MLB Winter Meetings 2019: Eight bold predictions, including a Francisco Lindor trade and two huge signings
Will Francisco Lindor, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg get new homes this week?
On Monday, the 2019 MLB Winter Meetings began in earnest at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront in, well, San Diego. Technically the Winter Meetings got underway Sunday, but the hot stove rumors and transactions will really begin flying Monday..
With the Winter Meetings upon us, here are eight bold predictions for the coming week in San Diego. Make sure you bookmark this page so you can come back at the end of the week to see how totally correct these predictions are.
1. Lindor goes to Cardinals in blockbuster trade
Do the Indians want to trade Francisco Lindor? No, they absolutely do not. Do the Indians have to trade Lindor? Eh, no, probably not, but it might be prudent. Lindor is two years away from free agency and it's unlikely the small-market Indians can afford to keep him long-term. They could either keep him and try to win the next two years, then let him go as a free agent, or cash him in as a trade chip for a massive return now.
Realistically, the Indians will have four windows to trade Lindor:
- 2019-20 offseason (acquiring team gets him for two full seasons)
- 2020 trade deadline (acquiring team still gets him for two postseason runs)
- 2020-21 offseason (acquiring team gets him for one full season)
- 2021 trade deadline (acquiring team only gets him for one postseason run)
The longer the Indians wait to trade Lindor, the less they can expect in return, simply because the acquiring team will have Lindor for fewer games. Two full seasons of Lindor is more valuable than a season-and-a-half, a season-and-a-half is more valuable than one full season, so on and so forth. Long story short, Lindor's trade value is only going down from here, as good as he is. That doesn't mean the Indians will give him away, just that his maximum trade value is right now.
On the surface, the Cardinals do not appear to be a logical trade partner for Lindor. They have a pretty good shortstop already, plus they have other needs on the roster, namely center field and pitching. Here's the thing though: Lindor is on the short list of the game's best players and would make the Cardinals much better. He'd improve their infield defense and give them a dynamic switch-hitter to set the table for Paul Goldschmidt. Maybe adding Lindor is not the obvious way for the Cardinals to get better, but it's a way to get better.
My bold trade prediction: Lindor for Paul DeJong, Tommy Edman, and Tyler O'Neill. The Indians get a shortstop to replace Lindor -- a shortstop signed to an affordable contract at that -- plus a power outfield bat in O'Neill, something they sorely lack. Edman can play pretty much anywhere, allowing Cleveland to pursue another outfielder (Edman plays second) or a second baseman (Edman plays the outfield). Three cheap MLB ready pieces the Indians can plug right into the lineup:
- 2B or RF Tommy Edman
- CF Oscar Mercado
- 1B Carlos Santana
- 3B Jose Ramirez
- DH Franmil Reyes
- SS Paul DeJong
- LF Tyler O'Neill
- C Roberto Perez
- 2B or RF TBD
The Cardinals get an upgrade at shortstop and would deal from a position of depth with O'Neill -- St. Louis would still have Randy Arozarena, Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez, and Lane Thomas for the outfield -- to get that upgrade. Edman is the cost of doing business. It would hurt to give him up after his strong rookie season, but it should hurt to get a player like Lindor. This is the bold prediction: Lindor to The Gateway for DeJong, Edman, and O'Neill.
2. Strasburg heads to the West Coast
But not home to San Diego. Rather than join his hometown Padres, I'm boldly predicting the reigning World Series MVP will sign with the Dodgers. The two sides met last week, according to Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times, and the time is right for the Dodgers to hand out a monster free-agent contract. Their World Series drought is old enough to start regretting its life decisions and their projected 2020 luxury tax payroll is $161 million (per Cot's Baseball Contracts), well below the $208 million threshold.
