Updating the Hottest Questions of the MLB Offseason Entering the New Year

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2016

San Diego Padres left fielder Justin Upton looks on before playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Gregory Bull/Associated Press

As the calendar flips to 2016 and the spring training clock begins ticking in earnest, it's time to update the hottest questions of the 2015-16 MLB offseason.

Plenty has transpired this winter. Big-ticket free agents have fallen off the board, seismic swaps have been consummated and the baseball landscape has measurably shifted.

At the same time, key free agents—particularly batsremain on the market, and baseball's two big-market, bicoastal behemoths have pitching anomalies to sort out.

With six weeks and change before pitchers and catchers report, here are three areas where questions continue to swirl—and where we'd like some answers. 


Will the Dodgers Deal a Starter?

The Los Angeles Dodgers offseason has largely been defined by who they haven't gotten.

They didn't get Zack Greinke, who walked away for a massive payday with the Arizona Diamondbacks. They didn't get Aroldis Chapman after a trade fell through amid domestic violence allegations against the flame-throwing closer. And they didn't get Hisashi Iwakuma after the right-hander failed a physical and ultimately re-upped with the Seattle Mariners.

On Wednesday, the Dodgers signed a pitcher for real, inking Scott Kazmir to a three-year, $48 million deal, per Fox Sports' Jon Morosi. Then, on Thursday, they snagged Japanese ace Kenta Maeda, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

The Dodgers inked Japanese ace Kenta Maeda on New Year's Eve.
The Dodgers inked Japanese ace Kenta Maeda on New Year's Eve.Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Before L.A. reportedly secured Maeda, the rotation featured lefty Kazmir, lefty Clayton Kershaw, lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, lefty Brett Anderson and lefty Alex Wood.

No team in the divisional era has gotten more than 80 percent of its starts from lefties, as ESPN.com's Christina Kahrl noted. So it's no surprise the Dodgers brought in Maeda. 

They've also got right-hander Brandon McCarthy, who's due back from Tommy John surgery sometime in 2016. McCarthy even had a bit of fun with the state of the Dodgers rotation after the Kazmir add but before Maeda entered the fold:

Now the Dodgers appear primed to move a southpaw starter. Wood, a 24-year-old who won't hit free agency until 2020, seems the most likely candidate. Sure, Los Angeles could stash him in the bullpen as insurance, particularly in case Ryu's injury issues resurface. 

But with a sudden glut of arms, it might make the most sense for L.A. to trade from a surplus.

Answer: Yes. Starting pitching depth is valuable, but with righty Mike Bolsinger ready to step in and an array of high-upside arms waiting in the minor leagues, President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has set himself up to bolster a weakness either on offense or in the bullpen.


Where Will the Big Bats Sign?

The cream of the pitching crop has been scooped up, but a number of top position players remain unsigned as the new year dawns.

That includes MLB's reigning home run leader, Chris Davis, as well as a trio of top-shelf left fielders in Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon.

ESPN's Buster Olney recently suggested some still-unsigned players, including Upton, should consider taking one-year deals and jumping back into the market next year. It's not a terrible idea; the 2016-17 free-agent pool is much shallower than this winter's. 

But it's still difficult to imagine that happening. Upton is a 28-year-old five-tool talent. Someone's going to pay him—right?

Then again, you could say the same thing about Davis, who crushed 47 home runs for the Baltimore Orioles and can play the corner outfield spots in addition to a capable first base. Cespedes, too, is a legitimate bopper with 40-dinger potential. And Gordon balances steady offensive production with stellar defense.

Chris Davis clubbed 47 home runs in 2015 but remains unsigned.
Chris Davis clubbed 47 home runs in 2015 but remains unsigned.GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

Undoubtedly, we're dealing with a simple matter of supply and demand. Yes, there are teams with a need in the outfield and the middle of the lineup. And yes, Jason Heyward set the position-player bar by inking an eight-year, $184 million deal with the Chicago Cubs.

But with so many marquee names gumming up the works—and other viable options like Dexter Fowler and Denard Span waiting in the wings—buyers are content to sit back and play the waiting game.

The Tigers are circling Cespedes and hoping "his market slips to a point they are comfortable," according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. The Orioles could put their $150 million offer to Davis back on the table, per Olney. 

Gordon recently said there was "no truth" to a report that he'd told the Kansas City Royals they had no chance of retaining his services, per Ken Hambleton of the Lincoln Journal Star

"Right now I'm unemployed and I pay an agent 4 percent to make the calls, take the calls and let me know what's going on," Gordon added, per Hambleton.

Upton remains the enigma of the bunch. ESPN's Jim Bowden posited the Orioles and Chicago White Sox as possible landing spots and guessed Upton will get a seven-year, $161 million deal, which seems a tad optimistic at this late date.

Justin Upton could sign a one-year deal to build his value for next winter.
Justin Upton could sign a one-year deal to build his value for next winter.Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

At the same time, in addition to the clubs listed above, the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals all have money to spend (theoretically) and a need in the outfield.

Answer: These are simply educated guesses based on the latest whispers and a dollop of gut feeling, but here goes: Davis to BAL; Upton to CWS; Cespedes to DET; Gordon to STL.


Will the Yankees Keep Their Crazy Bullpen Intact?

The addition of Aroldis Chapman gives the Yankees a historically dominant back end of the bullpen. And so far, incumbent closer Andrew Miller is saying the right things about his new late-inning cohort, per Brendan Kuty of NJ Advanced Media:

I signed with the Yankees to win and I'm not stupid, he's a heck of a pitcher. This is what I signed up for. I signed up to play for the Yankees, to win championships, and if (general manager Brian) Cashman and the Steinbrenners and whoever is part of the decision-making process thinks this is part of the answer, and that this is the way to go about it, that's fine by me.

It's possible the Yankees could roll into 2016 with the ludicrously loaded relief trifecta of Chapman, Miller and right-hander Dellin Betances. At the very least, New York could hang on to all three until the July trade deadline.

Off-field issues aside, Aroldis Chapman joins Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to give the Yankees a dominant late-inning trio.
Off-field issues aside, Aroldis Chapman joins Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to give the Yankees a dominant late-inning trio.John Minchillo/Associated Press

It's also possible, however, that Miller could be dangled to acquire a bat, an arm for the rotation or pieces to bolster the Yankees' farm.

A.J. Herrmann of the YES Network floated various potential targets in a hypothetical Miller swap, including left-hander Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals and outfielder Khris Davis of the Milwaukee Brewers. Those names are speculative. What's undeniable is there's uncertainty churning around New York's starting five and aging offensive core.

Answer: Yes. Unless someone blows Cashman away with an offer for Miller, look for the Yanks to see how far this three-headed bullpen monster can carry them. As Betances put it, per Dan Martin of the New York Post, "I think this bullpen is gonna electrify New York."


All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.


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