Predicting Each MLB Team's Biggest Prize of the 2019-20 Offseason
Just a few short months from now, Major League Baseball's hot-stove market will open up, and players will start flying off the shelves.
Rather than sit and wait to see how it all plays out, we've gotten started with some predictions.
Ahead are our early picks for each MLB team's biggest prize of the 2019-2020 offseason. These cover both free-agent signings and trades and are based on team need, payroll flexibility and farm system depth. Naturally, some guesswork was also involved.
We'll go division-by-division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Ivan Nova
The Baltimore Orioles are making progress with the reconstruction of their farm system. But if they're going to take things further in 2020, they'll need to acquire some potential trade chips this winter.
To this end, the Orioles will have job openings in their starting rotation. It's struggled with an AL-worst 5.69 ERA this season, and All-Star John Means may be the only one with a guaranteed role in 2020.
Veteran right-hander Ivan Nova is a candidate to end up in Baltimore. He likely won't appeal to pitching-needy contenders, but the Orioles could value him as a reliable innings-eater and ground-ball artist who has prior experience in the AL East.
Boston Red Sox: RHP Kyle Gibson
It's doubtful, however, that Dombrowski's replacement will go as far as tearing it down. Assuming Mookie Betts isn't traded and J.D. Martinez doesn't opt of his contract—which may be big ifs, according to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe—the Red Sox will have enough talent to try for a last hurrah in 2020.
They'll only need some arms to help facilitate the process, starting with a replacement for pending free agent Rick Porcello. If they don't want to spend on an ace, they could be happy with somebody like Kyle Gibson. He'll be a low-risk source of innings when he hits the open market.
New York Yankees: RHP Gerrit Cole
The New York Yankees could be perfectly happy with a 2020 rotation consisting of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Domingo German and J.A. Happ.
Alternatively, they could perceive their rotation's frequent struggles throughout 2019 as a sign to take nothing for granted. That course would invariably put them into the sweepstakes for Gerrit Cole, who they famously whiffed on trading for two winters ago.
The righty flamethrower proceeded to find his footing as an ace in 2018, and now he's working on a 2.73 ERA and the highest-ever strikeouts-per-nine rate. He'll have a $200 million price tag that the Yankees could be all too happy to pay.
Tampa Bay Rays: RF Mitch Haniger
Depending on what happens with their local television contract situation, the Tampa Bay Rays might have some money to throw around this winter.
For now, it's a safe assumption that any big moves they make will come at the expense of their farm system. It's one of the best in the business, and the Rays showed a willingness to trade from it when they sent well-regarded outfielder Jesus Sanchez to the Miami Marlins in July.
The Seattle Mariners are a favorite trading partner for the Rays, and they may see Mitch Haniger as an excuse to go to the well once again. The 2018 All-Star will be a buy-low candidate this winter, and he would fit Tampa Bay's needs for a right fielder and a right-handed slugger.
Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Rick Porcello
The Toronto Blue Jays have something going in their offense with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. locked into long-term roles. All they need now is some pitching.
It's probably too soon for the Blue Jays to throw themselves into sweepstakes for top-tier free agents. However, they might pursue low-risk veterans who could provide some stability and rub off on up-and-comers like Nate Pearson and Anthony Kay.
Porcello is a possible fit. The former Cy Young Award winner has remained a reliable source of innings even as he's struggled with a 4.86 ERA since 2017. His experience in the AL East is yet another selling point the Blue Jays could covet.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: RF Yasiel Puig
The Chicago White Sox will likely re-sign veteran first baseman Jose Abreu, yet they may have even bigger moves in mind as they shift from rebuilding to contending.
Given that they gave both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado a look last winter, the White Sox shouldn't be sold short as a contender for this winter's top free agents. But since the franchise has yet to exceed even $70 million on a single contract, we're keeping our expectations in check.
Rather than a Cole or an Anthony Rendon, a Yasiel Puig would be more the White Sox's speed. He would fit perfectly alongside Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert in the outfield, and their lineup would benefit from his reliable 20-homer power.
Cleveland Indians: RF Nicholas Castellanos
Whereas a Betts trade may be a long shot, the odds of the Cleveland Indians trading fellow AL superstar Francisco Lindor are probably better than 50-50. After all, his escalating salaries are at odds with their payroll aspirations.
But even if the Indians do trade Lindor, it's doubtful it would be the start of a tear-it-all-down rebuild. They'd more likely seek to prop open their contention window by re-investing the savings.
