Offseason Outlook Rumors


Offseason Outlook: Tampa Bay Rays

The spectre of a David Price trade hangs over the Rays' offseason as the club considers whether or not to make a franchise-altering deal.

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All signs point to David Price wearing a different uniform in 2014, so much so that even the left-hander himself is preparing for a trade.  Price is due for another raise in arbitration and for a team on a limited budget like Tampa Bay, the window may have closed on getting back to the World Series with Price in the rotation and pitching on a relatively inexpensive salary.  Two remaining years of control over one of the league's top pitchers is a valuable commodity, so the timing seems right for the Rays to move Price and once again reload with younger (and cheaper) future stars.

The good news for Rays fans is that the team has scored big in recent trades of star pitchers --- Matt Garza to the Cubs in January 2011 and James Shields to the Royals last winter.  Those deals brought the likes of Wil Myers, Chris Archer, Sam Fuld, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer and Jake Odorizzi to Tampa Bay, and it's likely that Price would command an even larger haul of prospects than either Garza or Shields. Teams such as the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Cubs and Rangers and more have been cited as possible landing spots in a Price deal, with Texas in particular has been linked to Price for over a year given their deep minor league system.

If Price stays, then he remains the anchor of an impressive rotation that also includes Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Archer and Jeremy Hellickson.  Jeff Niemann could also be in the mix if he's healthy, though MLBTR's Tim Dierkes doesn't believe the oft-injured righty will be tendered a contract.  The Rays have Odorizzi, Alex Colome and Alex Torres as minor league starting depth.  If Price is dealt, the Rays could add rotation depth in the form of a low-cost veteran with upside, a la the Roberto Hernandez signing from last winter.

Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar are very likely to have their options picked up, so that will bring the Rays' payroll to a guaranteed $23.5MM for those two, Moore, Joel Peralta and Evan Longoria.  MLBTR's Matt Swartz projects the Rays will have to pay roughly $25.7MM to eight arbitration-eligible players (and maybe more if Niemann and/or Sam Fuld are tendered contracts), bringing the total to $49.2MM for 13 players.  Owner Stuart Sternberg has hinted that the team's continued attendance problems will impact the payroll, which stood at just under $62MM in 2013, so executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman will again have to deliver on a tight budget.

The payroll crunch makes it unlikely that the Rays will re-sign more than one or perhaps two of their free agents, and even then those players would have to be willing to come back at a discount.  Fernando Rodney could be willing to take such a deal (if Peralta's claims are true) but it seems more like the Rays' M.O. to pursue another low-cost relief arm rather than pay extra to keep one of their own.  The Rays can afford to be flexible with their bullpen situation as internal options like Peralta, Jake McGee or Wesley Wright could also step up to close games or be part of a committee.  MLBTR's Steve Adams predicts that Jesse Crain can find a one-year, $3.5MM deal in free agency -- that's a bit pricey for the Rays, but if they liked Crain enough to acquire him last July even when he was injured, re-signing him isn't out of the question. 

The Rays are mostly set around the diamond with Longoria at third, Escobar at short, Zobrist at second, Myers in right and Desmond Jennings in center.  Jose Lobaton was a walkoff hero in Game Three of the ALDS and the switch-hitting catcher posted a decent .736 OPS against righty pitching during the regular season.  The Rays would be fine with Lobaton and a veteran backup (maybe a re-signed Jose Molina) handling the duties behind the plate, though they'll keep an eye out to see if a catching upgrade could be found.

David DeJesus' $6.5MM option seems too expensive to be picked up, leaving Tampa Bay with a hole in left field to go along with question marks at DH and first base.  The left-handed hitting Matt Joyce could combine with the right-handed hitting Guyer for a solid platoon in left.  Delmon Young wants to return and could be in the LF/DH platoon mix as well, as he could be re-signed at a limited price.

The Rays have struck gold with two of their three first base reclamation projects over the last three seasons, as James Loney and Casey Kotchman both performed above expectations while Carlos Pena struggled in 2012.  Tampa Bay will again look to score with a veteran with a good pedigree and perhaps is in need of a change in scenery.  Perhaps a slugger like Mark Reynolds could regain his stroke while only playing as part of a platoon, or a utilityman like Jeff Baker would be even more useful since he could back up multiple positions and provide a big bat against southpaws.

Though the Rays have these three key power positions up in the air, LF/1B/DH and even catcher or the rotation could all be addressed in a Price trade.  In an ideal world for Tampa Bay, they'd be able to sign Price to a multiyear extension --- in the realistic/ideal world, the club would be able to free up $13MM in payroll space while moving Price for at least one or two players like Myers, a star prospect who quickly broke out in the majors and looks to be a lineup stalwart for years to come.

It could be argued that since the return on the Price trade will shape the rest of Tampa Bay's winter plans, such a deal could happen relatively early in the offseason, akin to how Shields was swapped just after the Winter Meetings in early December 2012.  Friedman isn't going to rush to make a move, however, since his organization's margin for error is so thin.  A contender may be looking to acquire Price so they can challenge for a World Series in 2014 and 2015; Friedman needs the return on the Price trade to keep the Rays afloat for championship runs for the rest of the decade.



Offseason Outlook: Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim

The Angels came into this season with extremely high hopes but they stumbled badly out of the gate - dropping 27 of their first 42 games - and never recovered.  This season, owner Arte Moreno wants to get his money's worth.

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Jason Vargas

The Angels would love nothing more than to make their first order of business a lengthy extension for star Mike Trout, but that's probably not in the cards thanks to the hefty contracts given to Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and others.  The collective bargaining agreement calls for deals to be calculated by their average annual value, meaning that the Angels couldn't skirt the luxury tax with a backloaded pact.  

The Angels have their top three starters taken care of, but beyond that they've got question marks galore and a major need for reinforcements.  Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will be joined at the top of the rotation by Garrett Richards, who broke out in a big way in 2013.  The No. 4 starter could be filled by Jason Vargas, if he's re-signed, but that's far from a given.  The Halos are unlikely to extend him the one-year, $14MM qualifying offer as it would zap most of their available money.  Vargas posted a 4.01 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 143 2/3 innings in 2013 and missed a good amount of time due to a blood clotting issue.

Even if Vargas does return, the Halos will search far and wide for starting pitching depth after being ravaged by injuries in 2013.  Jerome Williams and Tommy Hanson are both arbitration eligible and both could be non-tendered by the club this winter.  Joe Blanton, who is owed $8.5MM over the next two years, could be released before Opening Day.  Even if he's back, the Angels certainly won't be counting on a guy who posted a 6.04 ERA with 7.3 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 20 starts and eight relief appearances.  Unfortunately for the Angels, they won't have a ton of money to spend as they will try and be mindful of the $189MM luxury tax threshold.  Starting pitchers that might fit into their budget include Roberto Hernandez and Chris Capuano.  Looking a notch below, Jeff Karstens and Chad Gaudin are on the open market and can be used as relievers/spot starters.  The Angels want to lock down a quality starting five, but they'll make an effort to have at least a couple of guys beyond that who can step in if the injury bug bites again.

The Angels' bullpen was pretty bad in 2013 - their collective 4.12 ERA was the fifth-worst in the majors - but they turned things around late in the season and showed what they are capable of when everything is clicking.  They figured to get solid production out of their pen heading the season, but injuries to left-hander Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson proved to be devastating.  Burnett will be back in the fold in 2014 to lend support to closer Ernesto Frieri along with guys like Michael Kohn, Dane De La Rosa, Kevin Jepsen (if he's tendered an offer), J.C. Gutierrez (ditto), and Cory Rasmus.  The Angels could look into affordable relievers like Chad Qualls and Matt Lindstrom (if his option is declined) to ensure that next season won't be a repeat of 2013 for the bullpen.  If they want to pair Burnett with an inexpensive second left-hander, southpaw Mike Gonzalez is out there.

