What Are Questions Facing Cubs, Cardinals?

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Published on November 10 2017 6:15 am
Last Updated on November 10 2017 6:16 am

By ESPN

With free agency about to get underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams?

Chicago Cubs: Who will the Cubs turn to for much-needed pitching help?

2017 record: 92-70

2018 World Series odds: 10-1

Back-to-back division titles have the Cubs in a good position. But the front office has known for a couple of years that this offseason would be all about finding more arms. They need quality and quantity: Two holes have opened in the starting staff, and a bunch of question marks surround the bullpen, which imploded in October.

The team went a long way toward filling out its rotation in trading for Jose Quintana, but that still leaves openings where free-agent starters John Lackey and Jake Arrieta used to pitch. It's why re-signing Arrieta makes a lot of sense -- at least until the Cubs see the price tag. They won't give out a max-type deal, and Arrieta hasn't shown any indication he'd take a hometown discount, so the organization will have to look elsewhere. Alex Cobb would be a nice fit as a free-agent addition, having played for manager Joe Maddon (and pitching coach Jim Hickey) in Tampa Bay. Trading a major league position player for a pitcher is a possibility as well, considering the Cubs have gutted their farm system in previous deals. -- Jesse Rogers

Milwaukee Brewers: How do the Brewers take things to the next level?

2017 record: 86-76

2018 World Series odds: 30-1

Milwaukee knocked on the postseason door for most of the season only to fall short in September. But it was a huge step forward for a rebuilding organization. In fact, the next step might be adding some veterans who have been there, done that.

Milwaukee has a strong farm system it can trade from -- something it refused to do midseason. It might be time to at least consider flipping some prospects for pitching. Or the Brewers can simply spend money. Arrieta would be a nice addition while subtracting from the Cubs. But that would come at a high cost.

Same with Yu Darvish.

Both Arrieta and Darvish would bring pennant-race experience. Beyond high-end free agents, look for the Brewers to add experience to their depth as well. A front-line player who has been to the postseason is great, but a role player who knows how to get it done can have a big impact as well. Milwaukee isn't far off; it just has to round out the roster. -- Rogers

St. Louis Cardinals: Will they acquire a difference-maker at the plate?

2017 record: 83-79

2018 World Series odds: 20-1

The Cardinals have tumbled from 100 wins to 86 and now 83, missing the postseason in back-to-back years for just the second time since 2000. It's easy to identify what's missing: that one big guy with a bat, at a time when so many teams -- including the Cubs -- have one or more.

Just review whom they're counting on: Matt Carpenter lost 50 points of OPS from his career-best 2016 season, and he'll be 32 next year. Stephen Piscotty lost almost 100 OPS points, including 90 points of slugging, and he's supposed to be in the middle of his prime after signing a team-friendly deal through 2022. Randal Grichuk has struggled to make consistent contact since his 2015 breakout. Yadier Molina's offensive peak (2011-13) is now four years into his career's rearview mirror. Unless you're GM John Mozeliak and you put all of your eggs in the "Tommy Pham can totally do that again" basket after the longtime farmhand produced an unexpected .931 OPS and 6.4 WAR, or unless you're willing to wait on Tyler O'Neill or Harrison Bader, the Cardinals need a hitter to help get them back into the postseason picture.

Waiting for the kids to resolve their present difficulties or grow into outfield regulars would be the classic Cardinal Way move, but why not try to bundle a bunch of them in a trade for -- dare we say it -- Giancarlo Stanton? They won't be players in the Bryce Harper/Manny Machado sweepstakes next winter, so why not try to get their top-shelf slugger right now? -- Christina Kahrl

Pittsburgh Pirates: Will they regroup or rebuild?

2017 record: 75-87

2018 World Series odds: 80-1

You can respect GM Neal Huntington's dilemma -- after he brought the organization out of its 20-year, generational losing streak, the Pirates are on the backslope of their rebuild. Fans might be wondering about their second act now that they've missed the postseason in back-to-back years.

