Here’s how to win the offseason: Spend a lot of money. In the constant swirl of the sports news cycle, that’s as good a proxy for aggression as anything. Right?
Well, no. While stingy owners should often be taken to task for their frugal ways, we simply cannot say that spending big equals winning big. There are just too many examples to the contrary, even if spending so often becomes the prism through which we consider a team’s activity.
That’s a little prologue for today’s concept, which is to identify one bold move for every team. The obvious and easy thing is to say something like, “The Cubs should give Carlos Correa $350 million.” We’re going to shy away from the obvious and easy. Boldness can take many forms, and high-level spending is only one of them.
What form should boldness take for your team? Let’s explore.
Trade Ketel Marte
During his comments to reporters on the Diamondbacks’ offseason, general manager Mike Hazen kept emphasizing the fact that Arizona won 52 games. The point was clear: There is a long way between there and contention, and it’s really difficult to make up that ground over the course of one offseason.
Meanwhile, Marte is one of the game’s least heralded stars. He just turned 28 and has a ridiculously team-friendly contract: $8.4 million for 2022 and two club option seasons beyond that. He’s also been a big league regular at three up-the-middle defensive positions.
The trade value of a player like that ought to be pretty high, as high as it’s going to get. Dealing Marte would bring back at least a couple of players for the medium and/or long term, where Arizona’s focus ought to be.
Sign Kevin Gausman
While the Braves continue to negotiate with Freddie Freeman and determine how their 2022 outfield is going to shape up, they ought to go ahead and put a bow on their title-defending rotation by inking Gausman.
Not that he’s cheap. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel projected that Gausman will ultimately land a deal around five years, $105 million.
But the Braves don’t want to have to recapture their bullpen magic of October, because that’s going to be hard to replicate. Signing Gausman gives them steady, consistent innings with the possibility of elite production given what he did for the Giants in 2021. Gausman spent time with the Braves in 2018 and 2019, so he’s a familiar face.
With Gausman and Charlie Morton, Atlanta would have two veterans to anchor the rotation, with Ian Anderson and Max Fried providing sizzle for that group. There is also hope for a return to All-Star production from injury returnee Mike Soroka.
Pitch aggressive extension offers to Cedric Mullins and Adley Rutschman
Look, the Orioles aren’t going to be aggressive in the free-agent market, so there’s no sense in suggesting that they go out and sign an elite shortstop. They’ve already traded pretty much everybody, with the exception of John Means and Cedric Mullins.
It’s time to start to lock in the core of the next contending team. So don’t trade Mullins, who was one of the AL’s best players in 2021. Sign him for the long term. Last season was Mullins’ age-26 season, but he has barely two years of MLB service time. What that means under the next CBA is unknown, but under the old one, he wouldn’t be eligible for free agency until 2026. The Orioles should buy out those years.
Signing Rutschman, even though he has yet to debut in the majors, would send a major signal to a Baltimore fan base that needs something to root for after a whole lot of losing. As Baltimore pushes its minor league talent through to the majors over the next few years, giving them the certainty of at least a Mullins-Rutschman foundation would give this rebuilding effort some focus.
Yes, the Red Sox need to add pitching and could use another big bat. But one could argue that the quickest way to improve Boston’s outlook is to upgrade the defense. Dealing for Buxton would be a game-changer in that regard. Keep in mind, while this looks like a one-for-one swap in the way it’s written, this would almost certainly have to be just the starting point for a larger deal.
Buxton’s name has been coming up as a trade candidate, as the Twins reportedly have been unable to gain traction with their center fielder in extension talks. In trading for Duran, the Twins would be acquiring a Buxton replacement who has already debuted in the majors, though he has some rough edges to smooth out.
For Boston, it’s a gamble on immediate upside. If Buxton can stay healthy for 140 or 150 games, he’s a potential MVP candidate. The problem, of course, is that he hasn’t been able to do that, save for 2017. If the Red Sox could keep him upright, they are adding the certainty of what Buxton is right now when healthy in exchange for what they hope Durran will become.
Yeah, Red Sox fans probably will hate this suggestion, but we’re being bold, right? For Boston, the gamble is worth it, with one caveat: They would need to know what Buxton’s asking price is for an extension and be willing to meet that price (or get close enough to get it done). You’d need to know that this is a long-term partnership.