Nicholas Castellanos could be their guy. Though he's been a veritable extra-base-hit machine over the last three years, ongoing questions about his defense could push him into the Indians' price range in their search for a replacement for Puig.
Detroit Tigers: 2B Scooter Gennett
Like the Orioles, the Detroit Tigers are a rebuilder that will be on the prowl for low-risk additions who could turn into trade chips in 2020.
The difference is that the Tigers need hitters more than pitchers. The minus-1.2 wins above replacement they've gotten out of their hitters is by far the worst in MLB, according to Baseball Reference. Second base has been especially problematic to the tune of minus-0.8 WAR.
This makes the Tigers an ideal candidate to give Scooter Gennett a one-year pillow contract. If all goes well, he would put an injury-marred 2019 behind him and recapture the form that led to an .859 OPS and 50 homers across 2017 and 2018.
Kansas City Royals: LHP Drew Pomeranz
The direction of the Kansas City Royals' offseason will ultimately be up to new owner John Sherman. It's possible he'll want immediate improvement and be willing to spend accordingly.
But for now, we'll assume the Royals will be yet another rebuilder in the market for potential trade chips. They'll have spots for them all over a pitching staff that's coughed up a 5.12 ERA.
Drew Pomeranz is a candidate to end up in Kansas City. The left-hander has had a rough go of things since his nice run between 2014 and 2017. Yet he's missed plenty of bats en route to an 11.2 strikeouts-per-nine rate this season, and his fly-ball habit would play well at Kauffman Stadium.
Minnesota Twins: LHP Dallas Keuchel
Though the Minnesota Twins' homer-happy offense has been carrying them all season, their pitching is better than it's gotten credit for.
If the Twins want to retain this balance in 2020, they'll have work to do this winter. Their rotation will have three holes to fill once Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda hit free agency.
If escalating bidding wars for top-tier starters force the Twins into the second tier, they could once again be in the running for Dallas Keuchel. The former Cy Young Award winner will be in line for a multiyear deal after proving he's still a capable top-of-the-rotation starter following his late deal with the Atlanta Braves.
American League West
Houston Astros: RHP Zack Wheeler
Cole isn't the only pitcher the Astros stand to lose to free agency. Also ticketed for the open market are Wade Miley, Collin McHugh, Will Harris, Joe Smith and Hector Rondon.
Between this and the recent exodus of talent from their farm system, the Astros might have to let Cole go and replenish their ranks by spreading money around on multiple free agents. In that scenario, they'd be shopping for upside above all.
Los Angeles Angels: RHP Stephen Strasburg
Now that the Los Angeles Angels have Mike Trout secured for life, they must take the next step of building a contender around him.
Their first order of business will be repairing a starting rotation that's endured all sorts of misery in 2019. And they shouldn't mess around. Rather than more small bets on Matt Harveys and Trevor Cahills, the Angels need to place a big one on an ace.
According to Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg is likely to opt out of the four years and $100 million remaining on his deal. In addition to good money, the Angels could offer the three-time All-Star a chance to pitch close to his native San Diego.
Oakland Athletics: RHP Tanner Roark
The Oakland Athletics are headed toward a second straight postseason berth, and they'll have most of the ingredients for a third in 2020.
Yet the A's will have holes to fill in their rotation after free agency claims Tanner Roark, Brett Anderson and Homer Bailey. Roark will be the most likely goner if he continues the strong work (2.70 ERA in six starts) he's done since arriving in Oakland in July.
But just like Mike Fiers last winter, it's also possible that Roark will be pushed back to Oakland by a disinterested market. Whereas other teams might balk his inconsistent results, the A's might gladly take a good deal on an innings-eater who meshes well with their tight defense and big ballpark.
Seattle Mariners: RHP Jeff Samardzija
If it's the Mariners, the safest prediction for a big addition involves some kind of trade. General manager Jerry Dipoto can't seem to make enough of them.
Dipoto isn't in a position to trade from the club's growing prospect depth just yet. If a name-brand player is going to join the Mariners this winter, it'll probably be via a salary-dump trade in the mold of the deals that landed Mike Leake and Edwin Encarnacion in Seattle.
Provided the San Francisco Giants are willing to eat some of his $19.8 million salary, Jeff Samardzija will be a candidate for such a trade. If he were to carry over the form that's led to a 3.64 ERA this season, the Mariners could then flip him in 2020.
Texas Rangers: 3B Josh Donaldson
The one-year, $23 million contract the Braves risked on Josh Donaldson last winter has been a huge success. The veteran has recovered from a lost 2018 with a .926 OPS and 36 homers.
