In the long winter sleep of Major League Baseball's offseason, these are the bad dreams, those cold-sweat-inducing nightmares that gives fans fits and make GMs wish the season never arrived.
Even as the player acquisition period reaches its end, every team's path remains littered with potential missteps. Ahead, you'll find those mistakes listed and spelled out in painful clarity.
As of now, though, they are still just bad dreams. Should they materialize in the waking world, I predict jammed radio-station phone lines will greet their arrival.
With their Opening Day needs already met, Cole Hamels’ dangling future is the only item left on the Phillies’ offseason agenda.
The stud southpaw reaches free agency after 2012, and if his performance next year is anything like his 2011 output, the 28-year-old will command north of $110 million in the open market. Phillies fans have long talked about a generous extension for the former World Series MVP, but nothing has materialized.
If GM Ruben Amaro Jr. can’t at least make some progress on the Hamels contract during this period of relative calm, he will have wasted a great opportunity to secure top talent.
If Braves fans weren’t still in a late-'90s success coma, there’d be more outrage over Atlanta’s inertia this offseason. Following one of the worst late-season collapses, the front office has done nothing to upgrade a stagnant offense despite ample trade options.
If Atlanta can’t move either Jair Jurrjens or one of their young arms for outfield help, consider this offseason a failure. With the Braves pitching depth, there’s little reason for inactivity.
At the very least, they could extend center fielder Michael Bourn.
Standing pat in a division with two rising teams (Marlins and Nationals) and one team already two steps ahead (Phillies) amounts to an early and unnecessary surrender.
Center field has long been the chink in Washington’s armor. Since moving to D.C., they’ve run through the likes of Brad Wilkerson, Marlon Byrd, Nook Logan, Willie Harris, Lastings Milledge, Nyjer Morgan, Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina without finding a long-term solution at one of the game’s premier positions.
And unlike other positions of weakness on their major league roster, there isn’t anybody in the Nationals prospect pipeline primed to takeover CF in the next few years.
GM Mike Rizzo talked already this offseason about trading for a talented young center fielder such as B.J. Upton or Adam Jones—just as he did last year and the year before. Patience grows thin in the nation’s capital.
Landing a toolsy outfielder ready to grow with Washington’s young core puts this team in position to contend long term. Rizzo need only pull the trigger, and he can start by dangling one of the many high-ceiling prospects cycling through the Washington farm system.
Speculation about incumbent shortstop Hanley Ramirez’s happiness in wake of the Jose Reyes signing was only natural.
It was when that speculation started to commingle with substantiated rumors about Ramirez wanting to re-structure his contract that Marlins fans (they exist now, right?) began to take note.
There’s real malice brewing in South Beach, and losing Ramirez to a swell of discontent would halt momentum and likely hurt the short-term on-field product in Miami.
Unlike the Heat’s Big Three, it’s clear Reyes, Ramirez and Mark Buehrle had no pre-ordained notion of playing together. Until Ramirez gets on board with the team’s new direction, concern about his future with the team will run rampant.
Losing Jose Reyes was a new low for the post-Madoff New York Mets, but it wasn’t rock bottom.
Rock bottom comes whenever David Wright, the last vestige of the 2006 division-winning team, finally departs Gotham. Wright’s contract expires after 2012, and his return grows unlikelier by the day.
Unless out of blind loyalty, why stay? The Mets won’t compete again for a NL East title until Wright is in mid-30s. And that’s being generous.
But even the inevitable carries with it a sadness, and this miserable offseason in Queens would reach new levels of melancholy if GM Sandy Alderson shipped the franchise poster boy out of town.
As they pull out of the Prince Fielder sweepstakes, Milwaukee needs to find a capable replacement at first base.
With Ryan Braun likely sidelined for the first 50 games and a roster otherwise built for the short-term, the Brewers pressing needs grow ever more urgent.
Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, Derrek Lee, whoever it is, the Brewers must enter Spring Training with some order of succession in place.
If they don’t, Wisconsin fans are sure to voice their displeasure.
This offseason’s worst-case scenario is the St. Louis Cardinals.
After a brief World Series glow, Cardinals fans lost Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa and Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols in short order. For the first time in a decade, the fanbase has viable concerns about their franchise’s direction.
With the addition of Carlos Beltran and the return of Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals are well-positioned to defend their crown. After that, though, they’ll have to face the uncertainty of a future sans LaPujols, something they didn’t want to consider.
Cincinnati’s all-in after sealing a four-to-one trade for Padres ace Mat Latos, but even his addition leaves the Reds rotation short on quality starters.
After Latos and co-ace Johnny Cueto, the Reds have Mike Leake coming off a disappointing sophomore season* followed by unproven Homer Bailey and proven-to-be-sucky Bronson Arroyo. That’s a weak supporting cast for a team with playoff aspirations, even one with the offensive prowess of the Reds.
Cincy could pursue a top-end guy like Edwin Jackson, take on a reclamation project like Rich Harden or opt for ‘tweener Jeff Francis.
If the Reds do none of the above, Cincinnati fans will head into the season nervous about their staff’s back-end depth.
*Mike Leake had a good sophomore season. Not sure how I messed that up. Carry on.
The Pittsburgh Pirates sit in the same position the Arizona Diamondbacks held last offseason.
The D-Backs dangled budding superstar Justin Upton all winter long, stranded between the polar possibilities of extending or trading the team’s top talent. They opted for the extension, Upton rewarded them with a breakout campaign and the team completed a worst-to-first turnaround.
Now Pittsburgh must decide if their precious gem is worth the big money. As the Pirates consider an extension for five-tool wunderkind Andrew McCutchen, they also have trade value in mind.
The Upton case should warn them against a swap, but the Pirates' recent proclivity for pulling the trigger on a trade wouldn’t be their first affront to the fanbase. Pittsburgh fans have been subjected to similar heartaches over the past two decades.
Theo Epstein made his name in Boston over a series of ballsy moves—the Nomar Garciaparra trade, the Mike Lowell signing and the Carl Crawford midnight heist among them.
So far as the Cubs VP of Baseball Operations, Epstein hasn’t risen to that reputation—playing coy with Albert Pujols and keeping a safe distance from the Yu Darvish derby.
That only intensifies the pressure on Epstein to announce himself in Cubbie blue. Folks expect Epstein to take a hard run at Prince Fielder, entertain blockbuster offers for Matt Garza or otherwise make a “big splash.”
Considering the Cubs’ inflated payroll, I’m not sure those moves are prudent. They’re better off probing the market on Alfonso Soriano or testing the Padres’ resolve to trade Anthony Rizzo.
But the expectations surrounding Epstein relate more closely to sentiment than baseball sense.
The boy genius was brought in to change culture in Chicago, and that means some tangible sign of progress. Without it, the Wrigley faithful will leave Epstein’s first offseason disappointed.
After sinking for a half decade, the Houston Astros need to get swimming, and they can start by unloading the overpaid veterans on their roster.
Because of declining performance and outsized deals, Brett Meyers and Carlos Lee will have to be moved for little return. Southpaw Wandy Rodriguez holds the most trade value, and he could land a nice prospect return for his services.
None of those players factor into Houston’s long-term plans, and moving them would reinforce the team’s rebuilding efforts. Doing nothing would reinforce the perception of Houston’s ineptitude.
It’s been a good offseason for the Arizona Diamonbacks—highlighted by their aggressive play for Trevor Cahill—but reaching an extension with All-Star catcher Miguel Montero would make it first class.
Montero hits the market after 2012, where the sweet-swinging backstop will draw intense interest. In order to maintain their growth trajectory and keep one of the game’s most underpaid players happy, the D-Backs ought to make Montero a generous offer.
They’ve hinted at a deal, but have yet to back up the gab. If inaction renders those gestures empty, Arizona fans won’t be pleased.
Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, the two best pitchers on a pitching-dependent team, are without long-term deals.
That’s a problem.
San Francisco has kept a low profile on the free-agent market to make room for their contractual demands, but so far, that hasn’t led to any handshakes.
The Giants' offseason will be judged on how much progress they make on that front. Deals or significant progress on both and San Francisco can claim victory. Continued gridlock and Giants fans should start worrying.
Until Los Angeles loses the burden of bad ownership, they won’t be able to build on their roster’s promising core components.
The reported interest of an ownership group led by Magic Johnson holds promise. But without an agreement, Frank McCourt’s lingering malodor will continue to hamstring the Dodgers’ financial flexibility.
Dodgers fans hope for fresh air before April rolls around. Until that happens, key pieces like Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon languish in personnel purgatory.
Trading incumbent closer Huston Street for cap relief gave the Rockies great flexibility, but also left them thin on the back end of their bullpen.
Right now, Rafael Betancourt stands first in line for the closer’s role. And while he’s a fine first option, Colorado would do well to court a veteran bullpen arm capable of replacing him if necessary.
Colorado native Brad Lidge fits the description, as do Francisco Cordero and Hong-Chih Kuo.
Any of the above will do. What won’t do is a bullpen in flux on Opening Day.
A high-risk swap with the Cincinnati Reds left San Diego with one too many first-base prospects.
The Padres can cap a promising first offseason for new GM Josh Byrnes by trading one of Yonder Alonso and Anthony Rizzo for more minor-league depth. Rumors suggest Rizzo is the odd man out, and the former Red Sox farmhand will fetch a high price.
Attracting a nice package for Rizzo represents a best-case scenario for the Padres, while standing pat is the worst-case flip side.
The Yankees' lack of pitching depth first showed during their 2009 title run, when Joe Girardi opted for a three-man rotation. The gamble worked, but since then New York has struggled to fill the back end of the starting staff.
Last year, renaissance seasons by Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon stemmed the tide, but the Yankee faithful know it was merely a stopgap solution.
The Yankees should be active shoppers on the pitching market. If they go into next season with more question marks, this offseason will have been a meek side shuffle. Yankees fans expect more.
Like their AL East rivals, the Boston Red Sox need reliable arms to fill out their starting staff.
John Lackey is down for the year, Clay Bucholz is a perpetual question mark and even staff co-ace Josh Beckett limped toward the end of last season.
Alfredo Aceves isn’t the answer to the pitching woes that sabotaged the final month of 2011, and Sox fans expect rookie GM Ben Cherington to get aggressive on the trade and free-agent markets.
Another year without pitching depth will not fly at Fenway.
Between Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, James Shields and even reigning Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays have an unusably deep stable of starting pitchers.
It isn’t the worst problem to have, but Tampa’s needs at first base and behind the plate give them reason to swap.
The Washington Nationals, for instance, want a front-line veteran starter. James Shields fits the description, and the Nats could send back top prospects like Brian Goodwin and Steve Lombardozzi.
However the specifics unfold, Tampa fans should expect the Rays to make some sort of lineup-boosting move.
Blue Jays fans have high expectations this offseason for the first time in a decade. That’s a good thing.
Bad news is Toronto hasn’t met those expectations, a point driven home by their near-miss in the Yu Darvish bidding war.
After building a great base of young, cheap talent, GM Alex Anthopoulos still has the money and assets to make a headline move. Expect Toronto to pursue big names like Prince Fielder, Matt Garza and Gio Gonzalez before the offseason ends.
Losing Yu doesn’t have to mar the Jays’ offseason. But if he’s the first in a succession of lost opportunities, Toronto’s suits will feel the heat.
I give the Orioles two paths to walk.
1.) Commit to their young core by extending center fielder Adam Jones and/or catcher Matt Wieters.
2.) Try to turn those promising youngsters into more promising youngsters via trade.
There is, of course, a third option—do nothing. That, more than either of the first two, would disappoint O’s fans.
Truth is, the Orioles have fallen well behind division foes Toronto and Tampa in their rebuilding efforts. With interest in Jones running high, a deal for him might return some of the top-end pitching prospects Baltimore needs.
What won’t suffice is another offseason spent idling. Last winter, the O’s did just that, tendering one-year deals to veteran players like Vlad Guerrero and Derrek Lee as a sort of treadmill strategy while the prospects got playing time.
Now GM Dan Duquette has to act. Stick with the core or tear down the house.
The lack of rotation depth among the AL elite is a surprising common thread. The Tigers are no exception.
Justin Verlander is a known commodity at the top followed by the reliable Doug Fister, the erratic Max Scherzer and the baffling Rick Porcello.
Rookie Jacob Turner could become the full-time fifth starter, but with his youth and the inscrutability of the arms in front of him, Detroit needs veteran help.
After a nice 2011 season, Tigers fans should expect a couple of win-now moves from their club. If they fail to bolster the staff, the team will be stuck in neutral.
There are question marks at all three outfield spots for the Indians heading into 2012.
Shin-Soo Choo tries to bounce back from an injury-plagued down year, Grady Sizemore tries to regenerate after an injury plagued down-three years and in left field…well…[crickets].
The Indians have been in the market for a high-impact outfield bat since the offseason began. Now that Carlos Beltran isn’t an option, the Indians could pursue a trade for Carlos Lee or even kick the tires on J.D. Drew or Andruw Jones.
The options aren’t ideal, but the Indians need lineup filler for a team with big stakes invested in the 2012 club.
Sometimes, the best medicine is the hardest to swallow.
Stranded in the second tier of AL teams without much prospect for upward mobility, the White Sox are better off unloading valuable veterans like John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Carlos Quentin than they are plastering their deficiencies with another round of mid-level free agents.
Much as that will discourage the fanbase, it gives the Pale Hose their best chance for sustained success.
Call it a worst-case scenario with a best case future in mind.
After over a decade of patience, Royals fans might lust for a marquee trade. For the first time in years, K.C. has the assets to get a high-profile major league return—to actually make a deal with short(er)-term interests in mind.
Don’t do it, Dayton Moore. Just don’t.
Kansas City controls the best pack of young prospects in baseball, a group so good folks are already talking about them in historic terms. Swapping a couple of them now for major-league help would sacrifice the integrity of that group.
Royals fans might not all agree with me, but I think a three-for-one deal is the kind of transaction K.C. should avoid at least until they’re closer to contention.
The Minnesota Twins' dreams of redemption rely on the improved health of former MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
Mauer missed significant time with a mysterious bout of bilateral leg weakness (is there any other kind?) and Morneau certainly looked groggy in his comeback from a devastating concussion.
If either of those two experience setbacks before spring training ends, the Twins should expect another year in the cellar.
Whatever happens in the free agent and trade markets takes a back seat to the health of their homegrown superstars.
Nolan Ryan, you’re on the clock.
After posting $51 million for negotiating rights, the Rangers have 30 days to consummate a deal with Nippon League superstar Yu Darvish.
Add to that the presumed $60 million plus required to sign him, and the Rangers will likely need over $100 million to coax Darvish stateside.
The Rangers haven’t been into nine-digit territory with a player since the disastrous Alex Rodriguez megadeal, and one has to wonder if they’re ready to break the bank again.
Texas seems to have big-market, long-term aspirations, but how big?
That’s the question on Rangers fans' minds this offseason.
If Texas goes all-in on Darvish, they’ll counter the Angels’ winter momentum and position themselves well for another postseason run.
If they don’t, this offseason will feel like a waking nightmare in big D.
“Worst case scenario” is an ill-fitting term, but the big-spending Los Angeles Angels still have problems. Rich-people problems perhaps, but problems all the same.
The Albert Pujols signing, for instance, left L.A. with three big-league first basemen on the roster. Pujols is the uncontested starter, leaving the Angels to re-appropriate All Star Kendrys Morales and Rookie of the Year runner-up Mark Trumbo.
Trumbo could play third, but he’s limited on defense and struggles to reach base. Morales could DH and spell Pujols at first, but injury concerns make him a gamble.
However the Angels decide to play it, fans would rather see GM Jerry Dipoto act on the problem now before it lingers too long. Knowing where those three stand will allow the team to fill in the rest of their roster holes.
With the A’s having spent all their offseason bullets on big-time, prospect-heavy trades, the focus in Oakland shifts to the team’s future in the Bay Area.
Sometime in the next month Bud Selig should rule on a proposed A’s move to San Jose. If approved, the process to leave Oakland begins. If held up, Oakland gets new life.
The prospect of losing your hometown team puts all the other offseason travails in perspective, doesn’t it?
The Mariners have a lot riding on their pursuit of free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder.
Bogged down in bad contracts at the top of their payroll (Chone Figgins, Ichiro), Seattle needs a free-agent success story to change their trajectory.
Fielder could be that man, the guy who gives the Mariners positive momentum and re-invigorates their intention to keep Felix Hernandez in Seattle for the long haul.
On the flip side, if they lose Fielder, this team will fall further off the pace in the AL West.