The Angels have several attractive assets but the most likely to get moved is second baseman Howie Kendrick.  The veteran was dangled to clubs before the trade deadline this year but GM Jerry Dipoto didn't get any offers worth taking.  Moving Kendrick becomes easier this offseason - his no-trade list shrivels from a dozen teams to just six.  With $18.85MM owed to him over the next two seasons, Kendrick isn't the cheapest second baseman out there, but there are definitely clubs that are looking for answers at the position.  The Royals need help at second base and GM Dayton Moore figures to make at least a couple phone calls to the west coast.  The Orioles will also be in the market for a second baseman if they don't re-sign veteran Brian Roberts.  The Halos can move Kendrick for some arms and get by with Grant Green in his place.

The Blue Jays have interest in catchers Hank Conger and Chris Iannetta, according to Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, and Toronto has already reached out to the Halos to get the conversation started.  Moving Iannetta ($10.5MM through 2015) would certainly free up some cash and the Angels could even kill two birds with one stone if they're dealing with the Blue Jays, who are in need of a second baseman.  

They''ll find an especially robust market if they are willing to move shortstop Erick Aybar, but all indications are that they're resistant to that idea.  Moving Kendrick is doable because they can use Green in his stead, but they feel that replacing Aybar would be trickier since they don't have anyone in-house to take his spot.  The Cardinals came calling this summer when they were looking for an upgrade over Pete Kozma, but talks petered out quickly when the Angels asked for top prospects Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez.  

Mark Trumbo could bring the club a nice pitching haul if they decide to move him.  The Halos fielded calls from the Mariners, Pirates, and Royals in July and the Marlins showed their fondness for him last December.  The alternative to parting with Trumbo's big bat could be trading center fielder Peter Bourjos.  While the defensively-sharp 26-year-old probably wouldn't bring in the same kind of return as Trumbo, he definitely has value.  Bourjos will be under team control for the next three years and he figures to stay affordable since his skill set isn't rewarded all that well in arbitration.  Freeing up center field for Mike Trout could also help the club in their bid to lock him up long-term.

Third base is in flux now that Alberto Callaspo is out of the picture.  Green is a candidate to be the full-time guy there, but if Kendrick goes then there's going to be a hole at one position or the other.  Luis Jimenez (.260/.291/.317 in 34 games in 2013) and Chris Nelson (.227/.273/.327 for three teams in '13; possible non-tender candidate)  could also take the reins, but neither one is particularly inspiring.  But, once again, the team's budget constraints means that finding an outside solution will be difficult.

Arte Moreno has spent major money over the last two winters to try and construct a powerhouse team in the AL West.  This year, he'll have to do the best he can with limited resources.



Offseason Outlook: Arizona Diamondbacks

A 9.5 game lead in late June is usually a pretty comfortable cushion.  Well, it's not when one of your divisional rivals goes on a historic tear in the second half of the season.  While the Dodgers went 42-8 over a 50 game stretch, the D'Backs faltered and lost control of the NL West.  This year, they're looking to get to the top of the totem pole and remain there through September.

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What do the Diamondbacks need to address right from the top?  General Manager Kevin Towers says he'd like to add a power-hitting corner outfielder to the lineup to help protect first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.  The funny thing is, Arizona had that type of player in guys like Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Jason Kubel (even though he was struggling in 2013) but they've all been shipped elsewhere.  Gerardo Parra has right field locked down and Adam Eaton should be slotted in at either center field or left field.  While there are already internal options like the defensively sharp A.J. Pollock and the currently injured Cody Ross, neither one offers the aforementioned pop that they're seeking.  Don't expect the Diamondbacks to go after this year's elite power-hitting outfielders (i.e. Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson), but they'll have less pricey options to choose from as well.  Possible fits might include Mike Morse and Corey Hart, even though there are question marks about their ability to play well in the outfield.

If they can't find the right bat at the right price in left or center field, they could get a little creative and move Martin Prado to left and put a bopper at the hot corner instead.  The D'Backs won't find a strong crop of third basemen with pop on the open market, however.  Looking at the trade block, it seems likely that the Padres will listen on Chase Headley this winter as he takes his final turn through arbitration, but it's hard to imagine that San Diego will be willing to move him within the division.  Even if the D'Backs are willing to part with the type of young talent to pry Headley away, they'll have to find the cash to lock him up beyond 2014.  Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez could make sense as a trade target.

There' are other ways that the Diamondbacks can take care of their corner outfield situation on the trade market.  Even with free agent Willie Bloomquist likely out of the picture, Arizona has two young shortstops in Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings.  If the D'Backs commit to one player over the other, they could parlay their mini-surplus into something useful elsewhere.  The Pirates could come calling for an upgrade over Jordy Mercer, who wasn't consistently sharp at the plate.  The Reds could get by with Zack Cozart at shortstop, but it also wouldn't hurt to find someone better.  The Cardinals have Pete Kozma and the Mets could hope for a better effort from Ruben Tejada, but you can add those clubs to the mix as well.

Arizona is also working with a surplus of starters and could use that to fill some holes.  Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy, Randall Delgado, Tyler Skaggs, and top prospect Archie Bradley are all in the fold.  Of course, it'll take a heck of an offer to pry Bradley away from the D'Backs.

The bullpen was supposed to be a major bright spot for the Diamondbacks in 2013 but it didn't turn out that way.  J.J. Putz was in place as the D'Backs' closer for much of the season but his injury troubles gave Brad Ziegler an opportunity to seize the gig after Heath Bell showed that he couldn't hold it down.  There are plenty of quality pitchers already in Arizona, but they have to perform up to their abilities.  Bell, who is now two years removed from his All-Star form, is under contract for one more season.  David Hernandez had an up-and-down year - with the down resulting in a demotion to Triple-A - but the light turned on in the fall as hitters averaged a .405 OPS against him in September.  There could be an opening for a southpaw or two, depending on what the club does with Joe Thatcher and Tony Sipp who are both eligible for arbtration.  It doesn't appear that the bullpen will require a complete overhaul, but a few new faces might be a good idea.  The D'Backs can look into hard-throwing free agents like Jesse Crain to help build a better bridge to Ziegler.

One of the Diamondbacks' lesser priorities this season will be to address the backup catcher situation.  Wil Nieves gave Arizona better offense than expected in 2013 (.297/.320/.369 in 206 plate apperances), but he wasn't sharp defensively.  If the Pirates don't retain John Buck, he could be a more stabilizing force behind the plate in support of Miguel Montero.

Ultimately, the D'Backs probably aren't headed for a major overhaul this winter, but they'll look at add a few key pieces to their talented roster.  With a bit of good health and good luck, Arizona can keep the Dodgers out of their pool in 2014.



Offseason Outlook: Cincinnati Reds

The Reds had a seemingly successful season in 2013, but an early exit from the playoffs, apparent tensions in their clubhouse, and the possible departure of a star outfielder have led to uncertainty about their future. The Reds still have a strong core in place, but they could go in a number of directions this offseason, some of them franchise-changing.

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The 2013 Reds won 90 or more games for the third time in the past four seasons, but that doesn't mean that all is well in Cincinnati. The team fired manager Dusty Baker after the season, frustrated that it couldn't handle the Pirates in a regular-season-ending three-game set in Cincinnati or a one-game playoff in Pittsburgh. (The Reds quickly replaced him with pitching coach Bryan Price.) Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who set the table brilliantly with a .423 on-base percentage, is a free agent. And on top of all that, the team will reportedly try to trade star second baseman Brandon Phillips.

