Each MLB Team's Nightmare 2019-20 Offseason Scenario
What's the worst that could happen?
As it pertains to the 2019-20 Major League Baseball offseason, we've come to answer this question with a dive into each team's nightmare hot-stove scenario.
For contenders and would-be contenders, this involves failing to make moves that would solidify their places in future pennant races. For everyone else, it's about failures to at least point themselves in the direction of future contention.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Their Farm System Stagnates
The Baltimore Orioles figure to target some low-cost pitchers this winter, but it'll be a couple more years before their rebuild begets any serious investments.
In the meantime, the O's need more talent for their farm system. It's come pretty far over the last year, yet we have it ranked just shy of MLB's top 10 at No. 11 overall. The closer it gets to No. 1, the better.
It's only going to advance this winter if the Orioles cash in some of their veteran talent for prospects. If they don't, it'll be because they failed to move or fully capitalize on Trey Mancini, Mychal Givens, Dylan Bundy or Jonathan Villar.
Boston Red Sox: Their Talent Level Declines with Their Payroll
Though the Boston Red Sox are only a year removed from a 108-win regular season and a World Series championship, new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is tasked with cutting payroll.
There may be ways for Bloom to do this without putting a dent in the Red Sox's immediate contention chances. For instance, trades of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Nathan Eovaldi would clear $28 million in salary and open their positions up for potential upgrades.
But in all likelihood, it will take a trade of 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts or J.D. Martinez to get the club's payroll down to where the bosses want it. In either case, the Red Sox will have opened a major hole that, because of their budget constraints, will be nigh impossible to fill.
New York Yankees: They Whiff on the Market's Top Aces
The New York Yankees have won 203 games over the last two seasons, but they've fallen short of the World Series both times. In 2019, at least, their starting rotation was a key reason why.
Fortunately for the Yankees, this is a good time to need starters. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are two of the more attractive free-agent pitchers in recent memory. Even after them, there are still Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
However, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has stated that he believes in the club's current rotation. Between that and their luxury-tax situation for 2020—they're already projected over the $208 million threshold—the groundwork is there for the Yankees to come up empty-handed.
Tampa Bay Rays: They Whiff on a Middle-of-the-Order Slugger
The Tampa Bay Rays won 96 games in 2019 despite getting only 35 starts out of Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow. That ought to have them feeling confident for 2020.
Yet they have many needs to fill in the meantime, including one for a middle-of-the-order slugger. They ranked 11th in the American League in home runs in 2019. To boot, only the Toronto Blue Jays got a lower OPS out of the cleanup spot.
If the Rays don't want to sign, say, an Edwin Encarnacion, they might dangle prospects from their No. 2 farm system on the trade market. But if they're so risk-averse that they end up settling for a lesser solution, what ailed them in 2019 could ail them all over again in 2020.
Toronto Blue Jays: They Get Cold Feet in Free Agency
Though the Blue Jays lost 95 games in 2019, they laid strong foundations for a future contender. And they still have more prospects on the way.
This would, therefore, seem to be a good time for the Blue Jays to invest in veteran talent and leadership. Specifically, a proven innings-eater would be helpful for a young, inexperienced rotation that struggled with a 5.25 ERA in 2019.
But in October, club president Mark Shapiro told reporters that he's wary of moves that would "limit our flexibility going forward." That can be taken to mean the Blue Jays will be careful shoppers. If they're too careful, they risk failing to take the step forward that the franchise needs.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Re-Signing Jose Abreu Is Their Biggest Splash
The Chicago White Sox and three-time All-Star Jose Abreu have frequently expressed their mutual admiration. It's no wonder they're working on a new deal, per ESPN's Jeff Passan.
Yet the Abreu situation might be the least interesting aspect of the White Sox's offseason. What's more intriguing is the possibility that they put their considerable savings—only Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez are signed beyond 2020—toward even bigger splashes in free agency.
In particular, a few starting pitchers and a left-handed hitter or two would go a long way toward making the White Sox relevant in what seems to be a winnable AL Central division. But if they decide spending can wait, their leap forward certainly will be delayed.
Cleveland Indians: They Carry Out a Repeat of Last Offseason
The Indians' payroll projection for 2020 is well under their year-end payroll for 2019, so a repeat of last winter's cost-cutting measures wouldn't seem to be necessary. Which is good, because their needs include outfielders and pitching depth.
The winds nonetheless seem to be blowing toward a trade of four-time All-Star Francisco Lindor, in part because he's getting too expensive for Cleveland's liking. If that's true, then the Indians may not be done prioritizing their bottom line over their contention chances after all.
