Hot stove stock watch: Which contenders should buy? Which pretenders should sell?

Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

Baseball's offseason is a time for setting and, in some cases, resetting expectations as we move toward the 2018 season. For many teams, the baseline of those expectations has moved dramatically from where it was before the recently completed campaign began.

It has been a few weeks since we checked in with a Stock Watch, as when the regular season reached an end, we shifted into postseason mode. Now is a good time to get back into this kind of snapshot glimpse of the majors. It's a perfect time, in fact, because the free agents for each team have been declared, and no major trades have yet taken place.

Given this frozen state of baseball's rosters, we can take the opportunity to do a couple things. After arriving at an initial 2018 projection, we can measure teams against where they stood entering the 2017 season while, at the same time, establishing the starting point for each club before their winter moves. The first measurement gives us a sense of how teams are trending. The second will allow us to evaluate the coming moves from an objective starting point.

To set the current win projections, I used the depth charts at Fangraphs.com, undoing the trades that have been made to date, such as the one that moved Ryon Healy from Oakland to Seattle. No free agents are included in the projections. After converting the Fangraphs data into initial win projections, I ran those through a 2018 schedule simulator to generate adjusted win forecasts along with playoff and championship odds.

The teams are grouped in three tiers:

-- Prime contenders: teams with at least a 1 percent shot at the 2018 title (11 teams)

-- Playoff hopefuls: teams with non-zero title odds but below 1 percent (9 teams)

-- Work to do: teams that did not win the title in any of the 5,000 simulations (10 teams)

Within each tier, teams are ordered according to the change in their win projection from the 2017 preseason to now. The team with the most improved projection is the New York Yankees, who have tacked on 13.1 forecasted wins to their pre-2017 baseline. The team that has lost the most is the San Francisco Giants, whose win baseline dropped by 11.8 wins.

We'll check back to see how the major moves of the Hot Stove season have altered this way-too-early forecast.

Prime contenders

New York Yankees

Pre-hot stove win projection: 93.5

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 13.1 (Rank: 1)

Playoff probability: 81% | Championship probability: 7.4%

The Yankees have an interesting winter ahead as they balance what looks like a very real shot at making a deep run again in 2018 with replacing or retaining key free agents such as CC Sabathia and Todd Frazier, all while trying to stay under the tax threshold and finding a new manager.

Minnesota Twins

Pre-hot stove win projection: 86.2

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 11.9 (Rank: 2)

Playoff probability: 46% | Championship probability: 1.5%

Rather than regression eating into the Twins' 2016-to-2017 leap, the early forecasts see Minnesota continuing its ascension. Like the Indians, the Twins' win projection gets a boost from what looks like an AL Central that might feature three bottom-feeders in 2018. For the Twins, that boosts what already looks like a solid wild-card candidacy.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Pre-hot stove win projection: 84.3

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 9.0 (Rank: 3)

Playoff probability: 42% | Championship probability: 1.3%

What a quandary Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen faces this winter. Arizona has a chance to consolidate its gains on the field -- and at the box office -- stemming from this season's postseason run. But the money almost certainly isn't there to retain free agent J.D. Martinez, and it might not be there to both replace his lost bat and account for regression at other spots.

Cleveland Indians

Pre-hot stove win projection: 101.3

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 8.0 (Rank: 4)

Playoff probability: 98% | Championship probability: 12.8%

As mentioned, the Indians' early projection gets a tremendous boost from a schedule heavy with weak divisional opposition in Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City. Still, with Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana on the market and Edwin Encarnacion's age creeping upward, you'd like to see Cleveland land another impact bat.

Houston Astros

Pre-hot stove win projection: 102.7

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 7.0 (Rank: 5)

Playoff probability: 98% | Championship probability: 19.6%

The Astros have nothing to do this offseason except cast a wide net for bullpen options. They can spend on a high-dollar guy such as Wade Davis or go for quantity and see what pops up next summer in the in-season trade market. Either way, Houston is the early favorite to repeat as World Series champion.