Phillips' situation is unusual. The Reds owe him $50MM through 2017. He's getting older, is coming off a down season, and is developing a reputation as a clubhouse problem, so the Reds aren't likely to get much for him. Nonetheless, his contract, while far from great, isn't terrible, given the escalating cost of wins on the free-agent market. One would think that a good, but aging, second baseman with a long history with the Reds would have more value with his current, contending team than with potential trade partners. But the Reds, fed up with Phillips' attitude, apparently feel that isn't the case.

Phillips aside, the Reds appear set in the infield. Joey Votto is one of baseball's best hitters, and he's signed long-term. (Very long-term -- he'll make $25MM per year from 2018 through 2023.) Shortstop Zack Cozart and third baseman Todd Frazier are coming off solid seasons, thanks in part to their good gloves. Cozart isn't a strong offensive player, so he'll need to keep fielding well to be effective, but his 2013 season was certainly good enough to pencil him in at shortstop next year. With Devin Mesoraco and Ryan Hanigan, the Reds will likely stand pat at catcher; those two combined for just 0.4 WAR in 2013, but there's reason to hope that Mesoraco, at least, will improve, due to his youth.

Jay Bruce will man right field, and Ryan Ludwick will likely occupy at least a platoon role in left, with the Reds hoping for a full recovery from the shoulder injury that limited him in 2013. If Choo departs, Billy Hamilton would be the obvious candidate to replace him. Hamilton demonstrated down the stretch that his world-class speed is a tremendous weapon. Between his baserunning and the fact that, unlike Choo, he's a legitimate center fielder, it's not ridiculous to hope that the gap between Hamilton and Choo might not be that big, although Hamilton's .308 on-base percentage at Louisville last season is a warning sign. If Choo signs elsewhere, the number of options that would obviously improve on Hamilton is fairly limited, barring a kamikaze pursuit of Jacoby Ellsbury or Curtis Granderson in free agency. Perhaps signing a cheap center fielder, like Rajai Davis, Andres Torres or Franklin Gutierrez, or a trade for someone like Peter Bourjos, might make sense as an insurance policy. In any case, the Reds' decision to extend Choo a qualifying offer will be a no-brainer.

In the rotation, the Reds will have Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani. Those five could be the basis of a very good rotation, but the Reds will need depth -- as it stands, Pedro Villarreal or Greg Reynolds would be the next up if someone got hurt. The obvious solution would be to re-sign Bronson Arroyo, but he doesn't seem likely to return, and maybe that's for the best. Tim Dierkes predicts that Arroyo will receive a two-year, $24MM deal on the open market, and that seems like a lot to pay for a righty whose fastball barely cracks 87 MPH, who doesn't get many ground balls, and who will be 37 before the start of the 2014 season. Given that the Reds already have five solid rotation options, the better solution might be to hope that Arroyo settles for less, or to look for someone cheaper as their depth option.

The bullpen looks relatively set, with a core of J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Jonathan Broxton, rubber-armed Alfredo Simon and a healthy Sean Marshall backing up star closer Aroldis Chapman. The Reds did have mediocre lefty Zach Duke pitching in key situations down the stretch, so it might not be a bad idea to pursue another left-hander to complement Chapman and Marshall -- re-signing Manny Parra, who was effective in 2013, might make sense.

Despite a capable pitching staff and a lineup that's reasonably well-stocked with players who are at least decent, the coming offseason could mark a turning point for the Reds. Baker's firing indicates that they aren't satisfied where they are, and in a tough NL Central  (with a perennial powerhouse in St. Louis, a suddenly-relevant Pirates club and a rebuilding Cubs team that could be strong sooner rather than later), maybe they're right not to be. It wouldn't be a shock, then, to see the Reds pull off some outside-the-box move this offseason, along the lines of their signing of Chapman a few years back. (For example, the Reds didn't end up signing Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero, but they did scout him extensively.)

In any case, the outcome of the Reds' offseason may hinge on Choo and Phillips. Choo's suitors could include everyone from the Cubs to the Mets to the Astros. GM Walt Jocketty has said that re-signing Choo might be tricky. But the Reds might be able to manage it, perhaps by saving money in a Phillips trade and allowing Arroyo to depart via free agency.

For Phillips, one destination could be Atlanta, with the Braves potentially shipping Dan Uggla and a prospect to Cincinnati. Uggla's home-run power would likely play well at the Great American Ballpark, but he would be a big defensive downgrade, and he hit .179/.309/.362 last season. The Reds would have to make up the difference between Phillips and Uggla elsewhere on the diamond, and that wouldn't be easy. Phillips may give the Reds headaches, but by attempting to trade him, they may just be creating another one. Despite playing a corner outfielder in center field, the Reds led baseball in defensive efficiency in 2013. Their fielding was a boon for their pitchers, who posted an ERA nearly half a run lower than their FIP. It would be odd if the Reds began their offseason by replacing one of their most valuable defensive players.

The Uggla rumor might be an unlikely one -- he wouldn't save the Reds money, at least not through 2015, so swapping him for Phillips would be an unambiguous step backwards for the Reds that wouldn't give them much chance of making up for it in the short term. But in any case, the Reds will have to be creative this offseason. They could sign a starting pitcher, then deal from their rotation depth for help in the outfield. Bailey, who is set for free agency after the 2014 season, is a wild card; the Reds could trade him, or try to sign him to a long-term deal. The Reds begin their offseason with a number of balls in the air, and when April comes, it's unclear who will be around to catch them.



Offseason Outlook: Washington Nationals

The Nationals failed to repeat their 98-win 2012 campaign, but were the best National League team not to qualify for the 2013 post-season. With the team's core still fully intact, the Nats surely hope to climb back atop the NL East in 2014.

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The Nationals are loaded with young, cost-controlled talent that is still in or approaching its prime. Much the same unit combined to bag nearly 100 wins just one year ago. Owner Ted Lerner is one of the richest in the game; the club already ratcheted up payroll going into 2013; and Washington recently extended and promoted Mike Rizzo, the front office man who built the current club and will guide it for the foreseeable future. Sounds pretty promising. 

Then again, these pieces led manager Davey Johnson to declare 2013 a "World Series or bust" year, and the team failed even to earn a chance to compete for a ring. And now, the team's guru-skipper is himself riding off into the sunset. Priority number one for Rizzo will be finding the right man to take the helm. Internal options Trent Jewett or Randy Knorr could be asked to take the torch, or the team could look outside the organization to candidates like Brad Ausmus or Matt Williams

As for the on-field components, Rizzo has shown a penchant for acting opportunistically, rather than just filling needs, over the last two off-seasons. With Edwin Jackson in 2012 and Haren in 2013, Rizzo targeted veteran pitchers he liked for a bounceback. Last year's signing of Soriano to a heavily deferred deal was an unexpected stroke. And he swung two trades that remade the club's outfield, ultimately adding Span and pitching prospects A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen, and Ian Krol while parting with Michael Morse and top minor league arm Alex Meyer. Though the signings have not worked out quite as anticipated, the trades look to have been beneficial in the aggregate. And Rizzo surely remains undeterred in his confident, decisive approach.

But what bold strokes might the Nats' head man have in mind for 2014? The club has few positions obviously ripe for upgrade. In particular, the club's starting outfield is unlikely to change, with Harper and Werth entrenched at the corners and Span holding down center field. Though there have been rumblings that the Nats could move on from Span just one season after installing him, he rebounded from a slow start to deliver just what the team expected when it dealt for him: a league-average bat, twenty swipes, and outstanding defense in center, good for 3.5 fWAR and 2.4 rWAR. He remains a very nice bridge to the team's top overall prospect, Brian Goodwin, who could arrive by 2015.

