Key Offseason MLB Storylines That Will Determine Who Comes out on Top
With over 200 players set to become free agents, there will inevitably be a lot of big storylines breaking throughout the offseason.
And while few fans might care about where Mike Pelfrey will end up, there are an interesting mix of stars that will be available via free agency, trade, foreign posting or even as a result of non-tendering.
For instance, Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is set to become available to the highest bidder in the posting process. But if the Los Angeles Dodgers open their wallet for Tanaka, that might spoil any chance of extending homegrown ace Clayton Kershaw.
Read on to see all the key offseason MLB storylines that will determine who comes out on top.
When Will David Price Get Traded?
When David Price took the hill against the Boston Red Sox in Game 2 of the ALDS, most people assumed that it would be his last start as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Price is set to earn a notable raise through arbitration this offseason—one that will undoubtedly be too rich for the small-market team’s wallet.
Similar to the Oakland Athletics, the Rays have also strategically dealt away their increasingly expensive starting pitchers in recent years. Matt Garza was sent to the Chicago Cubs in January 2011 for a package headed by Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee. And just last offseason, ace James Shields headed to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for blue chipper Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi.
With two years of team control left on his contract, the Rays would get a bounty in return for Price—likely surpassing the returns for either Garza or Shields. Given the Rays’ finances and Price’s projected 2014 salary, it’s no longer a matter if, but when Price heads out of town.
Who Will Win the Masahiro Tanaka Posting?
Even though he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors, Masahiro Tanaka is still considered the best starting pitcher available via free agency this offseason.
The 25-year-old dominated the Japan Pacific League in 2013, tossing a 1.27 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 5.72 K/BB over 212 innings. Given the dearth of starting pitchers and Tanaka’s appeal, critics like Yahoo.com’s Jeff Passan think his posting fee will eclipse the $51.7 million mark the Texas Rangers spent to negotiate with Yu Darvish.
While there are many teams on the hunt for an ace pitcher, it’s likely that either the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers will duke it out for Tanaka's services. The Yankees arguably need Tanaka more than the Dodgers, who already boast a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. By comparison, the Bombers only have C.C. Sabathia and Ivan Nova currently slotted in their rotation.
Will the Yankees Re-Sign Robinson Cano?
The New York Yankees recently retained one of their biggest stars. Unfortunately, it was Derek Jeter—not Robinson Cano.
Cano is set to be a free agent for the first time in his career and is rightfully seeking a maximum contract. But considering Cano, who posted a park-adjusted 145 OPS+ this past season, is by far the Yankees best hitter, the team has little choice but to pony up the proper funds to retain him.
The only problem is that Cano and new agent Jay-Z, will likely seek upwards up $300 million over 10 years on the open market. With several big-salary contracts eating up the Yankees current payroll, general manager Brian Cashman would have little-to-no money to address the team’s other blatant voids.
A Robinson Cano-less Yankees squad would be devastating to fans, so even if Cashman is sick of handing out regrettable contracts, the Steinbrenners would likely step in and overrule their general manager.
Will the Mets Actually Spend Money?
The New York Mets have gone from one of the biggest payroll franchises to that of a small-market team.
Since Sandy Alderson took over the front office duties in October 2010, the Mets have limited their acquisition of big-name players and have instead focused on re-building their farm system.
But with some talented pieces in place—and about $30 million freed up to spend—the Mets have publicly stated to fans that their intention is to add quality depth this offseason.
Despite not having ace starting pitcher Matt Harvey next season due to injury, the Mets biggest voids are in the outfield. Assuming defensive wizard Juan Lagares gets the nod in center, the Mets will be in the market for at least one corner outfielder.
Free agent Shin-Soo Choo would be a perfect fit, given his knack for getting on-base and dynamic power/speed combo. So if the Mets are serious about fielding a competitive team in 2014, signing Choo would be a step in the right direction.
Will a Team Give Jacoby Ellsbury Seven Years?
After missing half of 2012 with a litany of injuries, Jacoby Ellsbury witnessed his bright star diminish. Just the year before, Ellsbury had posted a .321 batting average, park-adjusted 146 OPS+, 32 home runs and 39 stolen bases. But in 2012, his statistics looked pedestrian: .271 batting average, 84 OPS+, four home runs and 14 stolen bases.
