Chicago White Sox and the 7 MLB Teams Best Positioned to Win 2020 Offseason
General managers across baseball headed into the 2020 winter meetings Monday with varying goals.
Some teams are looking to capitalize on payroll flexibility and a desire to spend in an otherwise uncertain financial landscape. Others could be motivated to dangle stars as a cost-cutting measure or way of acquiring prospect talent.
But, generally speaking, the bottom line remains the same: Improve the ball club. Whether making roster moves to contend now or down the road, every front office wants to wrap up the offseason knowing it did what was necessary to ensure growth.
Still, there are those teams that tend to be bold and hit out with a number of moves. The Chicago White Sox were one of those "buyer" types during the 2019-20 offseason.
Chicago signed arguably the top catcher on the market in Yasmani Grandal and also veteran left-handed starter Dallas Keuchel and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion.
While the White Sox did not cash in on every move, Keuchel was a boon in the rotation, and Grandal provided steadiness behind the plate and some offense. Moreover, Chicago's willingness to spend reflected a desire to make larger strides toward contention.
The White Sox are once again set up to have a strong offseason, as are seven other teams looking to make big pushes in 2021. These clubs were chosen based on potential activity on the free-agent market as well as the ability and willingness to trade for impact players.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have every incentive to think big.
Chicago made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008, as young players such as Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert excelled while veteran first baseman Jose Abreu captured the American League MVP Award.
The South Siders also feature promising arms in the rotation, with Dallas Keuchel following ace Lucas Giolito and youngsters such as Michael Kopech—returning from Tommy John surgery—and Dylan Cease hoping to make a bigger impact.
Additionally, the White Sox struck the biggest deal of the proceedings on Monday by acquiring Lance Lynn from the Texas Rangers, per ESPN's Jeff Passan.
Lynn gives Chicago a legitimate anchor. He led baseball in innings pitched in 2020 and ranks fifth among starting pitchers in FanGraphs WAR since 2019. The White Sox had to give up promising youngster Dane Dunning in the deal, but it's worth it for a guy who will cost just $8 million in 2021, especially if the two sides can reach an extension.
Chicago still has a clear hole. The White Sox need a full-time right fielder after their Nomar Mazara acquisition proved to be a failure. It is possible a big name such as George Springer, Marcell Ozuna or Michael Brantley will sign on, though general manager Rick Hahn could also look for a cheaper option to platoon with Adam Engel.
Even after acquiring Lynn, the White Sox could follow a similar model to last season—when they signed left-hander Gio Gonzalez—in terms of adding a veteran starter to round out the rotation. If Hahn opts for cheaper, short-term deals, that could make room for some bullpen spending.
Chicago might not feel a pressing need to replace closer Alex Colome considering the development of Garrett Crochet, Matt Foster and Codi Heuer. Left-hander Aaron Bummer will also be in the fold after an injury-marred 2020.
That said, the White Sox could use an upgrade over Jimmy Cordero in the middle innings, plus Steve Cishek (who struggled last year with a 5.40 ERA) is a free agent.
In any case, the move for Lynn helps to solidify the rotation and gives Chicago's staff far more assuredness going forward. Plus, his cost-efficient contract will allow Hahn to plug other holes, as needed.
New York Mets
The New York Mets might very well be the story of the offseason, and for good reason: Baseball has arguably never had an owner like Steve Cohen before.
For starters, Cohen's net worth is more than three times that of Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner—the second-richest owner in baseball—per Kendall Baker of Axios. Secondly, Cohen has been incredibly active on Twitter, often asking fans for input.
Cohen came in with a plan, bringing back Sandy Alderson to lead the baseball operations department and cleaning house by firing former general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and the rest of the old regime. He also said it would be a disappointment if the team did not win a World Series within three to five years and that the Mets would act like a big-market club, per ESPN's Jeff Passan.
Needless to say, the baseball world expects New York to be active.
The Mets began the process of improving the club by signing reliever Trevor May to a two-year deal. Andy Martino of SNY reported they are after George Springer and have engaged catcher James McCann in talks.
McCann would be a cheaper upgrade behind the dish than J.T. Realmuto, which might give the Mets the flexibility to go after Springer or Trevor Bauer (or both?). Of course, New York could go after multiple top-tier free agents.
The Mets' estimated 2021 payroll is $143 million, but Cohen might be willing to green light spending close to the $210 million luxury-tax threshold—especially if it means the Mets could nab two top free agents.
Aside from Cohen's pumping money into the baseball operations budget, the Mets are fortunate to have lots of talent—including Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez and Ronny Mauricio—at the premium position of shortstop. New York could look to package one or more of those players in a deal for a controllable starter such as Sonny Gray or even Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Toronto Blue Jays
Though the Mets have generated a lot of buzz, the Toronto Blue Jays are constantly popping up in relation to the top stars available.
Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported the Blue Jays have interest in George Springer and Marcell Ozuna, and he previously reported Toronto is interested in second basemen DJ LeMahieu and Kolten Wong. Additionally, Robert Murray of FanSided reported the Blue Jays are speaking with the Philadelphia Phillies regarding infielder Jean Segura.
That is all before we get to the Toronto starting rotation, which could use some upgrades.
It might not be a surprise that the Blue Jays are scouring the market. Toronto signed Robbie Ray to a one-year, $8 million deal early on, and general manager Ross Atkins has talked about having an "opportunity" to strike gold, per Kaitlyn McGrath of The Athletic.
There's also the fact that Cleveland could partner with Toronto on a deal for Francisco Lindor.
Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer reported the Indians have interest in building a trade around Blue Jays left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who hit .308 with 11 homers and an .882 OPS in 2020. Toronto also has the fourth-best farm in baseball, per Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter, and has any number of assets Cleveland could desire in addition to Gurriel.
The Blue Jays seem motivated to make a splash, in one way or another. If they can land a top star (or two) and supplement the rotation with dependable arms, they could be scary.
But the latter point is imperative. Toronto will hope Ray sorts out his command issues and will also give Nate Pearson another spin. However, Atkins needs to sign more arms to round out the rotation. Morosi reported the Jays were interested in J.A. Happ, and ESPN's Buster Olney reported they were intrigued by Jake Odorizzi.
Atkins is exploring different avenues. So long as the Blue Jays don't overextend themselves, it could be a fruitful offseason.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers are in position to win the offseason partly because they are the defending champions and will return most of their core pieces. But L.A. also benefits from Andrew Friedman's savvy.
Consider the fact the Dodgers gambled on Blake Treinen after a down year in 2019, and he responded by posting a 3.86 ERA and 3.15 FIP.
Well, Los Angeles is hoping Corey Knebel is another bounce-back candidate after acquiring him from the Milwaukee Brewers. Knebel had a 6.08 ERA after missing the 2019 season because of Tommy John surgery, but he was an All-Star in 2017 and had another good year in 2018. Perhaps he will regain that form given how Treinen and others such as Jake McGee rebuilt their values with Los Angeles.
The Dodgers, however, do not have the same kind of payroll flexibility as other teams. Their estimated 2021 payroll is $191 million. Yet even if that means Friedman resorts to signing internal free agents such as Justin Turner, the team will still be the best in baseball until another club proves otherwise.
Los Angeles will have to add more bullpen arms in addition to Knebel. Treinen, McGee and Pedro Baez are free agents, and the Dodgers could use a late-game arm with Kenley Jansen in a contract year and showing signs of decline. But L.A. is more than capable of making strong offers to Brad Hand or Liam Hendriks, in the event it chooses to go after a top reliever.
The Dodgers also have a strong farm system, and Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com reported L.A. still has some interest in acquiring Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. That is not to say a deal is even likely, but it is indicative of Friedman's mentality to constantly think of improving the club's present and future.
San Diego Padres
Though the Dodgers continue to be the toast of the National League West, the San Diego Padres are coming on in a hurry.
San Diego found potential gems in Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth, and veterans such as Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer finally put together strong offensive seasons after years of frustration in Padres uniforms. Not to mention, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado might be the best left side of the infield in the game.
General manager A.J. Preller first signaled his intent to speed up the club's timeline when he signed Machado. Acquiring Grisham, Cronenworth and Tommy Pham proved to be the next step, and multiple deadline-day moves made it clear the Friars are trying to win now.
Losing Mike Clevinger to Tommy John surgery was a tough blow, and Garrett Richards is a free agent. But Preller could have big plans for the rotation. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported the Padres told Trevor Bauer's representation to keep them adrift of his market and that the team has also discussed trading for Blake Snell.
Making a play for Bauer or Snell would give San Diego a tremendous one-two alongside Dinelson Lamet, with the knowledge Clevinger will also return to the fold. Plus, the Padres have up-and-comers Luis Patino and MacKenzie Gore in their system—which Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked seventh in baseball—though they could be forced to part with one of them in a deal for Snell.
Alternatively, the Padres could explore a different market. Dennis Lin of The Athletic reported San Diego has interest in Nippon Professional Baseball right-handers Tomoyuki Sugano and Kohei Arihara.
Either way, the Padres can take on more salary. San Diego's estimated 2021 payroll is $131 million, and it is pretty well set with position players.
Preller can pour funds into adding an impact starter while addressing the bullpen, which needs revamping after last season's late-game struggles.
Free agent Kirby Yates missed most of 2020 but was one of the better relievers in the game in 2018 and 2019. Trevor Rosenthal is also a free agent after the Friars acquired him at the deadline, and Emilio Pagan blew five of his seven save opportunities last year.
Drew Pomeranz had a tremendous year (1.45 ERA), but the Padres might prefer him in a setup role. Matt Strahm is best suited to the middle innings.
San Diego could very well look to re-sign Rosenthal after the right-hander held opponents without an earned run in 10 innings. Regardless, it is likely Preller will use free agency to shore up the bullpen.
