Predicting Each MLB Team's Most Exciting Move of the 2020-21 Offseason
As the abbreviated 2020 MLB campaign charges toward what should be a wild playoff scramble, it's not too early to gaze ahead at the fast-approaching offseason.
It'll be an interesting one, with a few big-name free agents on the market, some high-level stars potentially on the trading block and all 30 teams dealing with the financial fallout of fanless games during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based on credible rumors and a healthy dose of informed speculation, let's predict each club's most exciting offseason move. It could be a free-agent signing, a trade or an extension for a standout player.
One other note: Since some teams are likely to make only minor moves, in a few cases we had to stretch the definition of "exciting," and in one case we simply couldn't come up with anything plausible.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Exercising Jose Iglesias' option
The Baltimore Orioles have hung around the American League playoff race, but they're still a rebuilding club that should focus on stocking the farm system and developing young talent rather than making big free-agent acquisitions. And they don't have many obvious trade chips after dealing reliever Mychal Givens, among others, before the Aug. 31 trade deadline.
But the O's shouldn't hesitate to pick up shortstop Jose Iglesias' $3.5 million club option. The 30-year-is hitting .376 with a .901 OPS in 26 games and has provided veteran leadership on a youthful roster.
Boston Red Sox: Keeping J.D. Martinez...like it or not
To be fair, this would be a move by J.D. Martinez more than one by the Boston Red Sox. The 33-year-old slugger can opt out of his contract after the season, but all signs point to his staying put. Martinez passed up an opt-out opportunity after the 2019 campaign. Now, he's a year older and is hitting a career-worst .211 with a .672 OPS.
Assuming he stays put, Boston will owe Martinez $19.4 million in 2021 and again in 2022 if he once again declines to opt out. That's money the last-place Red Sox would surely love to get off the books as they head toward a rebuild, but don't expect Martinez to help them out.
As for how this would be "exciting" for anyone other than Martinez and his agent, it would at least keep a three-time All-Star who picked up down-ballot MVP votes as recently as 2019 in Beantown.
New York Yankees: Re-signing Masahiro Tanaka
The New York Yankees will have work to do this offseason to bolster their starting rotation behind ace Gerrit Cole. One of the most obvious free-agent options is already in pinstripes.
For the first time since signing a seven-year, $155 million deal with New York prior to the 2014 season, Masahiro Tanaka will test the market. With a 3.38 ERA through 32 innings, the Japanese right-hander will surely have multiple suitors.
But expect the Yanks to do what it takes to ink the 31-year-old to a new pact and possibly ensure he retires in the Bronx.
Tampa Bay Rays: Signing James McCann
The Tampa Bay Rays have a deep roster and will retain most of their key players. They also have plenty of talent in the pipeline with a farm system we ranked No. 1.
One area the small-market Rays could improve is behind the dish, as their catching core has provided less-than-stellar offensive results. J.T. Realmuto, the biggest prize of the 2020-21 free-agent catching class, is above their pay grade.
But Tampa Bay could ink veteran and 2019 All-Star James McCann, who has posted a .972 OPS in 20 games with the Chicago White Sox.
Toronto Blue Jays: Extending at least part of their young core
The Toronto Blue Jays don't have to worry about their young trio of second-generation position-player standouts—Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio—reaching free agency until 2026.
But they will get considerably more expensive through their arbitration years. As such, Toronto could follow the model of other teams such as Atlanta (Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies) and the White Sox (Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez) that locked in their rising stars to early extensions.
The Jays would have to make generous offers to get these players' attentions, but it could be in everyone's best interest, as The Athletic's Andrew Stoeten outlined in February.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Re-signing Alex Colome
The Chicago White Sox have blossomed into full-fledged postseason factors behind their exciting young core and will enter the offseason with designs on continued contention.
One area of need could be the bullpen, as closer Alex Colome (1.15 ERA, 15.2 IP, 9 SV) is set to hit free agency.
The ChiSox will have other relief options on the market, but bringing back the 31-year-old old right-hander on a multiyear deal makes sense.
Cleveland: Trading Francisco Lindor
Francisco Lindor is a four-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Glove winner and Cleveland's franchise star. He's also set to reach free agency after the 2021 season and will almost surely vault well beyond the price range of the only big league club he's ever known.
Cleveland has resisted the urge to trade him so far and is in contention in the AL Central. But this offseason will be the moment to trade him for a haul of prospects and MLB-ready talent.
Yes, free agency looms. But the acquiring team (we'll get to it later) could sign Lindor to an extension.
Detroit Tigers: Trading Matthew Boyd
The rebuilding Detroit Tigers aren't likely to be in on any major free agents and could have a fairly quiet offseason. But they may revisit the idea of dealing left-hander Matthew Boyd.
