Each MLB Team's Nightmare 2017-18 Offseason Scenario
Every MLB franchise enters the offseason with dreams. Unfortunately, like all dreams, they can curdle into nightmares.
In some cases, it's a club failing to acquire the assets necessary to remain a viable contender or vault toward a title. In others, it's a squad selling low on a bankable asset or letting a key free agent walk away. Some are more nightmarish than others, depending on the strength and status of the roster in question, but none are ideal.
As the hot stove crackles to life, let's run through all 30 teams and identify the winter scenario that would have their front office and fan base waking in a cold sweat.
Cue the music.
American League West
Houston Astros: Failing to fortify the bullpen
The Houston Astros are the reigning champions. They could stand pat, and they'd enter 2018 as the favorites in the American League West and possibly the Junior Circuit.
That said, Houston could use reinforcements in a bullpen that was a liability in the postseason. Astros relievers, from closer Ken Giles down, wobbled on the October stage and forced manager A.J. Hinch to lean on members of his regular-season starting rotation to bridge the late-inning gap.
Fortunately for Houston, there are a number of top-shelf relievers on the market this winter, including Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Addison Reed.
As they mount their title defense, the 'Stros need to sign at least one elite bullpen arm.
Los Angeles Angels: Making the Justin Upton contract their only big splash
The Los Angeles Angels opened the offseason with a bang, inking outfielder Justin Upton to a five-year, $106 million contract extension.
The Angels acquired the 30-year-old from the Detroit Tigers in August, and he hit 35 home runs with a .901 OPS overall, both career highs.
That said, the Halos' budget is strained by Albert Pujols' albatross contract, and it will take more than Upton to turn this team into a legitimate contender. In particular, Los Angeles needs help in the starting rotation.
Perhaps ownership is prepared to further loosen the purse strings. If not, two-time AL MVP Mike Trout should brace himself for another lost season.
Oakland Athletics: Stalling the sell-off
The Oakland Athletics are in the midst of another painful rebuild. That's nothing new in the East Bay.
They dealt ace Sonny Gray, among others, at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and have already traded infielder Ryon Healy this winter.
Painful as it is, the A's have to continue the sell-off and restock their farm system. Their already modest rooting contingent may be fed up after three straight losing campaigns, but executive vice president Billy Beane and Company know this is the road map.
Seattle Mariners: Failing to boost the starting rotation
The Seattle Mariners haven't tasted the postseason since 2001. In 2017, a hobbled rotation kept that drought alive.
Mariners starters ranked 18th in baseball with a 4.70 ERA, and their starting corps was beset by injuries. James Paxton, erstwhile ace Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake are all locked into starting roles, but there's uncertainty beyond that.
The M's may not be able to afford a top free-agent starter in the Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish mold, but it'll be up to general manager Jerry Dipoto to get creative.
Texas Rangers: Failing to boost the starting rotation
Like Seattle, the Texas Rangers will need to fortify a rotation that is an uncertain mishmash behind 33-year-old Cole Hamels, whose numbers took a dip in 2017.
Texas traded Darvish at the non-waiver deadline, and now he, along with righty Andrew Cashner, is a free agent. The Rangers could bring back either or both, or they could toss money at Arrieta.
Whatever they do, they can't ignore the starting corps if they want to return to relevance, let alone challenge Houston for Lone Star State supremacy.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Trading Jose Abreu
The Chicago White Sox have morphed into the franchise of the future and stockpiled a farm system Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked No. 2 in the game.
So it may be tempting to trade 30-year-old first baseman Jose Abreu. Surely there would be takers.
The slugging Cuban is worth keeping, however, after he smacked 33 home runs with a .906 OPS in 2017. He can't become a free agent until 2020 and could serve as a mentor to countryman and rising star Yoan Moncada.
His price tag will rise through arbitration, but the Sox have the payroll flexibility to keep him on the South Side without busting the budget.
Cleveland Indians: Losing Carlos Santana to free agency
The Cleveland Indians didn't defend their American League title in 2017, falling in the division series to the Yankees.
Still, the Tribe enter 2018 without any glaring holes and have a shot to reascend the game's brightest stage.
They could lose some power, however, with first baseman Carlos Santana and outfielder Jay Bruce both on the market. Bruce gave the lineup a lift after coming over from the New York Mets before the August deadline, but Santana will be a tougher loss if he signs elsewhere.
The 31-year-old switch-hitter belted 23 homers, posted a typically strong .363 on-base percentage and has quietly turned into a solid defensive first baseman, as his 10 defensive runs saved attest.