Washington Nationals

Pre-hot stove win projection: 97.6

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 5.8 (Rank: 6)

Playoff probability: 94% | Championship probability: 12.7%

There is so much uncertainty surrounding the future of the Nationals that it's easy to forget that even with 11 free agents, Washington's status-quo roster is loaded. But with Bryce Harper, Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Murphy entering the final years of their deals, how all-in can GM Mike Rizzo go on upgrades for 2018? Complicating that question is the fact that Rizzo is entering the last year of his own deal.

St. Louis Cardinals

Pre-hot stove win projection: 88.8

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 5.8 (Rank: 7)

Playoff probability: 65% | Championship probability: 2.1%

Regression looks like the Cardinals' friend after a disappointing 2017 season. The upside of disappointment is that it can motivate you going forward. The Cardinals have been frequently mentioned as an aggressor in early hot stove activity, and an impact player tacked onto this baseline would put the Cardinals back near baseball's elite tier.

Boston Red Sox

Pre-hot stove win projection: 92.0

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 2.9 (Rank: 10)

Playoff probability: 75% | Championship probability: 5.2%

As the Red Sox search far and wide to add power to their lineup, they can take solace in the fact that Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers are just getting started.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Pre-hot stove win projection: 101.7

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 0.3 (Rank: 14)

Playoff probability: 98% | Championship probability: 18.3%

The Dodgers have a sneakily interesting offseason at hand. The roster should get younger with the departure of a few veteran free agents, all of which should be fairly easy to replace, except for starter Yu Darvish and reliever Brandon Morrow. L.A. can let them all walk, add no one and still be a heavy favorite to yet again win the NL West. But do the Dodgers get aggressive this winter, or do they wait until next July to see what, if any, areas have sprung a leak?

Chicago Cubs

Pre-hot stove win projection: 97.1

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -1.8 (Rank: 19)

Playoff probability: 92% | Championship probability: 14.6%

The Cubs focused their rebuilding efforts on finding, developing and signing high-ceiling position talent. Obviously, that approach has worked well. But with a need to restock the pitching staff this winter, the system's lack of high-quality (and low-cost) pitching prospects looms fairly large.

New York Mets

Pre-hot stove win projection: 82.0

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -5.0 (Rank: 24)

Playoff probability: 29% | Championship probability: 1.7%

The luster hasn't completely worn off on the forecasts for the Mets' rotation, though the optimism for regression carries with it an oversized asterisk that denotes "health permitting." Still, New York has some upside if the likes of Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom are present and productive. There is the possibility that the painful acclimations of Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith prove to be just one of those breaking-in phases. And there is the possibility that the Mets spring for some help for the infield and bullpen. There is hope.

Playoff hopefuls

Colorado Rockies

Pre-hot stove win projection: 77.9

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 5.6 (Rank: 8)

Playoff probability: 14% | Championship probability: 0.2%

The Rockies have a real shot at building on last season's improvement with the right additions this winter. There are a lot of spots GM Jeff Bridich might target, though. There is a clear need to build the bullpen back up with Greg Holland, Jake McGee and Pat Neshek on the free-agent market. But the Rockies also need to address the catcher position and make a key determination on whether they can hold steady on the outfield corners by going young with David Dahl and Raimel Tapia.

Los Angeles Angels

Pre-hot stove win projection: 83.8

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 1.6 (Rank: 11)

Playoff probability: 36% | Championship probability: 0.7%

The extension signed by potential free agent Justin Upton was huge and sets the direction for the Angels this winter. They should be able to spend and need a couple of dependable sources for rotation innings, two starting infielders and bullpen help. It's quite a laundry list.

