Free agency officially began Sunday night, with all the familiar nothingness that comes with the early weeks and months of the offseason. This winter’s market is going to be different due to diminished revenues from the pandemic-shortened season.
Still, a bidding war for top free agents isn’t the only way for teams to improve their chances in 2021. Here is one key question for each of the 30 teams entering this most unusual offseason.
Baltimore Orioles: How will they build on a surprisingly successful 2020?
Baltimore’s offense was quite good in 2020, and Trey Mancini should be back after missing all of last season while undergoing treatment for colon cancer. In what’s expected to be a diminished free-agent market, the Orioles could look to shore up their rotation with one or two cheaper veterans on one-year, prove-it deals, but don’t expect them to be too active this winter as they continue their rebuild.
Boston Red Sox: Who will manage the depleted club in 2021?
Alex Cora might have the inside track to reclaim the job he lost after Boston fired him last offseason for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. The other finalists for the job are Phillies director of integrative baseball performance Sam Fuld, Marlins bench coach/offensive coordinator James Rowson, Pirates bench coach Don Kelly and Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.
New York Yankees: How will they address their starting rotation?
Whether the Yankees re-sign Masahiro Tanaka, win the Trevor Bauer sweepstakes or settle for cheaper options, they will sign at least one starting pitcher this winter.
Tampa Bay Rays: Will they re-sign Charlie Morton?
The Rays did not pick up Morton’s one-year club option for $15 million, making the soon-to-be 37-year-old a free agent. Age has done wonders for Morton, who has a 3.34 ERA over his last four seasons after posting a 4.54 through his first nine years. It’s also possible that Morton decides to retire.
Toronto Blue Jays: Do they sign Trevor Bauer?
I hadn’t thought of this possible destination until I saw it in a bold predictions column by MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince, but it makes a ton of sense. The Blue Jays have payroll flexibility, and they need starting pitching to go along with Hyun-Jin Ryu and top prospect Nate Pearson. If the usual suspects are concerned about the financial outlook after the pandemic-shortened, fan-less season, Toronto could jump on the opportunity to sign the best available pitcher.
Chicago White Sox: What will they do to improve the supporting pieces around their young core?
The White Sox don’t need to make a big splash this winter, but they should look to add depth, especially behind Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel in the rotation. Oh yeah, and Tony La Russa is the new manager.
Cleveland Indians: Will they trade Francisco Lindor?
This has been the persistent question for the organization over the past two winters. The face of the franchise hits free agency next winter, and Cleveland almost certainly won’t extend or re-sign him. The return won’t be great for a one-year rental, even for a player as great as Lindor, but it will be better now than it will be if the Indians wait until midseason. Still, at this point, they might just rather enjoy their final year with the star shortstop.
Detroit Tigers: What patchwork signings do they make?
Over the last few winters, Detroit has settled for low-cost scraps in free agency to plug some of the roster holes during this rebuild that’s still long from over. Hey, at least new manager AJ Hinch is in the fold.
Kansas City Royals: Will they extend Jorge Soler?
It seems like a lifetime ago, but Soler led the American League with 48 homers and played in all 162 games in 2019. The Royals want to keep him around for when their rebuild is complete a few years from now. Can they lock him up this winter before he enters free agency following next season?
Minnesota Twins: Will they re-sign Nelson Cruz?
The 40-year-old designated hitter remains an offensive force. In his two seasons with the Twins, he’s slashed .308/.394/.626.
Houston Astros: What will they do about their outfield?
George Springer and Michael Brantley were the Astros’ two best hitters this season, and both could be wearing another team’s uniform next season. Brantley became a free agent Sunday, while Houston delivered Springer a qualifying offer. If he does not accept it, Springer should be the greater priority of the two for the Astros to re-sign, but he’ll also be the more expensive one.
Los Angeles Angels: How much will they invest in their pitching staff?
The Angels have two options: 1) Go all-in on Trevor Bauer, which would give them two top-tier starting pitchers (along with Dylan Bundy) and allow Griffin Canning, Andrew Heaney and Jaime Barria to slot in behind them; 2) Add two of the second-tier free-agent starters.
Oakland Athletics: What will they do without Billy Beane?
The architect of Moneyball is likely to leave baseball this winter. Will the club's identity change much without Beane's presence? Probably not. Still worth keeping tabs on their moves.
Seattle Mariners: Will they be active in free agency?
Probably not, with their rebuild still in progress. But, the Mariners do have payroll flexibility if they want to make a splash and add to the group of prospects starting to break into the big leagues. It would be a bold prediction—but not a crazy one—to anticipate Seattle signing at least one top 50 free agent.
Texas Rangers: Will they sign a top-shelf free agent?
