Let’s make a move for every team … a blockbuster move. Because every team should think big. “Boldness be my friend,” wrote William Shakespeare. Indeed!
THE MACHADO AND HARPER DEPARTMENT
This was the plan all along, to set everything up to have a chance at these two free agents in the 2018-19 offseason. The payroll sits at an estimated $115 million, though the only commitments past 2020 are to Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery. Sign ’em both, and you don’t risk not signing either.
The Rockies made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history, which is somewhat remarkable since the team didn’t have a good offseason either year. First, they flushed $70 million down the toilet on Ian Desmond, and last year, they spent $106 million on three free-agent relievers and ended up with the 13th-worst bullpen ERA in the National League.
Jeff Bridich has a good rotation. The bullpen, in theory, should be better. This team needs offense. The Rockies always think they have enough offense when they don’t. Why spend money on Harper and Pollock when Nolan Arenado is entering his final season before free agency? Because you don’t know if you’re going to sign Arenado. Go all-in for Arenado’s final season, run the payroll up for one season and dream of Harper’s numbers at Coors Field, where he has hit .387/.489/.627 in his career. Pollock — .338/.387/.597 at Coors — gives the team a defensive upgrade in center field and allows Charlie Blackmon to shift to a corner. If David Dahl is healthy and hitting, you can even give Harper some reps at first base (hey, Scott Boras said Harper can play there).
Detroit Tigers sign Manny Machado.
Conventional wisdom says you don’t sign free agents — the expensive ones, anyway — until you’re ready to win. Are the Tigers ready to win? No, they’re not. But that’s the beauty of Machado. He’s young enough to be a long-term investment. The Tigers have trimmed the payroll down to the bones other than the $55 million (gulp) they’ll be paying Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann the next two seasons (and Cabrera beyond that), so there’s plenty of room to sign Machado.
One issue: We don’t know if Chris Ilitch will spend like his dad. And before you think there’s no way a losing franchise can haul in Machado (or Harper), consider some of the biggest payouts in MLB history:
— Alex Rodriguez to Rangers in 2001: Texas coming off a 71-91 season
— Robinson Cano to Mariners in 2014: Mariners coming four straight losing seasons
— Zack Greinke to Diamondbacks in 2016: Coming off 83- and 98-loss seasons
Machado is more likely here than Harper, especially if he wants to play shortstop. The left-handed-hitting Harper is unlikely to want to go to Comerica Park and face that power alley in right-center.
Chicago White Sox sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.
The White Sox are in the same situation as the Tigers and haven’t finished above .500 since 2012. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf is 82, and the team his group purchased for $19 million in 1981 is now valued at $1.5 billion. It’s time to move forward and stop worrying about profit margins. Harper would be the more attractive draw, bringing some much-needed attention to Chicago’s second team. He would also love to hit in homer-friendly Guaranteed Rate Field while going to a big-market team — without the media headaches of playing for the Cubs. One problem: Reinsdorf and team VP Kenny Williams have a contentious history with Scott Boras.
Texas Rangers sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.
Sure, they need pitching. When you lose 95 games, however, you need everything. The Rangers move into a new park in 2020. They need some star power. If the new park has the launch pod to right field like the current one, Harper could easily be convinced to come there.
San Francisco Giants sign Bryce Harper.
Everyone suggests this is a perfect fit. I’m not sure it’s perfect for Harper, though, since AT&T Park is a place where fly balls to right field go to die. Plus, there’s a reasonable chance the Giants will stink for the next five years. I’m also not sure it’s the right fit for Farhan Zaidi, who was part of the Dodgers’ front office that didn’t spend on superstar free agents, instead focusing on roster depth and developing the farm system. The Giants could trade Madison Bumgarner, but he has just one season left on his contract, and his peripherals have declined. You might not get that much for him, so maybe the Giants go after Harper and hope to re-sign Bumgarner.
THE NEED A BIG-TIME STARTING PITCHER DIVISION
Reports say Kluber is available. Maybe the Indians trade him; maybe they trade Trevor Bauer or Carlos Carrasco. It seems likely they’ll trade one of them. Kluber is under control for three more seasons — the same as Chris Sale when the White Sox traded him to the Red Sox, so a Kluber trade would look similar. The White Sox extracted a top-10 overall prospect in Yoan Moncada and a top-20 prospect in Michael Kopech, plus two lower-level minor leaguers. Maybe Kluber isn’t worth quite as much; he’s a little older than Sale was, and he’ll make $13 million more over the three seasons.
The Braves would be wise to consolidate some of their young talent for a star. The Indians don’t get a top-10 prospect, but in this deal they get three guys who could contribute in 2019. Pache is a top-20 or so prospect who projects as a premium defender for a team that needs a center fielder. Riley is basically big league ready, and the Indians could slide Jose Ramirez to second base and Jason Kipnis to the outfield. Toussaint is a high-end arm who reached the majors in 2018.