Boyd's name has floated through the rumor mill dating back to the 2019 trade deadline. The 29-year-old has posted an unsightly 7.63 ERA in nine starts but has averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings after posting a career-best 11.6 K/9 last year.
He's under club control through 2022 and would drum up interest in light of the relatively weak free-agent pitching class. The Tigers don't need to trade him, but if it adds more talent to their already deep farm system, they should.
Kansas City Royals: Re-signing Alex Gordon
Like the Tigers, the Kansas City Royals are rebuilding and are unlikely to ink any headline-grabbing free agents. They do have some tradeable players on the roster even after selling at the deadline, including versatile veteran Whit Merrifield.
But K.C.'s biggest move could be bringing back left fielder Alex Gordon.
The 36-year-old doesn't seem like an obvious fit for a team trying to get younger, especially considering he's hitting just .215. But he's spent his 14-year career with the Royals, made three All-Star teams and won seven Gold Gloves. And he could likely be had on a relatively cheap one-year deal that might allow him to end his career in Royal blue.
Minnesota Twins: Re-signing Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz has defied Father Time once again, swatting 15 home runs and posting a 1.117 OPS in his age-39 season with the Minnesota Twins.
Those numbers would lead to a massive long-term deal for a younger free agent, but Cruz will probably settle for a lucrative one- or two-year contract with incentives and options.
The list of interested teams will be long, but we're betting the Twins will do what it takes to retain their lineup anchor and veteran leader.
American League West
Houston Astros: Re-signing George Springer
Three of the Houston Astros' regular outfielders will hit free agency this offseason: Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick and George Springer. Of that trio, expect Houston to go hardest after Springer.
The 30-year-old has eight home runs and an .803 OPS one season after posting a .974 OPS and finishing seventh in AL MVP voting.
Springer is the top free-agent outfielder in a thin group, and the Astros will have to open their wallet. But with other players possibly hesitant to sign with Houston because of the franchise's sign-stealing stigma, retaining parts of their core might be the best the 'Stros can do.
Los Angeles Angels: Signing Trevor Bauer
Despite signing third baseman Anthony Rendon to a massive contract and pairing him with Mike Trout, the Los Angeles Angels are almost surely going to miss the postseason once again.
If they want to change that next year, they'll need to upgrade a starting rotation that ranks 26th in baseball with a 5.36 ERA.
Right-hander Trevor Bauer will be one of the biggest names on the market. The 29-year-old was born in North Hollywood and owns a 1.74 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 51.2 innings for the Cincinnati Reds. There will be a bidding war, but the Halos should pay what it takes to address a glaring weakness.
Oakland Athletics: Signing Andrelton Simmons
A number of Oakland Athletics players are ticketed for free agency, including closer Liam Hendriks and shortstop Marcus Semien. If the past is any indication, the cost-conscious A's won't shell out the bucks required to keep them.
Oakland is in a win-now window, however, and could look to plug the hole at shortstop left by Semien's presumed departure with Andrelton Simmons.
The 31-year-old has been limited by injury this season but is hitting .317 in 20 games for the Angels and is a defensive star. He wouldn't cost Oakland the same stratospheric years and dollars as the top-tier free agents it rarely if ever pursues, but he'd give the A's proven talent at a premium position.
Seattle Mariners: Trading Kyle Seager
The Seattle Mariners made some deals at the trade deadline but held on to third baseman Kyle Seager. Since then, they've done enough winning to creep onto the edge of the AL playoff chase.
Big-picture, though, the M's are a rebuilding team that should focus on further strengthening their already-loaded farm system. Seager is in his age-32 season, has an .855 OPS with seven home runs and is signed for $18.5 million in 2021 with a $15 million team option for 2022 that becomes a player option if he's traded.
If Seattle were willing to eat a little salary, it could cash Seager in for a solid prospect haul from any number of contenders seeking an experienced bat.
Texas Rangers: Declining Corey Kluber's option...and then re-signing him
When the Texas Rangers acquired Corey Kluber from Cleveland in December, they were surely hoping to get more than one inning of work from the 34-year-old right-hander. But that's all Kluber has offered, as he went down with a shoulder injury in his first start and hasn't returned.
Texas has an $18 million option with a $1 million buyout for Kluber in 2021. It could exercise it and hope he's healthy.
But if the Rangers want to give the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner another shot, a better route might be to decline his option and then sign him to a new contract with a lower base value and multiple performance incentives.
National League East
Atlanta: Signing Justin Turner
Atlanta lost third baseman Josh Donaldson to free agency last offseason and has gotten limited production from his main replacements, Austin Riley (.239 average) and Johan Camargo (.200). It's a position the team should address this offseason.
