The season, that remarkable season, hasn’t been over a week, and already everyone’s back to business. Players are becoming free agents, the Winter Meetings (virtual this year) are being scheduled and teams are figuring out what their rosters will look like in a 2021 that’s going to bring all of its own pressures and difficulties.
• Hot Stove Tracker
So, today we take a look at the most immediate, pressing question for each team. There’s never a moment to rest. What are teams dealing with first? Here’s a look.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays -- Will they sign any of those young players to extensions? The Blue Jays have a ton of young talent, but it’s worth noting that -- unlike, say, the Braves -- they haven’t actually given them any long-term extensions. That’s not necessarily a problem for now, but eventually, your Bo Bichettes/Vlad Guerreros/Cavan Biggios/Teoscar Hernándezes are all going to get expensive at the same time. A way to resolve that issue is to give some of them extensions that lock them up through a couple of years of free agency. But is this the offseason where that can be done?
Orioles -- When do they see Adley? 2020 was just about the best season Orioles fans could have hoped for: actual competitiveness, the emergence of young players, very few Chris Davis at-bats. But the future will really arrive when No. 1 prospect Adley Rutschman gets the call to the big club. But when will the Orioles do it and what moves will they make this offseason to start building around him? What the Minor Leagues look like in 2021 will have a lot to do with determining that. At some point, though, he’s coming.
Rays -- So what’s the deal with Charlie Morton? The Rays wouldn’t have reached their second World Series without Morton winning all those decisive games, but they declined his $15 million option for next season. They say they’d like to bring him back at a lower figure, but Morton has toyed with retiring once and could do so again, or even go to another team. The Rays got so far with a delicate balance of pitching and defense this year, and losing Morton would leave a big hole to fill.
Red Sox -- How do they start approaching the rotation? The Red Sox obviously had a ton of rotation issues last year, and how they go about trying to fix those is the first priority. Will they go big with Trevor Bauer? Or will they try to fix the problem around the margins? A Jon Lester return, maybe?
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Yankees -- Will they bring back DJ LeMahieu? The Yankees are going to want more starting pitching this offseason as well, but perhaps the more pressing issue is whether they can bring back LeMahieu, who declared for free agency last week. The Yankees gave him a qualifying offer, but it might require more than that. And LeMahieu has been quite possibly the Yankees’ best, most consistent (and most consistently healthy) player during his two years in New York. Can they afford to let him go?
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians -- Will Francisco Lindor get traded? It is possible that Lindor stays with the Indians this offseason. But with him set to make $20 million-plus in his final year of arbitration, it sure seems likely that Cleveland’s going to find a place for him before he hits free agency. What can they get for him? Did they wait too long?
Royals -- Will Danny Duffy be forever a Royal? The Royals left-hander has seemingly been on the trade block forever, but he remains, for now, a Royal, as he famously demanded he be “buried.” He’s in the last year of his contract, though, and the Royals have a core group that may not include him. He can always come back to be buried in Kansas City, if he wants.
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Tigers -- How does A.J. Hinch get settled in? We all assumed that Hinch would get another job at some point after the Astros mess, and the Tigers make sense in a lot of ways. But it’s still going to draw attention to a team that honestly hasn’t had much of it in the last few years. How does his presence change the direction of the team? If it does at all?
Twins -- How will they handle Eddie Rosario? Rosario has been a key part of the Twins’ success the last few years, but he may be a bit pricey for them in the last year of arbitration, especially at his most recent level of production. (The Twins also have a ton of outfielders ready to step in.) They will essentially have to make a decision in the next month. They might not wait that long.
White Sox -- Tony’s here. Now what? The White Sox stunned the baseball world by bringing in Tony La Russa, nearly a decade after his last game as manager, to take over one of the youngest, most exciting teams in baseball. Will it be too much of a culture clash? Or is he the guy to push the team to the next level? There isn’t a single postseason question for this team that isn’t directly about TLR.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels -- Hey, who’s the GM? General managers are pretty important! And the Angels currently do not have one after letting Billy Eppler go. This is one of the most fascinating jobs in all of baseball, with Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani on the roster, but also all sorts of roster bloat and a shaky farm system. The Angels have immediate urgency and long-term issues to deal with. Finding the right person will be critical.
Astros -- Are any of the outfielders coming back? The whole darned outfield has become free agents this year, with George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick hitting the market. Reddick’s almost certainly gone, and Springer and Brantley would seem well positioned for a good payday, one the transitioning Astros might blanch at. That said: Who are the outfielders going to be if they all leave?
Athletics -- Will Marcus Semien return? Semien didn’t have a third-in-the-AL-MVP-race season in 2020, but he was still key to everything the A’s were doing. (And he’s beloved in the clubhouse.) He’s a free agent, but he grew up in the East Bay and wants to stay. But can the A’s give him what he wants?
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Mariners -- Will they supplement the bullpen? The Mariners have a young core that the team’s brass seems (wisely) inclined to let just run back out there. But the bullpen was a major issue, and one that can derail a lot of needed progression.
