The wild-card round was over in a flash. Four more teams had their seasons end in quick fashion after being swept, and they now turn their attention to the offseason. Here are the biggest questions facing the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, and Miami Marlins this winter.
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Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are the team to face in the postseason if you’re a franchise looking to snap a historic losing streak. The Seattle Mariners swept Toronto last year for their first playoff series win since 2001, and the Minnesota Twins swept Toronto on Wednesday to win their first playoff series since 2002.
Few teams are in store for a bigger offseason than the Blue Jays, and changes could come rather quickly. Toronto is winless in its three playoff appearances over the last four seasons. Will manager John Schneider and his coaching staff survive a second straight playoff collapse? Does Ross Atkins stay on as general manager after the team took a step back? How does the organization regain the trust of the clubhouse after the decision to remove José Berríos from Game 2? President and CEO Mark Shapiro’s job appears very secure after getting ownership to agree to massive renovations and investment into Rogers Centre, but does he shake things up below him?
A decision on Atkins’ future will need to be quick. Hyun Jin Ryu, Matt Chapman, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Belt, and Jordan Hicks are set for free agency. Whit Merrifield, who has a mutual option, is likely to join that group. While those departures would free up considerable salary, filling those absences wouldn’t be cheap. Toronto enters the winter with roughly $122 million already committed to guaranteed salaries, and that’s before calculating arbitration raises for players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Danny Jansen, Daulton Varsho, and Jordan Romano.
The long-term futures of Guerrero and Bo Bichette need to be prioritized. Both players already have five MLB seasons under their belt and are only under team control for two more years. The front office needs to determine whether one or both players should be extended. Toronto is 0-6 in the postseason in the Guerrero and Bichette era, but both players are key pieces. If the front office doesn’t believe Guerrero and Bichette are part of the long-term picture, do the Jays look at a potential trade? It seems unlikely, but all options should be on the table.
The final internal piece of the long-term puzzle is Alek Manoah. The 25-year-old made only 19 starts this season and was demoted twice. He didn’t pitch over the final month and a half of the season. Is the relationship between Manoah and the front office fractured beyond repair? Does he receive a clean slate if he returns in spring? What pitcher are they even getting?
After Toronto’s loss to Seattle last season, the Blue Jays sacrificed offense for defense during an offseason overhaul and change in philosophy. While the Blue Jays were an elite defensive team this year, a mediocre offense crushed them all season and resulted in a third-place finish in the AL East. They finished 12 games behind a resurgent Baltimore Orioles team that looks poised to rule the division for years to come.
The AL was as wide-open this year as it’s ever been. The Blue Jays, armed with arguably the best rotation in the majors, blew a golden chance and saw their window for a World Series close further shut.
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Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay capped another fantastic regular season with an incredibly poor playoff showing. The Rays have gone 285-201 (.586) over the last three seasons only to go 1-7 in the postseason, where they’ve been outscored 14-2 over the last two trips.
Of course, the randomness of October is somewhat to blame here, but it’s also clear Tampa Bay isn’t built to endure a deep playoff run. Injuries seem to decimate the Rays like no other team. Shane McClanahan (Tommy John surgery), Shane Baz (Tommy John surgery), Jeffrey Springs (Tommy John surgery), and Drew Rasmussen (elbow surgery) were all sidelined. No team can get more out of pitchers than Tampa Bay, but an inability to keep arms healthy wears out the roster as the season goes on and leaves the team vulnerable come playoff time.
Even despite the injuries to the bulk of the rotation, the team could look to shop Tyler Glasnow this winter. The right-hander is owed $24 million in 2024 before he hits free agency. He’ll be the highest-paid player on the roster by $14 million. Despite how important he is to the organization, the front office could deal him in order to supplement the roster while also trimming payroll.
Wander Franco’s absence loomed large over the second half of the season, and there doesn’t appear to be any resolution in sight. Franco remains on indefinite administrative leave by MLB, and it’ll be tough for the Rays to move forward with their offseason plan until they have a clear picture of what’ll happen with their shortstop. Not only was Franco the lineup anchor, but the organization signed him to an 11-year, $182-million extension. The big money of the extension doesn’t kick in until 2026, so that at least simplifies things from a financial standpoint heading into 2024.
