Each MLB Team's Nightmare 2020-21 Offseason Scenario
Right about now, every team in Major League Baseball has a blueprint for what it would consider to be the perfect offseason.
However, there's a certain law that infamously states things can and will go wrong.
We've imagined the biggest nightmare scenario that each team in MLB might encounter this winter. In some cases, this is as simple as losing a key free agent or failing to upgrade a major need. In others, it's about trade disappointments and missed windows to conduct essential business.
We'll proceed in alphabetical order by city.
Arizona Diamondbacks: They Fail to Upgrade Their Offense
Of the many reasons that the Arizona Diamondbacks landed in last place in the National League West in 2020, none loomed larger than their offensive struggles.
The Snakes suffered dropoffs in every major category from 2019 to 2020 and ultimately saw their runs per game decrease from 5.0 to 4.5. It didn't help that they received sub-.700 OPSes from first base, second base, third base and catcher.
Though the D-backs might not want to dip into their top-10 farm system to make any blockbuster trades, the free-agent market is obviously at their disposal. However, the club's brass has also hinted at a payroll decrease for 2021 after taking a substantial financial hit in 2020.
If that causes them to miss out on offensive upgrades, they may be doomed to remain in last place.
Atlanta: Marcell Ozuna Signs Elsewhere
Atlanta effectively tied for the MLB lead in runs per game this season, and it wasn't all thanks to NL MVP Freddie Freeman.
As Mark Bowman of MLB.com pointed out, Ozuna's market might hinge on whether the designated hitter stays in the National League. He isn't much of a defender, after all.
But because Atlanta has topped out at just $75.3 million in a free-agent deal, its odds of retaining Ozuna might not be particularly good in any scenario. If he does leave, the two-time defending NL East champs will have to hope to find an elite bat elsewhere.
Baltimore Orioles: They Remain Stuck with Alex Cobb
Frankly, there isn't much at stake for the Baltimore Orioles this offseason.
Though they teased an early end to their rebuild in the first few weeks of 2020, they eventually faded and finished 10 games under .500. Said rebuild clearly needs more patience, so it might not be until next winter that they become major players on the offseason markets.
The best thing Baltimore can do in the meantime is shed some payroll. To this end, fallen slugger Chris Davis and his $23 million annual salaries aren't going anywhere. The O's might, however, have a shot at moving right-hander Alex Cobb and his $15 million salary for 2021.
But given just how many options there are among free-agent righties, "might" is absolutely the operative word in the previous sentence.
Boston Red Sox: They Fail to Upgrade Their Pitching
Following their last-place finish in the American League East, the Boston Red Sox are a candidate to make some noise on the free-agent market.
After trading Mookie Betts and David Price in February, the Red Sox set themselves up to avoid luxury-tax penalties for 2020. What's more, their 2021 payroll is projected about $40 million short of the $210 million threshold.
Boston might take this as license to shop at the top of the free-agent market, where there happen to be solutions for its holes in center field and at second base: George Springer and DJ LeMahieu, respectively.
The Red Sox's top priority, however, must be fixing a pitching staff that ranked dead last in MLB in FanGraphs WAR this season. If they neglect to do that, last place will beckon them again.
Chicago Cubs: Their Plan to Shake Things Up Goes Awry
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, the Chicago Cubs are broadcasting "a willingness to move almost any veteran."
No kidding. The Cubs' historic 2016 season was supposed to be the start of a dynasty. But the last four seasons have brought diminishing returns even though they've stuck with the same core of players.
Evidently, said core is the problem. If the Cubs can trade Kris Bryant this winter, they should. Failing that, trades of Javier Baez or Kyle Schwarber would also suffice.
Trouble is, none of the three has especially high trade value after each flopped in 2020. That could force the Cubs to either stand pat or, worse, make the mistake of trading an essential piece like Cy Young finalist Yu Darvish or fellow ace Kyle Hendricks.
Chicago White Sox: Their Hiring of Tony La Russa Continues to Unravel
The Chicago White Sox's decision to hire Tony La Russa as their new manager was controversial even at the time they made it in October.
He may be a Hall of Famer, but he's also nine years removed from his last season as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Plus, some of the opinions he's expressed don't mesh with MLB's current priorities.
Well, now it's out there that La Russa was arrested for DUI in February. For their part, the White Sox said this as part of a recent statement: "Once his case reaches resolution in the courts, we will have more to say."