In the infield, three spots are virtual locks. The shortstop Desmond has established himself among the league's best, and the only question is whether -- and at what price -- he'll be extended. Zimmerman's throwing woes at third abated enough that he won't yet be moved across the diamond. And the backstop Ramos, who returned from ACL surgery to his promising trajectory, could himself be an interesting target for a long-term deal

The other two infield positions are probably also set, barring some complicated maneuvering. At first base, the team returns LaRoche, who is still owed $14MM (including his 2015 buyout). There has been some suggestion that the Nats could look to upgrade here after the veteran's sluggish 2013, which may have been caused in part by weight loss issues that the team hopes to be able to address going forward. But for the team to sell low and eat salary to move one of its valued clubhouse members, it would need a very good reason. Washington was reportedly interested in Jose Dariel Abreu, for instance, but not at anything close to the price he ultimately commanded. Unless a golden opportunity arises, an acquisition at first seems improbable.

Indeed, a more plausible (but still unlikely) means by which the smooth-swinging lefty might be displaced would be if ownership empties its wallet for this year's top overall free agent target, second baseman Robinson Cano. But Rendon is already on hand. He is a cheap, high-upside 23-year-old who had a solid rookie campaign, showing the ability to play second and maintaining a league-average batting line after minimal seasoning (326 minor league at-bats). Washington could dump LaRoche and employ some combination of Cano, Zimmerman, and Rendon to play the 3-through-5 positions, or even trade the valuable youngster. But the likely breathtaking commitment that Cano will command could hamstring the club's efforts to retain its homegrown stars down the line. Rizzo may kick the tires on Cano, but Rendon remains highly likely to man the keystone next year.

Of course, the team also still has Danny Espinosa in the fold in the middle infield. The low-contact switch hitter saw his stock plummet (and missed qualifying for arbitration) after a disastrous (28 OPS+) start to 2013. Though he could be dealt, the club would hate to sell so low on a player with Espinosa's upside. And while the 26-year-old could make the roster as a reserve, it seems more likely he'll provide injury insurance while working to rebuild his offensive game -- and trade value -- in Triple-A. 

Whether or not it includes Espinosa, the Nats' bench must improve on its sub-replacement-level 2013. Other backup middle infield possibilities include the limited-but-sturdy Steve Lombardozzi and minor leaguers Jeff Kobernus (who showed nice speed and on-base ability at Triple-A last year with 42 swipes and a .366 OBP) and Zach Walters (who flashed rare power for a shortstop with 29 International League bombs). Tyler Moore hit well after a mid-season run at Triple-A, but doesn't play third and may be redundant with Hairston as an outfield option. Corey Brown, 27, may have an outside shot at Roger Bernadina's old role or could be traded away. Behind the dish, minor leaguers Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano seem ready to fill a backup role. Of course, Rizzo could well pursue a veteran or two rather than relying on those options. What is most clear, however, is that the club will be in search of a left-handed bench bat. The team is likely to let Chad Tracy walk after a sub-par 2013. A relatively direct free agent replacement might be found (e.g., Luke Scott). Or the club could seek more utility from a player like short-time Nat David DeJesus.

Situational lefties, it would appear, are something of a theme in Washington. After leaving the LOOGY role essentially unfilled to start 2013, the Nats are widely expected to peruse the market for help on that side of the bullpen. And the club could look to add other arms as well. But the relief corps may receive less of an overhaul than many commentators have suggested. On the whole, it was about as effective this season (3.0 fWAR, 3.56 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 3.79 xFIP) as it was the year prior (3.4 fWAR, 3.23 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 4.01 xFIP). And the team has internal options. Though an established lefty will certainly appear on Rizzo's shopping list, all of the team's primary left-handed pen arms last year -- Fernando Abad, Xavier Cedeno, and Krol -- are under team control and short of arbitration eligibility. The closer job remains Soriano's to lose, even if his leash has shortened. Clippard and Storen will be the top setup men, unless one is traded (which is probably the most interesting situation to watch). And Stammen's role will continue to grow after another sturdy campaign. Otherwise, the club has some reasonably promising internal options that it could use to fill things out. Ryan Mattheus, Erik Davis, and even Christian Garcia and Aaron Barrett all spring to mind. Finally, one or more of the odd men out of the rotation will likely wind up in relief as a long man.

And that leads us to what is, perhaps, the most intriguing area of the off-season for the Nationals. The top of the rotation is set, with Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmermann making up one of the best and most cost-efficient front three in the game. If healthy, Detwiler should get another shot after missing much of 2013. Beyond those four, the team could choose to allow Ohlendorf to compete with the emergent Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan for the fifth slot that will be vacated by Haren, leaving the losers to supplement the pen or provide depth in Syracuse. A rising Nathan Karns could also push for a role with a big spring after getting his first taste of the bigs last year, and other solid arms are moving through the system with him, headlined by Cole. 

But while the club certainly has sufficient options on hand, Rizzo could make a big impact with one move in the rotation. Though it would be surprising to see the Nats hand out a lengthy contract to any of this year's free agents, the acquisition of a high-quality veteran who won't compromise the budget long-term could be the most direct, least risky way to boost the club for 2014. Rizzo could conceivably target a veteran arm like Tim Hudson, offer yet another pillow contract, or even pursue a trade, though it is somewhat difficult to imagine the Nats giving up the kind of top-end young talent that will be needed to land a David Price.

If Rizzo dabbles in the trade market at all -- whether for a starter or otherwise -- one asset group he could use as currency is the mid-tier, MLB-ready talent that is backed up at Triple-A. Though Washington will likely value its few premier prospects quite highly, it could be open to dealing from the aforementioned middle infielders (Kobernus and Walters) and pitchers (Jordan, Karns, et al.). Likewise, speedy center fielder Eury Perez, 23, was strong in Triple-A last year but has Span in front of him and Goodwin and Michael Taylor behind.

Assuming they tender contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players, the Nats figure to enter the off-season already nearing (if not exceeding) the franchise-high 2012 opening day tab of just under $120MM. Lerner has hinted that the club went over its own, flexible internal budget last year, which obviously did not turn out as expected. But the Nationals' window is unquestionably open, attendance is on the rise, and a healthy splash would help to stir up continued interest in a growing fan base.

Some money and attention probably will be earmarked for extensions, with Desmond and Zimmermann being the most pressing candidates. (As MLBTR's Tim Dierkes explained earlier today in assessing the team's arbitration eligibles, it could cost the Nats upwards of $100MM for the former and around $85MM for the latter.) And moves will be made to improve the team around the fringes. But ultimately, for an organization that learned firsthand that big projections and talent aren't enough in the fickle game of baseball, tinkering with the bench and pen may not be enough. A significant move -- a signing, trading, or both -- seems reasonably likely to be in the offing.



Offseason Outlook: Pittsburgh Pirates

After their first winning season and playoff berth in 21 years, the Pirates find themselves in an enviable position, with a fairly sturdy roster and a strong farm system. It remains to be seen whether they will play it safe this offseason, heading into camp next year with a roster similar to last year's, or whether they'll make headlines with a splashy move or two.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

  • Wandy Rodriguez, SP: $13MM player option (Astros will pay $5.5MM if Rodriguez accepts)

Free Agents

Whenever a small-market team follows 20 straight losing seasons with an unexpected 94-win campaign, you know what the narrative will be: They're the young, scrappy Davids who somehow managed to compete with Goliath. When it comes to the Pirates, that's true, to an extent -- their top player, Andrew McCutchen, didn't turn 27 until October, and they also got plenty of mileage from homegrown talents Starling Marte, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole, Tony Watson and Justin Wilson.

