Now that we’re at the point in the off season where unsigned big names are the exception rather than the norm, a team looking to go out and pick up a new player for 2012 will find their options quickly dwindling. For clubs that wait out the market there may be a nice opportunity to pick up an overlooked player on the cheap, however every year there are teams scrabbling around pre-Spring Training trying to fill an important roster spot. While this is less of an issue for teams that don’t expect to contend, there are still contenders with fairly significant holes to plug as the free agent market thins out. Here’s a look at how they can use the free agent pool to address their issues.

Tampa Bay Rays

Need: First Baseman

Team has surplus of cheap first basemen + Team in need of cheap first baseman = The winter’s most obvious trade rumour.

There’s a reason these rumours get going; picking up Anthony Rizzo or Yonder Alonso in a trade with the Padres would make a lot of sense for the Rays who aren’t going to throw a lot of money at anyone to become their starting first baseman. Casey Kotchman‘s ongoing availability seems to make it less likely that someone will overpay him following a strong 2011 and more likely he re-signs with the Rays for a small-ish raise. Carlos Pena also remains available for a second go round in Tampa if he’s willing to sign for less than the $10m (with deferred money) he signed for last year.

 

Boston Red Sox

Need: Right fielder / Pitching

A desire to keep the payroll from blitzing past the luxury tax threshold means that my Carlos Beltran speculation from early this year is unlikely to provide the answer for the Red Sox final outfield spot. Josh Reddick had a strong start to his major league career last season but a poor approach at the plate meant pitchers began to find him out more often as the season went on. Ryan Kalish is the other in-house option, and is generally seen as the better long-term prospect. A re-union with JD Drew seems unlikely and while making a big run at Yoenis Cespedes wouldn’t help the team with its luxury tax issue, he might be the sort of player the front office will make an exception for.

For relief help, my guess would be that an Andrew Bailey trade gets done and Ben Cherington also picks up one or two arms to take a flyer on during Spring Training. The likes of David Aardsma, Chad Durbin, Mike Gonzalez, Brad Lidge and Hong-Chih Kuo would fit that criteria while a offer for Ryan Madson is still a possibility.

New York Yankees

Need: Starting pitching

Their current rotation is reasonably set as Sabathia, Nova, Hughes, Burnett, Garcia but I’d be surprised if Brian Cashman isn’t looking to upgrade but jettisoning AJ Burnett. Roy Oswalt remains available but is someone the Yankees should probably wait on and see if he can be grabbed late in the off season for an incentive laden contract. Edwin Jackson doesn’t seem likely and the young arms down on the farm won’t be rushed to help the big club. Starting pitchers to clearly improve the team are few and far between so Cashman may well stick with what he’s got and look at the trade market during the season where clubs like the Rangers could have a surplus to deal from.

Detroit Tigers

Need: Third baseman

Brandon Inge is back with the club and will provide his usual solid glove and terrible bat. It may make sense to bring back Wilson Betemit as a more offensively minded option at the hot corner given that the market for third baseman is just about non existent and the Tigers aren’t particularly deep in the sort of prospects that could net them an upgrade without gutting the system.

Cleveland Indians

Need: Defense / Power

The Indians are in a strange position in that they are only really contenders because they play in a bad division. Their extreme groundball staff means they should be looking to put a strong infield defense on the field so it may be worth then looking into an ‘all-glove’ infielder to use as a defensive replacement. Their old friend Omar Vizquel, even in his 40s, might be the best option for that role left on the market which says more about the other players available than Vizquels qualities.

The cheap power options seem to be the same every winter but bringing in an Eric Hinske or Russell Branyan type to fit into the 1B / DH / LF mix might not be the worst option.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Need: Offense

While the rumour mill would suggest the Angels are looking for relievers, fans should hope the team realises that Jordan Walden is just fine in the closers role. Their actual need is for some more offense, even after signing Albert Pujols, but where they find room for it in their current roster construction is anyone’s guess.

Texas Rangers

Need: Tweaks

Replacing CJ Wilson with Yu Darvish should be a net break even move, more so if they can trade a starter to strengthen in other areas. Mitch Moreland is a solid but unsexy option at first base but the only likely upgrade the Rangers would seem to want to make there is to make a push for Prince Fielder which would make for a pretty awesome line up in Arlington. The Rangers have a very strong team but the history of clubs that stand pat after a good year isn’t filled with successes. Assuming the Darvish deal gets done, Fielder is the only other big name they really need to be thinking about which doesn’t mean they wouldn’t benefit from a few modest acquisitions.

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