15 Way-Too-Early Predictions for the 2020 MLB Offseason

Martin FennCorrespondent IIOctober 16, 2020

15 Way-Too-Early Predictions for the 2020 MLB Offseason

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The 2020 MLB postseason wages on, and the four remaining teams are vying for a spot in the Fall Classic.

    But for most clubs, the focus has already shifted to the offseason.

    This figures to be one of the most difficult winters in MLB history. The revenue losses all 30 teams sustained as a result of the coronavirus pandemic remain to be seen. However, those losses are likely to have a significant impact on free-agent signings and trades.

    Make no mistake, contenders will still be looking to improve their rosters in an effort to get to the World Series next year. But the extent to which these teams will spend is unclear, and we could see a plethora of short-term deals in free agency. 

    Here are 15 early predictions for this upcoming offseason based on team needs, future outlook and the impending landscape, among other things.

White Sox Sign Trevor Bauer

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The Chicago White Sox were one of the biggest surprises of the 2020 season. Their young core developed ahead of schedule, and offseason acquisitions like Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal played a role in the team's success.

    The first item on the White Sox's to-do list will be hiring a new manager to replace Rick Renteria. But general manager Rick Hahn and the rest of the front office will also likely pursue starting pitching upgrades.

    Keuchel and Lucas Giolito excelled this past season, and both should anchor the top of the rotation in 2021. But the rest of the rotation is a bit of a question mark.

    Dylan Cease had a 4.01 ERA in 12 regular-season starts, but he also led the American League with 34 walks in only 58.1 innings. Reynaldo Lopez dealt with injuries, and Michael Kopech will be returning from Tommy John surgery.

    The White Sox showed a willingness to be aggressive in spending last offseason, and there is one free agent who should pique their interest: Cincinnati Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer.

    Bauer had a 1.73 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 73.0 innings this season. The 29-year-old led the National League with a 276 ERA+, and he also ranked in the 99th percentile in both xwOBA and xERA, per Baseball Savant.

    Bauer figures to be the top pitcher in this year's free-agent class, and he has been on record about his preference for pitching on one-year deals. He has also hinted that he would like to pitch every fourth day.

    The White Sox could make Bauer a sizable one-year offer to be their ace, which would greatly bolster their championship aspirations. Bauer has plenty of familiarity with the American League Central, and he could be motivated to join an upstart contender like the White Sox.

Mets Sign J.T. Realmuto

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The New York Mets were hoping to contend for a playoff spot in 2020, but injuries, opt-outs and rotation struggles led to another disappointing in Queens. 

    However, there is reason to believe the Mets could be among MLB's most active teams this offseason. 

    Billionaire Steve Cohen has reached an agreement to purchase the team from the Wilpon family. If MLB owners approve of the sale in the coming weeks, he would probably be willing to spend big.

    The Mets could use more starting pitching, but they also have needs behind the plate. 

    Wilson Ramos had a .684 OPS this season, and a $10 million club option for 2021, per Spotrac. The option has a $1.5 million buyout, which the Mets could execute in pursuit of the top catcher on the market: J.T. Realmuto.

    Realmuto hit 11 homers and had an .840 OPS with the Philadelphia Phillies, and he led all catchers (along with Grandal) in fWAR, per FanGraphs. The 29-year-old is also one of the best defensive backstops in baseball. Realmuto threw out 47 percent of would-be base-stealers in 2019 and ranked second in catcher framing this year, per Baseball Savant.

    The Phillies failed to ink Realmuto to an extension, and they now face leadership questions with Matt Klentak stepping down as general manager. Todd Zolecki of MLB.com also reported Realmuto is looking for a contract in excess of $200 million, which might be out of Philly's price range.

    However, New York could have money to spend, particularly if Cohen is approved. The Mets should push hard to pry Realmuto away from their National League East rival.

Astros Re-Sign George Springer

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The Houston Astros are making an inspired playoff run after becoming just the third team in MLB history to make the postseason with a losing record. What's more, there is reason to believe their championship window has been extended.

    Justin Verlander's early-season injury led to Houston unearthing a gem in left-hander Framber Valdez, and Cristian Javier also looks like a future piece.