There will be options on the trade market, such as Kyle Seager. But if Atlanta goes the free-agent route, it could make a move for Justin Turner.
Turner will turn 36 in November and is out with a strained hamstring. But he was a top-10 NL MVP vote-getter in 2016 and 2017 and swatted 27 home runs with an .881 OPS last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
L.A. has the deep pockets to bring him back but might have another plan (more on that soon). If he leaves the Dodgers, Turner would be a solid veteran complement to Atlanta's young core.
Miami Marlins: Exercising Starling Marte's option
The Miami Marlins bought and sold at the trade deadline, shipping veteran Jonathan Villar to the Blue Jays but acquiring center fielder Starling Marte from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Marte may help the Fish make an unexpected postseason push this season, and he could be more than a rental if Miami exercises his $12.5 million 2021 option.
That's a reasonable sum for a player who will be entering his age-32 season and posted an .845 OPS with 23 homers and 25 stolen bases in 2019. Miami should keep him.
New York Mets: Re-signing Marcus Stroman
The New York Mets acquired Marcus Stroman from the Blue Jays prior to the 2019 trade deadline, and he posted a 3.77 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 59.2 innings for the Queens contingent. This season, Stroman opted out, citing COVID-19 concerns.
He'll be entering his age-30 season and will hit free agency as one of the top available starting pitchers. Other clubs, including the Yankees, could make a play for the New York native.
But with Noah Syndergaard recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Mets need rotation depth behind ace Jacob deGrom and should do what's required to re-up Stroman.
Philadelphia Phillies: Re-signing J.T. Realmuto
J.T. Realmuto will be one of the offseason's hottest free agents. He's a two-time All-Star who won a Gold Glove for his play behind the dish in 2019 and has hit 11 home runs with an .901 OPS in 38 games with the Philadelphia Phillies this season.
Teams will line up for him. But the Phillies should be prepared to spend what it takes. Not only is Realmuto probably the best catcher in baseball and in the midst of his prime, but he's also a close friend of Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper.
If the Phils lose him, it'll foster ill will among the fans and the franchise's biggest star.
Washington Nationals: Signing Liam Hendriks
The Washington Nationals have hit some serious bumps in their quest to repeat as champions, including losing right-hander Stephen Strasburg to season-ending carpal tunnel neuritis surgery. At this point, it's highly unlikely the Nats will even make the playoffs.
Yet they have a strong young core led by left fielder Juan Soto and will enter 2021 with plans to contend. If they want to make a splash, they could sign star closer Liam Hendriks to boost a bullpen that has posted a 4.54 ERA and could lose Sean Doolittle via free agency.
The 31-year-old Hendriks (1.33 ERA, 12 SV, 13.3 K/9) is having another superlative season with Oakland and would help lock down the late innings for Washington.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Signing Kris Bryant to an extension
Multiple key members of the Chicago Cubs core are set to hit free agency following the 2021 season, including left fielder Kyle Schwarber, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Javier Baez and third baseman Kris Bryant. Assuming the club won't be able to afford to keep them all, it'll have some tough decisions to make.
The toughest might be regarding Bryant. The 2016 National League MVP is struggling through an injury-marred season, but he remains one of the game's marquee talents. If the Cubs put him on the trading block this offseason, there would be suitors aplenty.
That could happen. But based on comments Bryant made in July, indicating he may be more open to an extension than he had been previously, we'll predict the two sides work out a deal that keeps him on the North Side for the foreseeable future.
Cincinnati Reds: Re-signing Nick Castellanos
Nick Castellanos has cooled down after a scalding start with the Cincinnati Reds and is now hitting just .237. But he's got 12 home runs and an .871 OPS and has a career-best 48.2 percent hard-contact rate.
The 28-year-old right fielder signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Reds that includes an opt-out after this season. Given the dearth of quality bats on the free-agent market, it seems likely he'll exercise it and angle for a new deal.
He could get one from a number of teams, but Cincinnati appears committed to building a winner and may be extra motivated if it misses the playoffs, which is likely. Look for the Reds to do what it takes to retain Castellanos.
Milwaukee Brewers: Signing Jake Arrieta
Milwaukee Brewers starting pitchers have posted a 4.96 ERA this season and could lose left-hander Brett Anderson to free agency. Acquiring at least one impact arm should be an offseason priority.
Here's a notion: What if they signed Jake Arrieta?
Milwaukee showed interest in Arrieta after the 2017 season. He signed with the Phillies instead and has struggled with injury and inconsistency. This year, in his age-34 season, he owns 5.54 ERA. The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner's days as an ace are probably over.
But if he could be had on a shorter-term show-me deal (assuming the Phils decline his $22.5 million club option for 2021), he could be an excellent gamble for the Brewers. And a return to the NL Central, where Arrieta enjoyed his best years with the Cubs, could be just the change of scenery he needs.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Um...
