Predicting 10 Perfect Blockbuster Moves of MLB's Upcoming Offseason
We're a little less than a month removed from the end of the 2019 MLB regular season with another thrilling postseason to follow.
However, the offseason free-agent and trade markets loom, and they will play a huge role in determining who contends for future titles.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole and third baseman Anthony Rendon headline this year's free-agent crop with plenty of other quality talent available to the highest bidder.
On the trade side of things, shortstop Francisco Lindor, starter Noah Syndergaard and closer Felipe Vazquez are among the top names that could be on the move.
We've made predictions on where those players and a few others will land with a glimpse at 10 perfect blockbuster moves for the MLB offseason.
Marcell Ozuna Signs with the Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians finally pulled the trigger on trading for outfield help at the deadline, acquiring Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes in a three-team trade with the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres.
However, Puig is a free agent at season's end, and the defensively challenged Reyes has been used primarily as a designated hitter.
Where does that leave Cleveland's outfield situation?
It doesn't seem the Indians will be able to count on Tyler Naquin or Bradley Zimmer to stay healthy, while Jake Bauers and Greg Allen have done little to inspire confidence in their long-term outlook.
Oscar Mercado in center field and Jordan Luplow as a platoon option against left-handed pitching are the only locks for 2020 roster spots.
That could make slugger Marcell Ozuna their No. 1 target on the free-agent market.
The 28-year-old has a 119 OPS+ with 25 home runs and 78 RBI in 443 plate appearances with the St. Louis Cardinals this year. He has a 122 OPS+ with 108 long balls and 13.7 WAR since the start of the 2016 season.
The three-year, $50 million deal Andrew McCutchen signed with the Philadelphia Phillies last offseason could be a starting point in negotiations. Ozuna might command a fourth year since he's four years younger.
For the cost-conscious Indians, that would be a price worth paying for a needed run producer.
Starling Marte Traded to the Texas Rangers
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in an interesting position heading into the offseason. They were one game under .500 with a 44-45 record at the All-Star break and looking like a fringe wild-card contender.
However, they're just 16-33 with a minus-64 run differential since. With the Cincinnati Reds on the rise and the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers all contending, the Pirates have clearly slipped to the back of the NL Central pack.
That could be enough to make them aggressive offseason sellers.
Starling Marte bounced back from a suspension-abridged 2017 season to hit .277/.327/.460 with 32 doubles, 20 home runs and 33 steals for 3.7 WAR last year. He's been even better this season, batting .293/.340/.501 while recording a second straight 20/20 season with a career-high 23 home runs and 25 steals.
The 30-year-old has an $11.5 million club option for 2020 and a $12.5 million club option for 2021, so this offseason might be the best time to sell high while he still has multiple years of control remaining.
Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers have enough in-house talent to make a push toward contention next year, and center field is a glaring offensive hole.
Delino DeShields has been the team's primary starter there, and he's hit a punchless .247/.331/.353 for a 75 OPS+. He's a good defender with plus speed, but he probably fits better as a fourth outfielder.
A Marte-to-Texas trade would give the Pirates some financial flexibility and a good prospect return while providing the Rangers with a major upgrade in center field as they look to contend.
The Rangers have a relatively thin system that ranked No. 21 in our latest update, and they will likely cling tightly to hard-throwing Hans Crouse, breakout catcher Sam Huff and 2019 first-rounder Josh Jung. A prospect package built around toolsy outfielder Leody Taveras could make sense for both clubs given their current outlooks.
Hyun-Jin Ryu Signs with the Minnesota Twins
Despite Hyun-Jin Ryu's stellar numbers this season, age and a lengthy injury history will likely limit his earning power.
After accepting a qualifying offer last winter, he won't be saddled with one again this offseason, which will broaden the market of teams that are willing to make a push for his services.
The 32-year-old leads the majors with a 2.35 ERA, and the 157.1 innings he's tossed are his highest total since he logged 192 frames as an MLB rookie in 2013.
Since the start of last season, he has a 2.22 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with a 226-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 239.2 innings over 40 starts.
The two-year, $30 million deal signed by Charlie Morton last offseason might be a starting point in talks, and a two-year, $36 million deal would be in line with the $17.9 million salary he's pulling in this season.
The Minnesota Twins are set to lose Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda to free agency. That trio has combined to make 79 starts this year.
Signing Ryu to a short-term deal to slot alongside Jose Berrios at the top of the rotation would provide the staff with some stability while top prospects Brusdar Graterol and Jordan Balazovic continue their development.
Given the franchise's history on the free-agent market, they seem more likely to spend on a short-term deal for Ryu than they are to splurge on someone like Gerrit Cole, Madison Bumgarner or Zack Wheeler.
Felipe Vazquez Traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers were hot on the trail of Pittsburgh Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez leading up to the trade deadline, according to Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times, though an unwillingness to part with top prospect Gavin Lux proved to be a sticking point.
