While the World Series is still going on, it's not too early to begin thinking about the Hot Stove League, which is set to get underway next week.
Despite a relative lack of superstar talent available via free agency, this year's offseason won't lack for big names on the rumor mill, as the futures of players like David Price, Max Scherzer, Giancarlo Stanton and others will be hotly debated.
Whether any of those names will be moved remains to be seen, but every team in baseball will make at least one move this winter that stands out above the rest as their biggest of the offseason.
Let's take a look at what each of those moves will be.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Despite the additions of Scott Feldman and Bud Norris during the regular season, Baltimore's starting rotation was one of the most ineffective in baseball, pitching to a 4.57 ERA (27th overall) and 1.36 WHIP (24th overall).
According to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, Orioles GM Dan Duquette knows that bolstering the group is a priority, but he will not spend big in free agency or deal away prospects to do so—not that Baltimore really has the pieces to go out and make a deal at this point, as CSN Baltimore's Rich Dubroff details.
Signing a veteran like Jason Vargas would be a wise investment for the team to make, one that won't break the bank. After making $8.5 million with the Angels in 2013, a three-year deal for between $33 and $36 million sounds about right.
While Vargas' career numbers as a starter aren't overly impressive—49-57 with a 4.28 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 155 starts—the veteran southpaw is just what Baltimore needs to fill out its rotation. Still relatively young at 31, Vargas has averaged 190 innings a season, a 3.97 ERA and 1.27 WHIP since 2010.
Winless in four career starts at Camden Yards, Vargas has pitched to a 2.76 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in Baltimore, allowing only two home runs in just over 29 innings of work.
Adding a second left-handed starter to the rotation isn't a bad thing, and his presence would allow the Orioles to bring prospect Kevin Gausman along slowly if he shows that he still needs some minor league seasoning in Spring Training.
Brian McCann put concerns about his health to rest once he made his 2013 debut for Atlanta, hitting .256 with 20 home runs and 57 RBI in 102 games.
The premier backstop on the open market, McCann is an upgrade over former Braves prospect and Boston incumbent Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is also a free agent. McCann not only gives the Red Sox a boost behind the dish and in the lineup, but he can serve as the team's eventual replacement for David Ortiz at the DH spot once Big Papi decides to hang up his cleats.
He won't come cheap, but the five-year, $80 million deal that Boston signs him to will be money well spent.
He's going to be the highest-paid free agent in this year's class, and rightfully so—Robinson Cano is the premier second baseman in the game today.
Cano nearly single-handedly kept the Yankees in contention for much of the season as other key pieces of the team's lineup were lost to injury, and both he and the team know that Cano leaving the Bronx makes little sense for everyone involved.
While the contract demands that Team Cano supposedly had back in September—a 10-year, $305 million deal, according to ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required)—are out of the question, there's certainly a middle-ground to be reached where Cano feels appreciated and the Yankees feel protected.
Cano will re-sign with the club, accepting a six-year deal that pays him between $160 and $180 million over the life of the contract.
The Rays will listen to offers for David Price this winter but, ultimately, the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner will stick around for one more season, leaving the team's re-signing of 1B James Loney as the biggest move that GM Andrew Friedman makes.
While the 29-year-old Loney's career was rejuvenated with Tampa Bay in 2013, Loney won't be one of the more sought-after first basemen on the free agent market this winter, with teams wondering whether his numbers were a fluke or a sign of things to come.
Tampa Bay jumps at the chance to keep him in the fold, signing Loney to a two-year, $16 million deal.
J.P. Arencibia's days as Toronto's starting catcher are over, as the team has been discussing a trade for either Hank Conger or Chris Iannetta with the Los Angeles Angels, according to Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun.
While Conger is the younger and more attractive option, the pitching-starved Angels aren't likely to ask Toronto for nearly as much in return for the 30-year-old veteran as they would for his 25-year-old counterpart. Toronto will shore up the catching position by sending J.A. Happ to the Halos for Iannetta, pushing Arencibia into a backup role.
Tim Hudson was putting together a solid season and making a case for Atlanta to re-sign him after the season before his 2013 campaign was abruptly ended with a broken ankle when he was stepped on covering first base.
While the Braves will check in on players like David Price and Max Scherzer, and they'll look to see if they can acquire Howie Kendrick from the Angels to play second base, Atlanta will wind up not pulling off a trade, and the biggest move that the NL East champions make will be to re-sign the 38-year-old Hudson to a one-year, $6 million deal (with another $6 million in incentives).