Sign Carlos Rodon
No, this isn’t some sort of ham-handed gesture to stick it to White Sox fans. The Cubs need a starting pitcher in the worst way who misses bats. One presumes that Chicago isn’t ready to dabble at the top end of the free-agent market, so that rules out Max Scherzer and probably also Robbie Ray.
Rodon is a significant injury risk, but in terms of performance, he found himself in 2021. The risk part of the equation is what makes him affordable, or at least more affordable than Scherzer, Ray and Gausman. Rodon is also just 29, so if he is entering a post-injury phase of his career, now could be the perfect time to acquire him.
Sign Marcus Semien
The second-best second baseman in the free-agent market is Cesar Hernandez, which pretty much means that if the White Sox want to upgrade what they had at the keystone last year, they are looking at spending on Semien.
OK, there are trades. Maybe the Cubs would be willing to accept a do-over request on the Codi Heuer/Nick Madrigal/Craig Kimbrel/Ryan Tepera trade, though Tepera is a free agent, so I guess that won’t work. Maybe the Guardians would part with Jose Ramirez. If that’s the case, great, but who do you have to give up? Seems like the increase in payroll from just signing Semien would be worth it rather than further thinning out the Sox farm system.
Sign Kyle Schwarber
I know the Reds are busy aligning their payroll to their resources, or whatever corporate-speak they used to describe their offseason plan. While they’re at it, they ought to go ahead and acquire some offense, because with the right position player upgrades, the Cincinnati pitching should be good enough that you can’t write off their chances next season in the NL Central.
Signing Schwarber would be perfect. He’s from Ohio, not far from Cincinnati. He can DH, spell Joey Votto at first base and help out in left field. He’s a power-hitting lefty hitter who would be perfect for Great American Ballpark, where power-hitting lefties put up big numbers. Assuming the adoption of the universal DH, adding Schwarber would give the Reds the chance to upgrade their lineup while then addressing a team defense that needs to better support their solid pitching.
I know, I know — we’re trying to avoid the easy definition of bold moves, which is to just spend stupid money. But I don’t know how better to sum up my ongoing annoyance with Cleveland’s unwillingness to spend in recent seasons. Seasons in which, incidentally, they fielded championship-caliber clubs with a real shot at ending baseball’s longest World Series title drought.
But, hey, new nickname, logo, brand … and you no longer have to worry about Francisco Lindor’s future payday. Right now, the Guardians aren’t slated to pay anyone big money. No one. According to Cot’s Contracts, the only guaranteed money on the books for 2022 is the $12 million allotted for Jose Ramirez. Then it drops down to arbitration eligibles, which will likely be headed up by $5 million or $6 million for 2020 Cy Young winner Shane Bieber.
Like the crosstown Reds, the healthy version of the Cleveland pitching staff is good enough to win. The offense has a star player in Ramirez, a steady power bat in Franmil Reyes and then a whole lot of room for improvement. The Guardians haven’t signed a free agent with an eight-figure average annual value since Edwin Encarnacion during the 2016-17 offseason. It’s time to spend some of that influx of Guardians merchandise revenue.
Experiment with home-road platooning
I haven’t fully gamed this out, so this is more the output of brainstorming than a fully researched scheme that I’ve broken down and can defend with, you know, facts and logic. But when a team is nearly 30 years into its existence with the same original problem of trying to balance home and road performance, it calls for some creativity. Besides, the Rockies aren’t likely to contend in 2022, so this would be a good time to try something.
That’s especially true on the heels of last season, when the Rockies went 48-33 at home and 26-54 on the road, one of the biggest home-road disparities in history. Colorado’s difference in home-away winning percentage (.268) was the 41st-biggest gap among 2,586 team seasons that have been played since 1901 — but it was only the fourth-biggest gap during the 28 seasons of Rockies baseball.
Here’s how I envision it: You would reserve a certain number of your optionable players to play exclusively (or close to it, as injuries and such allow) either home or away. Then you swap those players out when you head out on the road, or get ready to return to Coors Field. Also, as much as possible, I’d want the Coors-only players to go to Triple-A Albuquerque, which isn’t as extreme as Coors but is very hitter-friendly, when they are in the minors, and the road-only players to go to Double-A Hartford, which plays close to sea level.
If a big part of the issue in home-road disparity is adjusting from one context to the other, take as many players beyond your core (whom you’d always want full time) and take away as much of that adjustment as possible. How many players? I don’t know. What would the actual impact be? I have no idea. Today, I’m just an ideas guy.
