Offseason Outlook Rumors

Offseason Outlook: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers made a return to the American League Championship Series in 2013 but saw themselves on the outside looking in for a second straight season, with the Red Sox advancing to the Fall Classic.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Free Agents

The first order of business this offseason was shored up when Detroit hired Brad Ausmus as their new skipper, giving the former catcher a three-year deal despite no prior Major League managerial experience. The Tigers will hope that Ausmus is adept at managing a clubhouse as Mike Matheny has been in St. Louis. With that out of the way, on-field issues can be addressed.

Two players that won't be returning are Jhonny Peralta and Brayan Pena, but the Tigers have in-house replacements ready to go. Detroit acquired the slick-fielding Jose Iglesias in this summer's three-team trade with the White Sox and Red Sox, and the Rookie of the Year runner-up is set to man the position for years to come. The Tigers said early that Pena would be allowed to test the open market in favor of in-house options Bryan Holaday and James McCann, and Pena responded quickly by inking a two-year pact with the Reds.

Second base and left field could be addressed on the free agent market. Some have speculated that the Tigers could be fits for top free agents Jacoby Ellsbury (despite the presence of Jackson) and Shin-Soo Choo. Both would provide major upgrades to the lineup, and there's probably not a lot of harm in delaying a full-time role for Castellanos until 2015, when he'll still be just 23 years old. In that scenario, Fielder and Cabrera could split time between DH and first base, with Castellanos moving to his natural position of third base.

It'd make sense for Detroit to pursue a reunion with Infante, and the free-spending Tigers have to at least be mentioned as a dark-horse candidate for Robinson Cano. Given their commitments to Verlander, Fielder and Sanchez plus the increasingly pressing need to address a Cabrera extension, Cano, Ellsbury and Choo seem to be unlikely targets. However, owner Mike Ilitch could consider one of them the final piece needed to secure a World Series championship in his lifetime.

The Tigers marched to the 2013 ALCS with the game's most dominant rotation with the American League's most dominant rotation in terms of ERA (3.44) and Major League Baseball's most dominant rotation in terms of innings pitched (1,023), FIP (3.12) and fWAR (25.3). That entire group is set to return in 2014, but there are rumblings that Scherzer is on the trading block this offseason, as the Tigers can afford to deal from that depth and know they have little to no chance of extending the Scott Boras standout with his first taste of free agency so close at hand. Porcello's name has also come up in recent trade rumblings.

Any trade involving Scherzer could be used as a means to fill the team's hole at second base with Infante departing, and it could also bring in a more impactful bat behind the plate than Avila. The Tigers badly need bullpen depth, but a hard-throwing, high-upside reliever would be a mere complementary piece in a Scherzer trade as opposed to a focal point. Left field presents a need as well, though Castellanos could be a cost-effective option at that position.

Porcello would command a lesser return, though he's incredibly yet to turn 25 years old (he will in December). Porcello has two years of team control remaining and is coming off his best season in terms of strikeouts (142 total, 7.1 K/9), ground-ball rate (55.3 percent), FIP (3.53), xFIP (3.19) and fWAR (3.2). His 4.32 ERA doesn't paint as pretty a picture, but it was the second-best mark of his career.

The presence of Drew Smyly allows Detroit to consider moving one of Scherzer or Porcello, but it's fair to wonder if such a trade would simply worsen what was arguably the team's biggest weakness — bullpen depth.

The Tigers may have enviable depth in the rotation, but that is not the case when it comes to their relief corps. Dombrowski and Co. elected to stay in-house last offseason and were met with a carousel early in the season that led to the return of Jose Valverde. While Papa Grande stabilized the position briefly, he soon melted down and found himself designated for assignment. Benoit solidified the position for the remainder of the season but now finds himself a free agent.

A reunion with Benoit would make sense and could cost something like $16MM over a two-year term, but the prize of the relief market is likely Joe Nathan. There's mutual interest between the Tigers and the 39-year-old Nathan, who leads all active pitchers in saves. Nathan is coming off the second-best ERA (1.39) and the best ERA+ (297) of his storied career. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes projected a two-year, $26MM contract for Nathan, and the Tigers are one team that could afford to pay him so lavishly. Theoretically, the Tigers may even be able to add Nathan and still ink Benoit on a two-year deal as a setup man.

The Tigers could also use a left-handed reliever. Coke is a non-tender candidate after a brutal 5.40 ERA, and the team already lost Darin Downs on waivers to the Astros. Names like Javier Lopez, J.P. Howell and Boone Logan are all available on the free agent market for lefty relievers.

Ultimately, the Tigers could stand pat this offseason and still perhaps be considered the front-runners for the AL Central crown, but don't expect that to happen. Dombrowski has routinely made significant additions over the past several seasons, and he's often acted quickly. Recent November moves have included the signings of Benoit, Martinez and Hunter as well as the Peralta's extension in 2010. The Tigers have a clear need at second base and figure to be aggressive in their pursuit of bullpen help as they look to capitalize on their brilliant rotation and the prime years of Cabrera's career.


Offseason Outlook: Boston Red Sox

After a last place finish in 2012, a heralded offseason helped bring the Red Sox a World Series title in 2013.  What can the Sox and GM Ben Cherington do for an encore this winter?

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Free Agents

Other Payroll Obligations

A winning strategy always draws imitators, and there's no doubt many clubs took note of how the Red Sox returned to prominence after eschewing big-ticket moves in favor of less-expensive and more measured free agent signings in the 2012-13 offseason.  Adding the right mid-tier free agents can definitely help turn a 69-game winner into a World Series champion in one offseason — just as long as you have the likes of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz already on your roster and they all make big rebounds from down seasons.  While the free agents, improved team chemistry, and addition of John Farrell as manager unquestionably helped, Boston's worst-to-first title run isn't as much a case of a bad team suddenly becoming great as it was a good team getting back on track after a Murphy's Law season in 2012.

The strength of the Sox core is illustrated in their list of guaranteed contracts and the four arbitration-eligible players likely to be tendered contracts.  Those 16 players account for just under $128MM in payroll and only three are guaranteed money beyond next season.  This gives the Red Sox tons of flexibility in filling their few holes, whether it's re-signing some key players, taking on a big salary in a trade or making more forays into free agency.  While their core is strong, the Sox aren't afraid to shake things up in order to make the roster even stronger over the long run.

Let's start with Ellsbury, Boston's biggest internal free agent case.  The Red Sox made at least two attempts to lock up their center fielder before he hit the open market, and now Ellsbury heads into free agency wearing another World Series ring and coming off a .298/.355/.426 season that included nine homers, 92 runs scored and a league-best 52 stolen bases.  MLBTR's Tim Dierkes ranks Ellsbury second on his free agent power rankings and recently guessed that Ellsbury and agent Scott Boras could find a contract in the $150MM range. 

If the bidding goes that high, Boston could be out, as the club is reportedly unwilling to greatly exceed the $100MM threshold for Ellsbury.  I'd still consider the Red Sox as the favorites to sign Ellsbury but it wouldn't be the first time that Boras has scored an inflated contract for one of this clients.  If a team (or teams) push the bidding past $125MM, expect Ellsbury to be playing in another team's uniform in 2014.  It's not that Boston couldn't afford such a contract, but in the wake of the Carl Crawford deal, the Sox are wary about paying a speed-based player big dollars into his 30's.

If Ellsbury leaves, the Sox could give Jackie Bradley a chance at the center field job.  Bradley (a consensus top-40 prospect in preseason rankings from MLB.com, Baseball America and ESPN's Keith Law) has put up big minor league numbers and could join Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts as the latest homegrown prospects to step into the Boston lineup.  Bradley could be used in a platoon to begin with, and the Sox could look for a right-handed hitting CF in the mold of a Rajai Davis or a Reed Johnson to add to the outfield depth chart.

