. 

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    Even in a clear rebuilding season, the Chicago Clbs signed Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million deal, brought in Scott Baker ($5.5 million) and Scott Feldman ($6 million) on one-year deals and signed Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa to a two-year, $9.5 million deal.

    Expect a similar theme this winter, but with more focus on the offense. Signing one of the top outfielders to a long-term deal and then filling out the rotation and bullpen with lower-cost one- and two-year deals should be enough to set expectations on a winning 2014 season.

Cincinnati Reds

18 of 30

    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Spo

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $107,491,305
    Pending Free Agents: Shin-Soo Cho, OF ($7.375 million), Cesar Izturis, IF ($800,000), Bronson Arroyo, RP ($6.5 million), Zach Duke, RP ($700,000), Nick Masset, RP ($3.1 million), Manny Parra, RP ($1 million)
    Offseason Needs: center fielder

    With the emergence of lefty starter Tony Cingrani and the team’s top prospect, hard-throwing right-hander Robert Stephenson on the fast track to the big leagues, it’s likely that Bronson Arroyo’s career in Cincinnati will end after eight terrific seasons. Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake all return and Cingrani would step into Arroyo’s spot. 

    This ability to replace Arroyo with a player making close to the league minimum allows them to focus their attention on either re-signing Shin-Soo Choo or signing another free agent like Curtis Granderson (pictured) who could play center field in 2014 and possibly move to a corner spot if prospect Billy Hamilton proves he can step into the lineup and do more than just steal bases.

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    The pitching staff is still in terrific shape, so general manager Walt Jocketty’s top priority would be the offense, which could lose free agent Choo and has several players who are underperforming in 2013, including Brandon Phillips (.710 OPS), Todd Frazier (.711 OPS), Zack Cozart (.661 OPS) and Ryan Ludwick (.626 OPS).

    Counting on Hamilton to take Choo’s spot after a poor Triple-A season is risky with the decline of so many Cincinnati Reds hitters so they must be aggressive in free agency. Unfortunately, several teams will be aggressive in their pursuit of Choo, who would be a major loss to this Reds lineup.

Texas Rangers

19 of 30

    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $114,090,100
    Pending Free Agents: A.J. Pierzynski, C ($7.5 million), Geovany Soto, C ($2.75 million), Lance Berkman, DH ($10 million; $12 million club option for 2014), Jeff Baker, IF/OF ($1.75 million), Nelson Cruz, OF ($10.5 milion), David Murphy, OF ($5.775 million), Matt Garza, SP ($10.25 million), Colby Lewis, SP ($2 million), Jason Frasor, RP ($1.75 million), Joe Nathan, RP ($7 million; $9 million club option for 2014 can be voided by player)
    Offseason Needs: catcher, outfielder, starting pitcher, designated hitter

    Acquiring outfielder Alex Rios in early August gave the Rangers a head start on the offseason. General manager Jon Daniels will still have plenty of work to do, though, as he’ll need to find another outfielder, catcher, starting pitcher and possibly even a designated hitter.

    It’ll be challenging to fill so many roster holes, but the Rangers will have plenty of payroll space to work with and several intriguing options, including Braves catcher Brian McCann, who will be one of the top free agents available.

    The starting rotation will, once again, be led by Yu Darvish and expected to include lefties Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez. Alexi Ogando is a strong candidate to join them, although he could move to the bullpen permanently if Joe Nathan voids his $9 million club option and Neftali Feliz moves back into the closer’s role.

    This scenario would likely require the team to bring in another starter if Matt Garza (pictured) bolted as a free agent.

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    Re-signing Garza and Nelson Cruz might even be more likely now that each has lost value. Garza hasn’t pitched well since being acquired from the Cubs in July, and Cruz is serving a 50-game PED suspension. It doesn’t mean they won’t be highly coveted free agents, but it could make each player more willing to strike a deal to return before the start of free agency.

    Doing so would clear Daniels’ offseason plate even further so he can work on the catching situation and trying to figure out how Jurickson Profar fits into the lineup.

