1 Critical Offseason Decision Each MLB Team Faces

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2017

1 Critical Offseason Decision Each MLB Team Faces

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    Brett Davis/Associated Press

    The MLB offseason has already begun for two-thirds of the league, so it's time to look ahead at some of the biggest storylines set to unfold this winter.

    Rather than lining up free agents with potential landing spots or speculating on blockbuster deals, we're going to take a broad glance at the critical decision each team is facing this offseason.

    Whether it's exploring an extension with a young star, deciding what to do with a key free agent or shopping a marquee player in an effort to maximize his value, these decisions come in all shapes and sizes.

    Every front office is facing at least one that could significantly change the complexion of the team.

AL East

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    Josh Donaldson
    Josh DonaldsonAssociated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: Zach Britton trade

    According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Orioles have no intention of shopping 2018-19 free agent Manny Machado this offseason, so we'll take them at their word for the time being.

    They could still look to move All-Star closer Zach Britton ahead of his final year of arbitration, however.

    The 29-year-old earned $11.4 million this season and will likely receive a modest raise, despite being limited to 38 appearances while dealing with forearm and knee injuries.

    While he may not have duplicated his dominant 2016 numbers, he still managed a stellar 72.6 percent ground-ball rate and figures to be a hot commodity in a thin market for late-inning relievers beyond Wade Davis and Addison Reed.


    Boston Red Sox: Mookie Betts extension

    Mookie Betts will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, and he's headed for a huge raise over the $950,000 he's making this season.

    The 24-year-old has quickly replaced David Ortiz as the face of the franchise and even in a down season relative to the numbers he posted in 2016, he was still a 6.1 WAR player.

    Buying out his three arbitration seasons and a year or two of free agency would bring some future certainty to the Red Sox, and it would still allow Betts to hit free agency in time for another megadeal.

    It's worth noting shortstop Xander Bogaerts is actually a year closer to free agency, but he's a Scott Boras client, so it figures to be trickier for Boston to swing an early extension.


    New York Yankees: Spend big on a starting pitcher?

    It's long been assumed the Yankees have been gearing up to spend big on the 2018-19 free-agent market, with Machado and Bryce Harper headlining a stellar class.

    The team, however, faces an interesting decision on whether to spend big on a starting pitcher this offseason.

    Much of that decision will likely hinge on whether Masahiro Tanaka opts out of the final three years and $67 million on his contract.

    Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are in line for $100 million-plus deals, and Japanese standout Shohei Ohtani would also be a factor if he's posted as expected.

    New York has worked hard in recent seasons to unclutter its payroll, but after a surprisingly successful 2017, a more aggressive approach this winter makes sense too.


    Tampa Bay Rays: Logan Morrison's free agency

    It cost the Rays just $2.5 million to bring back Logan Morrison on a one-year deal last offseason. 

    The 30-year-old won't come as cheap this time around. 

    LoMo posted a .733 OPS with 14 home runs in his first year with the team, but he exploded for an .868 OPS, 38 home runs, 85 RBI and 3.4 WAR this season.

    He'll be one of the players to watch on a free-agent market that will be flooded with one-dimensional sluggers who no longer have the earning power they did in years past.

    If Tampa Bay can find a way to bring him back on a two-year deal with an annual salary of less than $10 million, it would be money well spent.


    Toronto Blue Jays: Josh Donaldson trade

    Wrote Heyman: "The Toronto Blue Jays won't consider trading Josh Donaldson unless they could find a trade that improves them for the 2018 season, sources tell FanRag Sports. Which is to say, he almost surely isn't going anywhere."

    That, however, won't stop his name from popping up in trade rumors, as he too is set for free agency following the 2018 season.

    The St. Louis Cardinals are one team expected to aggressively pursue the 2015 American League MVP, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, and it would be in the Blue Jays' best interest to at least entertain offers.

    The 31-year-old missed significant time, but he posted a .944 OPS with 33 home runs in 496 plate appearances.

AL Central

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    Eric Hosmer
    Eric HosmerAssociated Press

    Chicago White Sox: Rebuild the starting rotation

    After a busy season on the trade market, the White Sox had to rely on a combination of inexperienced prospects and scrapheap veterans in their pitching rotation.

    Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer all have MLB experience, and prospects Michael Kopech, Spencer Adams and Alec Hansen should arrive in short order, but it's unlikely the team will want to lean too heavily on those young arms while it's still rebuilding.

    With that in mind, deciding how to fill out the rotation with low-cost veterans figures to be the focus of the offseason.

