The Most Important Question Every MLB Team Must Answer This Offseason
With 15 teams already mathematically eliminated from the 2021 MLB postseason and five more poised to join that group in the coming days, many baseball fans have already turned their attention to the upcoming offseason.
From legitimate World Series contenders all the way down to last-place cellar-dwellers, every team has at least one pressing question that will need to be answered this winter.
Ahead we've taken a division-by-division look at what that question might look like for all 30 MLB clubs, covering everything from pending free agents to roster holes to in-house talent assessment and everything in between.
Baltimore Orioles: Will Adley Rutschman be on the Opening Day roster?
The Orioles are still a year or two away from making a splash in free agency while they continue to wait on the young talent to develop. Catcher Adley Rutschman headlines the farm system, and after hitting .286/.399/.513 with 25 doubles, 23 home runs and 75 RBI in 118 games between Double-A and Triple-A, he's on the doorstep. If the new CBA disincentivizes service time manipulation, the O's will have a big decision to make with him in the spring.
Boston Red Sox: Who joins Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi in the 2022 rotation?
A healthy Chris Sale and 2021 All-Star Nathan Eovaldi are locks to be part of Boston's rotation next year, but the other three spots will be up for grabs. Nick Pivetta is controllable through 2024, and he's joined by Tanner Houck, Connor Seabold and Kutter Crawford as in-house options who have seen MLB action this year. Will they try to land a frontline arm or target lower-tier guys as they did with Martin Perez and Garrett Richards?
New York Yankees: Who plays shortstop in 2022?
Gleyber Torres shifted back to second base earlier this month after another season of brutal defensive metrics (-11 DRS) at shortstop, seemingly pulling the plug on his time at the position. While third baseman Gio Urshela has stepped in as a short-term replacement, expect the Yankees to be major players in this offseason's deep shortstop market.
Tampa Bay Rays: Who will anchor the starting rotation?
With Charlie Morton and Blake Snell now playing elsewhere and Tyler Glasnow recovering from Tommy John surgery, Ryan Yarbrough is the only pitcher on the Tampa Bay staff who has thrown more than 120.1 innings. The Rays have a knack for squeezing the most out of their relief corps, but look for them to make a durable veteran starter priority No. 1 this winter. Zack Greinke would be an interesting fit on a short-term deal if the price is right.
Toronto Blue Jays: Marcus Semien or Robbie Ray?
After the 2019 season, the Washington Nationals had a tough decision to make on Anthony Rendon vs. Stephen Strasburg when both players reached free agency and re-signing both was unrealistic. The Blue Jays face a similar conundrum this offseason with Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray, who both appear to be ticketed for nine-figure deals. With a wealth of infield talent in the system, Ray is the more logical target.
Chicago White Sox: How much is too much for Carlos Rodon?
The White Sox re-signed Carlos Rodon to a one-year, $3 million deal after initially non-tendering him at the start of the offseason. The 28-year-old has responded with a 2.47 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 181 strikeouts in 127.2 innings. The South Siders will undoubtedly pursue a reunion, but given Rodon's lengthy injury history, a long-term deal comes with significant risk.
Cleveland Guardians: Is Jose Ramirez a trade chip or an extension candidate?
Jeff Passan of ESPN reported in March that Cleveland "would love" to sign third baseman Jose Ramirez to another extension but also noted that Ramirez "has resisted" the idea thus far. With an $12 million club option for 2022 and a $14 million option for 2023 before his current contract expires, the tight-fisted organization could look to sell high this winter if an extension doesn't look like a realistic possibility.
Detroit Tigers: Is it time to spend big once again?
Once upon a time, the Tigers were major players in free agency. They handed out mega deals to Prince Fielder (9/$214M), Jordan Zimmermann (5/$110M), Anibal Sanchez (5/$80M) and Victor Martinez (4/$68M), and signed Miguel Cabrera (8/$248M) and Justin Verlander (7/$180M) to massive extensions. With an exciting young core and a wealth of payroll room, this could be the offseason where they try to make a big move. Reuniting shortstop Carlos Correa with former manager A.J. Hinch has already been a popular hypothetical.
Kansas City Royals: Will Whit Merrifield finally be traded?