    The near future still looks fairly bright in H-Town despite a shortage of farm assets. As such, it seems likely the Astros will re-sign center fielder George Springer.

    Springer rebounded from a poor start to lead the Astros in a host of categories, including home runs (14), OPS (.899) and OPS+ (140). He has been one of Houston's most consistent offensive forces in the last five years, as he's a legitimate table-setter and run-producer who can jump-start the offense and play excellent defense in center field. 

    The Astros have some money coming off the books with Josh Reddick and Michael Brantley also heading for free agency, and more space will open up when both Verlander and Zack Greinke become free agents at the end of the 2021 campaign.

    Springer could have a crowded market as the top outfielder in this year's class, but the Astros will bring him back as they hope to compete for another World Series in the next few years.

Indians Keep Francisco Lindor…

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Cleveland's early playoff exit almost immediately led to questions about Francisco Lindor's future.

    Lindor will be a free agent after the 2021 season, and he has been surrounded by trade speculation for quite some time. The Indians have typically maintained a low payroll, but Lindor likely won't settle for a lesser extension after the deal Mookie Betts signed with the Dodgers in July.

    However, as Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com noted, Lindor's trade value has likely soured since he's coming off the worst offensive season of his career. Cleveland may decide to retain him in the offseason and aim to flip him at the deadline if it flops in the first half of the 2020 season.

    Lindor is still a key cog for a competitive Indians club. He is a switch-hitting shortstop who can hit for power and steal bases. The 26-year-old has also consistently been among the best defensive shortstops in baseball. Lindor has a pair of Gold Glove Awards to his name, and he ranked in the 97th percentile in outs above average in 2020, per Baseball Savant

    Is Lindor's value this offseason going to be much higher than it will be at the deadline? Might it be worth it for Cleveland to pursue upgrades for one final run at a World Series in 2021? At worst, it could give Lindor a qualifying offer and get a high compensation pick.

    Cleveland will hang onto Lindor, at least for the time being.

… and Sign Michael Brantley

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    If the Indians decide to add rather than subtract this offseason, they have a clear need for an upgrade in the outfield. 

    Cleveland's outfield ranked 28th in fWAR and 29th in weighted runs created plus (wRC+), per FanGraphs. The Indians are hoping Josh Naylor can maintain momentum after a breakout performance (2.286 OPS) in the Wild Card Round, but they are still in dire need of a productive outfield bat. 

    There aren't many quality free-agent outfielders, and Cleveland isn't likely to spend much in free agency. However, Michael Brantley could be an ideal target for the Tribe.

    Brantley was one of the best pure hitters in baseball during his two-year run with the Astros, hitting .309 with an .867 OPS and 126 OPS+. He makes contact at an elite rate, ranking in the 93rd percentile in whiff rate this season, per Baseball Savant

    The 33-year-old also has history in Cleveland, having spent the first 10 years of his career with the Indians. 

    While Brantley might otherwise have a larger market, this offseason could be different given the financial complexities and his age. However, that confluence of factors could benefit the Indians, who could make Brantley a large one-year offer to return to his old stomping grounds.

Braves Will Re-Sign Marcell Ozuna

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has hit on the last two one-year deals he handed out to position players. Josh Donaldson was tremendous in his stint with the Braves, which ultimately led to the "Bringer of Rain" signing a long-term deal with the Minnesota Twins last offseason.

    Although the Braves failed to re-sign Donaldson, Anthopoulos hit the jackpot by inking Marcell Ozuna to a similar prove-it deal.

    Ozuna proved plenty to Anthopoulos and the Braves, hitting .338 with 18 homers and a 1.067 OPS. Not only was Ozuna productive, but he was also measured. The 29-year-old posted a career-high 14.2 percent walk rate, per FanGraphs, with just a slight uptick in year-over-year strikeout rate.

    The advanced numbers were also fairly staggering. Ozuna ranked in the 99th percentile in xwOBA, per Baseball Savant, and he also ranked above the 96th percentile in both average exit velocity and hard-hit rate.

    Atlanta might not have been willing to give Donaldson a hefty long-term deal last winter, but Ozuna is younger, and he also provided Freddie Freeman with protection in the lineup. Plus, Nick Markakis will be a free agent, and Ender Inciarte has been unplayable because of his struggles at the plate.