    Expect more signings like last year's addition of Derek Holland.


    Cleveland Indians: Carlos Santana's free agency

    Wrote Heyman: "The Cleveland Indians will try to bring back Carlos Santana, who has enhanced his free agency by hitting .309 with a 1.015 OPS since the All-Star break. It's 'just a matter of finances,' says someone close to the situation. Santana is believed to like the idea of a return if at all possible, too, though there have been no offers this year, according to people familiar with their talks."

    The 31-year-old has a .365 on-base percentage and an .810 OPS with 24.3 WAR in eight seasons with the Indians, and he's been vital to the team's recent success.

    With no major areas of need and the window to win open, the front office might be more willing to pay up to bring him back.

    The team will also have a decision to make on reliever Bryan Shaw. The 29-year-old leads the majors with 378 appearances since he joined the Indians in 2013 and has tallied 110 holds and pitched to a 3.11 ERA during that span.


    Detroit Tigers: Michael Fulmer trade

    The Tigers shipped out Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila this summer, and the rebuilding process will continue this offseason.

    Not only does that mean they won't be in the market for any splashy signings, but they'll also be looking to flip more established players for prospects.

    Without question, the most valuable commodity on the roster is right-hander Michael Fulmer.

    While the 24-year-old's season ended prematurely with an elbow injury, he still followed his Rookie of the Year performance in impressive fashion by going 10-12 with a 3.83 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 114 strikeouts in 164.2 innings.

    Fulmer has another pre-arbitration season to come and is under team control through the 2022 season, so it'd be worth it for Detroit to shop him to see if someone is willing to make an offer the front office can't refuse.


    Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer's free agency

    The Royals will almost certainly extend qualifying offers to Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain this offseason.

    And it sounds like Hosmer is the one they'll make a serious push to re-sign.

    "The Kansas City Royals love Eric Hosmer, and all signs suggest they will try to keep him even if it won't be easy," Heyman wrote, adding the team is willing to exceed $100 million on a new deal.

    At the very least, it would take a franchise-record contract, exceeding the four-year, $72 million deal Alex Gordon signed a few years back.

    As the Royals face a crossroads, the decision on what to do with Hosmer will be the first big step.


    Minnesota Twins: Rebuild the bullpen

    A surprise run to the second American League wild-card spot will likely be reason enough for the Twins to hold on to Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana this offseason.

    That doesn't mean they'll be buying aggressively on the free-agent market, as it's still a team with one eye on the future thanks to a promising young core and more prospects on the way.

    Rebuilding the bullpen, however, should be a priority.

    Minnesota traded All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler at the deadline, and his replacement, Matt Belisle, will be a free agent at season's end.

    Finding a more prototypical closer to anchor the bullpen and adding a few proven relievers will give this team the best chance to duplicate its 2017 success without altering its long-term plans.

AL West

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    Justin Upton
    Justin UptonStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Houston Astros: Dallas Keuchel extension

    The Astros finally found a second front-line starter when they acquired Justin Verlander from the Tigers in August.

    Now they'll need to turn their attention to not losing their other one.

    Dallas Keuchel has one year of team control remaining, and even after missing significant time this season, he'll likely get a healthy bump up from the $9.15 million he's making this season.

    As a late bloomer with a relatively short track record, he's a unique case as far as extensions are concerned.

    For a team built to win now and into the foreseeable future, there's no reason not to make every effort to keep the left-hander around, and getting a deal done this offseason might be preferable for everyone involved.


    Los Angeles Angels: Justin Upton's potential free agency

    Upton made a good impression on the Angels, posting an .887 OPS with seven home runs and 15 RBI in 27 games with the team following his August trade from the Tigers.

    The 30-year-old will face a big decision on whether to opt out of the final four years and $88.5 million of his contract.

    Even if he decides to leave that money on the table in pursuit of a longer deal or higher annual value, don't be surprised if Los Angeles is among the leading suitors.

    The declining production of Albert Pujols has left the team with little in the way of protection for Mike Trout, and Upton is coming off another terrific season, having slugged 35 home runs with 109 RBI on his way to 5.4 WAR.

    If Upton isn't coming back, the Angels will need to turn their attention elsewhere for a middle-of-the-lineup bat.


    Oakland Athletics: Who's next out the door?

    Executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane has made it clear the Athletics will commit to a full rebuild in the upcoming years.

    Sonny Gray, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Yonder Alonso, Adam Rosales, Trevor Plouffe and Rajai Davis were all traded this summer, so who's next?

