What a 2019 MLB regular season it has been – filled with ups and downs, unexpected twists and turns and outcomes that were both expected and not even thought of to be possible. But what can top an awesome regular season is an offseason that is not only full of lots of player moves but also an offseason that makes fans, players and franchises forget about how cringeworthy the 2018 offseason was.
With players being frozen out of big-money, long-term contracts and having to settle for under-market one-year deals, players like Dallas Keuchel, Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal are all in line to get that big-time pay raise that they were supposed to earn last offseason. Besides the movement of free agents, trade candidates, like Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant and any semi-decent player on the Baltimore Orioles, should dominate the news wire at some point during the winter.
Money has been flowing just like normal for MLB franchises in 2019, so the hope is that the 2018 offseason is an anomaly in terms of contracts and player movement – here are five big storylines to keep an eye on as the playoffs finish up and the offseason commences.
Is this the offseason that the trade market dominates offseason movement?
Even with the lack of free-agent deals doled out to players last season, the number of trades was not large enough to cover up how boring of an offseason it truly was for baseball fans everywhere. From the Orioles, all the way up to the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox, the lack of movement was quite concerning going into this season.
While Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry DiPoto is sure to engage in at least eleventy billion trades before the first week closes, other teams seem to be hesitant to wander into the market of trading for/away players. Smaller market franchises, like the Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland Athletics, have trouble spending big money on players in free agency due to their lack of an expensive TV deal that gives them a ton of kickback.
With all three of those small-market franchises having made the playoffs this season but only having the Rays make it out of the Wild Card round, these teams will need to look through the trade market if they would want to compete again in 2020 and advance farther into the postseason.
Players like Dylan Bundy, Trey Mancini, Mitch Haniger, Chris Archer, Buster Posey, Jorge Soler, Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer, and others may be on the move this offseason, and these players all represent acquirable options for contending teams that could look to flip a few minor-league prospects in return for these MLB-proven commodities.
A good mixture of trades and free-agent signees makes for a good offseason, so here is to hoping that teams understand that mantra and take it to heart when they begin to make their moves this offseason.
Can small-market franchises keep their superstar players?
The likes of Grandal, Moustakas, and starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi, among others, suited up for small market teams in 2019 and should be in line for contracts north of $12 million per year. For the Brewers to be able to resign Grandal and Moose, and for the Twins to bring Odorizzi back, it is going to take a lot of money management or the willingness for the team to go over its usual salary numbers.
While this would have been a lot tougher a few seasons ago, the number of teams that are willing to shell out the big bucks to keep their own players is growing on a yearly basis, and both the Brewers and the Twins may be joining that club very soon.
While the Twins had a $124+ million total salary sheet this year, the Brewers ended 2019 with their highest salary season it the history of the franchise, committing over $128 million to its roster this year. These numbers will only keep increasing if they are to retain their rosters for next season, and players who missed out on their payday last season, as both Yaz and Moose did, will cost extra for any teams interested in signing them.
This offseason will be a true test of seeing which teams are dedicated to putting out yet another winning team and what teams are confident in what got them to the postseason last year to work again in 2020 without shelling out the Brinks trucks.
Have we seen the last of Mookie Betts in a Boston Red Sox jersey?
Similar to the storyline that has been running rampant throughout the annals of the Chicago Cubs’ team for Kris Bryant’s days playing at Wrigley, have we seen the final game for Mookie Betts in a Boston Red Sox jersey? With his MVP status having generated his net worth and value to the top of the funnel values, the Red Sox have understood that they just do not have the resources to give him what he is looking for in terms of a new deal.
While there are other teams that are willing to ride out his current deal and his final season in 2020, others will not want to take that chance on them trading high-level prospects just for one season of his services and have him leave town. Not many teams will have the space to sign him to a deal that he is looking to secure, so he may have to settle for less or play the one-year deal game that lets him maximize his value every offseason.
The San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers, and St. Louis Cardinals are all logical candidates for Betts, although, with the amount of money that is going to want, the Blue Jays and Cardinals may surface as the two most-likely teams to trade for him and subsequently extend him.
With the Blue Jays putting the finishing touches on their awesome young core and in need of a proven superstar or two to help balance out the lineup, Betts would be a nice little addition to pair with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and the rest of their upstart franchise.
On the flip side, the Cardinals, even though they just won the National League Central division, understand that they need many more pieces to keep the crown, especially with how the Cubs and Brewers have been playing the last few seasons. With outfielder Marcell Ozuna a free agent looking for a big deal, acquiring Betts and immediately extending him may be in the cards for St. Louis (pun intended).
Does it even make sense for Kris Bryant to be traded?
The Cubs, just like the Red Sox, have financial issues, and they have financial issues badly. Having brought in the likes of Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, and Jason Heyward has really put a burden on their payroll, so badly that it may cost them their franchise third baseman.
For Bryant’s sake, his injury scare at the end of the 2019 season could not have come at a worse time – before an important offseason that could see him changing jerseys. The Cubs are a victim to their own success, having bought into the payroll game after their World Series title a few seasons ago.
If Bryant is traded, this team loses not only one of its best players, but it also loses a big part of its identity and who it is. For the Cubs, this would represent a massive step backward, to the point where they may actually miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season just because they were trying to save some money.
The possibilities are endless for if Bryant suits up for the Cubs in 2020, but one thing is for certain: the rumors that have been circulating about his future can only hurt the team’s chemistry going into the season.
Two active teams and two dormant teams – guess who is who.
There will be teams that continue on their path of making the playoffs by remaining active; there will be teams that continue on their of tanking for draft capital by remaining inactive or signing players that do not push the needle forward; however, there will also be teams that decide to change their offseason approaches and either go from active to dormant or the other way around.
For teams that could become active, look for the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds to turn into teams that are tired of finishing in the bottom half of their respective divisions.
The White Sox, who have a real chance of becoming the best team in Chicago in 2020, need to bring Jose Abreu back from free agency and make good on the amount of money it has saved the past few offseasons. Needing to add a ton of pitching beside Lucas Giolito in their rotation, they could become a great landing spot for Stephen Strasburg or Kyle Gibson, and even though even just securing a visit with Gerrit Cole would be considered a victory, they could also be one team that throws the whole bank at him.
For the Reds, their trade deadline was a bit active, although they acquired more than they gave up, which is a rare move for a non-contending team. Getting Trevor Bauer from the Cleveland Indians represents a huge move forward for them in their future, and pairing Bauer with recently-extended Sonny Gray and youthful stud Luis Castillo makes their rotation a sight to see on a daily basis.
The rest of their team around Joey Votto needs some help, but slugging outfielder Aristides Aquino provided a massive spark and a great look into a potential starter for their 2020 team. With money to make a big step into free agency, they could become big players for above-average role players as well as the big pieces, as they are rumored to be interested in bringing Grandal back, who was drafted by the Reds in the first place.
In terms of teams that will probably take it easy this offseason, the Red Sox (due to money issues) and the Mariners may combine to have a very quiet offseason, for various reasons.
The Red Sox, as was previously discussed, have monetary issues and may need to shed some salary to remain competitive in 2020. While not good enough for an uber-competitive fanbase, this may be their best step in keeping the vast majority of the team together.
For the Mariners, their trade-happy general manager must be salivating over the trade market this offseason, both in terms of acquiring and shipping players out. However, DiPoto may very well sit on his hands this offseason, needing to develop some sort of team chemistry by keeping the same core of players together, plus his big pieces are actually valuable to the team and would be better off staying out in the Pacific Northwest.
All in all, this upcoming offseason is shaping up to be a great offseason, provided all teams decide to put their 2018 offseason in the rear-view mirror.