    The Braves have a pair of top outfield prospects in Cristian Pache (who has gotten some postseason at-bats) and Drew Waters, but neither will make the kind of immediate impact that Ozuna did this year.

    The Braves have only $67.2 million committed to seven players next year, per Baseball Reference, giving them some payroll flexibility to offer Ozuna a multiyear deal.

Anthopoulos Will Hand Out More 1-Year Deals to Pitchers

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Let's stay with the Braves for another moment, shall we? 

    Although Anthopoulos hit on one-year deals with position players, the same can't be said for the starting pitchers he has signed. That especially applies to Cole Hamels, who did not throw a single inning for the Braves this season.

    But here's the thing: There aren't many starters hitting the open market who can command long-term contracts. Bauer would be the rare exception, though he seems to prefer short-term deals.

    Atlanta could always try to trade for a marquee starter, especially if it decides to dangle Waters to a team needing outfield assets. However, Anthopoulos will instead likely make aggressive, one-year offers to a number of pitchers.

    Who might the Braves pursue? Marcus Stroman could be a candidate. He has a 3.76 career ERA with decent peripherals, and he made his first All-Star team in 2019 before choosing to sit out the 2020 season. 

    Kevin Gausman is another interesting option. He was excellent for the Braves after Atlanta acquired him from the Baltimore Orioles in 2018, but he had a 6.19 ERA in 16 starts with the club in 2019. However, Gausman had a strong 2020 season in San Francisco, posting a 3.62 ERA and career-best 3.09 FIP.

    If the Braves seek a left-handed starter, they could opt for James Paxton, who struggled with injuries in 2020 but is still an elite strikeout pitcher. Brett Anderson, who boasts a 4.06 career ERA, might be relatively cheap as well.

    Regardless, expect the Braves to add at least one starter on a one-year deal.

Yankees Re-Sign DJ LeMahieu

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    This one seems fairly obvious.

    Yankees fans were disappointed when the team chose to sign infielder DJ LeMahieu to a team-friendly deal rather than pursue Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in the 2018-19 offseason. As it turns out, LeMahieu has been more valuable than both Harper and Machado in the last two years.

    The 32-year-old became the first player in the modern era to win a batting title in both leagues after hitting .364 this season. LeMahieu also hit 10 homers and led the AL in OBP (.421), OPS (1.011) and OPS+ (177).

    LeMahieu also offers the Yankees much-needed positional versatility as someone who can play second (his natural position) as well as both corner spots. That was necessary this year, as injuries decimated the roster once again.

    The Bronx Bombers will face challenges in re-signing LeMahieu, who will demand a sizable contract after a pair of tremendous seasons with the Yankees. New York also has pitching needs, particularly in the rotation.

    However, LeMahieu has been a legitimate lynchpin for the franchise over the past two years, and the Yankees do not have anyone who can match his production at second base.

    Brian Cashman will open up the checkbook to give LeMahieu his due, whatever that value ends up being.

Cardinals Trade for Nolan Arenado

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals made sense last offseason, and it still makes a ton of sense now.

    The Colorado Rockies were pretenders even in an a year when MLB installed the expanded postseason. They went 9-16 in September, bottoming out of the playoff picture, and their Pythagorean win-loss record suggests they should have lost three more games than they did.

    Simply put, this is not a playoff team. The Rockies lack the starting depth to be competitive in the NL West, and B/R's Joel Reuter ranked their farm system 29th out of 30.

    That brings us to Arenado, who was on the verge of being dealt last year amid his dismay at Colorado's lack of offseason activity. Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the Cardinals were interested, though a deal never ended up materializing.

    However, a trade still makes sense for both sides.

    Arenado may not exercise his opt-out clause after the 2021 season given the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Mookie Betts' extension with the Dodgers seems to suggest he could still command a hefty new deal. The Rockies have payroll issues and still need to decide whether they want to extend star shortstop Trevor Story. 

    The Cardinals, meanwhile, desperately need another impact bat. St. Louis ranked 19th in wRC+, per FanGraphs, despite a bounce-back year from Paul Goldschmidt and a breakout performance by Brad Miller.

