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The biggest remaining stories of the offseason

It’s nearly 2017, and there are just a few more loose ends to be tied up before we can move toward Opening Day in earnest.

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The weeks bookending the holidays have been loooooooong this offseason. There hasn’t been a single stir of activity in what feels like forever. My dad just texted me excitedly about a Trevor Plouffe rumor. We’re desperate.

Of course, it’s not as if all the offseason business happening now would be a good thing. A long wait between transactions is no worse than a long wait between the last transaction and Opening Day. But at least there’s closure in the last segment of the offseason, and a sense for how the next nine months of baseball are likely to look. Right now, we don’t even have that, as the following major storylines of the 2016–17 offseason are still unresolved. Until they do, the upcoming season will remain shrouded in mystery.

How hard will the White Sox teardown be?

With the Chris Sale trade, the South Siders signaled their wholehearted intention to punt on the present and focus on building a juggernaut for 2019 and beyond. Also with the Chris Sale trade, they got an incredible head start on that project, as Yoan Moncada is a true super-prospect, and the kind of player whom teams are built around.

Sale is not the only White Sock who comes with immense trade value, and over the last few weeks, rumors have swirled around several other players, particularly Jose Quintana. The 27-year-old pitcher doesn’t have the prospect pedigree of Sale, nor can he quite match Sale’s talent, but Quintana is legitimately excellent, and is signed for an additional year and for $2 million less. That means the White Sox could probably get a similar return for Quintana, but it also means that Quintana could very possibly be a major contributor on the next good White Sox team if they turn their rebuild around relatively quickly. There have been serious rumors linking the Nationals, Pirates, and Yankees all to Quintana, but given how long they’ve gone on, the White Sox seem to be waiting for someone to truly blow them away.

A Quintana trade wouldn’t just be a blockbuster; it would signal just how harsh the next few years in Chicago will be, how long the fans will have to wait for the White Sox to re-emerge into competitiveness, and how soft the division will look to Detroit and Cleveland. Conversely, if the White Sox enter the season with Quintana on the roster, it will likely indicate that Rick Hahn and his crew think their organization has enough talent to recover relatively quickly. This is an unresolved storyline that doesn’t just impact the 2017 season, but 2018 and beyond as well. Make up your dang mind, Rick Hahn.

Where will Jose Bautista sign?

Since day 1 of the winter, Bautista’s future was one of the big question marks, both on a transaction and a performance basis. Over his eight years with the Blue Jays, Bautista had an incredible 147 wRC+, averaged 4.5 fWAR per season, and was responsible for one of the most dramatic moments in playoff history. (I am obligated to link to that video at least once per month.) But 2016 was his second-worst year of those eight offensively (better only than the first), and he showed a precipitous loss of arm strength that made his defense in right field barely passable.

Bautista reacts after being forced out during the sixth inning of game five of the 2016 ALCS at the Rogers Centre.
John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

As a result, there were several questions about Bautista’s free agency. How do teams see his future? What position would he be signed to play? And would his market be impacted by the glut of lumbering, bat-first free agents this offseason? The answers to the first two questions are still unknown; the answer to the third, however, is a resounding yes. While Kendrys Morales signs with the Blue Jays two weeks into the offseason, and Ian Desmond gets signed as a first baseman, Jose Bautista is still waiting. There are seemingly dozens of decent Bautista-lites wandering the market this offseason, and they all come for much less money.

There are good reasons for the hesitance teams are displaying toward Bautista, but as his market falls, the likelihood of him turning in a monster season for some team that got him for pennies on the dollar goes up. This is one of the big stories I’ll be tracking this upcoming season, but until he signs, we can’t even begin to predict how it’ll fall out. It’s stressing me out, frankly.

Who’s going to lose the Mark Trumbo sweepstakes?

This might not be a story that everyone is interested in, but I’m interested in it. Mark Trumbo is coming off his career year, a season in which he hit 47 home runs and was widely perceived as one of the best sluggers in baseball. Even if you accept that description, there are questions about his offseason; the Orioles saddled him with a qualifying offer, and he doesn’t have a track record of excellence, so it’s not clear that he’d be able to cash in.

But there are very good reasons not to take his reputation during this past season at face value. He did have 47 home runs; that’s a lot! He also had a 123 wRC+, comparable to Khris Davis and Ian Kinsler’s 2016 figures, and he contributed next to nothing of value on defense. In fact, a great comparison for him is a player who almost certainly wouldn’t cash in on this offseason’s free agent market:

Month Vertical Break Velocity
Month Vertical Break Velocity
March -7.11 79.1
April -9.23 78.1
May -8.95 78.0
June -8.42 77.6
July -6.65 77.5
August -5.71 77.3
September -7.26 77.8
October -7.34 77.8
November -9.47 77.7

Trumbo, to me, looks like a serious trap for some GM who is distracted by gaudy home run numbers from the lack of on-base abilities on the part of the “outfielder.” The Orioles had reportedly offered him $52 million over four years in early December, but Trumbo has held out for more money, looking for $70–$80 million instead. I’m not sure that I would be happy with Trumbo at the former price point; at the latter, that deal is going to get really ugly, really quick, and it'll stay that way for a long time and a lot of money. (This paragraph is going to come back to haunt me after his third consecutive MVP in 2020.) How this ends up is of real interest to me, in the same way that cars broken down on the highway are interesting, and I’m not sure I can wait another month to judge the crap out of whatever team takes the Trumbo plunge.

. . .

Henry Druschel is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @henrydruschel.