Napoli has said he wants to return to Boston, and a reunion could happen if a three-year/$42MM contract is indeed Napoli's price.  There have been rumors, however, that the club isn't keen on giving Napoli three guaranteed years and Boston's pursuit of Jose Dariel Abreu could be a sign that the Sox are ready to move on from Napoli.  Mike Carp dominated right-handed pitching in 2013, though his less-impressive career splits indicate that the Sox would probably prefer to keep Carp as a part-timer rather than a semi-everyday first baseman. 

First base is a relatively easy enough position to fill that the Sox might prefer the compensatory first round draft pick that they would receive if Napoli signs elsewhere.  Stephen Drew, similarly, might not be as valuable to the Sox as a first-round pick, since the presence of Bogaerts and Middlebrooks on the left side of the infield makes Drew's return problematic (barring some position juggling).  Since Drew will draw attention from several shortstop-needy teams, my guess is the Red Sox will move on. 

While Ellsbury, Napoli and Drew received qualifying offers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia did not.  He could be re-signed but a slugging catcher who isn't tied to any draft pick compensation will surely draw a lot of attention from other teams, and another club could very well give him a four-year contract (Boston is reportedly willing to give "Salty" as many as three guaranteed years).  The Red Sox are, however, a team that could be well-positioned to sign Brian McCann.  Boston would have to surrender their first round draft pick (30th overall) to sign McCann but that's no big loss since the club could gain as many as three compensatory picks if Ellsbury, Napoli and/or Drew left.  A five-year, $80MM contract would allow the Sox to install McCann behind the plate for a few seasons until Ryan Lavarnway, Blake Swihart or Christian Vazquez emerges as a catcher of the future, and then McCann could become a DH…provided that the ageless Ortiz isn't still mashing, that is.

Elsewhere around the diamond, if Drew leaves, the Sox are a good bet to sign a veteran infielder who can play either third or shortstop if Bogaerts or Middlebrooks struggles.  The Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes platoon worked out well in left field and should continue, while it will be business as usual for the trio of Pedroia, Ortiz and Shane Victorino.  It could be argued that Boston's offseason really began when they managed to lock up Pedroia to a below-market extension in July, a move that should aid the Sox payroll for the better part of the next decade.

The team boasts strong rotation depth with Lester, Lackey, Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, Ryan Dempster and younger arms like Brandon Workman, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa in reserve.  If that wasn't enough, the Sox have checked in on free agent starter Tim Hudson, which would seem to hint that one or more of the current starters could be moved in a trade.  The Red Sox could sell high on Lackey, or perhaps deal Peavy following his postseason struggles.  Dempster would probably be the preferred candidate to deal given rough 2013 season, age (36) and $13.25MM salary.  Boston could try to mine trade value from his durability and home/away splits to prove that Dempster could pitch better in a friendly environment than Fenway Park.

Lester would be an even bigger trade chip if the Sox wanted to really make a splash, and we know that Lester was shopped to the Royals last offseason following his disappointing 2012 campaign.  While Lester could bring back a huge return, it's more likely that the Red Sox will look to extend the southpaw given his return to form in 2013 with a strong regular season and outstanding playoff run.  No talks have yet taken place about another multiyear extension, though the Sox already made the easy call of picking up Lester's 2014 option.

Koji Uehara easily passed the 55-game plateau that caused his 2014 option to vest, and his emergence as a lockdown closer makes his $4.5MM salary for next season seem like a bargain.  Uehara's dominance solved a lot of problems in the Sox bullpen though there will be holes to fill as Andrew Bailey will likely be non-tendered and Matt Thornton's option has already been declined.  Joel Hanrahan could be re-signed to a low-cost deal since the former closer missed almost all of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Between a surprise World Series win, their talented veteran core and the minor league system with the best short-term potential of any in baseball, these are heady times for the Red Sox.  It's probably too much to expect everything to again work out for the franchise in 2014, just as it was pessimistic to presume that things would continue to spiral downward following the disastrous 2012 season.  If the team does even as half as good a job filling their holes as they did last winter, however, expect more postseason action at Fenway Park.


Offseason Outlook: St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals fell to the Red Sox in the World Series last week, but with a roster well-stocked with young talent, their short- and long-term futures appear bright.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligibles

Free Agents

With a terrific 2013 season, a strong big-league core in place and more young talent on the way, the Cardinals are in excellent shape, and nothing that happens this offseason is likely to change that. Their four free agents include two players (Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal) who didn't even play in 2013, which means that they'll only have to deal with the possible departures of two players (Carlos Beltran and Edward Mujica) who made meaningful contributions. (They'll also likely lose Jake Westbrook, whose option they recently declined.) That will leave them with only a few areas that they clearly need to address this offseason. And with Beltran, Carpenter, Furcal, Mujica and Jake Westbrook's combined salary of almost $45MM now available to spend, they'll have plenty of cash on hand.

Besides Mujica, every pitcher who made an impact in 2013, including many who will continue to make league-minimum salaries, will be available to return to a staff that finished fifth in the Majors in runs allowed. If anything, there's a chance that the Cardinals' pitching might be even better next year, given the likely departure of  Westbrook, who threw 116 2/3 of the Cardinals' weakest innings in 2013. The likely recipient of many of those innings will be 2013 rookie Michael Wacha, who pitched well in 64 2/3 regular-season innings and was nearly unhittable throughout much of the postseason. Three other spots in the rotation will likely be taken by perennial Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright, top youngster Shelby Miller and workhorse Lance Lynn.

That leaves Joe Kelly, who isn't nearly as good as his 2.69 ERA in 2013 suggests but is more than capable in the back end of a rotation. Jaime Garcia will also likely be a a possibility — he's currently rehabbing the shoulder injury that shut him down in May. Carlos Martinez could also vy for a rotation spot, and Tyler Lyons will be available as depth. Tim Cooney, who's coming off an outstanding season at Double-A Springfield, may emerge as a possibility later in the season. With front-line starting pitching and quality depth, there is little reason for the Cardinals to pursue a starting pitcher in free agency.

They'll also have few meaningful losses in their starting lineup, although there are plenty of moving parts. They're set with Yadier Molina at catcher, Allen Craig and Matt Adams at first base, and Matt Holliday in the outfield. At their other outfield positions, letting Beltran depart might open up more opportunities for Adams (with Craig moving to the outfield so that Adams can play first) and top prospect Oscar Taveras. They also have Jon Jay, who they could leave in center field or upon whom they could attempt to upgrade. Kolten Wong will likely become the Cardinals' primary second baseman, with Matt Carpenter, a potential MVP candidate in 2013, moving to third. The Cardinals could also keep Wong in Triple-A if need be, leave Carpenter at second, and stick with David Freese at the hot corner.

That leaves shortstop, which was a glaring weakness for the Cardinals all season, with starter Pete Kozma playing at replacement value and showing few signs of the ability to climb much above it. The free agent class at shortstop isn't outstanding, but Stephen Drew or perhaps Jhonny Peralta would make sense. There may also be options on the trade market, although Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies doesn't appear to be a possibility. In any case, expect the Cardinals to do something to upgrade the position.

The Cardinals can rely on their deep well of power arms to fill out their bullpen. Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist emerged in 2013 and should continue to play key roles in 2014. Martinez and Kelly will also be good bullpen candidates if they aren't in the rotation. Lefty Randy Choate and ground ball specialist Seth Maness will also be back, and Jason Motte will return after Tommy John surgery shut him down for the 2013 season. As effective as Mujica was this year, there's no reason for the Cardinals to overpay for his services, given their stockpile.

If nothing else, the Cardinals can improve by acquiring a shortstop who can hit even a little. There's also still room for them to improve on the defensive front, not only by replacing Beltran and perhaps Jay, but also by implementing more defensive shifts, one of the few areas where they're behind the rest of the game. The Cardinals limited their number of shifts in 2013 upon encountering resistance from some of their pitchers. They plan to be more aggressive in implementing shifts next year, which should meaningfully improve their defense.

If the Cardinals take a step backwards next season, it might be because their three top 2013 performers regress somewhat. Matt Carpenter, Wainwright and Molina all posted in excess of 5 WAR in 2013, and expecting them to repeat their 2013 showings may be asking a lot. Carpenter's 7.0 WAR season, in particular, likely represents a career peak, and he shouldn't be counted on to do that again.