    St. Louis can offer Colorado top prospects like Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore in exchange for Arenado, who—despite a down year—is still one of the best third basemen in baseball. 

    Arenado wants to win, and the Cardinals have been one of the winningest franchises of the last two decades. He is also more likely to opt in if he moves to a winner, which should incentivize the Cardinals—who have payroll flexibility—to make the move.

Cubs Retain Their Core

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Talk about the Cubs possibly blowing it up and trading the likes of Kris Bryant or Willson Contreras is sure to permeate MLB circles this offseason. After Chicago flamed out in the playoffs, team president Theo Epstein said lackluster offensive performances in recent years could merit "significant change," per Jordan Bastian of MLB.com.

    Does this mean Chicago will attempt to deal Bryant, Contreras or any of their other core pieces? Not necessarily.

    Moving Bryant is complicated. He is coming off the worst offensive season of his career (.644 OPS) and shows limited upside as a defensive first baseman. Plus, Bryant will be a free agent after next season and could earn north of $20 million in his final year of arbitration, which might hamper his trade value.

    Contreras should have more value. The 28-year-old was slightly less productive at the plate this year, but he still had a .763 OPS and finished second in fWAR among qualified catchers. Moreover, Contreras has thrown out 32 percent of would-be base-stealers in his career, improved his pitch framing, and will not be a free agent until 2023.

    Backup catcher Victor Caratini experienced regression after a promising 2019, and top catching prospect Miguel Amaya might not be ready for at least another year or two. Contreras has too much value to the current club, especially if the Cubs still hope to win in 2021.

    Anthony Rizzo is not going anywhere. The same can probably be said for Javier Baez, even though he ranked last in OBP (.238) among qualified hitters. Kyle Schwarber had a .701 OPS and is a poor defender, and Chicago is unlikely to trade Ian Happ given its shortage of quality outfielders.

    This is all to say: Chicago's core is likely to stay put. Things could change at next year's trade deadline, but Epstein shouldn't move off the team's top stars just for the sake of change, especially since he is also in a contract year.

Oakland Passes on Marcus Semien for Didi Gregorius

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Oakland Athletics had every reason to think about signing shortstop Marcus Semien to an extension after his 2019 campaign. 

    Semien finished third in the AL MVP voting last season after hitting 33 homers with 10 stolen bases and an .892 OPS. He also finished fifth in fWAR and was one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. 

    But the Athletics and Semien never reached an agreement on an extension, and Oakland might instead go in a different direction.

    Semien's glove is undeniably elite. But his performance at the plate this season (.679 OPS) suggested last year was an outlier.

    Semien's 91 OPS+ mark was much more on par with the rest of his career, as compared to a whopping 139 OPS+ last year. The 30-year-old struggled to get much hard contact, ranking in the 12th percentile in average exit velocity and 9th percentile in hard-hit rate, per Baseball Savant.

    The Athletics could instead try to sign Didi Gregorius, who hit 10 homers and posted an .827 OPS with the Philadelphia Phillies. Gregorius is the same age as Semien, but he still might receive only short-term offers because of his past durability issues.

    Gregorius' advanced hitting stats are mostly on par with Semien's, but he has generated better results and might also be less costly. That's always key to a low payroll team such as the A's.

Rays Pick Up Charlie Morton's Team Option

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Rays are fighting for their first World Series berth since 2008 after losing Game 5 of the ALCS on Thursday, but Kevin Cash's team has still been one of the deepest and most well-rounded clubs in baseball all year long.

    Tampa Bay has managed to succeed despite having only three bona fide starters in the rotation. One of those starters, veteran right-hander Charlie Morton, has a $15 million club option for the 2021 season, and the Rays are likely to pick it up.

    Morton's traditional statistics were not quite as appealing as they were in 2019, when he finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting. The 36-year-old posted a 4.74 ERA and made only nine starts this season, and his 90 ERA+ mark was his worst since 2015. 

    The advanced metrics tell a different story. Morton had a respectable 4.01 xFIP, per FanGraphs, and he struck out nearly 10 opponents per nine innings while allowing only four homers in 38 innings.