The White Sox could potentially punish La Russa, or even fire him. In either case, they'll be further mired in a public relations nightmare that they might have avoided by simply retaining AL Manager of the Year finalist Rick Renteria.
Cincinnati Reds: Trevor Bauer Signs Elsewhere
With their offense in shambles, the Cincinnati Reds had to ride their starting pitching to the playoffs in 2020.
Nobody carried more weight than Trevor Bauer. In posting an NL-best 1.73 ERA with 83 more strikeouts than walks in 11 starts, the right-hander authored a resume worthy of 27 out of 30 first-place votes for the NL Cy Young Award.
Now Bauer is a free agent, and exactly what happens next for him is an endlessly fascinating question. He's deserving of a long-term megadeal in theory, but it's within the realm of possibility that he'll pursue or be made to settle for something shorter.
If so, the Reds might re-sign Bauer even though their payroll is already cluttered with large salaries. But if not, they'll have to somehow replace arguably the best pitcher of 2020.
Cleveland: It Fails to Move Francisco Lindor for MLB Talent
Yes, it's true: Cleveland is actually planning on trading All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor this winter.
This in itself is a nightmare, as it's largely because of Lindor that Cleveland has been one of the winningest teams in MLB since 2015. Per Baseball Reference, he leads all shortstops in WAR over the last six seasons.
Alas, Lindor is due to make as much as $21.5 million in his last season before free agency. For a small-market team like Cleveland, such things apparently necessitate a trade.
Since the club is not rebuilding, however, Cleveland can only justify a trade of Lindor if it brings back major league or major league-ready talent. The career-worst season that he endured in 2020 could make that an issue, in which case Cleveland might stumble into a trade that fans see as both heartbreaking and disappointing.
Colorado Rockies: They Continue to Stay the Course
After losing 91 games and finishing in fourth place in the NL West in 2019, the Colorado Rockies' solution was to do...well, nothing.
This had a predictable outcome in 2020, wherein the Rockies once again landed in fourth place. From here, the club would seem to have only two practical ways forward: go all-in on offseason additions or pivot toward a rebuilding phase.
If the Rockies go through door No. 1, there's no shortage of offensive needs they could address. If it's door No. 2, a trade of All-Star shortstop Trevor Story could be on the table.
What the Rockies actually have planned for the winter, however, remains elusive. If the result of that is another quiet offseason, more of the same would unfortunately be on tap for 2021.
Detroit Tigers: They Non-Tender Matthew Boyd
Like the Orioles, the Detroit Tigers also went on a surprising run early in the 2020 season.
It all fell apart, as the Tigers finished last in the AL Central with a 23-35 record. They just didn't have enough firepower on offense, and their starting pitching flopped even harder with an MLB-worst 5.63 ERA.
Especially jarring was what befell left-hander Matthew Boyd, who posted an ugly 6.71 ERA with an MLB-high-tying 15 home runs allowed. Now that he's due as much as $7.8 million via arbitration, there's a non-zero chance of the Tigers non-tendering him.
Though that would save the Tigers money, it would also make for an embarrassing PR situation after they neglected to trade Boyd amid a 2019 season in which he boosted his value with an elite strikeout rate.
Houston Astros: George Springer and Michael Brantley Sign Elsewhere
The Houston Astros had a difficult regular season in 2020, but they ultimately saved face by mounting a postseason run that lasted until Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
Now comes the hard part of re-signing George Springer and Michael Brantley.
Bringing back Brantley seems doable, given that the two sides are already talking and that his age (33) puts a cap on his value on the open market. But to re-sign Springer, the Astros will probably have to come running with an offer of at least $100 million.
In any event, Houston's worst-case scenario is one in which both players depart for greener pastures. Thus they would be tasked with replacing their two best hitters from 2020.
Kansas City Royals: They Fail to Upgrade Their Pitching
Bold, but perhaps not altogether misguided.
Between Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler and Salvador Perez, Kansas City's offense is built around a strong core. The club also has some up-and-coming young pitchers, including starters Brad Keller and Brady Singer and reliever Josh Staumont.
But if the Royals are going to compete in 2021, they must add more pitching depth from the offseason market. Their rotation needs extra bodies, while their bullpen needs a replacement for free-agent closer Greg Holland. Failure to address either need would point the way to continued losing.
