Dave Cameron's piece on retooling for 2011 offered some interesting food for thought.
Dave proposed a couple of wire-level pickups:
Chris Resop: Yeah, he would be a great piece to pick up and test drive, but with the Braves leading the NL East and definitely looking at a postseason return, plus two late 30's pitchers in their rotation (Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami) coming with a significant non-zero injury risk, along with a converted reliever (Kris Medlen) filling in for a currently injured young starter (Jair Jurrjens) who was already struggling before his DL trip, and their other fringe rotation options struggling at AAA (Jo-Jo Reyes, James Parr)... what if the Braves consider Resop a valuable piece of rotation insurance?
They wouldn't need Resop as a starter in October with a playoff-shortened rotation. But if one of the old men hits the DL during the regular season, if Jurrjens doesn't get back up to speed and/or if Medlen comes back to Earth and looks more like a reliever-quality arm (or gets hurt himself), they might need Resop's arm in the rotation, and his excellent work in AAA probably isn't lost on the Braves front office even if he's not on their 25 man roster.
Resop has a clause in his contract that says he's got to get called up by 6/15 this season or get released. But with Jesse Chavez struggling in the Braves pen, no assurances that Cristhian Martinez will be a useful reliever over the long term, a host of young option-able arms in the pen that could possibly unravel, and the elephant in the room of the two veteran starters (Lowe and Kawakami) struggling, I'm not convinced the Braves consider Resop as disposable as he'd need to be to make for an easy flier pickup.
Kila Ka’aihue and Alex Gordon: Gordon is admittedly an if-pickup in Cameron's scenario, but his focus is on Ka'aihue, who is admittedly a more do-able pickup. The question is whether the Royals would be keen on unloading him for a low price. They didn't mind unloading Dan Cortes and Derrick Saito from their system for Yuniesky Betancourt, but Cortes and Saito were young pitchers in a system full of them.
Ka'aihue, even rotting away in AAA, could be of use to the Royals down the road, and is only blocked because of the likes of Billy Butler and Jose Guillen. Guillen's most likely gone after this season, which could open up a spot at 1B or DH. Kansas City's not the brightest bulb in the box when it comes to talent assembly but they have to be mindful that Ka'aihue could help their team next year. It's going to take a more valuable piece than just a junk prospect or two to pry him away.
Both proposed ideas are predicated on the acquisition pieces being disposable assets to their respective teams, but a closer look indicates they may not be as disposable as it currently seems.
As for re-tooling the roster... there are 15 potential spots for an upgrade, but many of them are easy to fill.
Despite the M's struggles with the bullpen this season, a good bullpen is fairly easy to assemble and re-tool: Between failed starters and relievers with a hot fastball or a single fine out pitch, a lot of league-minimum guys offer potential to fill the spot. You do what most teams do: Go get a bunch of arms, put the best ones on the 25 man and stash the rest in AAA in case the audition winners don't cut it and/or guys get hurt. Closer is not as difficult a role to fill as many think: Incumbent David Aardsma was a waiver trade pickup that won an open audition for the role in 2009. If you think you need to replace him, an open audition among 4-5 qualified relievers can easily produce a guy that can get three outs in the 9th with a 1-3 run lead 30-40 times in a year.
The bench is always easy to assemble because the sort of parts you need to fill it (backup catcher, modular infielder, modular outfielder, pinch hit bats) typically only need to be a bit better than AAAA quality and thus the roles are cheap and easy to fill. Thus of the 15 given question marks, eight should not be terribly difficult to fill or at least address with a workable solution that doesn't significantly hurt the team.
As for the rotation, if we buy the notion that true #5 starters don't exist (and I can), then you only really need to fill one of the two open rotation slots with a genuinely good pitcher. It depends on how short you think Jason Vargas and Doug Fister fall of filling the #3 slot in the rotation, if an audition for the #5 role doesn't somehow produce a superior candidate.
Really, you don't need five strong starting pitchers... probably one or two good to great pitchers, one or two decent/average/useful starters and then an okay guy to round out the 5 slot with the understanding that the owner of this slot can and probably will fluctuate. The need to fill two spots is predicated on thinking of Vargas and Fister as back-end or replacement level arms... and that depends on your impression of their work this season. I don't consider either one anything resembling an ace, but both can be and have been mostly reliable starters (Fister's shoulder fatigue notwithstanding). You can focus on upgrading one rotation slot and then, like the bench and bullpen, assemble an audition of talent to fill the #5 slot while stashing alternatives in AAA Tacoma (if the minor league system hasn't produced potential alternatives by then).
We can agree the lineup needs to be upgraded. One or two additional lineup upgrades isn't an impossibility. From there, if supply and money make upgrading other spots infeasible, you can take fliers on guys or have the incumbents continue in those roles until you can upgrade. The easiest spots to upgrade on this roster are catcher, 1B and DH. These spots can probably get upgraded at an affordable cost or even filled by flier-type acquisitions. Shortstop and 3B aren't going to be as easy to address: Good players at either position don't come cheap. How you fill LF depends on how much you value hitting and defense. An incumbent could fill the role provided his shortcomings aren't in an area you highly value.
So while the team has a lot of potential upgrade spots, the situation isn't as dire as it seems at first glance. Even if many of the 2010 underperformers can be expected to continue to underperform, a lot of the potential openings are fairly easy to fill, meaning the M's should be able to focus their resources on filling the other needed roles.