Here are answers to questions that might come up at family gatherings over the holidays:
Question: The White Sox haven’t had a winning record since winning 85 games in 2012. Why would Bryce Harper or Manny Machado consider going to Chicago’s South Side?
Answer: The White Sox hope to have two things going for them: money and a team that is loaded with young talent. The White Sox, tired of playing in the shadow of the crosstown Cubs, have to get Harper or Machado to believe that they would be join a team that will be an American League powerhouse in two years. It would be a similar situation to 2010, when the Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year $126 million contract. It is similar to the rebuilding Padres signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer to San Diego last season on the promise the Padres would contend quickly. And, while most experts say the White Sox system has blue-chip talent, the White Sox would also need to have the best offer on the table, somewhere between $325 and $350 million. Apparently, the money will be no issue. So far this offseason, the White Sox have added a pitcher, Ivan Nova, to a rotation that includes former Nats prospects Reynaldo López and Lucas Giolito, who had a 2.38 ERA in seven starts at the end of 2017, but struggled with walks in 2018, and Carlos Rodón. López has a ways to go to be consistent. The White Sox, who had 62 and 67 wins each of the last two seasons, have Yonder Alonso, Machado’s brother-in-law, at first base. He’s pulling for Machado to make it a family affair in Chicago, but it is difficult to believe Machado would go to Chicago for that reason.
Q: Machado visited Philadelphia this week. Don’t the Phillies have a shortstop in Jean Segura?
A: Indeed, they do. The Phillies would have to convince Machado to return to third base. The Phillies think he’s better there than at short. Machado’s in Philadelphia would improve the Phillies’ infield defense, which also tightens with Rhys Hoskins moving from left field to first base. The second baseman is César Hernández. The Phillies have interest in Bryce Harper, who would likely take over in right field for Nick Williams, 25, with Odúbel Herrera in center and Andrew McCutchen in left. The Phillies would like to trade Williams for another pitcher. The Phillies’ offense had a lot of power last season, but they ranked 11th in the NL in runs (677) and were last in team average (.234) with the second-highest strikeout total (1,520). Not only do the Phillies need an offensive boost, their pitching staff ranked 11th in the NL last with 4.14 ERA. Their pitching staff needs more than a better defense.
Q: In what ballpark would Harper have the most success?
A: He’s going to be an MVP candidate no matter what team he joins. But the best AL park for Harper, a left-handed batter, is Yankee Stadium, considering it is 314 feet down the right field line. If the decision is strictly on ballparks in the NL, then he’d probably like Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. The ballpark in Philadelphia measures 330 down the right field line. Both are cozy ballparks. Imagine Harper in either ballpark. If money makes is the determining factor, that the Phillies or White Sox are the favorites. If he wants to be a superstar in a glitzy market, then it is the Dodgers or Yankees, even though the Yankees say they aren’t interested. If he wants to be a one-team superstar, the door is still open for him to return to the Nationals, although they aren’t expecting him to return to D.C. If he wants to play in a baseball-crazy city with an incredible brand and great tradition, the Cardinals would be the choice.
Q: How desperate are the Astros for rotation help?
A: The Astros have signed outfielder Michael Brantley, and catcher Robinson Chirinos, and traded for infielder Almedys Díaz,, but they are in the market for a starting pitcher. The Astros are the best team in the AL West, but losing free agent Charlie Morton (Tampa Bay, two years and $30 million), Lance McCullers (injury, out for 2019) and Dallas Keuchel (free agency), the Astros rotation is left with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Collin McHugh, a former starter shifted to the bullpen last season after Cole arrived in a trade from the Pirates, figures to slide into the No. 3 spot. Brad Peacock, another former starter in the bullpen, will compete for a job. At the winter meetings, Astros manager A.J. Hinch rattled off the names of a list of prospects that will compete for the back of the rotation, including Forrest Whitley, Josh James, Framber Valdez, Corbin Martin and Cionel Pérez.
Q: Are the Mets as good as new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen says? He says they are the team to beat in the NL East next season.
A: The Mets have been aggressive this offseason and apparently, they aren’t done yet. They are an improved team, but the team to beat? The NL East is wide open. The Mets have added Jeurys Familia and Edwin Díaz to the back of their bullpen, a big improvement. They’ve added catcher Wilson Ramos and second baseman Robinson Canó to a lineup that struggled to score runs last season. They are still looking at a centerfielder with more pop, and that could mean former Diamondback A.J. Pollock will be playing center field there next year, surrounded by Michael Conforto in left and Brandon Nimmo in right. There is no arguing the Mets rotation will be strong with Cy Young winner Jacob de Grom, 30, Noah Syndergaard, 26, Stephen Matz and Zach Wheeler. If Yeonis Céspedes can return mid-season from his heel injury, the Mets are looking good. Last year, they won 77 games. Their re-configured lineup will mean they have a chance to approach 90 wins. The Mets went into the offseason needing to fix their bullpen and a lineup that finished in the bottom five in a list of offensive categories.
Q: Are the Dodgers going to trade Yasiel Puig?
A: The Dodgers would love nothing more than to trade Puig, clear payroll and sign Harper. But Puig isn’t easy to trade. He can carry a team with his bat, but his focus and discipline fluctuated to the point where it was maddening for the Dodgers. The Dodgers thought they had a July deal with the Nationals for Harper last season, but when the Dodgers offered Puig, the Nationals wanted nothing to do with the deal. Puig has some strange splits as a hitter: He’s a right-handed batter who has hit .209 with four home runs against lefties last year. He hit .297 with 19 home runs against right-handed pitching. The Dodgers, by the way, fixed one of their biggest problems when they signed reliever Joe Kelly, who will work the setup role getting to closer Kenley Jansen. Kelly, with his 97 mph fastball, was a big need for the Dodgers bullpen. In past years, the Dodgers have tried to fix their setup roles on the cheap, and it ended up costing them in the World Series. Kelly should remedy that.
Q: What is going on with former Orioles reliever Zach Britton?
A: A year ago, the Rockies gave closer Wade Davis three years and $52 million, but who knows if any relievers that are going to make that this offseason. The contending teams that need bullpen help - and possibly a closer - are the Cubs, Phillies, Astros, Nationals, Red Sox and Braves. At 31, Britton’s trademark, the hard sinker, is still a devastating pitch, but teams are concerned that opposing batters are laying off that pitch. That is causing Britton’s walk totals to go up. The good news for Britton is that he’s not that far removed from the 2016 season when he was untouchable with 47 saves and a 0.54 ERA, a season in when he should have had stronger consideration for the AL Cy Young. He’s allowed 14 home runs in his last 287 innings. The risk with Britton is his injury history. In the last two years, he’s been sidelined with knee, forearm and Achilles injuries. That is cause for concern for a team wanting to hand out a big-time contract.
Q: Are the Marlins asking too much for catcher J.T. Realmuto?
A: Yes, and that’s why he’s not been traded. He’s a strong defensive catcher who can hit .270 with 15-18 home runs. He’s got two years left before free agency. Teams are in need of catching, so the Marlins are asking for a lot. The Astros, Braves, Dodgers and Yankees are all interested.