As far as their commitments -- and potential bargaining chips, if they decide to tear down and start over -- they have Andrew McCutchen for only one more year but Starling Marte for two (plus an option) and Gregory Polanco for four more. There's reason for regret in all three cases, but now they have to ask whether their once-famed outfield has one last big season together left in the trio. And what about Gerrit Cole -- with just two years of club control left, do they bet on his regaining ace status or risk selling low after last season's 4.26 ERA?

That's essentially the problem with all of the Pirates' movable parts -- their value is down, and they won't be converted into difference-making prospects. So should they gun for one last hurrah, hope to find another Ivan Nova-like pitcher to resurrect, and make a run at a wild card? -- Kahrl

Cincinnati Reds: The Reds can hit, but can they pitch?

2017 record: 68-94

2018 World Series odds: 80-1

Ask any NL Central Division foe and they'll tell you that the Cincinnati Reds were a dangerous team in 2017, especially if they had a well-pitched game from their starter. Unfortunately, that didn't happen often, so a good lineup was left to fend for itself. The Reds have some good youth on the mound, but they need to add more pitching via trade or free agency.

Although power is at an all-time high throughout the league, moving one of their six players who hit 24 or more home runs might net the Reds a good pitcher in return. After all, 2017 was a career year for several players, including Scooter Gennett, who hit 27 home runs. His previous career high was 14.

After wasting an MVP-type year out of Joey Votto, it would be almost criminal if the Reds didn't improve on the mound and give themselves at least a little better chance to compete for the postseason. -- Rogers


AL Teams

With free agency about to get underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams?

Cleveland Indians: How do they round out their lineup?

2017 record: 102-60

2018 World Series odds: 6-1

Fresh off a 102-win season (highlighted by a 22-game win streak), the Indians are well-positioned to make another run in 2018. The starting rotation returns intact, and any bullpen with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen at the back end is sure to be formidable. Even the departure of resident pitching guru Mickey Callaway, who left to manage the Mets, shouldn't put much of a crimp in the pitching numbers.

The biggest questions revolve around the offense. The Tribe ranked third in the American League with 818 runs and second to Houston with a .788 team OPS. Francisco Lindor led all big league shortstops with 33 homers, Jose Ramirez is an MVP finalist, and Edwin Encarnacion lived up to his $60 million free-agent deal with 38 homers, 107 RBIs, a 4.8 WAR and an .881 OPS. But they're going to need some help for the lineup to keep percolating in 2018.

Franchise mainstays Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley were dogged by injuries, and their ability to bounce back will play a big part in Cleveland's success next season. Beyond that, president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff are faced with the potential departures of Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce and Austin Jackson through free agency. The Indians extended a qualifying offer to Santana, but it's hard to envision him returning for one year and $17.4 million when he's likely to fetch three or four years on the open market.

If Santana and/or Bruce leave, the Indians will have to fill the lineup voids internally or with second-tier free agents. They have to hope Bradley Zimmer will rebound from a dismal second half (.196/.275/.318) and be a more consistent producer in his second full season. There are a lot of reasonably-priced outfield/first base options to choose from (Lucas Duda, Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso, Mike Napoli, Carlos Gomez and Cameron Maybin, to name a few) if Antonetti and Chernoff want to add a free agent or two without busting the payroll. -- Jerry Crasnick

Minnesota Twins: Should the Twins try to trade Brian Dozier this winter?

2017 record: 85-77

2018 World Series odds: 80-1

Last winter's failure to trade Brian Dozier after his 42-homer season when he still had two years left before free agency might have been a missed opportunity for the Twins' new management team to get maximum value, but it paid off on the field, when Dozier smacked another 34 home runs and produced a 4.4 WAR season. Dozier's value might be less now, but he's still valuable.

Dozier is just one year shy of potentially leaving for big money, and he's making $9 million in the meantime -- not so much for a second baseman who has proven that he can hit 30-40 homers per season. He is certainly the kind of player who'd be a difference-maker for a team in contention right now and looking for better help than this winter's free-agent pool will provide.