Whatever it takes, sign Carlos Correa
Things are looking up for the Tigers, who last season snapped a four-year string of sub-.400 winning percentages, a low point for a franchise that had never had more than two straight such campaigns. Detroit hasn’t rested on its laurels so far this offseason and has arguably been the boldest of the bold thus far, adding a new regular catcher in Tucker Barnhart via trade and signing free-agent lefty Eduardo Rodriguez to a five-year deal.
With that as the baseline, we want to go even bolder, hence going all-in on Correa. He’s just the ideal fit for the Tigers. He’s a righty hitter with an all-around skill set at the plate, which makes him well suited for Comerica Park. He’s a shortstop, and the Tigers have an immediate and longer-term hole at that position. He’s 27 years old, old enough to mentor rising hitting prospects like Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, but young enough to play alongside them for many years. He can hit in the middle of the order and, when the time comes, shift over to third base.
Granted, this is not a novel idea, as Correa has been a rumored Tigers target all along. But for Detroit, while getting any of the premier free-agent shortstops would be a coup, none of them fit as well as Correa. The Tigers need to spend at a level in recognition of that.
Sign Andrelton Simmons
It’s not often that you would refer to the signing of a possibly out-of-gas veteran shortstop to a deal that won’t cost much in relative terms as a bold move. But hear me out. The No. 1 question about Houston’s offseason revolves around what they plan to do with the shortstop position. Re-sign Carlos Correa? Well, if you can make that work, great, you should do that. Otherwise, do you look for a stopgap in hopes that prospect Jeremy Pena can be a near-term solution as an average-or-better regular? Do you slide Alex Bregman back to his original position and look for a third baseman?
I would go the stopgap route. While free-agent utility player Chris Taylor is a fit on almost any roster and could hold down the fort as a near every-day shortstop for a season, I like the low-risk, high-reward option of signing Simmons. It should not cost much. Simmons had by far the worst offensive season of his career in Minnesota and because he’s in his 30s, maybe he’s just sunk to a level with the bat that makes him unplayable as an everyday player.
But what seems to be overlooked is that Simmons is still a premier defender. According to the SABR Defensive Index, only Correa graded out better among shortstops, and Simmons ranked behind only Correa and Kansas City’s Michael A. Taylor among all AL defenders. A key part of the Astros’ formula in 2021 was elite defense, possibly the best in the AL depending on where you look. Signing Simmons allows you to replace Correa’s defense at a low cost, and you can then look elsewhere to fill the offensive void opened up by his likely departure.
The Astros are one of the few teams in the market for a shortstop that can think in terms of keeping costs down by targeting defense, because they have so much offense elsewhere on the roster. If they want, they could then look for offense in the form of a trade, perhaps for a veteran center fielder, to make up for some of Correa’s lost production and would have plenty of payroll flexibility to make it happen. Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds seems like a great target, or perhaps Buxton.
If the Astros really think that Pena can be the long-term answer, then it really doesn’t make much sense to turn away from Correa to the likes of the other pricey free-agent shortstops. Simmons can help keep the defense elite, and after his .558 OPS in 202, it might not be a bad bet to think there’s some positive regression to be found in his offense as well.
Doing nothing is a bold move. Just ask Albert Camus or Bartleby the Scrivener.
Of course, I’m not being literal. The Royals will do stuff over the offseason, and they should. They need to add bullpen depth, but they shouldn’t spend big on that project. For one thing, spending on relievers via free agency is a crapshoot. Target a few relievers you like who aren’t particularly hot commodities and call it a day. Don’t worry about a pricey ninth-inning free agent like Raisel Iglesias, because the money won’t make sense. Maybe take a shot at an injury bounce-back candidate like Kirby Yates.
The Royals could use a veteran starter to augment their young rotation, but they should not spend much on that, either. I like Zack Greinke for that role, but there are other old, crafty starters on the market. Rich Hill. J.A. Happ. Maybe Dylan Bundy, if the price is right.
The main reason I’m advocating a passive approach is that the Royals are in a good spot with the young players they have on the big league roster and the next group who should be arriving at various times during 2022. Just add depth in the form of bounce-back candidates and injury returnees. If the young players take a major step as a group next season, then fill in the gaps at next summer’s deadline if contention is a possibility.
