Predicting the 5 Biggest Surprises of the 2013-2014 MLB Offseason
You may be ready for the offseason, but there will be several moves that will catch you and every other baseball fan by surprise between now and the next few months.
Not all free-agent signings will be as obvious as Zack Greinke, the top free-agent pitcher of last offseason, going to the team with the most money to spend, the Dodgers. And the trades that appear to make the most sense almost never happen. But that's why we pay such close attention during the four months of the year (November through February) when Major League Baseball isn't even being played.
It's a safe assumption that at least two or three big moves will seemingly come out of nowhere this winter. So before things begin to heat up, I'm going to predict five potential moves that probably would have caught you by surprise had you not read it here first.
The Dodgers and Yankees Will Fall Short in Their Bids for Masahiro Tanaka
The Dodgers and Yankees are two of several teams with reported interest in superstar Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (pictured), who is expected to be available via the posting system that brought Yu Darvish and other Asian players to the major leagues in recent years.
Because of their "financial superpower" status, these two teams will be considered front-runners to land the 25-year-old right-hander, whose price tag is expected to exceed what it cost the Rangers to land Darvish ($51.7 million posting fee; $60 million contract) two offseasons ago.
The posting bids that are submitted, however, are "blind," and teams cannot just continue to increase their offer until competitors finally hold their ground. Each team will have to decide beforehand on what would be the most fiscally responsible, yet competitive, bid and then cross their fingers that another team won't top it.
Since both teams, especially the Yankees, have a significant need in their rotation, expect both to try and fill the voids as quickly as possible via free agency or trade so they're not in desperation mode once Tanaka is made available. Potential changes to the posting system could slow down the process, which would leave teams looking for help in a depleted free-agent market if they lose out on Tanaka in December or January.
And if the Dodgers and Yankees can land their starter upgrades before the Tanaka bidding, it's unlikely that either of them would be the team willing to make the bold $65 million bid that it could take.
Edwin Encarnacion Will Be Traded
I've mentioned Jose Bautista and Edwin Enacarnacion (pictured) as potential trade possibilities on a few occasions over the past couple of months, citing the Toronto Blue Jays' depleted farm system and disappointing 2013 season as reasons to shake things up drastically.
Still, it would be a surprise if the Jays did find a team willing to meet an asking price that would likely start with a team's top prospect and include several other valuable young players.
Encarnacion will be 31 in January, has a combined 78 homers between 2012-2013 and has a team-friendly contract that will pay him just $29 million over the next three seasons. For those credentials, a team wanting to make a splash this winter will step up and pay the price for a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat.
Potential landing spots could be with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who could put together a package that includes center field prospect Gregory Polanco (.791 OPS, 12 HR, 38 SB between High-A, Double-A and Triple-A) and pitcher Tyler Glasnow (2.18 ERA, 111.1 IP, 54 H, 61 BB, 164 K in Low-A), or with the Texas Rangers, who could dangle infielder Jurickson Profar and lefty starter Martin Perez to get talks started.
Houston Will Land a Top Free Agent
Since Jeff Luhnow took over as the Houston Astros general manager two offseasons ago, the team has committed to selling off any players with value and rebuilding the farm system.
Everything appears to be going according to plan as the minor league system is getting rave reviews and only two players on the current roster—Jose Altuve ($1.25 million salary) and Jason Castro (projected $2-3 million in arbitration)—are projected to make a seven-figure salary next season. But before patience begins to wear too thin with a fanbase that has experienced 324 losses over the past three seasons, it's time to start investing money into the major league team.
And while it's difficult to see them going from 106 losses to anywhere close to being playoff contenders, I can see them convincing a top free agent that they're a team on the rise and could be a force to be reckoned with in the final three or four seasons of that particular player's new contract.
Owner Jim Crane indicated last month that the team's payroll could sit between $50-60 million in 2014, meaning that they could have more than $40 million available to spend in free agency. That would be hard to do unless they added a top free agent at an estimated average of $15 million per season.
