Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings begin on Dec. 8 in San Diego, and that's when the Hot Stove League really should get sparked. Here is a look at what a few contenders need on their shopping lists and how it may affect MLB futures odds.
Boston Red Sox: Starting Pitching
Boston already has made the biggest splash this offseason, signing perhaps the top two free-agent hitters on the market in San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval and L.A. Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez to contracts worth north of $200 million combined. Those deals jumped Boston to +800 fourth-favorites at sportsbooks to win the AL pennant. Sandoval definitely will play third with Boston but Ramirez will move to left field. So the Boston lineup is set. The rotation, however, is still a mess. There's Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly and not much. The Sox aren't done. They are still hoping to bring Jon Lester back as a free agent and have been heavily rumored in trade talks with the Phillies for lefty Cole Hamels. The Sox have plenty of prospects to make that deal. Don't rule out Boston getting both guys. If that happens, you have a new World Series favorite at sportsbooks.
Chicago Cubs: Starting Pitching
The Cubs got a huge MLB odds boost at sportsbooks when they signed Manager Joe Maddon, but they also lost out on free-agent catcher Russell Martin. Chicago is stacked with talented young position players that the Phillies would take for Hamels, but the Cubs likely would rather just sign a free agent. They have made a big offer to Lester, but they think he's going back to Boston. That could mean the team moves on to James Shields or Max Scherzer or signs a lesser guy or two and dives back into the free-agent pitching market next offseason.
NY Yankees: Left Side of Infield & Starting Pitching
Frankly, no team has a weaker left side of the infield right now than the Bombers. No matter what they may say publicly, they don't want Alex Rodriguez back next season. Even if they have to take A-Rod, they don't think he can play third base on a full-time basis at his age (and off steroids). New York might have had interest in Sandoval or Ramirez. Now the team could to re-sign last season's trade addition Chase Headley to play third. Who replaces Derek Jeter at shortstop? Good question. There's nothing much on the free-agent market so New York will look to acquire someone like the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins or White Sox's Alexei Ramirez in trade. As far as pitching, New York can't count on the health of CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka or Ivan Nova. So the rotation is a major need as well. This is a bad team on paper right now. The Yanks are +1200 on MLB odds to win the pennant, and that is way too optimistic until moves are made.
San Francisco Giants: Third Baseman
The World Series champs always thought that Sandoval would return, but he followed the money east. So now the Giants have a gaping hole at the hot corner, and don't forget how good Sandoval had been in his postseason career. His regular-season production is fairly replaceable. The Giants and Yankees could get into a bidding war for Headley. Or the Giants could trade for a stop-gap replacement like the Cubs' Luis Valbuena of Rays' Ben Zobrist. San Francisco is +1500 at sportsbooks to repeat as World Series champion.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Shortstop
The Dodgers are co-favorites at +700 to win the 2015 World Series with Washington but now they have to replace Ramirez at shortstop. It's almost surely going to be by trade, with the White Sox's Ramirez considered target No. 1. Los Angeles has an extra outfielder to deal, although Chicago wouldn't want any of those guys unless L.A. ate a ton of salary.
Baltimore Orioles: Hitting
The defending AL East champions let outfielder Nick Markakis walk into free agency and made a qualifying offer to outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz, the 2014 big-league home run champion, but he declined it. The Orioles have made long-term offers to both, but they are playing the market. Baltimore lucked into Cruz last season, but he won't take a team-friendly deal again. If both go, especially Cruz, the Birds are desperate for power bats.
Don't forget Winter Meetings are soon to start, and SBR got great MLB picks for you to check out.
Kansas City Royals: Starting Pitching
Pretty much everyone assumes that ace James Shields is gone as a free agent. If that happens, it's a huge hole atop the rotation. Kansas City can't afford someone like Lester or Scherzer so the Royals will try to catch lightning in a bottle with a lower-priced replacement such as a Francisco Liriano or Ervin Santana, who was very good in Kansas City in 2013 and pretty solid in Atlanta last year. The Royals, who also already lost DH Billy Butler, are +900 on MLB odds to repeat as AL champions.