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10 MLB offseason storylines to follow

The final out of the World Series marked a dramatic end to the baseball season on the field…and started the off-the-field activities. Most of the key storylines this winter will have a direct impact on how the 2017 season develops.

10. Handing out hardware

The Rookie of the Year led off awards season on Monday, with Michael Fulmer and Corey Seager winning the AL and NL, respectively. Terry Francona, in leading the Indians to a pennant, and Dave Roberts, who overcame an abundance of injuries to guide the Dodgers to a division crown, were the top managers. Earning the Cy Young Awards were Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.

Saving the most significant prize for last, the MVPs are still to come.

Kris Bryant, after just his second big league season, will be the NL MVP. To go on top of his championship ring, Bryant’s additional hardware was earned with 39 homers, 102 RBIs and a league-high 121 runs scored.

That’s the easy one. The AL MVP choice is quite difficult. Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson all have a shot. We’ll know for sure on Thursday.

9. World Baseball Classic

Competitive games aren’t as far away as you think. The fourth iteration of the World Baseball Classic begins on March 9 with the championship set to be played 15 days later in Los Angeles.

The Dominican Republic (winners back in 2013) will defend its title against 15 other nations. Primed to contend again is Japan, which won the first two WBC tournaments. Cuba, Puerto Rico and South Korea should also be considered favorites. 

As for the United States, the roster has yet to be filled. However, we do know a few who will participate. Nolan Arenado voiced his commitment on Sunday. This was preceded by Chris Archer and Max Scherzer, just to name a few.

8. Hall of Fame voting

In the wake of Mike Piazza’s induction last year, all signs point to Jeff Bagwell (who also had unconfirmed whispers of PED use) getting in when the Class of 2017 is announced in early January. The 1994 NL MVP of the Houston Astros was just under the necessary 75 percent vote needed.

While this will be the seventh try for Bagwell, it’s the 10th and final attempt for Tim Raines. With 808 steals, Raines is considered the best lead-off hitter of the 1980s, though largely overlooked because of Rickey Henderson.

Among the the newcomers to the ballot that have a shot at reaching Cooperstown are former Angels and Expos outfielder Vladimir Guerrero as well as catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

7. Future of free agents

This won’t be a landmark year for revolutionary contracts. No David Price mega-deal. No Zack Greinke “break the bank” pact. And the lavish Bryce Harper transaction is yet to come.

A few of the 2016-17 free agents stand out more than the others, as you’ll read about later. But there are a fair share of players who can be picked up at a relatively reasonable rate.

Justin Turner and Mark Trumbo are middle-of-the-lineup assets. Turner hit 27 homers, while Trumbo led the majors with 47 dingers. Both, however, are over age 30. Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, and Josh Reddick are also among the top outfielders to be had.

6. Let’s make a deal

Late July is usually the prime time for trades. But the barren free agent market could put some teams in a wheelin’-and-dealin’ state of mind.

Take Chris Sale, for instance. There isn’t any franchise who wouldn’t love his pitching skills. His temperament in the clubhouse is another story. Still, rumors are surfacing that the Chicago White Sox may rid themselves of their jersey-cutting lefty by the time 2017 arrives in favor of rebuilding.

The Detroit Tigers are also looking to revamp. Their solution to cut payroll may be to cut bait with the likes of Ian Kinsler or J.D. Martinez in exchange for lower-priced prospects.

Finally, with the Washington Nationals likely placing Trea Turner at his customary position of shortstop, it would leave Danny Espinosa as the odd man out.

5. Au revoir to Blue Jay duo?

Toronto is the team that could be most affected by free agency. Together, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were two of the prominent factors in leading the Blue Jays into consecutive ALCS appearances. But before long, they could be changing uniforms.

Both rejected the Jays’ qualifying offers on Monday, which shouldn’t come as a shock. With a 42-home run, 127-RBI season under his belt, the 33-year-old Encarnacion is in search of a significant deal before he’s past his prime.

Bautista, age 36, should still attract a lucrative contract despite injuries limiting him to 116 games last year. In the previous two seasons, he totaled 75 homers and more than 210 runs batted in.

4. Closers on the move

After witnessing a postseason in which relief pitchers were held in such high regard, it’s appropriate that several will entice demand from clubs needing bullpen help – especially since the crop of starting pitching free agents leaves nothing to be desired.

Kenley Jansen stood out this postseason, not just due to his large frame. The 6-5, 270-pound ex-catcher struck out 19 over 11.2 playoff innings, including seven big outs in L.A.’s NLDS Game 5 victory over the Washington Nationals. There’s a chance he could strike a deal that would net him $10 million a year.

Even more might be on the table for Aroldis Chapman. His ability to throw more than 100 miles per hour with regularity stands out above others at his position. But is anyone willing to pay that price? The Red Sox, Nationals, and Giants might.

3. A new collective bargaining deal? 

The relationship between the owners and the players is as amicable as it’s ever been in recent memory (or maybe ever).

Of the four major sports leagues, MLB had has the longest run of labor peace – with the crippling strike of 1994-95 being the last work stoppage. So as the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on Dec. 1, the two sides are sure to strike a deal with nary a quibble.

Still, there will be several points to discuss aside from the usual debate over minimum salary and luxury tax. For one, the MLB Players Association is fighting to put an end to qualifying offers, which can limit player mobility due to the attachment of a draft pick.

Also, there may be significant changes with the international draft, primarily dealing with a slotting system that is far too lenient when it comes to teams not paying the assigned salary for particular draft picks. Many are calling for the system to be less flexible and include penalties for clubs who overstep their bounds.

2. Potential rule changes

A replay system, to some, is better than no replay at all. But have there been issues with it since Rob Manfred implemented it in 2014? Yes, and those flaws become more exposed under the harsh scrutiny of postseason competition.

This will certainly be a hot-button issue when the owners meet next month. Same goes for the pace of play, which was a point of emphasis prior to 2015. During it’s first year, the average game time was reduced by six minutes. This year, somehow, it went up four minutes despite continuing to implement a time limit between innings and keeping manager/coach mound visits to 30 seconds.

Perhaps a radical change is on the horizon, but it’s hard to imagine anything drastic would be changed. A tweak we could see is the implementation of a pitch clock (which is already used in some leagues).

1. Is Yo set to go? 

Yoenis Cespedes is the straw that stirs New York.

Upon his joining his current team in August 2015, the Mets took off en route to a National League pennant. When he was healthy during the 2016 season, they possessed a formidable offense.

Cespedes entered free agency last off-season. Instead of taking a larger deal with Washington, the power-hitting outfielder decided to stay in the Big Apple. Now, he’s opted out of that contract, rejected a qualifying offer, and is seeking a new deal. Will the Mets do enough to keep him once more?

Lose Cespedes to another team, and the chances of getting to a third postseason drop immensely. For the Mets, no price should be too steep.