The answer to the who’s-next question, salient because the world does not seem as satisfied with what is anymore, may not be Bryce Harper. May not be Manny Machado. May not be any free agent. Which is weird, because this is the winter of 2018-19, the very winter of the who’s-next question, the winter of our disbursement.
Instead, and so far, and thanks in large part to some pre-winter planning and a sea change in Seattle and untimely injuries and the clock on the wall, baseball’s winter of 2018-19 has been more swap meet than it has been Saks.
Oh, Harper and Machado are coming, and for more zeroes than are in a box of Cheerios, and a pretty fine pitcher and not an ace – Patrick Corbin – just got $140 million.
That said, the offseason is still in diapers and …
Paul Goldschmidt is a St. Louis Cardinal.
James Paxton is a New York Yankee.
Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz are New York Mets.
Jean Segura is a Philadelphia Phillie.
Yan Gomes is a Washington National.
Alex Colomé is a Chicago White Sox.
Jay Bruce is a Seattle Mariner. So is Carlos Santana. And J.P. Crawford. And a lot of other guys.
And where we once dreamed of a December ’18 that held free-agent auctions for the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey and Joe Mauer and Garrett Richards and Shelby Miller, even perhaps Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale and Jason Heyward and David Price, and Hunter Pence and Adrián González and Victor Martinez, and of course Harper and Machado and Josh Donaldson, time and circumstance say otherwise. Jose Fernandez was to be in this class, so time and circumstance and unfathomable tragedy.
The heavy wallets of winter 2017-18 helped turn this market thin, so the opt-out candidates were warier of free agency and less suspicious of contract extensions, but mostly this market speaks to baseball’s impermanence, sports’ impermanence, how today’s big thing can be tomorrow’s hanger-on. There’s money and plenty of it, though perhaps there also is less reason to spend it, as a two-man, right-left platoon at $10 million is viewed as favorably as a one-man superstar at three times that. A new generation of general managers seem to have convinced a bygone generation of owners paying today’s prices for yesterday’s production is an unsustainable business model.
Anyway, we are about to be blown away by what are likely to be the two largest contracts in baseball history. That should be said. And the class of 2018-19 will have made its mark in that way. But, also, it is not insignificant that an 89-win Mariners team shoots those 89 wins into the sun. Or that an Arizona Diamondbacks team that was in first place on Sept. 1 heaves the best position player in its history into some other tomorrow, in some other team’s town.
And the first whisky glass has yet to be raised in Las Vegas.
The headliners will be Machado and his agent, Dan Lozano. And Harper and his agent, Scott Boras.
The sneaky good show, however, will be the Cleveland Indians, because they are mulling the Mariners’ take on Paxton and how that might impact their own possible trade(s) of Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco or Trevor Bauer.
And the Miami Marlins, who remain the Marlins, and have played and managed themselves to a place where they probably must trade catcher J.T. Realmuto.
And the San Francisco Giants, who have had their run and now have one more season with Madison Bumgarner. Or not.
And the Detroit Tigers and Nick Castellanos and Michael Fulmer.
And the Toronto Blue Jays and Justin Smoak and Marcus Stroman.
And the Yankees and Sonny Gray.
And the Diamondbacks, who, if they’ve traded Paul Goldschmidt — and they have — then why not Zack Greinke and David Peralta? Of course Zack Greinke and David Peralta.
There’s more, plenty more, because there will again be teams like the Mariners and Diamondbacks, who decide it’s harder (and so much more expensive, and therefore riskier) to go from average to good than it is from average to bad to average to good. That means trades when the alternative is free agents. And that means options. And that means the answer to the who’s-next question is just as likely to be found on some other team’s roster.