Sorry, Royals fans. It’s not exciting. It’s just where the team is at, and that’s not a bad thing.
The Angels have already signed Noah Syndergaard. It’s a start, but even though it’s a one-year deal, it’s still a risky solution for the 2022 rotation because of Syndergaard’s post-injury trajectory. The Angels still need two bedrock starters.
If I were a general manager, I’d be the anti-Dave Dombrowski, known for his willingness to trade prospects to fill roster holes, less because of philosophical differences but more due to an unreasonable fear of a prospect my staff had identified, signed and developed turning into a superstar for another club. But I’m not a general manager, so it’s easy for me to suggest dealing away the super-talented Adell.
The Angels have another young outfielder close to ready for every-day duty in Brandon Marsh and they have another one not far behind in speedster Jordyn Adams. Castillo not only can fill one of the top two slots in the Angels’ rotation, but he’s not that expensive. Cots Contracts projects Castillo to earn around $8 million next year, his second-to-last season of arbitration eligibility, under the expiring CBA.
Thus, the Angels would still have the short-term cash on hand to pursue Max Scherzer or Robbie Ray in free agency and have money to make a strong bid to bring back Raisel Iglesias for the back of the bullpen. Scherzer, Castillo, Ohtani, Thor … now you’re getting somewhere.
Re-sign Corey Seager
The Dodgers have a perfect contingency plan at shortstop in place for a Seager departure in Trea Turner. The problem? Turner will be a free agent after next season. Maybe the Dodgers can keep him, maybe not, but either eventuality shouldn’t preclude them from re-signing Seager, even if the plan is to eventually shift him to third base. They can afford both.
If the Dodgers bring back their biggest-name free agents — think Seager, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen — their 2022 payroll starts to look outlandish, and that’s not even considering retaining Scherzer. Right now, though, the Dodgers have a lot of payroll flexibility after next season.
The Dodgers should always be linked to the top free agents in the market. This year, those are shortstops, with most rankings listing only Correa ahead of Seager. Now, does anybody really think the Dodgers would sign Correa in lieu of Seager? No way. So just get a Seager deal done.
Trade young pitching to the Twins for Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton
A blockbuster! The Marlins have as much young starting pitching as any organization in baseball and a paucity of everyday position players. They also have a wide-open payroll outlook. This deal puts the Marlins on the map in 2022 and sends a signal that the days of austerity are coming to an end. That is, if the days of austerity are actually coming to an end.
You don’t really need to be told how Donaldson and Buxton would make the Marlins better. The addition of Donaldson would allow Miami to bump Brian Anderson back to the outfield, so they’d in effect be adding two outfielders to their depth chart there.
Which young pitchers are we talking about? Pablo Lopez might be a starting point, as an established big leaguer who still has just three years of service time. Whether he fits with the Twins’ timeline is an open question, because this deal would suggest that Minnesota is focusing more on the seasons after 2022. But if the Twins are looking for a pitching infusion, one would think the Marlins would be among their first calls.
Sign Nelson Cruz
Well, don’t do it now. Wait until the universal DH becomes a certainty, then sign Cruz to fill the slot. The Brewers would benefit from the rule change more than most, if not all, NL teams because it would allow them a sorely needed offensive upgrade without disrupting their elite team defense.
For Cruz, it would be a full-circle signing, as he broke into the majors with Milwaukee in 2005. He only got seven plate appearances, so the Brewers are the only one of the six big league teams for which he’s played that he hasn’t homered for.
Cruz is a marvel. If you look at his batting register at Baseball Reference, his first pro season was back in 2001. Since then, including the minors and winter leagues, he’s rolled up over 2,800 hits and homered 622 times.
And yet, last season at age 40, Cruz hit 32 homers and posted an average exit velocity that ranked in the 93rd percentile of major league hitters. The Brewers could just stick him in the middle of the lineup and watch him go to town every day at homer-friendly American Family Field.
Sign Jorge Soler
I’ve been poaching some of the Twins’ veterans in some of my other bold moves, but let’s say they want to make a run at pushing back into contention in 2022. It’s not an outlandish proposition, if Minnesota has a plan for adding two or three veterans to their starting rotation, which right now is very short on experience.
