Full 2016-2017 MLB Offseason Preview, Predictions 1 Week Out
The World Series is underway, and while that means an exciting week of baseball to come, it also means we're just one week away from the start of the MLB offseason.
The end of another season is always met with some level of sadness as winter starts to close in and we once again kick off the countdown to spring training.
However, there's always a wealth of offseason action to come, and that's what we previewed here.
Ahead, you'll find a breakdown of this year's free-agent class, with players lumped into three categories: under-the-radar free agents, second-tier free agents and top-tier free agents.
We've also included a rundown of some notable potential trade candidates as well as made a prediction for the surprise move of the offseason.
Think of this as your primer for another long offseason to come.
Under-the-Radar Free Agents: Starting Pitchers
Under-the-Radar Starting Pitchers
|Tommy Milone (L)||29||19/12||3-5||5.71||5.54||22||49||69.1||-0.7|
|Clayton Richard (L)||33||36/9||3-4||3.33||4.17||31||41||67.2||0.4|
With such a staggering lack of quality starting pitching options on this year's free-agent market, there figures to be more attention than ever on potential under-the-radar steals.
The most likely low-cost starter to make an impact, at least based on 2016 production, might be left-hander Clayton Richard. After pitching to a 6.43 ERA in 25 appearances out of the bullpen for the Chicago Cubs, he was released in early August and landed back in San Diego, where he enjoyed a stark reversal of fortune with a 2.52 ERA over 53.2 innings spanning nine starts and two relief appearances.
Brandon Morrow also found some late-season success in San Diego after spending much of the year pitching in the minors as he continued to work his way back from shoulder surgery. It's always been more of a question of health than stuff with the 32-year-old, so he'll be worth a roll of the dice.
While he was used primarily in relief last season, Scott Feldman has 183 career starts under his belt, and he was 25-29 with a 3.83 ERA and 1.26 WHIP from 2013 to 2015 while being used exclusively out of the rotation.
Charlie Morton began 2016 with two strong outings in four starts before suffering a torn left hamstring that required season-ending surgery. He's had his fair share of injury issues in recent years, but he's capable of being a viable middle-of-the-rotation arm if healthy. Morton has a $9.5 million mutual option for next season, but the Philadelphia Phillies will likely exercise their $1 million buyout.
Rounding things out is left-hander Tommy Milone, who flamed out in Minnesota this season but went 9-5 with a 3.92 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 128.2 innings in 2015 and is still just 29 years old.
Other potential injury returnees worth keeping an eye on include Bronson Arroyo, Justin Masterson and Brandon Beachy, though it's unclear what to expect out of each of them, if anything.
Under-the-Radar Free Agents: Relief Pitchers
Under-the-Radar Relief Pitchers
|Brian Matusz (L)||29||8||0/1||14.00||2.89||9||3||9.0||-0.6|
There are always at least a few under-the-radar relievers who emerge as reliable bullpen options. Blaine Boyer, Fernando Abad, Matt Belisle and Carlos Torres are among those who turned a minor league pact into steady work out of an MLB bullpen this season. So who could make an unexpected impact this time around?
Greg Holland is the name that jumps out as a boom-or-bust target. The two-time All-Star topped 45 saves and finished ninth in American League Cy Young Award voting in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014, but his 2015 season was cut short by Tommy John surgery in early October, and he was sidelined for the entirety of this season. An incentive-laden one-year deal with a second-year option would seem like the most likely approach to signing Holland, and he could pay huge dividends for a team willing to gamble on his health.
Jordan Walden also missed the entire 2016 season while dealing with a significant lat strain, and he only ended up pitching 10.1 innings with the St. Louis Cardinals. However, in the four seasons prior to his arrival in St. Louis, he had a 3.16 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 10.6 K/9 in 215 appearances as one of the better setup options in the game. He also has age on his side, as he's still shy of his 29th birthday.
