After the Washington Nationals defeated the Houston Astros in game seven of the 2019 World Series on Wednesday night, it’s officially time to start talking MLB Hot Stove. Impending free agent Gerrit Cole didn’t have any hesitation moving his mind there quickly after the game.
Gerrit Cole, now playing for Boras Corp., is about to make a Mystery Team very happy. pic.twitter.com/3s6SjpjMvz
— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) October 31, 2019
Cole is one of several star players on the market this winter and the interest in where they’ll end up has been picking up steam for months. Our Rangers staff writers Alex Plinck and Garrett Jones got together to think about what might transpire this winter.
Who is the most important free agent heading into this winter?
Alex: Gerrit Cole is the clear wild card this offseason. He is an ace that can change a division. Look for him to be offered a record-setting salary for his time in Houston, and with the way he can strike guys out, it doesn’t matter which ballpark you place him.
Garrett: Undoubtedly, Gerrit Cole. It’s extremely rare for someone of his value to hit the open market. Anyone that puts together 20 wins, 300-plus strikeouts and dominates the Major League Baseball Postseason and World Series to a tune of a 4-1 win-loss record is clearly a generational talent. It’s amazing to see how he developed in Houston- the Astros have made a habit out of developing superstars. I’m convinced he’ll take what he learned there and be a transcendent ace for a marginal team for the better part of the next decade, with a nice payday to boot.
What team do you expect to be most active this offseason?
Alex: The Chicago Cubs ended 2019 so abruptly that they let manager Joe Maddon go and hired former catcher David Ross. The Cubs are still at the point where they know they can contend for a division and even the World Series, but the window of opportunity is heading out the door. The NL Central loads up with the Brewers, Cardinals, and also the Reds, a scary bunch on paper, in the mix. The Cubs have the money and look for the north-siders not to mess around.
Garrett: The Los Angeles Dodgers. The championship window closes this year, and manager Dave Roberts’ clock is ticking. This year was an unequivocal disappointment, even if they lost to eventual World Series champion Washington. The tools are still there to win, but with the potential shakeup in the starting rotation and closer Kenley Jansen’s steep decline along, the team has to win in 2020. Los Angeles’ number one offseason goal? Outbid the New York Yankees for marquee talent.
Who is a notable player you think could be traded, and why?
Alex: If I am going the Rangers route, I’d say Nomar Mazara gets traded. The Rangers are at the point where they have an overload of left-handed outfielders, and while they’ve had production from Nomar, it hasn’t been the production that he is thought to be capable of. I do think other franchises look at Mazara and say, “Hey, we may have the solution to turn him into an MVP,” and with those talks will begin this winter.
Garrett: Mookie Betts. Boston has to re-tool. The team massively regressed after winning the 2018 World Series. President Dave Dombrowski didn’t make it out of the season with his job- even though he was less than a year removed from guiding the team to a title. Betts is a free agent after 2020, and there will definitely be interest in trading for the 2018 American League Most Valuable Player award winner. The Red Sox need to dangle him for young, controllable starting pitching to guide a course for their future.
Player Movement Predictions:
Alex: New York Yankees. The Yankees finished the regular season fifteenth in MLB in team ERA for starters (4.51). Although the small ballpark may have something to do with it, the Yankees don’t have a triple combo punch like they used to. They certainly have the money to spend on a high-class starter, and with the Red Sox looking to improve and the Astros success, it’s World Series or nothing for the Yankees in 2020.
Garrett: Los Angeles Angels. This has been the most popular rumor of the offseason. Cole, a native of Orange County and a former ace at California-Los Angeles, seems to have a desire to sign with a California team. This move makes a lot of sense- Cole’s style seems to mesh well with new Angels skipper Joe Maddon, and general manager Billy Eppler and co. are desperate to field a competitive team during superstar outfielder Mike Trout’s prime years.
Alex: Washington Nationals. I do think Rendon will test free agency to start the winter. The Nationals already extended an offer to Anthony Rendon, who rejected the offer. However, looking at what happened with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado and how their seasons transpired (okay, but not great), I think Rendon stays a Washington National. I will say this, Rendon will be a heavily-pusuited player this offseason with teams like the White Sox, Mets, Phillies, or even Rangers making massive offers.
Garrett: Rendon has been consistently linked with Texas in the early offseason, and while it would make sense for the Rangers to pursue him, I personally won’t believe it until I see it. With their World Series win, Washington proved to the world that they can win with this core. Rendon is now the heart and soul of the Nationals’ order. The team could and should use the money it saved on not signing Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper on locking up its superstar bat.
Alex: Chicago Cubs. Bumgarner is one free agent I’m not too sure about. Do I believe the Giants make an offer? Of course. However, I feel Bumgarner will be a lot more affordable to sign than a Gerrit Cole. I think the Cubs are at the top of the list but don’t be shocked to see teams like the Padres, Rangers, Angels, Red Sox, and even Yankees make extending offers.
Garrett: New York Yankees. This has been rumored for years. Had it not have been for the string of winning by San Francisco in July, the Giants probably would’ve sold him to New York anyway- which would’ve changed the entire dynamics of the 2019 American League Championship Series. The Yankees’ biggest flaw in the regular and Postseason was a lack of starting pitching depth beyond its top two- and Bumgarner more than addresses that issue, and shapes it nicely by giving the team the option to slide James Paxton to its fourth spot. Atlanta is also in the mix for the Hickory, North Carolina native.
Alex: Atlanta Braves . The Braves are in talks to resign Donaldson, and while I think Donaldson may reject the initial offer, like Rendon, it would make sense for Josh to stay with the Atlanta Braves. It’ll feel like an auction where both Donaldson and the Braves try to match each other’s prices, Josh going for the multi-year deal while Atlanta is going for the minimum amount. In the end, I think both sides will settle, and Josh stays a Brave.
Garrett: New York Mets. This makes a lot of sense. New York massively overachieved in 2019, but one of its glaring holes was at third base. Todd Frazier is a free agent, and Donaldson would be an uptick in production based of what he put together in Atlanta this year. St. Louis also makes sense, but there are questions with the Cardinal brass as to how his personality would mesh with the clubhouse.
Alex: Los Angeles Angels. Rangers fans don’t like this, but it makes the most sense for Ryu. First, Ryu has spent his entire career in southern California since he came to the United States. Second, the Angels are already a Japanese-heavy organization with Shohei Ohtani on the squad. Finally, with Joe Maddon at the helm, it’s a win-now mentality for the Angels, and if that means to go out to spend as much as you can for an ace starter like Ryu, then, by all means, they will do it. If the Angels don’t get Ryu, look for the San Diego Padres to swoop in and go for the Ryu gold.
Garrett: Houston Astros. Ryu strung together his best season in 2019, and even earned the nod to start the 2019 All-Star Game for the National League in Cleveland. He definitely tapered off in the second half, but still finished with a sub-3.00 earned run average. He’d be a relatively cheap option for Houston pursue in its (likely) quest to replace Cole in its rotation.