Archive for December, 2013

20110331_inq_glavine31-f

Next week, the Baseball Writers Association of America’s submission for the 2014 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame will be revealed, and while it is certain to not be a second consecutive shutout, what is still quite hazy is who how many supplicants will be allowed into the membership in Cooperstown.

While that picture is steadily building more and more momentum, as more and more ballots are beginning to be revealed, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance has jumped out the gates and revealed whom they feel is worthy of the induction into baseball’s most exclusive (or perhaps more fittingly, elusive) club.

A group of 91 online writers assembled to follow the same requests that are made of the BWAA: a full ballot of all the eligible Hall of Fame candidates, with a maximum of 10 votes per ballot and a minimum of none. The results were revealed on Monday morning, and for the second consecutive year, the results were quite diverse, however at least showed one solid consensus.

What’s coming up is not my vote as a member of the Alliance; I will explain that in full next week. Rather, it is a summary of what this year’s BAA vote reflects, shows in comparison from last year and what, if any, forecasting it provides for what’s to come next week.

The Results

Here is what the final vote showed by the numbers of the full candidate listing:

Greg Maddux—94.51%

Frank Thomas—80.22%

Tom Glavine—75.82%

Mike Piazza—72.53%

Craig Biggio—70.33%

Jeff Bagwell—64.84%

Barry Bonds—60.44%

Roger Clemens—59.34%

Tim Raines—54.95%

Edgar Martinez—41.76%

Curt Schilling—39.56%

Mike Mussina—32.97%

Alan Trammell—30.77%

Jack Morris—25.27%

Mark McGwire—21.98%

Larry Walker—17.58%

Jeff Kent—15.38%

Lee Smith—14.29%

Don Mattingly—9.89%

Fred McGriff—8.79%

Rafael Palmeiro—7.69%

Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Eric Gagne, Luis Gonzalez, Sean Casey, Kenny Rogers, Richie Sexson, J.T. Snow, Armando Benitez, Ray Durham, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Paul Lo Duca, Hideo Nomo, Mike Timlin all received less than 5% of the vote and would be dropped from the actual ballot as a result.

The In-Crowd

The easy pick of the year ran away with it, and that was Greg Maddux. The 360 game, four-time Cy Young winner picked up 94.5% of the vote, which is about as strong of a showing as could be expected, yet still seems to be a low total in all reality. There is reasonable rumbling that Maddux could be the first unanimous selection in the history of the vote, and while that seems to be slightly far-fetched, the number that the BBA showed is surprising. There is no strike against Maddux’s career, nor any achievement that he did not conquer. And since he is without a doubt making a one-and-done appearance on the ballot, this is the only time to see how his impact will be felt in the forum.

After Maddux, Frank Thomas had the strongest showing, topping 80% of the vote in his first appearance. The two-time American League MVP, member of the 500 home run club and career .300 hitter should be expected to make such as strong showing. There have been some questions about whether he will make it in on the writer’s upcoming vote, with concerns levied against his status as mostly a designated hitter, the mid-career production/healthy swoon he dealt with, as well as the unavoidable suspicion of association as hitter who made his bones in the mid-90’s. But the showing for Thomas is one of a fair level in many regards, and could be the closest to the actual vote showing between the BWAA and BAA this year.

The third and final player that met the 75% required threshold was Glavine, who is perhaps the greatest #2 pitcher of all-time. Despite spending much of his prime as the second bullet out of the chamber for the loaded Braves rotation, Glavine twice won the Cy Young Award himself and was the World Series MVP in Atlanta’s sole victory during their run. Glavine barely slid over the line, and he is likely to be the most borderline candidate of the year next week as well. He hit the 300 win mark, which is virtually assures that he’ll reach the Hall much sooner than later, and it is tough to argue against him the first time around either. Perhaps the fact that he finished with a career ERA over 3.50 (high by most HOF standards) and carries the stigma of never having been “the man” for his team drops him down some. It will be an interesting showing for if Thomas or Glavine has the better showing among the premier first-timers this year.