The Rangers have yet to play in front of fans at their new park, Globe Life Field. They were active in free agency last winter but failed to add any blue chip players after significant buzz they wanted to land a big name for their big new park. Perhaps this winter will be different.
Atlanta Braves: Will they bring back Marcell Ozuna?
In the pandemic-shortened season, Ozuna led the National League in home runs (18), RBIs (56) and total bases (145). Including the postseason, he played in all 72 of Atlanta’s games. But, as it stands now, the NL will not have a designated hitter next year as it did in 2020. If that doesn’t change, the Braves would need to play Ozuna and his shaky defense in the outfield if they re-sign him.
Miami Marlins: What’s their next move?
Coming off their first postseason appearance in 17 years, the Marlins are in a fascinating situation. Their payroll is low thanks to a core of young players, and they have more top prospects who likely will debut in 2021. This could be the offseason when CEO Derek Jeter starts to open up his checkbook. Maybe.
New York Mets: How will new owner Steve Cohen’s first offseason play out?
Expect the Mets to make the 2019 Philadelphia Stupid Moneys look like the Moneyball-era Oakland A’s. What those moves are and how well they’ll work out remains to be seen.
Philadelphia Phillies: Can they re-sign J.T. Realmuto while also improving their bullpen?
This is going to be tough, but the Phillies might need to do both of these things to keep pace in the division. Also worth noting: Philadelphia has missed the playoffs nine straight seasons.
Washington Nationals: How will they replenish their roster?
The Nationals will be a different team next season. This year, they retained much of their World Series–winning roster from 2019 and were a major disappointment. With the notable exception of Anthony Rendon, many of the key contributors from their championship team—Howie Kendrick, Adam Eaton, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Kurt Suzuki, Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle—are now free agents, and most of them probably won’t be back.
Chicago Cubs: How many trades will they make?
Four core Cubs players—Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber—are entering the final year of their contracts; it’s all but certain Chicago won’t keep them all. Bryant and Schwarber are more likely to get moved than Báez and Rizzo, whose one-year option for 2021 the Cubs just picked up.
Cincinnati Reds: Will they re-sign Trevor Bauer?
It’s possible. He has said he enjoyed his time with the Reds and that he thinks they are a win-now club. However, it’s more likely that another team makes Bauer a better offer.
Milwaukee Brewers: How can they improve their hitting?
The surface answer is they’ll need Christian Yelich to return to MVP form following a down 2020 campaign. But the Brewers were expected to take a step back on offense when they lost Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal in free agency. They could be in play for an upgrade at either or both of the corner infield spots.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Will they make any trades?
The Pirates are in full rebuild mode, but they have some pieces to sell to contenders in exchange for prospects. Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco won’t be around to enjoy the spoils of the next competitive Pirates team and could be interesting trade targets.
St. Louis Cardinals: Will they bring back franchise icons Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright?
The two are more like brothers than batterymates and have spent their entire major-league careers with the Cardinals. Both have said they want to return to St. Louis.
Arizona Diamondbacks: How will they address their offensive inconsistencies?
Kole Calhoun quietly had the best season of his career, but otherwise, the Diamondbacks struggled at the plate. Their 87 OPS+ was tied for third worst in the National League. They’ll need one or two more middle-of-the-order bats to turn it around.
Colorado Rockies: Could they trade Nolan Arenado and/or Trevor Story?
This team can never seem to dodge headlines about trading their best player(s). Arenado was displeased with the Rockies last offseason for failing to build a winning team around him after he signed a long-term deal in February 2019. He has an opt-out clause after this season. If Colorado thinks he’ll exercise it, the team could look to trade him this winter, though he has a full no-trade clause. Story is also a pending free agent after the 2021 season ends. If the Rockies don’t like their chances to re-sign him next winter, he could be an appealing trade candidate.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Will they re-sign Justin Turner?
He is the Dodgers’ all-time leader in postseason home runs (12) and has meant so much to the franchise since he joined them before the 2014 season. Over seven years with Los Angeles, Turner boasts a .302/.382/.503 slashline and 28.7 WAR, which ranks fifth among third basemen and 13th overall in that span. In the wake of a World Series title, it's hard to imagine he doesn't return.
San Diego Padres: Will they keep both Trevor Rosenthal and Kirby Yates?
San Diego traded for the resurgent Rosenthal ahead of the trade deadline, and he helped secure the bullpen after Yates, the closer, got hurt. Now both right-handers are entering free agency. Expect the club to show a lot of interest as its improved relief corps helped the Padres return to the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
San Francisco Giants: What will they do about their rotation?
The Giants unexpectedly offered Kevin Gausman a qualifying offer Sunday, though he could still reject it and become a free agent. If he accepts it, San Francisco will still have to figure out who will slot in behind him and Johnny Cueto.