With free agency about to get underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams?
Cleveland Indians: How do they round out their lineup?
Fresh off a 102-win season (highlighted by a 22-game win streak), the Indians are well-positioned to make another run in 2018. The starting rotation returns intact, and any bullpen with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen at the back end is sure to be formidable. Even the departure of resident pitching guru Mickey Callaway, who left to manage the Mets, shouldn’t put much of a crimp in the pitching numbers.
The biggest questions revolve around the offense. The Tribe ranked third in the American League with 818 runs and second to Houston with a .788 team OPS. Francisco Lindor led all big league shortstops with 33 homers, Jose Ramirez is an MVP finalist, and Edwin Encarnacion lived up to his $60 million free-agent deal with 38 homers, 107 RBIs, a 4.8 WAR and an .881 OPS. But they’re going to need some help for the lineup to keep percolating in 2018.
Franchise mainstays Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley were dogged by injuries, and their ability to bounce back will play a big part in Cleveland’s success next season. Beyond that, president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff are faced with the potential departures of Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce and Austin Jackson through free agency. The Indians extended a qualifying offer to Santana, but it’s hard to envision him returning for one year and $17.4 million when he’s likely to fetch three or four years on the open market.
If Santana and/or Bruce leave, the Indians will have to fill the lineup voids internally or with second-tier free agents. They have to hope Bradley Zimmer will rebound from a dismal second half (.196/.275/.318) and be a more consistent producer in his second full season. There are a lot of reasonably-priced outfield/first base options to choose from (Lucas Duda, Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso, Mike Napoli, Carlos Gomez and Cameron Maybin, to name a few) if Antonetti and Chernoff want to add a free agent or two without busting the payroll. — Jerry Crasnick
Minnesota Twins: Should the Twins try to trade Brian Dozier this winter?
Last winter’s failure to trade Brian Dozier after his 42-homer season when he still had two years left before free agency might have been a missed opportunity for the Twins’ new management team to get maximum value, but it paid off on the field, when Dozier smacked another 34 home runs and produced a 4.4 WAR season. Dozier’s value might be less now, but he’s still valuable.
Dozier is just one year shy of potentially leaving for big money, and he’s making $9 million in the meantime — not so much for a second baseman who has proven that he can hit 30-40 homers per season. He is certainly the kind of player who’d be a difference-maker for a team in contention right now and looking for better help than this winter’s free-agent pool will provide.
Is it worth dangling Dozier in deals again? Or will the Twins want to keep him in place for their own bid to win another postseason appearance after last year’s wild card? The Twins could certainly use him to answer some of their other immediate needs, such as adding high-end pitching prospects for their rotation or bullpen. — Christina Kahrl
Kansas City Royals: Should they try to re-sign any of their big free agents?
No, making sure that shortstop Alcides Escobar gets paid is not what we’re talking about, any more than we should expect any one of Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas to accept the Royals’ qualifying offers. The Royals had the worst of all possible outcomes in their 2017 season: neither reaching the playoffs in a last hurrah for the 2014-2015 pennant winners nor falling out of the wild-card race quickly enough to choose to flip any or all of them before they reached free agency.
Now the question is whether the Royals can convince any of those players to stay. Their likely payroll for 2018 is already going to be around $120 million, but what that money is paying for doesn’t add up to a team ready to return to the postseason picture, projecting to a last-place finish as is.
Cain might be too expensive to bring back, given the shortage of up-the-middle talent available on the market, but at his age (32 shortly after Opening Day next year), he might be a bit risky. Moustakas and Hosmer are both still under 30 years old and might have several good seasons left in them, but does either of them want to spend those seasons in Kansas City? The Royals might find cheaper alternatives, but they’ll be hard-pressed to afford better. — Kahrl
Chicago White Sox: Have they checked under the cushions for any more veterans to trade?
Let’s face it: The White Sox are about to enter the dog days of their rebuilding plan. Remember those exciting Houston Astros who just won a World Series with dynamic, young talent all over the field? That’s what the White Sox are trying to do. But the Astros endured three straight 100-loss seasons and another of 90-plus losses before they turned the corner. This was Year 1 in the White Sox’s rebuild.
Is there anyone else to trade? Chicago probably has landed its last super-package of prospects from its collection of veterans. Jose Abreu is 30 years old, Chicago’s best player and a dynamic offensive producer. But teams just don’t deal big packages of elite prospects for first base/DH types. Plus, Abreu seems content to stick around and mentor the coming waves of young White Sox talent such as Yoan Moncada. Abreu is young enough to still be a useful DH by the time Chicago begins to move up the ladder.
The only other obvious trade candidate is outfielder Avisail Garcia, who made the AL All-Star team last season. He’s only 26, but last season was well beyond his previous track record, and this might be a good time to sell high. Or not. The White Sox are under no pressure to do much of anything at the moment. — Bradford Doolittle
After the July trade deadline, the torn-down Tigers went 17-41 — and that was with Justin Verlander’s last six starts for Detroit before he was dealt to the Astros. “Winning” games at that clip next season would put the Tigers on pace to lose more than 110 games and conjure up memories of the 119-loss Tigers of 2003. The question is: Now that they’ve committed to a full rebuild, will they stay that bad?
You’ll still find famous names such as Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jordan Zimmermann on the roster, but it’s unlikely that the Tigers could find many takers for Zimmermann, let alone anyone willing to absorb Miggy’s $30 million-plus annual salary through 2023. They could find takers for second baseman Ian Kinsler (under contract for one more year if they’d eat some of his $11 million paycheck) or third baseman Nick Castellanos (arbitration-eligible through 2019). If they really wanted to run up the white flag for years to come, they might get the biggest package of prospects if they were ready to entertain offers for right-hander Michael Fulmer.
If GM Al Avila is completely free to move everything and everybody he can, the last two months of the 2017 season could be a window into the future. You need to remember only the Astros’ World Series win last week to see that the payoff for being realistic might actually arrive before the Tigers have cut their last check to Cabrera. — Kahrl