That's the curse of being an excellent team, though — a 97-win season isn't easy to repeat. Still, the Cardinals have a star-studded roster, and a farm system that should be able to continue to deliver solid contributors after others depart.

That means the Cardinals don't have to be aggressive this offseason. They could play it safe, find an upgrade at shortstop, and get ready for 2014. If they do want to get ambitious, though, there are ways for them to do that, too, as the New York Post's Joel Sherman recently noted. Perhaps the Cardinals could upgrade by pursuing a big name like Jacoby Ellsbury in the outfield — Ellsbury would represent a big upgrade over Jay, both offensively and defensively. (With the No. 31 pick in the 2014 draft and a deep farm system, they won't have to worry much about losing a pick by signing a player who has been extended a qualifying offer; they'll also likely be able to replace any draft pick they might lose with the one they'll get if another team signs Beltran.) The Cardinals could also trade Taveras or Adams for help elsewhere.

Somewhat more conservatively, the Cards could trade from their pitching stockpile to acquire a shortstop. The Indians, for example, will be looking for pitching this offseason, and they can offer Asdrubal Cabrera. Alexei Ramirez or Erick Aybar might also be possibilities.

In other words, the Cards have plenty of flexibility, and aside from the shortstop position, they can make moves proactively, rather than simply acquiring players to fill obvious needs. The Cardinals' core of stars (Wainwright, Molina, Carpenter, Holliday) and recent influx of cheap, high-quality young pitching (Miller, Wacha, Lynn, Martinez, Rosenthal, Siegrist, Kelly) should put them in an enviable position for years to come.



Offseason Outlook: Oakland Athletics

The Athletics have contractual control over their entire starting lineup, including platoons, so GM Billy Beane will stay the course in 2014 after a second consecutive AL West title. 

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

The Athletics' main objective this offseason should be to figure out a way to beat Justin Verlander in an ALDS Game 5, which is how each of their past two post-season runs have ended. With tongue no longer firmly planted in cheek, the Athletics' priority this winter is what to do if, as expected, Balfour departs via free agency and to determine whether Colon's stabilizing influence is still needed for their young rotation.

The Athletics are loathe to spend valuable resources on a closer and MLBTR's Steve Adams sees Balfour netting a two-year, $18MM contract in free agency. Beane and manager Bob Melvin have both said Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook are options to replace the Australian with Beane also mentioning Dan Otero. If the Athletics want to purchase an insurance policy, there aren't many free agent closers who will accept a one-year deal in the club's price range, but Francisco Rodriguez and Kevin Gregg could fall into that category. If they simply want a veteran presence in the bullpen on a team-friendly contract, LaTroy Hawkins, David Aardsma, Kyle Farnsworth, and Brandon Lyon could provide that. Jerry Blevins and Jesse Chavez will return to round out the relief corps.

Colon, who wants to pitch three more years, is amenable to returning to Oakland and Beane has acknowledged it "would be foolish" not to "have real interest in bringing him back." There's interest, but is there room in the rotation? Sonny Gray and A.J. Griffin have injury concerns; but, if healthy, expect to front the rotation along with Jarrod Parker. Brett Anderson, Dan Straily, and Tommy Milone will compete to fill out the rotation. The oft-injured Anderson is generating some trade interest with the Blue Jays most prominently linked to the left-hander. In his Blue Jays' offseason outlook, MLBTR's Mark Polishuk theorizes Toronto could deal closer Casey Janssen for starting pitching. There is a 2014 club option on Janssen worth $4MM, which would make him appealing to the Athletics. The Blue Jays may be willing to absorb the $4MM difference in salaries in a straight-up trade for Anderson or Oakland would have to become creative by including additional player(s) and/or international bonus slot money. Dealing Anderson would also free up a rotation spot for Colon, but re-signing the 40-year-old will be dependent on how much of a raise he expects from his expiring one-year, $3MM deal. 

Most of the Athletics' other offseason moves will be procedural: which members of their 11-player arbitration class will be tendered contracts and which club options will be exercised. With regards to the former, Daric Barton, Pat Neshek, Scott Sizemore, and Fernando Rodriguez are non-tender possibilities. All four, however, are candidates to be re-signed to minor league deals. With regards to the latter, Beane has said Coco Crisp will be back in the Green and Gold next year. Crisp would like a multi-year extension, but that is a higher priority for him than the team. Anderson's option is also likely to be exercised while Chris Young and Kurt Suzuki are too expensive to retain in bench roles. Michael Choice, the team's second-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, will be called upon to fill Young's spot while the Athletics are flush behind the plate with John Jaso, Derek Norris, and Stephen Vogt competing for playing time.

The one position where the Athletics could look for an upgrade is second base. Beane may decide to bide his time with the platoon of Alberto Callaspo and Eric Sogard while waiting for shortstop Addison Russell to reach the Majors. Once that happens, current shortstop Jed Lowrie could move over to second base. Russell, the 11th overall selection in the 2012 amateur draft will start the year in either Double-A or Triple-A, according to Beane. The best available free agent second baseman Robinson Cano is too pricey for the Athletics. Potential trade targets like Rickie Weeks (whose brother, Jemile, is in the A's system) and Dan Uggla have both underperformed the past two seasons and are expensive. An intriguing possibility is Brandon Phillips, who has apparently worn out his welcome in Cincinnati. Phillips slumped in 2013 with a slash line of .261/.310/.396 in 606 plate appearances, but that would still be an improvement over the Callaspo/Sogard tandem. Phillips is due $50MM through 2017. Would Beane be willing to take on such a large salary obligation with Russell in the wings? The answer depends on the Reds' asking price in terms of money absorbed to prospects received.

The Athletics ranked third in the AL in runs scored thanks to a breakout year from third baseman Josh Donaldson (.301/.384/.499 and 24 home runs). Yoenis Cespedes fell off from his outstanding rookie campaign with a .240/.294/.442 slash line, but the 28-year-old Cuban redeemed himself somewhat by hitting .381/.409/.667 in the ALDS and is a career .350/.395/.525 hitter in 43 post-season plate appearances. Brandon Moss also contributed a career-best 30 home runs in a career-high 505 plate appearances. Josh Reddick struggled with a right wrist injury and his numbers suffered because of it. Reddick will undergo arthroscopic surgery and should be at full strength by Spring Training. With this core, Beane thinks an additional bat would be nice, but not necessary.

"You could always use more, but…scoring runs wasn't an issue for us," said Beane (as quoted by John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle). "The body of work is pretty good. You'll look for ways to be better for sure, but realistically what we have and what's going to be available to us, it's hard to complain about that.

The Athletics have won 190 games the past two years en route to a pair of division titles. But, each season ended with ALDS heartbreak at the hands of Verlander and the Tigers. With so much success, the Athletics don't see a need to make dramatic changes to overcome their playoff failures. "We won our division doing things a certain way," Beane said (as quoted by MLB.com's Jane Lee). "We just fell one game short. I don't know that you completely try to do things differently based on coming up a game short." Each move Beane makes this winter will be geared towards bridging that one-game gap. 


Offseason Outlook: Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles will look to add a starting pitcher and another big bat (or two) to help them get back to the postseason, while also juggling a number of interesting arbitration cases.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

After a surprise playoff berth in 2012, the Orioles proved they weren't a fluke by posting another winning season in 2013.  What kept the O's six games out of an AL wild card slot, however, was their starting pitching, as Baltimore ranked near the bottom of the league in ERA (27th), innings pitched (22nd) and strikeouts (24th).

While improvement is clearly needed, the O's are in the difficult position of having a number of possible rotation upgrades within the organization already, except that they're still waiting for several of these young arms to break out.  The club doesn't want to acquire an expensive starter when a much more cost-effective hurler could emerge if just given an opportunity.  Orioles executive VP Dan Duquette recently said that the team wants to improve its pitching without trading top prospects or spending too much in free agency, so Duquette may have to get creative if he wants to make a significant rotation upgrade.

