I like to have a few weeks away from baseball after the World Series is completed.
There’s normally not much news during the period and it’s nice to reflect on what happened over the long regular season and play-offs before thinking too much about next year.
It doesn’t take long for the MLB Hot Stove to start bubbling though.
Every off-season revolves around three related groups of players:
- This year’s free agent class.
- Next year’s free agent class.
- Rumoured trade candidates.
The second and third groups usually cover some of the same players as teams that expect to lose someone as a free agent in a year’s time will consider if the trade package they can get for them now will be more advantageous than a potential future amateur draft pick.
However, this year the first and second groups are more closely connected than usual, simply because of the calibre of players that may hit the market in twelve months’ time.
This year’s key free agents
Next year’s key (potential) free agents
Clayton Kershaw (opt-out)
David Price (opt-out)
Other trade candidates being touted
Looking at the other trade candidates first, the rumours primarily are focused on a potential Miami Marlins fire sale (yes, another one) with new ownership in place, most notably the tantalising prospect of recently-crowned MVP Stanton’s mega power and mega contract being shopped around, plus the Chicago White Sox continuing to trade away any players of worth.
The big story is in next year’s free agent class and how that may affect the market this year. Quite simply, if you want to make a play at one of the big stars you’ll need to have the future payroll flexibility to be able to afford it, and that’s something that would be affected by chucking a large deal at someone this off-season.
Position-wise you could argue that Mike Moustakas is this year’s potential big loser as Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson are hugely attractive third-base targets. However, it’s not so much about blocking postions as it is simply having the ability to take on another large contractual commitment. We may see a couple of this year’s free agents head to more middling payroll teams as a result, spying an opportunity to get a good free agent with some of the big players keeping out of the mix.
Of course, what has to be factored in is that potential free agents are just that. Clayton Kershaw is the most obvious case of someone who potentially will be a free agent (as he can opt-out of his contract) but it would be a big surprise if he didn’t stay with the Dodgers one way or another. Similarly the Toronto Blue Jays may decide to tempt Donaldson away from free agency by signing him to a lucrative extension this winter.
Everyone expects the New York Yankees to keep away from any significant free agent commitments this off-season as they look towards Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado. Some already have Harper in Yankee pinstripes and, let’s be honest, that wouldn’t be a surprise, but the Washington Nationals’ ownership have a recent history of signing clients of the agent Scott Boras to large deals.
It seems likely he’ll move on, yet it’s not impossible that he will stay in the U.S. capital.
Is it impossible that the Nationals would trade Harper this off-season if they don’t feel they can keep him? In MLB, there isn’t much that falls into the ‘impossible’ category, but it’s safe to say that would be close to it given that the Nationals are firmly in ‘win now’ mode.
So don’t expect Harper to be changing teams this off-season, but there are always one or two surprises in store.