The Padres can also continue to pluck from their system to improve the club, though San Diego might choose to exhibit some caution after having traded multiple young assets at the deadline.
The Minnesota Twins traditionally have not acted like a big-market club, but the signing of Josh Donaldson to a four-year, $92 million deal last offseason might have changed that.
Minnesota has plenty of financial flexibility, with an estimated 2021 payroll of $92 million.
This is not to guarantee the Twins will spend more. They non-tendered Eddie Rosario as a cost-cutting measure. But Minnesota also has a number of key free agents on the market, such as Nelson Cruz, Jake Odorizzi and Tyler Clippard—and it already lost Trevor May. Those factors seem to suggest the Twins will need to be aggressive.
Minnesota will try to re-sign Cruz. La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported the Twins made a one-year offer to Cruz in October but that the veteran slugger would like a multiyear contract. It also makes sense for Cruz to see how the market develops and if MLB reaches a resolution on the universal designated hitter. Still, the Twins are making strides to pursue a reunion.
The bullpen will need addressing. Chief baseball officer Derek Falvey might try to bring back Clippard on a short-term deal, and Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News reported the team has interest in Joakim Soria. In any event, there are plenty of relief arms out there, and Wolfson noted the team plans to "cast a wide net."
How will the Twins fill out their rotation if they lose Odorizzi in addition to Rich Hill and Homer Bailey? They could choose to go with a cheaper veteran arm. Or, given Falvey's successful acquisition of the cost-efficient Kenta Maeda, the Twins could look to mobilize their farm system—ranked 11th in baseball by Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter—in an effort to acquire someone such as Sonny Gray.
Minnesota has some work to do. But the Twins also have payroll to work with and a host of farm assets they could explore moving for an impact arm.
The Atlanta Braves have already made quite a statement in free agency.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos has shown in past years he is hardly afraid to dole out one-year contracts with big money attached, and he did so once again by signing Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton for a combined $26 million.
They gave Atlanta much-needed rotation depth, with Morton in particular looming large. The 37-year-old might have had a 4.74 ERA during the regular season last year, but he was dominant in the postseason until a forgettable World Series outing and ranked 11th in fWAR among starters from 2017 to 2019, per FanGraphs.
The Braves can now run out Morton, Max Fried, the returning Mike Soroka and Ian Anderson along with any combination of Smyly, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson.
It's worth watching how Soroka rebounds from the Achilles injury he suffered in early August. The Braves have yet to announce a timetable for his return, though the 23-year-old said late that month he hoped to be "pushing the envelope" in terms of his rehab, per Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
Even if Soroka regresses, Atlanta still has more depth with Morton and Smyly. If he returns to form, the Braves could have one of the best rotations in baseball.
So, what next? Atlanta will attempt to re-sign Marcell Ozuna, though Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported last month "no less than 10 teams" are interested in the slugger. It might also look for a steadier presence at the hot corner after Austin Riley posted an 86 OPS+ for the second straight season. Additionally, the Braves will need to make bullpen moves with Mark Melancon and Shane Greene on the open market.
Ozuna would likely cost a pretty penny. But Atlanta can make modest moves in other areas, one of which might be re-signing the veteran Melancon. It could also seek outfield depth by looking at someone such as Brian Goodwin or Josh Reddick.
Regardless, the Braves have a strong foundation and decent cash flow. Atlanta's estimated 2021 payroll is $120 million, which is $38 million below last year's mark.
Anthopoulos has been hesitant to part ways with prospect talent, but the Braves also have premium outfielders in Cristian Pache and Drew Waters as well as backstop William Contreras and any number of arms they could move from the farm system Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked fifth overall.
Atlanta has already been active and will hope to round out the club in an effort to get over the hump in 2021.
Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels might not seem to belong with the rest of the teams on this list.
But there is something to be said for a club that has signed multiple top free agents (Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon) in recent years and needs to make a playoff push. Plus, Angels general manager Perry Minasian has already gotten started.
Minasian filled a hole at shortstop by acquiring Jose Iglesias, who is coming off the best offensive season of his career. The Angels then began a bullpen makeover Monday by acquiring closer Raisel Iglesias from the Cincinnati Reds. Los Angeles is also showing interest in signing catcher James McCann, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
And, as ESPN's Buster Olney noted, Angels owner Arte Moreno has said the team will not reduce payroll. That is critical, especially considering many teams have been looking for ways to cut costs.
Los Angeles' estimated 2021 payroll is $164 million, leaving room for any number of possible additions. That does not even take into account the fact Albert Pujols' contract will finally come off the books next offseason, and Justin Upton will become a free agent in 2023.
The Angels still need plenty of pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen. But the lineup has some pop and could even be prolific with better seasons from Ohtani and Upton.
It would not be a surprise to see Minasian make a flurry of moves to address the staff and possibly also add a veteran outfield bat to the mix.