Chris Tillman has posted a 3.48 ERA with a 7.5 K/9 and 2.66 K/BB rate in 48 starts over the last two seasons, and the 2013 All-Star is the incumbent ace of Baltimore's staff.  Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen line up behind him having both delivered solid 2013 campaigns, though Chen spent a couple of months on the disabled list.  Bud Norris also returns having posted a 4.80 ERA in 11 games after he came to Baltimore from Houston in July, though that number was inflated by one particularly rough start against Oakland and a .387 BABIP for Norris as an Oriole.

Scott Feldman, the team's other major midseason starting acquisition, is a free agent and both sides share an interest in continuing their relationship.  MLBTR's Steve Adams predicts Feldman will find a two-year, $17MM contract (with a vesting option on a third year) on the free agent market this winter and that's a price that that Orioles would likely be able to fit into their budget, as long as another team doesn't offer Feldman a guaranteed third year.

Jason Hammel got the start on Opening Day after looking like a breakout star in 2012, but the right-hander struggled to a 4.97 ERA in 139 1/3 IP last year and now is rumored to have pitched his last game in the black and orange.  Hammel has had troubles staying healthy so, unless he re-signs for little more than his $6.75MM 2013 salary, the Orioles will probably let him go elsewhere.

On the "young phenom" front, Kevin Gausman posted a 5.66 ERA but a 9.3 K/9 and 3.77 K/BB over his first 47 2/3 Major League innings in 2013.  He could win himself a rotation spot with a big spring, though the O's might want to give him more Triple-A seasoning before expecting him to produce in a pennant-contending rotation.  Dylan Bundy (a preseason consensus top-three prospect in baseball), underwent Tommy John surgery last June and won't be able to contribute until midseason at best, though since he has only one year of pro experience, it's likely the Orioles will take it easy on his arm and not bring him back to the Majors right away.

Zach Britton, Steve Johnson and T.J. McFarland will be given chances to impress as starting pitchers for 2014, while Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter could again be stretched out but the O's are more likely to leave them in the bullpen where they were successful last season.  Britton and Matusz are both out of options and could be trade bait — Britton could be on his last chance in the organization, while the Orioles expected more from Matusz (picked fourth overall in the 2008 draft) by this point in his career.  While Duquette did say he wasn't planning to move any top prospects, the O's already moved one ex-top prospect earlier this year when they dealt Jake Arrieta to the Cubs as part of the Feldman trade.  It wouldn't be a shock to see Britton or Matusz go elsewhere as part of a swap for more proven talent if Baltimore is willing to move on from these young arms. 

While a Tillman/Gonzalez/Chen/Norris rotation is okay and there are a lot of interesting depth arms in the system, it's also basically a stand-pat pitching situation that might not be enough to keep pace in the AL East even if Feldman is re-signed.  One other free agent possibility, however, could be Ricky Nolasco, as the O's explored a deal for the righty last summer.  Nolasco was projected to earn a three-year/$36MM contract according to MLBTR's Tim Dierkes, though that prediction was made before Nolasco fell apart in late September and made just one postseason start for L.A.  If his price tag drops enough, Nolasco could again be on the Orioles' radar.

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Offseason Outlook: Atlanta Braves

After returning to the top of the NL East for the first time since their remarkable string of division titles ended in 2006, can the Braves defend their crown in 2014?

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

Boosting the Braves' hopes to repeat in 2014 — and, perhaps, enjoy a lengthier post-season experience — is quite an impressive slate of arbitration-eligible players. Of course, none of the club's outstanding, homegrown youngsters has yet to be locked up beyond the standard six years of control. Getting a conversation going with some of those talents could well stand high among Atlanta GM Frank Wren's winter priorities, though the Braves have failed to hand a new deal to any of their own players with less than five years of service time in Wren's six seasons at the helm. (Sifting through the many extension candidates, MLBTR's readers voted in favor of long-term deals for Kimbrel, Freeman, Minor, and Julio Teheran). 

As things stand, tendering contracts to all eligible players is projected to cost north of $35MM for 2014. And only Venters is a non-tender candidate among the players projected to be worth over $1MM. For a team whose opening day payroll has tended to land right around $90MM over the last several seasons, that represents a lot of cash. Though the team is committed to just four players (and one minimal buyout) for next season, that tacks on just over $42MM more. Filling out the rest of the roster with league minimum contracts could push the tab into the $80MM range. Unless the club is able to clear salary through trade or expand its budget, then, there will be relatively little excess available in the coming off-season.

Fortunately for the Braves, while Wren has a less-than-perfect track record on big dollar contracts, his front office has proven adept at extracting value from "free-talent" players. Among them, Jordan Schafer, Anthony Varvaro, and David Carpenter combined to add over 2 WAR last year, and figure to challenge for important bench and pen roles in 2014. And ESPN's Keith Law notes (Insider link) that more such players are in the pipeline, explaining that bargain bin pickups Juan Jaime, James Hoyt, and Ian Thomas could all appear soon in the Atlanta pen or (in the case of Thomas) even the rotation.

That group of players (Schafer excepted, of course) could have a major role in filling out the Atlanta bullpen next season. Kimbrel, Walden, and Luis Avilan seem sure bets to hold down their spots, while Varvaro and Carpenter should have every opportunity to do the same. Otherwise, last year's league-best pen (by ERA and FIP) is in flux, though that doesn't mean it lacks options. David Hale or Alex Wood could work in relief if they fail to earn a starting role (or remain stretched out in Triple-A). The club could bring back the excellent-but-injured Venters or O'Flaherty on a cheap deal. Or the above-noted free talent, perhaps joined by a new waiver wire claim or two, could battle with the club's other minor league pitching (such as Shae Simmons) to round out the corps. In any event, a substantial free agent guarantee seems relatively unlikely.

Likewise, as MLBTR's Steve Adams explained in his profile of Hudson, the rotation could be made up solely from in-house options. Minor, Teheran, and Medlen are all locks for a spot, and Beachy probably would be if his health were not at issue. As just noted, Wood and Hale could compete to start, and top prospects J.R. Graham and Sean Gilmartin could be ready to contribute in 2014. Beachy will presumably join the party at some point, depending upon his rehab progress.

On the other hand, with veterans Hudson and Maholm hitting free agency, Wren has indicated that he is interested in adding some experience to the rotation. After all, the club considered making a move for Jake Peavy at the trade deadline and claimed Kyle Lohse off of revocable waivers, meaning that the organization was willing to take on significant future salary for a veteran arm. Looking ahead, a reunion with Hudson remains a distinct possibility, particularly since his ankle injury could limit his market. Maholm seems less likely to be brought back, while Freddy Garcia could return as a long man in the pen or as minor league starting depth. Another veteran such as Bronson Arroyo could also be a possibility, but given the options on hand, it seems unlikely that the Braves will stretch the budget for multiple years of such a low-upside option. While many fans have called for the team to add a pitcher at the top of the rotation — with David PriceMax ScherzerHomer Bailey, and Chris Sale among the hypothetical possibiilities — it seems unlikely that the Braves could pull off such a deal without giving up arms that are already in the bigs. And that would probably be an inefficient tradeoff given the team's budget constraints. 

The Braves' everyday lineup has some question marks in terms of outlook, but relatively few of composition. Feel free to use your pen in filling out an Opening Day lineup card at first (Freeman), short (Simmons), and the corner outfield (J. Upton, Heyward). Likewise, third (Johnson), catcher (Evan Gattis, Christian Bethancourt, Laird), and center (B. Upton, Schafer) are highly likely to be filled from within. Though none of these options is a sure thing, they have probably each either done enough in 2013 or (in the case of the elder Upton) received too great a commitment to warrant an upgrade at this point.

Of course, the preceding paragraph assumes that incumbent backstop McCann will depart via free agency. There remains some slight possibility that he finds his way back to the only organization he has ever known. But if McCann commands the $80MM commitment that MLBTR's TIm Dierkes predicts, there is virtually no chance that Atlanta can come close enough to convince him to return.

