DENVER—The Cubs put to rest a 108-year World Series championship drought, and the franchise is so deep in talent that it could afford to decline the option on righthander Jason Hammel and potentially lose center fielder Dexter Fowler to free agency without feeling an urgency to add an impact player.
Not all clubs are so fortunate. The following challengers to the Cubs’ throne have voids that must first be filled this offseason:
The Rockies have suffered through six straight losing seasons, compiling a National League-worst record of 420-552 (.432) during that stretch. However, they are in position to make a statement with the hiring of Bud Black as manager, and the commitment of ownership to expand the payroll.
Colorado has as good a lineup and defense as any team in baseball, and its rotation is filled with young, power arms who are ready to make a statement. The void is in the bullpen, which is where free agent Mark Melancon—a Denver-area native—fits perfectly. He has gone 5-for-5 in save chances with 6.2 scoreless innings pitched in six appearance at Coors Field, and he is quick to point out, “I grew up pitching in these conditions. It doesn’t bother me.” No wonder there already are reports that there is a mutual interest between the Rockies and Melancon.
The Cardinals failed to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2010, and they’ll have to replace free agent Matt Holliday in the middle of their lineup. The offense needs a jump start, and Fowler is not only an ideal fit, but he would be a bit of a payback to the Cubs, who a year ago signed Jason Heyward and John Lackey away from the Cards as free agents.
At the age of 30, Fowler hit .276 with an .840 OPS and was an all-star selection for the first time in 2016. He would give the Cardinals a true center fielder with some speed at the top of the lineup, as well as a leadoff hitter who can drive the ball into the gaps and over the fence.
The Nationals not only have never won a World Series, but the Nats and Mariners (a 1977 expansion club) are also the only franchises that have not appeared in a World Series. Washington has won the NL East in three of the past five seasons, but failed to advance out of the Division Series each time.
The Nationals have to fill the closer void created by the loss of Melancon to free agency. Enter free agent lefthander Aroldis Chapman, whose overpowering fastball has allowed him to convert 181 of 199 save opportunities the past five years, during which he has compiled a 1.84 ERA in 313.2 innings. Manager Dusty Baker knows Chapman well from their time together with the Reds, where Baker was the manager when Chapman defected from Cuba and debuted with Cincinnati.
The Mariners have gone 15 years without making it to the postseason. Free agent Ian Desmond, a natural shortstop, would not only give the Mariners infield protection, but he showed with the Rangers last year he is a capable defensive outfielder. Desmond rebounded with a solid offensive year in Texas as well. He has the ability to steal a base and has an approach at the plate that should fit well in Safeco Field.
The Indians advanced to the World Series, but now that the Cubs have put an end to their championship jinx, it’s the Tribe that has gone longer than any team in baseball—since 1948 —without winning a World Series.
It’s not a matter of adding anybody for the Indians, but they do need to keep their team intact. Re-signing free-agent first baseman Mike Napoli would be ideal. Napoli, who turned 35 on Halloween, tied for the team lead in home runs (34) and led the club in RBIs (101) in his first year with Cleveland. He also quickly became a central clubhouse figure in the Tribe’s American League pennant-winning season.
The Blue Jays have come up short in October the past two years, and now they are facing the likelihood of losing DH/first baseman Edwin Encarnacion—who hit 42 home runs and drove in 127 runs last year—and right fielder Jose Bautista to free agency. That would leave them with a need at first base DH if they are serious about making another run at the World Series, and their signing of Kendrys Morales helped fill a void. Holliday could step in and provide help in the outfield, at DH or even first base. After having been limited to 183 games the past two seasons, Holliday, who will turn 37 in January, is a reasonably priced gamble.