For an upstart team, though, the 2013 Pirates also got a ton of help from veterans, including several who had very high profiles earlier in their careers. A.J. Burnett quietly was one of the best pitchers in the National League, leading the NL in K/9 and ground ball percentage. Russell Martin anchored the Pirates' pitching staff and was fantastic behind the plate, rating 23 runs above average on defense, according to FanGraphs. Francisco Liriano was one of the best bargain-basement signings of the 2012-13 offseason. And the top two relievers in the Pirates' bullpen, Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, were dominant.

While the Pirates may not have been that young, though, they're well-positioned to compete in the near future, even if it will be tough to repeat their 94-win 2013 performance. There's no reason to think McCutchen won't continue to be one of the best position players in baseball, and Marte should continue to post star-caliber seasons alongside him, mostly thanks to his defense. Cole looked more and more like an ace as his debut season went on, and fellow top pick Jameson Taillon will likely soon join him in the Pirates' rotation. The 2013 Pirates had a solid, ground-ball-heavy pitching staff that was aided by terrific fielding (thanks in part to very frequent defensive shifts) and an underrated offense. That probably won't change much in 2014.

The short-term problem for the Pirates, though, will be how to replicate or replace the performances they got from veterans in 2013. Martin and Liriano will be back, but they're unlikely to combine for 7.2 WAR again. Likewise, Grilli and Melancon will have a tough time again combining for 4.0 WAR. And Burnett might not be a Pirate at all -- he's still deciding whether to return for another season or to retire. The Pirates also stand to lose Marlon Byrd, who provided a boost to the their offense after an August trade with the Mets.

Offensively, the Pirates are set for 2014 at catcher (Martin), second base (Walker), third base (Alvarez) and two of the outfield positions (McCutchen and Marte). At shortstop, Clint Barmes is a free agent, but newcomer Jordy Mercer easily outhit him in 2013, while also providing credible defense. It will be tough for the Pirates to do better than Mercer this offseason, so their best bet might be to simply re-sign Barmes or acquire another defensive-minded player to serve as Mercer's backup and occasionally give Walker days off against lefties.

That leaves right field and first base. At right field, there is, again, a reasonable case for standing pat -- Jose Tabata came on strong at the end of the 2013 season, quietly producing 1.1 WAR in a part-time role. Tabata is defensively limited and offensively erratic, but given his relative youth and the possibility that top prospect Gregory Polanco will occupy the position beginning in late 2014 or early 2015, it might not make sense for the Bucs to make a multiyear commitment to a free agent outfielder, unless he's a superstar. And if Tabata flops, the Pirates could also turn to Andrew Lambo, who hit 33 home runs across three levels in 2013.

First base is where a splashy offseason acquisition would make the most sense -- Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau weren't particularly inspiring in 2013, and Gaby Sanchez is most useful as a lefty-killer. Unfortunately, there are few big names to pursue, at least on the free agent market. The Pirates apparently were never serious players for Jose Dariel Abreu, meaning Mike Napoli is the only player on the market who would clearly be a large upgrade. Players like Corey Hart and James Loney (in free agency) and Ike Davis (on the trade market) might also be possibilities, but they aren't great ones.

Any changes to the Pirates' 2014 rotation will likely hinge on whether A.J. Burnett returns. Burnett has said that, if he continues playing, he wants to stay in Pittsburgh, but he's also mulling retirement. If he does stay, it might be for a one-year deal right around the qualifying offer value of $14.1MM, whether or not the Pirates actually extend a qualifying offer. If he returns, he'll join Cole and Liriano atop the Pirates' rotation. Charlie Morton should slot into one of the back two spots, and Wandy Rodriguez, who finished the 2013 season on the disabled list, will likely pick up his player option. That leaves Jeff Locke, who faded badly down the stretch last year, as an insurance policy.

The Pirates also control most of their bullpen. Grilli and Melancon are set to return, along with top lefties Watson and Wilson and, assuming the Pirates tender him, righty Vin Mazzaro. Righty Stolmy Pimentel, who arrived along with Melancon last offseason's Joel Hanrahan trade with the Red Sox, will be out of options, and he pitched well in both the minors and the big leagues last year, so he could occupy another bullpen spot, perhaps along with fellow righty Bryan Morris.

The Pirates' farm system is also well-stocked, with Taillon and Polanco leading the way. The Bucs also have a well-regarded infielder in Alen Hanson, a tall righty who posted 13.3 K/9 in Tyler Glasnow, and two 2013 first-round picks who had good debuts in Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire.

The Pirates' strong system may turn out to be important this winter. The Bucs' attendance has taken a huge leap forward in the past few years, from 1.6MM in 2010 to almost 2.3MM in 2013, and owner Bob Nutting recently spoke about significantly increasing the team's payroll next season. There are, however, few good free agent options at the Pirates' clearest positions of need, particularly first base. So it wouldn't be a huge shock if the Pirates were involved in some sort of blockbuster trade this offseason, trading away prospects in return for a star who can play one of the corner spots. Giancarlo Stanton or Chase Headley might make sense.

There ultimately isn't much point in trying to predict specifics. But it wouldn't be at all surprising to see the Pirates do something dramatic this offseason. Their first winning campaign since 1992 is now in the books. The atmosphere at PNC Park during the Pirates' 6-2 win over the Reds in their one-game playoff was unlike anything the Pirates (or, frankly, lots of baseball teams) have seen in decades. It's an important time for baseball in Pittsburgh, and the team has money to spend. GM Neal Huntington isn't the type to make a huge move just because he's expected to, but if the right one presents itself, well, now is the time.



Offseason Outlook: New York Yankees

The Yankees are missing some iconic names but will try to reload their roster and (maybe) keep their payroll under the luxury tax limit.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

For the last two years, Yankees fans have been hearing about the team's plan to get under the $189MM luxury tax threshold for 2014 in order to save as much as $50MM in future luxury tax and revenue-sharing payments.  Then, the Yankees missed the postseason for just the second time in the last 19 seasons and it looks like the $189MM cap idea may be a thing of the past.  Though the team overcame an injury-riddled roster to finish 85-77, the team still saw drops in attendance and TV ratings due to their relative non-contention, and those losses in revenue may offset the expected luxury tax savings. 

Quite simply, it seems like the Yankees can't afford to not be in the postseason race.  Tax or no tax, we'll definitely see the Bombers make some moves to shore up their roster, and this could be a very busy offseason for general manager Brian Cashman.

The good payroll news is that the Yankees only have $89.025MM committed for 2014.  That total could grow by roughly $17.2MM if they tender contracts to all their seven of their arbitration eligible players, plus $9.5MM if Derek Jeter exercises his player option as expected.  That adds up to $115.725MM for 14 players, so there's room to add a few more big salaries to the mix and still get under the magic $189MM number. 

How big would those salaries be?  Try roughly $300MM worth of deals if everything breaks New York's way and they're able to re-sign Robinson Cano and add at least two of Brian McCann, Mashiro Tanaka and Carlos Beltran.  The last time the Yankees made a big free agent splash like that was when they added C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett in the 2008-09 offseason...and then won the World Series the next year.

The Alex Rodriguez saga will play a big role in determining the payroll logistics.  A-Rod's appeal of his record 211-game suspension will likely result in a shorter amount of time served, though every game missed by the slugger equals more of Rodriguez's $28MM 2014 salary that comes off the books.  Rodriguez turns 39 next year and he was limited to just 44 games (and a .771 OPS) last season due to recovery from hip surgery, so between his age and salary, it could be best for the Yankees if A-Rod did sit out 150 games or more and allow them to turn the page on their third base situation.