Detroit Tigers: Their Farm System Stagnates
The position the Detroit Tigers are in isn't all that dissimilar from the one the Orioles are in.
They're enduring lousy times at the major league level, but they're also building up their farm system. We have it ranked at No. 9 overall, and it notably contains two elite pitchers in the persons of right-handers Casey Mize and Matt Manning.
Yet the Tigers should still be focused on adding as much young talent as they can, including through possible deals of Matthew Boyd and Joe Jimenez. They may later regret not cashing them or any others in while they had the chance.
Kansas City Royals: They Stay the Course
The Kansas City Royals have a new owner (John Sherman) and a new manager (Mike Matheny). What happens next is anyone's guess.
Given that they've lost 207 games over the last two seasons, their focus should be on packing as much young talent into their 10th-ranked farm system as they can. But if Sherman would rather try to buy some dignity via a free-agent bonanza, well, that would also be fine.
The least acceptable hot-stove outcome would be if the Royals did nothing and stayed their current course. In all likelihood, that would only lead to a third straight 100-loss season.
Minnesota Twins: They Whiff on the Market's Top Aces
If the Minnesota Twins want a chance of repeating their 101-win campaign, they're going to need to spend on some pitching.
Fortunately for them, this is extremely doable. Beyond the wealth of options before them on the free-agent market, the Twins also have as much financial flexibility as any team in MLB. They have only $80.7 million on their books for 2020.
Still, it would be out of character for the Twins to spend nine figures on Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. And if they miss out on them, there will be only so much they can do to make up the difference with other signings.
American League West
Houston Astros: The Luxury Tax Scares Them into Submission
The Houston Astros are fresh off letting a 3-2 series lead slip in the World Series, but that was nonetheless their second World Series appearance in three years. Plus, all three have featured over 100 regular-season wins.
Any franchise riding a wave like this should have no qualms about spending what it must to keep it up. To wit, the Astros should be willing to back up a big enough truck to re-sign Gerrit Cole and make sure all their other needs are also filled.
However, team owner Jim Crane told reporters he'd "prefer not to" trigger any luxury-tax penalties. Because the Astros are already projected well over the $208 million threshold, that could mean they're as likely to cut salaries as they are to add any.
Los Angeles Angels: They Whiff on the Market's Top Aces
The Los Angeles Angels have hired three-time Manager of the Year Joe Maddon, and club owner Arte Moreno has promised to raise payroll for him.
There's little secret about what the Angels need to spend on. According to Baseball Reference, their starting pitchers produced an MLB-low 0.8 wins above replacement in 2019. They could use Cole and several other of the market's name-brand arms.
But while the Angels should have money to spend this winter, they're no match for the Twins when it comes to overall flexibility. That will make it tough to add all the pitching they need, which in turn would make it difficult to fully recover from their 90-loss campaign.
Oakland Athletics: They Fail to Add Rotation Insurance
The Oakland Athletics have shockingly few serious needs to fill on their winter market, but it wouldn't hurt if they added a veteran arm for their rotation.
As of now, the A's are heading into 2020 with Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea, Jesus Luzardo, Frankie Montas and potentially A.J. Puk as their starting five. That group has loads of potential, but it's a mixed bag in terms of experience and reliability.
Trouble is, the A's are already projected for a franchise-record $111.4 million payroll in 2020. That could restrict them to searching for minor league deals this winter, which could turn their need for rotation insurance into a looming threat.
Seattle Mariners: They Stay the Course
The Seattle Mariners don't have any grand plans for the offseason. General manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters in September to expect only "moderate" dealings in trades and free agency.
Boring, yet justifiable. After all, the Mariners have already shed a bunch of salary (e.g., Robinson Cano, Mike Leake and Felix Hernandez) and built their farm system into a top-five unit. Right now, all they really need is time.
Still, it wouldn't hurt if the Mariners explored additional ways to cut payroll and add young talent. Trades of Kyle Seager, Dee Gordon or Yusei Kikuchi are stones with which they might kill two birds. They could also dangle Mitch Haniger, Domingo Santana or Omar Narvaez strictly for prospects.
Texas Rangers: They Whiff on the Market's Top Players
Perhaps the Texas Rangers can be called a sleeping giant, but it's not exactly confidential information that they're going to spend big as they await the opening of their new ballpark in 2020.
