Right now, our focus is mostly on the still unfurling and curse-busting/curse-sustaining World Series matchup between the Cubs and Indians. However, free agency begins not long after said World Series concludes, and the vast remainder of teams are no doubt busy readying their winter plans.
So let's step back from the rush of the Fall Classic for a moment and devote some early bandwidth to the teams who figure to be hit hardest by free agency. In all cases, the 10 teams to follow have at least a theoretical shot at contention in 2017, so their departing free agents -- if not adequately replaced -- could take a bite out of those hopes. No doubt, some of the names to follow will wind up back in their respective 2016 folds, but most of them are probably bound elsewhere.
To give you an idea of the overall "talent drain" each of these 10 teams face, we'll include the cumulative 2016 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) figure for the crop of pending free agents in question (listed free agents only). In the case of players who were traded during the season, we'll use their WAR from their current team only. Yes, WAR has its shortcomings, but it provides a somewhat useful thumbnail estimate of overall value, so it's usable for these quick-and-dirty purposes. The rankings won't be ordered exactly by WAR, but it's there for reference.
Also, we're not including any players with club or player options for 2017. While those players might indeed wind up as free agents this upcoming winter, that can't be safely assumed right now.
Let's light this candle, in order of which team stands to lose the most value ...
Combined 2016 WAR: 12.0
Turner, thanks to his power and defensive value, was probably the Dodgers' second-most valuable position player this season, behind rookie phenom Corey Seager. Meantime, Jansen is a lockdown closer who in the postseason proved flexible enough to work outside traditional parameters. Hill was the team's most reliable non-Clayton Kershaw starter down the stretch and in the playoffs, and Blanton was a valuable middle relief piece all year. The Dodgers obviously have the resources to re-sign whoever they choose (even with roughly $180 million already committed for 2017), but it remains to be seen how the front office chooses to play it this winter.
Combined 2016 WAR: 8.1
Do the Jays choose to re-up with two decline-phase hitters who contribute negative value on the defensive side of things? Bautista and Encarnacion are franchise stalwarts and rich sources of power. To be sure, the Jays have enough of a core returning to contend for a wild-card spot, but bringing back at least Encarnacion would help matters. Then again, there's long-term risk in signing aging sluggers at market rates. I expect the Mark Shapiro regime to take a pass on pretty much every name listed above.
Combined 2016 WAR: 12.0
The asterisk above indicates that Cespedes isn't a free agent just yet. However, he has an opt-out, and it seems highly likely that he'll use it. Considering how much trouble the Mets had scoring runs this past season (they were 11th in the NL), bringing back Cespedes -- easily their best pure hitter -- should be a high priority, at least if the Mets want to contend again. Elsewhere, Johnson's swing changes may make him a worthwhile re-up. As for Walker, he's a reliable producer at the keystone. However, he's coming off back surgery, so he may be a tough call when it comes to tendering him a $17.2 million qualifying offer. Let us also recall that the Mets still aren't running payrolls commensurate with their revenue and market size.
Combined 2016 WAR: 7.0
Needless to say, the lineup could take some winter hits down in Arlington. Desmond's successful "pillow" year with the Rangers may price him out of their range, and Beltran may be too risky heading into his age-40 campaign. Gomez rediscovered his approach in Texas, and bringing him back under the assumption of sustainability makes for an intriguing option. The Rangers have made some now-for-later trades in the recent past, but they still have an impressive core of young position players. As such, they may lean toward filling lineup holes internally. As for the rotation, the market may offer better back-end help than Lewis does at this stage of his career.
Combined 2016 WAR: 6.8
The Nats will very likely open the 2017 season as the favorites in the NL East, so they would do well to bring back Melancon, who has established himself as one of the best closers in baseball. Ramos was one of the most productive catchers in 2016, but he'll be working his way back from a second torn ACL in his right knee. As such, his status for 2017 -- particularly behind the plate -- is left to question. An incentive-heavy contract would certainly make sense from the club standpoint, but that depends upon Ramos' recovery and reading of the market. Belisle and Rzepczynski both make sense as bullpen pieces.
Combined 2016 WAR: 4.1
The Orioles were the most power-dependent offense in baseball last season, and within the names above you have a total of 89 home runs hitting the market. The demand for Wieters probably prices him out of Baltimore's range, but a Trumbo reunion seems more viable. If that comes to pass, then they would do well to install him at DH so that he doesn't give back so many runs with his glove. The underrated Pearce would also be a useful returnee.
7. Chicago Cubs
Combined 2016 WAR: 9.6
The Cubs have a terrific base of young talent, a full rotation coming back and a canny front office. That is to say, they'll contend even if they lose and don't conspicuously replace each and every name above -- with the possible exception of Fowler, who has a mutual option. The bullpen, though, could take a hit. Chapman is an elite closer and bat-misser, and we've seen the value of those this postseason (even if Chapman hasn't quite shown Andrew Miller-grade usage flexibility). Smith, Wood and Cahill have also been solid depth pieces. As for Fowler, his on-base skills and the way he's taken so well to playing a deeper center field make him a valuable piece. Thanks to the Cubs' roster depth and high-upside talent, there's a big gap between what they stand to lose and what the top six teams stand to lose this winter.
Combined 2016 WAR: 5.7
The Astros are poised to have Alex Bregman at third base for the entire 2017 season (and beyond), so Valbuena won't be coming back. As for Castro, his inconsistent bat plus the going rates for free-agent catchers likely mean Houston won't pay that particular cost. Fister is at most a rotation depth piece, but this is a team that will probably need rotation depth. Rasmus is coming off a season in which he declined offensively, and he's also coming off a season in which he accepted a qualifying offer. A departure seems likely.
Combined 2016 WAR: 3.1
The Giants are faced with a case of losing bodies as opposed to tremendous overall value. Pagan has been a fixture, but he'll be 36 before the All-Star break. A return in a more limited role seems plausible. The San Fran bullpen was rightly maligned in 2016, but above you see three volume contributors plus end-of-year piece Nathan. An overhaul of the relief corps is probably in the works, but where are the improvements going to come from? Expect the Giants to be players in the market for closers, but the market for setup help is thinner.
10. Seattle Mariners
Combined 2016 WAR: 2.1
Aoki has a mutual option for 2017, so we'll consider him, in essence, a free agent. He gave the M's a dose of OBP they've been lacking in recent years. Gutierrez and Lee were valuable depth contributors and Storen pitched well in limited exposure after the July trade that brought him to Seattle. Lind generally disappointed, so a reunion there seems less than likely.
Now back to your regular World Series programming.