St. Louis Cardinals

20 of 30

    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $115,222,086
    Pending Free Agents: Rafael Furcal, SS ($7 million), Carlos Beltran, OF ($13 million), Chris Carpenter, SP ($12.5 million), Jake Westbrook, SP ($8.75 million; $9.5 million mutual option for 2014), Edward Mujica, RP ($3.2 million)
    Offseason Needs: shortstop, starting pitcher, relief pitcher

    The St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system is so good that they have two pretty good options to replace right fielder Carlos Beltran if he departs as a free agent. If Oscar Taveras, one of the top prospects in the game, isn’t ready to step in after an injury-plagued 2013, then Allen Craig can move to right field and left-handed hitting slugger Matt Adams gets the regular first-base job.

    That doesn’t mean they’ll let Beltran walk, though. Just because they can go the cheaper route and still field a competitive team doesn’t mean they won’t spend the money in order to keep the proven talent on the major league roster and maintain strong depth throughout the organization.

    Where they do not have a big-league ready option is at shortstop, the team’s clear priority heading into the offseason. They won’t be the only team after Stephen Drew (pictured), but they probably need him more than any other team.

    Retaining starting pitcher Jake Westbrook, who has a $9.5 million mutual option, might not be necessary with all of the great young pitching already in the majors and the expected return of lefty Jaime Garcia from shoulder surgery. But it also wouldn’t hurt to keep him and shouldn’t affect the team’s ability to fill any other needs.

    Prediction: WINNER 

     

    Signing Drew, who is having a strong season in Boston (.771 OPS, 13 HR), would be a major upgrade and would help make up for any drop in production resulting in the loss of Beltran. Also expect the team to re-sign closer Edward Mujica or sign another veteran free agent, such as Joaquin Benoit or Grant Balfour, to anchor a young and talented bullpen.

Washington Nationals

21 of 30

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $116,056,769
    Pending Free Agents: Dan Haren, SP ($13 million)
    Offseason Needs: starting pitcher 

    Despite what will likely be a disappointing ending to a season that results in the team falling short of a wild-card spot, the Washington Nationals are finishing strong, and the window for World Series contention isn’t close to shutting on them.

    They have one free agent, starting pitcher Dan Haren (pictured) and are in a much better position to fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation than they were last offseason. Rookies Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, along with journeyman Ross Ohlendorf, have each provided the "Nats" with strong pitching performances in the second half.

    Setup man Drew Storen's rough season is cause for concern and could give the team enough of a reason to pursue a top reliever in free agency once again. 

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    It’s quite possible that they stand completely pat this winter and would still enter 2014 as playoff contenders. Don’t expect general manager Mike Rizzo to sit around and watch, though, as a young and talented Braves team isn’t expected to decline and with the division rival New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies expected to be very active in free agency and/or the trade market.

    At the least, Rizzo will solidify the bullpen with a veteran reliever, but don’t rule out the signing of a top free-agent starter and even the re-signing of Haren, who has a 3.50 ERA since early June.

     

Toronto Blue Jays

22 of 30

    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $117,527,800
    Pending Free Agents: Rajai Davis, OF ($2.5 million), Josh Johnson, SP ($13.75 million), Ramon Ortiz, SP/RP ($?), Darren Oliver, RP ($3 million)
    Offseason Needs: second baseman, starting pitcher

    The Toronto Blue Jays were clear winners last offseason after the acquisition of several big-name players, including Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. But the offseason champions will finish the regular season in last place in the AL East after several injuries and poor performances to key players. 

    It’s doubtful that they’ll be as active this winter, but general manager Alex Anthopoulos can’t sit around and do nothing in hopes that his team will bounce back. Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet expects him to go after a high-end starter, which could include top Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, who will likely be posted by his team this winter, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana (pictured). 

    The lineup is still in good shape, especially if Reyes doesn’t miss an extended time due to injury, as he did this season, although Anthopoulos will need to find an upgrade at second base since last year’s acquisitions, Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio, failed to produce.

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    It’ll be hard for Anthopoulos to not be gun shy after making so many big moves last offseason and still ending up with a losing record. With only one solid second baseman on the free-agent market, Omar Infante, and several big-market teams expected to be in the mix for Tanaka, Garza, Santana and the other top available starters, the Jays could find themselves in a position where they’d have to pay much more than they’re comfortable with.

Chicago White Sox

23 of 30

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $119,073,277
    Pending Free Agents: Paul Konerko, 1B ($13.5 million), Gavin Floyd, SP ($9.5 million), Matt Lindstrom, RP ($2.3 million; $4 milion club option for 2014)
    Offseason Needs: third baseman, first baseman/corner outfielder, catcher

    Despite a 90-plus loss season and the July trade of Jake Peavy, the Chicago White Sox’s pitching staff is in pretty good shape heading into 2014 with ace Chris Sale leading the way. It’s the offense that needs a makeover. 

