After we were treated to a fantastic World Series between the Rays and Dodgers, it is time for us to look ahead to the offseason! This is a tricky time to be a baseball analyst, as due to the loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemics, teams appear to be intent on cutting payroll.
That won’t stop us from still enjoying what really is just the “other phase” of the baseball season. After all, the offseason is where teams set themselves up to succeed now, and in the future, so if certain teams take advantage of other teams cutting costs, the ramifications could be massive.
Today, I will be playing “general manager” for every National League team. Not only will I be assessing each team’s short-term and long-term outlook, but I will also provide them with key objectives that they will need to fulfill. This will differ from traditional offseason previews; my main focus is how each team can win sustainably. Thus, not only will I be looking to see how teams can improve their roster next season, but also to continue to win in the future. A consistent long-term focus has served the Rays and Dodgers well, and it’s time for more teams to stop adopting “buyer or seller” mentalities; each team should just be trying to be a sustainable winner.
With that settled, it is time to play general manager! We will go in alphabetical order by city.
2020 didn’t go as planned for the Diamondbacks, but they still have a long track record of consistently being competitive. Although they lack star talent, they still have a deep lineup with a lot of versatility; their projectsd center fielder is also a catcher- Dalton Varsho. Their bullpen is a mess right now, and they need pitching depth, but if their starting rotation performs to its capabilities, they could be back in the playoff hunt next season.
It’s been well-documented that the Diamondbacks are intent on slashing their payroll, which isn’t ideal considering how much they paid Madison Bumgarner. At the same time, I love their farm system, which is loaded with pitching and up-the-middle prospects. They even have polished bats in addition to those athletes; I’ve very high on the likes of Pavin Smith and Drew Ellis.
- Overhaul pitching with strikeout specialists
- Identify ways to not completely block young players
- Evaluate faith in Luke Weaver and Caleb Smith
As mentioned, the Diamondbacks don’t have many pitchers who can miss bats, especially in their bullpen.They legitimately need at least 4-5 new relief options, and that’s before getting to their rotation. The key there will be evaluating their trust in Luke Weaver and Caleb Smith. Do they believe they can harness their abilities into effective middle-of-the-rotation starters, or would they prefer to add depth and competition? That will be a key decision for them, as will be how they get their young players involved. Implementing Varsho in a versatile role takes care of that, but what about Smith, Ellis, and pitchers Jon Duplantier and Corbin Martin? Given that their payroll is likely to be decreased, their ability to provide the team with cheap production is important.
The Braves had an exceptional offense in 2020, and even without Marcell Ozuna, they should still have a good lineup. They could benefit from more flexibility and depth, particularly from their outfield, and they’re relying on a lot of young pitching. That isn’t necessarily a bad approach, but it is likely they look to add a little more stability in the rotation.
They have built pitching depth, but the Braves don’t have a great farm system; their most well-regarded prospects have major plate discipline concerns. Still, they have a lot of young, established MLB players, and their future payroll is practically nonexistent; they even have Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies locked up to incredibly affordable extensions. Notably, though, franchise icon Freddie Freeman is in the final year of his contract.
- Discuss extensions with key players (Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Max Fried)
- Add pitching
- Add a versatile bat (Tommy La Stella)
With a very clean future payroll, it is time for the Braves to try to lock up some of their core players. Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, and Max Fried all are logical extension candidates; Freeman is a player they won’t want to risk losing, while Swanson and Fried should be extended before their respective stocks continue to increase. We’ve already discussed their need for stable options in the rotation, but a sneaky addition for the would be a veteran utility option. I like Tommy La Stella as a fit for them, but if not, Jurickson Profar or Jonathan Villar could be options as well.
The Cubs will go into 2021 with the same core players, which means they will be competing for an NL Central title. Their pitching depth is a major concern, but they still should have enough offensive firepower to compensate for that.
Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, and Anthony Rizzo are all free agents after next season, with Wilson Contreras’ contract expiring following the 2022 season. Add in Craig Kimbrel’s expiring contract, and their future payroll is going to have no commitments outside of Yu Darvish and Jason Heyward, though that may change depending on who they decide to extend. Meanwhile, their farm system has some pitching talent, but they could use far more depth.
