Of Dollars and Deals: Previewing a Most Intriguing 2015-16 MLB Offseason

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistNovember 5, 2015

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher David Price throws against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning in Game 6 of baseball's American League Championship Series on Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

A former general manager in Philadelphia has become the first base coach in Boston (Ruben Amaro), a former GM who became an interim manager in Miami was fired and told he couldn't return to his old GM job that had been promised (Dan Jennings), and the GM who pulled off a second-half miracle in Toronto (Alex Anthopoulos) walked away from a five-year extension offer because he couldn't stomach working with the Blue Jays' new president (Mark Shapiro).

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Meanwhile, a deal for one manager in Washington (Bud Black) fell through when the Nationals essentially offered newbie terms (one year? Really?), and the Yankees fanboy owner in Miami nearly strained his groin leaping at the chance to grab the ex-Dodgers skipper and former Yankees first baseman as his new manager (Don Mattingly).

Storylines for the hit television show Scandal?

Um, not quite.

Not since the Bizarro episode of the No. 1 Mets fan's old show (Jerry Seinfeld) have things been this backwards around the grand old game, which only leaves one giant question: What else is sneaking up to the wintertime on-deck circle?

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Well, I can't guarantee that the one-time rock star Padres GM (A.J. Preller) won't hire a Kindergarten Cop to help his new boy wonder manager (Andy Green), but I can guarantee that what follows is much of what we'll be talking about during the next two or three months.

A road map to this winter's Hot Stove League:

Most Intriguing Team

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

The Boston Red Sox.

With new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski now running things, don't expect the Red Sox to be shy this winter. Industry wonks fully expect the Red Sox to make a big splash in the free-agent starting pitching market after last year's failed run at Jon Lester.

Boston's plan to collect workhorses (Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, etc.) instead of show horses for its rotation landed the 2015 Sox in the glue factory. There is no question that the Sox need an ace, and with resources even deeper than he had in Detroit, Dombrowski could tap into his relationship with David Price. And if that doesn't turn out, the Sox could tap into senior vice president Allard Baird's relationship with Zack Greinke. Baird was the GM in Kansas City when Greinke was there, and the two are close.

The Red Sox would love to trade Hanley Ramirez, who is so difficult that he doesn't even listen to himself. When he was with the Dodgers, the Hanley Man proudly plastered a sticker reading "Attitude is Everything. Pick a Good One" above his locker. With this guy? Yeah, right.

Most Intriguing Team, Bronx Edition

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

OK, so if the Red Sox are the most intriguing team, what about the Yankees?

In recent years, the Yankees have shown a disinclination to push their luxury tax to any further heights. Indications are that will continue, which means New York GM Brian Cashman will spend a lot more time talking to Jeff Samardzija than to David Price or Johnny Cueto.

Masahiro Tanaka (mostly) made it through the year with his elbow intact, Michael Pineda is a force much of the time, and Luis Severino left the Bronx wanting more. CC Sabathia was headed into alcohol rehabilitation the last we heard from him, and as the sun sets on his career, it is hard to say what he will provide for the Yankees in 2016.    

What this club needs is an upgrade at second base, badly. They could look crosstown, where Daniel Murphy spent part of October imitating Babe Ruth and then spent the World Series imitating a rusty gate. Howie Kendrick, the former Angel turned Dodger, is a free agent as well.

Most Intriguing Player

Nov 3, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) waves to the crowd in the World Series parade. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Right-hander Johnny Cueto.

Last July the Royals traded for Johnny B. Ace, but too often he was only Johnny B. Goode, or Johnny B. Mediocre. That is, until Game 2 of the World Series, when he was brilliant in a complete-game, 7-1 victory.

Whether that was the exclamation point on a career resume that could score Cueto something close to Max Scherzer's $15 million annual salary over five or six years, we're about to find out. When Cueto went into a second-half funk, there were whispers that he was homesick for Cincinnati. The trade was hard on him.

What the Royals eventually learned is that this is one sensitive cat, and rowdy road crowds (Toronto in the ALCS, Pittsburgh in the Wild Card Game a couple of years ago) can get into his head. Which is why the Royals arranged their rotation to ensure that Cueto pitched at home in the comforts of Kauffman Stadium in the World Series, starting the aforementioned Game 2 and, had the Series lasted beyond five games, Game 6.

When he's on, Cueto is one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. When his sensitive nature takes over, he can get rattled enough to drop the ball on the mound. As his market develops, look for the Giants, Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, Astros and Diamondbacks, among others, to check in.

The Wreck That Is the Nationals

Brett Davis/Associated Press

Just three years ago, the Nationals posted the best record in the major leagues and looked like locks to at least play in a World Series, if not win one, in the very near future.

Since then, this vast collection of talent with no soul has shifted into reverse. You wonder why this year's team disappointed? How in the world it could have acquired a buffoon like Jonathan Papelbon at the deadline? How a manager could not notice Papelbon trying to choke Bryce Harper in the middle of a game?

