Bauer to Jays? J.T. to Mets? 7 bold predictions
Look, I don’t know, OK? I don’t know, and neither do you.
Fortunately, I am secure enough in my own skin that I don’t mind being routinely wrong (like when I predicted Gerrit Cole to the White Sox a year ago … nailed it!). So let’s just try to have some fun with what will surely be an unpredictable offseason and make seven Hot Stove predictions.
1. The Blue Jays will blow your mind
Hey, Blue Jays fans, how does adding Francisco Lindor sound? Or how about Trevor Bauer? Or in the immortal words of a little girl on an Old El Paso commercial that became a popular meme, “Why don’t we have both?”
OK, so the "both" idea is crazy. But … not necessarily impossible?
(Important legal notice: I am not responsible for the unmet expectations of Torontonians should any of the following not actually happen.)
As of this writing, the Blue Jays’ payroll is projected to be under $80 million, well below what it would have been in 2020 had the virus not intervened.
Bauer is one of the most fascinating free agents in history, given his past stated preference for only signing one-year deals (a stance from which he has already begun to backtrack), his outspoken social media presence and the simple fact that he’s the only free-agent starter coming off an elite season. Doing a one-year deal would be ridiculously risky for him, but I do think it’s possible that Bauer signs a shorter-term deal -- perhaps three or four years -- for max average annual value, and the Blue Jays are a team that could pull it off. And while Toronto fans despised him during the 2016 ALCS when he pitched for Cleveland, they’ll get over it if/when he’s grouped with Hyun Jin Ryu and Nate Pearson atop the rotation.
Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins have a history with Bauer from their Cleveland days, and they have a history with Lindor, too. Yes, they already have a fantastic young shortstop in Bo Bichette, but they recognize the need for an established presence in the lineup and their need to improve defensively. They also have the farm-system depth (MLB Pipeline ranked them seventh in the sport) and, again, the financial room to get a Lindor deal done, with Bichette shifting to third. The cost for Lindor will likely not be as punitive in these circumstances as it would normally be.
Put Bauer and Lindor on a team with a bunch of burgeoning stars, and you’d have to talk about the Blue Jays as a serious threat to win the World Series next season. I don’t know that even one of these things will happen, let alone both. But I do know a big move is well within the realm of possibility for Toronto, and that makes it an interesting club this winter.
2. The Mets will sign J.T. Realmuto
The Blue Jays thing is complicated. This is not.
Realmuto is the best everyday option available in this market, and the Mets, with an “Under New Ownership” banner strung across the Citi Field entrance (metaphorically), will be a motivated buyer and, frankly, one of the few buyers without major limitations in this market. They have already bought out Wilson Ramos and will go for the one guy who can impact them in a dramatic way, both offensively and defensively.
So the Mets will get better, Realmuto will continue his NL East tour de force and I will get to make a “RealMETo” pun on Twitter. Everybody wins!
Oh, and the Mets will also re-sign Marcus Stroman. Because even after he sustained a calf injury and opted out of 2020, there is a good argument for him as the second-best starting option available in this market (it’s just that kind of market, folks).
3. The Phillies will sign George Springer
Outbid for Realmuto, the Phils will pivot to Springer -- at a lesser price -- to address what has been a problem area in center field for a while now. Springer overcame some of the sign-stealing stigma surrounding the Astros by putting together a typically terrific 2020 season (.899 OPS, 140 OPS+) and then hitting four more of those trademark Springer Dingers in October. His age (31) is mildly worrisome, but paying top dollar for a soon-to-be-30-year-old catcher carries risk, too.
Ultimately, the Phillies need another middle-of-the-order bat to pair with Bryce Harper, and Springer will bring postseason pedigree to a team that desperately needs to take the next step.
And, uh, yeah … they’re going to need to do some work in the bullpen, too.
4. The Marlins will … do something interesting!
Coming off a surprise playoff run, in the midst of negotiating a new local TV contract and carrying a payroll with only $27.5 million in guaranteed money for 2021, the Fish are in better position than most to make a splash.
I don’t claim to know exactly what that splash will be, because this market is … uninspiring. Frankly, I doubt they’ll sign Springer or bring back Realmuto or Marcell Ozuna. They’re probably more likely to land a second-tier outfield bat like Joc Pederson, which would probably qualify as significant in and of itself. Perhaps they’ll be this winter’s team that gets aggressive in the bullpen market, where Liam Hendriks, Blake Treinen, Alex Colomé and Shane Greene are among the top options. Maybe, on the heels of the Starling Marte move, they’ll make another impact trade.
Their inclusion on this list is merely an opportunity to suggest that the Marlins have all the ingredients that tend to make for a lively winter. So don’t forget about them when you’re making your own erroneous winter predictions, OK?
5. Gary Sánchez will still be a Yankee at offseason's end
Sánchez is a trade candidate. Actually, given his miserable 2020 and the industry's money crunch, he’s a non-tender candidate, too. But rather than selling low or kicking him to the curb, the Yankees will recognize that Sánchez is only one year removed from hitting 34 homers with an .841 OPS and that 2020 was weird for, well, everybody. They’ll bring him to camp in a competition with Kyle Higashioka.
The Yanks will be similarly patient with shortstop Gleyber Torres, who will not be repositioned or replaced. As everybody expects, they will re-sign DJ LeMahieu to play second base and leave Torres right where he has been. The bigger changes will be in the rotation, where the Yanks will let Masahiro Tanaka walk and be aggressive in pursuit of a second-tier free agent with less mileage. Taijuan Walker it is!
6. The Rangers will sign Marcell Ozuna
With the Shin-Soo Choo contract coming off the books and a clear need to upgrade the offense and field a competitive team in Globe Life Field, Ozuna makes sense.
The Rangers are less likely to vie for a top-of-the-market bat in Springer, but Ozuna’s contract price will fall within their budget. He is a sub-optimal defensive option (and that’s putting it kindly), but the Rangers have plenty of at-bats to fill at designated hitter, and Ozuna and Joey Gallo would be a Texas-sized middle-of-the-order punch. Until, or unless, the universal DH becomes a permanent reality, Ozuna is best situated with an AL club.
7. The Braves will trade for Kris Bryant
I won’t go as far as predicting the Cubs non-tender Bryant, but that’s a serious possibility in these circumstances. He’s coming off a lousy season, yet could go north of $20 million in his final round of arbitration prior to free agency. One way or another, if we go with my previously stated assumption that Ozuna walks for a multiyear commitment that Atlanta isn’t comfortable with, it says here that Bryant winds up with the Braves. Though acquiring Joc Pederson to platoon with Adam Duvall might work, a free-agent market short on impact bats will ultimately bring the Braves to the trade market, where they’ll essentially acquire one of their patented one-year “prove it” position players (in the mold of Josh Donaldson in 2019 and Ozuna this past season).
Bryant has plenty to prove, given the way injuries and drastic performance dips have sullied what once appeared to be a potential Hall of Fame-caliber career. The Cubs appear destined for a shakeup of some sort. And while they won’t sell off Bryant for pennies on the dollar, they do have incentive to try to get a young piece for him (while shedding salary) now. The Braves can put Bryant at third and have Austin Riley in left as they try to avenge their blown lead in the NLCS.