Just A Bit Outside

Of the members that came up short, the continued divide among the opinion of performance enhancing drug users remains clear. Both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens kept similar representation on their second ballot as they did a year ago, however both are headed in different directions currently. Bonds dropped from 62% to 60.4% this year, while Clemens also saw a two percent gain up to 58%. Bonds finished fourth last year, but drops to seventh this season, while Clemens sees his place drop to eighth, despite the stronger showing.

A year ago, Jeff Bagwell was the only player that gained 75% vote required, but surprisingly drops down 12% this year and into the sixth place on the ballot. He is no doubt a victim of a much more impressive ballot, as well as a more spread about cast of veterans as well. Tim Raines also fell into this category, coming up 8% lower than he did a year ago and dropping out of the top 5 after an encouraging showing in 2012.

Otherwise, the top of the ballot has been a case of the tortoises instead of the hares. Mike Piazza had the steadiest carryover from 2012 to 2013, has he improved from 69% to 72% and remained within the top five overall. Craig Biggio, who had the best showing of any returning candidate from the BWAA ballot, where he appeared at 68.2%, came up short again on the blogger vote, but saw a 1% increase from a year ago.

Of other note is the extreme decline of Sammy Sosa’s sentiment (a 17% drop off), Edgar Martinez cornering his own market once again (a repeat at 41%) and a not-so surprising marginal face-off between Curt Schilling and Jack Morris once again.

Of the first timers that will remain represented, yet were not meet election criteria, Mike Mussina had the best showing, but was at only a paltry 32% vote.

What Does It All Mean?

In the end, there has not been a regular strong correlation between the BBA and BWAA vote. The BBA put in Jeff Bagwell last year, yet Andre Dawson did not meet the approval of the bloggers when he did so for the writers in 2010. Yet simulataneously, both entities agreed on the exclusion, then inclusion of Roberto Alomar in 2010 and 2011, respectively and the induction of Barry Larkin in 2012.

The writers have been much harder on the PED involved players all the way to a nearly 30% difference in opinion on Bonds and Clemens between the group. Mark McGwire hasn’t topped over 25% for either entity either.

The shared sentiment on marginal and guilt association has blurred the lines of achievement on both ballots, but one similarity that is likely to carry over with both this year is simple: the debates of years past will no doubt continue to carry into the years to come in regards to cautiously awarding final greatness in Cooperstown—whether virtual or reality.

For more on the Hall of Fame and baseball’s Decision Day in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

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Choo_Cincy

Late December is usually a slow period in the MLB winter, and this year mostly has been no exception. Bullpens have been filled out, lineups made complete and the table has been set for the grand finale that is the January that sets the stage for the spring behind it. The major exception this December has been the wait for the top remaining hitter to declare, as well as the foreign property that is Masahiro Tanaka to have his future decided….which ultimately leads to determining the future of more than half of the MLB clubs remaining dollars.

While Tanaka’s availability is finally eminent, there is one team that will likely not be in that pursuit – the Texas Rangers. But only because they made the major move that they have been needing to make to bring it all back together for over a year now. Ironically enough, via the addition of an intriguing player that does just a bit of everything well…

Here’s more on that move, as well as the remaining recent moves from the free agent pool….

3. Shin-Soo Choo-Outfielder-31 Years Old-2013 Team: Cincinnati Reds

Signed: Texas Rangers—7 years, $130 million

The Rangers and Choo went back and forth for over a month on him landing there, which especially took off after Jacoby Ellsbury filled a similar vacancy in New York. Yet, it came to be clear that Arlington is where Choo wanted to land the most, and it looks to be a mutually beneficial marriage looking ahead.

The Rangers lineup rebuild will benefit from the versatile Choo, who’s balanced offering of talents (a 162-game average spread of .289/.389/.465, along with 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 37 doubles for his career) makes him equally useful batting anywhere  between 1-3. Andrus can stay at leadoff or drop to the 2 spot, or Choo can return to the third hole, allowing Prince Fielder to stay at cleanup and have Adrian Beltre hit fifth, which is best for him. Overall, the Rangers final signing made every part of the team better, which is a rarity, but is why it was worth $130 million.

