With free agency underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams? We start in the AL East, where the World Series title currently resides.
Boston Red Sox: Who will be the closer in 2019?
2018 record: 108-54
2019 World Series odds: 6-1
The Red Sox enter the offseason with two big gaps in the bullpen as Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly head to free agency. Kimbrel obviously had a rocky postseason, allowing seven runs in 10 ? innings, but he was still solid in the regular season with a 2.74 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 62 ? innings albeit with some control issues (4.5 walks per nine). Kelly was the opposite: inconsistent in the regular season (4.39 ERA), dynamite in the postseason (0.79 ERA, no walks in 11 ? innings).
Both will be entering their age-31 seasons, but both still throw hard and have generally good health records. Kimbrel is certainly similar to Wade Davis, who signed a three-year, $52 million contract last offseason with the Rockies. Kelly probably earned himself a lot of money with his big October. Matt Barnes has the stuff to step in as closer, but that still leaves a couple slots to fill. The Red Sox also have to be thinking ahead to the 2019-20 offseason, when Chris Sale and Rick Porcello become free agents, so they may not want to pour $50 million into a reliever. -- David Schoenfield
New York Yankees: Adding Machado aside, how much pitching help can Yanks get?
2018 record: 100-62
2019 World Series odds: 7-1
For the next month, the New York Yankees' biggest offseason storyline will involve All-Star infielder Manny Machado, and whether or not the free agent will soon be donning pinstripes. With shortstop Didi Gregorius on the mend and likely missing a chunk of next season following postseason Tommy John surgery, New York's need for a left-side infielder with sterling defense is a real one.
Beyond this, the Yankees' other big offseason need involves their pitching staff. After looking like a Cy Young Award candidate for the first half of this past season, Luis Severino struggled in the second half. As low as 1.98 at the start of July, his ERA ballooned to 3.52 by the start of September. The Yankees later admitted he had been tipping his pitches at times during the year.
If the Bronx Bombers are to get past the rival and defending champion Red Sox in 2019, Severino, their supposed ace, will need some help. J.A. Happ was New York's most effective pitcher late this past season, but he's a pending free agent. There are calls to re-sign him and add other arms, like Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner through trade, or Patrick Corbin or Nathan Eovaldi via free agency. Expect some variation of those additions to make this comparatively weak staff more of a strength. -- Coley Harvey
Tampa Bay Rays: What's next for the bullpenning Rays?
2018 record: 90-72
2019 World Series odds: 40-1
It's safe to assume we'll see more openers and bullpen games next year from the Tampa Bay Rays, the unsuspecting vanguards of a pitching revolution. "Nothing's set in stone," manager Kevin Cash said to Sports Illustrated late this regular season, "but what we've found out is that if you have the right personnel, it's capable of working."
Indeed, "bullpenning" -- the technique of beginning a game with a relief pitcher before quickly turning it over to a long-reliever for a turn or two through an opposing lineup before settling into the back end of the 'pen -- worked well for Tampa Bay in 2018. It worked so well that the 90-win Rays finished the year with the sixth-lowest team ERA. Some of their best ball was even played after July, when they were forced into regular bullpen days after true starters Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Archer had been traded away.
The opener tactic was repeated by numerous other clubs throughout the year. Time will tell if the Rays still will have the personnel Cash, who recently got a contract extension, seeks for another year of bullpenning. Several Rays relievers have recently been dropped as the team started clearing roster space to begin making bigger offseason moves, namely getting another bat or two for the offense. -- Harvey
Toronto Blue Jays: Can Vlad Guerrero Jr. be the spark Jays need?
2018 record: 73-89
2019 World Series odds: 60-1
There will be a palpable buzz at the Toronto Blue Jays' facility in Dunedin, Florida, come February, as baseball's next big star begins what many are already anticipating will be a Rookie of the Year campaign. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the 19-year-old son of a Hall of Famer, should be making his big league arrival in 2019 after torching his way through the minors in 2018. While spending time with the Blue Jays' Double-A and Triple-A clubs this past year, Guerrero Jr. led all minor leaguers in batting average (.381), slugging percentage (.636) and OPS (1.073). The third baseman also had 20 homers in a combined 91 games with the two teams.
How good is Guerrero Jr. expected to be as a major leaguer? When FanGraphs recently published its player projections for next season, he was given a 4.7 WAR, putting him on par with the likes of Aaron Judge and Nolan Arenado. As Toronto, under new management, seeks a return to relevance in a division that features the Red Sox and Yankees, another offensive weapon with All-Star potential is necessary. -- Harvey
Baltimore Orioles: Who's calling the shots?
2017 record: 47-115
2018 World Series odds: 300-1
There are rebuilds, and then there are Rebuilds. The latter one -- the one with a capital "R" -- is the one that's staring the Orioles squarely in the face. One teensy weensy problem: Baltimore still doesn't have a president of baseball operations. Or a GM. Or a manager. OK, so technically, that's three problems.
It's been more than a month since the end of a regular season in which the O's lost a franchise-record 115 games, and they're prepared to head to this week's GM meetings with player development director Brian Graham representing the club. The good news is, it's not like Baltimore is poised to be a major player in the free-agent market this winter, as any money spent would seem like a waste for a team that's light years away from becoming competitive again. Instead, the Birds seem better off going the Houston Astros route, pinching pennies and trying to secure the top overall draft pick in 2020. And 2021. And '22. Maybe by then, they'll have their front-office situation sorted out. -- Eddie Matz