Santana won't command as many years or dollars as fellow free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer, who is reportedly in line for a nine-figure payday, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. But he may well price out of Cleveland's modest range. That would leave the team to shop for a bargain replacement or turn to a combo of in-house options, including outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall, who has seen limited action at the position, and Edwin Encarnacion, who is a defensive liability.
Either way, Cleveland would sorely miss Santana.
Detroit Tigers: Stalling the rebuild
The Detroit Tigers kicked their overdue rebuild into gear in 2017, selling off key pieces such as reliever Justin Wilson, outfielder Justin Upton and ace Justin Verlander and restocking a formerly moribund farm system.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Al Avila and Company have to keep their foot on the gas this winter. Second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Jose Iglesias are both tradable assets who could fetch a decent return. Even franchise icon Miguel Cabrera shouldn't be off the table, though his age (34) and contract (he's owed more than $180 million through at least 2023) will make moving him difficult.
At any rate, the Tigers should aggressively work the phones this offseason, shed salary and continue adding minor league pieces with both eyes squarely on the future.
Kansas City Royals: Losing all their free agents
The Kansas City Royals eschewed a sell-off at the 2017 deadline, opting instead to keep their impending free agents and make an ultimately unsuccessful run at a wild-card spot.
Now, K.C. risks losing a huge part of its core. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain, third baseman Mike Moustakas and first baseman Eric Hosmer are all on the market, along with ancillary pieces, including shortstop Alcides Escobar and left-hander Jason Vargas.
There's no way the Royals can afford to keep them all, and they'd get draft-pick compensation for Hosmer, Cain and Moustakas, each of whom received qualifying offers.
If all three of those players leave town, however, Kansas City's recent run of success and 2015 title will fade in the rearview.
Minnesota Twins: Failing to add an impact starting pitcher
The Minnesota Twins took a big leap forward in 2017, winning 85 games and grabbing the second AL wild-card spot.
They can build on that success with a talented young lineup, but they need to buttress a starting rotation that is a jumble of youngsters and question marks after right-hander Ervin Santana.
The Twins will never spend with the game's richest clubs, but they have payroll flexibility and a path to the postseason in a division that features two and possibly three rebuilding teams.
Tossing $20 million-plus per season at Arrieta or Darvish is probably a stretch, but Minnesota could target a second-tier impact arm such as Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb or Andrew Cashner.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Seeing the starting rotation get even worse
Baltimore Orioles starting pitchers posted a 5.70 ERA in 2017. Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson are all free agents, and while none exactly lit the league ablaze last season, that leaves the O's with holes to fill behind Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy.
There are options on the free-agent shelves if Baltimore is willing to spend, but there will be stiff competition for the top names. And there aren't any MLB-ready prospects beating down the door in the Orioles system.
Add it up, and it's possible an already suspect starting corps could go from bad to dismal.
Boston Red Sox: Failing to land an impact power bat
The Boston Red Sox won a second consecutive AL East title in 2017 but were once again bounced in the division series.
There was blame to go around, and manager John Farrell got the ax, but one of the culprits was a striking lack of power.
Even as balls flew out of MLB parks in record numbers, Boston finished last in the AL and 27th in baseball with 168 homers.
The Sox have a talented young offensive nucleus headlined by right fielder Mookie Betts but need to land a bat with pop.
The most obvious hole is at first base, where Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso and Lucas Duda could all be had on relatively reasonable deals. Eric Hosmer is also out there, though he could be a poor fit at his reported asking price.
No matter what, Boston needs to add thump and get in on the home run revolution.
New York Yankees: Not signing Shohei Ohtani
Every team will be connected to Shohei Ohtani this winter. The two-way Japanese star is a tantalizing talent who can be had for the league minimum salary, plus a $20 million posting fee, because he's seeking to enter MLB before his 25th birthday.
Since money won't be the decider, Ohtani presumably will pick his new team based on other factors, including market size, prestige and an opportunity to win.
The New York Yankees aren't the only club that checks all those boxes, but they make a ton of sense for Ohtani. In early November, all five of Bleacher Report's baseball prognosticators predicted Ohtani would end up in pinstripes.
If that doesn't happen—if the Los Angeles Dodgers or someone else swoops in—it'll be a significant letdown for the burgeoning Yanks.
Tampa Bay Rays: Losing Logan Morrison's pop
The Tampa Bay Rays weren't expecting 38 home runs and an .868 OPS when they signed Logan Morrison to a one-year, $2.5 million pact.
That's exactly what they got, however, and now Morrison has likely priced himself out of the small-market Rays' range.
There are cheaper alternatives on the market, including Mitch Moreland and Mike Napoli, but Tampa Bay will sorely miss Morrison's bargain-basement contract and All-Star-caliber power.