Miami Marlins

Pre-hot stove win projection: 79.4

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -0.3 (Rank: 15)

Playoff probability: 18% | Championship probability: 0.5%

The Marlins would have to go well over budget to add sorely needed impact starting pitching, and doing so wouldn't necessarily improve the long-term prospectus. The attempted teardown that seems to be coming makes sense, but it's still a rough go for Marlins fans.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pre-hot stove win projection: 81.6

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -1.1 (Rank: 18)

Playoff probability: 26% | Championship probability: 0.4%

As the Pirates weigh decisions on whether and when to move Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, both of whom are part of this projection, it's worth considering how Pittsburgh plans to escape the middle by spending up to its budget just to retain its core. If those two stay, and there are arguments either way, then the Pirates would still have to do some uncharacteristic spending to move the needle for next season.

Tampa Bay Rays

Pre-hot stove win projection: 78.9

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -3.4 (Rank: 20)

Playoff probability: 13% | Championship probability: 0.3%

The Rays are in a similar boat to Pittsburgh's. The status quo odds are long, but playoff contention is within the realm of possibility. One way or another, some upside needs to be introduced to the big-league roster.

Toronto Blue Jays

Pre-hot stove win projection: 81.0

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -3.5 (Rank: 21)

Playoff probability: 20% | Championship probability: 0.3%

This is a fork-in-the-road offseason for the Blue Jays. If they can spend or trade to add an impact bat for the short term, another run at the playoffs might make sense. But if that quest fails, it might be best to start leaning into reset mode.

Baltimore Orioles

Pre-hot stove win projection: 73.9

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -4.5 (Rank: 23)

Playoff probability: 5% | Championship probability: 0.1%

The Orioles' pitching outlook is grim, though there should be money available to make a couple of significant upgrades. Unfortunately, there is a lot of competition for a thin class of impact free-agent starters. Besides, just how much long-term money does Baltimore want to tie up, with Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Adam Jones all set to become free agents after next season?

Seattle Mariners

Pre-hot stove win projection: 80.3

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -6.7 (Rank: 26)

Playoff probability: 20% | Championship probability: 0.2%

Much like the Orioles, the Mariners could vault into periphery contention with the right pitching upgrades. But the pickings on the free-agent market are slim. Seattle is staring at the climbing ages of offensive cornerstones Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, the latter of whom is entering a walk year. Seattle also has a key hole to address in center field by re-signing or replacing free agent Jarrod Dyson.

San Francisco Giants

Pre-hot stove win projection: 76.6

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -11.8 (Rank: 30)

Playoff probability: 10% | Championship probability: 0.1%

Most teams that moved so far from their preseason baseline have seen a fair amount of roster turnover. Not so with the Giants, who are looking at an overwhelming payroll for the foreseeable future. It's hard to see what adding Giancarlo Stanton to this mix would accomplish, but then again, the amount of long-term money on the books more or less precludes the Giants from embarking on a full-on rebuild.

San Diego Padres

Pre-hot stove win projection: 66.9

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 4.3 (Rank: 9)

Playoff probability: 1% | Championship probability: 0.0%

Everything in San Diego for this offseason hinges on a realistic appraisal of when the system is going to turn the corner at the big-league level. If it's within two or three years, then a long-term expenditure on an in-his-prime free agent such as Eric Hosmer could make sense. But there certainly is no reason to over reach.

Work to do

Cincinnati Reds

Pre-hot stove win projection: 70.6

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 1.4 (Rank: 12)

Playoff probability: 3% | Championship probability: 0.0%

The Reds can play it casual this winter if they want. There's a lot to like about what's happening in Cincinnati. Still, any real hope for a turnaround season in 2018 depends upon en masse leaps in production from a promising group of young starting pitchers, such as the one we saw from the Rockies in 2017. If that happens, other holes can be addressed in-season.

Philadelphia Phillies

Pre-hot stove win projection: 71.4

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: 1.4 (Rank: 13)

Playoff probability: 4% | Championship probability: 0.0%

The Phillies' offensive projection (22nd in park-adjusted scoring) severely undersells the upside of a group that could see 2018 breakouts from youngsters such as Rhys Hoskins, J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery, Maikel Franco and Nick Williams. Add to those names the continued production of Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr, and you've got to love the potential of the Philly lineup. There are some high-ceiling arms in the system as well, but chances are that isn't going to be the backbone of the 2018 pitching staff. Finding the right stop-gap solutions for that staff could make Philly a sleeper entering next season.