    Slugger Khris Davis is the most valuable chip. He's mashed 85 home runs over the past two seasons and has two years of team control remaining. He'll also earn a healthy raise over the $5 million he made this season.

    Reliever Santiago Casilla, right fielder Matt Joyce and second baseman Jed Lowrie are the only players with guaranteed contracts for 2018. Each is scheduled to make at least $6 million, so expect them to be shopped.

    Might Oakland also entertain offers for controllable starters like Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea?


    Seattle Mariners: Rebuild the starting rotation

    The Mariners have a talented roster, and they've flirted with contention the past several seasons, but they're still trying to break a playoff drought that stretches back to 2001.

    Starting pitching was the Achilles' heel this year, as they used 17 different starters and had just one pitcher eclipse the 150-inning mark (Ariel Miranda, with 168).

    Felix Hernandez is still capable of being a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter even if he's no longer an ace, Mike Leake is an innings eater, and James Paxton can be an ace if he can find a way to stay healthy.

    However, Hisashi Iwakuma ($10 million) and Yovani Gallardo ($13 million) will likely have their options declined, and Drew Smyly is a non-tender candidate, leaving a good deal of uncertainty surrounding the rotation.

    With several big contracts already on the books, would Seattle consider making a run at someone like Darvish to bring needed stability to the rotation?

    Or is a mid-level starter or two its more likely approach?

    Either way, if the Mariners hope to finally snap that drought and reach the postseason, something needs to be done about the starting staff.


    Texas Rangers: Jurickson Profar's future

    Jurickson Profar played just 22 games in MLB this season, and he's now a career .229/.309/.329 hitter in 718 plate appearances over parts of four seasons.

    It's not exactly the future that was envisioned for the former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.

    The fact that he was not included among the team's September call-ups was a telling sign that a change of scenery is likely coming.

    Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News feels that's for the best at this point: "The Rangers need to trade him. He needs to go somewhere else and get a shot. I think there is too much animosity/resentment on his part now to fully realize his potential with the Rangers. The Rangers need to make the best deal possible, whether that's with Profar alone or in a package, to help their 2018 and beyond chances."

    Still just 24 years old, Profar hit .287/.383/.428 with 32 extra-base hits in 383 plate appearances in Triple-A this year, and he was one of the standouts for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.

    The potential is still there, but it's time for a change.

NL East

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    Giancarlo Stanton
    Giancarlo StantonRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Atlanta Braves: Ronald Acuna's path

    Ronald Acuna climbed two minor league levels this year to reach Triple-A before his 20th birthday, and along the way, he hit .325/.374/.522 with 31 doubles, 21 home runs and 44 stolen bases.

    Will that be enough for the Braves to give him a shot at breaking camp with the big league club next spring?

    If the answer is yes, expect the team to aggressively shop veterans Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis this winter in an effort to clear a path for Acuna in the outfield.

    This year's outfield market drops off significantly after Martinez, Cain and Jay Bruce, so once those dominoes fall, teams might be compelled to kick the tires on those Atlanta outfielders.

    The front office also has a decision to make on the $8 million option it holds for R.A. Dickey, though that may have more to do with whether he decides to pitch again or retire than anything else.


    Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton trade

    If the Marlins are headed for a rebuild under their new ownership group, Giancarlo Stanton is not sticking around.

    "I don't want to rebuild. ... I've lost for seven years," he told Heyman.

    However, trading him is easier said than done, even on the heels of a 59-homer season.

    The 27-year-old is owed a whopping $285 million over the next 10 years, though he can opt out of his contract following the 2020 season.

    Miami won't like the idea of paying down any of that salary if it does wind up shopping Stanton, and other teams won't be willing to give up much in the way of prospects if they're going to take on that kind of financial commitment.

    That could quickly lead to an impasse, but it will still be one of the more interesting storylines this offseason.


    New York Mets: Jacob deGrom extension

    The 2017 season was nothing short of a disaster for the Mets' vaunted rotation.

    Jacob deGrom was the lone bright spot, going 15-10 with a 3.53 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 239 strikeouts in 201.1 innings—no other pitcher on the roster reached 120 innings.

    The 29-year-old made $4.05 million in his first year of arbitration, and he sounded open to the idea of an early extension in the past.

    "I'm a little bit older, so I might be more willing to do something like that," deGrom told reporters prior to the 2016 season. "You just have to look at what is fair so both sides get a decent deal. It's something I'd have to look into and make sure I agree with it."