    With Alex Rios traded to Texas and Paul Konerko headed for free agency, this could be the time to add a star player to become the new face of the franchise for the next several years. They won’t be limited in their search either, as it wouldn’t be hard to upgrade any position on the field.

    There’s a huge hole at third base, but most of the free-agent star power will come from the outfield. A lefty hitter to help Adam Dunn balance out a right-handed heavy lineup would be ideal. Chicago native Curtis Granderson could be a fit, as would Shin-Soo Choo or Carlos Beltran.

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    Clearing the salaries of Peavy and Rios, along with free agents Floyd and Konerko, have the team set up for a very active offseason. Expect the Sox to add at least one impact hitter, whether it be an outfielder like Granderson or catcher Brian McCann (pictured) or both, while filling out the roster with several complementary pieces.

Los Angeles Angels

24 of 30

    Harry How/Getty Images

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $127,896,250
    Pending Free Agents: Jason Vargas, SP ($8.5 million)
    Offseason Needs: starting pitcher(s), third baseman, relief pitcher

    Unless owner Arte Moreno continues to open up his wallet in the offseason, the Los Angeles Angels have a very challenging winter ahead. Expect it to be challenging, regardless. 

    They’ll have to fill glaring holes in the rotation and at the hot corner, and their farm system isn’t good enough to think they can bring in impact players via trade. Unless they’re willing to give up one of the their better hitters not named Mike Trout—Peter Bourjos, Howie Kendrick or Mark Trumbo—fill a need, it’s likely that they’ll be looking for bargains in free agency. 

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    According to MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez, the Angels and lefty starter Jason Vargas have mutual interest in a return, but a very likely bidding war would push him out of the Angels’ range. It’s safe to say that any acquisitions that are brought in will have not had much interest around the league and will possibly be looking to bounce back from an injury or recent poor performance. 

    Don’t be surprised if either Michael Young (pictured) or Juan Uribe is their third baseman next season, while guys like Shaun Marcum or Roberto Hernandez are brought in to fill out the rotation

San Francisco Giants

25 of 30

    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $140,264,334
    Pending Free Agents: Chad Gaudin, SP ($750,000), Hunter Pence, OF ($13.8 million), Andres Torres, OF ($2 million), Tim Lincecum, SP ($22 million), Ryan Vogelsong, SP ($5 million; $6.5 million club option for 2014), Barry Zito, SP ($20 million; $18 million club option for 2014), Javier Lopez, RP ($4.25 million)
    Offseason Needs: outfielder(s), starting pitcher(s)

    The San Francisco Giants are a big-market team with over $50 million in salary coming off the books after the season. They’re also used to winning World Series championships, will be coming off of a losing season and don’t have much immediate help on the way from the minors. You bet they’ll be major players in free agency.

    It’s likely a good chunk of their budget will be gone by the time the free-agency period starts with Hunter Pence (pictured) and Tim Lincecum strong possibilities to re-sign. If general manager Brian Sabean can get those two deals done, he’ll spend the rest of his offseason looking to add one more outfielder and another starter.

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    Ricky Nolasco, who was rumored to be headed to the Giants in a trade back in June, could be a strong candidate to sign with the team this winter. There are several other solid back-of-the-rotation starters, as well, who would be fits and for probably much less than the 31-year-old Nolasco will make after a terrific second half. Expect the Giants to land one. 

    While the Giants were content with a left-field platoon of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres for 2013, the lack of offense from the position was magnified once the pitching staff showed some chinks in the armor. They're unlikely to stand pat this time around.

    Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the team is interested in adding a power bat, although it's unclear if that would be in addition to re-signing Pence. Brandon Belt would reportedly be open to moving to left field, so the team’s search isn’t limited to the outfield market. Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu could be an option.

Detroit Tigers

26 of 30

    Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $148,414,500
    Pending Free Agents: Brayan Peña, C ($8.75 million), Omar Infante, 2B ($4 million), Jhonny Peralta, SS ($6 million), Ramon Santiago, IF ($2.1 million), Joaquin Benoit, RP ($5.5 million), Jeremy Bonderman, RP ($?), Octavio Dotel, RP ($3.5 million), Jose Veras, RP ($1.85 million; $3.25 million club option for 2014)
    Offseason Needs: second Baseman, relief Pitcher(s)

    The Detroit Tigers’ offseason can be as simple as re-signing second baseman Omar Infante and closer Joaquin Benoit (pictured) and adding another late-inning reliever to solidify the bullpen. 