Is it worth dangling Dozier in deals again? Or will the Twins want to keep him in place for their own bid to win another postseason appearance after last year's wild card? The Twins could certainly use him to answer some of their other immediate needs, such as adding high-end pitching prospects for their rotation or bullpen. -- Christina Kahrl

Kansas City Royals: Should they try to re-sign any of their big free agents?

2017 record: 80-82

2018 World Series odds: 80-1

No, making sure that shortstop Alcides Escobar gets paid is not what we're talking about, any more than we should expect any one of Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas to accept the Royals' qualifying offers. The Royals had the worst of all possible outcomes in their 2017 season: neither reaching the playoffs in a last hurrah for the 2014-2015 pennant winners nor falling out of the wild-card race quickly enough to choose to flip any or all of them before they reached free agency.

Now the question is whether the Royals can convince any of those players to stay. Their likely payroll for 2018 is already going to be around $120 million, but what that money is paying for doesn't add up to a team ready to return to the postseason picture, projecting to a last-place finish as is.

Cain might be too expensive to bring back, given the shortage of up-the-middle talent available on the market, but at his age (32 shortly after Opening Day next year), he might be a bit risky. Moustakas and Hosmer are both still under 30 years old and might have several good seasons left in them, but does either of them want to spend those seasons in Kansas City? The Royals might find cheaper alternatives, but they'll be hard-pressed to afford better. -- Kahrl

Chicago White Sox: Have they checked under the cushions for any more veterans to trade?

2017 record: 67-95

2018 World Series odds: 80-1

Let's face it: The White Sox are about to enter the dog days of their rebuilding plan. Remember those exciting Houston Astros who just won a World Series with dynamic, young talent all over the field? That's what the White Sox are trying to do. But the Astros endured three straight 100-loss seasons and another of 90-plus losses before they turned the corner. This was Year 1 in the White Sox's rebuild.

Is there anyone else to trade? Chicago probably has landed its last super-package of prospects from its collection of veterans. Jose Abreu is 30 years old, Chicago's best player and a dynamic offensive producer. But teams just don't deal big packages of elite prospects for first base/DH types. Plus, Abreu seems content to stick around and mentor the coming waves of young White Sox talent such as Yoan Moncada. Abreu is young enough to still be a useful DH by the time Chicago begins to move up the ladder.

The only other obvious trade candidate is outfielder Avisail Garcia, who made the AL All-Star team last season. He's only 26, but last season was well beyond his previous track record, and this might be a good time to sell high. Or not. The White Sox are under no pressure to do much of anything at the moment. -- Bradford Doolittle

Detroit Tigers: How low can they go?

2017 record: 64-98

2018 World Series odds: 300-1

After the July trade deadline, the torn-down Tigers went 17-41 -- and that was with Justin Verlander's last six starts for Detroit before he was dealt to the Astros. "Winning" games at that clip next season would put the Tigers on pace to lose more than 110 games and conjure up memories of the 119-loss Tigers of 2003. The question is: Now that they've committed to a full rebuild, will they stay that bad?

You'll still find famous names such as Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jordan Zimmermann on the roster, but it's unlikely that the Tigers could find many takers for Zimmermann, let alone anyone willing to absorb Miggy's $30 million-plus annual salary through 2023. They could find takers for second baseman Ian Kinsler (under contract for one more year if they'd eat some of his $11 million paycheck) or third baseman Nick Castellanos (arbitration-eligible through 2019). If they really wanted to run up the white flag for years to come, they might get the biggest package of prospects if they were ready to entertain offers for right-hander Michael Fulmer.

If GM Al Avila is completely free to move everything and everybody he can, the last two months of the 2017 season could be a window into the future. You need to remember only the Astros' World Series win last week to see that the payoff for being realistic might actually arrive before the Tigers have cut their last check to Cabrera. -- Kahrl