    By buying out his final three years of arbitration and a free agent season or two, New York would at least lock in one of its starters for the long haul.


    Philadelphia Phillies: Make a big-ticket signing?

    The Phillies took a disappointing step backward in their rebuilding process—or at least spun their tires—as they went from 71 wins a year ago to 66 this season.

    There'll be plenty of money to spend once the team decides to make a push back toward contention, and this could be the winter it looks to make a splash.

    Adding a top-tier starter like Darvish or Arrieta to front the rotation alongside Aaron Nola would seem to fit the bill, but convincing either of them to come to a team that's not yet ready to contend will be tough.

    At the very least, expect the front office to aim a bit higher than last winter, when Michael Saunders, Clay Buchholz, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek were its most notable additions.

    How much higher is the question.


    Washington Nationals: Go all-in before Bryce Harper departs?

    It's almost been accepted as a foregone conclusion that Harper will head elsewhere once he reaches free agency following the 2018 season.

    Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez will also hit the open market at that time.

    Seems like a good reason to go all-in this offseason, no?

    I suggested a few weeks ago that the team should pursue Martinez in free agency as a big bat to protect Harper in 2018 and replace him the following season.

    Or perhaps spending to add Wade Davis to an already vastly improved bullpen would make an emerging strength that much more of a weapon.

    Regardless of what happens this postseason, the Nationals need to treat next year as must-win, starting with their approach to the offseason.

NL Central

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    Zack Cozart
    Zack CozartJohn Minchillo/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: Rebuild the starting rotation

    With Arrieta and John Lackey both headed for free agency, the Cubs have to make some decisions regarding the future of their starting rotation.

    The summer blockbuster deal to acquire Jose Quintana was a great forward-thinking move by the front office, as he's controllable through the 2020 season.

    He'll join Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks as locks for the rotation next season, and the team will need to decide what role best suits Mike Montgomery going forward. In 14 starts, he went 5-5 with a 4.15 ERA, compared to a 2.49 ERA over 30 relief appearances.

    Either way, the team will need to add at least one starter.

    Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are two potential targets who will come significantly cheaper than what Arrieta figures to command, while a one-year deal with Lackey is also not out of the question if he decides to pitch again in 2018.


    Cincinnati Reds: Zack Cozart's free agency

    Zack Cozart picked a good time for a breakout offensive season. Always a plus defender at shortstop, he posted a .933 OPS with 24 home runs and 63 RBI en route to 4.7 WAR.

    That should be enough for him to earn a qualifying offer, and a return to the Reds might make sense for both sides—whether it's in the form of him accepting that offer or signing a new multiyear deal.

    The list of teams looking for a starting shortstop is relatively short. The Royals and San Diego Padres have openings, but they won't be looking to spend big. The Orioles showed interest in Cozart at the deadline but wound up acquiring Tim Beckham.

    Other teams might make sense if they do some infield shuffling, but there isn't an obvious fit. That should work in the Reds' favor.


    Milwaukee Brewers: Neil Walker's free agency

    Significant regression from 2016 breakout star Jonathan Villar left the Brewers with a hole at second base for much of the season. The team eventually swung a deal to acquire Neil Walker from the Mets, and he went on to post an .843 OPS with 12 extra-base hits and 13 RBI in 38 games with the Brewers.

    The 32-year-old will now reach free agency for the second time in as many seasons after he accepted a one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer last season.

    If he'll agree to something along the same lines of the two-year deal Asdrubal Cabrera signed to bridge the gap to Amed Rosario in New York, he could be the perfect stopgap until either Isan Diaz or Keston Hiura is ready to take over at second base.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: Decide on a direction

    The Pirates have now authored back-to-back losing seasons after reaching the postseason three times in a row. That leaves the front office with a big decision to make with regard to which direction the franchise is headed.

    Andrew McCutchen has a $14.75 million option that represents his final year of team control, and ace Gerrit Cole has two years of arbitration remaining before he'll likely depart for a big payday. Trading both of those players this offseason would net a significant prospect return to a club that already has a good young core in place and counts on cheap, controllable talent to remain competitive in a small market.

    If the Pirates decide to go in that direction, they could shop several others like Josh Harrison and Felipe Rivero, albeit with an appropriately high asking price.

    This organization is at a clear crossroads after a 75-87 season, and it could have a busy offseason as a result.


    St. Louis Cardinals: Unclog the outfield logjam

    Having too many capable players and not enough spots in the lineup is a good problem to have, but it's still one that needs to be addressed. 