Having to find another full-time third baseman, however, just adds to the long list of positions requiring New York's attention this winter.  The only positions that seem settled are left field (Alfonso Soriano), center (Brett Gardner) and first base (Teixeira), though since Teixeira turns 34 in April and played only 15 games last year due to several wrist injuries, the Yankees will definitely look to acquire first base depth.

Jeter is a near-lock to return following a miserable season that saw him play in just 17 games due to recurring problems with his left ankle and a subsequent calf injury.  It seems unlikely that his ankle will withstand a full year at short, so Jeter may spend most of his time at a less-strenuous position like first or DH.  Such a position switch would mean the Yankees will need to find another shortstop, as Eduardo Nunez provided little at the plate or in the field as Jeter's main replacement in 2013.  New York could try to re-sign Brendan Ryan as a defense-first option, though a better move would be to sign a player like Jhonny Peralta, who could help at both short and third.

Re-signing Cano, far and away the top free agent on the market this offseason, will be the first order of business for the Yankees.  Cano is known to be looking for a 10-year, $305MM deal, and while I doubt he'll find such a contract anywhere, his price tag will still be high enough that only the Yankees and a few other big-payroll clubs (though not the Dodgers) will be able to afford him.  ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand recently listed the Rangers, Phillies, Cubs, Tigers, Mariners, Mets and Nationals as possible candidates to sign Cano, and of that crop, Detroit and Washington stand out as the most realistic options.  That said, I tend to believe that Cano will be wearing the pinstripes come Opening Day.

There is already rumored to be mutual interest between the Yankees and Beltran, who would be a major right field upgrade over the Ichiro Suzuki/Vernon Wells platoon.  Since Beltran is very likely to receive a qualifying offer from the Cardinals, however, New York would need to give up its first round draft pick (18th overall) to sign him.  That's a move the Bombers might be hesitant to make given their lack of minor league depth. 

Re-signing Curtis Granderson would address the RF hole without costing the Yankees a draft pick.  Both Granderson and his agent Dan Martin have said that his preference is to return to the Yankees, and it has even been suggested that Granderson could accept a one-year, $14.1MM qualifying offer from the club in order to rebound from his injury-shortened 2013 season and put himself in better shape for free agency next winter.  While Granderson could indeed re-sign, I highly doubt he'll take a qualifying offer when he's bound to be offered multiyear deals elsewhere.  The White Sox, for instance, are rumored to have a big interest in Granderson (an Illinois native), though the signing of Jose Dariel Abreu could affect Chicago's other free agent plans.

Chris Stewart handled the majority of the work behind the plate last year though MLBTR's Tim Dierkes considers him to be a non-tender candidate, despite Stewart's modest $1MM in projected arbitration earnings for next season.  The Yankees have Stewart, Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy and the returning Francisco Cervelli in the mix, so it's no surprise that there has been speculation that the Bombers could make a play for McCann.  With McCann behind the plate and serving as a bridge to 20-year-old prospect Gary Sanchez, the Yankees could use their other catchers as trade bait.  If not McCann, other veterans like A.J. Pierzynski or Dioner Navarro could be options.  The Yankees have enough catching depth that they could focus their resources elsewhere and stand pat at catcher, in the hopes that Cervelli can keep up the hot bat he swung in his very brief 2013 campaign or that Murphy (a second round pick in 2009) can make the leap after a solid season at Double- and Triple-A.

The Yankees bullpen is entering a new era in the wake of Mariano Rivera's retirement.  David Robertson is the internal favorite to become the new closer, though the Yankees could check in on an elite closer like Joe Nathan or more experienced stoppers like Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour or Edward Mujica. Robertson will be a free agent himself next winter, however, so the Bombers will have to act now if they want to give their "closer of the future" an actual chance at the job.

The Yankees will definitely look to strengthen a bullpen that posted middling numbers last season.  The bullpen is one area where the club would look to save payroll space by getting some low-cost arms.  Boone Logan's elbow surgery isn't expected to cause him to miss any Spring Training time, but it could drop his free agent price enough that New York could re-sign him at a relative bargain. 

Maybe the club's biggest area of concern is the starting rotation.  Sabathia is coming off the worst season of his 13-year career, Andy Pettitte has retired and Hiroki Kuroda could retire or return to pitch in Japan.  One bright spot is Ivan Nova, who enjoyed his best season and is only now entering his arb-eligible years.  The Yankees are counting on Nova to continue his development and become a rotation stalwart in 2014, while also hoping that Sabathia's return to his regular offseason training routine will get him back in form.

Kuroda seems likely to sign a one-year contract in the $16MM range, as MLBTR's Steve Adams recently noted in his Free Agent Profile of the Japanese righty.  The Yankees obviously want him back after such a solid season and I'd argue that they probably have the inside track.  Kuroda could be interested in signing with a contender on the West Coast to be closer to his family in California, though it's hard to see teams like the Dodgers or A's give up their first round draft pick to sign a pitcher who will be 39 next season.

The Yankees are expected to be major players for Tanaka, and since his posting fee wouldn't count against the luxury tax, he'd be a relatively low-cost signing that would also help to revive fan interest.  While several other teams are also interested in Tanaka, the Yankees' extra financial resources give them an edge in a posting bid scenario.

Beyond Sabathia and Nova, the Yankees will have a lot of uncertainty in the rotation if Kuroda and/or Tanaka aren't signed.  The team would much rather have the likes of Adam Warren or David Phelps as depth options than being penciled in as the third and fourth starters.  Phil Hughes won't be re-signed and Michael Pineda's status is still up in the air, though the Yankees hope he's at least healthy enough to compete for a job next spring.  Yankee Stadium's hitter-friendly dimensions can make it tricky to attract free agent starters, so the Bombers could target available pitchers who are adept at keeping the ball on the ground.

The Yankees have traditionally been able to augment their bench with productive veterans who are willing to take reduced roles in search of a World Series ring.  This task could be harder this winter since the Yankees are no longer surefire contenders, though there could be regular at-bats to be had at the DH spot for a bench player who gets hot, depending on how much Jeter plays at shortstop.  The Bombers will look to add more productive depth players than last winter, as Wells, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay didn't contribute much. 

One big offseason matter has already been settled, as Joe Girardi signed a new four-year contract to remain as the team's manager.  The Cubs and Nationals were the most notable potential suitors for Girardi's services but the Yankees moved quickly to re-sign their skipper weeks before he was free to negotiate elsewhere.

The $189MM payroll crunch wouldn't be nearly as big an issue for the Yankees if their top three highest-earning players (Rodriguez, Teixeira and Sabathia) weren't all such big question marks for 2014.  Since there is too much money at stake on and off the field for the Bombers to have a true rebuilding year, the departures of Rivera and Pettitte don't exactly signal a fresh start for the franchise given the number of familiar veterans still on the roster.  While some additions will be made, the Yankees' success in 2014 will depend on how much their aging and banged-up core still has in the tank.



Offseason Outlook: Texas Rangers

Despite a disappointing ending to their 2013 season, the Rangers still have a strong, though increasingly expensive, core in place, and they'll likely spend the 2013-14 offseason trying to replace or re-sign some of their many free agents.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free agents: Nelson Cruz, Matt Garza, A.J. Pierzynski, David Murphy, Geovany Soto, Colby Lewis

The Rangers have had five straight winning seasons and four straight with at least 90 wins, but a mood of unease surrounds the club. Despite high-profile summer trades for Matt Garza and Alex Rios, the Rangers posted a 12-16 record in September and missed the playoffs after falling to the Rays in a one-game tiebreaker. CEO Nolan Ryan recently retired after any number of reports of tension between him and president of baseball operations Jon Daniels. The Rangers dismissed bench coach Jackie Moore and first-base coach Dave Anderson after the season ended, even though manager Ron Washington wanted them to stay; Moore speculated that he was dismissed because he was close with Ryan.