- Decide who to extend and who to trade
- Add pitching depth
- Come to realization about post-2021 outlook
With so many of their key players due for new contracts, the Cubs are going make tough decisions as to who to extend and who to trade; they shouldn’t let 2021 play out and risk losing such coveted assets for nothing. They’re still going to try to win in 2021, though, and to do that, they will need to add a lot of pitching. Their rotation and bullpen don’t have much in the way of bat-missing options, nor do they have any sort of depth. Without that, it’s going to be difficult for them to get through a 162-game season.
From there, the Cubs need to understand what’s ahead for them in 2021. It is looking like President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and the team will part ways after this season, and even though general manager Jed Hoyer will take over and keep things status quo, he would figure to have a major say in how the team approaches upcoming extensions and trades. Chicago needs to be careful when it comes to crafting a way to win sustainably after not capitalizing on the chance to do so with this current core, and having as much transparency as possible after the direction of organization is important.
The Reds desperately need their offense to be better than it was in 2020, and it should be. At the same time, they don’t have much in the way of plate discipline outside of Joey Votto, which is a major problem I have with how they crafted their lineup. Shortstop is a major question mark, and without Trevor Bauer, their pitching staff needs some reinforcements.
The Reds currently do not have a deep farm system, nor do they have enough athleticism/up-the-middle talent. Plus, with Joey Votto, Mike Moustakas, and Nicholas Castellanos all under contract for the next three seasons, they lack any sort of payroll flexibility.
It would have been interesting to see Cincinnati bring in a new, outside voice into their front office after Dick Williams stepped down. Instead, they simply promoted general manager Nick Krall, so they will continue to operate as they had previously.
- Solidify lineup
- Acquire pitching depth
- Establish a plan for Nick Senzel and Tyler Stephenson
Does any team need a shortstop quite like the Reds? Luckily for them, they’ll have options, with Marcus Semien being the most appealing if he is available on a one-year contract. As for the pitching, their bullpen is strong, but you could always look to add depth, and they’ll need to replace the innings lost by Trevor Bauer and Anthony Desclafani; I’m not sure if prospect Nick Lodolo is ready quite yet.
Speaking of young players, what is the plan for Nick Senzel and Tyler Stephenson? Senzel was considered one of the top prospects in the sport, but the Reds have completely blocked him. As they look to add offense, it is honestly ludicrous how they have handled him, and if there are smart, they will figure out how to get him more plate appearances. Stephenson, meanwhile, is an offensive upgrade at catcher to Tucker Barnhart, and should at least be a part of a timeshare.
Simply put, the Rockies are fundamentally a poor-constructed baseball team. Their lineup is completely reliant on Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and Charlie Blackmon, and lack any sort of plate discipline whatsoever. Their pitching is also likely overvalued, especially considering that they have zero depth whatsoever. As I like to say, the makings of a winning organization come through their depth, and Colorado doesn’t have that.
The Rockies’ farm system is not in good shape whatsoever, and it says a lot about a front office that has been rather stubborn when it comes to trying to “win now” and not investing in the future whatsoever. With only one more year of Trevor Story (and potentially Nolan Arenado), they are in a tricky situation.
- Do something about the future; Don’t be complacent
- Add as much pitching depth as possible
- Acquire hitters with plate discipline
The worst thing the Rockies can do is to go into 2021 the same way they’ve gone into previous seasons. It is time to make a major move to shake things up, and trading Arenado (and his big contract) would be the best option. Besides that, shopping Story, German Marquez, and Jon Gray would all allow them to accumulate much-needed young talent.
Colorado likely will be still trying to compete next season, and if they’re going to do so, they will need to add a lot of pitching depth. It will not be coming through their farm system, so that means that they will need to take advantage of non-tenders and also must attack the waiver wire. Also, if they continue to struggle to get on base, there isn’t much hope for their chances of being competitive. Thus, acquiring hitters with plate discipline, be it Brad Miller, Robbie Grossman, Tommy La Stella, or Carlos Santana, ought to be a priority.
