Updating the Hottest Questions of the 2016-17 MLB Offseason, Week 6

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistDecember 9, 2016

Updating the Hottest Questions of the 2016-17 MLB Offseason, Week 6

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    Major League Baseball’s hot stove was white-hot this week with winter meetings sparking a flurry of franchise-changing deals.

    The Chicago White Sox were at the center of it all, dealing starting pitcher Chris Sale and outfielder Adam Eaton in trades that altered the dynamic of each of the franchises involved.

    It all gave us a new set of questions to answer concerning the 2017 season and beyond. Who are contenders? Who are pretenders? Which teams were able to secure their futures?

After the Chris Sale Deal, Where Should Teams Look for Starting Pitching?

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    When the Boston Red Sox acquired Sale this week, it was as if the team’s starting rotation moved from a mid-rise walk-up to the penthouse of a luxurious high-rise building. The southpaw will have that large of an effect on Boston’s rotation in 2017.

    While no other available starters—be it via trade or free agency—will have that big of an impact, players are certainly available who could help alter the dynamic of a rotation.

    Left-hander Jose Quintana, Sale’s teammate with the White Sox last season, is a controllable pitcher with top-of-the-rotation stuff. The Detroit Tigers, looking to shed payroll, could deal right-hander Justin Verlander.

    Verlander is a much pricier option but was an American League Cy Young finalist in 2016.

    Tampa Bay Rays right-handed starter Chris Archer is playing on a team-friendly deal, but at 28 years old, he is still considered a project after posting a 4.02 ERA in 2016. In each of the three seasons prior, however, he posted an ERA no higher than 3.33—giving teams reason to believe he has the ability to be a top-three pitcher in a contending rotation.

    Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that the market has picked up for Archer since Sale was dealt.

Did Edwin Encarnacion Misjudge the Market?

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    Edwin Encarnacion remains the biggest bat available in free agency, yet there wasn’t even a whimper of interest over the course of baseball’s winter meetings—the time when rumors run most rampant.

    He led the AL in RBI with 127 and has hit at least 34 homers in each of the last five seasons, tying a career high by smashing 42 this past season with the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Yet teams have passed on the first baseman/designated hitter, electing instead to sign players like Carlos Beltran (Houston Astros) and Matt Holliday (New York Yankees). Rob Bradford of WEEI in Boston reported that the Red Sox, needing to replace retired designated hitter David Ortiz, probably won't sign Encarnacion, citing that his price was too high.

    It has all given reason to question whether Encarnacion misjudged the demand for his services.

    He still may get the money he seeks. It only takes one team to see the value of signing him to a large deal. It appears, though, that the demand for his right-handed bat is much less than anticipated.

    Prior to the start of free agency, the Red Sox, Astros, Yankees and Blue Jays were all thought to be suitors. All four of those teams, though, have moved on to other options—shrinking the market for a player whose value is highest playing in the AL as a designated hitter.

Where Will Closer Kenley Jansen End Up Signing?

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    Closer Kenley Jansen is among the biggest names in this offseason’s free-agent class. In 2016, he was the best reliever in MLB by measure of FanGraph’s WAR. Jansen’s 3.2 was 0.3 better than the next reliever, Andrew Miller of the Cleveland Indians.

    In the 2016 postseason, Jansen furthered his value by showing he can pitch in the middle innings and can easily handle multiple-inning saves in October.

    Jansen has several teams interested in signing him and should command more than the five-year, $86 million contract closer Aroldis Chapman signed with the Yankees this week.

    The Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers are those with the highest interest in his services. Jansen was signed by the Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 2004 and has been with the club since his MLB debut in 2010.

    Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that a Jansen-to-the-Dodgers deal was far from a certainty and that the club should begin to explore other options just in case.

    Still, his signing with the Dodgers appears the likeliest scenario. With its huge television deal, Los Angeles can outspend any team. Jansen was so critical to their success in the postseason that the Dodgers should, at least, try to match any other offers.

    From Jansen’s perspective, Dodger Stadium was the second-friendliest park to pitchers in 2016, according to ESPN.com’s Park Factors. Manager Dave Roberts also adeptly utilized him in the postseason, so Jansen knows he would be playing for a skipper who understands how to maximize his potential.

How Long Before the Chicago White Sox Are Contenders?

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    No team was more productive during baseball’s winter meetings than the White Sox. General manager Rick Hahn managed to change the dynamic of the franchise in a matter of two days, turning one of baseball’s worst minor league systems into the envy of the sport.

    On Tuesday, Hahn dealt Sale to the Red Sox in exchange for infielder Yoan Moncada, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe, pitcher Michael Kopech and pitcher Victor Diaz—a trade that appeared fair on both sides.

    On Wednesday, he dealt Eaton in a shocking trade to the Nationals (more on this on the next slide) that netted Chicago the game’s top pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito, and pitcher Reynaldo Lopez.

    Those two trades gave the White Sox four prospects in the top 50 of MLB.com’s prospect rankings (No. 1 Moncada, No. 3 Giolito, No. 30 Kopech and No. 38 Lopez).

    Add in pitcher Carson Fulmer (No. 58) and catcher Zack Collins (No. 80), who were already in the club’s system, and the White Sox have six players in the top 100. They also have the No. 12 pick in the 2017 draft and may not be done dealing players this winter.

    All of a sudden, Chicago looks like the team of the future in the AL Central. But the question on Chicago’s South Side is: When will the team return to the playoffs? The White Sox haven’t played in the postseason since 2008.

    It still may not be for a couple of seasons.

    Moncada debuted this year, playing eight games for the Red Sox, but is still at least a year from becoming a major contributor. Kopech, whose fastball easily tops 100 mph, still needs work. Giolito only has four MLB starts, while Lopez has six.

Does Adam Eaton Bring the Washington Nationals Any Closer to a World Series?

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    That the Nationals were willing to give up their best prospect, Giolito, in a deal would suggest that they felt it was a trade that seriously increased their chances of winning a World Series.

    That’s what Eaton is tasked with after Washington sent the aforementioned package to the White Sox.

    What the Nationals love about Eaton is obvious: He’s a prototypical leadoff hitter who slashed .284/.362/.428. He has posted an on-base percentage of at least .361 in each of the last three seasons. He is the perfect player to hit in front of 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper and 2016 NL MVP finalist Daniel Murphy.

    But swinging an effective bat isn’t enough to command the kind of prospects the White Sox got for Eaton. He needs to bring something defensively, which Eaton did in 2016, posting a 22.5 ultimate zone rating that ranked first among all outfielders, according to FanGraphs. His 20 defensive runs saved above average ranked third among outfielders, according to the site.

    That primarily came as a right fielder, though.

    According to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, the Nationals plan to slot Eaton in center field, a position he moved from in 2016 after posting terrible defensive numbers the season before. Eaton had a minus-10.2 UZR as a full-time center fielder in 2015.

    Clearly, there’s a disparity in his defensive value between the two positions.

    Offensively, he adds something to the Nationals but might be detrimental defensively. That doesn’t exactly affirm the idea that he is the missing piece to winning a championship in Washington.