29. Joaquin Benoit-Relief Pitcher-36 Years Old-2013 Team: Detroit Tigers

Signed: San Diego Padres—2 years, $15.5 million

Bullpen depth has long been the strength of the Padres, but after dealing setup man Luke Gregorson that strength took a hit and necessitated adding Benoit. He spent the last few years as a varied arm in the backend of the Detroit pen, and over the past four years, he’s averaged better than nine strikeouts per nine innings.

42. Chris Perez-Relief Pitcher-28 Years Old-2013 Team: Cleveland Indians

Signed: Los Angeles Dodgers—1 year, $2.3 million

Perez’s career took a spin last year due to the marijuana case that befell him, and the side effects carried over to the field. On the heels of that season that saw him lose his closer role and post career highs (or lows), he’ll head to LA as a part of their ensemble of hard throwing closer-types in a demo season for another run at landing a closer job next winter.

43. Raul Ibanez-Designated Hitter-42 Years Old-2013 Team: Seattle Mariners

Signed: Los Angeles Angels—1 year, $2.75 million

After moving out Mark Trumbo, the Angels needed to replace his power potential in the lineup and Ibanez fits the bill. A quick rental bat that has continued to show he’s got some powder left in his cannon: he tied Ted Williams for the most home runs in a season, post-40th birthday.

51. Scott Downs-Relief Pitcher-38 Years Old-2013 Teams: Los Angeles Angels/Atlanta Braves

Signed: Chicago White Sox—1 year, $4 million

The Sox added a much needed left-handed presence to their bullpen mix, and caught a decent break with Downs. He struggled some once switching the National League, but overall finished with his fourth career season with an ERA under 2.00 during his American League run in Anaheim.

63. Jose Veras-Relief Pitcher-33 Years Old-2013 Teams: Houston Astros/Detroit Tigers

Signed: Chicago Cubs—1 year, $4 million

The Cubs picked up the former Astros closer-by-default to take the first swing at the role for them to start the year off. Pedro Strop will be in the mix as well, but Veras (21 of 25 saves converted, .199 averaged against) has the edge coming in.

For more on the winter’s work to prep the MLB summer, follow me in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Tannehill_Ryan

Here are the picks for the 16th go around for the NFL. There are nine teams that can clinch playoff berths this week, including a battle for the NFC South crown, a major NFC West showdown and the AFC wild card further sorting itself out.

As for the Cheat Sheet, it has been a limp the finish, but it’s not over until it’s over and I suppose it’s never too late to activate the genius. So, with that said…here’s how the game will sort itself out today.

RECAP

Free Money Picks: 5-7

Upset of the Week: 2-6-1

RECORD—Week 15: 7-9, Season: 129-78-1

SUNDAY

Miami Dolphins (8-6) at Buffalo Bills (5-9) [MIA -2, Over/Under: 43]

Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-5) [CIN -9, Over/Under: 47.5]

Indianapolis Colts (9-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) [KC -7, Over/Under: 46]

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) at St. Louis Rams (6-8) [STL 3.5, Over/Under: 43]

Cleveland Browns (4-10) at New York Jets (6-8) [NYJ -1, Over/Under: 41.5]

Dallas Cowboys (7-7) at Washington Redskins (3-11) [DAL -3, Over/Under: 52]

New Orleans Saints (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (10-4) [CAR -3, Over/Under: 44.5]

Tennessee Titans (5-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) [TEN -4, Over/Under: 43.5]

Denver Broncos (11-3) at Houston Texans (2-12) [DEN -10, Over/Under: 53.5]

New York Giants (5-9] at Detroit Lions (7-7) [DET -9.5, Over/Under: 48.5]

Arizona Cardinals (9-5) at Seattle Seahawks (12-2) [SEA -10, Over/Under: 43]