Sorry, Pittsburgh Pirates fans. We really tried to think of something exciting the Bucs could do this offseason. But let's face it: Coming off a last-place finish and considering they sport the second-lowest payroll in baseball, the Pirates aren't going to spend much, if anything, in free agency.
At the same time, Pittsburgh doesn't have many notable trade assets. It's possible it could move someone such as first baseman Josh Bell, but he's followed up his 2019 All-Star season with an abysmal .209/.285/.317 slash line. The Pirates would be selling way low.
Instead, expect the team to make a middling addition or two to fill out the roster and hope for the ascent of youngsters such as right-hander Mitch Keller and third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes.
St. Louis Cardinals: Acquiring Nolan Arenado
In January, MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals had moved deep enough into trade discussions for Rox third baseman Nolan Arenado that they exchanged names.
The deal didn't happen, but expect Arenado to feature in myriad rumors again this offseason.
He inked an eight-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies in February 2019. But less than 11 months later, he voiced unhappiness with the team. He can opt out of his deal after 2021, so if the Cardinals or anyone else is going to part with the talent required to land the five-time All-Star, they'll likely want some assurance he'd be open to a long-term extension.
There is precedent: St. Louis acquired first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks in December 2018 and signed him to an extension in March 2019. If it could pull off the same trick with Arenado, it would measurably improve an offense that has posted a .743 OPS.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Signing Jonathan Villar
The Arizona Diamondbacks made a number of exciting moves prior to the 2020 campaign, including signing left-hander Madison Bumgarner and acquiring Starling Marte from the Pirates. Bumgarner has endured rough results and had an extended stint on the injured list with a balky back. Marte was traded to the Marlins, while left-hander Robbie Ray was shipped to the Blue Jays. Now, Arizona needs to decide what its plan will be.
The club has talent, including second baseman Ketel Marte, and may opt to retool rather than rebuild. If so, it could target Jonathan Villar, a versatile defender who can play the infield and outfield and hit 24 home runs with 40 stolen bases in 2019.
Villar is hitting just .245 this season and could be had on the type of mid-level but potentially impactful deal the D-backs should be focused on as they plot their uncertain course.
Colorado Rockies: Trading Nolan Arenado
We already made the case for why, how and to whom the Rockies could trade Nolan Arenado. To add a bit more from Colorado's perspective: The team is hanging on the edge of the playoff picture but is in fourth place in the NL West.
Colorado is not on the verge of a championship run, and the odds Arenado will opt out and bolt after next season are high.
If the Rox trade him this offseason, they could net multiple blue chip prospects and/or MLB-ready players to build for the future. It's simply the right call, painful as it will be.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Acquiring Francisco Lindor
The Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts from the Red Sox in February. The star right fielder was entering his contract year, but Los Angeles signed him to a 12-year, $365 million contract in July. Could it repeat that with Cleveland's Francisco Lindor?
L.A. is viewed as the favorite to land Lindor this offseason, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman. The Dodgers already have a star shortstop in Corey Seager, but with Justin Turner set to hit free agency, Los Angeles could slide Seager over to third.
It might mean parting with a top young player such as second baseman Gavin Lux, plus more. But if the Dodgers believe they can sign Lindor for the long haul—and with their deep pockets, no one is better positioned to do exactly that—this may be the type of landscape-altering deal they couldn't pass up.
San Diego Padres: Re-signing Trevor Rosenthal
Trevor Rosenthal has thrown four scoreless innings for the San Diego Padres since they acquired him from the Royals prior to the trade deadline to stabilize a suspect bullpen. The 30-year-old right-hander owns a 2.55 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 17.2 innings.
Unlike some other deadline additions made by the Friars, such as right-hander Mike Clevinger, Rosenthal is an impending free agent.
He should be in high demand this offseason, but the Padres are clearly committed to winning now behind their excellent young core. And Rosenthal is the type of proven, difference-making late-inning arm who will aid in that quest.
San Francisco Giants: Extending Kevin Gausman a qualifying offer
The San Francisco Giants have emerged as surprise postseason contenders, but they're still a team that's trying to stock its farm system with an eye on the future. Don't expect them to make a huge splash in free agency for another year or so.
That said, San Francisco should strongly consider extending a qualifying offer to right-hander Kevin Gausman. The 29-year-old has posted a 3.52 FIP with 62 strikeouts in 46.2 innings and emerged as the ace of the staff.
If Gausman rejects the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, the team will get a compensatory draft pick. But if he accepts, which is quite possible given the uncertainty of the market, the Giants will get a quality starter who is entering his age-30 season for somewhere in the neighborhood of $17.8 million, which was this season's figure.