Is the stove hot enough for you yet? Probably not. Aside from a few options picked up and declined, and the ink on Justin Upton’s five-year deal with the Angels not yet dry, we are about to embark on a four-month journey of trades, signings, arbitration threats, and other acts of derring-do from Major League Baseball’s 30 teams and its players. Where will the big-ticket free agents land? Which teams will decide to blow it up and ship their major league talent off for prospects?
Let’s wildly and irresponsibly speculate!
1) Somebody pays Eric Hosmer what he’s worth, not what Scott Boras thinks he can get
Let’s play a game. I’m going to give you the cumulative three-year stat lines (2015-17) of Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana, two first basemen now on the free-agent market. No names attached. See if you can guess who is who.
Hosmer is going to get well north of $100 million this offseason. Santana is likely to come in well south of that. Granted, Hosmer will be 28 next year, while Santana will be 32. Even so, their cumulative value looks much closer than those prices would suggest. In fact, Santana has been the better overall player.
Hosmer is entering free agency at the right time, and is represented by the most powerful agent in baseball. He will get paid, but given what he’s actually done over the course of his career, a six-year, $132 million contract recently suggested by MLB Trade Rumors makes a lot more sense than the $200 million figure Boras has been trying to trump up. Hosmer should be recognized for what he is: a good, not great, first baseman hitting the open market in the sweet spot of his career.
2) Jose Bautista retires, becomes Yankees assistant hitting coach, teaches Baby Bombers how to bat flip
Bautista may be entering the twilight of his career. He’s a free agent, and he’s coming off his worst season in a decade, all at the age of 37. If he can’t swing the bat anymore, why not teach guys how to flip it?
Bautista was responsible for the greatest bat flip in modern baseball history. (Come on, you know the one.) The Yankees will be bringing in a new manager, and some of the coaching staff will likely turn over. For all of Aaron Judge’s, Gary Sanchez’s, and Greg Bird’s prodigious power, they don’t know how to do a proper flip. Chalk it up to personality, the weight of the pinstripes, or what have you, they could use a mentor like Bautista to bring the flair when the big moments come.
3) Derek Jeter trades Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Don Mattingly for prospects
The Miami Marlins have been bought by Derek Jeter and wealth management mogul Bruce Sherman, and with it, the rumors of yet another fire sale have been swirling. The fastest way for the team to rebuild is to offload its biggest assets, namely Stanton and his mammoth contract, but also Yelich, who is set to earn a solid amount in arbitration.
That’s only the start of the process. Mattingly has been a faithful steward these past two seasons–and helped the team get through the tragedy of Jose Fernandez’s death–but he doesn’t inspire the troops, as it were. What kind of a prospect package might he fetch from, say, the St. Louis Cardinals, who are rumored to be interested in Stanton and need to move on from Mike Matheny?
Jeter could get at least a bullpen coach and maybe an infield coach in the deal. He would be wise not to push John Mozeliak on the point.
4) Shohei Otani spits in the eye of new international signing rules, stays in NPB until he can get PAID
The shame of new international signing rules drafted as part of last year’s new collective bargaining agreement is being acutely felt right now. Otani, possibly the greatest import Japan has ever potentially sent to MLB, was going to leave countless millions on the table to come now, years before the 25th birthday that would trigger his unrestricted free agency. It turns out that both the Nippon Ham Fighters and MLB were hoping to squeeze Otani from each side, and the union stepped in. His status remains in tantalizing limbo.
Personally, I hope that Otani stays away. Unless some wizard can draft a contract that guarantees a huge payday without running afoul of baseball’s asinine new rules, Otani could step into the league next year as one of its best, and one of its worst-paid, players. The risks of pitching another two seasons in Japan and depreciating his value are palpable, but so is teaching Major League Baseball a lesson in how it wants to position itself as a global beacon of the sport. The best players should be paid as such, instead of owners’ greed masquerading as “the need to maintain parity” keeps money out of those players’ pockets. Otani should come in two years, and hopefully still melt the faces off the rest of league on both sides of the ball.
5) The San Francisco Giants tear it all down and go full rebuild
Let’s be clear: This will not happen. The Giants’ brand is too strong, their payroll too large, and their loyalty too deep to their core guys for general manager Bobby Evans to ever rip it up and start again. The majority of their infield is locked up through 2020. Madison Bumgarner will be around through the end of 2019, including an option year. This is the group that helped win the Giants three World Series rings in five years. Plus, their MLB-worst performance in 2017 felt like a fluke. The Giants will be back and remain competitive in the NL West.
But what if they’re not? If we exclude the 2016 postseason, the Giants seamlessly moved from a disastrous second half in 2016 to a disastrous season from wire to wire. Bumgarner might be fully healthy for next season–and Jeff Samardzija may continue his comeback–but Johnny Cueto looks washed up. Mark Melancon got shelled when he was healthy. Almost the entire team is either rapidly approaching 30 or speeding further and further past it. The outfield is a mess. Should Cueto, Melancon, Hunter Pence and Denard Span continue underperforming, Evans will suddenly be sagged with a bad team and bad contracts.
The bold move would be to get ahead of that and start selling the team for parts. The Giants have the second pick in next year’s draft, and they could probably extract some solid prospect value for a lot of guys with a year or two left on their deals. It’s radical, and it may sting, but the Dodgers are set to rule the NL West for awhile. The Diamondbacks have potentially turned the corner for good. The Rockies might be interesting again. The Giants’ window may have closed. It was a glorious window, but the team looks spent. Time to draw some fresh cards.