The Toronto Blue Jays acquired Drew Storen with the hope he could serve as a dominant eighth-inning option ahead of closer Roberto Osuna. Instead, he struggled to a 6.21 ERA over 38 appearances before he was shipped to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Joaquin Benoit. Storen turned things around in Seattle with a 3.44 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 19 games, and with 98 career saves on his resume, he's an intriguing low-cost option for teams not looking to pay up for the market's elite closers.
Brian Matusz emerged as a staple in the Baltimore Orioles bullpen after being bumped from the starting rotation, averaging 62 appearances per year from 2013 to 2015 and pitching to a 3.32 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 9.4 K/9 as a quality lefty setup option. He was shipped to Atlanta after a rough start to the season and landed with the Cubs after being released. He made one spot start but spent the bulk of the season in Triple-A. He'll be an intriguing option on a minor league deal.
Kevin Jepsen was one of the majors' better setup options in 2014 (74 G, 22 HLD, 2.63 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) and 2015 (75 G, 24 HLD, 2.33 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) before struggling to a 5.98 ERA over 58 appearances this season. He'll get another chance based on track record but will likely have to settle for a minor league deal.
Under-the-Radar Free Agents: Position Players
Under-the-Radar Position Players
|Luis Valbuena (L)||30||.260/.357/.459||17||13||40||38||1||1||2.6|
It's generally harder to find an under-the-radar position player who makes an impact than it is a bullpen arm simply based on the players' opportunities to produce. Matt Joyce was the rare exception to that rule after he signed a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates last offseason. He went on to post an .866 OPS with 10 doubles, 13 home runs and 42 RBI over 293 plate appearances as a platoon player.
Another Pirates player looks like the most intriguing low-cost option on this year's market, as Sean Rodriguez will aim to prove he's capable of stepping into a more significant role. Long a productive super-utility player, Rodriguez enjoyed the best offensive season of his career with an .859 OPS that included 16 doubles and 18 home runs in 342 plate appearances. He'll get a nice raise over the $2.5 million he made last year. The question is whether a team will be willing to trust him as an everyday option, likely at second base.
Luis Valbuena enjoyed a power surge in 2015 when he set a new career high with 25 home runs in his first season with the Houston Astros, albeit with a .224 average. His triple-slash numbers improved across the board this year to a respectable .260/.357/.459 that included 17 doubles and 13 home runs in 342 plate appearances. There is no shortage of power bats on this year's market, but there's a good chance none deliver as much value as Valbuena.
Chris Heisey didn't have great overall numbers in 2016, but he did homer nine times in 155 plate appearances, and he's the active pinch-hit home run leader with 14 in his career. He's an appealing fourth outfielder if nothing else.
Second-Tier Free Agents: Starting Pitchers
Second-Tier Starting Pitchers
In most offseasons, the above list of starting pitchers would represent the third or fourth tier of options, and most would have to settle for one-year deals. Not this year. With a grand total of three pitchers cracking our top tier of starters, contenders looking to fill out their rotations will be forced to turn to this collection of mediocrity. More competition for average arms could very well drive up the price for some of these guys, and it wouldn't be all that surprising if at least a few of them landed multiyear pacts as a result.
The most intriguing name is Andrew Cashner. There is no question Cashner has the stuff to be a front-line starter, but to this point in his career he has not delivered on that potential. Injuries and general ineffectiveness have played a role, but in the hands of the right pitching coach, things could click for the big right-hander.
Ageless wonders Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey are both capable of eating up innings, though expecting another 3.43 ERA out of Colon is probably asking too much.
Colby Lewis was terrific before missing nearly three months with a strained lat, while Doug Fister put together a solid first five months before pitching to a 10.54 ERA over his final seven starts.
The Royals will decline their end of a $10 million mutual option on Edinson Volquez, according to Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball. The right-hander's 2016 wasn't pretty, but he was 26-16 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.27 WHIP while averaging more than 196 innings over the previous two seasons. That should be enough for him to garner legitimate interest.
