MLB's GM meetings concluded on Thursday, which means we've ticked off a fairly important checkpoint on. The Winter Meetings, during which activity often peaks, is now exactly one month away, and that means the 2018-19 offseason can begin in earnest.
So as we rush headlong into all the trades and signings, let's run down 11 key takeaways from these recently completed GM meetings and what they might mean for the vast remainder of the offseason.
1. 'Harper's Bazaar' is underway
Uber-agent Scott Boras represents outfielder Bryce Harper, . As is the case whenever there's an offseason baseball hootenanny, Boras was on hand to hold court before assembled media. This time around, he declared that "Harper's Bazaar" is open for business.
Harper of course has MVP upside and star marketability, and he's also extremely young (26) as free agents go. That's why he's likely sign a contract worth, oh, $350 million or so. (Fellow premium free agent Manny Machado, also 26, won't be far off that figure.) To the end of pumping up that market, Boras has indicated that Harper might be willing to play first base.
Any number of teams could use Harper, and the Giants, Cardinals, Phillies, Dodgers, Angels, Braves and incumbent Nationals make for a partial listing of likely suitors. Oh, and add one surprise entrant to the ledger ...
2. The White Sox could be surprise players
The White Sox are trying to emerge from a deep rebuild, and they're getting a little impatient about it. The South Siders have endured six straight losing seasons, and 2018 occasioned their first 100-loss campaign since 1970. The young core is impressive, but some known quantities are needed in order to allow them to contend in a winnable AL Central (very winnable if the Indians indeed sell off some veterans) and to reinvigorate a jaded fan base.
The first tell was when the Sox leading up to the non-waiver deadline were rumored to be a potential landing spot for Machado. Recent buzz has it that the White Sox intend to be players for Machado and Harper (Cubs' ascendancy doesn't sit well with him. It all adds up to the Sox being one of the more active teams this winter.). Longtime owner Jerry Reinsdorf has been known to spend aggressively at times, and there's no doubt that the
3. The Yankees are going after starting pitching
The Yanks, coming off a 100-win season, want to fortify the rotation. They've already re-upped with veteran lefty CC Sabathia, but offsetting that is that GM Brian Cashman has said he intends to trade right-hander Sonny Gray over the winter. The best arm on the free-agent market, at least since Clayton Kershaw , is lefty Patrick Corbin, and the Yankees are expected to pursue him hotly. As well, bringing back J.A. Happ remains a possibility. Elsewhere, Cashman's squad has been linked to Charlie Morton, and if the Indians do indeed decide to shop ace Corey Kluber this offseason then the Yanks may be among the interested parties. Whatever the specifics, expect a retooled rotation in the Bronx for 2019.
4. The Astros probably will, too
It's strange to think of Houston as being in need of rotation help, but that's likely the case. Dallas Keuchel and Morton are both free agents, and right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. will now . They do have Josh James, Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh on the roster, but it's doubtful that a team in contending mode wants to lean that much on their depth to start the season. Expect the Astros to go for starters this winter.
5. Mike Trout isn't going anywhere
Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, hasn't been on a contending roster since 2014. This is a reflection of the roster around him in Anaheim. Last offseason, GM Billy Eppler made a game attempt at building a playoff team despite budget limitations and a weak farm system, but injuries (and a fairly brutal AL West) got in the way. Because of this chronic non-competitiveness, trade rumors constantly swirl about Trout, who's locked up through the 2020 season at roughly $34 million per season.
Eppler, though, continues to insist that Trout isn't available in trade -- he (again) said as much during a recent appearance on MLB Network. What's different this time, at least if the rumblings are to be believed, is that Eppler may have more payroll room to maneuver this winter. Perhaps, then, Trout, DH Shohei Ohtani, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and slugging outfielder Justin Upton will get some help on the market heading into 2019.
6. Neither is Rob Manfred
Manfred, 60, has been MLB's commissioner since January of 2015, and over that span he's overseen continued revenue growth and a peaceful CBA negotiation with the Players Association. As well, he's addressed pace-of-play issues and focused on grassroots promotion of the sport. From the owners' standpoint, which is the one that matters for these purposes, he's been a success. That's why .
7. It's a pivotal offseason for the reigning champs
The Red Sox this past season stormed to 108 wins and the belt and the title. Team pit boss Dave Dombrowski is nothing if not an operator who loves to go for it, so expect a vigorous title defense in 2019. To that end, the Sox need to re-sign Craig Kimbrel or turn up a replacement for him. They also need to decide whether Dustin Pedroia is capable of pinning down second base at this stage of his career and whether Rafael Devers is their long-term answer at third base.
Looking forward to 2020, though, presents even more concerns. Consider who's eligible for free agency after the 2019 season:
- LHP Chris Sale
- SS Xander Bogaerts
- RHP Rick Porcello
- INF/OF Brock Holt
- DH J.D. Martinez (assuming he exercises opt-out)
Suffice it to say, those would be huge losses. Dombrowski isn't partial to rebuilds, so don't be surprised if the Sox this winter work toward contract extensions with multiple names on that list (assuming willingness on the part of the player, of course). As for Martinez, the decision before him will be whether to test the market going into what will be his age-32 season or to accept the $60 million-plus and three years left on his Boston contract. If he comes close to the numbers he put up in 2018 (), then he'll have a lot of leverage.
8. The Cubs still don't look like big spenders
For a long time, we expected the Cubs to be in the mix for Harper or Machado. After all, they're squarely in contending mode, and signing either would help keep that World Series window open a bit longer. As well, the Cubs right about now have overflowing coffers. Then, though, reports mounted that the Cubs would.
Would the Cubs really do that? Would they be the latest wealthy power team to compromise their own chances in the name of trying to get under or stay within reach of the luxury-tax threshold? Or was it some kind of ruse to perhaps tilt the market a bit? Well ...
If the Cubs are playing possum for Harper etc then they're doing a heck of a job because even other agents (not Boras) at the meetings don't believe they will be spending big. Time will tell.— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) November 9, 2018
Maybe things will change, but right now the Cubs don't look like they'll be splash investors this offseason. Whether this holds will be one of the most compelling subplots of the offseason.
9. The Mariners' teardown has probably begun
The Mariners have the longest playoff drought in MLB (they haven't made the postseason since 2001), and that figures to continue. Over the last half-decade, they've contended more often than not, but now an aging roster and barren farm system may be forcing GM Jerry Dipoto to change course. The recent trade of catcher Mike Zunino to the Rays as part of is likely just the start. , Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura could get the Mariners good young talent in return, should they decide to fully commit to a rebuild.
10. The Giants have their man
It remains to be seen what course the Giants take this offseason -- they need to rebuild, but ownership reportedly wants to go for it again. Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey and company. Which path Zaidi and the Giants take will have league-wide implications.. The Giants during the GM Meetings introduced Zaidi, who had served as GM of the Dodgers, as the team's new head of baseball ops. In L.A., Zaidi served under Andrew Friedman, but now he'll run the show in San Francisco. Zaidi is analytically inclined and probably favors a rebuild. That said, his bosses may instruct him to pursue Harper and try to build a contending roster around
11. The Orioles still don't
The Orioles are now the last team standing without a GM/president of baseball ops for 2019. They're pretty much set on a rebuilding course, so perhaps the situation isn't as urgent as it might be with a potential contender. Rumored candidates for the job include former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, Tigers exec David Chadd, Astros assistant GM Mike Elias, and Phillies assistant GM Ned Rice. Whoever gets the job faces a long road back to relevance in the AL East. The Orioles of course are coming off a 115-loss season.