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.
As the calendar flips to November, here are three things we’ll be keeping an eye on around the baseball world:
1. World Series Game 3 Rained Out, Improving Philadelphia’s Pitching Matchups
Yesterday’s opener mentioned the availability of Phillies aces Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler among the biggest obstacles facing Philadelphia headed into their three game homestand, and that obstacle has been partially removed due to the postponement of last night’s game: Aaron Nola is now in line to start Game 4 tomorrow on regular rest, while Houston is opting to maintain their rotation order, leaving ace Justin Verlander to start Game 5 with an extra day of rest, the same decision the Phillies have made for Wheeler in Game 6, with Noah Syndergaard likely set to take Nola’s place starting Game 5, potentially allowing him to pitch deeper into the game than he would have if he had pitched last night, as previously planned. Tonight’s game will see lefty Ranger Suarez toe the rubber for Philadelphia opposite Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr.
2. Albert Pujols Officially Retires
The retirement of Albert Pujols sees one of baseball’s all-time legends step away from the game, but it also poses a question that, as recently as this spring, would’ve been unexpected: How is St. Louis going to replace his production? Pujols slashed a phenomenal .270/.345/.550 in his final season, good for a 154 OPS+ that registers as his best mark since 2010, his age 30 season. Nolan Arenado declining to opt-out of his contract taking one major offseason question for the Cardinals off the table, but Pujols’s retirement combined with the impending retirement of longtime catcher Yadier Molina are going to leave St. Louis with plenty of work to do this offseason. After all, only Aaron Judge posted a better offensive season than Pujols in 2022 among pending free agents (min. 300 PA), and no catcher in baseball has the sort of illustrious reputation as a defensive catcher and game-caller that Molina has. Speculation has swirled early on in this this offseason connecting the Cardinals to the longtime catcher of their division rival Cubs, Willson Contreras. Contreras represents a particularly intriguing option for St. Louis, as he could help cover for the loss of both Pujols and Molina, giving the Cardinals a quality right-handed bat to slot into the DH slot on occasion while also shoring up a catching corps that includes Andrew Knizner and Ivan Herrera.
3. Orioles Have Infield Surplus Headed Into 2023
BaltimoreBaseball’s Rich Dubroff this morning discussed a coming logjam in the Orioles infield this offseason, suggesting that if no trades are made, Ramon Urias may be pushed into a utility role by the impending arrival of Jordan Westburg in addition to the presence of Gunnar Henderson and Jorge Mateo. Dubroff notes that this ignores players such as Terrin Vavra and Joey Ortiz, who could be squeezed out of playing time if no changes are made to the infield mix. The Orioles stepping into the infield market as a seller hoping to acquire win-now pieces would be an interesting development, with pitching being the clearest need for a team that lost John Means to Tommy John surgery early this year and had just one starter who made at least 20 starts with an ERA+ over 100. The Marlins stand out as a possible trade partner with their surplus of pitching, offensive woes, and tight budget, but there’s no doubt a variety of teams would be interested in adding a player like Urias should he hit the trade market.