Updating the Hottest Questions Remaining in the 2016-17 MLB Offseason

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2016

Updating the Hottest Questions Remaining in the 2016-17 MLB Offseason

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    Much of the Major League Baseball offseason picture has been painted, yet it still looks incomplete.

    Though we have a better idea of how the remainder of the winter—and, subsequently, the 2017 season—may play out, there are still questions left unanswered.

    Let’s try to tackle what remains to be asked about this offseason and what these questions mean for players and teams alike heading into the 2017 season.

Which NL Team Is Best Positioned to Challenge the Cubs?

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    For the most part, there’s little opportunity left for teams to greatly impact their respective rosters. That means it’s now an appropriate time to handicap the 2017 MLB season.

    The Chicago Cubs should be the favorites to win the World Series again. But the randomness of baseball allows for upsets, and there are a handful of talented National League teams capable of beating the Cubs in a playoff series.

    But who among them might be most equipped? Expect that to be the San Francisco Giants, whose signing of closer Mark Melancon may end up as the most impactful of this offseason.

    Given that the Giants blew two saves in the 2016 National League Division Series—including one in that decisive Game 4—it seems only natural that they would be able to give the Cubs an even tougher challenge in 2017 now that they have one of the best closers in baseball over the last three seasons.

    Teamed with the starting tandem of Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, the Giants now have a pitching staff capable of shutting down any team—and here’s the key part—at any time in the game.

Is Jose Bautista Damaged Goods?

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    In 2015, then-Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista smashed 40 homers and 114 RBI and led the American League with 110 walks. A year removed, now a free agent, interest in the right-handed power hitter is far less than was expected.

    So much so that Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reported that the 36-year-old outfielder/designated hitter is considering signing a one-year deal.

    That’s a drastic switch from the public position he took in spring training, telling reporters that he would not offer the Blue Jays a hometown discount. And that has caused Toronto to re-engage in talks to re-sign Bautista, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.

    Bautista has several factors working against him that have damaged his value, most notably his age. Most teams are looking for more long-term answers in the middle of their lineups, and Bautista’s initial contract demands may have mirrored those of younger hitters with a similar profile.

    Also, over the past two seasons, Bautista has been outlandish on the field. Though he was a model teammate in Toronto, antics such as his famed bat flip in the 2015 American League Division Series have rubbed certain teams the wrong way.

    The Baltimore Orioles, for one, removed themselves from the Bautista sweepstakes because of how he is perceived, according to Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. Naturally, that lessened the market for him, thus causing a decrease in demand.

Will a Jose Quintana Deal Get Done This Offseason?

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    Chicago White Sox left-handed starter Jose Quintana is unquestionably on the trading block, as reported by USA Today's Bob Nightengale early in December. But as we head into 2017—about a month-and-a-half from pitchers and catchers reporting, believe it or not—it’s fair to question whether a deal will get done before spring training.

    The White Sox are clearly in rebuilding mode after dealing outfielder Adam Eaton and starting pitcher Chis Sale. So moving Quintana for prospects would make sense from Chicago’s perspective.

    Though it wouldn’t be surprising if trade negotiations spilled into February, a deal is still likely to get done this offseason.

    With Sale off the market, Quintana is now the best starting pitcher available this offseason. So as any good seller would do—and the White Sox have been an adept one this offseason—Chicago is likely doing its best to widen the market for Quintana.

    That means talking to any team interested in upgrading its starting rotation. By doing so, the White Sox can get teams to engage in a bidding war over the 2016 All-Star.

    Furthermore, as the calendar inches closer to the 2017 season, teams get more desperate. And that desperation could net the White Sox an even bigger return for Quintana.

Is MLB Close to Playing Games Overseas?

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    Following the NFL’s successful venture into London, MLB is considering skipping the pond to play games overseas, according to a report from the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman.

    The report suggests the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox could play a series there, which makes sense given the rivalry's rich history and each city’s colonial ties.

    MLB is considering putting it on the schedule for the 2018 season. There are numerous factors to consider, though, namely logistics.

    There would likely need to be scheduled days off around the series given that it takes a day to travel to London from either location. The time change is also a factor, and jet lag could put both teams at a disadvantage in series immediately following one played in London.

    MLB also needs to give consideration to lost gate receipts and concessions for whichever club would lose home games.

How Drastically Will MLB Look to Make Pace-of-Play Changes?

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    Though baseball is coming off a successful postseason, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred continues to champion changes in the game that would impact pace of play.

    In an interview with John Harper of the New York Daily News, Manfred reiterated his desire to institute a 20-second pitch clock, something that has been implemented in various levels of minor league baseball.

    But he went on to discuss more drastic options like limiting the use of relief pitchers, which he noted needs to be examined further in terms of how it would affect competition. He also talked about defensive shifts, which seem to limit the action in games.

    Ultimately, Manfred is concerned with bettering the product, whether that be through taking measures to add action or reduce pace of play. Expect imminent changes on both fronts.

    Manfred has only become more bullish on such changes and appears to be introducing more ways to affect pace of play.