John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Winter Meetings have been a snooze-fest in recent years, as teams have become more cautious about long-term free-agent signings and less inclined to give up prospects in trades, producing offseason stalemates that last into February.
But there's hope it might be different this time, as a combination of factors offers the possibility for significant action in San Diego the next few days.
Most notably, large-market teams such as the Yankees, Dodgers, and Angels are big-game hunters this offseason, which hasn't been the case in recent years.
They all seemed primed to bid aggressively for at least one of the top free agents -- Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, or Anthony Rendon -- which should speed up the process in comparison to last year's long wait on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
In addition, the Phillies continue their quest to become serious contenders, having already thrown crazy money at Zack Wheeler. And the White Sox actually offered more than the Phillies for Wheeler, as they are one of a few other teams that appear to be done rebuilding and want to win again.
Finally, teams like the Cubs, Indians, and even the Red Sox are looking to trade star players such as Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor and Mookie Betts, either in search of a shake-up or payroll savings, which makes for grand possibilities as well.
With all of that in mind, here are five reasons to believe these Winter Meetings might live up to the hype this time.
1) The Yankees Aren't Messing Around
Brian Cashman clearly has convinced Hal Steinbrenner to open the vault for Cole, and the Yankees are ready to outbid the hometown Angels and everybody else, which puts Cashman in a position to dictate the timing of a deal to Scott Boras.
And while Boras tends to drag such negotiations out for weeks on top free agents, as he did last year with Harper, that's often because he's simply not getting the offers he wants. In this case, the bidding figures to be aggressive, and Cashman isn't one to leave an offer on the table for Boras to shop it around to other teams.
With that in mind, I'll be surprised if the GM doesn't get his man at these winter meetings, much the way he did 11 years ago when the Yankees signed CC Sabathia to fill their need for an ace.
2) The Dodgers Are Tired Of Coming Close
They've won seven straight division titles and yet their championship drought is now at 31 years and counting. Meanwhile, with a payroll well under the luxury tax threshold and a thriving farm system, the Dodgers are well-positioned to make a big move that could get them over the hump.
So the feeling among baseball people is that GM Andrew Friedman is ready to depart from his mostly conservative style and either sign one of the top free agents or make a blockbuster trade.
Speculation has them seriously considering a deal to sign Rendon, but they could just easily decide to add either Cole or Stephen Strasburg and see if a loaded starting rotation can bring home the long-awaited championship, much as it did for the Nationals this year.
If they don't want to get locked into a seven or eight-year deal, however, they have the top prospects to trade for Lindor or Bryant, as the roster flexibility to make either of those deals work.
3) There's No Joy In Tankville
Finally some teams that have been tanking in recent years seem to be feeling a renewed urgency to win. In particular, the Padres, White Sox, and Reds all have been aggressive already this offseason while indicating they want to do more.
Most notably, after his first attempt at going all-in failed miserably, Padres' GM A.J. Preller is moving and shaking again, this time with key core players in place and a ballyhooed farm system.
Preller has already made notable trades this winter with the Rays, Rangers, and Brewers, but he still has plenty of prospects to make a blockbuster deal, as well as payroll room to land, say, Strasburg, who just happens to be from San Diego.
As the host team at the Winter Meetings, look for the Padres to make headlines in the coming days.
4) Theo Epstein Wants To Make A Statement
Epstein's firing of Joe Maddon was proof the glow from the Cubs' 2016 championship had faded, and he has made it clear he believes his team doesn't have the grind-it-out mentality he wants.
Perhaps even more to the point, the Cubs' celebrated position-player core has grown up together, with several players closing in on free agency in two years.
As a result, Epstein has said publicly he has to consider any and all trades for the likes of Bryant, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, and Anthony Rizzo.
Scouts and executives doubt he'd trade Baez or Rizzo, but Bryant, the 2016 MVP, is an intriguing possibility, with the Cubs obviously concerned about signing the Boras client long-term.
5) If The Mets Are Serious About Winning The NL East…
They can't sit back and watch everybody else get better, right? So while indications are they don't plan to spend big this winter, perhaps the aggressiveness of the Braves and Phillies, on top of the Nationals' status as world champs, will push the "win-now" Mets to get busy at the Winter Meetings.
At the very least they seem likely to sign a couple of free-agent pitchers, probably focusing on relievers that could give them the bullpen depth to put Seth Lugo in the starting rotation.
To make that a worthwhile gamble they need to sign at least two from the likes of Dellin Betances, Will Harris, Blake Treinen, Steve Cisheck, Joe Smith, etc., and those are names that all could be gone by the end of this week.
In addition, Brodie Van Wagenen has talked about being creative, but with so few top prospects in their farm system, at least at the upper levels, making trades won't be easy. Dom Smith is the one obvious trade chip, since he's blocked at first base, and the Mets would love to attach a bad contract like that of Jeurys Familia to him in a deal.