Welcome to the offseason. Yes, there’s a ton of uncertainty about how things will play out, and we may not have answers for a while. What’s easier to understand is that the dynamics are in place for a true Hot Stove season.
There are elite free agents at a bunch of positions, and a long list of teams shopping for upgrades. Here are seven clubs that could define the offseason.
Gerrit Cole is the only proven starting pitcher under contract and healthy for Opening Day 2021. There’s a surplus of quality young arms, but the Yankees will be shopping for more certainty. Even if free agent Masahiro Tanaka returns, general manager Brian Cashman will consider a list of free agents that could begin with Kevin Gausman and Taijuan Walker.
2. Red Sox
Pitching, pitching, pitching. Oh, and second base. The Red Sox say they intend to contend in 2021, which will mean a busy offseason. There’s uncertainty about when Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) and Eduardo Rodriguez (complications related to COVID-19) will return, so even if the Red Sox pick up left-hander Martín Pérez’s $6.25 million option, there’s a need for more rotation help and bullpen upgrades.
No team will be more watched than the Mets if Steve Cohen is approved as owner and installs his own baseball operations team. Will he make an immediate free agent splash? J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer are obvious fits, and that would be a nice start. As a wise man once said, there’s never enough pitching.
We once again ask, “When will the Angels improve enough to give Mike Trout a chance to play in October?” This year, the question comes with a twist: Nothing is likely to happen until the organization hires a new head of baseball operations. After that, the search for pitching will intensify. Trevor Bauer and Taijuan Walker would be a nice start. So would a reunion with Garrett Richards. Watching the Dodgers celebrate a World Series could be extra motivation in case wasting the prime years of baseball’s best player isn’t enough.
Hold ‘em or fold ‘em? The Cubs could be the offseason’s busiest team, or decide to keep the band together for a farewell tour. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein considered a roster overhaul last offseason, but apparently nothing significant ever got close. He was rewarded with an NL Central title. Now with Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber a year from free agency, Epstein will surely be tempted to think big. Or he could bet small again and hope they all bounce back from tough seasons.
Lots of work to do here, beginning with the hiring of a new general manager. Adding to the possibility of big changes are nine free agents and 11 arbitration-eligible players. While attention is rightly focused on efforts to re-sign J.T. Realmuto, the Phillies need a shortstop and lots more pitching. Ownership doesn’t seem inclined to do another mega-signing, and the best path back to the postseason could be a series of under-the-radar moves.
Few teams face as much uncertainty as this one: George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are free agents; Justin Verlander (Tommy John) will not pitch in 2021; and Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr., Zack Greinke and Verlander will be in the final year of their contracts. With a farm system weakened by Trade Deadline deals for Verlander in 2017 and Greinke in 2019, general manager James Click will have to decide on a rebuild or attempt to patch holes to make another run at the World Series.