Second-Tier Free Agents: Relief Pitchers
Second-Tier Relief Pitchers
|Jerry Blevins (L)||33||73||2/16||2.79||1.21||15||52||42.0||1.1|
|Boone Logan (L)||32||66||1/27||3.69||1.01||20||57||46.1||0.6|
|Travis Wood (L)||29||77||0/12||2.95||1.13||24||47||61.0||0.5|
The bulk of the attention on the reliever market will go to the trio of Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon—and understandably so. However, there is a deep crop of capable setup arms also available, and with the increased focus on trotting out a dominant bullpen, some of these guys stand to make a pretty penny.
Neftali Feliz was once one of the game's most promising young relievers while pitching for the Texas Rangers, before injuries derailed his career. He bounced back in a big way under the tutelage of pitching coach Ray Searage in Pittsburgh and stands to cash in on a multiyear deal as the top setup man on the market. Expect a healthy bump from the $3.9 million he made this past season.
Veterans Joaquin Benoit, Brad Ziegler, Sergio Romo and Koji Uehara also have experience closing games but will likely be viewed more as setup options at this point in their respective careers. Teams may be weary of giving the 41-year-old Uehara a multiyear deal, but the other three seem like safe bets to get at least two years.
Meanwhile, converted starters Travis Wood, Joe Blanton and Dustin McGowan have found new life in the bullpen, where their ability to throw more than one inning adds considerable value.
Chapman and Wood are the top left-handed options, followed closely by Jerry Blevins and Boone Logan, who were both terrific in 2016. Logan was extremely tough on lefties this season, limiting them to a .142 batting average and .477 OPS. Blevins, on the other hand, was equally effective against lefties and righties, making him more than just a specialist.
Second-Tier Free Agents: Position Players
Second-Tier Position Players
|B. Moss (L)||33||.225/.300/.484||19||28||67||66||1||0||0.8|
|Josh Reddick (L)||29||.281/.345/.405||17||10||37||53||8||6||2.6|
|M. Saunders (L)||29||.253/.338/.478||32||24||57||70||1||-11||1.3|
There's a wealth of quality mid-tier position players available this offseason, though many of them will have to wait until the elite-level guys sign before their market takes shape.
Matt Wieters is the de facto top catching option after Wilson Ramos tore his ACL in September, and he could be looking for the stability of a multiyear deal after accepting a qualifying offer last winter.
There was some question whether the Cardinals would even tender Brandon Moss a contract last offseason, but it's a good thing they did, as the first baseman/outfielder carried the offense at times. He tallied 19 doubles and 28 home runs in just 464 plate appearances, and his defensive versatility adds value.
Carlos Beltran and Kendrys Morales will no doubt stay in the American League so they can play designated hitter, and while Beltran will be 40 in April and Morales has a bit of an injury history, both were productive in 2016.
Matt Holliday may also be best served making the move to an AL team so he can focus on hitting and perhaps stay healthy in the process.
Rajai Davis provides elite speed and stole 43 bases this season, while Josh Reddick is a standout defender in right field and has 30-homer potential if he stays healthy.
The market for Michael Saunders will depend on whether teams believe in his first-half numbers (.923 OPS, 25 2B, 16 HR) and how willing they are to ignore his second-half slide (.638 OPS, 7 2B, 8 HR).
The most intriguing name on this list is Carlos Gomez. An 8.5-WAR player as recently as 2013 and one of the game's most dynamic all-around talents during his peak in Milwaukee, Gomez was released by the Astros after posting a .594 OPS over 323 plate appearances. The Rangers scooped him up in an effort to find a fill-in for the injured Shin-Soo Choo, and he hit .284/.362/.543 with six doubles, eight home runs and 24 RBI in 33 games. How much stock will a team put in that small sample size?
Top-Tier Free Agents: Starting Pitchers
Top-Tier Starting Pitchers
|Rich Hill (L)||36||20||12-5||2.12||2.39||33||129||110.1||4.1|
There it is, the cream of the free-agent starting pitching crop for the 2016-17 MLB offseason. Bask in its glory.