Los Angeles Dodgers
What is there to say about the Dodgers? 2021 will give them another chance to try to break the single-season record for wins, and outside of losing Justin Turner, they’re whole team is still intact. Heck, they even get David Price back!
The farm system is filled with tremendous pitching depth, as unlike other executives, Andrew Friedman has continued to pride himself on winning sustainably. That’s why I consider him one of the top executives of all time, and with Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and even Yadiel Sierra ($8.5 million) not under contract after 2021, they are in a fantastic spot.
- Make one’s trash your treasure, like always
- Consider trading Chris Taylor
- Approach Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, and Jose Urias about extensions
Where Friedman has dominated is his ability to use the waiver wire to add talented players that other teams have dismissed. His small acquisitions have led him to acquiring Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, Jake McGee, and several other players, and there isn’t any reason for him to stop now. Speaking of Taylor, he is entering a contract year, so similarly to what they did with Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood, Friedman could look to add an additional prospect or two; I’m sure he’d have value.
Corey Seager is one year away from free agency and is coming off an elite postseason, so I am guessing his stock will never be higher. Thus, instead, the Dodgers should approach Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, and Jose Urias about possible extensions. All three of them have a lot of talent and aren’t coming off of great regular seasons, so this would be the time to “buy low” on them. We all know how talented they are, so if there is a time to get them locked up before it is too late, that time would appear to be now.
Call me skeptical that 2020 actually proved that the Marlins are ready to compete, given that their expected record was just 26-34. They are young and exciting, especially with their pitching staff, but they remain a flawed roster. Their lineup is remarkably thin, their bullpen is a major work-in-progress, and their rotation is filled with pitchers that aren’t polished and miss less bats than you’d assume.
The Marlins have created pitching depth through the draft and trades, but they don’t have many polished hitters in their farm system. They are currently looking for a new general manager, and I’d hope that it is someone with a less-risky prospect acquisition strategy; they have caught chasing “high-upside” prospects, which has predictably led to poor results- a lot of busting and lack of development. On the bright side, they are heading into the future with no contracts on the books, so if their young players develop, they will be in a good position to win sustainably.
- Add more veteran bats
- Aquire pitching depth
- Look into extending Pablo Lopez
As mentioned, the Marlins don’t have much in the way of offense, so more veteran hitters, specifically a catcher and outfielder, would be very useful. Meanwhile, with a thin bullpen and uncertainty in the rotation, going for quantity in terms of improving the pitching staff also is remarkably logical.
An interesting proposition would be to extend Pablo Lopez. The 24-year-old still has five years left of club control, but he already has established himself as a quality middle-of-the-rotation starter, and it would make sense for Miami to lock him up to a team-friendly extension before it’s too late; this would be similar to what the Mariners did with Marco Gonzales.
When people analyze rosters, they look to create hypothetical lineups, rotations, and bullpens. However, that would do the Brewers a disservice; they are focused putting together the best 26-man roster possible. Thus, they will continue to build a pitching staff without traditional roles, and because of that, they continue to have a lot of success. The key for them will be improving their offense, as there isn’t much notable thump outside of Christian Yelich.
The farm system has some pitching and up-the-middle players, but the Brewers need to continue to add more prospect depth, especially after extending Yelich to a major contract that will hurt their financial flexibility. Luckily, they have a trustworthy front office that has always been very progressive, which gives them a strong foundation.
- Trade Josh Hader
- Improve offense
- Continue to build pitching staff in creative fashion
Given that they are going to need as many cost-controlled contributors as possible and should try to acquire much more prospect depth, the Brewers are going to have to be creative in order to get it. How about trading Josh Hader? We know how volatile relievers are, as well as the limited value they have, so if Milwaukee can get a nice haul for him, shipping him out is a no-brainer decision. After all, as productive as Hader is, they still have a fantastic bullpen, and what is really holding them back is their offense. The entire infield could use reinforcements, and they’re another team that I would like to see target Tommy La Stella.
