Several teams looking to make a splash this winter will have Ellsbury on their radar.
An exciting offseason usually centers around aggressive teams such as the Angels (Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson) and Marlins (Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell) prior to the 2012 season or the Blue Jays (R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Buehrle, Reyes, Melky Cabrera) and Red Sox (David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Joel Hanrahan) of last winter.
The common theme amongst teams looking to make a splash in the offseason is that they're usually coming off of a disappointing season, whether that be a last place finish or just missing the playoffs by a few games, and ownership is willing to add a significant amount of salary to the payroll in order to improve the product on the field.
Several teams are expected to be in that position this winter with the payroll flexibility to add some high-priced talent and an urgency to turns things around after a poor season, or seasons in some cases. Here are four teams that are very likely to add more than a couple of big names to their roster prior to the 2014 season.
Club president Theo Epstein was recently quoted as saying he didn't think free agency was the short-term answer to fixing his team's lineup issue. He also doesn't feel that they will have the ability to add multiple impact players through free agency.
But he didn't say they wouldn't be active this winter. In fact, it's hard to believe Epstein would allow his team to go into the third year of his regime with a roster that didn't have a very good shot at having a winning record. Having four elite hitting prospects down on the farm isn't going to sell any more tickets to Wrigley Field in 2014.
Even in a clear rebuilding season, the team managed to sign one of the top free-agent pitchers, Edwin Jackson, to a four-year, $52-million deal while adding two other solid mid-rotation starting pitchers, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman, on one-year deals, with swingman Carlos Villanueva and reliever Kyuji Fujikawa each signing two-year contracts.
With nearly as many holes in the pitching staff this time around, as well as a clear need for an impact bat in the lineup, the front office has some work to do.
Expect them to end up with one of the top outfielders available—center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, Chicago native Curtis Granderson or on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo could be sold on becoming the new face of the franchise for an up-and-coming team in a great baseball town—while filling out the rotation by re-signing Scott Baker, who should be back to full strength after missing most of this season recovering from Tommy John surgery, and acquiring a reliable one-year closer option such as Chris Perez (pictured) of the Indians, who is under contract for just one more season and wouldn't cost them a top prospect to acquire.
These three moves alone wouldn't qualify them as having a huge offseason, but it would solidify the team in several areas and could give them enough confidence in their 2014 chances that they'd go after one more big name after prices start to drop in January. They might even emerge as a favorite to land ace starter David Price if the Rays make him available.
The team on Chicago's south side could also be primed for a big winter after a terrible season, general manager Rick Hahn's first on the job. With Jake Peavy and Alex Rios, who have big salaries in 2014, traded mid-season, and free agents-to-be Paul Konerko and Gavin Floyd off the books, Hahn should have a very good chance to make his mark on the organization with an aggressive winter.
While Scott Merkin of MLB.com lists catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson as potential fits, it's a good bet that Hahn will also look to upgrade the corner infield spots. James Loney and Cuban Jose Abreu (pictured) are potential first-base targets while a thin free-agent third-base market could have the team looking to acquire Chase Headley of the Padres or David Freese of the Cardinals. Expect the team to add two impact bats to the lineup.
A lefty-heavy rotation of Chris Sale, John Danks, Hector Santiago and Jose Quintana is strong, but they could look to add a right-hander in case rookie Erik Johnson isn't quite ready. If the 23-year-old, who has a 2.82 ERA in four September starts, is ready to hold a rotation spot, the team could use one of their young left-handers as trade bait and sign one of the top free agent starters—Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tim Lincecum or Ervin Santana.
As was the case with Ben Cherington in Boston after he had a rough debut season as general manager, Hahn will have plenty of resources to make up for it in Year 2.
As Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN notes, the Twins could have as much as $40 million to spend in the offseason with several big contracts coming off the books. And with two of the game's top prospects, third baseman Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton, on the fast track to the majors, the Twins' fortunes could be turning around soon.
It'll be up to general manager Terry Ryan and the front office to make sure the money is spent wisely. While the lineup could use upgrades at several spots, including first base and shortstop, the top priorities should be pitching, pitching and more pitching. Despite a few hard-throwing prospects closing in on the majors—Kyle Gibson, Trevor May and Alex Meyer—none are locks to be successful starters in 2014, and the team is clearly in need of a No. 1 and No. 2 starter.
Given the anticipated payroll situation, it wouldn't be a surprise if Minnesota was in the mix for Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, who is likely to be posted this winter, and ended up in the mix for top free-agent starters Matt Garza (pictured), who pitched for the team in 2006-07, and Ervin Santana. Landing one of those three and another mid-level starter, such as Bronson Arroyo or Scott Feldman, would give the team a strong chance of bouncing back and competing for a playoff spot in 2014.
It also wouldn't be a surprise if they were to acquire one other mid-to-back of the rotation starter, giving the team a makeover that would rival what Kansas City did last offseason.
While the Mets' payroll isn't expected to make a big jump in 2014—general manager Sandy Alderson told Joel Sherman of the New York Post back in June that he believed it would be between $90-$100 million, and it was just over $93 million on Opening Day, according to Baseball Prospectus—they could still have $35-$45 million to spend because of the salaries coming off the books.
Ace starter Matt Harvey's elbow injury, which is likely to keep him out of action for the entire 2014 season, will alter their offseason game plan, but it's still a strong possibility that they can fit two outfielders and a starting pitcher into their payroll while filling out the roster with a few other low-cost acquisitions.
If they're going to have a chance to compete with the Braves and Nationals in the NL East, the team's big-name acquisitions must be productive. And there might not be a more consistent player than Shin-Soo Choo (pictured), who has a .423 on-base percentage to go along with 21 homers and 18 stolen bases with the Reds this season. Signing Choo and right-handed slugger Nelson Cruz would give the team a scary middle of the lineup with David Wright. Signing both would add close to $30 million in salary in 2014.
Spending heavily on the outfield makes it unlikely the Mets will be in the mix for any of the top starters. They could still add a solid mid-level pitcher like Scott Feldman, Paul Maholm or Jason Vargas, or possibly get a bargain on a one-year deal for a pitcher trying to rebuild value. Josh Johnson and Phil Hughes could be in that group.