Early Predictions for the Biggest Shockers of the 2018-19 MLB Offseason
The Major League Baseball offseason will be here soon. You won't believe what'll happen next.
OK, fine. You'll probably believe most of it. The winter is bound to contain its share of way-too-obvious transactions a la the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox signing Yu Darvish and J.D. Martinez, respectively, last winter.
The hot-stove season always has a few surprises in store, however. With the MLB postseason still in full swing, we got out ahead on predicting eight of the biggest.
Let's start with four trades and end with four free-agent matters.
Dylan Bundy to the San Diego Padres
It was a shocker when the San Diego Padres, they of eternal low-budget mediocrity, signed Eric Hosmer to the biggest contract of the offseason last winter.
For their next act, the Padres will likely trade for a brand-name starter.
That's something they were angling to do around the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, when they were linked to Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Chris Archer. This made some sense. They have many prospects to deal and a contention timeline that must be accelerated.
If the Padres do reboot their prowl for an ace this winter, however, they're going to need fresh targets. Pickings may be slim, but there is one intriguing name San Diego might pull out of a hat: Dylan Bundy.
The right-hander is at a weird crossroads. He's one of the last remaining trade chips on the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles, but his value took a hit when he put up a 5.45 ERA in 2018. And yet, he'll only turn 26 on Nov. 15. He also might have been the unluckiest starter in MLB this season.
The Padres may see Bundy as just the guy to take an eyebrow-raising chance on. If said chance pans out, they'll reap the rewards through 2021.
J.T. Realmuto to the Colorado Rockies
It's often felt like J.T. Realmuto has had one foot in a Miami Marlins uniform and another foot in a Washington Nationals uniform.
The Nationals have struggled to get production of any kind from behind the plate since Wilson Ramos left after 2016. Thus was it not surprising to hear constant rumors linking them to Realmuto, who was in the midst of an All-Star breakout, throughout 2018.
But according to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, the Marlins insisted on an exorbitant asking price that included top outfield prospect Victor Robles. Such a deal is probably even more unlikely now than it was before. With Bryce Harper likely to walk as a free agent this winter, the Nationals must keep Robles firmly in their plans.
This could be the opening the Colorado Rockies need to swoop in for Realmuto.
They also have a weakness at catcher, not to mention an urgent need for offense in general. To wit, they hit worse than the San Francisco Giants when they went on the road in 2018.
The Rockies should have just enough prospect depth (e.g., Brendan Rodgers, Colton Welker, Peter Lambert and Garrett Hampson) to entice the Marlins. They might also interest them in Jon Gray, whose million-dollar arm needs a change of scenery.
Paul Goldschmidt to the Boston Red Sox
Despite going to the playoffs in 2017 and narrowly missing in 2018, indications are that the Arizona Diamondbacks are readying a pivot.
They'll listen to offers on any of their players this winter, according to ESPN's Buster Olney, including superstar first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. As Olney speculated, the New York Yankees might be the best fit for him.
But now that they're finally under the luxury tax, why should the Yankees even bother with trades? They can simply spend money on the best free agents, such as Harper, Manny Machado and/or Patrick Corbin.
Assuming they do that, it might be the Boston Red Sox who end up with Goldschmidt.
Their first-base production was rescued from oblivion by Steve Pearce, who's due for free agency. Rather than re-sign him, Red Sox boss Dave Dombrowski may prefer to scratch his itch for a blockbuster. Goldschmidt would fit the bill, and the Red Sox have enough money set to come off their books to entertain extending his contract beyond 2019.
One complication is that Boston has little left in its farm system. But as a former Red Sox executive, D-backs general manager Mike Hazen may be able to pick out a few pieces he likes.
Zack Greinke to the Atlanta Braves
As FanGraphs' Jay Jaffe covered, the veteran righty is slowly but surely putting together a Hall of Fame resume. Greinke will turn 35 on Sunday, however, and he's only halfway through a massive $206.5 million contract that contains a 15-team no-trade list.
In light of these things, it'll be difficult for the D-backs to get a Greinke deal off the drawing board. They need to find just the right trading partner: one with money, prospects and an environment Greinke finds attractive.
How about the Atlanta Braves?
