The MLBPA and MLB owners haven’t made much — any — headway on a new CBA since the lockout started, but just because it’s going to be a while until the two sides hammer out some sort of resolution, that doesn’t mean we have to stop discussing what might/should happen when the sport eventually resumes.
Because when it does, and teams are allowed to sign free agents and make trades again, you’re going to see a flurry of activity. It will probably be a lot of fun, honestly, to see free agents ink contracts and to see teams make trade after trade. After all, what else are front office types going to do during the lockout other than plan their back-in-the-saddle strategy?
So we’re taking a division-by-division look at what’s on the docket for all 30 teams. Today, it’s the AL West.
Pre-lockout recap: The uncertainty of the Justin Verlander situation — his deal to return was reported long before the lockout but not officially announced — was finally resolved when MLB signed off on the deal after the lockout. The uncertainty of the Carlos Correa situation — he’s expected to leave, especially after Houston’s less-than-enthusiastic offer — lingers, though. Yes, he’ll probably still sign elsewhere, but two of the teams expected to bid for his services have already found their shortstops (the Tigers signed Javier Baez and the Rangers signed Corey Seager). So, who knows? Bringing manager Dusty Baker back was smart, too. And bringing Hector Neris — who had 98 strikeouts and a 3.63 ERA in 74 1/3 innings for the Phillies last year — was a good addition to the later innings.
The very first thing to do: Figure out who will play shortstop in 2022 and beyond. Will they reassess and offer Correa a market-value deal to return? When you have guys like Martin Maldonado — a very respected player — saying things like this, the door to a return can’t be welded shut: “That guy is the heart and soul of this team,” Maldonado said, as quoted in the Houston Chronicle right after the World Series. “People love him, people respect him. People listen to him. Hopefully it’s not the last time we play together.”
If not Correa, maybe a shorter deal for Texas native Trevor Story, a free agent with a solid track record but who is coming off a poor 2021, relatively speaking? Maybe internal options, with some combo of Aledmys Díaz and prospect Jeremy Peña? Maybe a very short-term solution like free agent Andrelton Simmons?
Also on the list: The Astros are really in a pretty good situation. Correa is the only starting position player they’ll lose from their World Series squad. The rotation loses veteran Zack Greinke, but Cristian Javier slides into that spot with zero issues. The bullpen could use another arm or two, but that’s the same with literally every team in baseball. Still, don’t be surprised if they sign a lefty to replace Brooks Raley, who allowed just two hits and two runs in six combined innings in the ALCS and World Series.
Pre-lockout recap: The M’s replaced a solid lefty in their rotation — Yusei Kikuchi exercised his opt-out clause — with a dynamic lefty — 2021 Cy Young winner Robbie Ray. That’s good, if somewhat risky, because of Ray’s up/down track record. Seattle also traded for Adam Frazier, who hit .305 last year between the Pirates (where he was an All-Star) and Padres and can play all over the field, though he’s primarily a second baseman. His versatility — he’s started games at all three outfield positions, plus third base and shortstop in his career — cannot be understated.
The very first thing to do: The lineup needs more power. Though the departed Kyle Seager wasn’t very good at getting on base (.285 OBP), he did slug 35 homers last year; he was the only player other than Mitch Haniger (39) to hit more than 18. Know who makes a lot of sense? Kris Bryant, that’s who. He would replace Seager nicely at third, and his versatility — he can play all three outfield positions or first base for extended stretches — is a big plus. Maybe get Trevor Story and shift him to third? Possibly bring back Nelson Cruz at DH? There are lots of options out there, and there’s a need, too.
Also on the list: With Ray, Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert, the M’s have a solid rotation, and they have several good options for the fifth spot. Those options almost all come with uncertainty, though (mostly just a lack of experience at the big-league level), so Seattle’s front office has been open about the desire to add rotation depth. What that looks like — trade for a guy like Sonny Gray or maybe sign a few bounce-back candidates — remains to be seen.
Pre-lockout recap: The club allowed manager Bob Melvin to leave for the Padres, which should be all anyone needs to know about their offseason intentions. Anyone and everyone is available for the right price. No major deals went down before the lockout, but all signs point to an imminent teardown.
The very first thing to do: If the front office — at the owner’s request — really does plan to trade away everyone, just one request: Do it quickly. Rip off the bandaid. Per an MLB source, clubs are not allowed to discuss potential trades during the lockout. But groundwork was laid before the stoppage, so finish those conversations and spend the first week after it eventually ends finishing deals. Send both Matts — Olson and Chapman, who are eligible to become free agents after 2023 — away the day after the lockout ends. Demolish the rotation, bidding farewell to Chris Bassett (FA after 2022), Frankie Morales (FA after 2023), Sean Manaea (FA after 2022) immediately.
Also on the list: Hard to know what needs the team might have without knowing which established starters will be dealt.
Los Angeles Angels
Pre-lockout recap: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Angels signed a few bounce-back candidates for the rotation. Somebody remind me the definition of insanity? The Michael Lorenzen signing is interesting, but you can see how signing a guy with five starts and 263 relief appearances over the past six years isn’t a sure thing. The Noah Syndergaard signing, though? That could work out well. He returned from Tommy John surgery to throw a couple innings at the end of the season and could be the Angels’ best pitcher next season. The Angels also added lefty Aaron Loup — owner of a 0.95 ERA in 65 games for the Mets last year — to the bullpen and brought back closer Raisel Iglesias on a long-term deal.
The very first thing to do: More pitching. Some sort of certainty in the rotation.
Also on the list: See if they can find a taker for Justin Upton. He’s owed $28 million in 2021, the final year of his deal, and the Angels are going to pay that one way or the other. No other team is helping out on that. Heck, maybe just cut him like they did with Albert Pujols last year; Pujols was more productive in his final few years with the Angels than Upton has been recently. Check this out: In the past three seasons, Upton’s played 194 of the possible 384 games, posted a .211/.299/.414 slash line, with a 90 OPS+ and minus-2.1 bWAR. At this point, they’re a better team without him.
Pre-lockout recap: Yeah, they’ve been busy. The Rangers committed $500 million to middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, and signed ex-Rockies right-hander Jon Gray to a four-year deal, and brought in veteran outfielder Kole Calhoun. That was an impressive haul for a team that lost 102 games last season.
The very first thing to do: Gray was a good start, but the rotation still needs probably at least two established starters if the Rangers are going to contend for a playoff spot in 2022. Maybe rock the sport and convince Texas native Clayton Kershaw to leave the Dodgers and join Seager in Arlington? Even if he only makes 20 to 25 starts, just having a presence like Kershaw in the clubhouse would be huge.
Also on the list: Finding an established bat in left field would be a big boost.