10 MLB Stories to Watch During the Offseason
Sports offseasons are usually pretty boring, save a freak injury or a major trade—but those happen mostly during the regular season—here or there, but last season was quite the exception.
With spending sprees left and right, most notably in Los Angeles, Miami and Detroit, it was very exciting to see what would happen when the games start. And when they did, the spending kept going, with the Dodgers taking on all sorts of contracts in hopes in attracting fans and a playoff berth. Neither happened.
Even though the Major League Baseball playoffs are underway, there are 22 teams already in the process of looking at free agents and evaluating their team situations.
Here are ten storylines that will certainly try to rival that of the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of last year.
It's been a weird season for Josh Hamilton.
He started by lighting the game on fire, even hitting four homers in a game against the Baltimore Orioles in becoming a runaway MVP favorite through the middle of the season.
Then he slumped, got injured and slumped some more. It ultimately culminated in a huge error against the Oakland Athletics in the last game of the regular season and the Rangers bowing out in the wild-card game against the Baltimore Orioles. Boos ascended down on Hamilton as he walked off the field.
Where he will be going will be the issue. Despite his off-field problems and his age, he is still one of the game's premier hitters. He might not get the big contract like Prince Fielder due to his injury history, but a team like the San Francisco Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers could use him in the lineup.
Boston Red Sox Managerial Search
Another year, another season filled with drama, the not-so-good kind that ended up in a manager firing and absence of October baseball.
Bobby Valentine absolutely failed to control the clubhouse, from Kevin Youkilis to Dustin Pedroia to the handling of the bullpen and even the fans. When this type of stuff happens in-season, there is a problem between management and personnel.
With David Ortiz becoming a free agent, the Red Sox will reassess what direction they are heading in re-signing him, if they do.
Unloading the albatross contracts of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez would seem to help them in the free agency market.
It will be interesting to see what they can do as they could win now with some of their top players left like Jacoby Ellsbury, the aforementioned Pedroia and Jon Lester -- despite his down year.
Los Angeles Dodgers Spending Spree?
Projecting a starting line-up of Shane Victorino, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Hanley Ramirez isn't bad. Having Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw for a full season will be good as well.
Magic Johnson has made it clear he will be looking to improve the team any way possible, even if that means spending what seems to be an endless supply of money to turn this mediocre team into a playoff one.
Josh Hamilton fills a need and they may be looking that way with their infinite cap space.
But more importantly, the pitching is lacking. Even with resurgent years from Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, they can't count on the older veterans to duplicate those career years. Combine that with Josh Beckett and the injury of Billingsley and there are issues abound in their starting rotation.
There are capable starters like Hiroki Kuroda and Ryan Dempster but the Dodgers will be looking to strike it big. Zack Greinke anyone?
How Will the Miami Marlins Rebuild/Reload?
Jose Reyes: six years, 106 million.
Mark Buehrle: four years, 58 million.
Heath Bell: three years, 27 million.
Throw that into a line-up with future superstars like Giancarlo Stanton and Hanley Ramirez, along with a pitching staff headed by Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco and Marlin fans were dreaming about October baseball.
Not so fast. The promising season went downhill quickly as they stumbled out the gate and never got on track. Hanley had a down year, Reyes didn't hit until mid-season, Josh Johnson did not pitch like an ace, and Heath Bell lost his job.
Minor disappointments from players like Logan Morrison combined with Stanton's injury, and the Marlins were doomed.
They went all-in and lost. Will they look to completely rebuild or go on another spending spree?
It seems the former is likely the case, as they wont do so even after World Series victories.
In a brand new ballpark, wins will have to come and come quick or the owners will be knee-deep in trouble in a couple years. This off-season may help determine the direction they are heading.
Ramifications of the Pittsburgh Pirates Second Half Collapse
At the end of July, the Pirates were 16 games over .500 and only two games behind for a postseasn berth. They then went on a 18-38 slide for the rest of the season.
Why? Three words: pitching and pitching.
The bullpen and the starting rotation struggled to finish the season. Even though their offense wasn't the best —only McCutchen and Neil Walker had an OBP in the .300s at the end of the season—their pitching was worse.
After a scintillating start to the season, James McDonald struggled so mightily he was eventually pulled for a couple starts from the rotation. Erik Bedard will almost certainly be gone as he was unable to stay healthy or effective. Wandy Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett—despite his first half success—aren't long-term solutions either.
Middle relief did not fare any better as Jason Grilli will be leaving and no one except Joel Hanrahan behind him to help. The trade of Brad Lincoln was somewhat of a death blow to that aspect of the team.
