Within the next month or so, MLB free agents will start accepting contracts and teams will begin trading for players they believe can help lead them to a higher step in 2021.
For now, the process is relatively slow; the negotiations, in most cases, won’t simmer until around December’s winter meetings.
After discussing the American League previously, here’s a look at what each National League team should do this offseason to improve themselves for 2024 and, perhaps, beyond.
This isn’t necessarily what they will do. But it’s one major transaction I would make if I were running each franchise.
Sign Sonny Gray
Reasoning: The Braves have arguably the best pitching staff in baseball, but we saw at the end of this year how that can get worn down by the grind of a long season. Perhaps adding a 36-year-old starter for several years wouldn’t be a balm for tired arms in September. But Gray is a different beast. He’s really learned how to pitch, and he posted a 2.79 ERA in 184 innings for the Minnesota Twins in 2023. He’s a no-nonsense strike thrower, and that fits perfectly with a disciplined staff such as the Braves.
Sign Jordan Montgomery
Reasoning: Anticipating that the Phillies may not re-sign Aaron Nola, Montgomery would be an excellent replacement. He’d give Philadelphia another lefty in the rotation and another big guy who eats innings and takes the ball. He’s not been prone to the longball in his career – which is important at Citizens Bank Park – and he’s not going to be intimidated by pitching in Philadelphia. He came up with the New York Yankees and also pitched in baseball-crazy St. Louis and in the 2023 World Series for the Texas Rangers. His calm demeanor won’t get rattled by the boo of 30,000.
Sign Teoscar Hernandez
Reasoning: What the Marlins should do first this offseason is send a fruit basket and an “I’m sorry,” to former GM Kim Ng to get her back in the fold, but that’s not going to happen. So, they’ll need to try to continue what she started. The offense finished 26th in runs scored last year and 22nd in home runs. Jorge Soler, with 36 bombs, was the only Marlin to hit more than 20 in 2023, and he is likely gone as a free agent. A sensible replacement would be Hernandez, who is a year younger than Soler and coming off a down season in Seattle. He’s a better and more consistent hitter than Soler and it’s possible his troubles with the Mariners were an aberration.
Sign Justin Turner to a one-year deal
Reasoning: Teams that are rebuilding must be careful as to whom they add as stop-gap measures. You don’t want a player that does more harm than good. Turner is the perfect option for a team like this. He can still hit. He can play first base, third base or DH and his legendary competitiveness hasn’t waned. He’d probably take less money to play for a contender, but the Nats can offer the best of both worlds: A higher-valued one-year deal with a bonus if he is traded. If healthy, Turner is exactly the guy contenders like to add down the stretch.
New York Mets
Sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto
Reasoning: Steve Cohen is not letting the Mets rebuild. No shot. They need to reload their rotation and all Yamamoto will cost the Mets is a ton of money. Cohen has that. Yamamoto, the 25-year-old star pitcher from Japan, has the same agent as Mets’ starter Kodia Senga. And the Mets haven’t ticked off that agent yet, the way the Yankees did. So, the Mets could just set another spending record, this one for a Japanese free agent.
Stash Corbin Burnes until July
Reasoning: I’m in the minority here, but I wouldn’t blow this team up this offseason. Burnes is a pending free agent and would be a primary target for most teams. But, frankly, he’s the kind of player, assuming he stays healthy, who would still bring in a major haul as a two-month rental in July. These Brewers won their division by nine games in 2023. They were broken in the NLDS by the Arizona Diamondbacks buzzsaw, but that happens in the wacky playoffs. The window is closing in Milwaukee, but I wouldn’t shut it now. I’d wait until July to see where they are.
Re-sign Cody Bellinger
Reasoning: The Cubs seemed to turn a corner in 2023, improving to 83 wins from 74 in 2022. To keep that momentum going, this club shouldn’t let go of its best offensive player without a fight. And that is what Bellinger became after his last three dismal seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bellinger, only 28, led the Cubs in most offensive categories and plays a premium position in center field. In a weak offensive class, Bellinger will get paid. Maybe 2023 was a blip in a walk year, and he won’t return to his 2019 MVP form, but if I’m the Cubs I roll the dice.