Bullpenning is nice, but an ace starter is even nicer.
At the GM meetings, Brian Cashman said his three biggest needs were “starting pitching, starting pitching and middle infield.” The Yankees re-signed CC Sabathia, but that’s hardly their final stop at the mall. As for the Mariners, Jerry Dipoto is itching to trade Paxton, who has two seasons of team control left. Based on the Mike Zunino deal, Dipoto is looking for major-league-ready talent more than Class A prospects. Sheffield and Loaisiga both reached the majors last season, so they fit that bill. Sheffield is the better bet to remain a starter, while Loaisiga has some nasty stuff but has had issues staying healthy.
Oh, and then the Yankees can spend $100-plus million on Patrick Corbin — who rooted for the Yankees growing up in Syracuse — to give them a rotation of Luis Severino, Corbin, Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and Sabathia, with Sonny Gray and the rehabbing Jordan Montgomery in reserve.
The Reds have made it clear that they’re shopping for pitching help. After four straight last-place finishes, it’s time to get out of that 90-something loss club. Corbin will be too expensive for their tastes, but if they’re serious about being players in the NL Central, they need to go all-in and sign two starters.
Los Angeles Angels sign Patrick Corbin.
You have two more years when you know for sure Mike Trout is on your roster. This is no time to be shy. Corbin is the best starting pitcher in free agency. The Angels can bring him back home — they drafted him back in 2009 before trading him to Arizona in the Dan Haren deal in 2010.
OK, that doesn’t feel so bold, especially if Harper departs. Fine. Sign Yasmani Grandal as well to fill that ginormous hole at catcher. If Victor Robles can take over in center, a full year of Juan Soto and the upgrade at catcher could lead to a better offense, even without Harper.
San Diego Padres sign Dallas Keuchel and Yusei Kikuchi.
The rumors have the Padres looking for starting pitching help. Makes sense! They need starting pitching! They could also trade from their minor league arsenal, but given that they likely won’t be contenders in 2019 (don’t tell A.J. Preller), it makes sense to avoid any big prospect trades for now. Keuchel would be a nice veteran leader for the young staff, and Kikuchi, one of the top pitchers in Japan, is likely to be posted this winter. Add those two to Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer, with Chris Paddack and Logan Allen knocking on the door (plus highly touted lefty MacKenzie Gore a couple of years away), and Padres fans can finally start dreaming of a good rotation.
Hyun-Jin Ryu accepted the Dodgers’ qualifying offer, so that probably takes them out of the need for a starting pitcher. We all know they need some bullpen help; it has been two painful Octobers trying to watch Dave Roberts match up in the World Series with a group of mediocre middle men. Instead, he could slot Diaz with Kenley Jansen late in games.
Diaz had a monster season, with 57 saves and 124 K’s in 73 1/3 innings. He’s under team control for four years. He throws 100 with a wipeout slider. The Mariners get Verdugo, who doesn’t really have an opening to play in L.A. but would start in left field for the Mariners. Floro is a solid bullpen arm, while White is a wild-card pitching prospect with some upside.
Dipoto has said Diaz isn’t available, but it seems obvious that he should be available, especially if you’re worried about a 160-pound guy throwing 100 mph staying healthy. Look at the playoff contenders who could use a closer:
— Dodgers: Jansen is no longer automatic.
— Red Sox: They can re-sign Craig Kimbrel, but that might cost $50-plus million.
— Phillies: Nine relievers recorded saves for them in 2018.
— Braves: Some good arms down on the farm, but Diaz would be a big upgrade in the ninth.
The Cubs still have a position-player logjam. Schwarber could play left field or DH for the Mariners, while Alzolay is the Cubs’ top pitching prospect on the brink of reaching the majors.
The Mets had a 4.96 bullpen ERA. Only the Royals and Marlins were worse. They need relievers! New GM Brodie Van Wagenen said he isn’t going to trade Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, so upgrade that bullpen. Of course, the more likely scenario is the Wilpons don’t want to spend the money, and the Mets end up with Bud Norris, Shawn Kelley and Ryan Madson.
NEED A BIG BAT
The Cardinals could use another big bat in the lineup after finishing fifth in the NL in runs, ninth in batting average, eighth in OBP and seventh in slugging. We don’t know what the Diamondbacks will do yet, but with Corbin and Pollock in free agency and Goldschmidt on the final year of his contract, they’re obviously contemplating a minor roster reshuffle.