Tampa Bay should be commended for almost everything the organization does, but the team deserves its share of criticism for three straight postseason series losses. The Rays have the depth to grind through a regular season, but they don’t have the stars needed to win a shorter series. Is the goal to be the best team with a small payroll, or to win a World Series? The promise of a new stadium provides great momentum, but how much money can the Rays really generate from fans if they’re building it in the same place as Tropicana Field, a place that hosted the smallest playoff crowds in over 100 years?
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The Brewers’ biggest free agent might be manager Craig Counsell. Ownership has been open about wanting to keep the 53-year-old around, but Counsell has been reluctant to agree to an extension and is in the final year under contract. The power of a manager can be overstated at times, but Counsell’s been a key piece to Milwaukee’s success during his nine-year tenure. The team is 707-625 (.531) with three division titles and five playoff appearances in the last six years with Counsell at the helm. Could he follow David Stearns and join the New York Mets?
The team always operates under budget restraints, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a number of pieces change on the roster. Pitching once again carried an offense that finished 17th in runs, 23rd in OPS, and 24th in home runs. After a contentious arbitration hearing last season with Corbin Burnes, maybe the club takes advantage of a weak free-agent pitching market and opts to deal the right-hander. Burnes is set for a raise from his $10-million salary this season and is entering the final year of team control. The Brewers could wait until the trade deadline to move him but would likely receive a lesser return. There’s also a risk he could get injured.
Brandon Woodruff, and Willy Adames are slated to hit free agency after next season. Devin Williams is a free agent the year after that. If Milwaukee can’t afford to extend any of them, the possibility of a trade grows. Dealing these core pieces for cheaper players with longer term could help make the club more sustainable. Christian Yelich is signed through 2029, so the team can’t exactly start a full teardown, but it’s clear the roster is about to enter a transition period.
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Of the four wild-card losers, the Marlins are likely the ones that woke up Thursday feeling the best. Miami finished the regular season with its highest winning percentage since 2009 and reached the playoffs for just the second time in 20 seasons, and first in a non-COVID-shortened year.
Momentum seems to be building around the organization, too. General manager Kim Ng has constructed a solid roster, and the team welcomed 1,162,819 fans to loanDepot Park this year. While that still ranked 29th in the majors, it was an increase of 255,332 fans over the previous year and was the first time the Marlins surpassed a million fans since 2017.
The first matter of business will be handing Ng a new contract, as hers is set to expire at the end of the season. With job openings on other teams, Ng has built a solid resume that’ll likely attract outside attention. She’s certainly deserved to continue her work in Miami if she pleases.
On the field, Jorge Soler and Josh Bell each played a pivotal role offensively, but each has the ability to opt out of their remaining contracts. That’s likely for Soler, who’d be a sizeable loss for the Marlins should he test free agency. Bell, meanwhile, is all but guaranteed to exercise his $16.5-million player option, which could cause some financial issues for a low-payroll team like Miami. As good as Bell was after being acquired at the trade deadline, he’ll be the team’s highest-paid player. It’s unlikely Ng would be able to move that contract in the offseason unless the Marlins eat money or take on payroll in return, which wouldn’t make much sense.
Ng traded Pablo López for Luis Arraez last season, and a similar pitching-for-offense trade should be on the table this offseason, especially considering Miami’s top three prospects are pitchers. Ownership allowed Ng to add payroll at the trade deadline, and the hope is there’ll be continued financial investment into the roster as manager Skip Schumaker has helped bring a winning mentality to the clubhouse.
Jazz Chisholm Jr. has become the face of the franchise in his fourth season in the majors. The 25-year-old is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, and the Marlins will likely look at beginning extension talks. Chisholm has missed considerable time in each of the last two years, but he’s shown signs of being a star player when healthy. It’d be wise for the team’s marketability to have a player like Chisholm signed long term.
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