How 2020 MLB Postseason Results Will Impact Offseason Decisions
The MLB postseason provides a definitive answer to who the best team was in a given season. It also has a way of raising more than a few question marks along the way.
What are the Los Angeles Dodgers going to do with Kenley Jansen?
Do the Atlanta Braves really need to splurge on a frontline starting pitcher this winter after Ian Anderson's coming-out party in the playoffs?
Will Kevin Cash's approach to handling a starting rotation impact Tampa Bay's ability to find a replacement for Charlie Morton?
Ahead we took an in-depth look at seven different takeaways from the 2020 postseason that could have a direct impact on the upcoming offseason.
Framber Valdez Is the Future Ace of the Houston Astros Rotation
With Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley gone in free agency and Justin Verlander sidelined, the Houston Astros were forced to dip into their starting pitching depth in 2020.
As a result, it appears they found two long-term rotation pieces:
- Framber Valdez: 10 GS, 5-3, 3.57 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 76 K, 70.2 IP
- Cristian Javier: 10 GS, 5-2, 3.48 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 54 K, 54.1 IP
However, Valdez looks like the real deal.
That ability to keep the ball on the ground, coupled with a 9.7 K/9 strikeout rate, gives him a chance to emerge as one of baseball's elite starters in the years to come.
The 26-year-old made three starts and one five-inning relief appearance in the postseason, posting a 1.88 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 26 strikeouts in 24 innings to further solidify his long-term place.
With Verlander and Zack Greinke both a year removed from free agency, a frontline starter looked like an obvious item on Houston's offseason shopping list.
Following a brilliant postseason from Valdez to back up his stellar regular season, that may no longer be a top priority.
Cristian Pache Is Ready for the Big Leagues
Outfielder Cristian Pache is a rising star who checked in at No. 10 on the Baseball America Top 100 prospect list at the end of the 2020 regular season.
He was a surprise addition to the Atlanta Braves' postseason roster, considering he had just two MLB games under his belt, and he saw limited action as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement in the NLWC and NLDS before an injury to Adam Duvall forced him into the starting lineup.
The 21-year-old collected a hit in four of the seven LCS games. He doubled in Game 2, homered in Game 3, drove in four runs in the series out of the No. 9 spot in the batting order, and showed the stellar defensive skills that have been his calling card throughout his time in the minors.
"I'm really happy for him," manager Brian Snitker told reporters after Game 3. "He's had some good at-bats since we put him in there, and that's great. This is a great training ground for him and a great experience. He's handled himself really, really well."
Simply put, he looked ready.
Ronald Acuna Jr. will fill one spot in the Atlanta outfield for the foreseeable future, and a healthy Duvall is the likely starter in left field after a 16-homer season. Marcell Ozuna and Nick Markakis are both free agents, while Ender Inciarte fits best as a fourth outfielder at this point in his career, leaving a starting spot in the Atlanta outfield ripe for the taking.
Aside from being widely regarded as the best defensive outfielder in the minors, Pache also showed intriguing offensive potential when he hit .277/.340/.462 with 36 doubles, nine triples and 12 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019.
Addressing that third outfield spot looked like it would be part of the offseason to-do list when the playoffs began, but Pache now appears to have an inside track.
Masahiro Tanaka Is No Longer a Frontline Starter
Despite being without Luis Severino and Domingo German, the New York Yankees opted against adding a starting pitcher at the trade deadline.
The assumption was they would be able to lean heavily on Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka during the postseason, and the other spots in the rotation could be pieced together with some combination of J.A. Happ, Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia and the bullpen.
Cole held up his end of the bargain, going 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 18.1 innings in his three playoff starts.
However, the postseason magic Tanaka has shown in the past was absent.
The 31-year-old was touched up for five hits, three walks and six earned runs in four innings in the Wild Card Series, and then he surrendered eight hits and five earned runs in another four-inning outing in the ALDS.
It was a stark October downturn for a pitcher who entered 2020 with a 1.76 ERA in 46 innings spanning eight playoff starts.
Tanaka still pitched well during the regular season, going 3-3 with a 3.56 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 10 starts, and it would make sense for the Yankees to pursue a reunion in free agency now that he's played out his seven-year, $155 million contract.
They can no longer expect him to be the No. 2 starter on the staff if they're serious about making a World Series push, though, and that could impact how they approach this offseason.
Corey Seager Deserves a Massive Extension
Corey Seager burst onto the scene as a September call-up in 2015 and then hit .308/.365/.512 with 40 doubles, 26 home runs and 72 RBI in a 5.2-WAR season to win NL Rookie of the Year honors and finish third in NL MVP voting.
His numbers dipped slightly across the board in his second full season, and then he missed the bulk of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He returned with a 113 OPS+ and an NL-high 44 doubles in a 3.3-WAR season last year, but he had not quite reached the level of superstardom he seemed destined for as a rookie.
That changed in 2020.
