We can make all of the predictions we want about the upcoming MLB offseason. But the reality of the prediction business is that each time a move is made that comes out of left field, a lot of the thinking that went into the remaining predictions can go right out the window.
And trust me on this one: There will be signings and trades that no one predicted. Mystery teams are very real. Teams that no one has discussed as being a suitor for a particular free agent will sign that free agent. Players that haven't been reported as being on the trade block will be traded.
An unexpected trade will, in turn, force a team to go in a different direction to fill a void and target players not originally thought to be fits. A starting pitcher will sign with a team that already had five good starters, opening up another trade possibility for a team that might be seeking help on the free-agent market.
A team filling a need via trade could mean that there is one less bidder for a free agent, which could even limit the player's asking price. As a result, a team that didn't think it could afford that player could swoop in at the last minute and strike a deal.
With that said, here are a few different timelines of predictions which take into account the changes in the market that will occur with each major free-agent signing or trade at a particular position.
The first two weeks of the free-agent signing period normally don't include many big names changing teams, and this year will be no exception. There will be several free agents coming off the board, though, after re-signing with their current teams.
The most notable moves having the biggest effect on the the market early on will be the Red Sox inking first baseman Mike Napoli to a two-year, $30 million deal and the Pirates bringing back outfielder Marlon Byrd on a two-year, $16 million deal.
With Byrd and Napoli off the board early in free agency, teams desperate for a right-handed middle-of-the-order bat will zone in on Nelson Cruz. With the Diamondbacks, Phillies and Rangers very likely the top three suitors for the 33-year-old, and the Royals, Mets and Giants also possibilities, the ensuing bidding war will push the price tag to four years and $60 million.
The winner—at $15 million per season for his ages 33-36 seasons a year after he was suspended 50 games for PED use—will be the Phillies. They are seeking a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder to balance out a lefty-heavy lineup. It's a risky signing, but the lineup is actually very good on paper.
- Ben Revere, CF
- Jimmy Rollins, SS
- Chase Utley, 2B
- Ryan Howard, 1B
- Nelson Cruz, RF
- Domonic Brown, LF
- Cody Asche, 3B
- TBD, C
With Cruz's big deal, Corey Hart will likely scrap any plans to re-sign with the Brewers at a discounted rate, as he's expressed interest in doing. The Rangers, who could utilize him at first base and the designated hitter spot as he returns from multiple knee surgeries that forced him to miss all of 2013, could be an excellent fit.
The Masahiro Tanaka Effect
As pointed out by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the uncertainty surrounding Tanaka, specifically the potential changes that are being discussed to the posting system, could push back the process that will determine which team wins negotiating rights with the 25-year-old star out of Japan.
Hyun-Jun Ryu and Yu Darvish were each posted in December of the past two offseasons and were signed to deals in January. With several teams expected to be in the mix for Tanaka, who several front-office executives and agents told Passan they believe will cost more than Darvish, the market for the top starting pitchers could also move at a snail's pace.
If Ervin Santana and his agent, for example, aren't getting the free-agent bids they are hoping for, they'll simply wait until the Tanaka posting is complete in the hopes that the teams that lose out will re-focus their attention back to him.
Of course, teams that either aren't interested in Tanaka or have the financial resources to acquire both of the top two starting pitchers could try to lock up Santana, Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez early in the offseason.
Since it's unlikely that any team will dish out the $200 million it would take to land both Tanaka and one of the top starters, expect that trio to sign in late December and possibly even January as they wait out Tanaka's posting process.
The Yankees, who need to bring in at least two starters, will look to sign a second-tier starter early on before making a strong push for Tanaka. If they convince Hiroki Kuroda that they're going to spend freely and build a winner for 2014, I think he'll stick around for one more season. Then they'll spend freely to win the Tanaka bidding and head into 2014 with a rotation that has a chance to be pretty good.
- CC Sabathia, LHP
- Hiroki Kuroda, RHP
- Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
- Ivan Nova, RHP
- Michael Pineda, RHP
The Closer Carousel
For the most part, teams are not willing to invest big money into their closer. And after watching Koji Uehara, who made $4.25 million in 2013, and rookie Trevor Rosenthal, who made the minimum $490,000 salary, dominate throughout the playoffs, who could blame them?
Even Edward Mujica, a journeyman middle reliever, was one of the best closers in baseball once finally given the chance when the Cardinals had limited options early in the season. How Mujica's season ended, however, is why giving almost any pitcher "closer money" is a big risk.
The 29-year-old was hit hard in September and was relegated to mop-up duty in the playoffs. It's not a surprise, given the history of relief pitchers. It's hard to know what you're going to get from year to year. The Cards just happened to catch lightning in a bottle with Mujica and ended up riding him all the way to the playoffs before turning to Rosenthal.
Mujica's value has dipped, but in reality, there could be more teams interested in bringing him on now at a much lower rate than had he finished the year strong.
That's because the closer's market is full of pitchers who are deserving of closing jobs and the big contracts that come with that role. Here's a list of those in that group, in order of how I ranked them at MLBDepthCharts:
- Joe Nathan, RHP
- Grant Balfour, RHP
- Joaquin Benoit, RHP
- Jesse Crain, RHP
- Brian Wilson, RHP
- Edward Mujica, RHP
- Fernando Rodney, RHP
Several others with closing experience, including Kevin Gregg, Ryan Madson, Chris Perez and Jose Veras, could be had at a discounted rate.
Now let's take a look at some teams who could be in need of a closer. The current projected closer is listed in parentheses:
- Chicago Cubs (Pedro Strop)
- Cleveland Indians (Cody Allen)
- Detroit Tigers (Bruce Rondon)
- Houston Astros (Josh Fields)
- New York Mets (Bobby Parnell)
- New York Yankees (David Robertson)
- Oakland Athletics (Ryan Cook)
- Tampa Bay Rays (Joel Peralta)
Nathan could start things off by signing a two-year, $26 million deal with the Tigers. Here's how the rest of the dominoes will fall:
- Fernando Rodney to the Yankees (1 year, $10 million), closer
- Jesse Crain to the Red Sox (3 years, $18 million), setup man
- Grant Balfour to the A's (2 years, $18 million)
- Joaquin Benoit to the Dodgers (3 years, $18 million), setup man
- Edward Mujica to the Mets (2 years, $8 million), closer until Parnell returns from neck surgery
- Brian Wilson to the Cubs (2 years, $20 million)