A Boston blockbuster? An All-Star slugger traded? Bold predictions for the rest of the MLB offseason
With pitchers and catchers reporting next month, we’ve hit the final stretch of the 2023-24 MLB offseason — and there are still plenty of moves left to be made.
Where will the top remaining free agents land? Will we see any more blockbuster trades? Will the Boston Red Sox do something big before Opening Day?
We asked our MLB experts to go out on a limb and make a bold prediction for how this winter will wrap up.
Alden Gonzalez: Cody Bellinger, Blake Snell and Josh Hader won’t sign in January
They’re the top position player, top starting pitcher and, by a wide margin, top relief pitcher remaining in free agency, all worthy of nine-figure contracts — but all with real obstacles standing in the way. Bellinger is a 28-year-old former MVP who possesses elite power, speed and defense. But he slashed just .193/.256/.355 from 2021 to 2022, and some of the underlying numbers behind his resurgent 2023 season — exit velocity, barrel percentage and hard-hit rate specifically — have alarmed executives. Snell won his second Cy Young Award last year, but he did so while pitching beyond the sixth inning only three times. Hader is arguably the game’s best closer, but his dominance is occurring at a time when teams are less willing to spend exorbitant sums on one reliever. (The record-setting $102 million contract Edwin Diaz secured with the New York Mets last offseason is seen by many as a potential outlier, given his significance to a team owned by the sport’s richest owner.) Things can change in an instant this time of year; all it takes is one team stepping up its efforts for this prediction to be flatly wrong. But the money Bellinger, Snell and Hader seek — and, in many ways, deserve — doesn’t appear to be there at the moment.
Jesse Rogers: Scott Boras will fill multiple spots for one team
Bold will come in the form of agent Scott Boras. He has a lot of players still left on the board, including Bellinger, Snell, Jordan Montgomery and Rhys Hoskins. His clients tend to congregate on teams — see Marcus Semien and Corey Seager for evidence — and the end of this offseason will be no different. He’ll maneuver multiple players to one team — be it the Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants or even the Chicago Cubs. That latter team rarely does big deals with Boras clients, so it would be a departure from the norm to sign multiple players of his. Still, the Cubs’ offseason has been so — can we say slow? — since hiring manager Craig Counsell, that something outside the norm would be a welcome relief for fans.
David Schoenfield: The Mariners will sign Blake Snell
OK, we’re looking for something bold and outrageous, right? I’m holding out belief that the Mariners have been putting up a smokescreen all offseason and will still do something big that might, you know, make the team better. Because all president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has done so far is essentially shuffle around players and salaries without improving the team (except perhaps for Mitch Garver at DH). He has at least created a little more flexibility for future payrolls with the Robbie Ray-for-Mitch Haniger/Anthony DeSclafani trade.
And while the Mariners cry poor, their payroll remains about $8 million below last year’s — and Snell wants to pitch for his hometown team. He raised the 12th Man flag at a Seahawks game. He was at the college football national championship game in University of Washington gear. He grew up idolizing Ken Griffey Jr. How can they make it happen? They’ll have to go higher than last year’s payroll — god forbid — but they can backload Snell’s contract and give him a lower salary for 2024. The rotation would be Snell, Luis Castillo, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert and Bryce Miller, with DeSclafani and Bryan Woo in reserve. That’s how you can topple the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.
Kiley McDaniel: Blake Snell will sign a three-year deal
I could be very bold and try to guess the exact terms, but I’m sure Boras will shoot for a specific goal that I’m not aware of; let’s say an average annual value record, via some combination of convoluted opt-outs, options and front/back-loading. The suspicion entering the offseason is that Snell would get something like last winter’s Carlos Rodon deal — six years, $162 million — and after the Philadelphia Phillies (a rumored Snell landing spot) signed Aaron Nola, buzz has been building that Snell will be the big-ticket pitcher left when the music stops.
I’d imagine the idea from Snell’s camp would be to get something like three years, $105 million with an opt-out or two, but guaranteed money if things go sideways. That would give Snell a top-10 all-time AAV and a chance to hit the market whenever he wants, which saves face enough for a two-time Cy Young winner relative to expectations.
The Giants and Red Sox are the only two teams with any kind of buzz around Snell and both seem to be trying to fill their pitching needs without Snell in the same way the New York Yankees filled their outfield needs, so that Boras couldn’t leverage their need into overpaying Bellinger. The Yankees could use another starter, but Snell smells a whole lot like Rodon in the worst possible ways. You could invent a few landing spots, but there isn’t a natural one, especially with Dylan Cease and Marcus Stroman available for what might be more reasonable prices. I think Montgomery goes back to Texas for nine figures and that makes the Snell puzzle hard to solve, which is how I’ve landed here.
Paul Hembekides: The Mets will trade Pete Alonso entering his contract year
I know, I know. Alonso is as beloved as any Met since David Wright and possesses near-unprecedented power (his 192 home runs through five seasons have him tied for third all time). But there’s a new sheriff in town and his name is David Stearns. In his eight seasons as Brewers GM, Milwaukee used seven different Opening Day first basemen, including Ryan Braun (2018) and Keston Hiura (2021), both of whom converted to the position. In other words, Stearns has never prioritized first base. Unless owner Steve Cohen intervenes, Stearns will be more inclined to trade Alonso than extend him, capitalizing on a market devoid of bats like his.
Bradford Doolittle: The Dodgers will trade for Dylan Cease
In reality, I’m not sure how bold of a prediction this is, since the Dodgers acquire whomever they want. For me, this trade match makes the most sense from the White Sox’s perspective among the teams most rumored to be in the mix for Cease. My conception of the deal would be centered around infielder Michael Busch. He’s too good a prospect to be called superfluous, even on the Dodgers’ organization depth chart, but he’s also 26 years old with no clear path to everyday playing time in L.A. With the White Sox, he’s the right-now everyday second baseman and long-term double-play partner with Colson Montgomery, or perhaps an eventual replacement for Yoan Moncada at third. It really depends on how — or if — Busch develops defensively, but his bat is good enough to play anywhere. The Dodgers can square the valuation for Cease’s two seasons of team control by adding a quality young starter and a catching or outfield prospect. I just don’t see another club as able to comfortably meet Chicago’s needs.
Bonus Red Sox prediction
Buster Olney: The Red Sox will do something aggressive and expensive
Red Sox chairman Tom Werner told reporters his team was ready to go “full throttle” at the time they hired Craig Breslow, and while Boston’s longshot attempt to sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto didn’t work out, there are plenty of other investment opportunities available, from Snell to Montgomery to a possible trade for Cease. If the Red Sox don’t do something big, Werner’s words will become the backbone narrative of their 2024 season. If they struggle to contend in a tough AL East — as expected — then Breslow’s launch in his new job will be sabotaged; as manager Alex Cora’s contract drifts toward expiration, the team will again be giving away tickets to college students in September. The Red Sox will make a big move for the same reason they spent huge dollars on Rafael Devers: They have no choice.