By: Chris Larson
The offseason is still far away from concluding, thanks to the Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sagas as well as the fact that there are still a number of notable free agents left unsigned, even though Spring Training starts in about a month. That means that if you live for the baseball offseason and love trades and free agent signings, then you are in luck as there should be a flurry of activity yet to come.
Amid all of the action yet to come, there are obvious teams that will be in the market for that final piece or two to compliment their roster, while there are other teams that could shock the entire baseball world and make a move that truly catches everyone off guard. Surprises are what make sports fun, especially in baseball, so here are three teams that could surprise all of us over the remaining few weeks of the offseason. Don't say we didn't warn you if one of these teams makes a major splash before the start of the regular season!
1. Milwaukee Brewers - After ultimately winning the National League Central last season, the Milwaukee Brewers know that they need to make upgrades to their roster and continue looking at every potential way to improve. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Brewers payroll is currently slated to be at a franchise record, $115 million dollars in 2019, but there's no reason why the Brewers can't afford to make another significant addition or two to put them over the top. After all, the team once again surpassed 3 million fans in attendance last season, leading to a continuous stream of revenue, and you also have to remember that the Brewers made it all the way to Game 7 of the NLCS last year, before ultimately falling to the Dodgers, meaning that there's yet another huge revenue increase that the organization received. Beyond all of that, remember that Milwaukee has a history of making major moves this month, just look at last offseason, when the Brewers traded for outfielder, Christian Yelich, on January 25th and inked free agent, Lorenzo Cain, to his five-year, $80 million dollar contract on January 26th. That could signal that David Stearns & Company still have a move or two up their sleeve to wow Brewers fans and the rest of baseball.
So far this offseason, the Brewers have been predominantly linked to San Francisco Giants starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, and could look to continue to make an aggressive pursuit of Bumgarner, even though San Francisco is demanding one of the Brewers young pitchers in - Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, or Freddy Peralta - to be the table setter in any return package. Beyond Bumgarner, the Brewers have been rumored to be ramping up their pursuit of a free agent still on the market that could play second and third base, this past week. Many speculate that free agent could ultimately be former Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman, Josh Harrison, who could easily fill the hole that the Brewers currently have at second base. If the Brewers feel as though Harrison might be too expensive for their taste, they could always try to complete a package deal with the San Francisco Giants, for both the aforementioned Madison Bumgarner and Joe Panik, as Panik has been rumored to be available. In addition to those names, Milwaukee could look to bolster their starting rotation with a reunion with Wade Miley or potentially, Gio Gonzalez, who posted a 2.13 ERA over 5 starts, with Milwaukee at the end of last year. Regardless, there is still a significant move or two coming down the pipeline for the Brewers and they will certainly be a team to keep an eye on, here in the coming weeks.
2. Minnesota Twins - No team in baseball has as much payroll flexibility moving forward as the Minnesota Twins do. As it stands right now, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Twins payroll is projected to be $94.6 million dollars, excluding arbitration-eligible players, which could put it between $125 and $135 million dollars, once those contracts are added in. However, after this season, the Twins have zero committed dollars on the book moving forward which puts them in a prime position. So far, Minnesota has already made some sneaky good moves this winter in acquiring second baseman, Jonathan Schoop, after he was released from the Milwaukee Brewers, picking up C.J. Cron to solidify their need at first base, and signing free agent slugger, Nelson Cruz, to further lengthen their lineup. All of those moves are great and all, but there is still a glaring need and that comes in the pitching staff - both the starting rotation and the bullpen. If the Twins want to make noise within a fairly non-competitive American League Central, they will need to bolster their starting rotation with another legitimate arm and look for a valuable back end of the bullpen guy. Fear not though because there are still plenty of options that could fit both of those needs for Minnesota.
Starting with the starting rotation, look no further than free agent left-hander, Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel would be the perfect compliment to, Jose Berrios, at the top of the Twins rotation and could slot ahead of righty, Jake Odorizzi. After signing Keuchel, the Twins should continue revamping their roster and turn their attention to the bullpen, where there is a prominent free agent reliever still available in Craig Kimbrel. Given the timing of the offseason, the price on Kimbrel has likely gone down a bit which could give Minnesota an advantage in terms of negotiating a deal that fits their liking. Furthermore, by signing Kimbrel, the Twins will have solidified their closer role for the next handful of years, as they reopen their window of competitiveness and stay relevant amid the American League Central and more importantly, the American League, in general. In addition, Minnesota could have a legitimate shot because the Boston Red Sox, might be out of the running given their lack of spending room thanks to luxury tax concerns, and the only other real potential fit for Kimbrel are the Philadelphia Phillies. However, the Phillies have said they are done improving their bullpen which could mean that they won't be in on Kimbrel after all.
3. San Diego Padres - The San Diego Padres are going to be a team to watch this coming season and one that should continue to make vast improvements off of how they performed the last two seasons. To this point, the Padres have been very quiet, but that could be because AJ Preller & Company continue to survey the market looking at every potential option, before deciding on a course of action. With that being said, San Diego is still the sleeper team to monitor in the Manny Machado sweepstakes and that could ultimately be their one big move of this offseason, similar to the Eric Hosmer signing, of last offseason. Some might immediately say, "Well, don't the Padres already have Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop?" The answer to that question is yes, but some within the Padres organization ultimately view Tatis Jr. as being the team's third baseman of the future, which would open up the shortstop position for Manny Machado and give San Diego a legitimate left infield combo for several years to come. However, even if the Padres fail to land Manny Machado, that doesn't necessarily mean that they have to sit on the sidelines and do nothing because there are still some players available who could fit the long-term plans of the organization.
Chief among the players remaining on the free agent market, outside of Manny Machado, would be free agent third baseman, Mike Moustakas. Moustakas could solidify third base for the Padres with the aforementioned, Fernando Tatis Jr., occupying shortstop and would reunite with an old pal that he played with and ultimately won a World Series Championship with in Kansas City, Eric Hosmer. If San Diego lands Moustakas to go with Hosmer, then we can officially call them the West Coast Royals and the only other transaction left to make would be to have, George Brett, come out of retirement (I kid, I kid.....). In all seriousness though, if Moustakas ends up heading back to the Milwaukee Brewers like many expect, then the Padres next course of action should be to upgrade their pitching staff. It's doubtful that the Padres would be a potential landing spot for Dallas Keuchel, but they could certainly make a necessary addition or two to their bullpen, which was already a strength last season, finishing 6th in all of baseball with a 3.53 ERA over 635.0 IP. With the right addition or two in the bullpen, the Padres could once again have one of the best bullpens in baseball in 2019, which would only further their chance of being a surprise contender.