Early Predictions for Biggest Winners and Losers of the MLB Offseason
Winning or losing during the upcoming MLB offseason will largely determine which teams contend for championships in the near future.
Just look at the 2013 World Series matchup between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. Both made smart hires to rebound from the losses of reputable managers and used free agency to fortify their lineups and pitching staffs.
Read on as we predict which teams and individuals have the best opportunities to realize their goals, as well as those who are headed for a frustrating 2014.
*All stats provided by Baseball-Reference.com.
Winner: Brian McCann
The upcoming free-agent class is a relatively weak one. Brian McCann stands out as the only player in it who consistently combines power with respectable contact skills while manning an essential defensive position and enforcing obscure unwritten rules.
High rollers like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will show interest in his services. Because McCann doesn't turn 30 until February, he should expect a contract that's substantial in terms of both years and annual value.
It wouldn't be shocking to see him secure a nine-figure guarantee. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors conservatively estimates that McCann will get five years and $80 million.
Loser: Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves made some tweaks to their local television agreements earlier this year, according to Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That will eventually allow them to regularly shop for big-name free agents and trade for expiring contracts, but for now, the franchise's spending is going to be as limited as ever.
Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel headline a talented group of arbitration-eligible players in line for considerable pay raises. On top of that, Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton will combine to earn north of $40 million in 2014 thanks to their back-loaded deals.
Forget about Brian McCann—Atlanta might not have the funds to woo Tim Hudson back onto the roster!
Aside from a couple of contract extensions, expect an inactive offseason.
Winner: St. Louis Cardinals
As St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. told Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com in January, he doesn't mind expanding payroll to field a competitive club. That should be doubly true now that the Cards are soaking up the publicity and financial perks that come with a National League pennant.
The contracts of Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, Edward Mujica and Jake Westbrook will all come off the books this winter. None of them are particularly likely to re-sign.
Regardless of the World Series result, expect to see available veteran players prioritize St. Louis over other potential destinations.
Loser: Paul Konerko
The Chicago White Sox have put themselves in an awkward situation with one of their most iconic players ever.
For the third time in his career, Paul Konerko is a free agent, and for the third time, it's pretty clear that his preference is to re-sign in the Windy City. He surely doesn't expect to receive a starting job coming off a year in which he batted .244/.313/.355 and couldn't run, but at this point, a roster spot of any kind is in doubt.
To complete the biggest international free-agent deal in MLB history, the White Sox guaranteed six years and $68 million to Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu. The expectation is that he'll immediately become their everyday first baseman. Meanwhile, Adam Dunn's 75 home runs over the past two seasons qualify him to receive regular plate appearances as the club's designated hitter.
General manager Rick Hahn reassured MLB.com's Scott Merkin that he hasn't ruled out the possibility of bringing back the longtime While Sox captain. However, barring a significant offseason injury to Abreu or a trade that sends Dunn elsewhere, there's no fit.
The options for Konerko are premature retirement or signing on with another franchise that doesn't overvalue his intangibles.
Winner: James Loney
Youth doesn't outweigh talent on the free-agent market, but it historically leads to plenty of over-generous commitments.
Remember how the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers got into a huge bidding war over Anibal Sanchez as he entered his age-29 season? The previous winter, the Texas Rangers spent more than $100 million on Yu Darvish—including posting fee and contract—even though he had never pitched in the United States. It helped that he was only 25 years old at the time.
James Loney, now it's your turn to reap the benefits of a late birth date. He's the only starting-caliber first baseman on the market who hasn't yet turned the big three-oh.
He just enjoyed a surprisingly productive year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Loney's .299 batting average and 118 adjusted OPS were personal bests for a full season. Although once labeled as a platoon player, the Texas native actually batted .299/.339/.390 against southpaws in 2013, which was very comparable to top overall free agent Robinson Cano.
Fearful that he might accept a $14 million qualifying offer, the Rays are highly unlikely to offer it. That means Loney can put himself on the market without fear of being tied to draft-pick compensation.
Nobody would've believed it 12 months ago, but this former first-round draft pick should receive at least $10 million per year on a multi-year deal.
Loser: Kendrys Morales
Scott Boras had great difficulty finding homes for Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse last offseason. Both ultimately signed long-term contracts, but for average annual values that were significantly less than the $13.3 million qualifying offers they originally rejected.
He'll once again serve as the agent for several of the top available players. One of them, Jacoby Ellsbury, has enough talent and prior MLB success to earn a monstrous deal, regardless of whether the acquiring team needs to sacrifice a future draft pick.
However, suitors won't overlook that deterrent when it comes to slugger Kendrys Morales.
Although the 30-year-old stayed healthy throughout 2013 and contributed 23 home runs, he doesn't offer tremendous overall value. Morales' career stolen base percentage is one of the worst among active players (min. 1,000 PA), and he struggles as a defender at first base.
We can imagine his free-agent experience playing out much like Adam LaRoche's, which would mean re-signing with the Seattle Mariners for less than his talents merit.
Winner: Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays will easily offset the disappointment of losing James Loney by flipping rotation ace David Price for an extraordinary package of prospects.
The 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner can feel it coming, per Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune:
If you go with what's been done in the past, I guess you're going to have to think you're going to get traded...This is a place I love to be. My teammates and everyone in the organization knows that. It's part of baseball and it's something I've seen go on, it's kind of something I somewhat prepared myself for.
Last December, the club moved veteran innings-eater James Shields to the Kansas City Royals. In what was widely considered a lopsided deal, K.C. sent elite hitting prospect Wil Myers to the Rays, who immediately asserted himself into the AL Rookie of the Year conversation this summer.
Tampa Bay can reference that transaction during Price trade negotiations to get even more in return. Price is younger than Shields and more effective at generating swings and misses.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that at least a dozen teams have the motivation and resources to pursue the dominant left-hander. Ultimately, one of them will overpay.
Loser: New York Yankees
Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com gave a lot of New York Yankees fans false hope by uncovering behind-the-scenes discussions about a potential $300 million shopping spree. He suggests that the franchise may try to buy itself a championship following a disappointing campaign, much like it did in 2009.
Unfortunately, that won't be enough for the Yanks to overcome their nauseating roster composition.
Even as they obviously decline, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira make top dollar at their respective positions. Both will remain on the books through at least 2016. The catcher's position is an issue, as is the the closer's role and the entire starting rotation.
Worst of all, the Yankees have no idea what to expect from their middle infield. Derek Jeter has deteriorated into an injury-prone replacement player, while Robinson Cano is seeking a record-shattering contract.
Even if the Steinbrenners successfully snatch some borderline stars in free agency, doing so may cost future draft picks, thus impeding them from building toward a sustainable future.
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.