It wouldn’t hurt for Milwaukee to continue to add pitching, especially if they trade Hader. They don’t need to go for innings-eating options, but why not target pitchers who can succeed in 120-inning roles? Drew Smyly, Garrett Richards, Alex Wood, Robbie Ray, and Trevor Cahill would all be logical fits for them, and they also could look to add more bullpen depth.
New York Mets
The Mets still have a quality offense, but their pitching depth is an absolute disaster. They have stars, but they lack the abundance of productive players that winning organizations must possess, and balancing out their team more should be the focus this offseason.
With Steve Cohen taking over as the organization’s new owner, the future is suddenly looking bright for the Mets. He is likely to overhaul their analytics department and front office, which is what owners focused on sustainably winning have done; the Rays and Dodgers come to mind. Previous general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has gone for a lot of prep prospects in the draft, so the farm system is filled with volatile lower-level players. He also has decimated the organization’s depth through win-now trades, which is far from ideal. The payroll is still suffering from the Robinson Cano contract, but hopefully Cohen will be willing to spend more than the previous regime was.
- Invest in analytics department and overhaul front office (Bobby Heck, Billy Owens)
- Do something to improve future outlook; make outside-the-box trade
- Add pitching depth
First off, Cohen needs to make good on his word when it comes to investing in the analytics department and making significant changes to the front offices. If the rumors are true that he is focusing on hiring one of Bobby Heck (Rays) or Billy Owens (A’s), then I am going to be very excited about the future of this organization. Speaking of, the pieces in place simply do not mesh well together, as they have a lot of redundancy- corner players, players who aren’t being maximized due to limited plate appearances. Thus, making an outside-the-box trade in which they shop one of their blocked players for improvements elsewhere or more young talent would appear to be an easy decision to make. After all, it could help them add organizational pitching depth, and as we discussed, they desperately need that. Cohen is focusing on winning sustainably, based on his early priorities. If he follows a similar blueprint to this, then the Mets could be ready to make some noise in the NL East for a long time.
Quietly, the Phillies do not have a very strong lineup, and have no depth anywhere. Do not get me started on the bullpen, which is not built to complement the talent they have in the rotation whatsoever. Remember what I said about where winning organizations create their foundation of success?
A front office overhaul is coming for the Phillies, though it is unclear what they are looking for. Their farm system has some pitching, but is one of the league’s worst, and they lack payroll flexibility. A new scouting direction and an increased focus in player development is exciting, as is the selection of pitching prospect Mick Abel in this past draft, yet they appear to be a major-work-in-progress overall.
- Hire a qualified executive in order to help win sustainably, rather than create immediate gratification
- Take advantage of non-tenders to add depth
- Don’t re-sign JT Realmuto
It would be easy for owner John Middleton to hire someone who will do whatever it takes to winning immediately. What does that accomplish though? They have already tried to go “all-in”, and are now receiving the consequences of that. There are plenty of accomplished executives that can do wonders for this organization, and it’s up to Middleton to understand that sustainable winning is the only viable option.
With there likely to be a lot of non-tenders, the Phillies are in a great position to fix their depth issues. They’ll be looking to upgrade at catcher and at at least one infield spot, while they need to completely overhaul their bullpen and add more starting pitching. Thus, there is not room to commit a substantial amount of money to catcher JT Realmuto. Yes, cutting ties with him would open up a massive hole at an up-the-middle-position, but signing him would prevent them from being able to add the depth needed to substantially increase their chances of winning. If signing him isn’t helping you win in the short-term or long-term, what is the point of doing so?
Although they finished with the worst record in 2020, I don’t think the Pirates are a terrible team. Their lineup has some quality pieces, while their pitching staff has some intriguing options, especially with Jameson Taillon coming back. They don’t have talent to actually compete in the NL Central, but I’m expecting them to be far more watchable in 2021; they need more information on Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds, and some of their pitchers.
The Pirates don’t have an exceptional farm system, but it is in good shape, especially if they add more pitching depth and up-the-middle talent. A deep draft starting with the #1 overall pick will help with that, especially since general manager Ben Cherington is known for being focused on wanting to maintain a strong farm system and win sustainably. They also have zero contracts on the books after this season, so regardless of their low budget, they have at least some room to spend in terms of keeping their own players.
