Who has time for hangovers?
Not baseball, that’s who.
This exhausting month of postseason action left a wonderful headache for Nationals fans and less joyous pains for those who support the Astros, Yankees and Dodgers, among others. Yet the calendar marches forward and, as usual, it features plenty.
In rough chronological order — some stand as one-day happenings, others ongoing processes — here’s your guide to what will occupy our attention between now and the arrival of pitchers and catchers in camps come mid-February. Let’s go with eight storylines, in honor of the number of times Bryce Harper muttered to himself in October.
1. Mets manager. Brodie Van Wagenen, formally introduced as the Mets’ new general manager two days after the 2018 World Series concluded, appears likely to introduce his first managerial hire next week at Citi Field. While it’s very fair to wonder whether they should’ve hired the ultra-experienced Joe Girardi, who will now lead the rival Phillies, the Mets’ group of known finalists, none of whom has served as a full-time, big-league skipper, features three interesting and promising candidates in Carlos Beltran, Eduardo Perez and Derek Shelton — and also includes Tim Bogar. The Pirates (general manager and manager) and Giants (manager) also must fill major positions.
2. Start of free agency. The early suspense this year surrounds player opt-outs, with Aroldis Chapman, J.D. Martinez and World Series Most Valuable Player Stephen Strasburg most likely to void the remainder of their contracts by Saturday. On Monday come the qualifying offers, when the top free agents (who weren’t traded in 2019) will receive one-year, $17.8-million contract tenders that will attach compensation if they decline them; the Mets surely will give one to Zack Wheeler, whereas the Yankees seem likely to pass on Didi Gregorius. At midnight Monday into Tuesday, free agents can begin signing with other clubs.
3. Awards. November 11-14 will be a banner week for the Mets, with Jacob deGrom a strong favorite to win his second straight National League Cy Young Award on the 13th and Pete Alonso a good bet to unanimously capture NL Rookie of the Year honors on the 11th. The Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu could finish third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting behind the Astros’ Alex Bregman and the Angels’ Mike Trout (in an order to be determined) on the 14th, while Yankees manager Aaron Boone probably will be a finalist in the AL Manager of the Year vote on the 12th, with Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash, Oakland’s Bob Melvin and Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli also in the mix.
4. Heart of free agency. A couple of hours before the MVPs get announced on the 14th, players who received the qualifying offer must decide whether to accept or reject their qualifying offers. From thereon in, nothing — besides boring old games of chicken — prevents teams and players from doing business. World Series studs Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon top a field that offers plenty of starting pitching like Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, Jake Odorizzi and Hyun-Jin Ryu joining Strasburg (if he doesn’t instantly re-up with the Nats) and Wheeler.
5. Astros discipline. The Brandon Taubman matter won’t close until commissioner Rob Manfred hands down his decision on the disgusting actions of the Astros, who compounded the original sin of their assistant general manager by accusing a Sports Illustrated reporter of fabricating the story that Taubman harassed a trio of female journalists. While the Astros fired Taubman between Games 2 and 3, Manfred nevertheless knows that he will get publicly hammered if he goes soft on Houston, which should be fined heavily at the least and perhaps even pushed to penalize more individual employees.
6. Trades. The Indians might have to consider deals of shortstop Francisco Lindor and longtime ace Corey Kluber in order to balance their payroll. The Red Sox are on record that they’ll be going beneath the $208-million luxury tax threshold under new head of baseball operations Chaim Bloom, which will naturally spark discussions about Mookie Betts (who can be a free agent next year). The Mets, without much apparent payroll flexibility and with a GM who enjoys throwing many ideas against the wall, sure could use a center fielder and some bullpen help.
7. Hall of Fame. The big one comes in mid-January, when Derek Jeter will get immortalized. Will he follow his teammate Mariano Rivera and become the second-ever unanimous electee? There’s a strong chance. Most likely to join Jeter on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s ballot is his old Red Sox nemesis and general embarrassment to the species Curt Schilling. In December, the Modern Baseball Committee, honoring those who peaked in the 1970-87 range, will convene. If there’s any justice, Players Association founding father Marvin Miller will finally, posthumously be honored.
8. Rules changes. Unless the players conduct some significant horse-trading, the three-batter minimum rule — by which a pitcher must face at least three batters before getting lifted in an inning — will go into effect for 2020. Manfred also possesses the right to unilaterally implement the 20-second pitch clock for next season. Here’s hoping we get both.
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