Toronto Blue Jays: Treading water
The Toronto Blue Jays had their run of two straight postseason appearances snapped in 2017. Now, they enter 2018 caught between a rebuild and another run at contention.
If they can shore up the back end of the starting rotation and add a bat or two, they could be in the wild-card mix. Or, they could shop third baseman and franchise face Josh Donaldson ahead of his contract season.
What they can't afford to do is stand pat, or add only ancillary pieces. That's the path to another sub-.500 finish and, probably, watching Donaldson walk after 2018 for a massive payday elsewhere.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Losing J.D. Martinez
After grabbing the NL's top wild-card spot and winning the Wild Card Game in 2017, the Arizona Diamondbacks are primed to contend again.
They also could lose trade-deadline acquisition J.D. Martinez, who socked 29 home runs in 62 games for the Snakes after coming over from Detroit.
The 30-year-old slugger could net a nine-figure contract, which will be a stretch for an Arizona payroll already burdened by Zack Greinke's megadeal.
The Diamondbacks won't be lost without Martinez. They've still got MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt to anchor the lineup. They will, however, sorely miss his bat if another franchise backs up the Brink's truck.
Colorado Rockies: Backsliding in the bullpen
The Colorado Rockies made the postseason in 2017 thanks in part to a bullpen that went from a 5.13 ERA in 2016 to a 4.40 ERA. Mixing in the Coors Field effect, that's especially impressive.
Closer Greg Holland (61 G, 3.61 ERA, 41 SV), left-hander Jake McGee (62 G, 3.61 ERA, 20 HLD) and trade-deadline acquisition Pat Neshek (71 G, 23 HLD, 1.59 ERA) are all on the market.
There will be multiple suitors for all three, meaning the Rockies will need to be aggressive or risk seeing a newfound strength morph back into a weakness.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Losing reliever Brandon Morrow
It's a testament to the depth and talent of the Los Angeles Dodgers that losing a relief pitcher (non-closer variety) is their biggest offseason worry.
Brandon Morrow, however, was a huge part of the 2017 bullpen behind closer Kenley Jansen. After inking a minor league deal, Morrow posted a 2.06 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings and was a key contributor in the postseason.
The Dodgers could let him go and shop for a replacement, but simply losing Morrow's contributions would sting for the defending NL champs.
San Diego Padres: Trading away young talent
Executive A.J. Preller and the San Diego Padres appear committed to a rebuild and possess one of the game's top farm systems.
A lot of that talent is still a year or more from making a big league impact, however, and the Friars are in for another long, losing season.
That could tempt Preller to deal some of his MiLB chips and accelerate the process, but it's an urge he should resist at all costs, especially considering what happened last time.
San Francisco Giants: Failing to add a big bat
The San Francisco Giants lost 98 games in 2017, all but erasing the good taste from their recent trio of even-year championships.
There's an argument to be made for tearing down the roster, but the Giants brain trust is apparently not interested in a rebuild.
Instead, they'll try to retool around a core that features the game's best catcher in Buster Posey and a battle-tested ace in Madison Bumgarner.
The first order of business is acquiring a power hitter to challenge the marine layer at AT&T Park and boost a lineup that finished dead last in home runs and OPS.
The Giants are the "favorites" to land Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, per MLB.com's Mark Feinsand. A Stanton trade would burden San Francisco's payroll now and down the road and likely decimate an already-thin farm system.
The bigger sin, however, would be not making a splash and hoping for different results in 2018.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Missing out on the aces
With Jake Arrieta and John Lackey both hitting free agency, the Chicago Cubs have holes to fill in their starting rotation.
They could do it by signing a couple of arms from the second tier we've discussed elsewhere—the Lance Lynn/Alex Cobb/Andrew Cashner contingent.
But with Jon Lester entering his age-34 season and Jose Quintana coming off an up-and-down campaign, the Cubs could use a no-doubt ace.
You could argue Kyle Hendricks fills that role, but the 27-year-old control artist has yet to eclipse 200 innings in a season. And the Cubs aren't merely trying to contend; they're trying to catch the Dodgers for NL supremacy.
Expect Chicago to be in on Yu Darvish and at least kick the tires on an Arrieta reunion. There's a decent chance the Cubbies whiff on both, however, especially if they decide to re-up closer Wade Davis or sign a ninth-inning replacement.
Cincinnati Reds: Trading young talent
Like San Diego, the Cincinnati Reds are in the midst of a rebuild. Their minor league system isn't quite as loaded as the Padres', but it features some enticing pieces, headlined by right-hander and potential superstar Hunter Greene.
Greene isn't going anywhere, but Cincinnati needs to avoid selling any MiLB chips as it seeks to stock the big league roster.