- Extend or shop Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, and Joe Musgrove
- Add stopgaps in lineup and bullpen
- Assess Jameson Taillon
With them not having any future salary commitments, the Pirates could look to extend Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, and/or Joe Musgrove to extensions, as each have two years left of club control. At the same time, all have trade value, so if any of them are unwilling to discuss an extension or can be traded for a nice return, trading them would make as much sense as locking them up. Meanwhile, they will need to add some stopgaps in the lineup and bullpen, which the latter spot providing them with a chance to add players who could be useful trade chips.
Lastly, the Pirates will need to understand what to expect from Jameson Taillon. He hasn’t pitched much after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2019 season, and coming up with a plan of attack to get him back in shape without risking further injury and putting him in the best position to succeed would be critical. Heck, they could even think about signing him to an extension when his stock is at its lowest point!
San Diego Padres
The Padres were a very exciting team in 2020, but 2021 could be looking even better for them. Their lineup not only has a lot of impact talent, but also lacks a clear hole, while their pitching staff is loaded as well.
Personally, I believe that the Padres’ farm system is overvalued due to the presumed “high-ceilings” of their players. They do not have much in the way of polished players, and if their volatile prospects do not pan out, they could have an issue winning sustainably. At the same time, they have a great deal of pitching depth and established young talent, so perhaps that concern is overblown. Still, general manager AJ Preller’s risky tendencies could catch up to him at some point, and it isn’t like San Diego has a lot of payroll flexibility.
- Try to extend Fernando Tatis Jr.
- Plan roles for Mackenzie Gore and Luis Patino; add starting pitching depth if needed
- Add lefty on-base-oriented bat
Can the Padres sign Fernando Tatis Jr. to a contract extension. There is no reason to believe, given his track record of excellence, that the star shortstop isn’t going to continue to be one of the premier superstars of the sport, and since they are small-market team, they need to do whatever it takes to keep him from getting closer to free agency. Sticking with their young players, pitchers Mackenzie Gore and Luis Patino appear to be ready to make an impact. Does San Diego anticipate them being in their rotation, and will they be on an innings limit? The answers to those questions will dictate whether they will need to add pitching depth.
If there is one hole in the Padres’ lineups, it is that they could use a lefty bat to platoon with Will Myers. Whether that is an outfielder or an infielder (Jake Cronenworth can shift to the outfield if needed), they should take a look at the likes of Tommy La Stella, Jurickson Profar, Joc Pederson, Matt Joyce, or Jackie Bradley Jr. This would provide them with more balance and flexibility to leverage any advantage they can.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants were one of the main surprises of the 2020 season. Expected to finish with a top pick, they came within one game of an expanded-playoff spot, and finished with a .500 expected winning percentage. With the way their lineup looks heading into 2021, they could be an under-the-radar team, although their pitching staff has to be dramatically overhauled.
Thanks to the wizardry of President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi, the Giants have a very bright future. Their farm system has gone from one of the league’s worst to a middle-of-the-pack system, as he has played the draft perfectly by adding a lot of college players; if he can add more pitching depth, they are in good shape. Also, with a very high payroll and no contracts on the books after 2022 (only Evan Longoria after 2021), they are going to have tremendous spending power. This is certainly an organization on the rise.
- Add as much pitching depth as possible
- Get creative when adding young talent (Waiver wire, buying prospects, Hae-Song Kim)
- Assess future of Jaylin Davis
The Giants don’t have anyone currently in their rotation they can rely on, and their bullpen doesn’t miss enough bats. Essentially, they could be looking at adding 10+ pitchers between the rotation and bullpen, which is not an understatement. They just extended the qualifying offer to Kevin Gausman, which is smart given their financial flexibility, and I’d expect them to also try to retain Drew Smyly; Corey Kluber, Jake Odorizzi, Robbie Ray, Alex Wood, Mike Minor, Brandon Workman, Nate Jones, and Collin McHugh are all interesting buy-low candidates for them. Meanwhile, they are still looking towards the future, so they should use their flexibility to add young players. Zaidi has done a fabulous job using the waiver wire to bring in talented players, and he has also shown the willingness to take on bad contracts to “buy prospects”. They also have to be one of the top fits for Hae-Song Kim; they don’t have much in the way of young up-the-middle players and would benefit tremendously from a young player with excellent on-base skills.
