As the slowest part of the baseball offseason arrives, here are seven answers to seven questions:
Question: Will the signing of major free agents speed up this year, or will teams be signing players the first week of spring training 2020?
Answer: Most observers think the process will speed up. The teams’ rosters aren’t likely to get set before Christmas, which used to be the case, but it’s likely not going to drag into late February as it did last offseason with Manny Machado (San Diego) and Bryce Harper (Philadelphia). The difference is that the market was soft for Harper (money) and Machado (attitude) and they had to create a market. That is not the case with free agents Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and Gerrit Cole. Strasburg will likely stay in D.C. and sign quickly. And there are several teams that want Cole and Rendon. And, Rendon doesn’t want to wait. He wants to sign and be out of the limelight as quickly as possible.
Q: Do the Nationals have a chance to keep Strasburg and Rendon? If not, which one has the best chance of staying? Who should be the priority if they can keep only one?
A: The general consensus is that Strasburg will sign soon with the Nationals and that Rendon will sign elsewhere. The Nationals can’t wait too long with Rendon because the list of other free agent third basemen is basically two: Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas. Unfortunately, the Nationals don’t have a third-base version of Juan Soto or Victor Robles to take over if Rendon leaves. If the Nationals can only keep one, Strasburg should be the priority. The rotation is the key to the team’s success.
Q: Should Rendon have been the National League Most Valuable Player?
A: Yes, given that he was more consistent than the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, who had an explosive first half before sliding in the second half with only a .236 average. Nats manager Davey Martinez should have at least been in the top three for NL Manager of the Year. If the Cardinals’ Mike Shildt can win the award because he won the NL Central after a 48-48 start, then the Nationals’ rebound from a 19-31 start into the postseason should have gotten Martinez more credit.
Q: Shortstop Derek Jeter is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. Does he have a chance to be the second player in history to be a unanimous selection by the BBWAA?
A: Yes, there is a great chance that he will follow his former Yankees teammate, Mariano Rivera, with a unanimous selection. Can you imagine being a baseball writer, not voting for Jeter and then trying to explain your ballot? Jeter, with five World Series rings, 3,465 career hits and 14 All-Star appearances, is the only sure-fire candidate on the new ballot released Monday. That could mean good news for Curt Schilling (60.9 percent of the vote last year) and Larry Walker (54.6 percent). This is Walker’s last year on the ballot, but it is difficult to believe he will get the same last-ballot push that Edgar Martinez received last season. Roger Clemens (59.5 percent) and Barry Bonds (59.1 percent), each of whom have been stung by steroids accusations, might get a boost given the thin ballot. Cliff Lee, Paul Konerko and Alfonso Soriano are the biggest names of the first-timers on the ballot. Also, another shortstop, Omar Vizquel, should get increased support.
Q: Is Major League Baseball’s idea of making a relief pitcher pitch to three batters or until the end of an inning a good idea?
A: It is smart to speed up the games as much as possible, but not at the expense of a manager’s strategy to win the game. The idea of the rule is to speed up the game and stop eating up time with pitching change after pitching change, with one pitcher throwing to one batter and then leaving the game. This new rule will likely mark the end of the one-batter relief specialist, typically a lefty. According to Yahoo Sports, the use of one-batter pitchers has decreased: Last year, that happened 1,100 times - down from 1,182 in 2016. The occurrence of lefty pitcher on a single lefty batter has dropped from 763 in 2015 to 562 last year. There must be better ways to speed up the game.
Q: Last offseason, outfielder Adam Jones, the former Oriole, signed late because it was difficult to find a matching team. He eventually signed with Arizona. Who is this year’s version of Jones?
A: Check out Didi Gregorius. He’s 29 and the Yankees didn’t make him a qualifying offer, probably because they thought he’d take it. He missed to first two months of the season and hit .258 in 82 games with the Yankees. Baseball is loaded with good shortstops. Consider that the NL West teams each have a shortstop. Four of the top five teams in the NL East have a shortstop and Miami is probably not interested in signing him. In the American League Central, the Twins, White Sox and Indians each have a shortstop, and the Royals and Tigers aren’t contending teams. You get the idea. The best landing spot for Gregorius is Cincinnati. The Reds have money and need a shortstop.
Q: Are the Red Sox going to trade Mookie Betts?
A: The Red Sox want to so that they can save money and get under the luxury tax. But, Betts is eligible for free agency after the 2020 season, and that makes him difficult to trade. No team is going to give the Red Sox elite prospects for player it might have for only a year. A good comparison: Last year, the Diamondbacks were in a similar situation with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Arizona traded him to the Cardinals, but didn’t get any of the Cardinals’ top prospects. In return, Arizona got Carson Kelly, who caught 19 games for St. Louis in 2018; pitcher Luke Weaver, who had a 4.95 ERA in 25 starts; minor-league infielder Andrew Young, and a draft pick. That is likely the type of return the Red Sox would get for Betts.