Those talks could be revisited this winter as the Dodgers continue to look for bullpen stability.
With the emergence of Will Smith as the catcher of the prospect and future, fellow catching prospect Keibert Ruiz could be on the table as a trade chip.
L.A. could build a package around Ruiz and 21-year-old right-hander Josiah Gray, who has a 2.28 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 147 strikeouts in 130 innings over three minor league levels this season while reaching Double-A. Would that be enough to get a deal done?
If so, Vazquez would give the Dodgers another elite late-inning arm to pair with closer Kenley Jansen.
The 28-year-old southpaw has nailed down 24 of 27 save chances with a 1.78 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 13.3 K/9 in 52 appearances in his third season as the Pirates closer.
He's owed $13.5 million over the next two years with a pair of $10 million club options that could keep him under contract through the 2023 season.
The Dodgers are built for the long haul, and the bullpen looks like the one area that will need to be addressed.
Zack Wheeler Signs with the New York Yankees
The New York Yankees opted against making any major additions to the starting rotation at the trade deadline, and they don't necessarily need to make one this winter.
Even after CC Sabathia retires, they could conceivably go with a rotation of Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Domingo German and J.A. Happ in 2020.
Then again, all of those pitchers come with question marks.
Severino has been sidelined all season, Paxton has a long injury history, Tanaka continues to pitch with a partially torn UCL, German looks like a regression candidate with a 4.77 FIP behind his 4.01 ERA, and Happ has struggled to a 5.34 ERA in 27 starts.
The Yankees were interested in Zack Wheeler leading up to this year's trade deadline, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. However, the Mets decided to buy rather than sell this summer, and Wheeler stayed put.
The 29-year-old has not quite matched his 2018 success this year, but he's still posted a solid 4.41 ERA with a 3.70 FIP and 160 strikeouts in 161.1 innings.
He's arguably the No. 2 starting pitching option on the free-agent market this winter, depending on how you feel about Madison Bumgarner's longevity.
Wheeler could command something in line with the four-year, $68 million pact that Nathan Eovaldi inked with the Boston Red Sox last winter, if not more.
Still, that's a price worth paying for the Yankees as they look to shore up the biggest question mark on the roster.
Madison Bumgarner Signs with the Philadelphia Phillies
After standing pat at the trade deadline, the San Francisco Giants will settle for extending a qualifying offer to Madison Bumgarner this winter.
Beyond that, it remains to be seen how hard the Giants will try to re-sign their homegrown ace.
Assuming Bumgarner does hit the open market, the Philadelphia Phillies seem like a prime landing spot for the veteran southpaw.
The Phillies made it no secret they were looking to add a left-handed starter to their all-right-handed rotation this past winter. After whiffing on free agent Patrick Corbin and failing to add any secondary targets, they ended up using an all-righty staff for much of the year.
It stands to reason that a left-handed starter will once again top their offseason shopping list.
A run at Hyun-Jin Ryu on a short-term deal could be one avenue to explore, but adding postseason standout Bumgarner to the young rotation might be a better overall fit.
The 30-year-old has a lot of mileage on his arm with 1,815 regular-season innings and another 102.1 frames in October, and he hasn't pitched at a Cy Young-caliber level since 2016.
He's still an absolute horse, though. He's on track for his seventh career 200-inning season while posting a 3.62 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, and his 18 quality starts are tied for ninth-most in the majors.
A four-year, $72 million deal would represent a decent raise from the $12 million he's made each of the past two seasons. While a three-year deal would be ideal to protect against a precipitous drop-off, it will likely take at least four to get him signed.
The Phillies appear to be all-in on this current group, so expect them to spend freely once again.
Noah Syndergaard Traded to the San Diego Padres
The New York Mets wound up holding on to all of their trade chips at the deadline. Instead, they acquired starter Marcus Stroman, who is under team control through next year, from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Could that deal have been made in anticipation of some impending roster turnover this winter?
Leading up to the trade deadline, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports outlined a scenario where the Mets could consider extending impending free agent Zack Wheeler and trading Noah Syndergaard.
That would help replace some of the prospect talent lost in the Stroman trade, while the rotation would remain a strength as Wheeler joined ace Jacob deGrom in signing a long-term deal.
Regardless of what happens with Wheeler, it seems clear the Mets are open to the idea of trading Syndergaard in the right scenario.
No team has more prospect capital at its disposal than the San Diego Padres, and they've been searching for an established, controllable starter to lead their young starting rotation for the better part of two years.
Syndergaard, 27, is under control through the 2021 season. The towering 6'6" right-hander has a 3.97 ERA and 3.45 FIP to go along with a 1.18 WHIP and 171 strikeouts in 170 innings this year.