Milwaukee Brewers

Pre-hot stove win projection: 68.9

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -0.4 (Rank: 16)

Playoff probability: 2% | Championship probability: 0.0%

From a projection standpoint, not much of what we know about the Brewers now has changed from what we thought we knew before the 2017 season. However, during the season, we saw a team that hung in the playoff chase until late in the season. Chances are, many of the members of the surprising 2017 roster are going to prove to be transitional players. You would hate if the Brewers went nuts with spending this winter, though you can understand the temptation.

Atlanta Braves

Pre-hot stove win projection: 71.0

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -0.5 (Rank: 17)

Playoff probability: 2% | Championship probability: 0.0%

After a tumultuous winter, it's time for new GM Alex Anthopoulos to chart the course for what almost certainly is going to be a much brighter future. The Braves' hopes to hit on some short-term deals and get into contention for the 2017 opening of SunTrust Park didn't quite work out. Anthopoulos can be more measured in his approach this winter. You get the feeling that when Atlanta turns the corner, the Braves will go from bad to really good in a hurry.

Oakland Athletics

Pre-hot stove win projection: 72.6

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -3.9 (Rank: 22)

Playoff probability: 2% | Championship probability: 0.0%

According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the A's have three guaranteed contracts on the books for the coming season, all expiring deals at $6 million for 2018. And that is all. Everyone else on the books is in his arbitration years or before. Yet there's a good amount of bona fide young MLB talent on this roster. With the A's nearing the end of their status as receivers in MLB's revenue-sharing system, and a new stadium maybe, possibly, finally coming down the pike, it will be fascinating to see how things evolve in Oakland the next few years.

Kansas City Royals

Pre-hot stove win projection: 65.1

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -6.2 (Rank: 25)

Playoff probability: 0% | Championship probability: 0.0%

If the Royals lose all three of the free agents to which they've made qualifying offers (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain), they could have five of the first 40 picks in the next draft. Knowing that bounty is on the way to inject life into the minor-league system, it will then be tempting to go all-in on a sell-off: Salvador Perez, Danny Duffy, Whit Merrifield, etc. It's hard to see how K.C. contends by trying to replace that trio with lesser options from the free-agent market, so what choice is there but to jumpstart a rebuild?

Texas Rangers

Pre-hot stove win projection: 73.3

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -8.7 (Rank: 27)

Playoff probability: 4% | Championship probability: 0.0%

The Rangers' have a ton of money to spend in free agency and should be in on all the top starter: former Ranger Yu Darvish, Dallas-area native Jake Arrieta, etc. That would go a long way toward beefing up a No. 29 forecast in run prevention. The offensive outlook could improve as well by adding some balance to a talented group that has too many strikeouts at too many spots in the lineup.

Chicago White Sox

Pre-hot stove win projection: 58.9

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -9.6 (Rank: 28)

Playoff probability: 0% | Championship probability: 0.0%

The White Sox and Royals were the only two teams to fail to make the postseason in any of the simulated seasons. For the Royals, that should serve as a wake-up call. For the White Sox, it's all according to the plan. If Chicago overachieves this season because its wave of young players starts to mature more quickly than expected, that forward momentum and a ton of free payroll could make the White Sox a prime team to watch when the sparkling free-agent class of next winter hits the market.

Detroit Tigers

Pre-hot stove win projection: 70.7

Change in win projection from 2017 preseason: -10.5 (Rank: 29)

Playoff probability: 2% | Championship probability: 0.0%

The rebuilding process is just getting started in Detroit. Fans there have been through it before. Some of the veteran Tigers, such as Miguel Cabrera, have not.