    But how much more they do could depend strongly on how the season finishes. Anything less than another World Series appearance could give general manager Dave Dombrowski a reason to shake things up a bit and possibly add another impact player through free agency.

    Poor seasons from Alex Avila (.691 OPS) and left fielder Andy Dirks (.683 OPS) could make upgrades at catcher and left field winter priorities. Top prospect Nick Castellanos, who is 3-for-12 during a September call-up, will likely push Dirks, though, so catchers Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia could be main targets if they look for a lineup upgrade.

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    Signing Max Scherzer, who can become a free agent after the 2014 season, to a contract extension this offseason could be equally as important than any moves to upgrade the current roster. It could also limit their budget, which might not have much flexibility anyway without too many high-priced salaries coming off the books.

    If the price tags for Infante and Benoit escalate out of the Tigers’ range, they’ll have a tough time finding any better options.

Boston Red Sox

27 of 30

    Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $150,655,500
    Pending Free Agents: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C ($4.5 million), Mike Napoli, 1B ($13 million), Stephen Drew, SS ($9.5 million), John McDonald, IF ($1.5 million), Jacoby Ellsbury, OF ($9 million), Joel Hanrahan, RP ($7.04 million), Matt Thornton, RP ($5.5 million; $6 million club option for 2014)
    Offseason Needs: catcher, outfielder, relief pitcher, first baseman

    General manager Ben Cherington is coming off a near perfect offseason in which he signed several mid-range free agents who have had big seasons in Boston. The potential departures of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Mike Napoli, shortstop Stephen Drew and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (pictured) means that things won’t slow down much for him this time around.

    Rookies Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. could factor into how aggressively the team pursues Ellsbury and either Napoli or Drew.

    If they feel strongly enough about Bradley’s readiness to be a big-league center fielder, they’d be more willing to let Ellsbury walk. If they think Bogaerts is ready to make an impact, he could step in as the starting shortstop if Drew leaves and possibly third base if Napoli leaves and Will Middlebrooks moves over to first base.

    There could be a lot of moving parts, but it’s almost certain they’ll be looking for a starting catcher, and Brian McCann could be their top target.

    Prediction: WINNER

     

    Last offseason, the Sox took full advantage of the flexible payroll situation created by the late-season blockbuster trade with the Dodgers. It allowed them to acquire Jake Peavy and Matt Thornton in 2013 and should continue to pay off this winter.

    With Dustin Pedroia the only player on the roster with a guaranteed contract beyond 2015, the Sox are set up to be favorites for any free agent they pursue.

Philadelphia Phillies

28 of 30

    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $165,385,714
    Pending Free Agents: Carlos Ruiz, C ($5 million), Roy Halladay, SP ($20 million; $20 million club option for 2014), 
    Offseason Needs: outfielder, starting pitcher, catcher, relief pitcher

    With only a couple of glaring holes in a left-handed heavy lineup, the need for a right-handed hitting corner outfield and a catcher to replace free agent Carlos Ruiz are obvious for this Phillies team. Amongst the free-agent outfield candidates are Marlon Byrd, Nelson Cruz and Corey Hart, while Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Kurt Suzuki could be solid fits behind the plate.

    Ahead of the lineup on the priority list could be the starting rotation with Roy Halladay (pictured) unlikely to return, at least not at the $20 million he’d be due if his club option was exercised.

    With newly signed Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez expected to step into the rotation in 2014 and rookie Jonathan Pettibone having pitched well enough to also earn a rotation spot, they might be set with back of the rotation options. Adding a clear No. 3 to go behind Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels could be more likely. Dan Haren might be a strong fit.

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    With two former stars, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, on the downside of their careers with immoveable contracts, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might not have as much flexibility as he needs to turn this team back into a playoff contender.

    It’s still expected that he’ll be able to do more than last winter when he settled on Delmon Young and John Lannan to plug the same roster holes they face now. It probably won’t be enough, though.