They have the financial flexibility for the task—their payroll can go much higher than its current $114.8 million projection—as well as a long list of needs. They could use starting pitchers and potentially new starters at third base, second base, catcher, center field and right field.
Which is to say the Rangers should end up with some combination of Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Yasmani Grandal. But if they get none, a sense of disappointment could hang over the opening of their new stadium and ultimately over their 2020 season.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: They're Overprotective of their Money and Prospects
In other words, they should be able to do whatever they want on both the free-agent and trade markets. Specifically, they should be seeking impact fixes for their holes at third base, at catcher and in their starting rotation.
However, it's been five years since the Braves last made a big splash in free agency, and they've generally been protective of their prospects since they established one of baseball's best farm systems. If they stand by these trends, their winter will be a massive bust.
Miami Marlins: They Stay the Course
Like the Mariners, all the Miami Marlins really need right now is time.
They certainly aren't good, and they won't be good in the near future. But with their books largely devoid of dead money and their farm system nestled in baseball's top five, the foundations for a bright future are in place.
Still, the Marlins might see what's out there for trade chips like Caleb Smith and Sandy Alcantara. At the least, they could add some veteran hitters to spare their fans from having to endure the National League's worst offense all over again.
New York Mets: The Wilpons Refuse to Spend Any More
The New York Mets won 86 games in 2019, and they might win even more in 2020 and beyond if they get new manager Carlos Beltran the help he needs.
If nothing else, the Mets could use some upside in a bullpen that produced only 1.0 WAR in 2019. Their other needs include a back-end starting pitcher, a third baseman and a true center fielder.
The elephant in the room, however, is that the Mets are already projected for a $181.7 million payroll and a $197.6 million luxury-tax bill. This probably isn't music to the ears of the Wilpon family that owns the team. Accordingly, they may be even more reluctant to spend than they traditionally are.
Philadelphia Phillies: They Whiff on the Market's Top Aces
The Philadelphia Phillies will attempt to make a sizable step forward from consecutive .500-ish seasons in 2020. But before they can do that, they need to spend some money.
With their farm system largely depleted, free agency is their only recourse for adding impact talent. They could use new starters at third base and second base, but they especially need depth behind Aaron Nola in their rotation. Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg would be ideal.
If the Phillies don't land either one of them or even one of the secondary starters on the market, yet another disappointing season will be in the cards for 2020.
Washington Nationals: They Fail to Re-Sign Any of Their Free Agents
The Washington Nationals are fresh off winning the first World Series in their history. But because of a long list of free agents, relatively little of their 2019 roster is presently due to return in 2020.
Luckily for the Nationals, they should have more than enough financial flexibility—their 2020 payroll stands at just $121.6 million—to bring them all back. Or at least, some combination of Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Howie Kendrick, Ryan Zimmerman and Yan Gomes, with enough left over for bullpen upgrades.
The Nationals' worst-case scenario involves failing to bring back any of their guys. Maybe they can replace them with comparable talents, but the chemistry that helped fuel their World Series run would be as good as gone.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: They Carry Out a Repeat of Last Offseason
The Chicago Cubs have said goodbye to Joe Maddon and hello to old friend David Ross as their new manager. Their next step should be to ensure he has the talent he needs to avoid another 84-win flop.
The Cubs need a starter to replace Cole Hamels and relievers to fill out a bullpen that's thin beneath closer Craig Kimbrel. They might also want to re-sign Nicholas Castellanos, who went off with a 1.002 OPS after they acquired him from Detroit in July.
According to Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic, however, the Cubs shouldn't be expected to push their payroll or luxury-tax bill (which is presently over the $208 million threshold) for 2020 much higher. That could doom them to a repeat of last winter, in which they initially passed on signing Kimbrel and spent only $9.3 million in free agency.
Cincinnati Reds: They Fail to Add Impact Hitters
What do the Cincinnati Reds have in store for their surprisingly active 2019-20 offseason? Per president of baseball operations Dick Williams, a "nice increase" in payroll for 2020.
There's little question about what this payroll increase needs to accomplish. The Reds have the pitching staff of a contender. But lest they average only 4.3 runs per game all over again, they need to acquire some impact hitters. Preferably, at second base, shortstop, center field or left field.
Yet the Reds typically aren't big spenders in free agency. If they're reluctant to move away from that track record, they risk missing out on the offensive upside they sorely need.
Milwaukee Brewers: They Fail to Re-Sign Yasmani Grandal
Milwaukee's top priority now should be re-signing Yasmani Grandal. Between his .848 OPS and 28 home runs and stellar pitch framing, he was arguably baseball's best catcher in 2019.