Mike Morse struggled badly in 2013 regardless of where he was playing, hitting a combined .215 with 13 home runs and 27 RBI over 88 games for the Mariners and Orioles. A Fort Lauderdale native, Morse, 31, is likely to find his options limited this winter, with contenders loathe to offer anything other than a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Miami, while nowhere near contending, has a need at first base (Logan Morrison can't be counted on) and signing Morse to a one-year deal for $5 million makes a lot of sense for the team—and for Morse—as he'd be guaranteed a regular spot in the lineup and have a chance to build his value back up for another crack at free agency after the 2014 season.
At the end of September, the New York Post's Mike Puma asked Mets GM Sandy Alderson whether the team would be able to fit a superstar player, one who commands a contract in excess of $100 million, into the team's payroll in 2014.
The answer he got may surprise some folks:
We would be in a position to do it. Whether it would be the right player, and would it be prudent to do it even for the right player, and then factor in what’s left to do the kinds of things we want to do.
But is it out of the question? It’s not out of the question. Will we do it? That’s more of a strategic question than a resource question. At this point it’s not a matter of resources, I don’t believe.
Enter Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who may or may not crack the $100 million mark on his next contract. The Mets desperately need a legitimate outfielder and table-setter atop the lineup, and Ellsbury is both of those things. An elite base stealer, he would provide a jolt of energy to the team that has been missing since Jose Reyes departed for Miami as a free agent after the 2011 season.
The Scott Boras client will wind up signing a six-year, $95 million deal with the club.
Pushed out of Boston by the arrival of Brian McCann, it won't take 28-year-old Jarrod Saltalamacchia long to find a new home, quickly agreeing to terms on a three-year, $21 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies to replace Carlos Ruiz behind the plate.
Saltalamacchia offers far more with the bat than the 34-year-old Ruiz does, and while neither does a great job at controlling the opposition's running game, Salty is a better defensive backstop, making the decision to bring him aboard a rather easy one for GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to make.
After an injury-plagued and ineffective 2013 campaign with the Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Johnson has become something of an afterthought on the free-agent market.
Yet, it was only three years ago that Johnson won the NL ERA title and finished fifth in the Cy Young Award voting, and at only 29 years old, there's reason to believe that a change of scenery could help him get his career back on track.
Washington has had middling success bringing veterans in on one-year deals to occupy the fifth and final spot in their rotation, with Dan Haren being the latest experiment. Signing Johnson to an incentive-laden one-year deal that guarantees him $7 or $8 million is a risk the Nationals will be comfortable taking.
The White Sox have already made their biggest move of the offseason—and they did it before the offseason even officially began.
Signing Cuban defector Jose Dariel Abreu to a six-year, $68 million deal, as reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, will represent the only significant move that the team makes between now and Opening Day.
Abreu, 26, played in all six games for Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, hitting .383 with three home runs and nine RBI.
Chris Perez struggled badly in 2013 and lost his job as Cleveland's closer, and there's no reason to expect manager Terry Francona to be open to the idea of bringing him back in the ninth inning once again in 2014.
Enter Grant Balfour, who is likely to be too expensive for Oakland to keep around after pitching to a 2.59 ERA and 1.20 WHIP last season, saving 38 games along the way.
Signing the 35-year-old Balfour to a two-year, $15 million deal would give the Indians an established option in the ninth inning and help to add depth to the bullpen, with Perez shifting into a middle relief role alongside Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith, the latter being a top priority for the Indians to re-sign this winter.
Despite a less than stellar performance in the playoffs and the presence of hard-throwing youngster Bruce Rondon, re-signing 36-year-old Joaquin Benoit will be a priority for the Tigers this winter.
Benoit was phenomenal after taking over the closer's role on June 20, and even if Rondon winds up beating him out for the ninth-inning duties in spring training, Benoit remains one of the premier setup men in the game today.
Other teams will come calling, but Benoit winds up staying in Detroit on a three-year, $21 million deal.
As for Max Scherzer, the Tigers will listen to offers but fail to be blown away, so the likely Cy Young Award winner in the AL will remain in Detroit.
Acquired from the Angels in exchange for reliever Brandon Sisk in one of the more lopsided trades in recent history, Ervin Santana played a major role in turning around a Royals rotation that was among the worst in baseball in 2012.
After pitching to a 3.24 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 211 innings of work, letting the 30-year-old right-hander walk out the door as a free agent would set the Royals back significantly. While Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reports that the Royals don't want to go more than three years on a deal for Santana, they'll bite the bullet and sign him to a four-year, $60 million deal to keep the front end of their rotation solid.