The 26-year-old hit .307/.358/.585 for a career-high 152 OPS+ during the regular season, tallying 12 doubles, 15 home runs and 41 RBI in 52 games.
That was followed by a brilliant postseason that saw him win NLCS and World Series MVP while hitting .328/.425/.746 with four doubles, eight home runs and 20 RBI in 80 plate appearances.
With no reported extension talks, it looked at least possible that the Dodgers would start top prospect Gavin Lux out at second base before sliding him over to his natural position of shortstop when Seager hit free agency after the 2021 season.
Now it looks like a no-brainer that the Dodgers should do everything in their power to keep Seager from becoming part of that loaded free-agent class that includes fellow shortstops Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story and Carlos Correa.
After several years on the fringe of superstardom, Seager has finally arrived as one of the sport's premier players.
The Tampa Bay Rays' Analytical Approach Could Impact Free Agency
The Tampa Bay Rays have leaned heavily on the success of their starting pitching over the years, and the 2020 season was no different.
The rotation finished seventh in the majors with a 3.77 ERA behind an excellent foursome fronting the staff:
- Blake Snell: 11 GS, 4-2, 3.24 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 63 K, 50.0 IP
- Tyler Glasnow: 11 GS, 5-1, 4.08 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 91 K, 57.1 IP
- Charlie Morton: 9 GS, 2-2, 4.74 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 42 K, 38.0 IP
- Ryan Yarbrough: 9 GS, 1-4, 3.56 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 44 K, 55.2 IP
However, those top four starters were only allowed to complete six full innings eight times in 40 starts.
Manager Kevin Cash pulled Snell after 5.1 innings in Game 6 of the World Series when he was throwing a gem, and the young left-hander was not shy about expressing his frustration.
"I am definitely disappointed and upset," Snell told reporters. "I just want the ball. I felt good. I did everything I could to prove my case to stay out there, and then for us to lose, it sucks. I want to win, and I want to win the World Series, and for us to lose, it just sucks."
The Rays have indicated they will decline their 2021 option on Morton, who may well be headed for retirement, leaving a spot in the rotation to be filled this winter.
With Morton's $15 million salary coming off the books, the Rays could make a play for another veteran starter, but the team's quick-hook philosophy could be a limiting factor in who they are able to attract.
If they are unable to bring in a quality free agent, it could fall to Josh Fleming, Trevor Richards, Shane McClanahan or Brendan McKay to pick up the slack.
The Los Angeles Dodgers Need to Sort Out the Closer's Role
Things began trending in the wrong direction for Kenley Jansen long before the 2020 postseason.
Here's a look at his elite six-year run as one of the best closers in baseball compared to how he's fared the past three seasons:
- 2012-17: 89.8 SV%, 2.07 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 13.7 K/9, .176 BAA
- 2018-20: 85.4 SV%, 3.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, .207 BAA
After an ugly outing in Game 2 of the NLDS where he allowed three hits and two earned runs before Joe Kelly came on and nailed down the save, manager Dave Roberts lost faith.
Blake Treinen pitched the ninth inning of a 1-1 tie in Game 1 of the NLCS, and after Jansen picked up the save in Game 6, it was Julio Urias on the mound for the final three innings of the decisive Game 7 against Atlanta.
When Jansen blew up again in Game 4 of the World Series, eventually allowing a walk-off single to Brett Phillips, Treinen earned the save in Game 5, and it was Urias once again who slammed the door to secure a title in Game 6.
So what now?
Treinen is a free agent, and Urias will likely return to his place in the starting rotation, meaning the Dodgers will either need to trust Jansen once again or look elsewhere for a closer.
The 33-year-old is set to earn a staggering $20 million in the final season of a five-year, $80 million contract, so he'll be part of the bullpen one way or another.
The Atlanta Braves Don't Need to Splurge on a Starter
At the start of the offseason, it looked like a lack of proven starting pitching behind emerging ace Max Fried would be the Atlanta Braves' undoing.
Instead, Atlanta starters posted a 2.79 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while holding opponents to a .207 batting average in 12 postseason games.
Ian Anderson stepped into the No. 2 starter role with just six big league starts under his belt and dominated with a 0.96 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 18.2 innings over four starts, Kyle Wright tossed six shutout innings in his NLDS start before running into trouble in the NLCS, and Bryse Wilson allowed just one hit in six innings of work when called upon to be the fourth starter.
Cole Hamels was signed to a one-year, $18 million contract in an effort to add a veteran presence to the rotation last offseason, and he wound up making one start in a Braves uniform.
It looked like a similar splurge would be a necessity for much of the 2020 season as the staff battled injuries and inconsistency, but that may no longer be the case.
Assuming Mike Soroka returns at some point during the first half from a torn Achilles, the rotation could look as follows by the All-Star break:
- LHP Max Fried
- RHP Mike Soroka
- RHP Ian Anderson
- RHP Kyle Wright
- RHP Bryse Wilson
It's a young staff but more than capable of being a strength if everyone pitches up to their potential, and things look far different now than they did in late August.