If that’s the case, then adding Soler on the hitting side gives them a similar dynamic to what the Twins had going with Cruz, only Soler is a full decade younger. Soler’s confidence should be sky-high coming off his World Series MVP. And he can help in the outfield, in that he can don a glove and play out there, which is at least more versatility than Cruz had to offer.
Trade for Matt Chapman
The Mets need a power stick in their lineup, which Chapman provides along with his superstar defense. He’s also not yet super-expensive, so New York could still dangle some of Steve Cohen’s money in front of starting pitchers they need, and target help for the outfield. The Mets have a couple of top infield prospects they could offer the A’s for Chapman, with shortstop Ronny Mauricio a possible fit since he’s blocked by Francisco Lindor, barring a position change.
This would be a move based on trying to win over the next couple of seasons, after which Chapman would hit free agency. You do worry about his falling batting average and rising strikeouts. Then again, maybe some fresh voices would help augment his power and patience with a little more contact.
Trade for Willson Contreras
Contreras is one of the few holdovers from the Cubs’ 2016 championship team. He’ll be a free agent after next season, which should keep his trade value reasonable. So far, Contreras and the Cubs haven’t come to an agreement on an extension, and with Chicago in a transitional phase, that marks him as a classic trade candidate.
For the Yankees, Contreras would give them a backstop with star potential who at the very least allows them to put Gary Sanchez in more of a DH, part-time catcher role. Also, Contreras would add some intensity to the Yankees’ clubhouse. Not to say that’s needed, but when a team is struggling to get over the top, a player with a little fire can help light the spark.
Trade the Matts to the Marlins
It’s hard to conjure bold moves for a club that is entering some level of a reset. You think bold, you think in terms of getting a team closer to the title. So for Oakland, it’s tempting to write something like, “Don’t trade everyone.” But they will be getting younger and cheaper, and the short-term outlook is likely to get worse. We’ve seen this cycle from the A’s for a very long time now.
The Marlins make a great trade partner for Oakland, mostly because of their depth of young pitching, but also because of their need for position players. I suggested a different position player combo for the Marlins above, but this one is awfully enticing. First you get instant elite defense at the infield corners, plus two potent power bats, in adding Matt Olson and Matt Chapman.
Don’t worry about the positional overlap, because Chapman could bump Anderson to the outfield, just as Donaldson would, and Olson can bump Jesus Aguilar to DH … assuming there is a DH in the National League.
This is a lot about the Marlins and not that much about Oakland, but the Athletics get prospects, and that’s apparently what they want. And they keep the Matts together.
Max out on defense
Four seasons have gone into the books since the Phillies moved out of the rebuilding class and into the group of wannabe contenders. Those years have seen high-profile acquisitions (Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jake Arrieta). They’ve seen the club hire a Manager of the Year in Gabe Kapler (he won the award with the Giants after the Phillies fired him). They’ve seen the club move away from the architects of the rebuild and turn to Dombrowski. For all of that, the Phillies have gone four games under .500 over the past four seasons in aggregate, with no playoff appearances and last season’s 82-80 record serving as the high point.
During that time, the Phillies have been slightly below average on offense and around average on the pitching side, with strong starting pitching being undermined by lackluster bullpens. There have been inconsistencies in every area except one: team defense. In that area, the Phils have been consistently awful. Over those four seasons, Philadelphia has been the NL’s worst team in defensive efficiency (.679), fielding percentage (.982) and average allowed on balls in play (.307).
It’s time to fix that and see how this roster looks with an underpinning of at least average glove work.
It starts up the middle. Led by Jean Segura, the Phillies rated well defensively at second base, but they were last in outs above average at shortstop, where Didi Gregorius was the regular. If you play the top of the free-agent market, then Correa, Trevor Story and Javier Baez would be no-brainers as defensive upgrades with middle-of-the-order potential with the bat. But if you’re looking to allot payroll elsewhere, perhaps because the Phils believe in rising prospect Bryson Stott, then a stopgap like Simmons would make sense. However it happens, the Phils must get into at least the middle of the pack defensively at shortstop.
But don’t stop there. Call Oakland about the Matts. Call the Rays about Kevin Kiermaier. Check in with free agent Brett Gardner to see if he’s interested in a reunion with Joe Girardi. However the Phillies proceed with their mix of position players, do so with a defense-first mentality.
Keep Bryan Reynolds
Look, I get the notion of a non-contending team dealing a player when his trade value is at a peak. Doing so can net you multiple young players who might help you when the team is once again good.
