Free agency officially started Monday but the managers, not the players, stole the show, headlined by the Cubs’ stunning swoop to land Craig Counsell. Frankly, I’m still in shock after yesterday’s series of managerial moves, which also included hires by the Mets (Carlos Mendoza) and Guardians (Stephen Vogt).
Another unpredictable MLB offseason is here and although the trades and signings haven’t started in earnest, we have seen some noteworthy transactions, including several teams exercising club options on potential free agents such as Alex Cobb (Giants), José Leclerc (Rangers) and Kyle Hendricks (Cubs). We’ve seen teams cut ties with the faces of their franchise, as the White Sox declined their option on Tim Anderson and the Reds did the same with Joey Votto. We’ve seen players such as Eduardo Rodriguez and Marcus Stroman opt out of contracts (with the Tigers and Cubs, respectively) and players like Josh Bell opt into contracts (with the Marlins). We’ve even seen a trade, as the Tigers acquired Mark Canha from the Brewers for a minor-league reliever. The Marlins have hired Peter Bendix to be their president of baseball operations and the Red Sox chose Craig Breslow to be their chief baseball officer. Got all that?
The big moves, the ones that will keep us on the edge of our seats for weeks, are still to come. So let’s try to guess how this could all play out. Here are 24 predictions for the 2023-24 offseason, what should be another fun and wild winter. Please share your own predictions in the comments section.
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1. None of the seven players who received the one-year, $20.325 million qualifying offer (Shohei Ohtani, Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Josh Hader, Blake Snell, Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray) will accept it, as they all will pursue longer-term deals in free agency.
2. Ohtani will surprise many by signing with the world champion Texas Rangers. The contract includes incentives, escalator clauses and award bonuses that will make him the highest-paid player in the history of the sport. The Dodgers and Mariners finish as the runner-ups in the Shohei sweepstakes.
3. Aaron Nola signs a five-year, $125 million deal with the Dodgers about 24 hours after they learn that they’ve lost out on Ohtani.
4. The Phillies, after falling short in their attempts to bring back Nola, quickly pivot and land lefty Jordan Montgomery on a five-year, $127 million contract.
6. … New York turns around and inks Yoshinobu Yamamoto to a seven-year, $211 million deal that ultimately pushes the Yankees’ payroll to the highest it’s ever been under owner Hal Steinbrenner.
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7. The Giants sign outfielder Jung Hoo Lee to the largest contract of any position player in this year’s free-agent class outside of Ohtani, Bellinger and Chapman.
8. The Cubs bring back Bellinger on a six-year, $144 million deal to play first base.
9. The Astros hire Joe Espada to be their next manager, promoting him after six seasons as their bench coach.
10. Managers Lou Piniella and Jim Leyland are elected to the Hall of Fame by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee in the vote during the Winter Meetings.
11. The Orioles shock the baseball world and sign both Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson to long-term deals that break franchise records. In response, O’s fans break the single-season record for season ticket sales during the Angelos family’s ownership tenure.
13. The Twins, coming off an AL Central-winning campaign, stand pat and make no truly significant moves during the offseason.
14. The Angels turn to one of their own, hiring Darin Erstad as their new manager to succeed Phil Nevin.
15. The Washington Nationals are finally sold and the new ownership group includes future Hall of Fame executive Theo Epstein, who will serve as CEO and president of the club.
17. Joe Maddon and Buck Showalter aren’t hired as managers this offseason. Both of them, along with Dusty Baker, never manage again in the majors. Baker ultimately serves as a consultant with a team while waiting for the call from Cooperstown.
18. Yadier Molina joins the Cardinals coaching staff and becomes the most prominent “manager in waiting” in the sport.
19. The Oakland A’s much-debated move to Las Vegas is approved by MLB. The A’s will play the 2024 season in the Coliseum and the next three years in Vegas in their Triple-A ballpark, which is upgraded to serve as their home until a new major-league stadium is built.
20. MLB begins more concrete discussions about expansion but specifies that it won’t happen for at least five to seven years. Nashville, Charlotte and Montreal become the early favorites to land new franchises. The league plans to have four divisions of four teams in each league.
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21. MLB approves the Automated Ball-Strike System with a challenge format for the 2024 season.
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22. Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuña Jr. are named the MVPs of their respective leagues.
23. Gerrit Cole and Blake Snell are named Cy Young Award winners.
24. Gunnar Henderson and Corbin Carroll take home Rookie of the Year honors.
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(Top photo of Shohei Ohtani: John McCoy / Getty Images)