The Nationals, Red Sox, Cubs, and White Sox were the biggest spenders on this year’s free-agent market. While the Nationals’ decision to splurge on Max Scherzer was surprising, it would have been easy to guess, heading into the offseason, that the Red Sox, Cubs and White Sox would throw their weight around.
Next year’s free-agent class is an appealing one, with plenty of big-name starting pitchers (David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello) available, along with position players like Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Ian Desmond. Predicting who will spend in any given offseason is tricky — no one really saw the Padres’ spending spree (which, of course, included plenty of high-profile trades as well as the free-agent signing of James Shields) coming before this winter. But here, presented in order by division, are some teams that could be bidders for some of the best players available in 2015-16.
Orioles. Baltimore has a huge number of contracts coming off the books (Chris Davis, Bud Norris, Matt Wieters, Alejandro De Aza, Wei-Yin Chen, Steve Pearce and several others) and less than $42MM in existing commitments. Their group of arbitration-eligibles will also be more manageable than it was last winter, when they committed to well over $50MM for players in their arb years. The O’s could have needs in the outfield and in their rotation, meaning that they could be a good match for next year’s free-agent class.
Red Sox. It’s rarely wise to count out the Red Sox on the free-agent market, particularly in a year in which they could be without commitments to Porcello, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Justin Masterson and perhaps Clay Buchholz. With the team currently weighing how best to use any number of young players (Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart, Eduardo Rodriguez, etc.) in the future, the 2015 season will determine to a great degree what path they pursue in the winter.
Yankees. The Yankees weren’t up to their usual high-spending ways this offseason, and they’ll still have Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and other high-salaried players on the 2016 payroll. But with Hal Steinbrenner seemingly resigned to not being able to get under the luxury-tax threshold in the next couple seasons, they could be big spenders again.
Tigers. With Price, Yoenis Cespedes and other players coming off their payroll, the Tigers could have room to spend — they actually have only five players under contract for 2016, although all of those are for at least $14MM. Perhaps a good 2015 season could encourage owner Mike Ilitch to take another shot at a title before the team gets too old.
Astros. Houston currently only has about $34MM on the books for 2016, and they’ve increased free-agent spending in recent years as they’ve entered the latter stage of their rebuild. They could easily make a big splash next offseason, particularly if they have a winning season this year.
Mariners. The Mariners have been big players in the last two offseasons, adding Robinson Cano, Fernando Rodney and Nelson Cruz, and they could keep spending next year, with Rodney, Hisashi Iwakuma, Austin Jackson and J.A. Happ set to become free agents. The Mariners’ additional arbitration commitments next season will be minimal, and while the salaries of Cano, Cruz and Felix Hernandez are large, they won’t be meaningfully larger in 2016 than they are this year. If Iwakuma and Happ depart, it might make sense for the M’s to pursue one of the big-ticket free-agent starters.
Marlins. One can rarely rule out the possibility that Miami will have a splashy offseason, especially as the Marlins prepare for a season in which they’ll still have their good young core in place. They also have only about $37MM in existing commitments.
Nationals. The Nats stand to lose Zimmermann, Fister, Desmond and Denard Span next season. It’s unclear how they’ll react, but their signing of Scherzer suggests they aren’t going to head quietly into rebuilding mode, particularly given the deferred structure of that contract. The development of upper-level prospects like A.J. Cole and Michael Taylor this season could help determine who they pursue.
Mets. New York still plays in a big market and has less than $58MM on the books next season. They’re likely to have clear needs, particularly in their middle infield. Someone like Desmond, to whom they’ve already been connected, would be an obvious target. Perhaps they’ll bump up spending despite their relatively small recent payrolls.
Cardinals. St. Louis could lose Heyward and Jaime Garcia, and they ought to have payroll flexibility. Spending would make sense as the team tries to give older players like Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta a couple more shots at a championship.
Cubs. The Cubs already have $82MM in commitments for 2016, and the team reportedly held over money from 2014 to spend this past offseason, but perhaps a leap forward in their rebuilding project could encourage further spending.
Dodgers. Their vault seems almost bottomless, and they’ll have tens of millions coming off the payroll as Jimmy Rollins, Brett Anderson, Howie Kendrick and Juan Uribe become eligible for free agency. The Dodgers will also be free of tens more millions in commitments to players who are no longer with the team, including Matt Kemp, Dan Haren and Brian Wilson. It might make sense for them to pursue Desmond or a starter. Zack Greinke exercising his player opt-out would give the Dodgers even more reasons to pursue top-flight starting pitching.
Giants. San Francisco will be out from under significant commitments to Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Affeldt, and 2016 is an even year. They could be looking for a starting pitcher, and with the $30MM they won’t be spending on Lincecum and Hudson, they could aim fairly high. A third baseman could also be on the docket, although the infield market isn’t particularly strong.
Padres. Why not? Even after adding Kemp, Shields and a variety of other high-profile players, they still have only about $56MM in commitments for 2016, and their new ownership and management have obvious appetites for gutsy, high-profile moves. They’ll have Upton, Ian Kennedy and Carlos Quentin coming off the books.
Diamondbacks. Arizona has only $32MM in obligations for next season and a new TV deal. The Diamondbacks could be candidates to spend on pitching in particular.