Because baseball is a copycat industry, the goal of every front office in baseball this offseason should be to build a ballclub capable of starting the season 19-31. Just like your 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals!
Ah, but what path will each club take to get to that point? I’ve received an advance copy of the Hot Stove script and am willing to divulge some of its contents. All I ask in return is your undying love and support … and your forgiveness when 99 percent of what’s to come turns out to be bogus.
1. The White Sox will sign Gerrit Cole.
Because baseball/people/the world will surprise you, I find it important to throw out one truly bonkers prediction. If I’m wrong, at least it’s not the first time, and the world will move on. If I’m right, I will be heralded as a clairvoyant. Or in this case, a Colevoyant.
“But Cole wants to pitch for a West Coast team!” you cry.
We said the same thing about CC Sabathia before he signed with the Yankees.
“But the White Sox aren’t contenders yet and have never given a contract this size!” you reply.
Eh, we said basically the same thing about the Padres before they signed Manny Machado.
This is going to be a financial decision, not a sentimental one -- or couldn’t you tell when Cole threw on that Boras Corp. hat like 20 minutes after the World Series ended? While I know the Second City isn’t Cole’s first preference and I’m well aware that the White Sox have avoided deals of this magnitude, they have the makings of an American League Central contender and have less than $20 million in salary commitments in each of the next five seasons. This would be like when the Cubs signed Jon Lester prior to the 2015 season and brought further legitimacy to a team on the verge of becoming a real title threat.
I figure there’s about a 1.6 percent chance of this happening … the same percent chance the Nats were given of winning the World Series when they were 19-31!
2. The Nationals will keep Stephen Strasburg and sign Mike Moustakas.
Like most defending champs, the Nats will make every effort to get the band back together, but that’s easier said than done when two members of the band are lead singers in this marketplace.
After multiple extension efforts over the last year netted nothing, I predict that Anthony Rendon will walk (destination below), while the value Strasburg places on comfort and familiarity will result in a return to Washington, possibly on a deal similar to his initial seven-year, $175 million extension with the club.
That will leave a hole at third base -- and Moustakas will fill it -- bringing the Nats a different postseason-tested veteran on a reasonable multiyear pact.
3. The Dodgers will sign Anthony Rendon.
L.A. tried to lure Bryce Harper a year ago with a short-term deal with an absurd average annual value (reportedly four years at $45 million per). It didn’t work with Harper. But it just might with Rendon, who recently was asked what he plans to be doing at age 36 and responded, “Hopefully not playing baseball.”
There’s danger in reading too much into that quote, because if the years and numbers go where they should for Rendon, that would be a lot to turn down. If Rendon, who turns 30 in June, does wind up going for a shorter-term deal than we’re accustomed to seeing from a free agent of his ilk, the Dodgers -- who would benefit from the added lineup balance and moving Justin Turner to first -- are capable of blowing others out of the water.
4. The Rangers will sign Josh Donaldson.
The Texas native Rendon will be paired in the rumor mill with a Rangers team trying to take a step forward in a new ballpark. But a short-term deal (say, two years with an option for a third) is a more sensible alternative for a club that has a lot of question marks and doesn’t seem ready for that kind of push.
Donaldson could be the second coming of Adrian Beltre -- a late-career superstar third baseman who pads his career totals in a strong run with the Rangers.
5. The Red Sox will not trade Mookie Betts or J.D. Martinez.
Martinez would have done the Red Sox a financial favor if he opted out of the three years and $62.5 million left on his deal, but here we are. New chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has inherited a goal -- not a mandate, but a goal -- of getting the payroll below the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, which is set at $208 million for the upcoming season. Martinez’s decision complicates matters considerably, as does Betts’ projected arbitration price tag upwards of $27.7 million, per MLB Trade Rumors, and the big money owed to David Price, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi.
Over at FanGraphs, the Red Sox’s estimated payroll (for CBT purposes) is more than $236 million, so if they want to get below the threshold, it will require a payroll-shedding swap or two.
But getting proper value for Betts – who is one year from free agency with a hefty arbitration price who also happens to double as a homegrown superstar -- would be pretty darn difficult. You’ve got to clearly win the deal from a public perception standpoint, and that’s not easily done in an environment in which young talent is so highly prized.
As for Martinez, if it were easy to move the $62.5 million, he would have opted out in the first place. He read the market correctly when he decided to opt in, and now he has the power to put three teams -- i.e. three AL teams with a DH need -- on his no-trade list to further complicate matters.
I think Bloom is going to find other ways to pare payroll. That could mean moving Jackie Bradley Jr. and/or marketing Eovaldi as a relief weapon, with the Sox assuming some of the $51 million owed to Eovaldi over the next three years. They could also package Eovaldi or Price with a player with more surplus value (like Andrew Benintendi). Or maybe Boston eats the tax bullet one more year and lets Betts and Co. make another run at it, knowing it can explore the market for Betts and others midseason if things go south.
6. The Indians will not trade Francisco Lindor.
Yes, it’s me again, the wet blanket of the barter banter.
Already, the Lindor rumor mill is running hot. It’s understandable. The Indians cut payroll last year, and they're unlikely to retain one of the top position players in the sport beyond his final year of arbitration in 2021. At some point in the next 21 months, they are a good bet to deal their stud shortstop.
But while Lindor’s price is going up (MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make $16.7 million in arbitration for 2020), it’s still not so onerous that even the budget-conscious Indians can’t afford him without making other improvements to the roster. They have a little wiggle room separating their present calculation from their 2019 payroll number, and they view themselves as a 2020 contender. This is a front office that sets and maintains a high trade price on its players, and it’s a short list of clubs (fronted by the Dodgers) that can realistically meet that price.
Frankie will remain with the Tribe … for now.
7. The Braves will sign Madison Bumgarner.
Back at the beginning of 2019, I predicted that Bumgarner would be dealt to the Braves at some point in the season. That was a rare mistake in an otherwise flawless predictions piece (just trust me on this, no need to look it up), and I’m in danger here of doubling-down on my error (which, for the record, might not have been an error if the Giants didn’t go on an unsustainable winning streak just before the Trade Deadline).
Anyway, for some reason, when I close my eyes, I see Bumgarner in an Atlanta uniform. He’s a clear fit for a club that needs a veteran front-line starter and likely won’t be in the Cole market.
Oh, other stuff will happen!
Like Zack Wheeler rolling into the Bronx, Edwin Encarnación bringing the parrot to Tampa Bay, Yasmani Grandal catching on with the Astros, the Angels signing Cole ... Hamels, Didi Gregorius going back to his Reds roots, and Nicholas Castellanos latching on with the D-backs.
I’d tell you the rest, but I don’t want to spoil the element of surprise. (Or dig myself into any more holes.)
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.