    With Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty both signed long-term, Tommy Pham coming off a career year and Randal Grichuk still possessing intriguing tools, the Cardinals outfield is already crowded. When you add prospects Harrison Bader, Tyler O'Neill and Magneuris Sierra, all of whom are knocking on the door, things get even messier. 

    Selling high on Pham makes sense considering he's already 29 years old and looks like a clear regression candidate. Despite his struggles, Grichuk still flashes enough raw power that more than a few teams would be willing to roll the dice on unlocking his potential.

    One way or another, the Cardinals will need to bring clarity to their outfield before next season arrives.

NL West

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    J.D. Martinez
    J.D. MartinezAssociated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks: J.D. Martinez's free agency

    It's hard to make a better impression than Martinez has in his brief time with the Diamondbacks.

    In 62 games since coming over from the Tigers, he's posted a 1.107 OPS with 29 home runs and 65 RBI for 2.5 WAR.

    Even in today's market for power hitters, he's put himself in position for a massive payday as the top bat on the free-agent market. He appears to be open to the idea of re-upping with the D-backs, though.

    "I've thought about it a lot," Martinez told Nick Piecoro of AZCentral Sports. "It's definitely something I'd love, I'd be interested in. I've loved my time here. The guys are great. The team is young. They're definitely going to be good for a while."

    It should cost north of $100 million to get a deal done, and Arizona already has the massive Zack Greinke deal on its books. But with the window to win currently wide-open, it's a risk worth taking.


    Colorado Rockies: Rebuild the bullpen

    An improved bullpen has been one of the biggest reasons for the Rockies' success this season.

    • 2016: 5.13 ERA (30th in MLB), 29 losses, 28 blown saves
    • 2017: 4.40 ERA (20th in MLB), 19 losses, 14 blown saves

    However, they're set to lose a trio of key arms in closer Greg Holland (61 G, 41/45 SV, 3.61 ERA), setup man Jake McGee (62 G, 20 HLD, 3.61 ERA) and deadline-addition Neshek (71 G, 23 HLD, 1.59 ERA) to free agency.

    So, how will they approach rebuilding their relief corps as they look to avoid regressing back to their 2016 form?

    Re-signing Holland or finding a suitable replacement to step into the closer's role should be the No. 1 priority. Adding a few proven middle relievers to compete with some of their young arms is also a must.


    Los Angeles Dodgers: What to do with all the money

    With nearly $40 million in dead money coming off the books as well as the $17.5 million salary of Andre Ethier, the Dodgers have plenty of payroll flexibility. And unlike last offseason, when they spent big to retain Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill, they don't have any significant internal pieces to re-sign or replace.

    The front office doesn't need to spend that money, but why expect anything less?

    Adding another top-tier reliever to join Jansen in the late innings is one area where they could splurge. The relief corps has been effective but inconsistent this season, and a shutdown lefty would be especially welcome.

    The outcome of this year's postseason could also dictate how aggressive they decide to be this winter.


    San Diego Padres: Find a shortstop

    The Padres have gotten next to nothing in the way of production from the shortstop position dating back to when Everth Cabrera was an All-Star in 2013.

    • 2014: .241 BA (26th in MLB), .598 OPS (27th in MLB)
    • 2015: .228 BA (28th in MLB), .644 OPS (24th in MLB)
    • 2016: .245 BA (24th in MLB), .631 OPS (26th in MLB)
    • 2017: .218 BA (30th in MLB), .626 OPS (30th in MLB)

    This year's free-agent market won't be much help.

    They're unlikely to spend big on Cozart, and light-hitting Alcides Escobar might be the only other viable starter available.

    There's no obvious potential target on the trade market, but plenty of teams have middle infield depth and the Padres have one of the deepest farm systems in the league.


    San Francisco Giants: Buyers or sellers?

    The Giants have some soul-searching to do after a 98-loss season.

    Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Brandon Crawford were the only players deemed untouchable in summer trade talks, according to Jon Morosi for MLB.com. Nothing is likely to change as far as those three are concerned, but that still leaves some intriguing trade candidates, including Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Jeff Samardzija.

    It doesn't sound like Johnny Cueto plans to exercise his opt-out clause after a disappointing second season with the team, so he too could wind up on the block.

    Otherwise, if this team thinks it has a chance of turning things around in 2018, adding a power bat at third base or in left field and bolstering the bullpen will be atop the to-do list.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and MLB.com unless otherwise noted.