Still, if I’m the Pirates, I’m throwing my beleaguered and irritated fan base a bone and keeping Reynolds. He’s good. He’s just entering his prime. And he’s cheap, with four seasons of team control under the existing CBA. The Pirates have three straight last-place finishes on their ledger, but they have been stocking the minor-league system and more young players will start to ascend to join Ke’Bryan Hayes.
Give the fans a core to latch onto as the roster fills out. Hayes, Reynolds and, perhaps, Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings are a start. You don’t have to trade everyone.
This isn’t a reprise of my “do nothing” suggestion for the Royals, but San Diego might have already made the biggest upgrade it needed to make by hiring Bob Melvin to manage the club. While the Padres’ 79-83 record in 2021 was a major disappointment, this remains a loaded organization.
There are things that can be done. Mark Melancon is a free agent, and the Padres need to either bring him back to anchor the ninth inning, or target a replacement, with Kenley Jansen looming as a narrative-rich replacement. It’s probably time to find a complement for Eric Hosmer, a righty hitter who can play first base. Kris Bryant is probably too costly but, stylistically, he’s perfect for the roster with his ability to move around the corner positions. He also played his college ball in San Diego.
But this shouldn’t be a major shuffle. This is a good team that can expect a boost from positive regression, better injury luck and the new manager. Yes, the competition in the NL West is fierce, but the Padres are part of that dynamic already, despite the unfortunate finish to last season.
Sign the best pitcher
When the first version of this section was composed, the move was to “sign all the pitchers” because the Giants’ rotation depth chart was very short on track record, with only Logan Webb likely to be part of next year’s opening day group. That changed on Monday, when the Giants reached a three-year agreement with Anthony DeSclafani and closed in on a two-year pact with Alex Wood. More needs to be done, but the good news is that San Francisco still has plenty of money to spend and a roster that is well positioned to fixate on this primary area of need.
In fact, the Giants are well positioned to do this dance every year for the foreseeable future. Their minor league system looks apt to yield more talent during the near term in the form of position players, while their top-ranked pitchers work their way through the lower rungs of the minors. So in the meantime, the Giants can afford to go heavy on the top of the free-agent market for starters, offering high average annual values and shorter-duration pacts.
The obvious top target for such an approach is Max Scherzer, and that’s true even if they are able to retain Kevin Gausman on a longer deal. The Giants don’t have to lock themselves into a longer-term contract for an older, star-level free-agent starter, because they can be confident in their ability to sign the best of next year’s bunch as well.
Meanwhile, for depth we know the Giants will continue their program of identifying lower-cost pitchers whom they believe they can push to a higher tier of performance. Because of their track record of doing so, they ought to be high up on the list for any free-agent pitcher who fits that mold. So when we say “sign all the pitchers” we’re not just talking about the already-formed stars. We’re talking about the unfulfilled, who see the Giants as a vessel toward becoming that next high-paid free agent.
Sign Chris Taylor
Look, I realize that the Mariners won 90 games last year and have a wide-open payroll. And if they can find a long-term fit with one of the younger, elite free agents, then fine. But last year’s team overachieved in the win column with a freakish record in close games (51-32 in games decided by one or two runs) and a collective bullpen performance that does not look particularly sustainable, if only because that’s how bullpens are.
Still, Seattle is a rapidly improving team with one of the best farm systems in baseball. I know it’s not really Jerry DiPoto’s way to be patient, but barring a dream match in high-level free agency or in the trade market (Willson Contreras strikes me as a great fit), let’s play it cool. Target the middle of the market, injury returnees and bounce-back candidates. See how things come together as the prospects continue to ascend. See where the holes are before we start filling them.
That’s why I like Taylor for them. He can play anywhere, wherever the need might arise, and won’t tie up too much long-term payroll. Most importantly, he’s is a veteran from a string of championship-level teams whose presence will be important to a club whose collective postseason experience among position players consists of a lone pinch-hitting appearance by Abraham Toro for the Astros in 2020.
Sign Max Scherzer
Just do it. It only costs money, and only for a year or two. Let the St. Louis County kid finish his college career down the road from where he grew up and a little farther down the road from where he starred in college, and on the team he grew up rooting for. Not for nothing: Scherzer is still dominant, and is precisely what the Cardinals need, which is a bona fide Game 1 playoff starter for their rotation.