The Dodgers need another starting pitcher with Clayton Kershaw entering his decline and Hyun-Jin Ryu not guaranteed to re-sign as a free agent, and they have the financial wherewithal to make Strasburg work. Los Angeles worked very hard to get under the luxury tax threshold these last few years. What was the point of all that if they're not going to use the payroll flexibility to land a star player? Consider the possible rotation:
- RHP Walker Buehler
- RHP Stephen Strasburg
- LHP Clayton Kershaw
- RHP Kenta Maeda
- LHP Julio Urias
- RHP Tony Gonsolin
- RHP Dustin May
With Strasburg, the Dodgers could even consider moving Maeda into a full-time relief role (he wouldn't love that based on this piece from The Athletic's Andy McCullough) to address their perpetual bullpen shortage. Buehler and Strasburg are as good a 1-2 punch as there is in baseball and, even considering his decline, I don't think there's a better third starter in the league than Kershaw. It's hard not to make the 😍 face when you look at the top of that rotation.
Strasburg has cemented his legacy with the Nationals. He's the former No. 1 pick turned World Series hero who gave the franchise its first ever championship, and he will always be remembered that way in Washington DC. Now he can seek that big free-agent contract and ride off into the sunset with a contender closer to home on the West Coast. It works for Strasburg, it works for the Dodgers, and it worked for the Nationals the last decade. There's no need to drag this out beyond the Winter Meetings.
This prediction was shot down earlyon Monday. It's the largest contract ever for a pitcher (at least for now).
3. Rendon goes home to Texas
Sorry, Nationals fans. I'm boldly predicting the team's two star free agents will sign elsewhere. Strasburg goes to the Dodgers and Anthony Rendon goes to Texas, though not his hometown Astros. Instead, he'll ink a six-year contract with the Rangers that will pay him $36 million per season. Rendon and agent Scott Boras trade one fewer guaranteed year (than expected) for a record average annual salary. That record is currently held by Mike Trout at $35.54 million.
The Rangers are opening a new ballpark next season, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, giving them a strong rotation front four, and their current $119.9 million projected Opening Day payroll (per Cot's Baseball Contracts) is well below the $165.3 million franchise record set three years ago. The money is there and the motivation is there. Consider the possible lineup:, and they want to open that ballpark with a contender. They have already added
- DH Shin-Soo Choo
- SS Elvis Andrus
- 3B Anthony Rendon
- CF Joey Gallo
- 1B Nick Solak
- RF Nomar Mazara
- LF Willie Calhoun
- 2B Rougned Odor
- C Jose Trevino
Solak may not have the arm for third base nor the range for the middle infield, so first base may be his ultimate position. The kid can hit though. Danny Santana, last year's surprise 28-homer man, moves into a true super utility role, playing pretty much every day at a different position. He'd be a wonderful "tenth man," so to speak. That lineup plus a solid rotation and guys like Jose Leclerc and Emmanuel Clase throwing fire in the bullpen would make noise in the wild-card race, if nothing else.
The Rangers had a revolving door at third base in the first year post-Adrian Beltre -- three players started at least 25 games at the hot corner and five started at least eight games at third -- and Rendon would put an end to that. He improves the offense, he improves the team defense, and he ratchets up the excitement as the Rangers open their new stadium. The new annual salary record allows Texas to close the deal in San Diego this coming week.
4. Cole gets three record offers
I have Rendon and Strasburg signing this coming week at the Winter Meetings. Gerrit Cole, the third Scott Boras super-client, will not complete the trifecta, however. His free agency will instead linger into January because that's usually what Boras does with his top clients. Wait for the other top pitchers to sign (Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, etc.), then get desperate teams bidding against each other. Boras has been doing it more than a quarter-century now and it's worked well.