Rich Hill is undoubtedly the best pitcher available based on 2016, but just how long can he keep it up entering his age-37 season? Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors wrote in September about why he thinks Hill will land a three-year contract for $45 million or more. For a team looking to make a push to win it all, that's a worthwhile gamble.
Ivan Nova would have been firmly entrenched among the second-tier options had it not been for a late-season breakout following his trade to the Pirates. The 29-year-old was 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA in 97.1 innings of work for the Yankees at the time of the trade but wound up going 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and a brilliant 52-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64.2 innings for the Pirates. It's hard not to think of him as this year's version of J.A. Happ.
Finally, we have Jeremy Hellickson, who will be stuck with the unfortunate burden of being tied to a qualifying offer. His 3.98 FIP, .274 batting average on balls in play and 25.9 percent hard contract rate all suggest his 2016 performance is relatively sustainable, and he presents the lowest risk of the three on a deal of three or more years. The Phillies' decision to hold on to the right-hander at the trade deadline was a surprise, though they are now positioned to add a first-round pick as a result.
Top-Tier Free Agents: Relief Pitchers
Top-Tier Relief Pitchers
|Aroldis Chapman (L)||28||59||36/39||1.55||0.86||18||90||58.0||2.5|
At present, the largest contract ever signed by a reliever is the four-year, $50 million deal that Jonathan Papelbon inked to join the Phillies. That turned into a five-year, $61 million commitment after his fifth-year option vested. Expect that to be surpassed by at least two players on the list above and perhaps all three of them.
Aroldis Chapman may have the blazing fastball and Kenley Jansen the game's best cutter, but Mark Melancon has been every bit as effective when it comes to nailing down saves. Here's a look at how the three stack up since the start of the 2013 season, when Melancon first took over as closer in Pittsburgh:
- Chapman: 143/156 SV, 91.7 SV%, 1.93 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 15.8 K/9
- Jansen: 155/172 SV, 90.1 SV%, 2.19 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 13.6 K/9
- Melancon: 147/162 SV, 90.1 SV%, 1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 8.3 K/9
The glaring difference there is the strikeout rate from Melancon, which is human as opposed to video game-like, but that hasn't stopped him from being one of the majors' most reliable stoppers.
The Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals will all be looking to either re-sign or replace these three guys. The San Francisco Giants, meanwhile, are also expected to go hard after a top-tier closer after watching their bullpen falter down the stretch and into October.
Top-Tier Free Agents: Position Players
Top-Tier Position Players
Most baseball people are assuming that Yoenis Cespedes will opt out of the final two years and $47.5 million of his current contract, according to Adam Rubin of ESPN.com. Assuming that happens, he'll be the biggest free agent on this year's market as a perennial 30-homer threat with a rocket arm and solid all-around defense in left field.
Sluggers Edwin Encarnacion, Mike Napoli and Mark Trumbo don't provide anything in the way of defensive value, but all three are steady run producers. Both Encarnacion and Trumbo topped the 40-homer mark in 2016.
While Ian Desmond could only scrounge up a one-year, $8 million deal from the Rangers last offseason, he should have no trouble landing a multiyear deal this time around. He turned in his fourth career 20/20 season offensively and, all things considered, made a smooth transition from shortstop to the outfield.
Dexter Fowler also faced a slowly developing market for his services last winter, signing a one-year, $8 million contract that included a $9 million mutual option with a $5 million buyout.
Back in February, slugger Jose Bautista was reportedly seeking a five-year, $150 million deal in free agency, according to TSN's Rick Westhead. He's not going to get that given his age and the fact that he's coming off an injury-shortened season in which he played just 116 games, but he's still capable of a major impact at the plate.
Finally we have Justin Turner, who has emerged as one of the best all-around third basemen in the majors since taking over the everyday job from Juan Uribe in Los Angeles. It's hard to see the Dodgers letting him get away given their lack of other options both in-house and on the free-agent market, but he won't come cheaply.