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8) at Green Bay Packers (7-6-1) [GB -2, Over/Under: 44.5]

Oakland Raiders (4-10) at San Diego Chargers (7-7) [SD 9.5, Over/Under: 51]

New England Patriots (10-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-6) [BAL -1.5, Over/Under: 45]

Chicago Bears (8-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-6) [PHI -3, Over/Under: 55.5]

MONDAY

Atlanta Falcons (4-10) at San Francisco 49ers (10-4) [SF -14, Over/Under: 45]

By Fanduel.com

 

Here at Cheap.Seats.Please., its always about looking forward. And there’s little that gets the year moving along quicker than getting ready for your fantasy season. Baseball is the gauntlet of all of fantasy league competition, and once again, our friends at Fanduel.com have returned again with some tips on how to get ahead of the competition…as well as get the most out of your fantasy dollar, with a new chance each week.

Just about every fantasy baseball owner out there would agree that the key to a successful draft is to find sleepers and potential breakout stars in the middle of the draft. Anyone can draft perennial All-Stars early on and be competitive if they follow cheat sheets. In fantasy baseball 2014, there will once again be some guys stepping it up and producing great numbers. So how do you identify them? It’s certainly anyone’s guess, but these players listed below will have the opportunity for success.

Cincinnati Reds v Texas Rangers

Jurickson Profar

A season ago, Profar was considered by some to be a pretty nice sleeper. However, he was stuck juggling a bunch of positions for the Texas Rangers, and his hitting suffered. When the Rangers traded Ian Kinsler away, that opened up the starting 2nd base position for the youngster. Expect him to be much better in fantasy baseball 2014 as he has additional stability to work with. Remember, he will be in just his age 21 season, so it is silly to sour on the talented infielder.

130215180927-taijuan-walker-ap2-single-image-cut

Taijuan Walker

He has been mentioned in trade rumors this offseason, but the Seattle Mariners are hoping to keep their talented flame thrower. Seattle gave him three starts at the end of the year in 2013, and he was able to give fans a glimpse of the future. Pitching at Safeco Field will definitely help his numbers in fantasy baseball 2014, so he is worth a look even if he doesn’t make the starting rotation out of Spring Training.

Springer_

George Springer

The two guys listed above have both appeared at the MLB level, but Springer will likely be making his debut in 2014. Houston was absolutely terrible last season, but they still refrained from giving their talented outfielder the call. He is more than ready though, as he hit .303 with 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases. Some see him as being the next Mike Trout or Yasiel Puig when he is finally let loose at the MLB level. Don’t sleep on him in the late rounds.

 

 

For more articles, contests and Fantasy games across the year, head over to FanDuel.com and @FanduelFantasy and get in the game. For more on baseball season as a whole, follow me on Twitter at@CheapSeatFan.

Omar-Infante-Detroit-Tigers

The Winter Meetings have come and gone, and while there have been a few fireworks made on the free agent market, by and large the heavily lifting was done before the sessions opened in Orlando and there is still plenty left to go now that they have closed. But that does not mean that meaningful moves were not made. To the contrary, several teams made the type of smaller headline, but key acquisitions that truly add substance to a team.

That is what this edition of the CTC will show: teams adding the players that do things in-between the lines to put a team over. The Mariners added two power bats to help add punch around Robinson Cano, while the Royals made a glue signing to fix one of the last remaining holes in their everyday offering. It saw a run on projects, that if they find their form can be major contributors, yet also saw a few leaps of faith that make a little less clear sense–but that’s why they are leaps in the first place.

All in all, it has been a run of strategy in recent days, before the final big money run is made in headed into January. This highly active, yet deliberate, MLB offseason continues to bring brand new intrigue, and here are the most recent pages to the story.

(All ranks are original from the first Top 75 Free Agent rankings. Ages are what each player’s 2014 playing age will be.)