When the Giants traded reliever Sam Dyson to the Twins, they got back a very talented hitter in Jaylin Davis, who has a very intriguing power-plate discipline combination. He hasn’t made enough contact to hit for a high enough batting average to get on base consistently, but he should be a key asset for the future. Their outfield situation is complicated, however, so they will need to find a way to get him plate appearances; they don’t want to hamper his development.
The Cardinals have built their team through defense, and I still feel as though it is only a matter of time before it catches up to them. On paper, their lineup appears to be too thin, and their pitching is good-not-great. For what it is worth, their bench also isn’t in good shape, nor do they have enough versatility if Tommy Edman assumes an everyday role.
The Cardinals have built some nice pitching depth in recent drafts, but their farm system lacks athletic, up-the-middle players. Their player development skills have always been tremendous, yet the front office has struggled with not identifying outside talent, but evaluating their own talent. The good news is that their payroll resets tremendously after 2021, putting them in a good position to spend.
- Improve offense
- Add bat-missing pitchers
- Figure out the outfield (again)
The Cardinals have to dramatically improve their offense. I generally am not a fan of long-term deals, but I think they make sense for JT Realmuto, as well as George Springer to an extent. The better approach, though, may be to spread out the wealth. If that is the case, Michael Brantley, Tommy La Stella, and Jason Castro are among the several logical fits for them. Also, they could benefit greatly from a few more pitchers who have strikeout ability, particuarly in the rotation given their lack of depth.
A constant theme for the Cardinals has been their inability to solve their outfield situation. It has caused them to part with Randy Arozarena and other quality players, and it may cause them to do the same with Tyler O’Neill, who hasn’t received the opportunity needed to ever develop; his strikeouts are a problem but he also hits the ball very hard and even plays good defense. Speaking of defense, it is time for them to stop overvaluing it, which is why they should shop Harrison Bader. Having his defensive prowess is fine, but not when it comes at the cost of adding offense to a lineup that doesn’t have enough of it.
This was a letdown year for the Nationals, but they were the World Series champions in 2019 for a reason, and have built a sustainable winner. They will once again be relying on their pitching, though. Their offense doesn’t look good on paper, outside of Juan Soto and Trea Turner, and even though they have star pitching, they lack depth, particularly in the bullpen.
The Nationals have a lot of pitching in their farm system, but have nothing in the way of position players. With this being the final year of Max Scherzer’s contract, they quietly have some long-term financial flexibility.
- Add a lot of offense
- Improve pitching depth
- Ponder extensions for Trea Turner and Juan Soto
As mentioned, the Nationals need offense, and plenty of it. Soto, Turner, and Carter Kieboom should be counted on, but outside of that, they could use upgrades everywhere. The same goes for their pitching depth, as they lack quality starting pitchers outside of the “big three” of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, while their bullpen, as per usual, could use some more depth given the volatility of relievers.
Without any financial commitments outside of Strasburg and Corbin, I believe the Nationals should try to lock up Turner and Soto. Both provide a lot of offense and should only get more expensive by the day, and Washington doesn’t have the position player depth in their farm system to even consider losing one of them one day. Turner is closer to free agency, but Soto has a chance to be the best player in baseball, and is also going to be a 26-year-old free agent- his future price tag is something Washington is going to want to avoid paying in a bidding war.
Similarly to the American League, it is imperative that teams need pitching, more pitching, and also must take advantage of non-tenders to add depth. There are several front-office changes taking place that make some of these teams (Mets, Phillies, Marlins) very intriguing, while all have their work cut out trying to challenge the Dodgers. This offseason is going to be strange, but I am excited to see it all play out!