All of that was disgusting enough.

Now, instead of digging out of the humiliation, the Nationals are digging in.

The collapse of the deal for Bud Black to manage the Nationals speaks volumes about this organization and a culture so misguided that at this point, MapQuest couldn't even help point it in the right direction.

The initial offer to Black, according to Bleacher Report sources, was one year at $1.6 million. When Black rightfully balked, the Nats increased the offer to two years at a salary lower than Black made when he was managing the Padres.

Though the dollars were a joke, the worst part of the entire thing was the initial offer of one year. What that screams in neon letters is, "This organization is not committed to you." Former manager Matt Williams had completely lost the clubhouse, so the new manager has much heavy lifting to do, and that is impossible on a one-year deal because the players will just read that as a ship passing through the night.

There is industry speculation that the Nationals could trade Stephen Strasburg this winter. Starters Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, center fielder Denard Span and shortstop Ian Desmond all are free agents this winter.

It is impossible to read the one-year offer to Black as anything other than that of a confused organization unsure of its near-term plans. Is a fire sale forthcoming? A major overhaul of the roster?

Into this mess sails manager Dusty Baker. Good luck. He'll need it.

The Heat Index: Pitchers

Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Top starting pitchers on the free-agent market:

David Price: In the past, he's waxed rhapsodic about the Cubs, and his former manager in Tampa Bay, Joe Maddon, is in Chicago. But with the Cubs already paying a small fortune to Lester, it's difficult to see them paying Price, too. The Red Sox, Dodgers and Giants are among those expected to pursue him hard. And if St. Louis jumps in, the Cardinals could become instant favorites.

Zack Greinke: By the time he signs with somebody, Greinke could have a second Cy Young Award on his resume. The Dodgers have a chance to re-sign him at a significantly higher deal than the one he just opted out of—they've got the money, and he likes it there. If not, the Red Sox and Giants will be among the suitors.

Johnny Cueto: Game 2 of the World Series will be a big selling point.

Jordan Zimmermann: Overshadowed in the Nats' rotation by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, Zimmermann has thrown 195 or more innings in each of the past four seasons and went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 33 starts last season.

The Hit List: Hitters

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Top hitters on the market:

Yoenis Cespedes: Will he score a $150 million deal? Not from the New York Mets, he won't. Sensational in the second half in leading the Mets to the NL East title, Cespedes wasn't the same hitter after he took a fastball to his left hand in a Sept. 30 game against the Phillies. Then, last we saw of him in the World Series, he fouled a fastball off of a kneecap and limped off the field. What is working in the Mets' favor right now is that there do not appear to be a lot of teams that will be in his market.

Jason Heyward: The Cardinals would like to re-sign him. And they probably should; otherwise, that Shelby Miller trade might haunt them.

Justin Upton: Streaky hitter who can carry a team for two weeks and then disappear for two weeks. With Carlos Beltran fading, the Yankees could really use him.

Chris Davis: The last two years that he's played in 160 games, he's hit 47 homers (2015) and 53 homers (2013). In just 127 games in 2014, he hit 26 homers. He's 29 and becoming a free agent just as many teams are looking for offense.

Ben Zobrist: He's played on winning teams in Kansas City and Tampa Bay and is incredibly versatile, able to play second base, shortstop, third base and the outfield. The one downside is he turns 35 next May.

World Champions: What About the Royals' Winter?

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The business of baseball never stops, but it especially brings the reality of a cold winter home to the World Series champions. This year, it is Kansas City's turn, and the Royals are facing the loss of four key players: outfielder Alex Gordon, the versatile Ben Zobrist, ace Johnny Cueto and closer Greg Holland.

It should be noted that the Royals have never paid more than $55 million for any free agent. That was for right-hander Gil Meche ahead of the 2007 season—and four years later, unable to perform up to his own expectations, he graciously walked away and let the Royals keep the remaining $12 million on his contract.

Ex-and-Future World Champions: What About the Giants' Winter?

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Well, if they stick to their modern win-in-even-years script, the Giants will enter 2016 as World Series favorites, right? After all, they've won it all in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

If last year's pursuit of Jon Lester is any indication, as well as their pitching-rich structure under GM Brian Sabean (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson), expect the Giants to be in on David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann, among others this winter. Re-signing Mike Leake isn't out of the question, either.

Who Leads the Dodgers?

There is just one managerial opening left, and it is in Dodger Stadium. Industry speculation is that farm director and former outfielder Gabe Kapler is the favorite to land the job, being that his philosophy and thoughts are copacetic with the analytic-strong brain trust of Andrew Friedman, Josh Byrnes and Farhan Zaidi.

