Predicting MLB's Biggest Offseason Headlines
The 2020-21 MLB offseason will feature an array of newsworthy events. Free agents will sign. Trades will be consummated. The league will deal with the prevailing uncertainty of the day.
With all that said, let's grab our crystal ball and prognosticate a half-dozen baseball-related headlines based on credible rumors and a dose of informed speculation.
Will we be correct in every case? No. Will unpredictable headlines slip out of the ether? Of course.
But at the very least, it'll help get us through the long, frigid winter.
Things Keep Getting Uglier for the Astros and MLB
The Houston Astros thumbed their noses at the haters in 2020 and came within one victory of a World Series appearance.
They could lose star center fielder George Springer to free agency. They've already lost ace Justin Verlander to Tommy John surgery.
They still have talent on the roster, including shortstop Carlos Correa, who exploded in history-making fashion in the postseason. They could make noise in the relatively weak American League West, warts and all.
But these are the 'Stros, and they just can't seem to avoid controversy.
A lawsuit filed by former general manager Jeff Luhnow says that owner Jim Crane and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred worked out a mutually beneficial deal that made Luhnow "the scapegoat for the organization" in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that cost Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch their jobs.
According to a portion of the suit quoted by Bill Shaikin the Los Angeles Times:
"The commissioner allowed the Astros to keep their 2017 World Series championship, imposed a $5 million fine (a fraction of the revenues Crane had reaped as part of the team's recent success), and took away four draft picks. He also issued a blanket vindication of Crane, absolving him of any responsibility for failing to supervise his club.
"Moreover, Crane and the Astros were assured of fielding a contending team in 2020—the team advanced to the American League Championship Series for the fourth straight year—because the commissioner did not suspend or penalize any of the players who were directly involved in the scandal."
Look for this evolving story to put more egg on the Astros' and Manfred's faces and ensure that Houston's heel turn doesn't end anytime soon.
Mets Fail to Sign J.T. Realmuto Away from Phillies
The New York Mets have said goodbye to the Wilpons and hello to Steve Cohen. As the richest owner in baseball, Cohen has the requisite deep pockets to shake things up.
That could begin with signing J.T. Realmuto. One of the biggest prizes on the market, Realmuto is a strong offensive and defensive catcher entering his age-30 season. New York had issues at the position in 2020. It adds up.
But, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, Realmuto "would like to remain in Philadelphia and is not particularly keen on playing in New York."
The Phils have whiffed on the playoffs in each of their first two seasons since signing Bryce Harper to a megadeal. Realmuto and Harper are good buddies.
This feels like a moment for Philadelphia to bust out the checkbook, both to keep a well-liked star in town and keep him away from a division rival.
Cohen and his cash, meanwhile, may have to turn elsewhere.
Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole Mend Fences, Join Forces on Yankees
The New York Yankees Yankees will need another pitcher even if they re-sign right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Other than ace Gerrit Cole, their starting corps is suspect.
Right-hander Trevor Bauer is the offseason's top available arm, but he has a troubled relationship with Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. The two were teammates at UCLA and apparently butted heads.
"We had a rocky relationship in college, because he told me that I had no future in baseball and he insulted my work ethic as a freshman," Bauer told reporters in 2018. "I don't take kindly to those couple things, so we had our issues. And I have, I don't know, those feelings have long since faded."
That last bit is important. Bygones can be bygones. And a Cole-Bauer tandem would give the Yankees one of the most potent top-of-the-rotation attacks in baseball.
Bauer has stated his desire to only sign one-year contracts and play for contenders. The Yankees fit the contender bill and could afford to cut Bauer a cartoonish one-year check.
As for having no future in baseball? After pacing the National League with a 1.73 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds, it sure seems he's settled that question.
MLB Slides Toward Labor Unrest
Major League Baseball hasn't endured a labor stoppage since 1994. That remarkable run could shortly come to an end.
The 2020 campaign featured a 60-game schedule and fanless regular-season games. Every franchise is grappling with financial uncertainty and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The collective bargaining agreement will expire after the '21 slate. Given all the variables, it seems possible if not probable that relations between players and owners could curdle into a stalemate.
"There's just a lot of unknowns," players union executive director Tony Clark told reporters. "You anticipate there being an opportunity to work through them. Our players look forward to that conversation happening."
That's not hopeless. You'd like to think both sides will remember the harsh lessons of '94.
But none of this sounds resoundingly positive either.
Dodgers Acquire Francisco Lindor, Pair Him with Mookie Betts for the Long Haul
The Los Angeles Dodgers won their first title since 1988. They're set to return much of their core and are better positioned to repeat than any club in recent memory.
Yet with third baseman Justin Turner ticketed for free agency and young second baseman Gavin Lux perhaps not ready for everyday duties, the Dodgers could use help in the infield.
So let's rekindle the rumors that tied Los Angeles to Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor.
The four-time All-Star is a generational talent at a premium position. He'll be a free agent after the 2021 campaign. But the Dodgers proved they can acquire a contract-year superstar and ink him to an extension with their deal for Mookie Betts and a subsequent 12-year, $365 million extension.
Pairing Betts and Lindor—each five-tool talents and easily on the correct side of 30—could establish Los Angeles as a bona fide dynasty. Surrendering a package centered around Lux or catcher Keibert Ruiz and flexing the payroll to keep Lindor in SoCal ought to be a no-brainer.
Chicago Cubs Trade Kris Bryant to Atlanta
The Chicago Cubs don't have to trade any members of their 2016 title core this winter. But Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber are all heading into their final years of arbitration. They'll cost in excess of $35 million combined, according to MLB Trade Rumors' projections.
Bryant hit just .206 in 34 games in 2020 while battling a finger injury but should get somewhere in the vicinity of the $18.6 million he was set to earn before the season was shortened.
That's a lot of coin for a guy coming off a down year, especially given the uncertainty of the current market. But Bryant won't turn 29 until Jan. 4 and ranked ninth in the game with 21.7 fWAR between 2016 (his NL MVP season) and 2019, according to FanGraphs.
He is, in short, one of the most talented and potentially impactful players in the game when he's right and could shift the balance of power wherever he goes.
Atlanta has been linked to Bryant before and could slide him into a potent lineup that features stars such as Ronald Acuna Jr. and National League MVP finalist Freddie Freeman.
The three-time defending NL East champs could swing this swap without decimating a deep farm system and could try to lock up Bryant long-term before he reaches the open market, or make a deep run with him as a rental.
Either way, this has win-win potential—even if it would pain many on the North Side to see Bryant go.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.