The Milwaukee Brewers took a surprise leap from rebuild to contention last season, but they did so without sacrificing the future. That's the model to follow.
Milwaukee Brewers: Trading young talent
The Brewers came tantalizingly close to the playoffs in 2017. Franchise cornerstone Ryan Braun was limited to 104 games, but they got 31 homers and 101 RBI from third baseman Travis Shaw and 31 home runs plus an .877 OPS from first baseman Eric Thames.
They could use a top-shelf starting pitcher to augment the duo of Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson. They also need to address a hole at second base, with Neil Walker set to hit free agency and Jonathan Villar a regressing enigma.
Going shopping on the free-agent market is fine, but the Brew Crew should once again thumb its nose at any trade proposal involving top prospects such as outfielders Lewis Brinson and Corey Ray.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Failing to initiate a rebuild
Sorry, Pittsburgh Pirates fans, the time has come.
Sure, the Bucs could make another go at the wild card by adding some cheap, complementary pieces. They might even get there. But they've done that dance before.
Now is the moment to trade the likes of outfielder Andrew McCutchen—who is coming off a bounce-back season and entering his contract year—and rebuild the farm.
Yes, watching beloved players such as McCutchen, All-Star Josh Harrison and ace Gerrit Cole go would be painful, but it's the only way the modest-spending Pirates could ever contend for more than a taste of the playoffs.
St. Louis Cardinals: Losing out on Giancarlo Stanton
As mentioned, the Giants are reportedly the favorites to land Stanton. The St. Louis Cardinals, however, "may still be a factor," as MLB.com's Mark Feinsand noted.
The Cards have a competent offense but lack a middle-of-the-order bopper. Acquiring Stanton, as Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer recently argued, would solve that problem and put pressure on the rival Cubs.
The risks to payroll and the farm system apply to St. Louis as well, but they're a sneaky-good fit for Stanton. Plus, his presence might elevate them from also-ran status to the Senior Circuit's upper echelon.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: Trading young talent
Hey, broken-record alert.
The Atlanta Braves have the best farm system in baseball, per Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter. The future is bright, but the present could entail more losing.
The Braves can afford to be patient, with the Washington Nationals likely to lose Bryce Harper to a ludicrous free-agent contract after 2018 and the New York Mets, Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies all in various states of transition.
Now is the time to nurture the likes of outfielder Ronald Acuna and left-hander Kolby Allard, stud prospects who could soon join shortstop Dansby Swanson and second baseman Ozzie Albies at the highest level.
Miami Marlins: Trading Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich
The Giancarlo Stanton rumors make sense for Miami, which is trying to shed payroll under a new ownership group led by Derek Jeter.
Outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have also floated through the rumor mill, with Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reporting the A's were interested.
Ozuna and Yelich don't have Stanton's eye-melting power, but they're both under 30 and relatively inexpensive. If someone offers a ridiculous overpay in prospects, it might be worth considering.
Otherwise, these are two building blocks Jeter and Co. should keep around as they construct their vision in South Beach.
New York Mets: Getting any bad news on their pitchers' health
The offseason isn't generally a time when injuries hit, but you never know with the New York Mets' snakebitten rotation.
Last season, a slew of injuries decimated New York's starting corps and torpedoed any chance of contention.
Now, as we get closer to spring, the Queens faithful will hold their breath and hope Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and maybe even Matt Harvey arrive to camp healthy and intact.
Philadelphia Phillies: Overpaying because they can
In addition to exciting young talent in the minors and at the big league level, the Philadelphia Phillies have a ton of payroll flexibility. They've got just $6.35 million committed for 2018, per Spotrac, and another $19.2 million in projected arbitration salaries, per MLB Trade Rumors.
That means they could splurge on any number of high-end free agents, which is fine in theory.
What the rebuilding Phils must avoid is an albatross overpay for the sake of it. Say, giving $200 million to Eric Hosmer or J.D. Martinez.
They've finally gotten out from under the bad money that ended their last era of success. There's no need to repeat the mistake.
Washington Nationals: Failing to upgrade the bullpen
The Washington Nationals boosted their bullpen in 2017 by acquiring Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle.
Kintzler is a free agent, along with Oliver Perez, Matt Albers and Joe Blanton. Last year, Washington rolled into the season with a suspect 'pen and upgraded at the trade deadline.
This season, with Bryce Harper, left-hander Gio Gonzalez and second baseman Daniel Murphy all entering their contract years, the Nats can't mess around.
This may be their last chance for a while to advance past the division series and challenge for the franchise's first Commissioner's Trophy.
Re-upping some or all of the above free agents and adding a late-inning ace such as Wade Davis or Greg Holland would make that goal more attainable.