Because the Braves have Austin Riley standing by to take over third base, however, they may be comfortable challenging Donaldson, who'll turn 34 in December, to find a multiyear deal elsewhere.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: LHP Madison Bumgarner
A replacement ace for Keuchel may be Atlanta's top priority on the latter front. Though the Braves have plenty of young pitchers, there's a lesson to be learned from the 3.88 ERA that their rotation has produced since Keuchel took his place atop it.
There may be no better fit for the Braves than Madison Bumgarner. Morosi claimed (h/t Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com) that the North Carolina native wants to go "back home" to Atlanta. For their part, the Braves could value his experience and ability to pile up quality innings.
Miami Marlins: RHP Pedro Strop
The Marlins' farm system has become one of the 10 best in MLB, yet it must climb higher if they want to catalyze their rebuild.
Which is to say that they're yet another team that'll be on the lookout for potential trade chips this winter. They'll have room for them in a bullpen that's generated fewer WAR than any pen in MLB.
It's been such a bad year for relief pitchers that plenty will be in the market for pillow contracts in the offseason. Pedro Strop is one who could suit the Marlins. Better health in 2020 might help restore his velocity and, with it, the regular dominance he enjoyed as a Chicago Cub between 2013 and 2018.
New York Mets: SS Didi Gregorius
The New York Mets might have pivoted to a rebuild at the trade deadline. Instead, their deal for ace starter Marcus Stroman effectively committed them to contending through 2020.
The Mets will need more out of their bullpen and defense to make good on their mission. Luckily for them, easy solutions are readily available. They might fix what's ailed righty Edwin Diaz and move defensively challenged shortstop Amed Rosario to center field.
If the Mets make the latter move, Didi Gregorius will stand out as a replacement at short. He would bring 20-homer power to their offense and stability to their defense, and likely at not too great a price.
Philadelphia Phillies: 3B Anthony Rendon
The Philadelphia Phillies put a lot of effort into adding Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto and David Robertson last winter, but the initial results have been disappointing.
Really all they can do now is double-down and spend even more this winter. It's just a matter of whether they want to put it all on pitching upgrades or on other needs, such as a new third baseman.
Cole and Strasburg will be in play if the Phillies focus on arms, but they'd have more than just a new third baseman if they were to cut a $200-odd million check for Rendon. They would be stealing from a key NL East rival and adding an elite bat to a potential mega-offense.
Washington Nationals: SS Francisco Lindor
If the Nats do indeed watch Strasburg and Rendon depart for greener pastures, they'll suddenly find themselves desperately trying to keep their contention window open.
Perhaps nothing would do the trick like a trade for the best shortstop in baseball. Lindor has been exactly that since he broke into the league back in 2015, and he seems to get a little better every year.
The Nats could base a deal for Lindor on top prospect Carter Kieboom, who could step into his shoes right away in Cleveland. Trea Turner could then be moved to second base, and the Nationals could turn to free agency to fill other outstanding needs.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: LHP Will Smith
Barring a late surge to the top of the NL Central, the Cubs figure to have big changes on their minds this winter. According to ESPN's Jeff Passan, even Kris Bryant might not be spared from the trading block.
This is not to say, however, that the Cubs are guaranteed to blow it up. Some players will go, but they could keep their core largely intact and hope for a turnaround under a manager not named Joe Maddon.
More so than an overhauled roster, said manager may only need a better bullpen than the one that's been a constant source of frustration in 2019. The best possible solution on the open market will be All-Star lefty Will Smith, who the Cubs could bring aboard as insurance for veteran closer Craig Kimbrel.
Cincinnati Reds: LF Marcell Ozuna
Though 2019 has been a difficult ride, the Cincinnati Reds can look forward to 2020 with high hopes.
With Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani leading their rotation, the Reds will have a solid backbone for a contender. They'll merely need more from an offense that's short on bright spots outside of sluggers Eugenio Suarez and Aristides Aquino.
Since left field would be a good place for a new bat, the Reds figure to be in the market for two-time All-Star Marcell Ozuna. That they would be signing him away from the likely defending NL Central champions would be a nice bonus.
Milwaukee Brewers: RHP Jake Odorizzi
Depending on what happens with Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas—both of whom have mutual options for 2020—starting pitchers will be atop the Milwaukee Brewers' offseason wish list.
Milwaukee's rotation was weak at the outset of 2019, and it's struggled even more than its 4.64 ERA lets on. Looking ahead to 2020, there would appear to be at least one open spot alongside Brandon Woodruff, Zach Davies, Adrian Houser and Jimmy Nelson.