There is a lot to fix here but they have one of the best farm systems in baseball, ranking 9th according to FanGraphs.
They won't have much money to spend, but the pleasant surprise from hitters like Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker will help them focus on the pitching staff.
Having Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Mark Appel—arguably the best trio of pitching prospects in the major leagues—doesn't hurt either.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Young Arms in the Dessert
A disappointing year coming off being NL West champions have the Arizona Diamondbacks in a bit of a quandary, rebuild or spend and try to win now.
Despite big offensive performances of Aaron Hill and Jason Kubel, the Diamondbacks were still unable to win games scoring the fourth most runs in the league.
Ranking league average in pitching did not help.
There are also questions about whether uber-talented outfielder Justin Upton will be traded or not.
Fortunately, their issues can be fixed within the organization. Top prospects Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs have the ability to form a fearsome pitching staff along with Rookie of the Year candidate Wade Miley.
It will be fun to see whether they will go with a full-blown youth movement or stay the course with older players. However, it would appear that their top young players would give them the best chance for a winning season in what should be an increasingly tough division -- what with the Padres' rising and Dodgers spending -- to win.
How Much Will Melky Cabrera Get Paid?
In one of the most controversial stories of the year, Melky Cabrera was banned for 50 games with elevated testosterone levels, leaving the San Francisco Giants with the highest batting average in the league (he has since vacated that).
In an even more bizarre story, he admitted to creating a fake website to try and trick investigators.
All this should make him hands-off in free agency right? Probably not.
Even with the cheating controversy, Cabrera will still command some type of short-term contract this year. If he had sustained his numbers throughout the season and not gotten caught, he would have commanded a lucrative, possibly triple digit, long-term deal, but he will still probably get paid despite all that. The question is how much.
Recall that Cabrera did enjoy a breakout year of sorts in 2011 with the Kansas City Royals, slugging .470 with a .339 OBP.
There will be many teams looking for outfield help, including the Pirates, Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, and Tampa Bay Rays.
The San Francisco Giants have gone at lengths to distance themselves from him, even excluding him from the postseason roster, but they do need offense and a short-term contract wouldn't hurt.
The Pitching Market
The pitching market is solid this year, headed by the Angels ace Zack Grienke.
Other pitchers like Kyle Lohse, Jake Peavy and Hiroki Kuroda's teams may let them walk, making this a much deeper pool of pitchers.
Kyle Lohse, coming off a career year may have bust potential as he has pitched well under the St. Louis Cardinals' miracle worker Dave Duncan.
Edwin Jackson and Ryan Dempster will also be solid pickups for teams looking to build the middle to back end of their rotation.
But there is only one true ace for sale and that is Zack Grienke. It may not appear a big deal that Grienke doesn't like to handle the pressures of a big city name, but it could certainly take teams like the Yankees and Red Sox out of the running.
A surprise team, up-and-coming team may come out to swoop him. Maybe the San Diego Padres?
San Diego Padres Playoff Bound?
After going 34-53 in the first half of the season, the Padres showed off their young talent by going 42-33 in the second half.
Chase Headley's phenomenal year had much to do with it, as he slugged .498 with 31 homers and 31 doubles.
Next year should only be better for the team in the NL West that is least regarded as a contender. Re-signing Carlos Quentin and Huston Street provides veteran presences for the young players. Quentin can still hammer the ball as long as he stays healthy.
Another year for Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Casey Kelly will only help.
Two things to look out for this offseason: how they spend their money and the handling of their number one farm system, according to Keith Law of ESPN.
WIth new ownership, they have already spent money on re-signing current players, but there are solid mid-level players that can be had to boost them into the playoffs next year. They also have plenty of prospects but none that will make immediate impacts. A trade or two may be in the offing to speed up the competitive process.
The NL West, with the Giants, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and the Padres could be a very competitive one next year.
Wild Card Changes
The second wild card was a huge hit towards the end of the season as there were multiple teams fighting for that spot.
Any other year and the wild card spot would not be intriguing because of the way the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles were running away from the competition.
However, the bad side of the second wild-card was exposed when the Texas Rangers—who was the AL's best team for much of the season—and the Atlanta Braves were knocked out after a single game. The Braves have the better argument, as the "anything can happen in a game" cliche came to fruition when a botched infield-fly call helped propel the Cardinals to the NLDS.
Teams shouldn't play 162 games during the regular season only to see it washed away by a single terrible call by an umpire.
At least a three-game series may make more sense. Even if Bud Selig doesn't want to make the change, ending Chipper Jones' career on that note may help persuade him.
Jones is a great baseball player and did not deserve a one-game playoff filled with controversy as his goodbye.