They won't spend money just to spend it but with several holes to fill on their roster, they could target Shin-Soo Choo or Nelson Cruz for a corner outfield spot and Matt Garza (pictured), Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana to lead a young and promising rotation. Even then, they'd have money left over to fill out the back of the bullpen with a couple of reliable veterans.
I'll predict that they add one of the aforementioned players to be the face of the franchise in 2014.
Reds Will Move Aroldis Chapman to the Rotation
In a recent press conference, new Reds manager Bryan Price said that no decision has been made in regard to Aroldis Chapman's role moving forward, although he did state his belief that "pitchers get better by throwing innings." What this likely means is that Chapman (pictured) would be stretched out in spring training, and no decision has to be made anytime soon because he would then be prepared to start or close.
It's very possible, however, that the Reds show their hand much earlier in the offseason with several proven closers available on the free-agent market. If they sign one pitcher from a group that includes Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, Joe Nathan, Fernando Rodney and Brian Wilson, the chances of the 25-year-old Chapman sticking in the rotation would increase significantly.
Even with Jonathan Broxton questionable for the start of the season as he recovers from elbow surgery, there is a solid group of potential setup men in place, including J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure and lefty Sean Marshall, to help ease the minds of all involved in the decision to remove the two-time All-Star from the closer role.
If the entire group of big league starters is completely healthy at the end of the spring, Tony Cingrani could also move to the bullpen where he could prove quite effective in a late-inning role.
As the team looks to bounce back from a disappointing season on offense while preparing for the loss of star outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, they could find that the best way to improve the team is to further strengthen a rotation that is already very good.
The Yankees Will Have a Red Sox-Like Offseason
After watching the rival Boston Red Sox utilize a significant amount of payroll space to bring in several mid-level free agents to help turn the team into a World Series champion, the New York Yankees could look to follow that model of success as they find themselves in a similar position of extreme need on their big league roster.
This doesn't mean that Robinson Cano won't be re-signed to one of the biggest contracts in big league history. They do have the financial resources to retain Cano, but they'd still have a long way to go before they can field a 25-man roster capable of coming anywhere close to competing for a playoff spot in 2014.
After locking up Cano, general manager Brian Cashman will look to fill at least two spots in the rotation, two others in the bullpen, catcher, third base, one outfield spot and designated hitter.
So if he filled those eight holes in Red Sox fashion, it could look something like this:
Catcher: Dioner Navarro signed to two-year, $13 million deal
Designated hitter: Raul Ibañez signed to one-year, $8.5 million deal
Third base: Jhonny Peralta signed to three-year, $30 million deal
Outfield: Curtis Granderson signed to three-year, $42 million deal
Starting Pitchers: Ubaldo Jimenez signed to five-year, $75 million deal; Bartolo Colon (pictured) signed to one-year, $10 million deal
Relief Pitchers: Grant Balfour signed to two-year, $20 million deal; Manny Parra signed to one-year, $3 million deal.
The end result of that free-agent spending spree would give the Yankees a projected 25-man roster that looks like this:
1 Brett Gardner, CF
2 Derek Jeter, SS
3 Robinson Cano, 2B
4 Mark Teixeira, 1B
5 Curtis Granderson, LF
6 Jhonny Peralta, 3B
7 Raul Ibañez, DH
8 Ichiro Suzuki, RF
9 Dioner Navarro, C
Chris Stewart, C
Eduardo Nuñez, IF
Jayson Nix, IF/OF
Vernon Wells, OF
1 Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP
2 CC Sabathia, LHP
3 Bartolo Colon, RHP
4 Ivan Nova, RHP
5 Michael Pineda, RHP
CL Grant Balfour, RHP
SU David Robertson, RHP
SU Shawn Kelley, RHP
MID Manny Parra, LHP
MID Matt Daley, RHP
MID David Phelps, RHP
LR Adam Warren, RHP
World Series contender? Probably not. Playoff contender? Maybe.
That's what we were all saying about the Red Sox after last offseason.