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5 teams who are a little free agency spending away from a successful turnaround

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For some, it’ll be their second time pushing for a successful turnaround in as many years.

Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins - Game Two Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The free agency narrative right now is all about Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, which is no surprise. After last year’s snooze of a winter let’s be thankful we have those two guys to follow and speculate about. While every team should be in on them for sure, there are also a number of other free agent options it would be smart for teams to pay what they deserve in order to take their contending chances to the next level.

If last year was about miserly front offices preparing for this year’s free agent class, this year better be about teams capitalizing on the wealth of opportunity in this class and actually spending money to get better. Here are five teams who have no excuse not to throw some cash around and level up in 2019.

White Sox

Thanks to a leaked photo of Harper’s name and number on the screen at the United Center this week, we know that at the very least they’re going after the top free agent available. And if they’re pitching Harper, then they’re definitely okay with spending money. There’s also rumors they’re in on Machado, but no leaked photos have backed that one up so certainly as their attachment to Harper.

So ... spend the money! If they don’t get Harper or Machado and don’t do anything big otherwise, what a shame that will be. They’re in the AL Central for goodness sake, where the Indians are actively punting on trying before we’ve even hit the new year. The door is wide, wide open. Reports have already linked the Sox to J.A. Happ, Patrick Corbin, and Nelson Cruz. All would be fits for the White Sox and all would be reasonable investments that still give them wiggle room to make deadline moves if needed and stay far under the luxury tax.

With a 2018 payroll of $71,217,000 if the words “tax threshold” come out of anyone’s mouth in that organization they should be banished. The AL Central is the easiest division in which to make a turnaround if any of those teams actually put an effort in. The White Sox would be one of the most satisfactory teams to do that.

Padres

The Padres weren’t shy in free agency last year, picking up Eric Hosmer for 8 years and $144 million. They also acquired Freddy Galvis and Chase Headley via trade. As we now know, that did not work out for them. In the least. They finished last in the division, 25 12 games back, and Hosmer had a just okay season offensively (18 HR, 69 RBI) which anyone watching could probably have predicted because it’s Hosmer and it’s the Padres and that’s just their luck. No one on the team hit more than 26 home runs, thank you to Hunter Renfroe.

Even with a mix of bad breaks and lack of production the Padres aren’t sitting in too big a ditch to dig out of. Hosmer wasn’t a disastrous move, he still produced and we know he can do more than that even if only incrementally. Andy Green is ably steering the ship, and there are options for them to slash that 4.40 team ERA (a 4.72 ERA for their starters).

Make the big move for Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel is still only entering his age 31 season and is coming off a 3.74 ERA, 2.64 SO/BB rate year where he won a Gold Glove, or Nathan Eovaldi could be picked up if the Red Sox don’t bring him back. He’s a (deserved) folk hero now and is still only 28 years old. There are a number of paths the Padres could take but not spending money is not one of them. Especially when they’re tantalizingly close to having Fernando Tatis, Jr. in the majors and should have a great foundation ready for whenever he arrives.

Reds

The Reds thought 2018 was going to be their bounce-back year and in case you missed all of this season that extremely was not the case. They finished last in the NL Central with a .414 win percentage, and not even the excitement of Scooter Gennett and Joey Votto’s usual “charm” could save this season for them.

But they’re not that far off! They have those pieces, and their biggest need is pitching — both starting and relieving. The great news for them is that this is a wonderful offseason to need pitching. There are plenty of options, and not all of them can go to the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, and so on. If they’re willing to spend they should be able to land at least two starters — maybe a top guy and a mid-tier option — and a solid reliever. If they add a bat and hope their injury luck isn’t nearly as bad as it was this year then maybe 2019 will actually, for real be a comeback season. It’s not like their division is insurmountable.

Nationals

They are obviously not a true rebuild candidate even if Bryce Harper doesn’t come back. Harper probably isn’t coming back, so that puts them in the position of needing to spend money in free agency now to keep this from being a complete burn-down this season. They have three more seasons of Max Scherzer, five more seasons of Stephen Strasburg (which, thanks to the $140 million they still owe him and his injury issues, will either be a surprise blessing or the curse to own all curses), two more of a sometimes-healthy Ryan Zimmerman, four of Trea Turner, and Juan Soto coming into his own.

That’s a lot of decent pieces, and money, to just leave by the wayside if they give up without Harper on the roster. And you’re not trading that Strasburg contract. So once they know Harper’s out, if that’s how this goes, they should make sure to pick up a bat or two and at least another starter and reliever if they can. They’ve started this already with the Trevor Rosenthal pickup, probably as a signal to Harper that they’re not standing pat, but they shouldn’t leave things as is either way. There might be a time to come when it makes sense to officially give the division to the Phillies or Braves and torch everything, but not yet.

Mariners

They would be in great position to make another run at the division title with some smart free agency pickups, if they wanted to do that. But they clearly don’t want to do that so have fun with the rebuild, y’all!