25. Omar Infante-Second Baseman-32 years old-2013 Team: Kansas City Royals

Signed: Kansas City Royals—4 years, $30 million

The Royals addressed their biggest everyday need by ponying up and acquiring the top second baseman generally affordable by everybody this winter. Infante finished fifth at the position in pure runs generated, and has hit over .300 three times in the last five years. He can contribute at virtually every position and betters a young team on the verge in need of veteran presence. It is a signing that improves the best defense in the American League, yet also provides some intriguing lineup flexibility. Strong substance builder for a team that is on the verge of a make or break stretch.

37. Bartolo Colon-Starting Pitcher-41 years old-2013 Team: Oakland Athletics

Signed: New York Mets—2 years, $20 million

The Mets put forth the extra year that Colon was looking for, and land a steady bookmark arm to hold over the time of the growth of Zach Wheeler and the return of Matt Harvey. A year ago, Colon two-seam fastballed his way to an 18-win season at age 40.

40. Corey Hart-First Baseman/Outfielder-32 years old-2013 Team: Milwaukee Brewers

Signed: Seattle Mariners—1 year, $6 million

Hart missed 2013 with a knee injury, but returns to a new league and a likely return to the outfield in Seattle. At his best, Hart twice hit 30 home runs and finished with a .280 plus average from 2010-2012. He’ll provide versatility between right field, first base and the designated hitter spot for the rebuilding Mariners.

41. James Loney-First Baseman-30 years old-2013 Team: Tampa Bay Rays

Resigned: Rays—3 years, $21 million

It is a bit surprising that the Rays put the money and contract length into Loney that they did. A $7 million annual value is a bit high in Tampa, but even if Loney regresses back closer to the form he had in 2012, he solves what seemed to be a very big hole in the Rays regular offering at first.

44. Boone Logan-Relief Pitcher-29 years old-2013 Team: New York Yankees

Signed: Colorado Rockies—3 years, $16.5 million

The workhorse lefty is a coup for the Rockies, who are very focused on reworking their bullpen situation. Over the last two years, he has averaged over 11 strikeouts per nine innings, and along with Rex Brothers, gives the Rockies a formidable southpaw collection to win late matchup wars with.

45. Gavin Floyd-Starting Pitcher-31 years old-2013 Team: Chicago White Sox

Signed: Atlanta Braves—1 year, $4 million

Floyd is rehabbing from a torn UCL in his elbow, but is a buy low candidate with a chance to contribute to a rotation that lost Tim Hudson, and doesn’t appear to be in on spending big to replace him. It’s a wish and a prayer signing, with little loss if it doesn’t pan out.

46. Jason Kubel-Designated Hitter-32 years old-2013 Team: Arizona Diamondbacks/Cleveland Indians

Signed: Minnesota Twins—1 year, minor league terms

After a disappointing 2012, Kubel returns to the team that drafted him and he spent his first seven years with. Despite the down year, Minnesota may have landed a steal if he can recapture his form and make the team in the spring. In 2012, he hit 30 home runs in Arizona, and has topped 20 three other occasions.

47. Mike Morse-First Baseman/Outfielder-32 years old-2013 Team: Seattle Mariners

Signed: San Francisco Giants—1 year, $6 million

He could prove to be one of the best signings of the winter if he can recapture the stroke that saw him launch 64 homers for the Nationals from 2010-2012. For a lineup devoid of a true hammer, Morse changes the everyday potential in San Fran.

57. Mark Ellis-Second Baseman-37 years old-2013 Team: Los Angeles Dodgers

Signed: St. Louis Cardinals—1 year, TBA

A smart signing by the Cardinals which will keep them from being left exposed if rookie Kolten Wong does not adjust as quickly as hoped to as an everyday starter. Ellis had the second best defensive zone rating in the National League last season, and will be a very strong safety net.

59. J.P. Howell-Relief Pitcher-31 years old-2013 Team: Los Angeles Dodgers

Resigned: Dodgers—2 years, $11.25 million

The Dodgers came to a smart agreement with lefty J.P. Howell, which will keep their stated goal of having a shutdown end of the game lineup. In his first NL season, he posted an ERA just slightly north of 2.00 and comes at a bargain price due to the plethora of left-handed options on the market this winter.

