Welcome to The Opener, our new weekday morning series here at MLBTR! Nick Deeds will take you through three things to watch around MLB, with our typical hot stove leaning.
With the final game of the 2022 MLB season coming as soon as tomorrow night, here are three things we’ll be keeping an eye on around the baseball world:
1. Astros Facing Decisions On Baker, Click
After a hard-fought Game 5 that afforded Justin Verlander his first pitcher win in the World Series, the Astros will look to clinch back home in Houston tomorrow night. As soon as they do, however, they’ll have to face the personnel decisions that their postseason run has put on hold to this point. Both manager Dusty Baker and GM James Click are on expiring contracts, and Astros owner Jim Crane will have to decide their futures with the franchise. The Astros are expected to ask Baker to return in 2023, and Baker has indicated that he would like to continue managing regardless of the outcome of this postseason run. The future is murkier for Click, however, as speculation has run rampant throughout the postseason that he may not be asked to return to Houston in 2023, with Jon Heyman of the New York Post mentioning the uncertainty surrounding Click’s future as recently as last night. While it’s surprising to see so much uncertainty around a GM who has captured back-to-back AL pennants and might add a World Series championship to his resume as soon as tomorrow night, reports of a personality clash between Crane and Click abound. Heyman suggests that the Astros may be interested in David Stearns, who served as their assistant GM prior to running Milwaukee’s front office. While Stearns has stepped down as president of baseball operations for the Brewers, he’s not likely to run the Astros or any other team during the 2023 season, for which he is still under contract in Milwaukee. Even if the Astros are indeed interested in Stearns as their long-term head of baseball operations, the question of who will be at the helm in Houston next season remains unanswered.
2. Option Decisions Loom
A number of players and teams are facing option decisions, and with the World Series set to end this weekend, those decisions will have to be made sometime next week. While some decisions, such as that of Nolan Arenado, have already been made, most are still up in the air. Anthony Rizzo, Jurickson Profar, and Jake Odorizzi are among the players with tougher decisions facing them on whether or not to test free agency. As for club options, the Dodgers have one of the tougher calls on Justin Turner’s $16MM option, as do the Brewers on Kolten Wong’s $10MM option. Additionally, many of the biggest names on the free agent market this season, such as Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Correa, and Xander Bogaerts, are technically not set to be free agents until they opt-out of their current contracts, though for decisions as clear as these this is little more than a formality.
3. Arizona Faces Outfield Logjam
Despite finishing the regular season with an unimpressive 74-88 record, the Diamondbacks are by no means a team without talent. Unfortunately for Arizona, however, a great deal of that talent overlaps heavily, as the team is flush with young, controllable, lefty-hitting outfielders. Corbin Carroll and Alek Thomas highlight the bunch in terms of prospect pedigree, but Jake McCarthy had a breakout season in 2022, Daulton Varsho turned in a quality season as an everyday player spending most of his time in the outfield, Pavin Smith won’t be eligible for arbitration until after next season, and Dominic Fletcher is knocking on the door in Triple-A. Between the DH and some positional versatility — Varsho caught 175 innings in 2022, while Smith played a bit of first base — Arizona could find at-bats for most, or perhaps even all, of these players. A better solution for the Diamondbacks, though, would be to explore trades for one or two of these young players in order to shore up their pitching staff or address other holes in the lineup. Carroll and Varsho would likely be off-limits, but perhaps a team looking to get more left-handed bats into the lineup, such as either Chicago team or the Marlins, could be interested in acquiring McCarthy, Smith, or Fletcher. While it’s not inconceivable Thomas could be moved, after a rough start to his major league career in 2022, Arizona would likely be selling low on him in any deal.