1. Important import
For all of the big-name players hitting the free-agent market this month, none are as intriguing as Shohei Ohtani, the 23-year-old pitcher — and hitter — from Japan.
Ohtani, a pitcher and outfielder for the Nippon Ham Fighters, will be the most sought-after player on this year’s market. He’s 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA in five seasons in the Pacific League, striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings. He also has 48 home runs and an .859 OPS in 403 games as a hitter, though it remains to see whether a Major League team will let Ohtani be a two-way player.
Unlike high-profile free agents such as Yu Darvish and J.D. Martinez, Ohtani falls under MLB’s international amateur rules because he is younger than 25. Had he waited two more years to make the move from Japan, he would be an unrestricted free agent.
Instead, teams will be required to pay a posting fee of up to $20 million to Nippon Ham, then pay Ohtani a signing bonus in the $3 million to $4 million range, essentially what a starting pitcher would earn in his first year of arbitration. In other words, all 30 clubs should have a shot at Ohtani rather than it being a bidding war among big-market teams.
Eight teams have the ability to pay Ohtani a signing bonus of more than $1 million: the Rangers ($3.535M), Yankees ($3.5M), Pirates ($2.27M), Twins ($1.895M), D-Backs ($1.87M), Marlins ($1.74M), Tigers ($1.072M) and Mariners ($1.056M).
Conversely, 12 teams are prohibited from giving a signing bonus of more than $300,000 as a penalty for exceeding their bonus pools under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement: the A’s, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, Royals and White Sox.
2. So long Stanton?
There’s a lot of buzz that Giancarlo Stanton could be traded by the Marlins this offseason, but where could the MLB home run leader wind up?
The Red Sox are still looking to replace the power they lost when David Ortiz retired, but they have no openings in the outfield. The Phillies, Cardinals and Giants all inquired about Stanton before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, though Stanton controls his ultimate fate thanks to the full no-trade clause the Marlins gave him when he signed his 13-year, $325 million contract.
San Francisco is considered to be the favorite, seeking to add a big bat to an offense that ranked 29th out of 30 teams in runs scored in 2017. The questions are what the Marlins will ask in return for the All-Star slugger and whether Stanton himself will approve a trade.
3. Unqualified offers
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement included changes in the qualifying-offer system that should help free agents.
Teams may still make a qualifying offer — it will be $17.4 million for 2018 — to their free agents, provided the player was with the team for the entire 2017 season and has not previously received one. But only revenue-sharing recipients will be eligible for a pick after the first round, and those teams will receive such a pick only if the player signs a deal worth at least $50 million elsewhere. If the player signs for less than $50 million, the pick falls to Competitive Balance Round B, which is after the second round.
As a quick rule of thumb, the Draft-pick compensation breaks down like this:
• General rule: Compensation after Comp Round B (in pick 75-80 range)
• Exception 1: Team paid luxury tax = compensation after fourth round (mid-100s)
• Exception 2: Team received revenue sharing AND free agent signed for more than $50M = compensation after the first round
And the teams that sign a player who received a qualifying offer will still pay a penalty, but the team’s highest pick is exempt from forfeiture, which means the penalty for signing a player who received a QO is less steep. Under the previous CBA only the top-10 overall picks were exempt.
So what does this all mean? Most likely, there won’t be players stuck looking for work because of the Draft-pick compensation attached to them as a result of rejecting a qualifying offer. (Think Mark Trumbo last year, or Kendrys Morales waiting until June 2014 to sign.)
For a complete explanation of the new QO rules, read this explainer.
4. Royals rebuild?
Kansas City is faced with the toughest offseason of any team in baseball, as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jason Vargas — all key contributors to the Royals’ 2015 World Series-championship team — are free agents.
Hosmer figures to command the biggest contract of the bunch, with Moustakas not very far behind. The Royals will likely make each a qualifying offer, assuring them of compensatory Draft picks if they sign elsewhere.
