We've just dipped our toes into the MLB offseason of 2019-20, which means pretty much all the action has yet to transpire. That said, rumors regarding free agent player and team pairings and potential trades are circulating, and we're here to get you up to speed on all the scuttle. We also have a rundown of all of the key dates in this year's offseason and our ranking of the top 50 free agents on the market, and here's an explainer on the "luxury tax" and its implications for the winter. Now here's what's buzzing for Monday.
This offseason will probably bring a blockbuster trade
Most of the focus seems to be on free agent comings and goings this time of year, but the trade market is also percolating as we head deeper into the winter. Speaking of which, MLB Network's Jon Morosi reports that, according to multiple league execs he's spoken to, at least one of three star players will be trade this offseason. Those three players are Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, and Cubs third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant. This is fully in keeping with what our own R.J. Anderson recently reported.
The Red Sox are angling to get under the luxury tax threshold, and since DH J.D. Martinez declined to use his opt-out, they may need to move a big contract in order to meet that goal. Betts numbers among the very best players in baseball and is still just 27 years of age. He's going into this walk year, and he's due for a big raise in arbitration over his 2019 salary of $20 million. Suffice it to say, Betts with his broad base of skills -- he produces at the plate while also adding big value in the field and on the bases -- would make any team better.
As for Lindor, the Cleveland shortstop is a rare-for-the-position blend of defensive excellence and power at the dish. He turns 26 later this week, so his figures to flash peak skills for some time. As well, Lindor isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, and those two years of team control in tandem with his on-field excellence mean the asking price will be high.
Bryant, meantime, could be moved as part of the Cubs' desire to shake things up coming off a disappointing third-place finish in 2019. Bryant, who turns 28 in January, is a top-shelf mix of power and patience with the bat, and he's capable of manning third and the outfield corners. Presumably, he's not eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, but before we know that for sure his service time grievance must be settled.
Betts return too much for some teams
There is skepticism regarding interested teams' willingness to trade for Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports. According to Heyman, there's some doubt that teams will give up top prospects along with paying Betts a hefty one-year salary.
Phillies to go hard after Cole
Hard-throwing, high-spin rate Gerrit Cole will be the most coveted starting pitcher on the free agent market this season, and he's a candidate to sign the biggest contract for a pitcher ever. He's an elite strikeout pitcher, he's topped 200 innings in four of the last five seasons, and since joining the Astros prior to the 2018 season he's authored a stellar ERA+ of 164.
No surprise, then, that the Phillies are expected to be among Cole's most aggressive suitors. Here's this from Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Cole headlines an enticing class of free-agent pitchers that will have the Phillies' attention. GM Matt Klentak, according to a source, is heading to Scottsdale with an offseason plan that centers around pitching. The Phillies neglected their starting rotation last winter, only for it to finish with a 4.64 ERA and one starter -- Aaron Nola -- who made at least 10 starts and posted an ERA better than 4.00.
The Phillies have a new manager in Joe Girardi, and last winter's big acquisitions -- Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen, among others -- return for 2020. The club was already heavily committed to contending in 2019, but despite their efforts they wound up in fourth place in the NL East. As Breen notes, rotation improvements are in order, and Cole quite obviously is the best path toward a better rotation. That said, the Phillies are likely to have plenty of competition for his services. The Angels and Yankees, for instance, are also thought to have designs on the right-hander.
Yankees will go after Cole, Strasburg
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman confirmed at the GM meetings on Monday that the club is interested in top free agent starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman and MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.
"Of course we're going to talk to Strasburg, we'll talk to Cole, we'll talk to the higher-end guys, clearly," Cashman told Feinsand. Heyman also noted that the Yankees are concerned that Cole will prefer his home state of California and the Los Angeles Angels over New York, but the team won't be discouraged from again attempting to land him in the Bronx. The Yankees drafted Cole in 2008 with the 28th pick and were rumored to reach a trade deal for the right-hander in 2017.
Kendrick drawing interest
Despite being 36 years of age, infielder/outfielder Howie Kendrick is coming off the best season of his career at the plate (142 OPS+ with 17 home runs in 121 games). The free agent veteran can also play first, second, third, and the outfield corners. Throw in his importance to the champion Nationals, and Kendrick's going to have a market. Speaking of which, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets that the Reds figure to be among those keeping tabs on Kendrick. As well, Rosenthal, citing reports from Brittany Ghiroli also of The Athletic, names the Rays and Marlins as also having interest in Kendrick.
Wheeler likely to turn down Mets' qualifying offer
Right-hander Zack Wheeler is eligible for free agency going into his age-30 campaign, and Jon Morosi writes for MLB.com that Wheeler is likely to turn down his qualifying offer from the Mets and hit the market.
Wheeler's not on the level of fellow free agents Cole and Stephen Strasburg, but he does make for a mid-rotation option with the potential to be more than that. Over the last two seasons, he's made 60 starts with an ERA+ of 107 and a K/BB ratio of 3.56 over that span. Teams will also drawn to his 97-mph fastball at the front of his four-pitch repertoire. As for specific suitors, Morosi name-checks the Angels, Padres, and White Sox as having interest.
MLB Network's Jon Heyman adds that the Mets are interested in signing Wheeler to a multiyear deal, but if the club is unable to sign Wheeler to a multiyear deal, they will consider finding a starting pitcher via trades and free agency. Right-handers Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman could be moved into the rotation as a final option, according to Heyman.
Tigers still willing to move Boyd
Detroit lefty Matthew Boyd was the subject of many a trade rumor leading up to the July 31 trade deadline this year. The Tigers, however, opted to hang onto Boyd. Unfortunately for them, Boyd's performance in the second half collapsed across all levels. It's entirely possible the Tigers have missed their chance to get a healthy return for the 28-year-old starter. Even so, Jon Morosi reports that the Tigers are expected to shop Boyd this winter in the hopes of landing a hitter who's ready to contribute right now or close to it. For that to happen, some pitching-starved team is going to need to find something sustainable in Boyd's first-half performance. Failing that, the Tigers probably let the window close when it comes to getting a big return for Boyd.
Reds in on Grandal
The Reds were surprisingly active last offseason, and it seems likely they'll again try to nudge their roster toward contending status. As Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes, a run at free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal seems highly likely:
All signs point toward a serious run at catcher Yasmani Grandal, the organization's first-round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft and the top catcher on the free agent market.
Grandal, who just recently turned 31, spent last season with the Brewers. With Milwaukee, he batted .246/.380/.468 with 28 home runs in 153 games. In addition to being a top defensive catcher, Grandal also boasts a career OPS+ of 115. In 2019, the Reds got solid production from their two primary catchers, Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali, but Grandal would still figure to provide a substantial upgrade.