Though they're not known as big spenders, their new stadium and fresh crop of cheap homegrown talent figure to change that equation. According to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the Braves might follow their surprising run to the top of the National League East by adding as much as $60 million to their 2019 payroll.
If so, there's enough room to add Greinke's average $34.4 million salary. There may also be mutual interest in him being the final piece of a dynastic puzzle.
Dallas Keuchel to the Cincinnati Reds
Regarding the top free-agent starters, the smart money is on Clayton Kershaw returning to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Corbin jumping ship from the Diamondbacks to the Yankees.
The fate of 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel is more up in the air. But if ever there was a dark horse to sign him, it's the Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds have averaged 95 losses over the last four seasons, and 2019 will be yet another year in which their payroll will be bogged down by first baseman Joey Votto and right-hander Homer Bailey.
Nevertheless, president of baseball operations Dick Williams teased an increase in payroll back in July.
"We now feel like the last couple of years, we've taken a lot of our resources and allocated them into the amateur draft, the international market," Williams told Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "We hope that can shift back toward major league payroll."
If there's a bright side, it's that the Reds may only be a stable starting rotation away from making noise in the NL Central. That's where Keuchel would come in. A move to the NL would be good for him at this stage of his career, and his ground-ball attack would allow him to conquer Great American Ball Park.
A.J. Pollock to the Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox might also be a surprise spender this winter.
It might seem like a long shot. They're fresh off their first 100-loss season since 1970, and uber-prospect Michael Kopech is due to miss the 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
However, the White Sox are a relatively well-off team with virtually nothing on their long-term books. And with the Cleveland Indians set to lose many key players to free agency this winter, a power vacuum may soon open up in the AL Central.
If the White Sox take that as a cue to assert themselves, they must upgrade the American League's worst outfield. Before they get to Eloy Jimenez's promotion, signing A.J. Pollock would be a good place to start.
The 30-year-old is past his All-Star peak of 2015, but he's still a well-rounded player who's put up an .801 OPS with 35 home runs and 33 stolen bases over the last two seasons. And if the money's good, he might jump at the chance to play near where he went to college at Notre Dame.
Craig Kimbrel to the St. Louis Cardinals
Craig Kimbrel might become the first $100 million relief pitcher this winter. At the least, he figures to match the $80-odd million contracts of Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman.
In any case, he's going to be too expensive for most teams. The St. Louis Cardinals might appear to be among them. They have only three $80 million free-agent contracts in their history, and two of them (Mike Leake and Dexter Fowler) are recent flops.
But this is no time for the Cardinals to play it safe.
Though they were strong enough to win 88 games this season, that was only good enough to place third in the NL Central behind the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. Since a rebuild is out of the question, the Cardinals' only real option is to push forward.
Lucky for them, they may only be an upgraded bullpen away from challenging the Brewers and Cubs. Specifically, their bullpen needs a power arm or two for the sake of boosting its strikeout potential.
Enter Kimbrel, whose 41.6 career strikeout percentage is the highest of any pitcher who's logged at least 500 innings. St. Louis may also be the closest he can get to his native Huntsville, Alabama.
The Philadelphia Phillies Won't Sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper
And now for something that won't happen on the free-agent market: Neither Harper nor Machado will sign with the Philadelphia Phillies.
For the team to sign not one but both of them is more plausible than it might sound. The Phillies put themselves on the doorstep of contention in 2018. To force the door open, all they have to do is apply their mass riches to their weak spots. Their offense is the biggest of those.
Still, Phillies president Andy MacPhail seems to want everyone to chill out. He told Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
"I guess if you were to invest all you had on one star-type player, then that would be sort of an acknowledgment that you think you may be one player away. There's always going to be that push for, 'Sign this guy, sign that guy.' Is that really going to solve the problems that I articulated earlier — the defense, playing within our division better, being more consistent, striking out less?"
Rather than put it all in two superstars, the Phillies may spread their money around on numerous players who would satisfy their wide array of needs.
Or, they could simply be outbid on Harper and Machado. With teams like the Yankees, Cubs, Nationals and possibly the Dodgers all coming off disappointing years, the Phillies might not be the most desperate suitor in either player's market.