There's No Offseason in Baseball

There's No Offseason in Baseball

The 2014 Major League Baseball (MLB) season was brought to a close last week by the San Francisco Giants enjoying a title-celebrating parade for the third time in five years.

The World Series can prompt inquisitive Brits to catch a baseball game for the first time. Having seen the Giants prevail over the Kansas City Royals, attention now immediately switches to the off-season and the hopes of players, managers and teams eager to put themselves into a situation where they could be spraying the champagne this time next year.

When it comes to adding a pitcher via the free agent market, the list of potential targets is topped by Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields.

Scherzer, the 2013 Cy Young Award winner for best pitcher in the American League, will be the most important domino to fall. Talks of a contract extension between the Detroit Tigers and Scherzer ended in Spring Training with an offer "that would have placed him among the highest-paid pitchers in baseball", according to the Tigers, not being agreeable to one or both parties.

Whilst the usual suspects (LA Dodgers, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and the Tigers) will be in the mix, the Seattle Mariners' signing of Robinson Cano last year to an extraordinary ten-year contract worth $240m showed that other teams can emerge ready to spend huge sums to take advantage of an increasingly rare opportunity to sign a premium player.

Lester may head back to Boston after a brief spell in Oakland, whilst Shields seems likely to wait and market himself as the ideal fall-back option for the teams that missed out on the other two pitchers.

As for position players, the list of free agents is led by two Venezuelans (Pablo Sandoval and Victor Martinez) and an infielder from the Dominican Republic (Hanley Ramirez).

There are doubts about Ramirez's fielding abilities at shortstop, yet his contributions at the plate are there for all to see especially at a time when consistent run producers are at a premium. He will be in demand by any team wanting to upgrade the left-side of their infield.

Sandoval also comes into that equation too. The 'Kung Fu Panda' is understandably a fan favourite in San Francisco and you would expect his offseason to begin with talks on a potential new contract to remain a Giant. Plenty of teams will be ready to act if those talks do not come to fruition.

As for Martinez, he will be in much demand after an exceptional 2014 season and would be a welcome addition to any lineup, although you would expect him to land with an American League team where he can spend a good proportion of his time as a Designated Hitter rather than fielding a position.

If the free agent contract prices don't suit, player trades are always an option and plenty of teams will be looking to upgrade their roster using this method.

The starting point with potential trade targets are players who are currently scheduled to become free agents after the next season. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is on that list and, if the rumours are to be believed, he could be on the move again only a few months after being traded from the A's to the Red Sox.

In contrast, Jason Heyward has known nothing else than playing for Atlanta so far in his Major League career; however his status as one of the few Braves players that hasn't signed a contract extension in the past 18 months puts his future with the team in question. The Braves will see what offers are on the table for Heyward if they aren't confident of being able to keep hold of him beyond 2015.

On the pitching side, the key team may be the Cincinnati Reds would had a disappointing 2014 season and will need to assess what their plan should be over the next few years before deciding what to do with Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos, who both have one year left under contract.

Away from those candidates, the most exciting name that keeps cropping up is the Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins have a well-earned reputation as a team that trades players away and Stanton is exactly the sort of talent that a team would be prepared to part with a bundle of valuable prospects for.

It remains to be seen whether there is any real possibility of him changing teams this offseason or if it's just reporters and fans having fun dreaming up potential blockbuster trades.

Stanton's future will be one of many storylines over the next couple of months to prove that whilst there are no MLB games over the winter months, they amount to anything but an 'off-season' for teams and fans alike.

Good news for any Brits who suddenly took an interest in baseball during the World Series, only to see it disappear from their screens soon after.


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