Wilson Ramos (ACL surgery) and Neil Walker (back surgery) would have both been included here among the top-tier hitters if not for injury concerns.
Top Trade Targets
- RHP Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox
- LHP Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals
- RHP Matt Garza, Milwaukee Brewers
- RHP Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals
- RHP Jake Odorizzi, Tampa Bay Rays
- LHP Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
- LHP Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
- LHP Drew Smyly, Tampa Bay Rays
It's going to take a significant haul to pry Chris Sale or Jose Quintana away from the White Sox, but teams will inquire.
A more likely trade partner for teams seeking starting pitching will be the Rays, who could move either Drew Smyly or Jake Odorizzi in an effort to further improve their offensive attack and save some bucks.
The contract of Ian Kennedy and mediocre production from Matt Garza make them bad trade targets, but considering the market, there could be interest.
Clay Buchholz and Jaime Garcia both carry team options that are by no means a slam dunk to be exercised, and even if they are, the Red Sox and Cardinals could still wind up shopping them.
- RHP Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
- RHP David Robertson, Chicago White Sox
For whoever misses out on Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon among the teams looking for a top-tier closer, a trade for Wade Davis figures to be the fallback plan.
David Robertson is owed $25 million over the next two years, so the White Sox would need to eat some money to move him, but incumbent setup man Nate Jones is ready to step into the closer's role.
- CF Charlie Blackmon (L), Colorado Rockies
- LF Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
- LF Brett Gardner (L), New York Yankees
- RF Carlos Gonzalez (L), Colorado Rockies
- 2B Ian Kinsler, Detroit Tigers
- RF J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers
- C Brian McCann (L), New York Yankees
- CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
If the Tigers do in fact decide to sell aggressively, second baseman Ian Kinsler and right fielder J.D. Martinez appear to be the most likely impact players to be moved.
Brian McCann and Brett Gardner could both be on the way out as the Yankees continue to get younger, and the same goes for Ryan Braun in Milwaukee if the team can find a viable trade partner.
The Rockies will likely be trying to win in the final season of GM Jeff Bridich's contract, but there will be interest once again in the outfield duo of Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon.
Perhaps the most intriguing name on the trade market is Andrew McCutchen, as Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported the Pirates intend to shop the five-time All-Star this offseason.
Surprise Move of the Offseason: Marlins-Rays Blockbuster Trade
Earlier this week, I wrote about a potential J.T. Realmuto-for-Jake Odorizzi swap as a win-win trade for the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays. That wouldn't be the first time those names were discussed between the two teams.
According to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, the Rays were asking for both Christian Yelich and Realmuto in exchange for Matt Moore or Jake Odorizzi leading up to the trade deadline. That's obviously going to be a non-starter, but it's still easy to view the two sides as a good fit in a potential trade.
Even before the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez, the Marlins were in clear need of more starting pitching. They used 13 different starters last season and finished 26th in the majors with just 63 quality starts, as Wei-Yin Chen disappointed in his first season and no one else was able to help out.
Building a package around Realmuto would undoubtedly be attractive to a Rays team that has long been searching for an answer at the catcher position. The 25-year-old turned in a breakout season in 2016 and is under team control through 2020.
The Marlins could also try to build around center fielder Marcell Ozuna, another low-cost bat who would be a welcome addition to the Rays lineup, even with an abundance of outfielders to begin with. Meanwhile, the Rays have have two valuable commodities in Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly as they try to upgrade the offense.
Odorizzi ($4.6 million projected salary) is first-time arbitration eligible this winter, while Smyly ($6.9 million projected salary) is in line for a significant raise over the $3.75 million he made last season.
As the Rays continue to try to navigate the tight purse strings of the franchise, moving one of those players for a pre-arbitration bat such as Realmuto or the cost-effective Ozuna ($4.5 million projected salary) makes a lot of sense.
The details might not be clear at this point, but here's betting on a blockbuster deal of some sort between the Marlins and Rays before the start of next season.