Los Angeles Angels: They Fail to Upgrade Their Starting Pitching
The Los Angeles Angels had the right idea in signing Anthony Rendon last winter, as he and three-time AL MVP Mike Trout indeed established themselves as an elite duo in 2020.
The Angels endured another losing season, however, because their pitching wasn't up to par. In posting a 5.52 ERA that ranked ahead of only the Tigers, Los Angeles' starting rotation was especially problematic.
In theory, this is an excuse for owner Arte Moreno to once again dig into his deep pockets. No free agents should be off-limits, up to and including Southern California native Trevor Bauer.
But if this winter is anything like last winter, the Angels will instead try their luck with low-risk additions on the free-agent and trade markets. With respect to breakout star Dylan Bundy, they should know better after 2020.
Los Angeles Dodgers: They Fail to Upgrade Their Bullpen
The Los Angeles Dodgers are finally World Series champions. What's more, most of their key pieces are due back in 2021.
The biggest exception is third baseman Justin Turner, who slashed .302/.382/.503 in seven seasons with Los Angeles between 2014 and 2020.
The 35-year-old is certainly a candidate to be re-signed, or the Dodgers could hand Turner's spot to ascendant slugger Edwin Rios. That would allow them to put more focus on their bullpen, which frankly needs it.
Said pen is currently without Blake Treinen, Jake McGee and Pedro Baez, who combined for a 3.29 ERA in 2020. It also needs an heir apparent for veteran closer Kenley Jansen, whose prime is clearly behind him.
Miami Marlins: They Fail to Add Power
Between their surprise playoff run and their hiring of Kim Ng as MLB's first-ever female general manager, the Miami Marlins have already had a year for the books.
They must now dig in their heels as a player in the NL East. They have the arms for the task, but they need the bats after slugging only 60 home runs throughout the 2020 season.
Because the Marlins don't have any commitments beyond 2021, Ng could potentially get a blank check to pursue even pie-in-the-sky options like George Springer and Marcell Ozuna.
Alternatively, owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter might want to see more from the team's young core before they invest heavily in veteran reinforcements. That could result in a quiet winter, which could in turn be followed by a step back in 2021.
Milwaukee Brewers: They Neglect to Cash in Josh Hader
Even though they slipped below .500 in 2020, the Milwaukee Brewers still made the playoffs and are now in reasonably good shape for 2021.
Lorenzo Cain's return plus better results from 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura should go a long way toward boosting their offense out of the dregs. Meanwhile, a pitching staff that posted a respectable 4.16 ERA in 2020 doesn't actually need much.
If anything, Milwaukee's immediate priority should be subtracting pitching by trading All-Star closer Josh Hader.
Hader is arguably superfluous after Devin Williams announced himself as the club's future closer in a Rookie of the Year-winning season. What's more, Hader's trade value may only go down as he gets more and more expensive in three remaining seasons under club control.
Minnesota Twins: Nelson Cruz Signs Elsewhere
The chances of Nelson Cruz signing with a team other than the Minnesota Twins seem pretty much nil.
Cruz's two seasons with the Twins have seen him post a 1.020 OPS and 57 home runs. The veteran DH wants to return, and the Twins are on the same page.
"We don't feel any differently than Nellie does," president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said in October. "We see a fit for him here, and we're hopeful that can work out."
But given that the 40-year-old wants a two-year commitment, it's unsurprising that he and the Twins won't reach a new deal "any time soon," according to Dan Hayes of The Athletic. The longer the stalemate lasts, the more likely it may be that a rival team will swoop in and nab Cruz from under the Twins' nose.
New York Mets: They Neglect to Add Pitching
Now that Steve Cohen has been officially installed as the team's new owner, fans of the New York Mets have every reason to expect a wild winter.
Cohen is not only a billionaire several times over but also a lifelong Mets fan who's determined to win a World Series in the near future. All sorts of upgrades are on the table, including a possible trade for Francisco Lindor.
What the Mets need most, though, is pitching. And lots of it.
Even after Marcus Stroman accepted his qualifying offer, there's still room for improvement in the club's rotation after him and Jacob deGrom. There are also openings underneath ace closer Edwin Diaz in the bullpen. Failure to fill these needs would set the Mets up for further disappointment in 2021.
