Every team needs a focus, one guy a whole fanbase can pin all its offseason hopes, fears and dreams on. Whether it’s a young player they’re hoping to convince to sign an extension, a free agent they’re afraid they’ll lose or a player on the open market they openly covet, many offseasons can come down to one guy. For better and for worse.
So this week, we take a look at the one player every fanbase is focused on this offseason. What name is popping up the most on each message board? Here’s a guess as to the guys.
• Hot Stove Tracker
Note: Players with an asterisk are free agents and do not currently play for the team they are listed with.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: DJ LeMahieu, 2B*
The Blue Jays have a huge opening at third base (yes, it would be a position switch), a young team in need of some veteran guidance and, at least theoretically, a little more money to spend than some other teams might. Blue Jays fans aren’t alone in dreaming this; Toronto is MLB Trade Rumors’ pick to land the batting champ.
Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C
When’s he coming? When’s he coming? The Orioles had some positive forward movement for the first time in a while last year, but the rebuild doesn’t really get going until the former No. 1 Draft pick arrives. It’s happening sometime in 2021. But when?
Rays: Charlie Morton, RHP*
The Rays could have just kept Morton by picking up his option, but it’s clear they want to keep him around. It does feel like they’re noticeably worse without him, yes?
Red Sox: Jon Lester, LHP*
The Red Sox might think bigger with the rotation, but they certainly need something. The Boston legend sure feels like an ideal start, at the very least.
Yankees: Trevor Bauer, RHP*
Many teams are eyeing Bauer, but the Yankees could probably use him the most. The question is: Will the Yankees go big in the rotation two straight seasons?
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Francisco Lindor, SS
Everything revolves around Cleveland’s All-Star shortstop. Will the Indians trade him? When will they trade him? What can they get for him with just one year left? Nothing can really move forward with Cleveland until those questions are answered.
Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., SS
It's a little too early to expect the 2019 No. 2 overall pick to arrive in Kansas City next season, but he's a Top 10 Prospect and the future of so much of what the Royals plan on doing. Will he have the opportunity, in this environment, to get himself polished up enough to be ready for '22?
Tigers: Casey Mize, RHP
Suffice it to say, 2020 did not go the way Mize -- who had a 6.99 ERA in seven starts -- was hoping it would. (Join the club, guys.) But he's still a potential ace, and he certainly wouldn't be the first phenom to struggle with his first taste of the Majors before figuring it out and reaching his full potential.
Twins: Nelson Cruz, DH*
He was, once again, Nelson Cruz, and the Twins wouldn’t have won nearly as many games without him. But everybody wants a Cruz now. Can the Twins hang onto the genuine article?
White Sox: Tim Anderson, SS
The skilled, incredibly entertaining shortstop isn’t going anywhere, and he’s one of the biggest reasons the White Sox have been so fun to watch. But he’s also the guy everyone wants to make sure jibes with new manager Tony La Russa. Everyone’s watching closely.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Marcus Stroman, RHP*
The Angels need pitching as much as any team in baseball needs anything, but after the splurge of last offseason for third baseman Anthony Rendon, Trevor Bauer might be out of their price range. Is Stroman, probably the next-best starter on the market, a more logical target? The qualifying offer is a potential obstacle.
A’s: Marcus Semien, SS*
Closer Liam Hendriks (also a free agent) seems like he might leave, but Semien has been one of the beating hearts of this team for a few years now. Would they really let him go?
Astros: George Springer, CF*
The Astros may lose their whole outfield this year, and in many ways, Springer has been at the center of everything they’ve done in this run of success. If Springer moves on, are they really the same team anymore?
Mariners: Kyle Lewis, OF
Yes, yes, he’s not going anywhere, and he’s everything they’re trying to build around. But with the Mariners unlikely to be too active, the team and its fans can just appreciate what they’ve got in the unanimous 2020 AL Rookie of the Year, and what it means for them moving forward. And at some point, there will be murmurs about a contract extension, even if not this winter.
Rangers: Lance Lynn, RHP
The Rangers look like they’re about to go through a rather large overhaul, and Lynn, who has been an absolute bargain for them, may be the best trade chip to make that happen.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Marcell Ozuna, OF/DH*
The Braves got all they could have hoped for and more out of Ozuna in their one-year deal with him. Are they an appreciably worse team without him? Near-Triple Crown winners turn out to be pretty handy. Of course, if the NL does not have the DH next year, he’s a bit less valuable.
Marlins: Brad Hand, LHP*
Hand started his career with the Marlins, and he’s an ideal guy to bring back if they’re feeling aggressive this offseason. This could be a great fit for both sides.
Mets: J.T. Realmuto, C*
He’s maybe the best catcher in baseball, and the Mets need a catcher, and more bats, and someone to show fans that the new owner isn’t messing around. Realmuto is that twinkle in every Mets fan’s eye right now.
Phillies: J.T. Realmuto, C*
Of course … Realmuto is the player Phillies fans are going to be judging their whole offseason on as well. One more thing for these two fanbases to fight over.
Nationals: Juan Soto, LF
The Nats aren’t likely to add anyone who’s too big of a deal this winter, but the only real question here is whether they can figure out some sort of extension with their all-world outfielder who, in case you were wondering, will be a free agent after just three more seasons.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Josh Hader, LHP
Devin Williams, this year's NL Rookie of the Year, may have made Hader expendable, and the lefty's about to become expensive. But how do you justify trading away Hader and still feeling like you’re better than you were before?
Cardinals: Yadier Molina, C*
He reportedly has interest from several other teams. But he wouldn’t really leave the Cardinals … would he?
Cubs: Kris Bryant, 3B/OF
Is the guy who fielded the grounder that led to the final out of the Cubs winning a World Series really on the trade block this offseason? Is there any way to possibly get enough to make fans feel OK about it?
Pirates: Josh Bell, 1B
The Pirates are starting over, and Bell -- even though he is just 28 years old -- is a player who feels a part of the past rather than a part of the future at this point.
Reds: Trevor Bauer, RHP*
The Reds certainly helped build up Bauer’s value this season. But can they persuade him to return to the place where he’s had the greatest success of his career?
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Madison Bumgarner, LHP
Bumgarner actually gets more expensive the farther he gets into his contract, so you can forgive the D-backs and their fans for fretting about whether last year was an anomaly or something more ominous.
Dodgers: Justin Turner, 3B*
He certainly had an active World Series, both before and after. He’s still the heart and soul of this team. Do the Dodgers have a place for him anymore?
Giants: Buster Posey, C
He elected not to play last season because of the pandemic, but he’ll be back in 2021 … and Joey Bart could probably use his help.
Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr., SS
There are reports that the Padres are trying to get him to sign an extension. Can they?
Rockies: Nolan Arenado, 3B
He has an option to get out of his contract after the 2021 season. Does that make him untradable? And what is the plan here for '21, anyway?