Biggest questions clubs must answer this offseason
By Dan O'Dowd
The baseball calendar is one that never stops, and even while the regular season is concluding and the postseason is set to begin, there is a third season on the horizon: the Hot Stove.
Here's a division-by-division look at some of the biggest questions that will need to be answered come November.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST: Will the Mets make a real run at Cespedes?
Since the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes from the Tigers on July 31, he has been one of the best players in baseball, and he has helped put the Mets on course for a division title.
Now that Cespedes, who turns 30 in October, has tweaked his contract to allow the Mets to negotiate with him, the world is wondering if the club will aggressively bid on the slugger. New York has not been involved with the upper-tier free agents in recent years, but the team's success this year could change that. A crowded outfield market that features Cespedes, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler, among others, should give buyers an edge.
Of course, Cespedes will still likely command a multiyear deal in excess of $100 million, the kind of deal the Mets have not done with a free agent since Carlos Beltran following the 2004 season.
NL CENTRAL: How will the Cardinals sort out their outfield?
According to Fangraphs' WAR, Heyward (4.9 WAR) has been the Cardinals' best player this year. Given how rare it is for a player to hit the market at 26 years old, he could be the hottest free-agent commodity this offseason.
The Cards are reportedly interested in signing Heyward to a long-term deal, but they have no shortage of solutions in the outfield, with rookies Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty looking like impact players. Plus, Matt Holliday is signed through 2016 with a '17 club option. In other words, is it worth it for St. Louis to spend upwards of $150 million on an area that already looks like a strength?
NL WEST: Will the Giants poach Greinke? Zack Greinke looks like the favorite for the NL Cy Young Award, and he's all but guaranteed to opt out of his contract and test free agency. There is no question that the Dodgers will try to bring him back, but another team that could make a run at the righty is their archrival, the Giants.
Though he turns 32 in October, Greinke has many effective years ahead of him, and he could keep his ERA in the 2.00 range pitching at AT&T Park. This could be the most dramatic bidding war of the offseason.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette must decide which of these guys get qualifying offers. Parra is ineligible for one since he was traded during the season. Of the other four, O'Day is the only one who would accept, and it's doubtful he'll receive one.
Davis has been the O's best offensive player this season, and their offense will take a big step back without him, as it is looking more likely that he will price his way out of Baltimore. One player who could help fill that void, however, is Wieters, if he can ever get back to 100 percent. But Wieters' track record of injuries and inconsistent play makes him a risky investment, even though the 29-year-old has shown flashes of being a star.
AL CENTRAL: Will Samardzija receive and accept a qualifying offer?
When White Sox right-hander Jeff Samardzija entered as a 30-year-old a season away from free agency, everyone -- including Samardzija and his agent -- thought that the offseason would find them sifting through multiyear offers.
Reality can be humbling, however, and Samardzija is struggling through the worst season of his career. And after getting shelled for 10 runs in one start this week, his ERA now sits at 5.27. This raises two questions that seemed unthinkable when the season began: 1) Will Samardzija accept a qualifying offer? 2) Will the White Sox even offer one?
We are now three years into the current collective bargaining agreement, and as of yet, not a single player has accepted a qualifying offer. If Samardzija gets one, and a team is forced to surrender a Draft pick to sign him, he won't have much bargaining power. However, if Chicago decides he isn't worth the risk of a qualifying offer, which is now in excess of $15 million for a one-year deal, he could end up with a few attractive offers, as some clubs might want to try to buy low on a guy who had a 2.99 ERA in 2014.
AL WEST: Can the Mariners balance their budget?
Seattle had a payroll of a little more than $120 million this season, and the club has roughly $64 million committed next year to three players: Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.
Granted, those are arguably the Mariners' top three players, but it's hard to build a winner with three players occupying more than 50 percent of your payroll. The team is currently searching for a new general manager to replace Jack Zduriencik, and the new person will need to be aggressive on the secondary free-agent market to find some offense.
The new GM will also need to hope that some young players, such as Taijuan Walker and Mike Zunino, have the ability to take a leap forward in terms of both ability and consistency.
Dan O'Dowd is an MLB Network analyst and MLB.com columnist who served as general manager of the Rockies for 15 years, building a National League pennant winner in 2007. Prior to his time with Colorado, he worked in the front offices of the Orioles and Indians. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.