Reports have suggested the 2014 Rangers will aim to have a payroll a little lower than their $125MM 2013 figure, but it wouldn't be hard to imagine them going higher. With about $89MM already committed to guaranteed contracts for Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Rios, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and others, plus the $10MM or so they'll have to pay arbitration-eligible players, the Rangers will have a limited amount of flexibility with which to address a variety of needs. Even with the relatively recent debuts of Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez, the Rangers' core (Kinsler, Beltre, Andrus, Darvish, Harrison, Derek Holland) is getting older and more expensive, as baseball players do, and that could force the Rangers into some tricky decisions in the coming years.

The Rangers will have Rios at one corner outfield position, and they're expected to extend a qualifying offer to Nelson Cruz, who might well fill the other. If Cruz does return, the Rangers could be mostly set in the outfield, despite the possible departure of David Murphy. In center field, Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry lack prototypical outfield power, but they make up for it with outstanding defense, and they can be platooned.

Much of the ihe infield, too, is set, unless the Rangers can find some way to relieve their logjam there. Kinsler, Andrus and Beltre are all signed to huge contracts, leaving no obvious permanent spot for Profar who, despite a somewhat underwhelming rookie season, provides the club with youth and upside it can clearly use. The obvious solution would be to move Kinsler, who is not a top defensive player, to first base or the outfield so that Profar can occupy one of the middle infield spots, but thus far the Rangers haven't done that, as Kinsler has reportedly been reluctant to switch positions.

In any case, the Rangers will look to upgrade at first base and designated hitter this offseason. Lance Berkman is unlikely to return, and Mitch Moreland may not have done enough in 2013 to justify a starting spot. Years ago, the Rangers traded Chris Davis and Justin Smoak to pursue short-term upgrades at other positions, so it's no surprise that they don't now have a clear long-term option at first base. They were connected to Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu, but he's now headed to the White Sox. A return of Mike Napoli to Texas would be the Rangers' other obvious option to upgrade first base. After that, the market is thin, and the Rangers could decide to just go with Moreland and upgrade elsewhere. At designated hitter, one possibility for the Rangers might be to re-sign Cruz, move him to DH, and acquire another outfielder -- if they're willing to spend big, Shin-Soo Choo might be a possibility.

With the potential departure of A.J. Pierzynski, the Rangers will also need to address the catcher position. A run at free agent Brian McCann might make sense -- the Rangers reportedly asked about McCann at the trade deadline, and McCann would add a power bat that would help the Rangers' lineup.

Darvish and Holland appear set to anchor the Texas rotation, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Perez take a step forward, giving the Rangers an excellent 1-2-3 punch. Harrison, whose 2013 season was ruined by back issues, should be healthy in time for Spring Training as well. Alexi Ogando could take the fifth spot, and Nick Tepesch will likely provide a backup plan, which means the Rangers don't necessarily need to look outside the organization for a replacement for Matt Garza, who is a free agent.

The Rangers aren't sure whether they'll exercise their $9MM 2014 option on closer Joe Nathan, although that's probably a moot point, since Nathan can void the option, a right he earned by finishing more than 55 games in 2013 and 100 between 2012 and 2013. (Tim Dierkes predicts Nathan will earn a two-year, $26MM deal as a free agent.)

Elsewhere in the bullpen, Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross are effective and cheap, while Neal Cotts, who enjoyed a velocity bump and an age-33 breakout season in 2013, should still be a bargain in arbitration. Texas also re-signed Jason Frasor to a one-year, $1.75MM deal shortly after the season; he posted a 2.57 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 in 2013. The Rangers can also hope that Neftali Feliz makes a full recovery following 2012 Tommy John surgery -- he returned in September and pitched decently, and the Rangers have him getting extra work in the Dominican this winter. Joakim Soria should factor into the 2014 bullpen as well. If Nathan does not return, Scheppers, Feliz and Soria might all be options at the closer position.

Recent reports have also connected the Rangers with top-flight pitchers like David Price and Masahiro Tanaka, who might be possibilities if Texas decides to make a splash. If the Rangers can't land one of those huge names, though, they will likely focus on their offense this offseason, since most of their biggest holes are position-player spots. Exactly how they do it will depend upon whether, for example, Cruz accepts the qualifying offer he'll likely receive, and whether Nathan returns.

The most likely scenario is that Cruz will return, either by accepting the qualifying offer or reaching some other sort of deal to stay in Texas, while Nathan will depart. If the Rangers plan to have a $125MM payroll, that would leave them very little to play with on the free agent market, and the Rangers need to acquire at least a catcher with that money.

That puts the Rangers in a tough spot, and so, despite reports that the Rangers' payroll will be similar to last year's, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see them either go somewhat higher, or make a trade to free payroll. Dealing Kinsler would make sense, freeing a middle infield spot for Profar and allowing the Rangers to pursue a bat or two.

Underscoring the Rangers' current lineup quandary is the fact that, other than Profar, they don't have any young players ready to step into key roles. Profar, of course, has tremendous upside, and the Rangers' farm system has been good to them in the past several years. But that well appears to be drying, if only temporarily. The Rangers have a ton of interesting talent in the low minors, but top prospects Jorge Alfaro, Luis Sardinas, Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo aren't likely to make an impact in 2014.

The Rangers won't have the payroll flexibility they'd probably like over the next few seasons, and it will be two or three years before the next wave of really talented Rangers prospects starts to make its mark. But with a talented core in place, the Rangers are still well-positioned to contend in 2014 and 2015, at the very least. And with the Astros in rebuilding mode and the Angels and Mariners in disarray, the Rangers have been dealt a strong hand. How they play it this offseason will go a long way toward determining how far they advance in 2014.



Offseason Outlook: San Francisco Giants

After winning the 2012 World Series, the Giants pretty much decided to hold pat and retain the same team.  This year, it could be a different story after San Francisco finished fourth in the NL West with a sub-.500 record.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

The Giants have a few important players set to hit the open market, including the perplexing Tim Lincecum.  After breaking out in 2008 and asserting himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball across four consecutive years, The Freak struggled mightily in 2012 and rebounded somewhat in 2013.  Lincecum's fall from grace is troubling, but this year's numbers are promising. This season, the 29-year-old posted a 4.37 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 versus a 5.18 ERA with 9.2 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in 2012.  Meanwhile, his FIP (3.73), xFIP (3.56), and SIERA (3.75) are all better than his 2013 ERA as well as his 2012 marks.  Giants assistant General Manager Bobby Evans has made no secret of his desire to work out an extension with Lincecum and talks got underway shortly after the season ended.  The Giants could net a draft pick by extending him a qualifying offer of about $14.1MM, but it's not likely that they can keep him with that deal. 

The rotation figures to have at least one more vacancy.  Barry Zito is unlikely to return after finishing out his colossal contract and Ryan Vogelsong's $6.5MM club option is far from a slam dunk.  It's possible that Vogelsong, who posted a 5.73 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 2013, could be retained for less if the Giants decline the option and bring him back to the table.  Internal candidates Yusmeiro Petit and Eric Surkamp will get to audition for rotation spots during the spring, but they're not guaranteed to take off in 2013.  Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are a strong 1-2 combination, but they'll need their 3-5 starters to produce if they hope to get back to the playoffs. 

