Updating the Hottest Questions of the 2016-2017 MLB Offseason, Week 7
The week after baseball’s winter meetings often represents a calm in the offseason. Having engaged in unrelenting trade and free-agent discussions, teams step back and evaluate their roster to date.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop asking questions.
Several of the moves have prompted forward-looking thoughts about the upcoming season. Sure, there’s still work to be done, players to be signed and trades to be worked out.
And, of course, that means these answers can drastically change. But for now, let’s see where baseball stands as the offseason heads toward its latter half.
Has Power Gone out of Style?
That we are even asking this question is head-scratching given that the Chicago Cubs just won a world series with power up and down the team’s lineup. Heck, there’s even talk about using slugger Kyle Schwarber as the Cubs' leadoff hitter in 2017.
But with so many power hitters still on the free-agent market, it seems as if the skill is less valued by teams.
Prior to the start of the offseason, teams knew the free-agent class had little to offer in terms of impact players. But the class did have a handful of power hitters, capable of impacting potential teams with the long ball.
Yet, none have been signed.
Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo, the 2016 home run king, all remain unemployed. All three appear to have overestimated their value on the open market.
It’s unclear if teams have gone away from prioritizing power as they construct their lineup. But it’s clear that, while in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was coveted, players need to do more than just hit the long ball, the only skill that the three aforementioned players provide at an elite level.
Instead, teams have looked more toward guys with upside defensively and the ability to get on base. See Dexter Fowler and Adam Eaton (acquired by the Washington Nationals via trade) as examples.
Of course, Bautista, Encarnacion and Trumbo will all be signed but perhaps for much less than had been anticipated.
Have NL Contenders Done Enough to Catch the Cubs?
You’ve probably heard this before: The MLB season is a marathon.
So, think of the winter as the early part of the race, the regular season as the middle, which separates the best runners, and the playoffs as the sprint to the end.
Like any entertaining marathon, MLB teams right now are jockeying for position, trying to eye what moves will best position themselves for the meat of the race. All that naturally begs the question as to whether teams in the NL have caught the Cubs, who are regarded as having the most talented roster in baseball after winning the World Series last season.
The answer so far? No.
It’s important to recognize that this free agency, as has been mentioned in this recurring column many times, is unusually weak. There aren’t many lineup-altering players available. Those teams looking to seek such a player would have to look at the trade market, a task more complicated than it may appear.
The Nationals are the lone NL squad that has made a significant trade, netting center fielder Adam Eaton, a solid player but one nonetheless that doesn’t have transformational impact. The Dodgers, last season’s other NL division winner, had so many players enter free agency that re-signing them—namely starting pitcher Rich Hill, closer Kenley Jansen and third baseman Justin Turner—became a priority.
Jon Morosi of MLB Network is reporting that the Dodgers are in trade talks with the Minnesota Twins for Brian Dozier. Adding Dozier, who hit 42 homers last season, would make the Dodgers a reasonable threat to unseat the Cubs.
Replaying the 2016 NLDS: Would Melancon Have Continued the Giants’ Even-Year Magic?
When the San Francisco Giants entered the offseason, they had one goal: acquire a closer.
Signing Mark Melancon accomplished just that and gave the Giants reason to believe they could win their fourth World Series under manager Bruce Bochy. But it has also left those in the Bay Area thinking what could have been.
Might Melancon have continued the team’s even-year magic after San Francisco took home World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014?
By no means does this discredit what the Cubs accomplished. They were, wire to wire, the best team in baseball and seemed to win every critical October game, including Game 4 of the NLDS against San Francisco.
Still, it’s fair to assert that with a closer like Melancon, the Giants, minimally, would have been better positioned to go further into the 2016 playoffs. Certainly, they would have forced a Game 5 in the NLDS had Melancon been present.
A blown save by San Francisco allowed the Cubs to win the series in four games.
The shaky bullpen was even more glaring during the final two months of the regular season when the Giants, MLB leaders in blown saves, ceded the NL West to the Dodgers.
Had San Francisco won the division, they would have been able to set up their rotation for an NLDS matchup against the Washington Nationals—a series they likely would have been favored to win.
But having to play the one-game NL Wild Card, the Giants had to throw ace Madison Bumgarner.
Teams never win in hindsight and the Cubs were, unquestionably, better. Still, replaying the scenarios underscores how critical it was to sign Melancon and the potential effect he can have on the Giants moving forward.
Will Jeurys Familia Be Suspended to Start the 2017 Season?
On Thursday, a judge dropped the simple-assault charge against New York Mets closer Jeurys Familia that stemmed from an alleged incident of domestic violence. The alleged incident was also expunged from Familia’s record.
Familia was arrested on Oct. 31.
Still, questions linger as to whether he will be suspended for the start of the 2017 MLB season. The Mets released a statement saying that they are awaiting the outcome of MLB’s investigation into the matter.
Last offseason, closer Aroldis Chapman was alleged to have been involved in a domestic violence incident. Though he wasn’t charged, MLB suspended him for 30 games.
Given that baseball has very publicly made clear its no-tolerance policy as it pertains to domestic violence and that there is precedent under similar circumstances, it’s entirely possible that Familia could be facing the same suspension that Chapman served at the beginning of the 2016 season.
Which Non-Playoff Team from 2016 Helped Itself the Most?
The playoffs never look the same from one year to the next. Sure, there’s some continuity. Expect to see teams like the Boston Red Sox and Cubs play again in October 2017.
But inevitably, every postseason picture changes at least a little bit. Those who emerge as new playoff teams often help themselves the most in the offseason, and no team that watched playoff baseball in 2016 has done more than the Houston Astros this winter.
By adding switch-hitting designated hitter Carlos Beltran and the left-handed bat of Josh Reddick, the team gives itself, top to bottom, one of the AL’s best lineups heading into 2017.
Reddick could fit nicely between right-handed hitting stars Carlos Beltran and Jose Altuve in the Houston lineup. Reddick is a great on-base guy, making him a prototypical bottom-of-the-order AL hitter. He also spent the last four-plus seasons with the Oakland A’s—he was traded to the Dodgers last season—and is very familiar with the AL West.
With these additions, the Astros are a considerable threat to the Rangers, who are eying their third straight division title.