That leaves second base, which is the most glaring weakness on the Atlanta roster and perhaps the single position most likely to be acted upon aggressively. Uggla was expected to to hold things down well enough on the back end of his large contract, but he declined precipitously last year, especially after undergoing Lasik surgery mid-season. If any other team is willing to eat a substantial portion of the $26MM still owed to Uggla, Wren would have to consider pulling the trigger. 

But it isn't as if the organization has an obvious replacement on hand. It would be tough for a contender to hand the full-time job to Tyler Pastornicky, Johnson, or Pena, though they might combine in a platoon. Increasingly, it seems, 24-year-old Tommy La Stella could have a legitimate shot at taking the reigns after a strong showing in Double-A and big start to his AFL campaign. But MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo lists him just 14th among Braves prospects, calling him a "grinder" rather than a budding star. Likewise, in a recent evaluation, ESPN's Keith Law said (paywall) that La Stella flashed only one plus tool (hit) that left him with a relatively low ceiling. 

Looking outside of the organization, the free agent pickings are slim after Robinson Cano and Omar Infante. While Infante might be of interest, he will likely be too rich for Atlanta. Otherwise, the Braves would likely be looking at some well-traveled players, with Kelly Johnson and Mark Ellis (assuming the Dodgers decline his option) among the most attractive options. (There is some history behind a couple of these options: Infante was dealt from Atlanta to pick up Uggla, while Johnson was once non-tendered by the club in 2009.)

While the rumor of Atlanta's interest in acquiring Brandon Phillips in exchange for Uggla and a prospect could make sense from the home team's perspective, it is far from clear that the feeling would be shared in Cincinnati. Howie Kendrick of the Angels might be a target, as he is only owed $18.85MM over the next two seasons, and the Braves could stand to part with some of the young pitching desired in Anaheim. Otherwise, a series of lesser keystone possibilities might be had via trade.

On the bench, with more attractive middle infield options likely available (see above), Janish's time may be up. Likewise, a poor 2012 and cheap buyout make Reed Johnson seem a decent bet to leave town, especially since the club has several other players capable of manning center. A more substantial catching role would take Gattis out of the reserve outfield mix, leaving room for an addition. Of course, Atlanta has some other internal bench hopefuls like Joey Terdoslavich, and will no doubt be loath to spend much for part-time contributors. 

Some teams are fun to watch in the offseason because they spend big; others, because their constraints make every move a complicated, seemingly momentous endeavor. At least assuming the club maintains its payroll at approximately the same level, the Braves seem clearly to fall in the latter category this year. Strong seasons from several prominent younger players have increased payroll pressure via arbitration, while disappointments from some of the team's few major commitments have reduced the possibility of shedding salary. And the clock is ticking on locking up some of the Braves' top-end young talent before free agency beckons. While Atlanta will undoubtedly return a very good team regardless, it will be fascinating to see how Wren maneuvers to set the club up for the future and fill its few areas of immediate need.


Offseason Outlook: Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers' offseason focus is finding a first baseman and figuring out how to keep the heart of their lineup healthy after injuries forced 125 different lineups in 2013.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

With 2014 payroll obligations already in the neighborhood of $80MM (not including salaries for pre-arbitration eligible players), the Brewers have to be frugal in free agency and may not be interested in taking on much salary in any proposed trade. But, if he could, GM Doug Melvin would spend lavishly to keep his marquee players healthy. The injury bug struck early. Corey Hart underwent right knee surgery in January and was expected to return in May, but he injured his other knee during rehab requiring a third knee surgery in 16 months. The rest of the first base depth chart was wiped out during Spring Training: Mat Gamel re-tore his right ACL missing his second consecutive season, and Taylor Green was sidelined by hip surgery. The Brewers wound up using seven first basemen in 2013, none of whom had ever started a MLB game there. As expected, first base was an offensive sinkhole for the Brewers with a slash line of .211/.256/.359 and a MLB-worst .629 OPS. 

The Brewers need to find a solution at first base. Hart, who earned $10MM this past season, has said he will take a pay cut to remain in Milwaukee (MLBTR's Steve Adams estimates the hometown discount will be $6MM for one year). Melvin says Hart will be in the mix, but what's Plan B if he doesn't return? Juan Francisco's power intrigues the Brewers, but he struck out 95 times in 270 plate appearances while displaying a horrific split against left-handers (.156/.206/.219 with no home runs). The Brewers have altered Francisco's batting stance, which he will continue to experiment with during winter ball. A platoon would be optimal, but the available free agents are either too expensive (Mike Napoli), a defensive liability better suited to DH (Kendrys MoralesMark ReynoldsMike Morse), or not a clear upgrade over the pre-arbitration eligible Sean Halton (i.e. the other right-handed first base bats on MLBTR's 2014 Free Agents list). A trade is unlikely with Hunter Morris, their seventh-best prospect per MLB.com, waiting in the wings with a service clock which has yet to begin ticking. Morris did regress at Triple-A after a banner season at Double-A in 2012 and was not among the team's September call-ups, but the Brewers are notoriously patient with their young players. Another option is to give catcher Jonathan Lucroy more playing time at first, which would provide additional at-bats for his backup Martin Maldonado, who struggled offensively in 2013. Manager Ron Roenicke attributed Maldonado's fall off to a lack of playing time and intends to give him 50-60 ABs during Spring Training with the hopes of a better start to 2014.  

Roenicke is also hoping for a better start to 2014 for Aramis Ramirez, who spent two separate one-month stints on the disabled list with a knee injury. The knee never healed fully, resulting in a dramatic offensive downturn: 12 HRs (the fewest in a decade), 49 RBIs (a career-worst as a starter), and 18 doubles (down from a NL-leading 50 in 2012). Not only did the injured knee sap Ramirez's power, it also limited his range in the field. With a salary committment of $20MM and no other true cleanup hitter in the system, the Brewers are not in a position to move Ramirez this winter, so they need him healthy and productive in the middle of their order.

The middle of the order also depends on the return of Ryan Braun, who landed on the disabled list for the first time in his career (right hand nerve inflammation) and was suspended 65 games for violations of the Basic Agreement and the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program stemming from his involvement with the Biogenesis clinic. If Braun suffers a post-Biogenesis decline, the Brewers do have options with the emergence of rookie Khris Davis (.279/.353/.596 with 11 home runs in 153 plate appearances). Davis, however, has been susceptible to injury (wrist, quad, and hamstring problems in September alone) and has defensive limitations making him strictly a left fielder (an attempt to learn first base in Instructional League a couple years ago was an abject failure). The Brewers acknowledge internal discussions about a possible move to right field for Braun in order to free up left for Davis and making Norichika Aoki, the incumbent right fielder with a very affordable 2014 club option worth $1.5MM, a prime trade chip. Melvin, however, seems hesitant to deal Aoki.

"Those things are like pitching. You never have enough," Melvin said of the Brewers' outfield depth (as quoted by MLB.com's Adam McCalvy). "Look at the injuries that can happen. Aoki can play left field; he can play right field. Whenever we make those decisions, he's probably going to be a part of that offense. You've got to have depth, too, if you're not going to get involved in free agency. We don't know that yet; we don't know where that market is going. Probably outfield is where we have a trade piece if we want to trade to maybe fill another hole."

The Brewers' starting rotation struggled in the first half with hamstring injuries forcing Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada to the disabled list and Wily Peralta to miss a start. Kyle Lohse also skipped a start because of a balky elbow (a possible effect of not signing with the Brewers until March – missing five weeks of Spring Training). Good health brought better results. The quartet of Lohse, Gallardo, Peralta, and Estrada showed enough during the second half of the season to earn a rotation spot heading into Spring Training. Gallardo was the subject of several 2013 Trade Deadline rumors, but the Brewers are not inclined to give up on a homegrown pitching talent with a team-friendly contract unless the return justifies creating a hole in their rotation. Tyler Thornburg (2-1, 1.47 ERA in seven starts), Johnny Hellweg, (the Brewers' minor league pitcher of the year), and Jimmy Nelson (the organization's top prospect, according to MLB.com) will battle it out to become the fifth starter. A veteran will only be brought in to compete with these young hurlers if a Lohse-like situation presents itself. 