    Morton experienced a slight drop in velocity this season, and opponents generated better slugging numbers against his curveball. However, he dealt with shoulder inflammation, which likely impacted his effectiveness this year.

    Morton still has the kind of stuff to dominate, and $15 million would be a bargain if he can return to the form he showed in the previous three years. He's also as good if not better than just about every starting pitcher set to hit the market this winter. 

Angels Sign Marcus Stroman

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Angels are in desperate need of starting pitching, and they might be hot after Trevor Bauer to solidify the top of their rotation. But the better bet is on them signing someone like Marcus Stroman, who should be less costly and might not have quite as crowded of a market.

    Stroman has a career ground ball rate of 58.6 percent, per FanGraphs. That should be appealing to an Angels team with a premium defensive third baseman in Anthony Rendon and another excellent defender in David Fletcher. Even Albert Pujols is still a steady defender at first base, despite his decline in the batter's box. 

    Moreover, Stroman has proved capable of eating innings. He has gone over the 200-inning mark twice in his career, and he threw over 184 innings in his All-Star 2019 season. 

    Los Angeles looks to have gotten a steal in Dylan Bundy, who had a 3.29 ERA in 11 starts this year. Left-hander Andrew Heaney still has decent peripherals, and both Griffin Canning and Jaime Barria look like intriguing options in the rotation. 

    But the Angels are still missing another workhorse who can toss quality innings and keep opponents off the board. That makes Stroman the ideal target for the Halos, who are desperate to get Mike Trout to the playoffs.

Dodgers Sign Liam Hendriks, Move Kenley Jansen

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is one of the masters at repositioning, and he could pull off another magic trick this offseason. 

    Kenley Jansen is one of the most dominant closers of his generation, but he appears to be declining. After posting a sub-2.00 ERA in 2016 and 2017, he has an ERA above 3.00 in each of the last three years, and his walk rate has also risen steadily in that span. 

    The 33-year-old has also struggled in recent postseasons. He had a 4.50 ERA in the 2018 World Series, and he gave up two runs in 0.2 innings in Game 2 of the NLDS this year.

    Jansen is still one of the Dodgers' best late-game options, but is he worth the $20 million he's set to make next year? Friedman might try to pull off a heist by moving Jansen to another contender while pursuing Athletics closer Liam Hendriks. 

    Hendriks has been dominant over the past two years. He had a 1.78 ERA and 14 saves this season while posting a career-best 0.67 WHIP and striking out 13.1 per nine innings for the second consecutive season. 

    The 31-year-old had a rough go of things in the Wild Card Round against the Chicago White Sox, but he responded by throwing three scoreless innings and allowing only one hit to an Astros team that torched Athletics pitching throughout the series. 

    The Dodgers' future is mostly set, but they could benefit from a closer who still seems to be at his peak. Friedman should try to kill two birds with one stone by acquiring future value for Jansen while signing Hendriks.

Padres Extend Fernando Tatis Jr.

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    This might seem unlikely, but there is recent precedent for teams extending their young stars. 

    The Atlanta Braves inked Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies to long-term, team-friendly deals that have essentially secured their future. The Chicago White Sox took a similar approach by buying out both Eloy Jimenez's and Luis Robert's arbitration years. 

    The San Diego Padres will likely at least broach the idea of an extension with star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. In fact, Friars general manager A.J. Preller recently suggested as much, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune

    Tatis ranked fourth in fWAR this season, and he likely would have topped all position players if not for a September during which he hit .208 with a .714 OPS. He still finished the 2020 campaign with 17 homers, 11 steals and a .937 OPS. The 21-year-old also ranked in the 99th percentile in outs above average, per Baseball Savant, and his advanced hitting stats are equally eye-popping. 

    In addition, Tatis posted a 1.662 OPS in the Wild Card Round before struggling against a tough Dodgers pitching staff in the NLDS. 

    Tatis has already achieved full superstar status. He is one of the most exciting and marketable talents in the game, a true cornerstone any organization would be glad to build around. 

    The Padres will push hard for an extension, and Tatis might prefer to get long-term security heading into the third year of his big-league career.

               

    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, FanGraphs or Baseball Savant, unless otherwise noted.

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