Rangers -- Do they trade Lance Lynn? The Rangers look like they’re about to enter an extended reconstruction period, and their best trade piece is Lynn, who has been terrific for two years now and has just one year left on his contract. Every team needs pitching, and there are many, many World Series contenders who could use Lynn.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves -- Is Ozuna coming back? The good part of having Marcell Ozuna sign on a make-good one-year contract at the beginning of the season is knowing you’re not on the hook if he falls off. The bad part is when he has a monster season, like he just did, you have to sign him again. Ozuna nearly won the Triple Crown this year and is obviously key to the Braves’ otherwise thin offense. Can they bring him back? How much will he want?
Marlins -- Are they going to make a push? The Marlins don’t have a replacement yet for Michael Hill, whose tenure with the club ended after eight years as president of baseball operations. Whoever replaces him has a lot of young talent and maybe a good sign that there will be some money to spend, considering they just picked up Starling Marte’s $12 million option, something not every team would have done. Are the Marlins, fresh off a playoff appearance, going to make a push?
Mets -- How much do things change with the new owner? Sandy Alderson is coming in to steer the ship as club president, but what does that mean for GM Brodie Van Wagenen? Manager Luis Rojas? It has been many, many years since the Mets had an owner not named Wilpon, and this is a team with a lot of questions anyway. Your guess may be as good as mine.
Phillies -- Can they bring back J.T. Realmuto? Bryce Harper obviously wants him back, but Harper is not, in fact, the one writing the checks. The Phillies want Realmuto back, but it’s a strange time in baseball, and he’s one of the top two or three free agents on the market. And if they don’t bring him back … how in the world is next year’s team supposed to be better than the one that just missed the playoffs?
Nationals -- Is this the year they transition from the World Series team? The Nationals, understandably, brought back most of their breakthrough 2019 roster for ‘20, but it did not work out. Injuries were obviously a factor there, and this team is going to go as far as Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer can take it, but still … it looks like it might be time to figure out what this franchise looks like in, say, ‘25.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers -- OK, how about now for Josh Hader? Hader has been a trade candidate for two years now, but the Brewers have never been able to pull the trigger, which makes sense: He’s an incredible pitcher, after all. But the emergence of Devin Williams could make him more expendable as he gets more expensive, and there isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t want Hader. He has three years of arbitration left, meaning he won’t be a free agent until after the 2023 season.
Cardinals -- Is Yadi really going to leave? The battery of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright has been a constant for 15 years, but they’re both free agents this offseason and have seemed open to going somewhere else. They were both key drivers, even at their advanced age, to sending the Cardinals to the playoffs this year, and while they might have replacements, it’s still difficult to imagine them wearing any other uniform but the Birds on the Bat. That said: Everybody said the same thing about Albert Pujols, too.
Cubs -- What do they do with the Core Four? Four members of that Cubs 2016 title team -- Javier Báez, Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo -- will all be free agents after the ‘21 season. That definitely makes it look like this is going to be One Last Rodeo for the Cubs. But will they extend any of them? Or will they just let this ride?
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Pirates -- Are they going to be able to start the development process right? It’s possible no team in baseball was hurt more by not having a normal Minor League season than the Pirates, who are trying to revamp their whole operations. With the big league team further away than ever but with a leader in Ben Cherington with a proven track record of success at roster building, they could really use some sense of normalcy in the Minors this year.
Reds -- Does Trevor Bauer stay? Obviously, Bauer is the top pitcher on the market, and he was key to just about everything the Reds did this year. And he has said he’s up for coming back to Cincinnati. But when the Yankees and Red Sox and all the big spenders are in on him too, can the Reds compete?
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs -- How seriously should you take 2020? The D-backs were very excited going into ‘20, and it turned out to be a disaster. They reacted to that quickly, but the question is whether or not they’ll take ‘20 seriously as a harbinger of future problems, or consider it an anomaly season played under unprecedented conditions.
Dodgers -- When does fitting for rings start? The Dodgers do have some questions to answer this offseason, but there’s plenty of time for that. It hasn’t even been a week. Enjoy this. You’ve been waiting a long time for it.
Giants -- Who will they get for the rotation? The Giants were a happy surprise this season, but they’re suddenly missing a bunch of rotation pieces. Can they cobble together enough pieces to stay afloat? Bringing back Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly might be the path of least resistance.
Padres -- How do you build on that? The loss to the Dodgers in the NL Divsion Series was a bummer, but remember, this was a Padres team with the best winning percentage in franchise history. There is a lot to work with here. Will A.J. Preller tinker around the edges? Or will he get even more aggressive?
Rockies -- What do they do with Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story? The Rockies are in a bind, because Arenado is great, but very expensive, coming off his worst season, and has an opt-out after 2021. Story was an all-world player last year but will be a free agent after next season. How do they navigate all that in the strange new universe of the pandemic?