Trouble is, the Brewers don't have any hope of nabbing Grandal on another one-year deal after a season like that. If they want to re-sign him, they'd better be prepared to hand out what would be only the third $50 million-plus free-agent contract in their history.
Pittsburgh Pirates: They Fail to Cash In Starling Marte
Before the Pittsburgh Pirates can get to work on their roster, they first need new leadership after firing their manager, bench coach, pitching coach, president and general manager.
When the time for the Pirates to work on their roster finally does come, their first move should be to kick-start a rebuild with a trade of Starling Marte. He's a star-caliber center fielder who doesn't have an equal on the free-agent market, and he's signed for cheap through 2021.
Yet it was only last month that MLB.com's Adam Berry reported the Pirates were expected to keep Marte for 2020. If that's still true, it's hard to fathom how their grand plan for the winter will do them much good.
St. Louis Cardinals: They Fail to Add Impact Hitters
The St. Louis Cardinals won 91 games and upset the Braves in the National League Division Series, but they couldn't get any further because of their offense.
It wasn't so good to begin with, as they averaged only 4.7 runs per game in the regular season. It was downright terrible in the National League Championship Series opposite the Nationals. Their collective .374 OPS was the lowest for a team in LCS history.
Yet despite the Redbirds' obvious red flags, owner Bill Dewitt Jr. doesn't anticipate a rise in payroll in 2020, according to Mark Saxon of The Athletic. Unless he walks that back or his front office finds ways to trim some fat, the upgrades the Cardinals offense needs may not materialize.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: They're Overprotective of Their Money and Prospects
Keep a close eye on the Arizona Diamondbacks this winter. They might surprise you.
They quietly won 85 games in 2019, after all, and they did so while shedding a ton of salary (i.e., Zack Greinke's $206.5 million contract) and adding a bunch of talent to what's now an elite farm system. With the right signings and trades this winter, they can establish themselves as at least a wild-card contender.
Yet the emphasis on the word "might" is indeed necessary. While the D-backs should be aggressive buyers, their shortage of controllable players beyond 2020 could compel them to play things too safe for their own good.
Colorado Rockies: They Stay the Course
The Colorado Rockies went into 2019 off back-to-back postseason appearances, yet they never quite clicked as they came back to earth and lost 91 games.
One thing they could do now is go all-out with trades and free-agent signings in an effort to get back into contention in 2020. Yet their farm system is largely depleted, and owner Dick Monfort told reporters he doesn't expect a rise in payroll despite the club's new TV contract.
If no additions are forthcoming, the next-best thing the Rockies can do is a mini-rebuild in which they shed some salary (e.g., Charlie Blackmon) and acquire some prospects. But if they don't do that either, their whole offseason might be for naught.
Los Angeles Dodgers: They're Overprotective of Their Money and Prospects
Since 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers have accomplished pretty much everything except winning the franchise's first World Series title since 1988.
If anything, it's past time for the Dodgers to develop a sense of urgency about it. As luck would have it, both their payroll—they're projected well under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold—and their farm system are conducive to seismic activity on the offseason market.
But if the Dodgers stick to their usual guns, they'll sign only relatively short-term deals and put up walls around their best prospects. Such actions won't block them from an eighth straight NL West title in 2020, but they might not be any closer to a championship.
San Diego Padres: They Fail to Add a No. 1 Starter
The San Diego Padres haven't had a winning season since 2010, and there are, frankly, many things they must do before they can hope for one in 2020.
They need to establish a functional outfield, for one, but they more so need to stabilize their starting rotation. They notably have their eye on San Diego native Stephen Strasburg, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Alternatively, they might trade for an ace.
But whether it's Strasburg or someone else, signing a No. 1 starter would only push the Padres' payroll further north into record territory. A trade, meanwhile, would empty a good chunk of their top-ranked farm system. Cold feet on either front could keep them stuck firmly in place.
San Francisco Giants: They Stay the Course
The San Francisco Giants have endured three straight losing seasons, and their books are loaded with albatross contracts. At least in theory, a team in their position should be gearing up for a rebuild.
Thing is, none of the Giants' most expensive players have any real trade value. In order to add talent to their middling farm system, they'll likely have to swallow many millions of dollars in any trades they do make.
Their alternative would be to put what payroll space they have—they're projected nowhere near the $208 million luxury-tax threshold—toward a free-agent shopping spree in hopes of building on their 77-win 2019 season. Either way, a winter filled with nothing would be unacceptable.