Although we’ve had a number of options and opt-outs decided since the end of the World Series, the offseason begins in earnest this week when the league’s top baseball operations executives gather in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the annual General Managers Meetings, which run Monday through Thursday.
Big moves rarely take place at this event, though the foundation for the offseason ahead can often be laid during the Meetings. Executives will exchange trade concepts, monitor who may available after the non-tender date, and of course, meet with agents representing this year’s talented crop of free agents.
There will also be opportunities for executives to gather and discuss on-field issues, such as pace of play and instant replay, but we’re going to focus on the Hot Stove here.
Here’s a primer of what to look for during the GM Meetings:
Which teams will emerge as candidates for Gerrit Cole?
The belief within the industry is that the Angels, Dodgers and Yankees are the three teams most likely to seriously pursue Cole. Astros owner Jim Crane said Houston will “take a run” at retaining the ace, though it’s difficult to see how Cole would fit into the team’s salary structure.
Which other teams might become bidders for the 29-year-old? The Phillies are always a contender to spend big, while the Rangers are perceived as a team ready to boost its payroll heading into a new ballpark. The Padres have also surprised us in each of the past two offseasons. Could they do it again?
How will the third-base market begin to shape up?
Third base is one of the strongest areas of this year’s market, led by Anthony Rendon, who is considered by most to be the top position player available this offseason.
Rendon is expected to land a deal for more than $200 million, though it remains to be seen whether he can beat (or even match) the eight-year, $260 million contract Nolan Arenado signed to stay with the Rockies last spring.
The Nationals, Rangers, Phillies, Braves and Angels could be among the teams in the mix for Rendon, though Josh Donaldson could also be in play for those teams if Rendon’s price tag proves to be too high for their taste. Donaldson had a big bounceback season with Atlanta, setting himself up for a three- or four-year deal worth $25 million or more annually.
Then there’s Mike Moustakas, who completed his second straight one-year deal and will be seeking a multiyear pact after hitting 35 homers for the Brewers in 2019.
Will Mookie Betts officially hit the trade block?
Chaim Bloom, Boston’s new chief baseball officer, has quite an offseason ahead of him. The Red Sox had a payroll of about $240 million in 2019 (four times as large as Bloom’s payroll with Tampa Bay), and given owner John Henry’s stated goal of staying below the $208 million competitive balance threshold in '20, that means trimming more than $30 million in salaries in the coming months.
J.D. Martinez’s decision not to opt out of his contract complicated things a little, so the easiest way to achieve that goal would seem to be trading Betts. The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner earned $20 million in his second year of arbitration, and he is expected to make between $27 million and $30 million in '20 before becoming a free agent.
Trading Betts might not be as easy as it appears, however. Few teams can take on a player making as much money as Betts, and those that can might balk at forking over a package of players and/or prospects for one year of Betts in their lineup. Rival GMs are likely to check in with Bloom about Betts’ availability -- and Boston’s asking price.
What about Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant?
Betts isn’t the only All-Star who could be on the move this offseason. Lindor has two years remaining on his contract, and with the prospect of a $300 million payday in two years, the Indians might try to maximize value by trading their franchise player this offseason.
Ditto for Bryant, who is slated to join Lindor in the free-agent class of 2021-22. The Cubs have a young core of players including Bryant, Javier Báez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras, all of whom are in the arbitration-eligible phase of their respective careers. Chicago must decide which players it wants to try to extend (or re-sign when they reach free agency), and two years of Bryant would likely bring back the most robust package of players and/or prospects if the Cubs decided to trade one among that group.
What will happen with the Pirates?
Following the dismissals of GM Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle, the Pirates head to the GM Meetings with more uncertainty than any other club.
Pittsburgh -- which recently made a transition in leadership from long-time team president Frank Coonelly to new president Travis Williams, whose experience has come primarily in the NHL -- has hired a consulting firm to help conduct the GM search, leaving interim GM Kevan Graves to run the team’s business in Scottsdale.
Once a GM is in place -- along with Graves, former Red Sox GM and current Blue Jays VP of baseball operations Ben Cherington is reportedly a candidate for the gig -- the Pirates must then turn their attention to a manager search. Throw in the potential for a Starling Marte trade, a starting rotation in need of reshaping and uncertainty in the bullpen, and Pittsburgh has many more questions than answers at this point.
Will anybody accept a qualifying offer?
Ten players received the $17.8 million qualifying offer from their most recent team: José Abreu, Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, Josh Donaldson, Jake Odorizzi, Marcell Ozuna, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, pitcher Will Smith and Zack Wheeler.
The deadline for those players to accept or reject the qualifying offer is Thursday at 5 p.m. ET, just hours after executives will have boarded their flights to leave Arizona.
Of the 80 players that received a qualifying offer since the system began in 2012, only six have accepted: Matt Wieters, Colby Rasmus, Brett Anderson, Neil Walker, Jeremy Hellickson and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Of this year’s group of 10, four players figure to at least consider accepting: Abreu, Odorizzi, Ozuna and Smith. Abreu would be the most likely, given his publicly stated desire to return to Chicago. Even then, it’s more likely that he declines and agrees to a new two- or three-year deal to stay with the White Sox.