St. Louis can offer Scherzer the homecoming, a chance to play for a consistent winner, an easy spring training because he lives in the same Florida town where St. Louis holds camp … and money. We’re not talking 10 years, $400 million. We’re talking about a couple of years, and $70 to $90 million or so. Just do it.
Trade Kevin Kiermaier
The Rays have so much talent that perhaps this bold move is more about spreading some it around the majors than helping Tampa Bay. There are some good and almost-good teams that badly need a center-field defender, with the Astros, Phillies, Marlins, Mets, Red Sox and Giants springing to mind. Maybe the Yankees, too, but it’s hard to imagine the Rays trading a player they admire to the Yankees.
The Rays can afford to trade away the popular Kiermaier because of that aforementioned depth of talent. Brett Phillips can play the position. Manny Margot can play there. And of course with Tampa Bay, there are always prospects — Vidal Brujan and Josh Lowe.
The Rays could use some veteran innings for the rotation, so that marks the Marlins as a clear fit if they are willing to move Pablo Lopez as part of a larger trade. The Astros might offer Jake Odorizzi for a second stint for the Rays. And Kiermaier is the only Rays player who makes eight figures, so Tampa Bay saves some money in the deal. Not that it really needs to, and it could actually be in trouble if baseball winds up with a salary floor after the CBA negotiations wrap up.
Sign one of the top free-agent shortstops
Here, we’re probably talking about the younger shortstop stars — Correa and Seager — because Texas is still building up, but Trevor Story and Javier Baez could work as well. Whoever it is, the addition of a star-level player at shortstop, who can defend and hit in the middle of the order, begins to put the Texas plan into focus.
Then you’re looking at an infield of Nate Lowe, Nick Solak, the free-agent shortstop and Isiah Kiner-Falefa sliding over to third base, where he’s a high-level defender. Kiner-Falefa would hold down the hot corner until prospect Josh Jung is ready to play there every day, then become a high-level utility player.
The Rangers are building slowly and surely and while there are shortstops on their prospect list, there are no slam-dunk future stars in the pipeline who would be blocked by the high-profile addition. As the foundation solidifies, you might as well pay up to get your cornerstone established.
Re-sign Robbie Ray
The Blue Jays have reportedly been in on a couple of the pitchers who have already signed — Justin Verlander and Noah Syndergaard — who are both coming off injury and, thus, reached agreements on short-term deals. To me, this approach by Toronto would make more sense if they’d already made an agreement to keep Ray around. Toronto is willing to spend, so spend it on the guy who just won the Cy Young in your uniform.
This might be a matter of waiting out the market, but hopefully the Jays are being aggressive in their talks with Ray’s representation. He worked well for them, and they worked well for him. The Blue Jays have already locked up Jose Berrios for the long term, and getting Ray back would make whatever Toronto does the rest of the winter icing on the cake.
Lock down Juan Soto forever
There aren’t lifetime contracts in baseball anymore, but whatever the 2021 version of it is, Washington should offer it to Soto and then add another 2% just to show how earnest they are. Bryce Harper just won an MVP for another club. Anthony Rendon is playing on the other side of the country. Max Scherzer’s days as a National are in the past. Trea Turner is wearing Dodger Blue. Stop this exodus of stars and make Soto the first one-team Hall of Famer to wear a Nationals uniform. Whatever it costs.
The reason is simple: Soto is an irreplaceable talent who puts up historic numbers and who has obsessive work habits that keep him continually improving even when it seems like he just can’t get any better. Also, he is driven to win, and that kind of competitor is exactly who you want at the center of your franchise. Those are value-added traits to go with the sheer scale of his production. Only six players have created more runs through their age-22 season: Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Mike Trout, Jimmie Foxx, Alex Rodriguez and Al Kaline, and that’s with one of Soto’s seasons being the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Of those six superstars, only Williams and Foxx had a higher OPS through age-22 than Soto’s .981. In short, he’s worth whatever he makes.
Look, I know it’s not going to be cheap. It will in fact be the most expensive contract in baseball history, with numbers like $500 million already being floated. There won’t be a hometown discount for a player who sat with his agent, Scott Boras, in a highly visible seat to watch a playoff game. Maybe, as Boras suggested to reporters, the first step is to prove you’re going to win, because that’s what matters most to Soto, but isn’t that exactly what a $500 million offer signifies?