Justin Verlander and Rich Hill will take the mound for the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively, when Game 6 of the World Series commences Tuesday night a bit after 8 PM ET. And since it’s Game 6, it’s a given that one team has the chance to end the series and claim a trophy tonight - in this case, the Astros - which would mark the end of the 2017 MLB season.
I know, I know - you’re welcome for the bummer. Even though it’s decidedly not Cincinnati Reds baseball, it’s still been baseball, even the kind that makes you jump out of your seat enthusiastically when relievers blow 3-run leads and allow a bevy of dingers. But while the games themselves will take a multi-month hiatus either tonight or tomorrow night, the business of baseball will motor on in full force per usual, taking almost no procedural break at all.
At precisely 9 AM ET the day after the final World Series game starts, all free-agents-to-be become bona fide free agents, and for the Reds that’ll officially end the tenure of what’s left of Scott Feldman’s knee, the shreds of Drew Storen’s shoulder, and the seven impressive seasons logged by shortstop Zack Cozart.
With Cozart, things could immediately get much trickier.
The Reds will have exactly five days after the end of the season to extend a Qualifying Offer (QO) to Cozart, should they so choose, since he’s the only eligible free agent for the Reds who is even worth considering locking up for the estimated $18.1 million that QO would guarantee. Of course, locking up Cozart for that kind of total money is something it seems the Reds have some interest in pursuing, though that’s the kind of coin they’d like to spread over a multi-year contract, and therein lies the rub. Considering the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has significantly reduced what the Reds might get as compensation should Cozart decline the QO and sign with another team, giving Cozart - who’s made just over $12 million total in his career - becomes a significant payroll risk to a 2018 Cincinnati club that doesn’t have a lot of financial flexibility. Odds are against the Reds exposing themselves to that kind of risk, so bank of finding out within five days that they won’t give Cozart a QO (though if they do, Cozart will have ten days to accept or decline it).
When a team is as banged-up as the Reds have been all year, the roster becomes another immediate juggle as the season officially ends. Currently, the Reds have 35 healthy players on their 40-man roster, with the recent news that Micah Johnson has been claimed baked into that number. Of course, they’ve also got five players currently on the 60-day DL, and decisions about their respective statuses will need to be made following the final out of the World Series, too. Since each of Feldman, Storen, and Bronson Arroyo are slated to be free agents, they won’t impact that bottom line, but both Brandon Finnegan and Anthony DeSclafani will have to be added back to the roster within five days. That’ll bring the 40-man roster to 37, leaving three currently available spots to add players from the minor league system who otherwise would be available to be selected by other clubs in the December Rule 5 Draft.
(The Rule 5 Draft will take place during the annual Winter Meetings, and for a primer about it and which players the Reds might need to protect, check out Doug Gray’s write-up from RedsMinorLeagues.com. The gist: it’s the solid MiLB guys whose names you recognize and who’ve been around for awhile without a big league call-up that will need to be considered. Of course, to add them all would also require some guys currently on the roster to be designated for assignment - or traded away.)
While the QO contracts and roster decisions are being made over the next week, all 30 front offices will have their hands in other fires, too. If you look back at last November’s MLB-wide transaction ledger, you’ll find players agreeing to minor league contracts as early as November 1st, for instance. The first major trade of the Hot Stove season came shortly afterwards, as the Philadelphia Phillies sent Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney to the Dodgers in exchange for Howie Kendrick. The very next day saw the Toronto Blue Jays sign Cuban free agent Lourdes Gurriel to a massive 7-year, $22 million deal, while veteran MLB pitchers Charlie Morton and Jesse Chavez inked big league deals later that week.
So, with just a tiny bit of respite, MLB news will continue to roll in over the coming weeks. The second week of November will see Orlando host the GM Meetings, where rule changes and administrative ideas will be discussed. That week will also mark awards season, as we’ll find out the MVPs, Cy Young winners, and Rookies of the Year from both the AL and NL at that time.
Those meetings and announcements will precede the week that has both the Rule 5 Draft and most of the largest blockbuster deals of the offseason - the annual Winter Meetings, which will also be in Orlando this year from December 10th through the 14th. The deals that sent away Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos in previous years went down during the Winter Meetings, for the record, and the Reds have made a habit of talking trades during that window specifically.
There’ll be plenty of action later into the Winter, as well, especially for teams laden with arbitration-eligible rosters like the Reds. That’ll play out once the calendar turns to 2018, however, barring any extensions given to those players like the one doled out to Tucker Barnhart. Still, the next six weeks should go a long way towards setting up the roster for the 2018 season.