Phil Rogers

How to fill baseball's biggest roster holes

Breaking down most intriguing ways to fill remaining club needs

How to fill baseball's biggest roster holes

Spring Training is here, but please don't turn off the Hot Stove. Not yet.

Dozens of free agents remain unsigned, including many household names. Trade talks that started back at the General Managers Meetings in November remain ripe to be revisited. Other conversations have only just begun. The next round of possibilities is only a text message away.

Hot Stove Tracker | Spring Training info

As players take the field, there are questions to be answered, holes to be filled. Among the most intriguing of these fluid scenarios:

No. 1 starter, Orioles
Last year: Chris Tillman, who delivered a 3.34 ERA in 2014, was the Opening Day starter, but he regressed badly. Lefty Wei-Yin Chen, who worked behind Tillman, was solid again, but he left as a free agent after the season.

Internal choices: Injuries have slowed the development of prospects Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, leaving 25-year-old righty Kevin Gausman as the only real homegrown option (and he has a 4.27 ERA in 42 career starts). A rebound from Tillman would be welcomed.

Home run move: Sign Yovani Gallardo, the best free-agent arm still on the market, which is appearing inevitable. If the Orioles walk away from their long-running dialogue with Gallardo to hold onto the 14th pick in the Draft, they will probably stand pat. It's hard to see them going this way, but they could sign Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum or Mark Buehrle to a one-year deal and hope they can catch lightning in a bottle.

O's closing in on Gallardo

Shortstop, White Sox
Last year: Alexei Ramirez was one of the large handful of Sox players who started slow and finished strong. The team declined his contract option, feeling it was time for change after an eight-year run with him.

Internal choices: Speedster Tim Anderson, the team's No.1-ranked prospect, is coming fast, but he would probably benefit from spending 2016 in Triple-A after hitting .312 in Double-A last season. Tyler Saladino, a natural shortstop who filled in at third base last season, and Carlos Sanchez, the primary second baseman last season, are likely to be stopgap replacements.

Home run move: Sign Desmond, who has averaged 3.2 WAR the past four years. Jimmy Rollins also remains on the market.

Top Prospects: Anderson, CWS

Catcher, Rays
Last year: The team bought heavily into Rene Rivera's breakout season with San Diego in 2014, and Rivera played like the longtime reserve he's been. Kevin Cash used four other catchers, and the position combined to hit .201 with a .601 OPS, a number that would have been much lower if not for home runs from Curt Casali and J.P. Arencibia.

Internal choices: Casali and Rivera remain, and switch-hitter Hank Conger was acquired from Houston. Prospect Justin O'Conner will flash power and a terrific throwing arm, but he could be headed for a return to Double-A as he remains unrefined.

Home run move: The Rays have the prospects to get Jonathan Lucroy from the Brewers. His contract fits, and Tampa Bay could send a big league catcher back to Milwaukee. Lucroy could be a four- or five-win swing who helps the Rays compete. This is a deal that could come together in Spring Training.

Outlook: Lucroy, C, MIL

Setup relief, Cubs
Last year: Injuries to Neil Ramirez and downturn in consistency by Pedro Strop weakened a seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning mix that had been strong in 2014. Jason Motte played a big role early before his shoulder got sore. The Cubs reached the National League Championship Series with a patchwork cast of imported veterans, with Trevor Cahill having the biggest impact.

Internal choices: Manager Joe Maddon has many, including the hope that Ramirez and Strop reassert themselves. Adam Warren, part of the Starlin Castro trade with the Yankees, could figure in a big way if he's not needed in the rotation. Rookie Carl Edwards Jr. will get a good look.

Home run move: Trade for an impact arm like the Yanks' Andrew Miller. This is more of a midseason possibility than an immediate one.

AL Reliever of the Year: Miller

Third base, Braves
Last year: Alberto Callaspo was the first of nine third basemen, with none playing more than 42 games. They combined for a .303 OBP and an NL-low 60 RBIs.

Internal choices: The job belongs to Adonis Garcia, a 30-year-old Cuban released by the Yankees at the end of Spring Training in 2015, who opened eyes as a power hitter last season and is coming off a big offseason. His fielding could be an issue for a team trying to develop young pitchers.

Home run move: Sign non-compensation free agent David Freese, who delivered a 2.3 WAR last season for the Angels, who are replacing him with Yunel Escobar.

Freese snuffs out bunt attempt

First base, Pirates
Last year: Pedro Alvarez moved over from third base to take his spin around the revolving door. The Pirates have switched primary first basemen every season since 2009, when they traded Adam LaRoche to the Red Sox around the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Alvarez, a former first-round pick, was non-tendered after the season.

Internal choices: Michael Morse, signed to a two-year contract before 2015, and converted catcher John Jaso, signed as a free agent in December, will platoon, trying to provide the power lost with Alvarez's departure. No. 3 prospect Josh Bell is in the wings, but he probably needs another season of development.

Home run move: Abandon organizational discipline to trade for the Braves' Freddie Freeman. He's 26, and with his long contract, he could contribute throughout Atlanta's rebuild, but the Braves are about 22-and-under players.

Outlook: Freeman, 1B, ATL

Third base, Indians
Last year: Lonnie Chisenhall started the season as the regular, but he was moved to right field. That opened the door for slick fielder Giovanny Urshela, who joined shortstop Francisco Lindor in upgrading the Indians' infield defense. But he hit only .225 with a .279 OBP.

Internal choices: Urshela is getting a chance to show he can stick, but he will have to hit better.

Home run move: Trade for the Cubs' Javier Baez. The deal would have been done before now, but the Tribe doesn't want to give up one of its top starters (probably Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar) to get him.

Baez's diving stop

Left field/leadoff, Angels
Last year: The team made a decision to part ways with Josh Hamilton after he admitted a substance abuse relapse. Matt Joyce was handed the position but crumbled. Manager Mike Scioscia eventually used 12 left fielders, who as a group underperformed (.216, .275 OBP with 9 home runs). Leadoff hitters were almost as ineffective (.237/.280).

Internal choices: With no attractive options in the pipeline, the Halos lined up a series of inexpensive options. As of now, it appears there will be a platoon of newcomers Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry. Rafael Ortega and Todd Cunningham were also added as depth pieces and will try to carve out significant roles.

Home run move: Nothing's more perplexing than why the Angels haven't signed Dexter Fowler. It seems like the perfect marriage. He could fill the two open roles, as he did to help the Cubs win 97 games, but new Angels GM Billy Eppler has left him on the market because of concerns about the luxury-tax threshold and losing the 17th pick in the Draft. And it now appears Baltimore is going to pounce on Fowler instead.

Fowler's solo homer

First base, Cardinals
Last year: A quadriceps tear was the major issue in a nightmare season for Matt Adams. Mark Reynolds emerged as the primary first baseman and, for the second year in a row, the Cardinals could have used more power from the position.

Internal choices: Adams and Brandon Moss, acquired from the Indians at the cost of pitching prospect Rob Kaminsky last July, will compete for the job. Stephen Piscotty is another option, but he is expected to start in right field.

Home run move: See Pirates/Freeman, above.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.