Sign Michael Wacha
Reasoning: The Reds obviously need some rotation help and the conventional wisdom is that they should trade infielder Jonathan India for it. I hate that idea from a Reds perspective. India, the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year, turns 27 in December, which often is a peak year for players. He battled injuries in the past two seasons and so his value isn’t as high as it had been. This is a talented young clubhouse with a crowded middle infield that has already lost an important voice in Joey Votto. So, subtracting the high-energy India seems counterproductive. Put him at first base and sign Wacha, who fits a need and shouldn’t break the bank.
Sign Brandon Belt
Reasoning: There are several needs here, so it’s hard to pick one. Sure, they could trade Mitch Keller or David Bednar for some more prospects, but that signals a more interminable rebuild, which Pirates fans don’t need. A veteran starting pitcher would help the rotation, but will the Pirates pay for that? Instead, a one-year deal for someone who can play first and provide some leadership would be a nice addition. Turner fits here as well, but he might be too costly. So, Belt, who has two World Series rings, could fill that void temporarily while the youngsters keep growing.
St. Louis Cardinals
Sign Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery or both
Reasoning: The last place Cardinals has a startling ring to it. This club needs rotation help, pronto. And not just one starter if they expect to get back to where they usually are in the division. Signing Gray would give them a veteran to replace Adam Wainwright and signing Montgomery would allow them to, well, replace Montgomery. They’ve been linked to Aaron Nola as well, and that makes sense, too. Get the checkbook and grab two of those three.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Sign Blake Snell
Reasoning: To me, this is the biggest no-brainer in the National League. The Dodgers can afford it. They can steal away a division rival’s best pitcher and they badly need a top of the rotation boost. Like the Cardinals, they probably could use two starters. Snell, as we know, pitches with traffic, but that’s not a major deal at Dodger Stadium as it would be, say, in Philadelphia. Give him what it takes and make Snell the centerpiece of what historically is a great rotation.
Sign Lucas Giolito
Reasoning: This is a fun one. The Diamondbacks are in a good place after their World Series run. They could use an experienced hitter with some thump, such as a J.D. Martinez. But adding a third starter just ahead of Brandon Pfaadt is intriguing. The star has fallen a bit on Giolito, 29, after a rough 2023 in which he posted a 4.88 ERA for three teams. His biggest problem last year was the longball – he allowed a league-worst 41 homers – but that shouldn’t be a major issue at Chase Field, which is more of a doubles/triples park. Any deal could include an opt-out so Giolito can get another bite at the free-agent apple quickly if he has success in Arizona.
San Diego Padres
Trade Juan Soto
Reasoning: Trading top prospects to obtain Soto never seemed like a good idea. But the Padres are the drunken sailors of MLB. If Snell leaves, this club needs an ace. And it probably could survive having one fewer stud hitter. With Soto being a pending free agent, trading him for a couple younger players and at least one ready-made starting pitcher would make sense. Although, that would officially define general manager A.J. Preller’s decision to acquire Soto in 2022 as an unmitigated disaster. So, they’ll probably hold onto him and jump into pitching free agency instead. If they do dangle Soto, get ready Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, mystery team?
San Franciso Giants
Sign Shohei Ohtani
Reasoning: The Giants are slipping away from our consciousness. Did they really win 107 games in 2021? Apparently, but it was their only above .500 year since 2016. That’s not good enough for that fan base. The Giants can energize it with two words: Shohei Ohtani. I like the Mariners as a dark horse for Ohtani, and the Dodgers make a whole lot of sense, too. That alone should be extra incentive for the Giants to be super aggressive for baseball’s best player.
Sign Luis Severino
Reasoning: The Rockies finished 41 games out of first place last year and 20 games behind the fourth-place Giants. This division is tough, and these Rockies aren’t. Next to the Oakland A’s they probably have the worst chance to get out of the basement in 2024. So, one move isn’t going to help. The best thing for the Rockies to do is pick up a solid player or two on cheap deals and then try to trade them at the deadline for a prospect for two. No former All Star has had more of a dropoff than Severino, 29. Sign him to a two-year deal with an opt out and a trade bonus, and hope he returns to form — or at least compiles non-disastrous numbers at Coors Field.
Dan Connolly is an MLB Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.