The 2018 Major League Baseball offseason is going to be newsworthy for a handful of expected departures, transactions and trades. One-time National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper has essentially said “farewell” to fans of the Washington Nationals even though there is still a solid chance that the Nationals could make it worth his while to return to the club. The New York Yankees have left little doubt that the team will be placing Sonny Gray on the market, and the Bronx Bombers likely won’t make out all too well in a trade for him. The Cleveland Indians are expected to allow both Cody Allen And Andrew Miller to leave via free agency.
There are also some surprise departures that will affect players and clubs between the start of free agency and the end of the spring training process. These transactions and decisions will, inevitably, send shockwaves around MLB and also impact the types of contracts certain individuals are able to sign. After all, there are only so many big-name free agents and trade targets available in any given offseason. It also should not be forgotten that we can only guess what the market will be in late fall and winter. Remember that it was not even 12 months from the typing of this sentence when MLB free agency was surprisingly at a standstill.
20 Jay Bruce
The biggest reason the New York Mets moving on from outfielder Jay Bruce during the offseason would be surprising is because of his contract, one that could keep the 31-year-old with the Amazins through the 2020 season at $14 million per year. While his first season during his second stint with the club was largely disappointing, there were signs in the second half of the campaign that he could break out of the funk if fully healthy. Is that enough to convince a buyer to come calling for him, especially if those running the Mets realize that he was never a right fit for the 2018 roster in the first place?
19 Scooter Gennett
After becoming a revelation for the Cincinnati Reds during the 2017 campaign, second baseman Scooter Gennett enjoyed yet another solid season, crushing 23 homers and tallying 92 RBI with a .310/.357/.490 slash line. Why, then, would the Reds even consider trading the 28-year-old? Gennett will be on a team-friendly deal only for one more year before he can enter free agency, and the Reds are in the middle of a rebuild that involves the team needing an influx of starting pitching. The fear of losing Gennett for nothing following the 2019 season could be enough for those in the front office to pick up the phone if a team makes Cincy an offer.
18 J.T. Realmuto
Should the Miami Marlins trade 27-year-old catcher J.T. Realmuto when the team controls his rights for the next few years? Of course not, but these are the Marlins we’re talking about. Trying to sign him to an extension could be difficult since the team blew things up and finished 26.5 games out of first place in the division. The issue here is that Realmuto’s value could actually increase during the 2019 season once catchers available in free agency have already joined new clubs. However, the market could still be there for a team to go all-in and help Miami prepare for another losing season by completing a trade.
17 Justin Smoak
The Toronto Blue Jays have gotten plenty wrong over the past few years. Signing first baseman Justin Smoak to an extension that includes a club option for the 2019 season is not one of them. The 31-year-old had a career year in 2017, and he would still be an attractive asset on the market even though his numbers dipped in 2018. Toronto obviously cannot get rid of every proven player during the team’s current process, but trying to move Smoak during the offseason rather than waiting for a team to get him in July is the best business decision for the franchise’s future. He should be worth more before spring training than during the campaign.
16 Jose Abreu
The Cleveland Indians won the AL Central once again, and Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu has one year of arbitration left before he gets paid. In an ideal situation, the 31-year-old would not have fallen short of notching 25 home runs and 100 RBI in a season for the first time in five seasons. Sometimes, it is what it is, and what is for the White Sox is a harsh reality that now is the time to sell a talent such as Abreu. Waiting to see if Abreu’s value will increase from March up through the end of July could benefit all involved. It’s also risky, though, since a year-long rental is worth more on the market than somebody who joins a team only for a playoff run.
15 Craig Kimbrel
The Boston Red Sox won the World Series with Craig Kimbrel as a member of the team’s bullpen. Why, then, would the 30-year-old make an exit from a team that should once again contend for a World Series title in 2019 and that could also pay him as much as any other organization in the league? There’s no guarantee that the Red Sox would get into a bidding war for the veteran who regressed this past season. Boston could look elsewhere to bolster the ‘pen and allow Kimbrel to walk.
14 Josh Donaldson
Third baseman Josh Donaldson makes the list because both he and the Cleveland Indians should need each other heading into the offseason. The Tribe, the franchise that took a flier on Donaldson via a trade late in the summer, could use his bat for a full season in the hopes that he would reclaim his All-Star form. The 32-year-old, meanwhile, should want to remain with a playoff team on a one-year contract so that he can improve his overall value before the 2019-20 offseason. Not everybody makes those types of business decisions, though, and it’s why Donaldson could be a surprise departure later this year.
13 Joey Gallo
The Texas Rangers swung and missed in a big way during the last offseason, and that played a role in the club finishing dead last in the division standings in 2018. Things could be worse for the Rangers — they could be the Baltimore Orioles — but trading a young asset such as 24-year-old Joey Gallo cannot and should not be off the table this offseason. Gallo is a versatile player who could start at multiple positions and who has blasted 81 home runs since the start of the 2017 season. Texas would need to receive a good haul in return, but teams with deep farm systems and a need in the outfielder could meet that price tag.
12 Matt Harvey
Starting pitcher Matt Harvey should want to remain with the Cincinnati Reds for at least one more season as he attempts to be the pitcher the New York Mets hoped he would be as recently as the club’s 2015 postseason journey. Is there a nice way to say that ego could play a part in the 29-year-old leaving the Reds to pursue other options? For example, there are a couple of sides in the NL East that could be interested, and they would allow him to challenge the New York Mets, a franchise he’s not a fan of heading into the winter months. Don’t do it, Matt.