Despite not sniffing contention, the Royals have clung tightly to homegrown star Whit Merrifield and his team-friendly contract in recent years. However, the Royals were "more open than in the past" to trading Merrifield at the 2021 deadline, according to Jayson Stark of The Athletic. Will that pave the way for an offseason deal with two years left on his contract?
Minnesota Twins: Buying or selling?
The question for the Twins is a fairly simple one. After trading away controllable starter Jose Berrios at the deadline, they could approach the offseason as sellers starting a rebuild or as buyers looking to quickly rebound from a disappointing 2020 campaign. Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson, Max Kepler, Kenta Maeda and Taylor Rogers are among their most attractive trade chips if they do decide to sell.
Houston Astros: Who plays shortstop in 2022?
Carlos Correa rejected a six-year, $120 million extension prior to the season, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. With a 6.9-WAR season in 2021, something in the neighborhood of a 10-year, $300 million deal now seems possible for the 27-year-old. If the Astros can't find a way to re-sign him, shortstop becomes a glaring hole. Will top prospect Jeremy Pena be ready next year?
Los Angeles Angels: How will the starting rotation be addressed?
Another year, another mediocre showing from an Angels starting rotation that ranks 22nd in the majors with a 4.71 ERA. Two-way star Shohei Ohtani pitched like an ace at times, and young lefties Patrick Sandoval and Jose Suarez both showed promise, but legitimate contention is hard to envision without a significant outside addition.
Oakland Athletics: Which free agents will be prioritized?
Outfielders Starling Marte and Mark Canha headline a list of 11 Oakland players set to reach free agency. Josh Harrison, Yan Gomes, Sergio Romo and Yusmeiro Petit are among the other key contributors poised to walk. With Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea all set to receive significant raises in arbitration, retaining all of those players is unlikely for the small-market club.
Seattle Mariners: Is the Kyle Seager era over?
In 11 seasons with the Mariners, Kyle Seager has racked up 37.0 WAR, a total that ranks sixth all-time in franchise history. The 33-year-old has set career highs in home runs (35) and RBI (100) this year, but he's hitting just .216 with a .291 on-base percentage and 105 OPS+ in the process. With a $20 million club option for next year, the organization has a decision to make on his future.
Texas Rangers: Will Josh Jung be on the Opening Day roster?
The Rangers roster has been stripped to the studs, and a multi-year rebuild awaits. Adolis Garcia, Nathaniel Lowe and Isiah Kiner-Falefa look like long-term pieces, but Texas lacks a true cornerstone star to build around. Top prospect Josh Jung could be that guy, and after hitting .317/.386/.571 with 20 doubles and 17 home runs in 73 games in the upper levels of the minors, he has little left to prove there.
Atlanta Braves: What's next for Marcell Ozuna?
The Braves have been without outfielder Marcell Ozuna since late May when he was arrested on domestic violence charges. He has entered into a pretrial diversion program that could result in his case being dismissed, but he still faces a potential suspension from Major League Baseball. After acquiring Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson at the deadline in an effort to shore up the outfield following Ronald Acuna Jr.'s season-ending injury, Ozuna's status will be a factor in how they approach building the 2022 outfield.
Miami Marlins: Who is the starting catcher in 2022?
In the past week, Sandy Leon, Alex Jackson, Payton Henry and Nick Fortes have all started behind the plate for the Marlins, with Jorge Alfaro on the injured list with a calf strain. There is no slam dunk long-term answer at the catcher position in that group. The strength of the Marlins is their wealth of young pitching talent, and stability at the catcher position will be important in helping those young arms develop.
New York Mets: Which free agents will be prioritized?
Javier Baez? Michael Conforto? Marcus Stroman? Noah Syndergaard? The Mets have some big names set to hit the open market, and it's unlikely all four of those players will be calling Citi Field home once again in 2022. Syndergaard is a candidate to accept a qualifying offer, and Baez has expressed his interest in playing alongside Francisco Lindor going forward, so they could be the top priority.
Philadelphia Phillies: Who plays center field in 2022?
The Phillies will likely opt for a $2.5 million buyout over exercising Odubel Herrera's $11.5 million club option next season, which will once again raise the question of who plays center field. With no obvious in-house solution, Starling Marte could be atop their free agency wish list.
Washington Nationals: Is Josh Bell the next to be traded?