The bullpen, so dreadful in 2012 with 29 blown saves and ranked dead last in ERA, was a strength in 2013 because of young arms. After trading away John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, Jim Henderson inherited the closer role and excelled with 28 saves in 29 opportunities (he blew three saves while acting as the setup man for Rodriguez). Rob Wooten and Brandon Kintzler covered the 7th and 8th innings, respectively. Tom Gorzelanny failed to impress in a 10-start audition, so he will return to a lefty reliever/spot starter role in 2014. Burke Badenhop, Donovan Hand, Alfredo Figaro, and Michael Blazek (acquired in the Axford deal) are among the in-house options to round out the relief corps. The lone need is a veteran presence at the back end of the bullpen, in case Henderson stumbles. A reunion with Rodriguez is not out of the question because of his relationship with Roenicke. K-Rod has shown a willingness to pitch the 8th inning for him in the past and may do so again, if a closer job is not available elsewhere. 

Another area of strength for the Brewers is up-the-middle: center fielder Carlos Gomez, shortstop Jean Segura, and catcher Lucroy. Gomez received a three-year, $24MM contract extension in March and showed he was worth every penny earning his first All-Star berth en route to establishing career-highs in every offensive category. Gomez also led or tied for the team lead in home runs, doubles, triples, and runs scored while becoming the first player in franchise history to record a 20-40 season. He played Gold Glove defense, as well, (the first Brewer to earn the honor since 1982 and the first outfielder since 1979) with a career-high 12 assists, the second-highest total in the NL. Segura, also a first-time All-Star, could be next in line for a Spring Training extension after posting a slash of .294/.329/.423 with 44 stolen bases (second in the NL) in his first full MLB season. Segura, however, slumped in the second half hitting only .244/.268/.315. While both sides talked last month, the Brewers may want to wait one more year before engaging in serious negotiations to see what kind of numbers Segura will produce consistently, a sentiment shared by his agent Joe Klein. Lucroy replaced Braun in the three-hole, leading the team in RBIs while batting .321 with runners in scoring position and less than two outs. Gomez and Lucroy are under contract through 2016 while Segura is under team control until 2019.

The Brewers need to determine who will play second base – Rickie Weeks or Scooter Gennett. Melvin has said the decision will be made in Spring Training and nothing will happen during the offseason to help the franchise make that selection. Not expected to be cleared for baseball activity until February, the Brewers are hoping to use Spring Training to showcase Weeks for a possible trade, a faint possibility due to his injury history and $11MM salary. If a team is willing to gamble on Weeks, the Brewers will have to eat a substantial portion of the salary, a difficult decision for any budget-conscious organization to make. If Weeks is unable to return to his 2010-11 level of production, the next best scenario is a healthy Weeks platooning with the left-handed hitting Gennett (.324/.356/.479 in 230 plate appearances), who struggled against left-handers (.154/.175/.154 in a small sample size of 39 plate appearances). Such an arrangement benefitted Weeks in June when he hit .355 with a 1.106 OPS.

The Brewers play in arguably the strongest division in the National League, but feel they can compete with the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds by complementing their core of Braun, Ramirez, Gomez, Segura, and Lucroy with a return to good health and improvements to the right-side of their infield. "Can we win with this roster? Yeah, we can win with the roster we have," said Melvin (as quoted by Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). "I think if our best players are on the field and our young guys take that next step, we can be there." 


Offseason Outlook: Cleveland Indians

Fed up after a 2012 season in which they went 68-94 and allowed 178 runs more than they scored, the Indians attempted to force their way into contention by signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn the following offseason. Cleveland improved by 24 games in 2013 and made the postseason for the first time since 2007, falling in a one-game playoff against the Rays. They'll aim to repeat that success in 2013, but first they'll need to patch up their pitching staff.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligibles

Contract Options

  • Ubaldo Jimenez, $8MM club option, $1MM buyout; Jimenez may void option after being traded by Rockies
  • Jason Kubel, OF: $7.5MM mutual option, $1MM buyout

Free Agents

The Indians' additions of Swisher and Bourn were important parts of the their 2013 season, but those weren't the only reasons they succeeded. Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana continued to emerge as top young players. Yan Gomes, acquired the previous offseason in a relatively minor trade with the Blue Jays, caught 85 games and was one of Cleveland's best hitters. And Ryan Raburn posted a ridiculous .272/.357/.543 line in a part-time role. Meanwhile, the Indians' starting pitchers — primarily Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir and Zach McAllister — were very reliable, which might not have seemed that likely at the beginning of the year.

The Indians' rotation will likely be the focus of much of their offseason. Kazmir is a free agent, and Jimenez essentially is as well. Danny Salazar, coming off a brilliant season split between Double-A, Triple-A and the Majors, will take over one of their spots, but that still leaves one opening. It's not impossible that Kazmir will be back, but it's very unlikely that Jimenez will be. After Masterson, Salazar, Kluber and McAllister, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer are probably the Indians' next options; Carrasco is a perfectly reasonable depth piece (if not more), but Bauer did not even pitch well at Triple-A in 2013.

The right side of the Indians' infield is relatively set, with Swisher as the primary starter at first and Kipnis at second. (Swisher could also start in the outfield if need be, freeing the Indians to pursue another first baseman, but the free agent market at first base is not particularly strong.) Asdrubal Cabrera is still Cleveland's shortstop, although the Indians could consider trading him this offseason, given his $10MM salary and the presence of top prospect Francisco Lindor. Lindor does not turn 20 until November and probably will not make his big-league debut until late 2014, at the earliest, so if the Indians were to trade Cabrera, they could look for a free agent shortstop or hand the position to Mike Aviles.

Lonnie Chisenhall will likely play third; the former first-round pick has not managed to stick in parts of three seasons in the Majors, but he only turned 25 this month and has hit well at Triple-A. Aviles, who got 37 starts for the Indians at third in 2013, will likely pick up starts at third yet again if Chisenhall continues to struggle. Gomes and Santana will continue on as the Indians' catchers, with Santana also picking up starts at first and DH. The Indians also apparently have interest in keeping Jason Giambi for 2014, either as a player or a coach.

Bourn and Michael Brantley will occupy two outfield spots, which leaves one open. Drew Stubbs hit just .233/.305/.360 in 2013; given his defense and the fact that he's relatively cheap, it might still be worth tendering him a contract, but the Indians likely won't want to go into Spring Training with him penciled in as a starter. The Indians do have an in-house alternative in Ryan Raburn, who was revelatory in 2013. His spectacular hitting was so far out of character, though, that it's hard to see him repeating it, particularly if he doesn't get 45% of his plate appearances against lefties again. Anyway, even if the Indians acquire another outfielder, finding at bats for Raburn shouldn't be hard.

In the bullpen, the Indians may find themselves looking for a new closer, given Chris Perez's struggles down the stretch and his projected 2014 salary of $9MM. If the Indians do indeed non-tender Perez, young righty Cody Allen, who posted 11.3 K/9 while throwing mid-90s gas last season, would be an excellent candidate to replace him. In addition to Perez, several other relievers could depart, including Joe Smith, Rich Hill and Matt Albers. Along with Allen, Bryan Shaw and Marc Rzepczynski are the only obvious returnees. The Indians could promote an arm or two for the minors, but it still looks like they may need to sign a reliever or two out of free agency.

The Indians, then, could have three key items on their to-do list: replacing Jimenez and/or Kazmir; adding a hitter to play either first base or right field, whichever Swisher doesn't occupy; and buying themselves a new bullpen. Even after drawing just 1.5MM fans in 2013, the Indians say they'll be able to field a "contending team" in 2014, although they haven't explained what their payroll might be. Without knowing the Indians' financial plans, it's hard to say how their offseason will go. The early signals, however, aren't that encouraging for Indians fans, as it already appears very unlikely that the team will be able to re-sign Jimenez. It doesn't take much money to patch up a bullpen, but it does take money to sign a slugger or a good starting pitcher.