11 Whit Merrifield
In the middle of September, Alex Duvall of Royals Review wrote why he believes the time could be now to trade 29-year-old Whit Merrifield. The Royals won 58 games in 2018, and Merrifield, who only made his Major League debut in the spring of 2016, is coming off his best season. He’d be a piece for the future if KC’s future included winning in 2020. It probably doesn’t unless there are a lot of changes in the division and in the American League over the next 18 months. Fans aren’t always keen on the idea, but selling high is sometimes the right call. It is here, even if some would deem this trade a surprising transaction.
10 Mike Minor
Can things get better before they get worse for the Texas Rangers? Absolutely, especially if trading southpaw Mike Minor is part of the equation. Texas doesn’t need to free up additional funds this offseason, but selling Minor now before the rebuild bums fans out even more is a step toward getting where the club wants to be in the 2020s. History suggests that the 30-year-old will never pitch better for this team than he did in 2018 when he had his best season over the past three years. No, the Rangers wouldn’t be getting the next Aaron Judge back in this trade, but a couple of prospects should do the trick.
9 Jose Martinez
In October, Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gave his reasons for why the St. Louis Cardinals should keep Jose Martinez in the lineup for another season. All due respect to the “Commish,” but we aren’t so sure he’s right here. Martinez turns 31 years old next summer, he isn’t yet eligible for arbitration and he would make for an excellent designated hitter for an American League side that has an arm to send back to St. Louis. The idea that no team in the AL needs a DH during the offseason simply isn’t accurate. Besides, how much longer is St. Louis really planning on keeping him as part of the team’s plans, anyway?
8 Paul Goldschmidt
The next two are being called “surprise departures” because of what those transactions would signal from the one club involved. There is only speculation and not much more than the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team in the middle of the division standings by the end of the 2018 season, are ready to go all-in on a rebuild. Trading first baseman Paul Goldschmidt would be an unofficial statement from the club that the process has begun. The 31-year-old, who could be good for 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI batting over 100 times in AL ballparks, wouldn’t come cheap in a trade. Whether or not Arizona wants to take a last shot at winning something of note with the team’s current roster will affect Goldschmidt’s playing future.
7 Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke isn’t getting any younger — he is now 35-years-old — and his age and his history are why the Arizona Diamondbacks could consider remaining competitive in the National League for another season. However, the Diamondbacks would not have to look far to find a buyer for Greinke if a rebuild is set to begin during the offseason. There are good reasons why the New York Yankees continue to be linked with Greinke even before the start of the World Series. The Yankees have the young talent to make passing on this trade too difficult for Arizona, and the Bombers have to improve the club's rotation.
6 Michael Brantley
We are placing this one among surprising departures because the Cleveland Indians cannot afford to lose Michael Brantley, as the club does not have an immediate replacement for the 31-year-old outfielder who earned his third All-Star nod earlier this year. Cleveland is a win-now team that should be able to afford to keep Brantley around, especially if bigger names who are better options sign expected contracts with other clubs. Sometimes, though, the temptation to see what is out there wins out, and that will be the case here if the Indians go the cheap route in negotiations. Then again, the Tribe may just move on, in general.
5 Zach Britton
The end of the season but before the World Series is often that magical time of the year when certain individuals suggest that they would be open to accepting “lesser roles” or even less money with a team. Reports that reliever Zach Britton would serve as a setup man for the New York Yankees are well and good in early October. Somebody, however, is bound to get into his ear and let him know what could be out there, financially speaking, if he were to test the market. There are already rumors that the Atlanta Braves, the reigning NL East champions, and the Boston Red Sox could be in for the 30-year-old.
4 Felix Hernandez
The 32-year-old right-hander is “King Felix” in name only as of October 2018, and that probably isn’t changing during the offseason or during the first half of the 2019 season. Felix Hernandez is attached to a contract that carries nearly $28 million, and he also has a no-trade clause that could cause him to stop any negotiations before they begin. Seattle would need to get creative here, but moving on from Hernandez however possible is not completely illogical if he could be convinced that he needs a change of scenery. Besides, these two entities likely won’t be tied with each other beyond 2019.
3 Manny Machado
The next three surprise departures could all, somehow, be tied with each other. Manny Machado is a perfect fit for the Los Angeles Dodgers past the 2018 playoffs, a 26-year-old who still has a promising future and who could find the contract he wants with the club he’s playing for in October. Why, then, would this departure occur? There are several clubs in major markets that could offer Machado the MLB-in-2018 equivalent of a blank check and that will have fan bases left unhappy if those teams don’t pursue him. Besides, the Dodgers may decide to not try to outbid other clubs if the team wins the 2018 World Series.
2 Corey Kluber
The Cleveland Indians are not going to be known for taking big risks in free agency unless a new ownership group buys the club, so it wasn’t all that surprising to learn that the Tribe could be shopping Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber if the right deal were to come along before Christmas. Kluber is still one of the best in the league, but his injury history and also his poor performances during October games could result in the Indians selling high if a team such as the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves or St. Louis Cardinals made the Cleveland front office an offer those running the organization could not refuse. After all, Cleveland needs multiple pieces to return to the World Series.
1 Giancarlo Stanton
For this to happen, the New York Yankees would need to find a franchise willing to accept Giancarlo Stanton’s contract and also convince Stanton, who has a full no-trade clause, to not block the deal. The Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly passed on Stanton in 2017, but that franchise could be in a much different state during the upcoming holiday season if both the previously mentioned Machado and Kershaw fly off to different destinations. In that scenario, the Dodgers absolutely should consider adding Stanton, an asset the Yankees acquired in 2017 but never intended on keeping for the long-term. Everybody involved in this arrangement wins.