The Giants will have to go out and find a left fielder or a first baseman, depending on where they slot Brandon Belt.  Brett Pill is the understudy at first base and while he wouldn't be a terrible choice, San Francisco would probably look out-of-house for an alternative or competitor.  Gregor Blanco's solid glove helped him to a 2.8 WAR, but if he's slotted as the every day left fielder, he won't offer much in the way of offensive firepower.  If the Giants are going to spend, left field could be the place to do it.  Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jacoby Ellsbury will all be out on the open market and could play the position.  Guys like Nelson Cruz, Curtis Granderson, Marlon Byrd, Corey Hart, and Mike Napoli could also be in play if they don't feel like backing up a Brink's truck.

Regardless of where Belt is slotted, he appears to have a very bright future for himself in San Francisco.  He'll go through arbitration for the first time this season and thanks to his Super Two status, he'll have four arb eligible winters in total.  The Giants may consider buying out those years and more with an extension and Tim Dierkes recently suggested Allen Craig's deal as a possible comp.  Craig got a backloaded five-year deal out of the Cards that guarantees him $31MM with a club option in year six worth $13MM.   

The Giants seem to have the backend of their bullpen locked in with closer Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla to set the table.  Beyond that, it's a bit of a quagmire.  Javier Lopez is a free agent after earning $4.25MM and he could be plucked away by another club looking for a solid lefty specialist.  If the 36-year-old is plucked by someone else, they could go after less expensive left-handers like Mike Gonzalez, who posted rates of 10.8 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in 2013 but saw his ERA jump to 4.68 after a rough finish to the year.  The Giants obviously would love to keep Lopez after he pitched to a 1.83 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9, but they might not have the spare coin to make that happen.  Fellow southpaw Jose Mijares hasn't been nearly as sharp and is a non-tender candidate.  Jake Dunning and Heath Hembree figure to have important roles for the Giants next season and Guillermo Moscoso could continue as their long reliever.  Notable relievers on the open market that won't break the bank include Chad Qualls and Joba Chamberlain.

Beyond those areas of need, the Giants could use some bench reinforcements.  Injuries slowed the Giants' momentum in 2013 and underscored their need for a better reserve unit.  Now that 38-year-old second baseman Marco Scutaro had a pin inserted in his bothersome left pinkie, this seems like a good time to find some infield support.  Utility man Jeff Baker will be out there on the open market after slashing .279/.360/.545 in a small sample size of 175 plate appearances.  The 32-year-old, who offers experience at first base, second base, third base, and the outfield corners, killed lefties in 2013 with an OPS of 1.073.  Pairing incumbent utility man Joaquin Arias with someone like Baker would help the Giants stay afloat if the injury bug bites them again next season.

How about something outside of the box?  Earlier this year, Evans indicated that the Giants will do their due diligence on top international talents Jose Dariel Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka.  Tanaka in particular would be useful to the Giants since they have so many rotation spots up in question and there will be marketing opportunities abound in SF for the Japanese sensation.  The Giants were one of the most well-represented teams at Abreu's showcase in early October, though they weren't mentioned as one of the frontrunners in Buster Olney's update yesterday.  Abreu, meanwhile, would give the Giants some needed pop and could be the club's first baseman if Belt goes to left field.  Ultimately, the Giants aren't the favorites to land either player, but watching Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes thrive in their own backyard has them thinking about spending more on the international market.

After capturing World Series crowns in 2010 and 2012, GM Brian Sabean isn't willing to take a backseat to the Dodgers in the NL West.  He'll have his work cut out for him this offseason, however, as the Giants look to get back to the top in 2014.



Offseason Outlook: San Diego Padres

Injuries hurt the Padres in 2013, but that only tells part of the story.  The Padres have some work to do in order to keep up in the competitive NL West.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Free Agents

There have been non-stop questions about Chase Headley's future in San Diego for the last year but it seems like the Padres will come up with an answer, one way or another, this offseason.  They could put the rumors to rest with a contract extension for their star or trade him at a time when the third base free agent market is thin.  The Yankees have long had a soft spot for the 29-year-old and even though a new deal for Headley would be tricky given their budget constraints, he'd be a very welcome addition in light of the Alex Rodriguez saga.  General Manager Josh Byrnes & Co. will surely be listening on offers for Headley, but both sides have stated their preference for a contract extension. 

So, done deal, right?  Not quite.  There appears to be a pretty serious schism in negotiations between San Diego and agent Jim Murray of Excel Sports Management.  Back in May, we heard that the Padres were looking to lock Headley up with something in the range of $75MM over five years.  Headley, meanwhile, likely sees Ryan Zimmerman's six-year, $100MM deal as a baseline for his own deal.  It's hard to say what kind of deal Headley could get out of the Padres.  On one hand, the Zimmerman deal raised the bar for what a top third baseman should command.  On the other hand, Headley is coming off of a down year and has really only had one season where he looked like an elite player.  Headley hit .243/.335/.389 with 10 homers and a 2.1 WAR, a far cry from his 2012 campaign where he slashed .286/.376/.498 with 31 home runs and a 6.3 WAR on his way to capturing Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards.  Pads skipper Bud Black attributes much of Headley's struggles to the thumb injury he suffered in Spring Training, but the dip in hitting is still a concern.  Recently, Tim Dierkes opined that Headley will probably risk being traded elsewhere if he can't get something in the range of Andre Ethier's five-year, $85MM deal from San Diego. 

Looking out-of-house, the Padres' top priority will probably be to bolster their rotation.  Thanks to the progress of Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross and the July addition of Ian Kennedy, the top half of the starting five is taken care of.  After that, San Diego will be waiting on the returns of Joe Wieland and Cory Luebke after Tommy John surgery.  Eric Stults will probably stay in the starting five after posting a 3.93 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 in 33 starts last season.  The Padres are likely to non-tender Clayton Richard and they already purged Edinson Volquez from the roster, so there will be spots available.  There will be plenty of affordable veterans for the Padres to choose from as they look to improve the rotation while saving some coin for the rest of the roster.  Chris Capuano figures to be bought out of his $8MM mutual option with the Dodgers and will probably be willing to take a bit of a pay cut.  A modest offer could also net them someone of Roberto Hernandez or Jason Hammel's caliber.  

The bullpen also needs to be shored up as the Padres' middle relief was shaky for much of the year.  Anthony Bass, Brad Brach, Brad Boxberger, and Miles Mikolas all had varying degrees of success in 2013, but they'll have to take a step or two forward to show that they can be reliable.  Nick Vincent and Tim Stauffer were solid but San Diego will have to rebuild the bridge to Luke Gregerson and closer Huston Street.  Speaking of Gregerson, San Diego will have to address his future as he enters his final year of arbitration eligibility.  A club-friendly extension would be ideal, but the Padres will also find a lot of interested suitors if they shop him. 

Ronny Cedeno saw a ton of playing time in 2013 thanks to Everth Cabrera's PED suspension and gave the Padres decent defensive play.  He'll be a free agent, however, and they'll look for another shortstop/utility man if they don't retain him.  If the Padres can trade Headley, they can cover for him easily by moving Jedd Gyorko over to third, but that will create something of a void at second.  Logan Forsythe and Alexi Amarista can handle the position but they'd be better off with a full-timer who can replace some of Headley's offense.  

You can expect 90 percent of San Diego's trade buzz to center on Headley, but its possible that they work the phones to fill other holes in the lineup.  Recently, Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune suggested that the Padres could move either Will Venable or Chris Denorfia and a pitching prospect for an upgrade at a corner outfield slot.  The Pads have gotten interest in both players in the past and with salaries of $4.25MM and $2.25MM, respectively, they could be attractive to other teams. 

Headley figures to get the most ink of anyone tied to the Padres this offseason, but they'll have other matters to tend to as well.  









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