The top pitchers on the market will likely be beyond the Brewers' price range, but Odorizzi could fit perfectly. He may not be an ace, but he's a consistently above-average pitcher whose fly-ball style would mesh well with Milwaukee's outfield defense.
Pittsburgh Pirates: C Jason Castro
It sure feels like a rebuild is in the Pittsburgh Pirates' near future. Though they may not go as far as trading, say, Josh Bell, they might try to find takers for Felipe Vazquez and Starling Marte this winter.
Even still, the Pirates will obviously have to field a team for 2020. They would do well to bring in a veteran catcher who could stabilize the position and possibly become trade bait ahead of next year's deadline.
Jason Castro could be a fit. Though he missed most of 2018 with a knee injury and lost his starting gig with the Twins to Mitch Garver in 2019, he's maintained a decent .777 OPS while handling himself well behind the dish.
St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Dellin Betances
The Cardinals stand to lose Ozuna, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright to free agency, but they don't necessarily have to re-sign them or shop for replacements on the open market.
Tyler O'Neill and Dylan Carlson top St. Louis' in-house options for left field. A fully healthy Carlos Martinez could nab one rotation spot. Alex Reyes, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera and Daniel Ponce de Leon will be in the running for the other.
The Cardinals may ultimately be content with solidifying their bullpen this winter, perhaps with somebody who could fill their void at closer. After missing pretty much all of 2019 with injuries, four-time All-Star Dellin Betances will be a low-risk, huge-reward possibility.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Chris Martin
The Arizona Diamondbacks are probably the most overlooked good team in baseball right now, but they're not exactly a rising power.
They just traded veteran ace Zack Greinke for a haul of prospects, and their immediate future involves a whole bunch of players hitting free agency after 2019 and 2020. Any additions they make this winter are therefore likely to be of the short-term, low-risk variety.
All the same, they might be wild-card contenders again in 2020 if they add depth underneath Archie Bradley in their bullpen. Chris Martin, who has an exceptional 11.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2019, is one veteran who could fit their needs.
Colorado Rockies: INF/OF Howie Kendrick
The Colorado Rockies have the worst record in the National League since June 30. Under ordinary circumstances, that would be a tell-tale sign that it's time to rebuild.
The Rockies, however, are in a difficult spot. They have plenty of bad contracts, but none belong to players with any real trade value. Rather than shed a whole bunch of salary for little in return, their best play may be to regroup and hope for better things in 2020.
If they do, veteran utility man Howie Kendrick could help. The .925 OPS he has this season is proof he can still hit, and they could use him at second base, first base and in the outfield.
Los Angeles Dodgers: LHP Felipe Vazquez
Though the Los Angeles Dodgers stand to lose major league ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu to free agency, he's a candidate for the kind of short-term, high-money contract the organization favors.
But even if the Dodgers do re-sign Ryu, they could flirt with an even bigger transaction if they rekindle the interest they had in Vazquez ahead of the trade deadline.
The two-time All-Star will be in high demand in more places than just Los Angeles this winter, but the Dodgers will be an ideal trading partner for the Pirates. They'll have plenty of prospects to offer and presumably a strong interest in bolstering a bullpen that no longer features a dominant Kenley Jansen.
San Diego Padres: LHP Matthew Boyd
With Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Hunter Renfroe, Eric Hosmer, Chris Paddack and Kirby Yates in place as core stars, the San Diego Padres aren't far from having a complete contender.
The next logical step involves the Padres finally making good on their on-again, off-again efforts to acquire an ace starting pitcher. Cole and Strasburg will be the proverbial pies in the sky this winter, yet it's more likely the Padres will use their immense prospect capital to trade for a No. 1 starter.
Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd may be the best the Padres can do. His talent for strikeouts could become even more pronounced in the National League, and the Padres would control him through 2022.
San Francisco Giants: LHP Alex Wood
If the San Francisco Giants do indeed lose Bumgarner and Smith to free agency, they won't be able to put off a proper rebuild any longer.
Whether it's just Samardzija or even more players, that would involve jettisoning whatever albatross contracts they can. It would also involve bringing in low-risk free agents who could be molded into trade bait for 2020.
The latter directive is bound to steer the Giants toward pitchers who could resurrect their careers amid Oracle Park's huge dimensions. Former Dodgers All-Star Alex Wood could be game in the wake of a 2019 season that's been wrecked by back injuries.