This trade gives Arizona two potential starting pitchers plus a replacement for Goldschmidt — and it would allow them some financial flexibility after dumping the $104.5 million left on Greinke’s contract. Greinke does have a 15-team no-trade clause, but St. Louis seems like a place he would agree to go to. The Cardinals then have a rotation of Greinke, Milos Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Alex Reyes and Adam Wainwright (plus Michael Wacha and John Gant). Matt Carpenter shifts back to third, Marcell Ozuna bounces back with a big year, they live with Paul DeJong at shortstop, and they beat the Brewers and Cubs in the NL Central.
The Rays won 90 games. Nobody expected that, especially after their rotation was decimated by injuries. They somehow allowed the second-fewest runs in the AL, but they were ninth in runs and next-to-last in home runs. They need a power bat, and they could afford Cruz on a two-year, $30 million deal.
OK, at first glance, this one doesn’t seem to fit. The Red Sox led the AL in runs, and they need a closer. They’ll find a closer. Maybe they’ll re-sign Kimbrel, maybe they’ll give the job to Matt Barnes, maybe they’ll trade for somebody during the season. Maybe they’ll simply focus on re-signing postseason hero Eovaldi.
But Donaldson is tempting. Yes, the Sox have Rafael Devers at third base. I’m not saying you give up on him. He hit 21 home runs at age 21. He isn’t very good on defense, however, and his OBP was .298, so he was more hype than production in 2018. Still, he’s young. Maybe you slide him over to first base and keep Mitch Moreland around as a bench guy. Or maybe you move Donaldson over to first base. Maybe you sign Donaldson and trade Devers for some pitching help (Dave Dombrowski never met a young player he couldn’t trade). Whatever you do, I like adding a right-handed bat to this lineup.
Hey, that’s two hitters and a pitcher! The Twins are going to be one of the fascinating teams of the offseason. Their current payroll is about $70 million or $58 million less than last season. They played it cautiously in free agency last year, with smaller deals for the likes of Logan Morrison, Lance Lynn and Fernando Rodney. That seemed like a decent idea, but it didn’t work out. The lesson: Go bigger. They need a third baseman. Murphy could play second or first or DH (with Miguel Sano slotting in at first or DH). Eovaldi plugs a hole in the rotation. Thank me later when they edge out the Indians for the division title.
EVERYBODY WANTS JED LOWRIE
Oakland’s payroll is currently an estimated $77 million — already higher than last year’s Opening Day payroll of $66 million. They were at $87 million a couple years ago, so they can go higher than $77 million. Heck, every team can go higher if it really wants to.
Anyway, can the A’s afford both Lowrie and Gonzalez? It could work. There are some arbitration-eligible relievers they can non-tender: cutting Kendall Graveman, Cory Gearrin and Ryan Dull will save about $7 million. Lowrie and Gonzalez might get $10 million to $12 million each on two-year deals. That brings the payroll to about $92 million.
Pittsburgh Pirates sign Lowrie … and acquire SS Daniel Robertson from the Rays for OF Travis Swaggerty.
Maybe the Pirates made their big move over the summer in Chris Archer, but they need to upgrade the middle infield. Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison are both gone, but that isn’t a bad thing, as the Pirates ranked 26th in wOBA at second base and shortstop.
Lowrie is the kind of lower-cost veteran the Pirates can afford to bring in, and the Rays have a middle infield logjam with Robertson, Willy Adames, Joey Wendle and Brandon Lowe. Robertson is pre-arb and nets the Rays the Pirates’ first-round pick from 2018.
BE BOLD … BE DARING … OH, JUST DO SOMETHING
Merrifield had a great 2018: He led the AL in hits and stolen bases while batting .304, a 5.5-WAR season. Dayton Moore has understandably said he doesn’t want to trade Merrifield, who has four more seasons of team control. That’s a nice sentiment, but he’s also 30 in January, and his trade value will never be higher. The Royals receive two high-upside prospects in return. The Angels get more help for Trout.
The Blue Jays are kind of a mess, biding their time until Vladdy Jr., Bo Bichette, Danny Jansen, Sean Reid-Foley and Cavan Biggio are ready to make an impact — maybe that’s in 2019 for all of them. At least watching those young guys come up will make the team more interesting to watch. As for a big move, I have no idea. Since Gonzalez can play anywhere, we’ll put him in Toronto, and Sanchez is a cheaper arm coming off a nice season who could be potential trade bait.
UNLESS REMOVING THE SCULPTURE IS YOUR BOLD MOVE OF THE OFFSEASON
The Marlins will ask for Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley. They won’t get either one, but they’ll get three good prospects if they’re willing to part with their All-Star catcher, who has two seasons of team control left.
THEN WE HAVE THE ORIOLES
Baltimore Orioles hire Theo Epstein as lord of the franchise.
Yes, the Orioles have yet to hire a general manager. Theo has ended curses in Boston and Chicago. Ahh, big deal, two big-market franchises. Turn this thing around, and then we’ll put him in the Hall of Fame.