5 pressing offseason questions
Who will be Blue Jays' GM? Or the Dodgers' manager?
The World Series ended three days ago, and the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., are 32 days away. If you're expecting any sort of lull in between, you probably really do think there is an "off" in offseason. Thanksgiving might be the one day that executives truly do take a break from baseball, and even then, I'm sure there are a few talking trades between bites of turkey.
So here's a little primer for what lies ahead in the coming days. Rather than delve into all the big Hot Stove topics here (we'll have plenty of time to speculate on the landing spot for David Price), we're going to focus instead on the ones of most immediate note in November.
1. Who will be the Blue Jays' general manager?
The General Managers Meetings begin Monday in Boca Raton, Fla. And the Blue Jays don't have a general manager. An unusual scenario, to say the least, and one borne out of Alex Anthopoulos' decision to leave Toronto rather than work in conjunction with new team president Mark Shapiro.
Now, none of this is to suggest the Blue Jays are some rudderless ship. Tony LaCava is temporarily serving as GM, and he's been in Toronto's front office in various capacities for the past 13 years. And though Shapiro was the head of the Indians' business operations the past five seasons, he hasn't exactly ignored the baseball side.
But these are still unusual circumstances. The Blue Jays will be looking for new leadership not while in the initiation of a rebuild but while trying to sustain a newly established contender. And they'll do so with a hugely important offseason, in which they'll need to patch up their pitching staff, already underway. The name of Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins has been tossed around quite a bit, and for good reason, as Shapiro is uniquely qualified to gauge if Atkins is ready for the responsibilities of the role, which will of course include collaboration with Shapiro himself. But Shapiro obviously has connections elsewhere in the industry.
"I think where I want to work, and who I want to work with, are the people that are just focused on arriving at the best decision," Shapiro said. "Whether that information, whether that input, comes from someone in a cubicle, comes from a scout in the Pacific Northwest ... if it makes us better, if it helps us arrive at the best decision, that's all that matters."
2. Who will be the Dodgers' manager?
Dusty Baker's hiring by the Nationals on Tuesday leaves one managerial spot left. The Dodgers do not appear to be in a rush to make their decision, though the consensus expectation at the moment remains that Gabe Kapler will be the one replacing Don Mattingly. Kapler makes a ton of sense for this front-office group, having served as the club's director of player development this season. Like A.J. Hinch, Kapler blends playing experience with analytics appreciation and media savvy.
But two other names to surface in recent days include Darin Erstad and Dave Roberts -- candidates who would command respect in that clubhouse -- and we've seen the names of Jason Varitek, Ron Gardenhire, Ron Washington, Dave Martinez, Rocco Baldelli, Ron Roenicke, Bob Geren, Bud Black and Tim Wallach (who will leave to become Mattingly's bench coach in Miami if not offered the job) bandied about.
Clearly, the Dodgers have cast a wide net of candidates, so the process is going to take some time.
3. Has Jung Ho Kang upped the ante for Byung-Ho Park?
The short answer is, "You'd better believe it."
But just to get a little more detailed, the Pirates' successful experiment with Kang -- right up until he suffered a torn meniscus and broken tibia on a Chris Coghlan takeout slide in late September -- has of course opened the door for other Korea Baseball Organization talent to transition to the Major Leagues. The KBO is known to be hitter-friendly, and some evaluators have compared the talent level to Double-A. So when the Pirates bid $5 million for the posting rights to Kang and then signed him to a four-year, $11 million contract, it wasn't an outlandish investment, but it was still a fairly risky one, especially for a small-market team.
Yet with a 4.0 WAR mark, beefed up by 41 extra-base hits and infield versatility, the 28-year-old Kang has likely already justified the total $16 million price tag. And he's likely raised the price tag for Park, who was posted by the Nexen Heroes on Monday. Bids must be submitted by 5 p.m. ET on Friday, and Nexen will announce the "winning" team Monday, opening an exclusive 30-day negotiating window with Park.
Park and Kang are former teammates, and the 28-year-old Park, a first baseman who has hit 50-plus homers each of the past two years, actually rates better than Kang did in some key offensive categories, albeit with less defensive value. He should, at the very least, be a solid platoon player, with the potential to become the everyday star Kang became this season.
"Way more power," said one scout who saw both players in Korea. "Big power."
4. Where will the first free-agent dominoes fall?
Two years ago, there was a fairly substantial rush on what was considered second-tier pitching, with Ricky Nolasco, Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson, Dan Haren, Ryan Vogelsong, Jason Vargas and Phil Hughes all signed before the Winter Meetings. Last year, there was a big rush on impact bats: Russell Martin, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez were all signed before Thanksgiving.
Who knows how it all plays out this year. But with so much depth in impact arms (Price, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Kazmir, Jeff Samardzija, Brett Anderson, Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo and John Lackey, to name a few), it might behoove one or more of those guys to find a home quickly, before a buyer's market develops.
A subset of this free-agent question: Will anybody accept a qualifying offer (valued this year at $15.8 million)? Three years into this process, nobody's accepted one yet, but a few guys (Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana) have been burned by the process before.
Qualifying offers must also be submitted to pending free agents by 5 p.m. ET on Friday.
5. Will we see a pre-Winter Meetings blockbuster trade?
This is a time of great creativity in this game, as evidenced once again at this year's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Maybe the Dodgers part with Yasiel Puig or the Marlins move Marcell Ozuna or the Brewers part ways with Ryan Braun or Jonathan Lucroy, or the Reds deal Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman or Todd Frazier. Would the Rangers move Adrian Beltre (or Mitch Moreland) to make room for Joey Gallo? Would anyone take Sandoval or Ramirez off Boston's hands if the Red Sox paired one of them with a younger, more productive player? Would the A's say sayonara to Sonny Gray?
It's never too early for trade talk. The Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler blockbuster between the Tigers and Rangers took place Nov. 20, 2013. The mega-swap between the A's and Blue Jays involving Josh Donaldson was consummated Nov. 28, 2014.
So if the pattern holds, we're going to see a stunner between now and the end of the month.