New York Yankees: DJ LeMahieu Signs Elsewhere
As the Mets look to re-establish themselves in the National League, the New York Yankees will spend the winter looking to maintain their place as a powerhouse in the American League.
This will require investing in starting pitching. The Yankees can feel plenty confident in $324 million ace Gerrit Cole, but there are multiple openings underneath him now that Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and James Paxton are free agents.
There's also, of course, DJ LeMahieu's own free agency. The Yankees surely don't want to lose him, as that would mean losing a rock who has graced them with a team-high 871 plate appearances and a .336 average over the last two seasons.
The Yankees should have the money to re-sign LeMahieu and add pitching. But if they focus too much on the latter, he might just slip away.
Oakland Athletics: Marcus Semien Signs Elsewhere
Only three teams have won more frequently than the Oakland Athletics since 2018, yet some of the key pieces of that effort are now free agents.
In particular, the A's would presumably like to bring back shortstop Marcus Semien, second baseman Tommy La Stella and closer Liam Hendriks. But because their pockets only go so deep, they might have to choose just one.
Semien ought to top the list. He's no worse than a capable everyday shortstop and, as his 2019 effort confirms, at best an MVP-caliber star. Either way, he's a rare player.
Because Semien is coming off a career-low 0.3 rWAR, the A's might have a shot at bringing him back on a team-friendly deal. But by not even making him a qualifying offer, they also made him that much more appealing to rival teams.
Philadelphia Phillies: J.T. Realmuto Signs Elsewhere
Perhaps more so than any other team, what should be the Philadelphia Phillies' top offseason priority is debatable.
There's little question that they need to fix their bullpen, which pitched to a beyond awful 7.06 ERA in 2020. Yet they also need to re-sign J.T. Realmuto, who leads all catchers in rWAR since 2017.
Ideally, the Phillies will take care of both needs this winter. But whereas there are plenty of capable relievers out there, it's not as if they could turn to a suitable Plan B at catcher if Realmuto walks.
There are other catchers (i.e. Gary Sanchez on his best days) who can hit like he does, as well as ones (i.e. Yadier Molina) who defend like he does. But as far as catchers who can do both are concerned, Realmuto stands alone.
Pittsburgh Pirates: They Fail to Cash in Joe Musgrove
The Pittsburgh Pirates occupy their own little niche this offseason in that they're really the only team that's guaranteed to start a rebuild.
That's life when a team suffers back-to-back last-place seasons, all while sitting on a farm system that lacks depth. With few exceptions, everyone on the Pirates roster figures to be available in trades.
The most valuable of the bunch is probably Joe Musgrove. In addition to being only 27 years old with two remaining years of club control, the right-hander also offers tantalizing talent. To wit, he whiffed 55 batters in only 39.2 innings in 2020.
It's possible, however, that teams will balk at Musgrove while there are so many options on the free-agent market. If that forces the Pirates to hold on to him, they'd be risking his value eroding in 2021.
San Diego Padres: They Fail to Lock Up Fernando Tatis Jr.
The San Diego Padres are fresh off ending a 14-year postseason drought, and they definitely look situated for further playoff berths in years to come.
The Padres arguably need a closer after losing Kirby Yates and Trevor Rosenthal to free agency, but they could just as easily turn to an incumbent like Drew Pomeranz. Likewise, Mike Clevinger's Tommy John surgery should lead to an opportunity for a top prospect like MacKenzie Gore or Luis Patino.
This offseason should therefore be centered around extending Fernando Tatis Jr.
At the least, the Padres must make progress on that front. Because while interest in an extension may be mutual now, Tatis—who boasts a .956 OPS, 39 home runs and 27 stolen bases in 143 games—might start looking ahead to the open market as his date with free agency after 2024 gets closer.
San Francisco Giants: They Fail to Upgrade Their Pitching
Elsewhere in the NL West, this might be the winter that the San Francisco Giants reassert themselves.
Despite numerous flaws, the Giants have nonetheless flirted with the .500 mark in each of the last two seasons. Now the Joey Bart era is upon them, and they might see their upcoming post-2021 payroll relief as an excuse to spend now.
If the Giants do spend, it should be on pitching. Because even after retaining right-hander Kevin Gausman, both their rotation and their bullpen are lacking top-tier talent and depth.
If the Giants cut corners as part of their effort, they'll once again be tasking their roster with beating the odds. In this case, the third time might not be the charm.