Los Angeles Dodgers

29 of 30

    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $216,597,577
    Pending Free Agents: Mark Ellis, 2B ($5.25 million; $5.75 million club option for 2014), Skip Schumaker, 2B/OF ($1.5 million),  Juan Uribe, 3B ($7 million), Michael Young, 3B/1B ($16 million), Nick Punto, IF ($1.5 million), Jerry Hairston Jr., IF/OF ($3.75 million), Chris Capuano, SP ($6 million; $8 million mutual option for 2014), Ricky Nolasco, SP ($11.5 million), Edinson Volquez, SP/RP ($5.725 million), J.P. Howell, RP ($2.85 million), Carlos Marmol, RP ($9.8 million), Brian Wilson, RP ($1 million)
    Offseason Needs: third baseman, starting pitcher, second baseman

    For a team that has easily been the best in baseball over the past three months, it’s surprising that they’ll have a few different choices of which position needs the biggest upgrade.

    They could use at least one starting pitcher with Ricky Nolasco (free agent) headed for free agency and Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett recovering from injuries, a second baseman if Mark Ellis’ club option isn’t exercised, a third baseman and possibly even a catcher with A.J. Ellis having an underwhelming season at the plate.

    Unlike last winter when they were relatively quiet except for one big move, signing top free-agent starter Zack Greinke, they could spread their money around a bit more this time around to help fill out the aforementioned holes.

    Prediction: WINNER 

     

    General manager Ned Colletti has made some questionable moves throughout the years, but he’s done a solid job as of late, and his goals are quite clear this winter. He also has the financial backing, which helps.

    Expect them to either re-sign Nolasco or sign another mid-rotation starter like Scott Feldman, Dan Haren or Jason Vargas, to go behind Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, while also making a strong bid for Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka.

    Options are limited in the infield, so Colletti could fill those holes via trade, or he could get involved in the bidding for top second-base free agent Omar Infante.

New York Yankees

30 of 30

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Opening Day Payroll: $228,835,490
    Pending Free Agents: Travis Hafner, DH ($2 million), Lyle Overbay, 1B ($1.25 million), Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B ($6 million), Robinson Cano, 2B ($15 million), Kevin Youkilis, 3B/1B ($12 million), Derek Jeter, SS ($17 million; $8 million player option for 2014), Brendan Ryan, SS ($3.25 million), Curtis Granderson, OF ($15 million), Phil Hughes, SP ($7.15 million), Hiroki Kuroda, SP ($15 million), Andy Pettitte, SP ($12 million), Joba Chamberlain, RP ($1.75 million), Boone Logan, RP ($3.15 million), Mariano Rivera, RP ($10 million)
    Offseason Needs: starting pitcher(s), relief pitchers, third baseman, second baseman, shortstop, catcher, designated hitter/corner outfielder

    A New York Yankees offseason is rarely uneventful. And the next one might be the most interesting one of all time. They could have more payroll flexibility than last season, especially if Alex Rodriguez's suspension is upheld, but they might have more holes to fill than any other team in baseball. 

    Where do they start? Probably with second baseman Robinson Cano, who is expected to be the top paid player on the free-agent market. But that's probably not even their biggest concern.

    They'll need to fill out a rotation led by a struggling CC Sabathia and with their best pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda (pictured), headed for free agency. Andy Pettitte is not expected back after announcing his retirement on Friday, according to a report by Dan Martin of the New York Post, and Ivan Nova is the only other lock for the 2014 rotation aside from Sabathia. They'll need to add at least two and probably three starters by the time spring training begins.

    Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera is also retiring, leaving the team with a huge void to fill in the bullpen. Even if setup man David Robertson is capable of taking on the job, they'll need to fill his eighth-inning role as well as a few other bullpen spots. 

    Rodriguez's status is up in the air, although the feeling is he won't play in 2014 and the team will need a replacement at third base.

    Shortstop Derek Jeter wants to continue playing, but his health is a concern, and it's unclear whether he'll exercise his player option for next season. Re-signing Curtis Granderson and finding a catcher who can provide some offense are both possibilities, but way down on the priority list for obvious reasons. 

    Prediction: LOSER

     

    Give general manager Brian Cashman a lot of credit for the job he did building a winning team in 2013. In fact, he's worthy of the Executive of the Year award. But he's not a miracle worker, and that's what he'll need this offseason. If they can return to the playoffs in 2014 with whatever roster Cashman can put together, he should be given a lifetime contract and guaranteed a spot in the Hall of Fame.