Minnesota needs starting pitching, and while he's not a front-of-the-rotation arm, 36-year-old Bronson Arroyo is a innings-eating veteran who would fit well in a young, improving Twins rotation.
Since 2005, Arroyo has pitched to a 4.10 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, averaging 211 innings a season. You know what you're going to get from Arroyo, which is more than can be said about most of Minnesota's other starters, and that makes signing him to a two-year, $15 million deal all the more important.
Team president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer will kick the tires on bringing Jacoby Ellsbury to Chicago, but ultimately, the former Boston executives will decide that Ellsbury is a bit too expensive and instead go for a slightly cheaper option in Shin-Soo Choo, signing the 31-year-old to a five-year, $85 million deal.
Choo's below-average outfield defense is a concern, of course, but the Cubs desperately need a table-setter atop the lineup, and Choo, a career .288/.389/.465 hitter, is as good an option as there is on the free-agent market.
Homer Bailey has finally come into his own, pitching to a 3.58 ERA and 1.18 WHIP since 2012, averaging 208 innings a season.
Eligible for free agency after the 2014 season, the Reds will lock the 27-year-old right-hander up with a four-year, $48 million deal, keeping him in Cincinnati through 2017.
After missing all of the 2013 season due to a pair of knee surgeries, 31-year-old Corey Hart's options are limited on the free agent market. No team is going to give him a big payday based on his numbers from 2010-2012, when he posted an .857 OPS while averaging 29 home runs and 83 RBI.
With prospect Hunter Morris taking a step backwards last year, the Brewers need a first baseman in 2014, and Hart needs a chance to play every day so that he can prove that he's healthy and worth a multi-year deal in 2015.
Hart stays in Milwaukee, re-signing with the club on an incentive-laden one-year, $5 million deal, with a chance to double his salary if all incentives are met.
Justin Morneau didn't impress during his time with the Pirates, and neither Garrett Jones nor Gaby Sanchez are players you want to rely on daily, leaving the Pirates needing to fill the void at first base with a full-time solution.
Enter Mike Napoli, who flashed a terrific glove for Boston while providing the Red Sox with power in the middle of the lineup. Sticking Napoli, who has a proven ability to get on base consistently, in the middle of Pittsburgh's lineup between Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, would be a fantastic move for the club, which is still riding high after ending a 20-year playoff drought.
With money to spend, GM Neal Huntington will ink Napoli to a three-year, $42 million deal.
The Cardinals haven't closed the door on a possible Carlos Beltran return, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and while other teams, including the New York Yankees, are expected to bid for his services, the 36-year-old Beltran will remain in St. Louis.
Top prospect Oscar Taveras isn't ready for prime time after an injury-filled 2013 campaign, and re-signing Beltran wouldn't preclude the Cardinals from promoting him when he does prove that he's ready to contribute at the major league level.
Sticking Taveras in center field, which would allow the team to trade Jon Jay, makes a lot of sense, and he can slide over to right field once Beltran's latest two-year, $30 million deal expires.
Still in the midst of a rebuilding process, the Astros are going to go with a group of youngsters once again in 2014, hoping that experience and a full season of prospects like George Springer and Jonathan Singleton leads to better results than the team had a season ago.
Of course, the team's spring training roster will be dotted with over-the-hill veterans in camp on minor league deals, but don't expect GM Jeff Luhnow to make any moves worth noting between now and Opening Day.
After Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, the Angels starting rotation is a disaster.
While adding J.A. Happ in a trade with Toronto for Chris Iannetta helps, Los Angeles has no choice but to look on the free-agent market for additional arms, and it's a former Angel, Bartolo Colon, that makes the most sense for the club.
The 40-year-old right-hander, who spent four seasons with the Angels from 2004-2007, winning the 2005 AL Cy Young Award in the process, is coming off of a terrific 2013 with Oakland, going 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
But not even numbers like those are enough to convince teams to give him anything more than a one-year deal considering his age. With no real pitching prospects on the horizon, the Angels can afford to give Colon a one-year, $10 million deal with a team option for 2015 with a slight raise.
Second base remains an area of concern for the A's, with neither Alberto Callaspo nor Eric Sogard attractive options to head into 2014 with at the position.
Signing veteran Kelly Johnson to a one-year deal in the $6 million range makes a lot of sense for Oakland. A solid defender, Johnson can hit for power, has some speed and is versatile enough to play multiple positions if needed.
