When Is It Time to Panic?
*This article first appeared in the January 11th edition of the IBWAA “Here’s the Pitch” Newsletter; and prior to the Cubs finalizing their deal with Shota Imanaga and acquiring Michael Busch and Yency Almonte from the Dodgers.
When the calendar turned to 2024, the hot stove began to cool. We are just a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting, and then the rest of the squads will be on the field a few days later. For some teams, their offseason work is done. The Dodgers have tried to win the winter, spending more than a billion dollars on two Japanese players. But they have made a few additional moves as well.
The Braves have been quite active, shoring up their lineup for a deep run into October. Early on, the Mets made some deals, signing Luis Severino, Jorge López, and Joey Wendle. And now they have signed Harrison Bader to play somewhere in their outfield. The Royals have made all sorts of deals that no one saw coming, adding Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, Hunter Renfroe, and others.
Many teams have tried to be active, only to be thwarted or left at the altar on numerous occasions. The Giants thought they had a strong chance to acquire Shohei Ohtani or at least Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and the Blue Jays thought they had Ohtani in their crosshairs as well. The Mets and Yanks thought the young Japanese fireballer could land with them, but alas, it was not meant to be for any of them.
But certain teams have been relatively quiet. Until last week, the Red Sox had been all but dormant. Same for the Guardians. If you are a member of any number of fanbases, you may be beginning to wonder “when is the time to panic.” When it is time to consider that it may be too late for your club to make sufficient moves in order to contend next fall.
Pennants, of course, are not won during the winter (see the Padres and Mets), but they can be lost. With the expanded playoffs, with so many teams believing they have a shot at the postseason, the trade deadline is more muted than ever. As such, the ability to remake your roster midseason is all the more difficult. If a team has obvious holes, those need to be filled when players are unsigned and all 30 teams are potential trade partners.
The Red Sox went into the offseason in desperate need of pitching. They signed Lucas Giolito, but then immediately traded Chris Sale. Maybe not a one-for-one in production, but definitely a one-for-one in roster spots. It is unlikely that Cooper Criswell will be pitching meaningful innings for the BoSox down the stretch. Signing Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell would definitely move the needle and would turn around their winter and their outlook for 2024. But as of this writing, neither have signed with Boston.
The Giants were able to sign Japanese first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo on a Minor League deal, and they inked catcher Tom Murphy to a two-year deal. But neither will help them on the mound or – most likely – at the ticket window. Getting Robbie Ray from the Mariners (for former Mariner Mitch Haniger and pitcher Anthony DeSclafani) may help them in the short run. But none of those moves will make them contenders in the packed NL West.
The Orioles made a surprise run to win the AL East last season. The Yankees and Red Sox had bad seasons, and the Rays fell off after an amazing start. To compete again in 2024 – the first year they were supposed to make noise – they need more pitching. Adding Jonathan Heasley and Craig Kimbrel will not keep the beasts of the east at bay.
And then there are the Cubs. They started the offseason with a managerial splash, wooing Craig Counsell to travel south from Milwaukee with the richest contract for a manager in MLB history. But, since then, pretty much crickets … until Tuesday night. The Cubs reportedly have signed Japanese left-hander Shōta Imanaga to (according to Jon Morosi) a multi-year deal at about $15 million per season.
With Imanaga potentially taking the place of free agent Marcus Stroman, the Cubbies still have needs on the mound. But the most important question for fans on the North Side is, will they re-sign Cody Bellinger? Are they waiting for the $200 million-plus asking price to come down? Could they re-sign Stroman? Is Matt Chapman a possibility? Rumor has it that they are eyeing Rhys Hoskins. The NL Central is a winnable division, and the team has arguably the best manager in baseball, but he needs some names to write on the lineup card each day.
The same analysis could be done for a handful of other teams. As the snow falls, and then melts, and fans begin to dream of warm summer days in their favorite ballparks, they need something upon which to hang their hopes. Right now, because of their team’s lack of moves, some fans are beginning to panic.