A package built around middle infield prospect Xavier Edwards, left-hander Adrian Morejon and one of the team's catchers (Austin Hedges, Francisco Mejia or prospect Luis Campusano) might be enough to get the ball rolling, with plenty of complementary pieces up for grabs as well.
Rumors will swirl all offseason, even if the Mets aren't actively shopping him.
Anthony Rendon Signs with the Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves have money to spend and a hole to fill at third base.
Josh Donaldson has posted a .916 OPS with 34 home runs and 5.1 WAR on a one-year, $23 million deal, and the 33-year-old will likely look for the security of a multiyear deal. He's been great, but the Braves might be best served to let someone else pay his asking price.
Rookie Austin Riley is also an option at the hot corner, his natural position even though he's primarily played left field since making his MLB debut.
The 22-year-old took the league by storm with a .329/.369/.696 line that included nine home runs and 26 RBI in his first 20 games after making his MLB debut May 15.
However, in his next 46 games, he batted .196/.257/.408 with a 36.8 percent strikeout rate over 171 plate appearances before he was sidelined with a partially torn LCL at the beginning of August.
If the Braves don't intend on re-signing Donaldson and don't turn to Riley to take over the everyday job, Anthony Rendon could be a game-changing addition.
The 29-year-old looks like a legitimate NL MVP candidate, leading the majors with a .338 batting average while slugging 38 doubles and 32 home runs with 112 RBI for 6.0 WAR.
The eight-year, $260 million extension Nolan Arenado signed with the Colorado Rockies figures to be the starting point in negotiations.
With just over $39 million on the books in 2021 and young stars Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies already locked up on long-term deals, the Braves are well positioned to make a splash.
Gerrit Cole Signs with the Los Angeles Angels
It's time for the Los Angeles Angels to get serious about building a winner around Mike Trout.
The first step will be putting together a viable starting rotation.
This past winter, the front office settled for adding Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey on a pair of one-year deals. Cahill has a 6.41 ERA in 91.1 innings and has been moved to the bullpen. Harvey had a 7.09 ERA in 12 starts before he was cut loose.
That's not a sign of a team intent on contending. Those are the kinds of moves an also-ran makes in hopes of eating up some innings and finding a July trade chip.
Going all-in on signing Gerrit Cole would be a huge first step toward building out the starting staff. Cole is a native of Newport Beach, California, and a UCLA alum, so signing with the Angels would be a homecoming of sorts.
"I grew up here, watched games when they still had bleachers," Cole told reporters in July. "It's a really unique park. Driving up the 57 today, seeing the Big A, it's always cool. It's always special. In an industry where you don't always get to see your family as much as you would like, getting to hug your mom after the game is nice."
Cole, 28, has a 2.81 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 176.1 innings this season, and he leads the majors with 266 strikeouts. He finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting last year and looks poised to improve on that showing.
The six-year, $206.5 million deal that current teammate Zack Greinke signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the 2016 season could be a jumping-off point in talks with the Scott Boras client this winter. A $30 million annual salary and a deal of at least six years would seem to be his earning floor.
That's a huge chunk of change, but it would be money well spent by the Angels.
Francisco Lindor Traded to the New York Yankees
Will the Cleveland Indians get serious about trading Francisco Lindor this offseason?
We've already seen them flip Trevor Bauer during a playoff push in a financially motivated deal, and that came on the heels of an offseason where they went to great lengths to shed payroll.
Owner Paul Dolan had the opportunity to ease the fanbase's concerns while talking with Zack Meisel of The Athletic in March. Instead, he offered up the following: "Enjoy him. We control him for three more years. Enjoy him and then we'll see what happens."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement that the dynamic shortstop will retire in an Indians uniform.
Lindor, 25, has become one of the game's brightest young stars since bursting onto the scene in 2015 to finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Since the start of his rookie season, he's been worth 28.2 WAR. That trails only Mike Trout (44.9), Mookie Betts (38.2), Nolan Arenado (29.7) and Jose Altuve (28.8) among position players during that span.
He's hitting .297/.349/.535 for a 125 OPS+ with 34 doubles, 27 home runs and 20 steals for 4.4 WAR this year, earning his fourth straight All-Star appearance in the process. He's a standout defender and a rare power-speed threat at a premium position.
If he does hit the trade block, the New York Yankees could be the most aggressive suitors. In June, Buster Olney of ESPN (via Aaron Goldhammer) predicted the Bronx is where he would eventually land.
Incumbent shortstop Didi Gregorius is headed for free agency, and the Yankees' deep farm system is loaded with high-ceiling talent. Everyone would have to be on the table in Lindor talks, including top prospect Deivi Garcia, hard-throwing Luis Gil and outfielder Estevan Florial. Controllable slugger Clint Frazier could also make sense.
He would command a steep price, but Lindor could be the piece worth going all-in to acquire this offseason. Pairing him with Gleyber Torres up the middle would give the Yankees the best double-play tandem in baseball.