On the field, the Indians' 2013 season was a success. But they drew fewer than 20K fans even for some weekend home games in September, when they were in the thick of a playoff race. The previous offseason's acquisitions of Swisher and Bourn were reasonably successful from a baseball perspective, but they did not appear to help attract fans who might have been put off by the team's awful performance in 2012. Swisher and Bourn are under contract for the next three seasons, regardless. Even with the new TV deal to which the Indians agreed before the 2013 season, it remains to be seen whether the team will shell out more money now that it's clear the last spending spree wasn't particularly effective at bringing fans through the gates.

Bullpen and Jimenez aside, then, unless the Indians get creative on the trade market, the key players on the 2014 team may end up being fairly similar to last season's. They won 92 games in 2013, so clearly, that's not the worst thing in the world. But it's fair to wonder if Gomes, Raburn and Kluber, in particular, are really as good as they were in 2013, and whether the Indians have the pitching depth they need. Even if not, the Indians could well make up the difference with slightly better performances from Swisher, Bourn, Chisenhall and Cabrera (if he's still around), along with a full season of Salazar. But a much clearer path to success would be to spend a bit of money to address the rotation and the outfield, and right now, it's not clear whether the Indians will be willing to do it.


Offseason Outlook: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers' climbed from the bottom of the NL West all the way to the top thanks to a 42-8 midseason tear.  After reaching the NLCS, L.A. hopes to take the next step in 2014.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligibles (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

Jerry Hairston, J.P. Howell, Carlos Marmol, Ricky Nolasco, Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, Juan Uribe, Edinson Volquez, Brian Wilson, Michael Young

The Dodgers got their offseason started in a big way last Tuesday when they signed Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28MM contract that could reach $32MM via incentives.  The Dodgers were supposed to be the Yankees' biggest foe in their bid to re-sign Robinson Cano, but the deal seemingly takes them out of the running.  It's worth noting, however, that landing Cano is just improbable at this stage, not impossible.  In theory, the Dodgers could move Hanley Ramirez – who could see a new deal with the club this winter – to third base and play Guerrero at shortstop, but Guerrero's defensive skillset is better suited for the other side of the bag.  However, it has been rumored for the last few months that L.A. wasn't going to make a serious play for Cano and Magic Johnson pretty much confirmed that line of thinking earlier this month.  Besides, the Dodgers figure to have some pretty serious expenses ahead of them.

The Dodgers hope to lock up Clayton Kershaw for the foreseeable future and at some point during the season they went to their star left-hander with a $300MM offer.  The 25-year-old backed out of the talks because he apparently had reservations about the length of the deal (it was said to be a "lifetime" contract) and didn't want to have an unnecessary distraction during the year.  Regardless, the two sides will meet at the negotiating table this winter and whether or not the deal breaks the $300MM barrier, it is all but guaranteed to be the largest contract ever given to a pitcher, topping CC Sabathia's $161MM pact signed in 2008.

More immediately, the Dodgers have to figure out what to do about their managerial situation.  Don Mattingly's contract option for 2014 has vested, but the Dodgers seem to be waffling on whether they want him back and the skipper says he'll honor the deal, but he wants a multi-year pact to avoid lame duck status.  The coaching staff is now more or less set, meaning that the Dodgers are probably either looking to retain the former Yankees great or go with someone in-house.  Third-base coach Tim Wallach is said to be a strong candidate if there is a change in the dugout.

Los Angeles has a number of free agents this season and they'll probably have at least a few holes to fill.  Both second baseman Mark Ellis ($5.75MM option, $1MM buyout) and third baseman Juan Uribe can hit the open market and while Guerrero's arrival can help fill one position or the other, he can't do both.  Odds are, Guerrero will be slotted in at second base, displacing Ellis from the starting lineup, but the Dodgers could welcome the 36-year-old back as a reserve.  Uribe turned over a new leaf in 2013 (.278/.331/.438 with 12 homers) and gave the Dodgers a solid everyday play in the hot corner.  Given the lack viable third base options available on the open market, it would be wise to re-sign the veteran.  The trade market for third baseman is headlined by Chase Headley, but the Dodgers will be hard-pressed to pry him away from one of their divisional rivals.  Thinking outside of the box, they could call up the Brewers and see if they can work out a deal for Aramis Ramirez in which Milwaukee eats a good portion of his $20MM salary.  If they want to play musical chairs with their infield by putting Ramirez at third, they can go out and get a shortstop instead.  Stephen Drew will be a free agent and Jhonny Peralta is available and unlikely to return in Detroit.

The Dodgers will also have some housekeeping to do when it comes to their infield depth.  Michael Young, Jerry Hairston Jr., Nick Punto, and Skip Schumaker are all eligible for free agency.  Young could conceivably be their third base answer if Uribe isn't retained, but they'd probably prefer someone who can do more defensively.  Punto would offer that defensive acumen, but he's lacking at the plate.

The Dodgers' rotation is quite strong at the top with Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, but there are some question marks beyond that.  Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett could fill the No. 4 and 5 spots, but they'll both be recovering from surgeries.  Re-signing free agent Ricky Nolasco would be a great way to shore up the back end of the starting five and the Dodgers would almost certainly welcome him back if they knew they could have the pitcher they saw from July through early September.  The wheels came off a little bit in his final few starts of the year, but those rough outings only bumped his ERA to 3.52 with 7.8 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 15 starts and one relief appearance for L.A.  In September, when Nolasco had a 2.07 ERA in 74 innings for the Dodgers, Tim Dierkes estimated that he could see a three-year, $36MM contract.  Talking to Dierkes now, he's considering upgrading that to a four-year, $52MM deal.  If the Guggenheim group is still willing to spend big, they can replace Nolasco with the likes of Ervin Santana or Japanese standout Masahiro Tanaka, whom they're said to be high on.  Both players will cost them a pretty penny, but they'll have some breathing room with Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano coming off the books.  Who knows, they could even be players for Rays ace David Price if they want to make an enormous splash.

A.J. Ellis seems likely to be back behind the plate as the Dodgers' starting catcher, but it's not a sure thing after he had some hiccups in the postseason.  There are talented backstops to be had on the open market like Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and both guys can bring a level of offensive firepower that Ellis does not.  Of course, they'll both require quite a bit of coin at a time where catching around baseball is rather thin.  Tim believes McCann is in line for a five-year, $80MM deal while Saltalamacchia should see something in the range of $36MM over four years.  If the Dodgers want to be a little more fiscally responsible (hey, why are you laughing?) they'll find less expensive veteran options like A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Ruiz.

Much of the Dodgers bullpen will return in 2014, but two key members – Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell – might not.  Wilson could very well take his talents and his beard elsewhere after pitching extremely well (0.66 ERA with 13 strikeouts and four walks over 13.2 innings) in his brief time with the Dodgers.  Howell was also sharp (2.03 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 67 appearances and figures to be one of the most sought-after left-handers this winter.  If one or both go, they can look into setup men like Jesse Crain and LaTroy Hawkins.  

That pretty much covers the Dodgers' holes, but they have quite an enviable talent surplus in the outfield with Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Carl Crawford.  The Dodgers could plug their other holes by moving one of the four.  It goes without saying that Puig is staying put.  Crawford is probably staying put too, seeing as how he's owed a small fortune between now and 2017.  One would probably think that Ethier is more likely to be moved than Kemp, but from the outside it looks like either one could be moved depending on how the market plays out.  Ethier has been maddeningly inconsistent but Kemp should bring in a greater return, injury concerns and all.  There is an option C, of course: keeping all four.  The Dodgers know that they can't bank on the health of Crawford or Kemp, so having four high-level outfielders would be a wonderful luxury to have.

After piecing together a payroll big enough to make a Jerry Bruckheimer film blush, the Dodgers are eager to put it all together in 2014.  With some patching up, they can carry their second half surge into a strong wire-to-wire effort next season.