Dave Roberts, most recently the Padres' bench coach, interviewed very well the other day, according to Bleacher Report sources. And bench coach Tim Wallach and third base coach Ron Roenicke from Don Mattingly's staff are possibilities. The Dodgers also interviewed Nebraska coach and former Angels outfielder Darin Erstad.

And now that the deal with the Nationals fell apart, Bud Black remains available.

The Daniel Murphy Question

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Daniel Murphy #28 of the New York Mets makes an error on grounded ball hit by Paulo Orlando #16 of the Kansas City Royals in the twelfth inning during Game Five of the 2015 World Series at Citi Field on November 1, 2015 in the
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Fortunately, Mets GM Sandy Alderson appeared OK after fainting while meeting with the New York media on Wednesday. Tabloid Fever, perhaps? He was answering a question at the time about outfielder Juan Lagares, not whether the Mets would make a $15.8 million qualifying offer to second baseman Daniel Murphy.

That was the hot topic a couple of weeks ago when the Mets were meeting the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS and Murphy was in the process of slamming home runs in six consecutive postseason games. Then came a look at his fielding in the World Series, and the question sort of answered itself. The Mets can't make that qualifying offer to Murphy, can they?

Stephen Strasburg and This Winter’s Trade Market

John Amis/Associated Press

The Nationals could deal right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who is a year away from free agency and surely won't sign a hometown discount deal with the Nationals given that his agent is Scott Boras. The Nats at least listened on Strasburg last winter, according to sources, and industry speculation is that they could move him this winter. Also, look for them to deal closer Drew Storen, who badly needs a fresh start.

The Dodgers could trade outfielder Yasiel Puig as they continue to transform the clubhouse culture there post-Matt Kemp. With Enrique Hernandez and Joc Pederson emerging in the outfield, and with Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier there, Puig could be the trade bait that brings another much-needed starting pitcher.

David Goldman/Associated Press

The Cubs could fill a starting pitching need by dealing infielder Starlin Castro, who has been displaced at shortstop by Addison Russell. By cheerfully moving to second base, Castro only helped his trade value.

The Padres badly need to retool their roster and will shop closer Craig Kimbrel and starter James Shields. They will listen on starters Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner.

The Reds likely will deal closer Aroldis Chapman after shopping him last July, and lots of teams will ask them about third baseman Todd Frazier.

The Red Sox picked up the option on right-hander Clay Buchholz, but don't be surprised if they deal him away as Dombrowski looks to remake the rotation.

With Alex Anthopoulos splitting from Toronto, indications are that the Blue Jays may trim salary, and it could begin with Troy Tulowitzki, who is guaranteed $98 million through 2020.

The Rockies, after breaking up their one-two punch last summer with the Tulowitzki deal, could follow that by trading outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Colorado is a team badly in need of a fresh start.

Don't Do That Again

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Reminder: We're coming up on the one-year anniversary (Nov. 28) when Oakland gifted Toronto by trading Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays.

Donaldson, of course, is expected to be named AL MVP later this month.

So now what do the quick-trigger A's do this winter? Trade away ace Sonny Gray? Believe this: Many teams will put on the full-court press to acquire Gray, and don't be surprised if the Red Sox and Yankees are among them.

Will the Padres be Wild and Crazy?

Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

Last winter, there was no deal GM A.J. Preller wouldn't have made, including swapping 12 fish tacos for a brand new basketball. It was riveting. It was refreshing. It was, ultimately, all sizzle and no steak. The Padres finished 74-88, worse than they did in 2014 (77-85).

Don't expect Preller to command the spotlight this winter to the degree he did last year. But among the many reasons why the Padres were several tacos short of a combination plate this season was a gaping hole at shortstop. The Padres will look at free agents Ian Desmond and Asdrubal Cabrera, and this week the White Sox non-tendered Alexei Ramirez.

If the free-agent market isn't the ticket, the Padres could acquire a shortstop via trade, and they will be open for business all winter. Closer Craig Kimbrel and right-handed starter Tyson Ross are their best chips. They will shop starter James Shields hard, and Andrew Cashner is another possibility.

Two Under-the-Radar Free Agents Who Could Turn Things Around

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 21:  Marco Estrada #25 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch in the second inning against the Kansas City Royals during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 21, 2015 in Toronto, Canada.
Harry How/Getty Images

Toronto's Marco Estrada went 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA in 34 appearances (28 starts) and threw 181 innings.

Texas' Yovani Gallardo went 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA in 33 starts and threw 184.1 innings.

For those clubs that are in need of pitching but don't have the bankroll to chase Price and Cueto, Estrada and Gallardo are pretty good alternatives.

Too-Early Predictions: The 2016 World Series Winner Will Be…

If the Cubs make a couple of right moves to improve their rotation, look out. We know their core of young players featuring Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber and others is legit. Let's see…add, hmmm, David Price, or Johnny Cueto, or even a couple of second-tier arms for better depth, and the Cubs could be in business.

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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