Every year, the holidays mark the point in the offseason in Major League Baseball that is smack in the middle of the final out of the World Series and the first day pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. During that three month stretch in the winter months, there is plenty of time for teams to sort out their rosters with trades, free agent signings, and other roster moves. These very important changes go a long way in separating the contenders from the pretenders for the upcoming season.
Now that we are seven weeks down and only seven more to go, let’s take a look at the major story lines of the offseason so far.
Booming Reliever Market
This has been one of the slowest moving free agent markets in recent history, with signings virtually non-existent for a multitude of reasons. Some argue it is because of the Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton fiasco. Others think it is being caused by the changes made to the CBA or the shift teams have made to a newer, younger style of baseball. Whatever the reason may be, it has not slowed up the relief pitcher market in the slightest.
High leverage relievers have been flying off the boards in GM rooms across the country, with major contenders looking to upgrade their bullpens in any way possible. A shift to overpowering bullpens have been a major change that baseball has seen over the course of the last few seasons, and 2018 is shaping up to be no different.
A total of 14 of the league’s best relievers have been scooped up so far this offseason, with eight of them going to just four different teams. The World Champion Houston Astros have signed Hector Rondon and Joe Smith to shore up their shaky bullpen that almost let them down in the World Series last year. The previous season’s world champs, the Chicago Cubs, have signed Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek to fill the roles of Rondon and Wade Davis. Meanwhile the Rockies picked up former Clevelander Bryan Shaw to go along with the re-signing of lefty Jake McGee. The rebuilding Phillies also added two veterans to their bullpen to assist with their young rotation by signing Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.
Six other elite relievers were signed in this bullpen-driven offseason. Fernando Rodney (Twins), Anthony Swarzak (Mets), Luke Gregerson (Cardinals), Mike Minor (Rangers), Brandon Kintzler (Nationals), and Juan Nicasio (Mariners) all found new homes for the 2018 season.
Aces Staying Put
While relievers have been flying off the shelf, ace starting pitchers have not been uprooted in the slightest so far in this offseason market. Heading into the offseason, there were two available top of the rotation starters on the free agency market and two “available” top of the rotation starters on the trade market: Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Chris Archer, and Gerrit Cole.
The rumor mill has been basically silent for the former Cub Jake Arrieta heading into the holiday season. While the Cy Young Award winner seems very unlikely to return back to Chicago, the lack of any other interested teams has come as a surprise. A combination of his inconsistency over the last two seasons and his high asking price as a Scott Boras client lead to him being a tricky signing for any team. (Note: Watch out for the Milwaukee Brewers.)
Yu Darvish has been involved in enough rumors for all the starting pitchers on the market combined. Interested suitors have included the Cubs, Astros, and Rangers, as well as others. There is still no end in sight, but Darvish seems likely to be the first ace to find a new home in the coming weeks.
Both Chris Archer and Gerrit Cole are no strangers to trade rumors as their names have come up in trade talks for the last two seasons. Archer seems like an ace that will likely be on the move due to Tampa Bay’s apparent rebuild with the trade of Evan Longoria recently. His team-friendly contract will net a large return and he will immediately slot in at the top of any contender’s rotation. The same could be said for Cole as he appears to be closer to finding a new home. The likely destination in his scenario seems to be New York as the Yankees have shown tons of interest spanning over the last few weeks.
Angels are Going For It
FINALLY. Mike Trout will head into 2018 with a team around him that should have the Postseason on their minds. The greatest player of our generation and the player who will go down as the greatest baseballer of all time will be hitting in a lineup that will have some firepower this upcoming season. The Angels have put in work this offseason after signing Justin Upton to an extension following his trade from the Tigers at the deadline last year.
We start off with the Japanese Babe Ruth: Shohei Ohtani. The two-way player will look to make an impact on the mound and in the box this season as a 23 year old. He was one of the most impactful and crazy free agent signings in the history of the game for a reason. If you don’t know about this kid yet, use your Google machine to watch some videos and prepare to be amazed.
In addition to the electric factory that is Shohei Ohtani, the Angels also brought in a couple of infielders that will improve their team dramatically. The Halos traded for Ian Kinsler who will likely slot in at the keystone and work up the middle with Andrelton Simmons. Kinsler has been one of the most consistent players in the league throughout the course of his career. He has been drastically underrated for far too long and while he isn’t as good as he once was, he is still a major upgrade at second base. The team also signed free agent Zack Cozart, who will potentially be the every day third baseman. Cozart had been painstakingly average during his career up until 2017 when he seemed to put it all together. He was an All-Star and had a .385 OBP to go along with his 141 OPS+.
Marlins Fire Sale
Before we cover the actual trades that are going down in Miami, let’s first recap the utter stupidity that has gone down in baseball in regards to the Marlins recently.
In September, the franchise was sold from Jeff Loria to a group led by the likes of Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter. Yes, THAT Derek Jeter. The team was sold for $1.2 billion and with it, Jeets & Co. got a team that has finished in the bottom four in home attendance numbers for four consecutive seasons and 15 of the last 16 years. In addition, the team has placed in the bottom six in all of baseball in Opening Day salary for their players the last four seasons and 16 of the last 18 years. As CEO, Jeter assumed control of a team with a stacked lineup that finished just ten games out of the NL Wild Card. With any sort of rotation that he could put together, the team would be well on its way to a playoff berth. Instead they got rid of players that the brand new front office could not afford.
So the team has begun a massive fire sale. It began with the trading of second baseman and leadoff man Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners for two prospects. Next in line was a man by the name of Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees for Starlin Castro and two more prospects. Then came Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals for four prospects. And just like that, the Marlins had traded three of their best players for a grand total of zero prospects that land in the MLB.com Top 100. One more time for the people in the back. ZERO top 100 prospects.
The next two players in line to likely be traded are outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher JT Realmuto. Realmuto has already requested a trade from the team and the versatile Yelich will likely have many suitors. If you are betting the over/under for total wins next season for the Miami Marlins, it may be early, but I’ll do you a favor and recommend you take the under.
You’re halfway there, people! Only seven more weeks until you can start reading stories about how your favorite player has lost weight since last season or revamped his swing and will be poised for a “breakout year!”