65. Juan Uribe-Third Baseman-35 years old-2013 Team: Los Angeles Dodgers

Resigned: Dodgers—2 years, $15 million

The cat and mouse game between the Dodgers and Uribe finally came to an end with the agreement on the two year deal. Uribe became a superb defender last season, but the underrated portion of his return is keeping Yasiel Puig’s clubhouse mentor in tow as well.

71. Rajai Davis-Outfielder-33 years old-2013 Team: Toronto Blue Jays

Signed: Detroit Tigers—2 years, $10 million

Forced out of the regular lineup by the presence of Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera, Davis still managed to steal 45 bases despite playing in only 108 games. He will likely get a chance to display that speed more often in a time share with Andy Dirks in left field.

73. Joba Chamberlain-Relief Pitcher-28 years old-2013 Team: New York Yankees

Signed: Detroit Tigers—1 year, $2.5 million

The Tigers took a flier on Chamberlain to fill in the back end of their bullpen in the roles vacated by Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit. But Chamberlain hasn’t been healthy in nearly four years, and is more of a bonus than anything that should be relied on too heavily very late in the game.

76. John Axford-Relief Pitcher-31 years old-2013 Team: Milwaukee Brewers/St. Louis Cardinals

Signed: Cleveland Indians—1 year, $4.5 million

While he likely will never return to the form that made him one of the top relievers in baseball in 2011, he still pumps the heat and should be in line for first crack at the ninth for Tito this year.

77. Garrett Jones-First Baseman-33 years old-2013 Team: Pittsburgh Pirates

Signed: Miami Marlins—2 years, $7.5 million

Just before they traded Logan Morrison, essentially they paid for a slightly more expensive (and older) version of him. Jones was being slowly forced out of Pittsburgh over the last two years, but will now get a chance for 600 at-bats in the far less talented Miami mix.

For more on the still developing MLB free agent scene, follow me in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Peyton_Manning

The NFL moves on from Day After Tomorrow, also known as Week 14, where half the games around the league looked like Tony Montana’s face in the last 5 minutes of his lifetime.  And now as Week 15 comes up the playoff picture continues to get more and more important, and the games continue to get unpredictable.

But looking at the picks, and picture is trending upwards again for the CHEAT SHEET. While the top upset picks continue to disappoint, the money locks are coming through. This week looks to be a much safer week to get some low risk payouts in, as well as some strong upset chances as well. Sunday in both Tennessee and Dallas could get interesting, and the while the week doesn’t start off with much of a challenge game in Denver, it does provide a chance to bet a pretty safe over/under either way.

Regardless of how you pick, it is bound to be an entertaining week, with Seahawks out for vengeance against the turnover prone Giants, the Redskins QB carousel going into soap opera levels of ridiculous and a certain #18 in the orange and blue looking to break a record that seemed pretty far out just a few months ago tonight.

Here is how it’s all playing out this week….

RECAP

Free Money Picks: 5-7

Upset of the Week: 2-6-1

RECORD—Week 15: 10-6, SEASON: 122-69-1

THURSDAY

San Diego Chargers (6-7) at Denver Broncos (11-2) [DEN -11, Over/Under 56.5]

SUNDAY

Washington Redskins (3-10) at Atlanta Falcons (3-10) [ATL -7, Over/Under 50.5]

Chicago Bears (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-9) [CHI -2, Over/Under 45]

Houston Texans (2-11) at Indianapolis Colts (8-5) [IND -5, Over/Under 45.5]

New England Patriots (10-3) at Miami Dolphins (7-6) [NE -2, Over/Under 45.5]

Philadelphia Eagles (8-5) at Minnesota Vikings (3-9-1) [PHI -5, Over/Under 51.5]

Seattle Seahawks (11-2) at New York Giants (5-8) [SEA -7, Over/Under 41.5]

San Francisco 49ers (9-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) [SF -5, Over/Under 41]

