Here are 4 Things You Can Expect This Offseason in Major League Baseball

  • Chicago Cubs
    1. The Cubs trying to go for it

    It’s been a while since the Cubs were any good, and we’re not just talking about the century-plus since they’ve won the World Series. It’s been five straight years in fifth place for the Cubs, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008, a span which has seen each of their NL Central competitors make it to October.

    Three years into the grand Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer rebuild, things are finally looking up for the North Siders. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are already young stars, but Chicago’s highly-praised wave of young talent is nearing, with Javier Baez and Jorge Soler each making their debut in 2014. Next season, we’ll see power-hitting third baseman Kris Bryant, and Addison Russell, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber may not be far behind.

    It’s a great collection of prospects, but one that’s very light on pitching, the breakout of 28-year-old Jake Arrieta aside. With that in mind, this might be the winter the Cubs dip into the free agent market to add some veteran help for their young players, quite possibly spending to import Jon Lester or Max Scherzer. Even if they can’t land a big fish like that, a Brandon McCarthy-type might fit, or even catcher Russell Martin, highly-regarded in terms of leading a pitching staff.

    image via Ron Cogswell/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Alex Rodriguez
    2. More A-Rod than you can stomach

    After a season that was basically dedicated to being a year-long farewell to the beloved Derek Jeter, the 2015 Yankees will have to welcome back Alex Rodriguez, even though they almost certainly don’t want to. Unfortunately, the 39-year-old Rodriguez still has $61 million coming to him over the next three seasons, a sum so large that even the Yankees won’t swallow it to set themselves free.

    If they’re paying him, they’re going to play him, and this is a Yankee roster that certainly has holes. Not that Rodriguez is likely to return to shortstop at his age, but there’s no obvious successor to Jeter, and mid-season third base acquisition Chase Headley, who played well, is a free agent. (Headley has said he’d be willing to return, but not as a “part-time player.”)

    DH would be an ideal position for Rodriguez, but 38-year-old Carlos Beltran, coming off an injury-plagued season may need regular playing time there. It’s possible that Rodriguez could find himself seeing time at first base, since Mark Teixeira is 35 and still dealing with wrist issues. It’s hardly a perfect fit between player and team, but the two sides will need to figure out a way to co-exist. At the very least, next year’s Yankees won’t be boring.

    image via Keith Allison/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • 3. The ascension of baseball’s next king

    Washington’s Bryce Harper had a relatively uninspiring season, hitting .273/.344/.423 with 13 homers. For a player who had been so relentlessly hyped upon his arrival, it seemed like a disappointment.

    That perception, of course, is remarkably short-sighted. It can’t be repeated enough how young Harper is, only turning 22 on Oct. 16, so young that he’d still be among the youngest players in the high minors if he was there among his peers. Do remember, as we wrote here previously, that what Harper has done at his age has been matched by only a select few of the greatest players who have ever played.

    Harper’s relatively low stats were in some part due to thumb surgery that cost him two months of the season, but once healthy, he showed what he could do. Over the season’s final two months, he hit .283/.345/.460 with 10 homers, and in the playoffs, he hit three in four games, including one in San Francisco that still hasn’t landed:

    Throw in some fine defensive plays, and Harper proved what he can do on the big stage. Every move Washington makes this winter will be around supporting their young superstar.

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  • 4. The biggest trade of the biggest hitter

    The Marlins keep saying they don’t want to trade Giancarlo Stanton. They have to say that, because they claim to want to sign him long-term and allow him to punish baseballs in South Florida for years to come.

    It’s also probably not realistic. Stanton is so young — not 25 until November — and so powerful, not to mention such a surprisingly good outfielder, that when he reaches free agency following 2016, he’s going to set all kinds of financial records. Could he top the $200 million mark? Nothing is out of the question, other than that the notoriously tight-fisted Marlins won’t be the ones to pay him.

    So, they’ll need to trade him, and the longer they hold on to him, the further his value drops. A team who acquires Stanton this winter gets him for two full seasons, but when that drops to 1.5 seasons, or a single season, the price will drop as well.  So for teams with money and prospects — looking at you, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, etc. — the bidding is open.

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  • Chicago Cubs
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Bryce Harper

We just witnessed the most exciting postseason ever, right? There’s really no way to quantify that or back it up with numbers, other than to say that seemingly every single night there was a tight, well-played game full of memorable moments. The regular season was predictably great, with everything from monster home runs to selfies to witnessing pitchers at the top of their game, but the postseason did it one better.

And last night it all came to a close with an incredible Game 7. The San Francisco Giants became the first visiting team to win a Game 7 in the World Series in 35 years, beating the Kansas City Royals, 3-2, after surviving a hit in the ninth inning from left fielder Alex Gordon that turned into a triple through a Gregor Blanco error.

Not only did the Giants join an elite club by winning their third World Series title in five years, but pitcher Madison Bumgarner completed a run that rivals just about anything we’ve seen in the modern era. He is the first pitcher since legend Sandy Koufax WAY back in 1965 to finish the World Series with two wins and a sub-.50 ERA in at least 20 innings. Last night, he came out of the bullpen to toss 68 pitches — three days after rolling through Kansas City with 117 in Game 5 — to finish with just one run allowed and 14 hits across 36 innings. Simply amazing.

Despite the loss, Kansas City has to feel good about where their team is at. If we learned anything from the Royals over the past few weeks, it’s not that having a trio of great relievers helps win games — every team wants great relief pitching, and always has — it’s that simply getting to the wild card game is enough to give you a prayer, even when the odds seem stacked against you. (And if you’re Oakland, you know a great first half and a win at the trade deadline doesn’t guarantee you anything.) San Francisco most likely feels the same way, having used their play-in game against Pittsburgh as a way to boost their run to a World Series championship.

For every other team, that might change how they perceive their own outlook. Maybe they aren’t the first or fifth or even 10th-best team in baseball, but simply being good enough to get to that one-game play-in game might be enough, and we could see some moves this winter that show teams are thinking this way.

So with the Giants taking home another World Series title, what can we expect to see this winter and into next season from Kansas City and the rest of baseball? Well, Here are 4 Things You Can Expect This Offseason in Major League Baseball.

Follow Mike on Twitter at @mike_petriello