Every team has something to prove every offseason. The teams that lost 100-plus games have to prove they can show improvement the next year. The teams that just missed the postseason need to prove they can get over the hump. The teams that made the playoffs but missed the World
Every team has something to prove every offseason. The teams that lost 100-plus games have to prove they can show improvement the next year. The teams that just missed the postseason need to prove they can get over the hump. The teams that made the playoffs but missed the World Series need to prove they have what it takes to get over the top. Even the World Series champion Washington Nationals have to prove they’re not just one-year wonders. You can never rest on your laurels. There are always new mountains to climb.
There are certain teams, however, who have more to prove than others. Perhaps a team fell short of expectations in 2019. Perhaps they’re a rebuilding team that’s ready to take the next step. Perhaps they’re a perennial contender that just keeps falling short. But these teams have the most questions to answer, and the most definitive crossroads ahead of them: What kind of team are they going to be in '20 and in the years beyond it? This offseason give us the clearest clues.
Ever since the Angels signed Mike Trout to that contract extension last March, they have laid their plans bare: There will be no “window for contention.” The window is the rest of the Trout’s career, and there’s an understanding that they have an absolute obligation to do everything in their power to build a World Series team around one of the best players in baseball history. (Or, at the very least, get him at least one darned postseason victory.) They have 11 years to do it, but considering the fact that even Trout will someday age and decline, they best get started now.
So they have a lot of holes to fill: The 2019 team was, after all, the worst Angels team of the Trout era (90 losses). Native son Gerrit Cole is the obvious offseason target, but not only will they have plenty of competition for him, they probably need to fill two or three rotation spots, all told. And it’s not like the lineup is entirely stacked around Trout. This team has to improve by nine games just to get back to .500. There is money coming off the books in the next few years, but the Halos need to show Trout, the fans and their new manager they can win now.
The Indians remain one of the most fascinating, and frustrating, teams in baseball. A playoff berth was theirs to grab this year, but their offseason inactivity, along with key injuries at wrong times, kept them just short. Now they’re in danger of this core, the one that came that close to winning the World Series in 2016, falling away entirely. The American League Central, despite the Twins’ success and the White Sox’s ambition (and we’ll get to them in a moment), is not full of juggernauts. This isn’t the AL East. Cleveland doesn’t have to do that much to get back in the thick of it.
The question is which way they’re going to go. Early rumors should have Tribe fans perhaps concerned that they will go in the opposite direction, potentially trading Francisco Lindor before he hits free agency following the 2021 season. That might be good for the Indians long-term -- and that’s far from certain -- but it would definitely signify the direction they’re going now. It wouldn’t take much to keep them in the AL Central race. But they have to prove staying in that race is their priority right now.
The Phillies have a new manager in Joe Girardi and a roster that should mostly be healed from the injuries that wrecked their 2019 season. They also have a huge payroll, a bunch of big-name free agents who were supposed to fix things and a fan base that is getting a little frustrated with this long-term plan that doesn’t appear to be bearing fruit. (The Phils have the fifth-longest postseason drought in baseball.) Oh, and they just watched a division rival win the World Series.
So the Phillies need to show that they are, once again, pot-committed. The problem is that they have a lot of holes still -- in the rotation, bullpen, even in the infield. But the Phils just gave out that Bryce Harper contract and have clearly indicated, with the hiring of Girardi, that they think they can win now. Their roster has a long way to go to get to that point. This offseason, the construction will be ongoing.
The Rockies made the playoffs two consecutive years for the first time in their history in 2017-18, but it all fell apart on them last year. They looked eerily similar to those old Rockies teams with artificially inflated offensive numbers that masked some real lineup deficiencies -- the recipe for disaster in Colorado. Don’t let the team’s .782 OPS, which ranked ninth in the Majors, fool you. Per wRC+, the Rockies' mark of 86 ranked 26th in MLB.
Having this happen right after Nolan Arenado committed to an eight-year deal was lousy timing, but don’t forget that he can opt out after the 2021 season.
The real question is: What can the Rockies do about their problems? Their talent development from within their system has always been a positive; their struggles come when they try to bring in people from outside. But that might be exactly what they need to do to fix this. How much are they willing to do? What can they do?
The White Sox made an attempt to get Manny Machado before the 2019 season, but they fell just short. So they’re going to have to make sure they create their own superstars. The good news is that they are on their way. Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez and Yoán Moncada were three of the best hitters in baseball in September, and they have Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal just around the corner. Our own Mike Petriello believes they could be '20’s breakout team.
But if they’re going to be serious about this being that breakout year, they clearly need some better (and more) innings out of their rotation. Will the White Sox add quality veteran arms to their stable of talent? Are they willing to make the next push? The AL Central could be right there for them. But they’re not there yet. They have this offseason to show what they were trying to show with Machado last year: That they’re ready.