Buffalo Bills (4-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) [BUF -1, Over/Under 43]

Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) at Oakland Raiders (4-9) [KC -5, Over/Under 41]

New York Jets (6-7) at Carolina Panthers (9-4) [CAR -11, Over/Under 40.5]

Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6) [DAL -7, Over/Under 49]

Arizona Cardinals (8-5) at Tennessee Titans (5-8) [ARI -3, Over/Under 41.5]

New Orleans Saints (10-3) at St. Louis Rams (5-8) [NO -6, Over/Under 47.5]

Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8) [CIN -3, Over/Under 41]

MONDAY

Baltimore Ravens (7-6) at Detroit Lions (7-6) [DET -6, Over/Under 48.5]

Matt_Garza

The outside looking in can seem the furthest away the closer you are. And while it is impossible to build a team around just one addition, acquiring the right finishing touch can make all of the difference in the world from one year to the next. For the teams that finished either within firing range of a division title (or should have), the Winter Meetings provide a chance to go the extra mile towards winning the race.

But what’s left to do that with? Free agents have been flying off the shelf quicker than at any point in recent history. And while Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Joe Nathan are all gone does not mean that the opportunity to make an instant upgrade to what’s returning is. The slight move can be the right move, and here are a few options that a few competitors that finished on the brink of a title could make to close the ranks that eluded them last summer…

Washington Nationals—Omar Infante: For the Nats, it is about adding both depth and rounding out their lineup to secure it is in place for an immediate run. As they showed, in the last month of the season, they are capable of turning it on and playing as well as any team in the NL, but were caught too thin and injured to do so far too often. Infante represents an upgrade at one of their few questionable positions, and also provides depth all throughout the infield and in the outfield if needed.

Pittsburgh Pirates—Kendrys Morales: The general feel is that Morales will need to have the DH spot open to play from, but for the Pirates who have lost Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd and Garrett Jones, adding the type of power bat that he represents in-between Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez upgrades them put them on par with the Cardinal club they are chasing. The price may be high, but the value would be worth it, and with Morales likely to last a while due to the draft pick compensation tied to him, they likely could get him at much more friendly rate within a month or so.

Arizona Diamondbacks—Jesse Crain/J.P. Howell: Shin-Soo Choo is the best fit for the club, but a bidding war with the Rangers could be looming for his services, which Arizona would surely loose. Instead, reallocating those resources towards two premier bullpen arms would both save money and support their emerging staff. The duo of Crain and Howell would give the Diamondbacks a very formidable late inning group to match the late-game units in LA and San Francisco.

Tampa Bay Rays—Corey Hart: They’ve said that they do not have interest in the rehabbing former Brewer, but revisiting him would be a smart move. He provides a power option to support Evan Longoria and Wil Myers in the heart of the order and can play both first base and right field, which gives Joe Maddon the type of lineup flexibility he loves to deploy. What’s more, he won’t be overly expensive due to injury concerns, so he fits right into the pocket where the Rays like to stay—the shallow part.

Cleveland Indians—Grant Balfour: The secret strength of the Indians last year was a deep bullpen, but with Chris Perez, Joe Smith and Matt Albers all departed, that stash is depleted. Balfour has been through the trials of the postseason the previous two seasons, and would provide a much needed (yet very ironic) calming presence to the Indians as they look to get over the hump and keep up with the Tigers.

Los Angeles Angels—Matt Garza: While the A’s and Rangers have been busy, the Angels have been waiting to find the right way to make an impact add to their starting pitching. Yesterday’s trade brought some young talent to the mix, but this is a team in need of a stragetic impact add. During the past two winters, they have only achieved half of that equation,  but bringing Garza aboard would give them one of the best #3 pitchers in baseball (finally back in the role that he made his name in with the Rays behind James Shields and David Price) and would give them a much needed boost in the match up department from the mound behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. He won’t make an 18-game difference by himself, but at this point, the Angels have to either keep adding or blow it up…and option B isn’t in play.

For more on the free agent market (and where these guys likely do end up), follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan