The 10 Biggest Must-Follow Storylines of the Upcoming MLB Offseason
Want to know which storylines you should be following during Major League Baseball's 2014-2015 offseason?
Well, ideally all of them. There will be a lot going on, you know. But if you're only interested in the really big to really big storylines, you've come to the right place to be pointed in the right direction.
Ahead of you is a list of 10 must-follow storylines of baseball's offseason, ranging from big-name free agents to teams with crucial decisions to make—and one potentially very messy controversy.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
10. Decisions, Decisions for the Two Pennant Winners
After treating us to a dandy of a seven-game battle in the World Series, the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals now have to make arrangements to get back to the Fall Classic.
For Giants general manager Brian Sabean, the big decision is what to do with Pablo Sandoval. The switch-hitting third baseman is only 28 and is heading into free agency off a .366 average in the postseason. One way or another, he's due some big bucks.
Sabean will also have calls to make on left fielder Mike Morse, right-hander Sergio Romo and starters Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong. As such, he could be forced to overhaul a big chunk of his roster this winter.
Meanwhile in Kansas City, Royals general manager Dayton Moore is facing the possibly hopeless task of re-signing staff ace James Shields. After posting a 3.18 ERA in two seasons with the Royals, his cost could be too rich for the small-market Royals.
Other Royals free agents include right fielder Nori Aoki and designed hitter Billy Butler. Also, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News says the team is expected to at least listen to trade offers for left fielder Alex Gordon, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas.
For the Giants and Royals, getting to the World Series wasn't easy. Getting back to the World Series will start with a rocky beginning for both clubs.
9. How Will the Qualifying Offer Impact the Free-Agent Market?
These days, the arrival of free agency also means the arrival of qualifying-offer-cluster-you-know-what season.
If you missed out on the fun the last two years, qualifying offers are one-year contracts at a set value that clubs can offer to their own free agents. If a player rejects the offer and signs elsewhere, his old team gets a draft pick while his new team (provided it doesn't have a protected top-10 pick) loses a draft pick.
Which is kind of a big deal at a time when draft picks are probably coveted more than ever before. Since teams aren't in a hurry to give them up, we've seen free agents' markets seriously hurt by ties to draft-pick compensation in each of the last two winters.
However, things may be different this winter.
With the qualifying offer value going from $14.1 million to $15.3 million, teams will need to be more careful about who they offer them to. Because that's pretty good money, it's possible we'll see some players—according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, David Robertson could be one of them—accept the offer rather than bother with potentially iffy markets for their services.
In so many words: Rather than a cluster-you-know-what, qualifying offer season could be a fun sort of cat-and-mouse game for a change.
8. Will Kenta Maeda Be the Next Great Thing from Japan?
First came Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006. Then Yu Darvish in 2012. And then Masahiro Tanaka last year. And now, perhaps the next hot pitching import from Japan will be Kenta Maeda.
Emphasis on "perhaps."
If you're hearing Maeda's name for the first time, he's a 26-year-old right-hander who's been tearing his way through Nippon Professional Baseball's Central League with the Hiroshima Carp. After posting a 2.56 ERA in 2014, he now has a 2.17 ERA over nearly 1,000 innings since 2010.
Mind you, Maeda doesn't profile as an ace-level pitcher like Darvish or Tanaka. An international scouting director told Ben Badler of Baseball America last winter that Maeda looks like a No. 4 starter. Even still, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported that Maeda could be in line for a $100 million contract.
However, he has to be made available first. And at the moment, that's a big "if." Maeda will only be available if the Carp post him, and Hiroshima's owner recently told The Japan Times that "will be difficult."
So just like with Tanaka and the Rakuten Golden Eagles last winter, it looks like we've got a bit of will-they-or-won't-they drama on our hands with Hiroshima and Maeda. Grab some popcorn.
7. How High Will the Bidding Go for Cuban Import Yasmani Tomas?
In a world where the free-agent market is flush with sluggers either pushing or past the age of 30, if only there was a slugger in his mid-20s to be had!
Actually, there is one of those on the market this year.
Meet Yasmani Tomas. He's a right-handed hitting corner outfielder from Cuba who, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America, has 70-grade power and can hit "towering home runs." He's also only 24 years old and can be had for the low, low price of...
Actually, scratch that. With right-handed power in short supply and Tomas on the market in the wake of the success of fellow Cubans Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, he's not going to come cheap. In fact, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News says $75 million is a "reasonable" target for him.
Given Tomas' appeal, it wouldn't be surprising if that's where the bidding starts. And if it is, he could end up being the highest-paid position player of the winter, even topping Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.
Wouldn't that be something?
6. Will There Be a Phire Sale in Philadelphia?
The Philadelphia Phillies are not a good baseball team. They could become one again, but they need to do some rebuilding first. To do that, they need to quit stalling and get what they can for their valuable assets.
They haven't been willing to do this in the last couple years. But now it sounds like they finally are.
It was very recently that Phillies interim CEO Pat Gillick told CSN Philly's John Clark that that Phillies are probably "a couple years" from contending. Between now and then, they need to rebuild.
That could mean that just about anyone could be traded, including Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd and—provided teams aren't scared off by his elbow issues in 2014—Cliff Lee.
"I know we have to do some things differently, which is certainly the plan," said general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. according to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com.
In theory, the Phillies have the right idea. But in light of their general unwillingness to rebuild in recent seasons, we're finally going to find out just how serious they are about rebuilding. And even if they are, it will be fascinating to see if the market is all that interested in what they have to offer at this point.
5. Who Will Replace Derek Jeter?
For 20 years, the New York Yankees didn't need to worry about looking for a new shortstop. With Derek Jeter, they were covered.
But as you may or may not have heard/been reminded of a million times, 2014 was Jeter's last season. He's gone now, and the Yankees have a hole at shortstop.
And as you'd expect, exactly how they should fill that hole is a good question.
The Yankees could pick from a number of free agents, including Stephen Drew, Jed Lowrie or Asdrubal Cabrera if they're looking for a cheap-ish stopgap. If they want more than that, they could pay big bucks for Hanley Ramirez. Provided they don't mind continuing to live with horrid defense at short, of course.
Or the Yankees could turn to the trade market. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post pondered, that's where they could find Didi Gregorius, Jose Iglesias, Jimmy Rollins or Alexei Ramirez. Or maybe they could make everyone's day (including his?) by pulling off a blockbuster trade for Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
We'll see. That the Yankees need a replacement for Jeter is only half the intrigue. The sheer amount of options they have is the other half.
4. What Will the Marlins Do with Giancarlo Stanton?
Winter, eh? I guess that means we better get ready for an endless flow of Giancarlo Stanton trade rumors.
That normally is the case, especially since the Marlins' huge trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012 left him as the only player worth a darn in Miami. And with Stanton eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, maybe the Marlins will indeed deal him before they have to pay him.
Unsurprisingly, Stanton had a fantastic season in 2014—complete with a .950 OPS and a National League-best 37 homers. What was surprising is how competitive the Marlins were, as their 77-85 record was good enough to keep them in the NL wild-card race for much of the year.
Given these circumstances, it's no wonder that Marlins president David Samson told Clark Spencer of The Miami Herald in September that the Marlins would actually like to lock Stanton up this winter. If he's optimistic about where the club is heading after 2014, they might be able to do so.
Granted, this doesn't mean a trade can be ruled out entirely. But if the Marlins are going to lock Stanton up, there may never be a better time to do so than this winter.
3. How Will Andrew Friedman Reshape the Dodgers?
The Los Angeles Dodgers scored big when they lured Andrew Friedman from the Tampa Bay Rays to become their president of baseball operations. He's a smart one, and now he has almost limitless resources.
His first offseason at the wheel, however, won't exactly be easy.
Friedman and his front office have some tough decisions to make. Those range from whether to re-sign Hanley Ramirez to adding some depth to the starting rotation to giving the bullpen an overhaul to arguably the most difficult problem of all: figuring out the team's outfield logjam.
"We’ll have to work through it and figure out what puts us in the best position to have the most success next year and in creating a roster that complements one another," said Friedman of the team's outfield, via Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times. "That will obviously be a focus of ours in the coming months.”
The Dodgers have Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Joc Pederson in their outfield mix. Puig's a sure thing, but Kemp can't field nearly as well as he hits, and he, Crawford and Ethier all have big contracts that will be tough to move. Pederson, meanwhile, is something of an unknown.
Good luck figuring that out, Mr. Friedman.
2. Are the Cubs Guilty of Tampering with Joe Maddon?
After firing Rick Renteria on Friday, the Chicago Cubs will make it official on Monday: Joe Maddon will be their new manager.
This is not exactly the most shocking turn of events. Maddon stood out as an appealing option for the Cubs as soon as he opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, and Renteria's track record was hardly a deterrent. It was no big surprise when Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported on the eve of the seventh game of the World Series that the Cubs were going to hire Maddon.
But now that Maddon is joining the Cubs, the question arises: Did they play dirty to get him?
That's not a question of whether they screwed over Renteria. As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported, it's a question of whether the Cubs had a hand in Maddon opting out of his deal with the Rays. That would be tampering, and the Rays are apparently convinced that the Cubs are guilty of it.
It won't be so simple for the Rays to prove that the Cubs did tamper with Maddon, but it's a good bet they'll try to anyway. And even if they can't prove anything, there could still be plenty of drama.
So yeah—just imagine if the Rays can prove the Cubs tampered with Maddon.
1. Where Will the Three Aces End Up?
And now for the biggest question: Where will the three biggest prizes of the free-agent market end up?
Those, for the record, would be Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields. Each of them is a legit No. 1 starting pitcher, and there's quite a bit of distance between them and the next-best options on the starting pitching market.
And yeah—with teams more willing than ever to pay for pitching, they stand to make somewhere around…all of the money.
There are some big-money teams in need of front-line starters this winter, which will work in their favor. Included among them are the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and you can never rule out the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Chicago Cubs also have some dough to spend, and Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times is one of many who expects them to make a run at Lester.
So get ready: The dollar signs Scherzer, Lester and Shields will command are likely to be very big, and it's possible that each could end up wearing the uniform of a storied franchise.
Until then, prepare for rumors. Lots and lots of rumors.