Does Kansas City try to bring back part of the group and fill in the blanks where necessary? Or will this be the start of a rebuilding process for the Royals, who could deal Kelvin Herrera, Jason Hammel and/or Joakim Soria, all of whom will potentially be free agents after the 2018 season?
5. Speaking of Hoz …
Hosmer stands to be one of the highest-paid players in this year’s class after posting the finest overall season of his seven-year career. The 28-year-old first baseman posted a career-high .882 OPS to go along with 25 home runs while playing all 162 games.
Many teams will be in the mix for him, most notably the Red Sox, who will be in the market for a first baseman and aren’t afraid to chase big-name free agents.
6. Free-agent frenzy
So much focus has already been placed on the 2018-19 free-agent class, which will include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and about a dozen other All-Star-caliber players. But this winter’s class features some pretty big names, too, all of whom should be highly sought after in the weeks and months ahead.
Leading the way is Darvish, who helped lead the Dodgers to their first World Series since 1988, though two awful Fall Classic starts left a poor final impression. He will top a pitching class that includes Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Jeremy Hellickson, along with closers Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
On the position player side, Martinez’s stellar season in Detroit and Arizona should make him a desirable target for any club in search of offense. Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain will garner plenty of interest, while other hitters such as Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce and Yonder Alonso will provide an opportunity for teams to bolster their respective lineups.
7. Trade winds
Offseason trades are always a crucial part of the offseason, especially for players entering the final year or two before free agency. Given the star-studded 2018-19 class, that means plenty of names will be floated on the trade market in the coming two or three months.
Topping that list are a pair of AL East third basemen: Machado and Donaldson.
Both have one year remaining until free agency, and while it’s no lock that they will leave their respective teams a year from now, it’s likely that neither the Orioles nor the Blue Jays will be able to retain their superstars when they hit the market. Baltimore and Toronto could also decide to hang on to the players and if the season isn’t going well, shop them before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
8. Closing time
One year removed from their curse-busting championship, the Cubs remain one of baseball’s most talented teams. They have been to the past three National League Championship Series and will again be a World Series favorite heading into 2018.
But the roster has two notable vacancies, with both Arrieta and closer Davis headed for free agency. The search for a closer will be of particular interest because despite Chicago’s recent success, the club has cycled a number of players through the role, including Hector Rondon (2015) and Aroldis Chapman (’16).
Last year, the Cubs traded for Davis, who had one year remaining on his contract. Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, and general manager Jed Hoyer have typically shied away from shelling out long-term deals for closers, so look for a similar approach this offseason.
David Robertson, Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, Herrera and AJ Ramos can all be free agents after next season, making them interesting trade candidates. The Cubs could also go with Justin Wilson, who thrived in the role with Detroit but pitched poorly for the Cubs following his July trade.
9. One and done?
Speaking of the free-agent frenzy we’re all expecting next year, the biggest name on that market figures to be Harper, who is entering his final year in Washington before becoming a free agent.
The Nationals’ core — Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner — will all be back in 2018, taking what could be their final shot at a World Series with Harper in right field.
Will Washington GM Mike Rizzo look to supplement the roster for one last run at a championship before potentially losing Harper? Stay tuned.
10. The Yankee skipper
The role of Yankees manager was once considered among the least-secure jobs in professional sports, but the next skipper of the Yankees will be just the third man to hold that position since 1996. Joe Torre’s tenure lasted 12 years, while Joe Girardi followed with a 10-year stint in the Bronx. The Yankees decided a change was necessary despite the team’s run to Game 7 of the AL Championship Series, so where will general manager Brian Cashman turn for his second managerial hire in two decades?
Internal candidates such as Rob Thomson and Tony Pena appear to be long shots. Triple-A manager Al Pedrique has been mentioned, but he isn’t considered a favorite by any means. Two former Yankees players have also emerged as candidates: Raul Ibanez, who played in the Bronx in 2012, and Jerry Hairston Jr., who was part of the Yankees’ 2009 World Series-championship team. Expect the new skipper to have a prior working relationship with Cashman, a strong familiarity with analytics and an ability to relate to players, particularly the young ones.
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.