Seattle needs offense and outfield help badly, and with the top options on the market, Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury, heading elsewhere, the Mariners will turn their attention to Curtis Granderson, who heads the second tier of available free-agent outfielders.
Limited to only 61 games in 2013 due to a plethora of injuries, the 32-year-old Granderson immediately upgrades Seattle's outfield defense while adding a big-time bat to the middle of the team's lineup. Lest we forget, this is the same Granderson who averaged 42 home runs and 112 RBI per season from 2011-2012.
A three-year, $45 million deal (with a team option for a fourth year) sounds about right for the Grandyman.
While the Matt Garza trade didn't quite work out how the Rangers envisioned it, and the overwhelming assumption is that the 29-year-old right-hander won't return to Texas, I believe the Rangers will bring him back in 2014 and beyond.
His numbers in Texas weren't great—a 4.38 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 84 innings of work—but after Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, the team's rotation features more questions than answers.
Matt Harrison is recovering from a pair of lower back surgeries, Martin Perez remains an unproven commodity, and neither Alexi Ogando or Neftali Perez has shown an ability to stay healthy—and both may be best served by pitching out of the bullpen. Colby Lewis simply can't be counted on.
While Garza wasn't great in Texas, he's a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm. With the Rangers not having a plethora of pitching depth, keeping him in the mix makes a lot of sense—especially when you consider the price that the team paid to essentially rent him for two months.
Look for Garza to re-sign with the team on a four-year, $65 million deal.
Neither Heath Bell nor J.J. Putz can be trusted to take the ball for the Diamondbacks in the ninth inning, and Brad Ziegler is best used as a setup man, helping to bridge the gap between the starting rotation and the closer.
While Fernando Rodney slipped after his historic 2012 campaign in Tampa Bay, the 36-year-old closer was still solid in the ninth inning, pitching to a 3.38 ERA and 1.34 WHIP while converting 37-of-45 save opportunities.
Adding Rodney on a two-year, $14 million deal would bolster Arizona's relief corps, allowing skipper Kirk Gibson to use Ziegler, Bell and Putz in middle relief roles.
Jason Hammel wasn't great for Baltimore last season, pitching to a 4.97 ERA and 1.46 WHIP over 139 innings of work, but he's the kind of low-risk, low-cost starter that the Rockies can target to fill in the back-end of the rotation.
Hammel has experience pitching in Coors Field, appearing in 96 games for the Rockies from 2009 through 2011, posting a 4.63 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. Again, not great numbers by any means, but passable for a back-of-the-rotation starter, especially when he's supported by as potent an offense as the Rockies have.
The 31-year-old right-hander will reunite with his former team, agreeing to terms on a two-year, $10 million deal.
After failing to acquire David Price or Max Scherzer in trades, the Dodgers will turn their attention to keeping one of their own to bolster the starting rotation.
While he was disappointing in his one postseason outing, allowing three earned runs over four innings of work against St. Louis in Game 4 of the NLCS, Ricky Nolasco has proven that he can succeed in a major market like L.A.—and the Dodgers will bring him back.
Nolasco went 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 88 innings for Los Angeles after being acquired in early July, numbers that are certainly solid for a No. 4 starter. He'll re-sign with Los Angeles on a four-year, $52 million deal.
San Diego needs to add some reliable veterans to an inexperienced rotation that lacks any real depth, and to be able to do so without breaking the bank.
Scott Feldman fits that description.
A 30-year-old right-hander, Feldman went a combined 12-12 with a 3.86 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 30 starts for the Cubs and Orioles in 2013. He'd give manager Bud Black another solid starter as some insurance in case Ian Kennedy regresses yet again.
Feldman isn't going to command a massive deal on the open market. San Diego will sign him to a two-year, $15 million contract, giving the team the option of moving him if some of its injured starters—Casey Kelly, Corey Luebke, Jason Marquis and Joe Weiland—are able to contribute at all in 2013.
Phil Hughes needs a change of scenery badly, preferably to a spacious ballpark where home runs don't fly over the wall as frequently as they do at Yankee Stadium.
AT&T Park in San Francisco fits that description, and with the Giants having at least one rotation spot open with the expected departure of Barry Zito, Hughes would be a perfect fit at the back of the team's rotation.
While his 5.19 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 2013 are ugly, consider that the 27-year-old pitched to a 3.88 ERA and and 1.35 WHIP outside of the Bronx last year. With an 18- and 16-win season on his resume, Hughes could be one of the steals of the offseason on a two-year, $20 million deal.