Going into 2013, the Boston Red Sox were unsure of what to expect from their once dynamic center fielder. With health on his side, however, Ellsbury exceeded expectations. The 30-year-old hit to the tune of a .298 batting average, 114 OPS+, nine home runs, 52 stolen bases and even gloved a 1.9 dWAR this past season.
Given the limited quantity of elite free-agent outfielders, Ellsbury will have the pick of the litter. Knowing this, Scott Boras has already announced that his client will be a seeking a seven-year deal—a commitment most teams will be hesitant to agree to.
While a seven-year contract for a seemingly inconsistent and injury-prone player might seem risky, Ellsbury’s upside will convince at least one desperate team to relent.
Will Ike Davis Get Non-Tendered?
Ike Davis has truly fallen from grace. After hitting a park-adjusted 115 OPS+ and 19 home runs in his 2010 rookie season, the Mets considered Davis a cornerstone player. But a few years later, Davis’ star has fallen.
The 26-year-old posted his second-straight subpar season in 2013, hitting to the tune of a .205 batting average, 89 OPS+ and just nine home runs over 377 plate appearances. The former first-round pick even began losing playing time to Lucas Duda and Josh Satin at first base.
Going into his second year of arbitration, Davis will likely seek a sizable raise from the $3.125 million he earned in 2013. But given Davis’ downward spiral, the Mets might not think the former slugger is worth the price.
It’s rare that young players with recent success get non-tendered, but in the case of Ike Davis, it’s possible.
Will Clayton Kershaw Get an Extension?
The Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t shy about spending their money. In fact, the Dodgers spent almost $217 million in 2013—which was about $112 million more than the team spent in 2012.
But when it comes to the topic of extending their ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw, however, it’s possible the Dodgers simply do not have the disposable income to pull the trigger.
Since general manager Ned Colletti has committed over $550 million to Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Zack Greinke, Andre Ethier and Brandon League, the Dodgers will have to do some maneuvering to make Kershaw a legitimate offer.
Despite the financial implications, the Dodgers must find a way to retain their homegrown stud. According to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, the Dodgers actually offered Kershaw a $300 million contract earlier in the season, but the two sides were unable to finalize anything.
With a combined $43.75 million coming off the books after 2014 (Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley and Hanley Ramirez will become free agents), all signs point to a massive new contract for Clayton Kershaw before April.
Will Kendrys Morales Decline His Qualifying Offer?
The 2013 offseason has already been full of surprises. The biggest surprise so far, however, has been the Seattle Mariners decision to offer Kendrys Morales a qualifying offer.
Morales enjoyed a fruitful campaign last season, posting a .277 batting average, park-adjusted 123 OPS+ and 23 home runs as the Mariners’ designated hitter. But considering Morales’ inability to stay healthy and his poor defense at first base (minus-6.4 UZR/150 in 2013), $14.1 million seems like a gross overpay for the player’s skill set.
But even with the Mariners apparent interest, it’s possible that Scott Boras will advise his client to decline the lucrative qualifying offer in the hopes of netting a three-year contract elsewhere.
With ample experience at first base—and even a 76 innings in right field—Boras could conceivably market Morales as more than a hobbled DH. The biggest underlying issue with Morales declining his qualifying offer, however, is whether prospective suitors would willingly surrender the subsequent compensatory draft pick to obtain him.
How Many Free Agents Will the Red Sox Retain?
The Boston Red Sox are still in celebration mode after winning their first World Series since 2007. But once the last bottle of champagne is popped, general manager Ben Cherington has a difficult offseason on his hands.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are set to become free agents. And even though, according to CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam, Cherington plans to extend qualifying offers to Ellsbury, Napoli and Drew, that hardly means that any of them will actually return to the Red Sox in 2014.
Not including raises through arbitration, the Red Sox have about $121 already committed to 2014. And with all four of their free agents looking to cash in on productive 2013 seasons, Cherington will either have to choose wisely or be crafty while replacing the top producers via free agency or trade.
What Will the Going Rate for Closers Be?
The 2013 offseason is flush with closing talent. There are trusted veterans like Joe Nathan and Grant Balfour, less costly options in Brian Wilson and Fernando Rodney and potential diamonds in the rough in Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras.
While none of these hurlers will seek contracts like Jonathan Papelbon’s four-year, $50 million deal, it’s still likely that all of Nathan, Balfour, Wilson, Rodney, Benoit and Veras could net multi-year deals.
Considering Brandon League was able to sign a three-year, $22.5 million contract last offseason, teams might find it difficult to nickel and dime the quality relief pitching currently available.
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