Offseason Outlook: Kansas City Royals

The Royals came close to a playoff berth for the first time in decades in 2013, but major questions surround their rotation heading into the offseason.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players

Contract Options

Free Agents

General Manager Dayton Moore’s rebuild of the Royals' organization finally bore fruit at the Major League level in 2013, as products of the farm system and trades helped propel the team to its first winning campaign since 2003. No longer the American League Central’s perennial doormat, the Royals remained in the hunt for a wild card spot until the final weeks of the season, a significant step forward for a club that hasn’t been considered a legitimate contender in at least 20 years. The accomplishment netted manager Ned Yost a two-year contract extension, and something similar could be in the pipeline for Moore. His current deal runs through 2014, and it’s not often that a manager’s contract extends beyond that of the GM who hired him.

Following an 86-win season, conventional wisdom might suggest that Royals officials simply need to make a few tweaks to push the club into contention in the AL Central. And indeed, with players considered to be franchise cornerstones at several positions across the diamond, the Royals are unlikely to see a large-scale makeover this winter on the offensive side of the ball. Young players such as first baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Salvador Perez turned in strong seasons. Shortstop Alcides Escobar and third baseman Mike Moustakas were liabilities at the plate, but both continued to play good defense and look to get at least one more season’s worth of plate appearances to try to figure things out. Left fielder Alex Gordon and designated hitter Billy Butler, other franchise fixtures, are coming off of down seasons but have time left on long-term extensions.

The Royals’ bullpen is also unlikely to see significant turnover. While we can’t count on Royals relievers to be as dominant in 2014 as they were this year — the unit’s 2.55 ERA was easily the AL’s best — all key contributors are in line to return next season. Pieces like Greg Holland (67 IP, 1.21 ERA), Tim Collins (53 1/3 IP, 3.54 ERA) and Aaron Crow (48 IP, 3.38 ERA) are under club control for years to come, so expect any bullpen signings to be limited to deals for situational arms. Luke Hochevar is a bit of a wildcard, as his success this year in the pen (70 1/3 IP, 1.92 ERA) could lead the Royals to try him again as a starter.

Things change when we turn to the rotation, where Moore and his lieutenants may find themselves making significant investments this winter just to stay in place. Ervin Santana stands out as the most prominent example — his 211 innings of 3.24 ERA ball will be tough to replace if he departs to another team in free agency. While there’s some possibility that the Royals could retain Santana — they’ve already indicated they plan to extend him a qualifying offer, which would depress other teams’ enthusiasm for the righty — the No. 6 ranked player on our Free Agent Power Rankings is likely to attract plenty of other suitors. In addition, Moore has said that he expects 2014’s payroll to hover in the range of this season’s $82MM, suggesting Santana could quickly price himself beyond the Royals’ budget. Another decision looms with free agent Bruce Chen, whose 3.27-ERA, 121-inning season places him firmly in crafty lefty territory. The Royals may opt to pass on bringing back the 36-year-old Chen, however, if his asking price extends to two years.

There’s more uncertainty in the rotation behind Santana and Chen. It’s an open question how long Jeremy Guthrie can continue his low strikeout rate tightrope act, as his K% fell to 12.3% this season, good for last in the majors among qualified starters. Guthrie doesn’t walk many batters, but it’s difficult to survive in today’s game if you don’t miss more bats than Guthrie does. Elsewhere in the rotation, Wade Davis may get another shot at turning things around in 2014, but he should be on a short leash if he doesn’t turn in better results than the 5.32 ERA he coughed up this year. Even rotation anchor James Shields, the prize of the controversial Wil Myers trade, saw his peripherals slip despite a sterling 3.15 ERA in 228 2/3 innings. If he posts similar strikeout and walk rates next year, Shields could see his ERA rise to something more in line with the 3.72 that xFIP projected him for this year.

Luckily, several young pitchers may be ready to help the Royals’ staff in 2014. Yordano Ventura turned heads in the season’s final weeks by lighting up the radar gun with a triple-digit fastball, and he should be in the mix for a rotation spot in 2014 Spring Training — particularly if the club can’t hang on to Santana. Top prospect Kyle Zimmer could reach the big-league team at some point next season. There’s also Danny Duffy, who clawed his way back from Tommy John surgery to make five starts as the season drew to a close. If one of these three can stick in the majors in 2014, the rotation picture looks magnitudes brighter.

In an October Kansas City Star article, Moore was quoted as saying that the Royals would like to add or retain a veteran starter, given the inexperience of pitchers such as Ventura and Duffy. One-year deals for a reclamation project along the lines of Dan Haren or Phil Hughes could make sense, or the Royals could look to swing a trade for an arm with bounce-back potential, as they did with Santana around this time last year. However, Moore adds in the same article that it’s not inconceivable that the Royals enter 2014 without having acquired a veteran pitcher. “The bullpen was used very wisely this year,” Moore said. “ … If our bullpen has to be used a little bit more next year in the first part of the season, so be it.” Comments such as these suggest that the Royals will look to make an acquisition but are comfortable with the pieces they have in place if the right opportunity doesn’t materialize.

After the team scored just 648 runs this season, many Royals fans expect Moore to conduct a thorough search for offensive help over the winter. Second base stands out as an immediate need, as Royals second basemen hit just .240/.296/.306 for the year. Emilio Bonifacio slashed his way to a .285/.352/.348 line and stole 16 bases down the stretch after coming over from the Blue Jays in August, appearing to stabilize the position for the Royals. However, The Star’s Bob Dutton writes that the club will still look to acquire a second baseman this winter, with an eye toward shifting Bonifacio to a utility role. Who might pique their interest?

The Royals’ name surfaced frequently in trade talks surrounding the Angels’ Howie Kendrick in July, and as an above-average hitter who’s provided quality defense at second base, he appears to be a fit. However, Kendrick will require a significant prospect haul in return. Ian Kinsler is another veteran target, given the Rangers’ middle infielder logjam, but he’s just a year into a five-year, $75MM contract — consummating a deal would likely require the Rangers to absorb a significant portion of that amount. It goes without saying, but trades for proven performers like these would be expensive and risky for a small-market team like the Royals. And yet, I’d be surprised to see Moore target a buy-low candidate like Danny Espinosa or Rickie Weeks – with Bonifacio in the fold, the Royals can afford to be a bit more selective.

It's worth noting that ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted earlier this week that the Royals are "ready to talk" about including Butler in a trade this winter, a report Dutton later confirmed. Dutton noted, however, that Moore has indicated he's willing to trade any player in the right deal. Dealing Country Breakfast for say, an everyday second baseman this winter would be selling low on a player who posted a 116 OPS+ this season but who had previously managed a mark of at least 125 every year since 2009. It would also immediately task the Royals with finding DH help outside the organization, as there doesn't appear to be a player in the minors ready to replace Butler.

If the Royals can't put together a trade for a second baseman, Omar Infante could be an option — behind Robinson Cano, he’s probably the best player available at the keystone in free agency. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicted a three-year, $25MM deal for the 31-year-old, which might be in the Royals’ price range. Beyond Infante, though, it’s an uninspiring market.

The outfield would also appear to be in need of an upgrade — Royals outfielders collectively hit just .259/.314/.392 in 2013. However, that same group also combined for a 52.5 UZR, suggesting that they were the majors’ best defensive outfield by a wide margin. Adding a marquee name like Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury is likely out of the question for the Royals, and the club may eventually decide that the defense-focused unit they have in place is a better fit for spacious Kauffman Stadium than a free agent outfielder from the second tier. Nelson Cruz, for example, hasn’t posted quality defensive numbers for years. And in Kauffman, he may not provide enough of an offensive upgrade over the late-season David Lough-Justin Maxwell platoon to counteract the defensive downgrade. Instead, a player like Marlon Byrd could work for the Royals, as he grades out as a strong right fielder and could provide an offensive boost even with some regression from this year's standout season.

The Royals found themselves on the cusp of contention in 2013 for the first time in decades. However, the club must address multiple holes this offseason if it hopes to stay there. Significant regression is likely in the starting rotation, and success in 2014 likely hinges on whether Moore & Co. can counteract it. The Royals will also need to find a way to add to their young offense, as this isn’t a playoff-caliber lineup as currently projected.