With free agency about to get underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams?
Los Angeles Dodgers: How many Japanese stars will they have in 2018?
We know that the Dodgers will have Kenta Maeda back, probably in the starting rotation. However, his ability to rev up his stuff as a short reliever in the postseason and throw multiple innings out of the bullpen certainly adds to his value. Beyond Maeda, the Dodgers' biggest offseason question mark is whether they will (or even should) bring back Maeda's countryman, Yu Darvish.
Darvish is one of the top 20 or so starting pitchers in baseball. Every time someone walks up to you and says he folds under pressure, just repeat those words. It doesn't change the fact that Darvish flopped in the exact same fashion in the World Series, but let's not lose sight of the fact that he's one of baseball's best pitchers. The question is now how much he's worth on the open market and whether that price tag is one the Dodgers can swallow. L.A. has internal options -- its rotation was one of baseball's best in 2017 even before the Dodgers added Darvish. And they have young pitchers who will gradually be added to that mix, especially hard-throwing righty Walker Buehler. Eventually, they'll get Julio Urias back as well.
But it's also possible that by splurging for Darvish, you might send some favorable signals to yet another Japanese player, super free agent Shohei Otani -- the Babe Ruth of the other side of the Pacific. Otani, because of baseball's tight new restrictions on international spending, is going be considering non-financial factors. L.A. has a huge Japanese population, which you would think is a good thing in how Otani perceives the city. And he's friendly with Darvish.
Whatever happens, the Dodgers will be loaded again in 2018. That makes the possibility of a Darvish-Otani package deal that much more tantalizing. -- Bradford Doolittle
Arizona Diamondbacks: Can they afford to stay relevant?
All this is to say that the collective age of the Diamondbacks' core dictates that they be in win-now mode. A big problem with that is the big outfielder, J.D. Martinez, who is about to become a very rich man on the free-agent market. Martinez put up a 1.107 OPS after Arizona traded for him this season, and his presence in the lineup alongside Goldschmidt made the Diamondbacks a special team down the stretch.
Can Arizona afford to keep him? Probably not. Not on a team with little payroll flexibility and a high-earner in Greinke who eats up more than a third of what the Diamondbacks can likely spend. So the question then becomes, what's left, especially when it seems likely that as great as Goldschmidt is, he's not likely to give us more than we've seen?
Well, the standout category for the Diamondbacks was the starting pitching in 2017. That group was one of the worst in the majors in 2016. It's a group in which regression seems all but a certainty. If that happens, and the lineup loses Martinez, Arizona GM Mike Hazen is going to have to get creative to keep Arizona in the playoff mix in 2018. -- Doolittle
Colorado Rockies: How big will they dream?
The Rockies led the National League in runs scored, but their main priority in the offseason should be adding another bat to a lineup that lacked depth. The only three hitters with a park-adjusted OPS above league average were Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado and Mark Reynolds, and Reynolds is a free agent. Carlos Gonzalez is also a free agent and while he finished strong in September, it's probably time to part ways with him. Now that they have their most pitching depth in years, they can't be lulled into thinking the offense is good enough.
The best solution: Giancarlo Stanton. Come on, Rockies, dream big. Imagine what Stanton will do playing half his games at Coors Field. Yes, he's owed $290 million over the next 10 seasons and he has an opt-out after 2020, but the Rockies can afford him if they're willing to take on the money (and Stanton agrees to the trade). Their only big-money contracts right now belong to Ian Desmond and Arenado, and Arenado is a free agent after 2019. You need to upgrade for that two-year window. Because of Stanton's contract, acquiring him won't break the prospect bank. The Marlins won't get a prospect haul and somebody to take on Stanton's entire deal. So, trade for Stanton and then sign Carlos Santana to play first base for this lineup: Blackmon CF, DJ LeMahieu 2B, Arenado 3B, Stanton RF, Santana 1B, Trevor Story SS, Gerardo Parra LF, Tom Murphy C. -- David Schoenfield
San Diego Padres: Will they make any kind of major move?
The Padres cut their payroll to the bone last year, lopping off 40 percent of their 2016 payroll to bring expenses down to 29th in MLB on Opening Day in 2017. And despite doing that they didn't exactly tank, winning far more games than expected. And even with expectations set low, they drew more than 2 million fans, so they didn't even suffer a penalty at the turnstiles for "tanking."
One thing you shouldn't get worked up about is the difference between their Pythagorean-projected record (which was 59-103) and their actual win-loss total. Andy Green is a smart manager and is likely to still be in San Diego for the next good Padres team, but he didn't work a 12-game dugout miracle. That's just the math reflecting that when the Padres lost, they really lost, suffering 36 losses by five or more runs. You can't lose an individual blowout more than once; if the Padres improve their pitching depth just a little bit, they might cut down on those blowout losses and provide those 2 million fans a few reasons to stick around for the end of a few more games.
So, having restocked their farm system while chucking concern for their MLB team, will they spend on anyone more expensive than simply re-signing Clayton Richard for $6 million across two seasons? Or is that as crazy-spendy as they're willing to get this winter while they wait for their prospects to reach the majors? -- Christina Kahrl
San Francisco Giants: How will they fix their outfield?
Flirting with 100 losses was a disaster, but it's worse when you consider the Giants are supposed to be built to win now, to exploit the opportunity created by keeping their core players -- Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford -- together. But if the Giants want to get that group back to the postseason, they have to actively fix their most glaring problem. Their outfield is the one unit where the team has overlapping problems. The Giants were last in the majors in home runs with 128 -- finishing more than 100 homers behind the Yankees' MLB-leading total of 241 -- and their outfielders combined for the worst OPS total on the year (.685, against the MLB average of .772). And their outfielders combined for an MLB-worst minus-43 defensive runs saved, so as a unit they were costing the Giants runs in both halves of every inning, all season long.
Contractually, they're locked in for one more year with both Hunter Pence and Denard Span and they punted on shopping for a left fielder last winter. Span can't play center (not after giving up minus-31 DRS by himself) or hit well enough to be an asset in a corner, and Pence can't stay healthy, so they really need to approach the winter thinking they have no answers at any one position. Any kind of defensive upgrade in center could make a huge difference for Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija after their disappointing seasons on the mound, and finding a strong bat for a corner would make a huge difference on the scoreboard every day. -- Kahrl