It's unlikely the Nationals will be able to unload high-priced pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, but they do have one more potential trade candidate who survived the summer fire sale. Slugger Josh Bell is headed for his final year of arbitration in 2022 and is due for a solid raise over the $6.35 million he earned this year. With 122 OPS+, 27 home runs and 88 RBI in a 3.0-WAR season, he could help a contender in need of a power bat.
Chicago Cubs: Is Willson Contreras a building block or a trade chip?
After waving goodbye to Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber, catcher Willson Contreras is the last man standing from the Cubs offensive core. The 29-year-old has a 106 OPS+ with 21 home runs and a career-high 4.0 WAR this year, and with free agency looming after the 2022 season, his future with the team will be a talking point this winter.
Cincinnati Reds: How much will Nick Castellanos cost?
An All-Star for the first time this year, Nick Castellanos is hitting .309/.364/.571 for a 134 OPS+ with 37 doubles, 32 home runs and 92 RBI in 133 games. That performance has him poised to opt out of the final two years and $34 million of his current contract, but that doesn't mean he's a lock to leave Cincinnati. Still just 29 years old, he won't come cheap, but losing him would be a huge blow to the Reds lineup.
Milwaukee Brewers: What is the plan at third base?
Luis Urias has quietly been one of the breakout offensive players of 2021, posting a 107 OPS+ with 25 doubles, 21 home runs and 71 RBI while bouncing around the Milwaukee infield. The 24-year-old could be the long-term answer at third base, or the team could look to re-sign deadline-pickup Eduardo Escobar if they value Urias more in his current super-utility role.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Will Ke'Bryan Hayes sign a long-term extension?
According to Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic, the Pirates already approached rookie third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes with multiple extension offers, including one before he even made his MLB debut. The 24-year-old is reportedly open to sticking around in Pittsburgh, and locking him up would be a big win for the rebuilding Pirates.
St. Louis Cardinals: Will Adam Wainwright return for another year?
The Cardinals have already answered the Yadier Molina question with a one-year, $10 million contract for next season. Will Adam Wainwright also be back? The 40-year-old right-hander has already confirmed he intends to pitch next season, and with a 3.05 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 200.1 innings, he could be looking for more than the $8 million he made in 2021. It's hard to picture him pitching anywhere else, but it's still a question worth asking until he is officially re-signed.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Is Ketel Marte a trade chip?
The D-backs have one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball in Ketel Marte, who is owed $8.4 million in 2022 and has a pair of club options after that worth a combined $22 million. The 27-year-old is hitting .324/.385/.538 with 41 extra-base hits in 84 games this season, and in a market bereft of center field talent beyond Starling Marte, he would be a hot commodity if he's shopped.
Colorado Rockies: How much will Jon Gray cost?
While shortstop Trevor Story is a lock to decline his inevitable qualifying offer and jump ship to a contender this offseason, right-hander Jon Gray is a candidate to be re-signed. One of the few pitchers to enjoy any semblance of consistent success at Coors Field, he has a 4.28 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 145 innings this season. The 29-year-old will have plenty of suitors this winter.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Will Max Scherzer and/or Clayton Kershaw return?
As Clayton Kershaw wraps up a three-year, $93 million contract, the 33-year-old future Hall of Famer remains an elite starting pitcher with a 3.38 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 143 strikeouts in 120 innings. Likewise, deadline addition Max Scherzer is still at the top of his game at the age of 37 as he's on track to win his fourth Cy Young Award. In 10 starts with the Dodgers, he's gone 7-0 with a 1.43 ERA and 0.71 WHIP. Both legends are free agents this offseason.
San Diego Padres: Will Eric Hosmer be dumped in a trade?
With luxury tax threshold considerations at play and a crowded infield picture, the Padres toyed with the idea of packaging Eric Hosmer with one of their top prospects at the trade deadline to unload his $20.8 million salary. No trade came together, but he'll earn that same salary next year and has four years left on his contract. Is it worth giving up someone like Robert Hassell III to gain some payroll flexibility?
San Francisco Giants: Is Kris Bryant a priority?
It goes without saying that the Giants are going to be interested in re-signing Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani as they try to stabilize the starting rotation long-term. Their interest in signing deadline pickup Kris Bryant to a lucrative long-term deal is more of a question mark. The Scott Boras client won't come cheap, but the Giants have payroll flexibility and are ready to take that next step.