Seattle Mariners: They Fail to Upgrade Their Bullpen
Though the Seattle Mariners are another team on the verge of exiting a rebuild, they might not have to spend big to make it happen.
They've already graduated an exciting young core of players from their farm system, and the best is yet to come. Next season should bring about the arrival of 21-year-old outfielder Jarred Kelenic, who has MVP upside by way of his scintillating tools.
Still, this is not to suggest the Mariners should let the winter pass without any new additions. They specifically need some in their bullpen, which had a 5.92 ERA and MLB's highest walk rate in 2020.
With plentiful options even just on the right-handed side of the aisle, the Mariners don't have an excuse to not make a move.
St. Louis Cardinals: They Fail to Add Power
Sans Yadier Molina, Kolten Wong and Adam Wainwright, the St. Louis Cardinals have sizable holes at catcher, second base and in their starting rotation.
They should be more worried, however, about the general lack of power in their lineup. They were a weak offensive team in 2019, and they got even weaker in the process of hitting an MLB-low 51 home runs in 2020.
The catch is that the Cardinals don't have a great deal of financial flexibility. Their 2021 payroll is already loaded with eight-figure salaries, too many of which belong to past-their-prime players.
Even still, the Cardinals must make more of an effort to add oomph to their offense than they did last winter—in which they basically made no effort at all even after losing Marcell Ozuna to free agency.
Tampa Bay Rays: They Cut Payroll
Even if the Tampa Bay Rays didn't beat the Dodgers in the World Series, that the matchup even came to fruition was a testament to the former's resourcefulness.
Whereas the Dodgers entered 2020 with the league's second-highest payroll, the Rays were third from the bottom. They nonetheless won an AL-best 40 games and made it to the Fall Classic for the first time since 2008.
Yet hardship is upon the Rays this winter. They've already declined options for ace Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino. Per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the club's finances might also necessitate non-tenders and even trades of ace Blake Snell and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.
No matter how resourceful they may be, this much turmoil would be bound to have consequences for the Rays.
Texas Rangers: They Fail to Cash in Lance Lynn
The Texas Rangers might not veer as far into rebuilding territory as, say, the Pirates. But at the least, they figure to carry out a retooling effort this winter.
They don't have much choice, as they're coming off an AL-worst 22-38 record and saddled with an unspectacular farm system. Luckily for them, they have one shiny trade chip in the person of Lance Lynn.
The ace right-hander has posted a 3.57 ERA in two seasons with Texas and over an MLB-high 292.1 innings. For a pitcher like that, a $9.3 million salary for 2021 constitutes a huge bargain.
However, the Rangers couldn't even find a suitable deal for Lynn ahead of the Aug. 31 trade deadline. With Trevor Bauer and numerous others crowding the free-agent market, it could be the same ol' story this winter.
Toronto Blue Jays: They Fail to Upgrade Their Defense
The Toronto Blue Jays are a team to watch this winter.
Many liked them as a sleeper playoff team going into 2020, and they ultimately obliged with a 32-28 record. That had much to do with their young offense living up to its billing, particularly in the team's final 47 games.
At first glance, what Toronto needs now is pitching depth. Its rotation requires at least one more reliable innings-eater under Cy Young Award finalist Hyun-Jin Ryu, while its bullpen needs a closer to fill Ken Giles' vacated shoes.
Yet it's really the Blue Jays' defense that needs upgrading the most. Because if it doesn't improve on last year's AL-worst minus-17 outs above average, whatever new arms they add can only be so effective.
Washington Nationals: They Fail to Add a Middle-of-the-Order Hitter
After winning the World Series in 2019, the Washington Nationals never really found their footing in 2020.
It didn't help that ace Stephen Strasburg pitched only five innings because of a hand injury. Nor did it help that fellow ace Patrick Corbin largely struggled to the tune of a 4.66 ERA.
What hurt most of all, however, was the absence of Anthony Rendon in the heart of the club's batting order. Juan Soto obviously did more than a fine job of filling Rendon's shoes in the No. 3 slot, but the tradeoff for that involved inconsistent production out of the No. 2 and cleanup slots.
That was a symptom of Washington trying to replace Rendon in the aggregate through low-risk maneuvers during the 2019-20 offseason. It shouldn't make the same mistake again.