6 storylines that will dominate the winter

August 24th, 2022

Contenders are primed for the stretch run, while other clubs are already looking forward to an offseason that promises to be a busy one.

That got us thinking: What will we be talking about two-plus months from now, after Major League Baseball has crowned its 2022 World Series champion?

Here are six storylines that figure to lead the headlines once the Fall Classic ends.

1. Judge’s jury
The biggest storyline this offseason will be the future of , who placed a big bet on himself when he turned down a seven-year, $213.5 million extension from the Yankees prior to the season.

Judge’s bet has paid off in a major way, as the 30-year-old is posting MVP-caliber numbers for the first-place Yankees. Judge turns 31 in April and is believed to be seeking an eight- or nine-year deal worth at least $35 million per year.

The Yankees would appear to be the obvious frontrunner to retain the slugger, but once he hits the open market, anything can happen. Mets owner Steve Cohen has the financial wherewithal to make Judge a huge offer, and stealing his crosstown rival’s best player would be a huge coup for Cohen and the Mets.

The Giants have also been looking for a new face of the franchise, and considering San Francisco was in play for both Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper in recent years -- and the fact that the Giants have only $14 million committed in payroll for 2023 (and nothing beyond then) -- they could try to bring the California native back home.

2. Stars with options
Some high-profile players will have the ability to opt out of their contracts this offseason, which would thrust some big names on to the free-agent market.

Tops on that list is , who has said on the record multiple times that he plans to exercise his opt-out of his contract, which calls for him to earn $30.5 million in 2023 with a $32.5 million club option for 2024.

That deGrom would make such a move at age 34 after missing more than a year with arm issues would appear to be a risk, but considering that teammate Max Scherzer signed a three-year, $130 million contract at 37, he should land a deal that makes his current one look like a bargain. The biggest question is whether the Mets will retain deGrom, which would likely mean paying their top two starters more than $80 million combined in 2023 and ’24.

can opt out of each of the final two years and $70.2 million of his deal with the Twins, but the soon-to-be 28-year-old isn’t having a great year, leading many to believe he will stay with Minnesota and consider opting out after the 2024 season.

Correa’s former teammate, , has already thrown enough innings to trigger a $25 million player option for 2023. Despite the fact that he turns 40 in February, he’s the AL Cy Young Award frontrunner, so Verlander could try to use his stellar season to get another year from the Astros or even test the free-agent market.

has five years and $144 million remaining on his contract, and while it seems unlikely that he will opt out of that deal, his strong 2022 season -- and a relatively weak crop of free-agent third basemen -- could cause him to consider it. At the very least, perhaps Arenado could parlay the opt-out clause into an extra guaranteed year from the Cardinals.

3. Two-way trade
The Angels were willing to listen to offers for reigning AL MVP prior to this season’s Trade Deadline, though the asking price was astronomical.

Los Angeles will likely field offers for the two-way superstar again this winter, and given the state of the club’s farm system -- MLB Pipeline just ranked it No. 30 in its midseason re-rank -- and the fact that Ohtani has only one year left before becoming a free agent, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Angels dealt him for a haul of prospects. If Ohtani does become available and the Angels seriously engage in negotiations, this would become the biggest story of the offseason.

Tuesday’s news that owner Arte Moreno is exploring the possibility of selling the club could also become a factor, as a new owner might want to make a run at signing Ohtani to a lucrative extension.

4. To B, or not to B?
The Red Sox will also have an opt-out clause to deal with this offseason, as is expected to walk away from the final three years and $60 million remaining on his contract.

Bogaerts turns 30 on October 1, and while he’s having a solid season, this winter’s class of free-agent shortstops includes Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson, as well as Correa if he opts out.

Boston’s decision on how much to offer Bogaerts this offseason could come down to whether the Red Sox believe they can extend Rafael Devers, who is slated to become a free agent after the 2023 season.

The Sox could try to extend Devers; if those talks don’t go anywhere, Boston could try to bring back Bogaerts on a long-term deal and either play 2023 with both players or try to trade Devers with a year left before he can enter free agency.

Boston’s signing of Trevor Story last offseason gives the team a replacement at shortstop should Bogaerts leave. Given that Devers is four years younger than Bogaerts, the common belief is that the Sox will try to keep Devers long-term and let Bogaerts walk.

5. Buying in Baltimore
The Orioles have taken a big step forward in 2022, playing better baseball than nearly anybody expected. Baltimore sits in the heart of the AL Wild Card race despite its small payroll, and while the youngsters have infused vigor into the organization, the front office knows that it will have to dip its toes in the market if the team wants to compete annually. In fact, general manager Mike Elias has even said publicly he expects the O’s to be major players in free agency.

“We're going to sign players this winter. I'm very excited about it,” Elias said after the Trade Deadline. “I think that it's liftoff from here for this team.”

The starting rotation figures to be a focus for the Orioles this offseason, as their 4.57 ERA ranks 14th in the AL. Adding a bat or two -- second base and the outfield seem like natural areas Baltimore can improve -- could also be on Elias’ wish list. You can see a full list of free agents broken down by position right here.

6. Closers in demand
Teams seeking a new closer should have a number of options, as veterans , , , and are among the relievers set to become free agents.

Díaz’s spectacular season could land him the biggest free-agent deal for a closer in history, exceeding the five-year, $86 million deal Chapman signed prior to the 2017 season. He could also break Liam Hendriks’ AAV record for a closer of $18 million.