Cole may not sign at the Winter Meetings, but that doesn't mean the race won't heat up. ESPN's Jeff Passan reports "teams will be making initial offers in the coming days," so things are moving forward. David Price holds the record for largest pitcher contract at $217 million and Zack Greinke holds the record for average annual value at $34.42 million. My bold prediction: Cole will get three offers during the Winter Meetings that would break both records:
- Angels: 7 years and $245 million ($35 million per year)
- Padres: 7 years and $242 million ($34.57 million per year)
- Yankees: 7 years and $245 million ($35 million per year)
We'll have to count on the intrepid reporters on the ground at the Winter Meetings in San Diego to tweet out the leaked information about the offers to Cole. All three offers in the same neighborhood and all three represent new total guarantee and average annual value records for pitchers. Those are the initial offers, remember. The teams and Boras will then continue to negotiate from there.
The Angels and Yankees have been the two clubs most connected to Cole this offseason, so it should be no surprise to see them making offers in this bold prediction. The Padres, however, are a surprise team. They have been connected to Strasburg, the native San Diegon, but we have him going to the NL West rival Dodgers. Rather than accept defeat and look for low-cost rotation options, I boldly prediction the Padres will jump into the Cole mix.
Will the Padres outbid the Angels and Yankees to sign Cole? Almost certainly not, but they'll give it the ol' college try. Cole almost certainly will not sign during the Winter Meetings. Rendon and Strasburg probably won't either, but my bold predictions, my rules. Cole may not sign this coming week, but he will receive contract offers, and expect even the initial offers to be record-setting.
5. Cubs ship out Contreras
I can't say I understand why the Cubs are said to be open to trading catcher Willson Contreras -- he's really good and good catchers are hard to find -- but they are reportedly considering the idea, supposedly because they need to free up money to make other moves. Contreras is projected to make about $5 million through arbitration next season and he will remain under team control through 2022. Three years of a very good catcher is awfully valuable.
Lots of teams could use a new starting catcher but one stands out from the rest: the Astros. Remember, they tried to acquire J.T. Realmuto last offseason. As well as Robinson Chirinos served them in 2019, the 'Stros are clearly open to parting with prospects to acquire an above-average starting catcher like Contreras. After missing out on Realmuto last year, they won't miss out out on Contreras this year. My boldly predicted Winter Meetings trade:
Contreras for three young (and cheap) right-handed pitchers, basically. The Cubs can try James as a starter next season -- he was expected to start for the Astros this year before a spring training quad injury threw a wrench into that plan -- and fall back on using him out of the bullpen. Abreu likely needs a full season in Triple-A even after making his MLB debut this past season, but Bielak has mid-rotation starter upside and a half-season of Triple-A under his belt, so he'll be MLB ready very soon.
In a nutshell, the Cubs trade their starting catcher for sorely needed pitching depth, and the Astros dip into their seemingly never-ending supply of pitching prospects to make a massive upgrade at catcher. Chicago would have to come up a replacement for Contreras -- may I suggest signing Austin Romine to pair with Victor Caratini? -- and would take a hit behind the plate no matter whom they acquire, but gosh, they really need some young arms, and they'd get them in this trade.
6. Red Sox find a taker for Price
For reasons, the Red Sox are planning to get under the $208 million luxury tax threshold in 2020. They've had the highest payroll in the game and paid luxury tax the last two years, and when you win the World Series like they did in 2018, that's fine. When you win 84 games and miss the postseason like they did in 2019, that's a problem. Payroll is expected to come down next year and that's why Mookie Betts and his possible $30 million arbitration salary are said to be on the trade block.
The Red Sox currently have $218.4 million on next year's payroll for luxury tax purposes (per Cot's Baseball Contracts), so new baseball operations head Chaim Bloom has his work cut out for him. He has to move money to get under the threshold. J.D. Martinez declining to opt out of his contract didn't help matters. Rather than trade Betts, I boldly predict Bloom & Co. will meet the payroll mandate by moving David Price and the three years and $93 million remaining on his contract at the Winter Meetings.
Which team would take on Price's contract, you ask? The White Sox, I answer. They've already signed Yasmani Grandal, so they've been active this winter, but they missed out on Zack Wheeler after reportedly making him a bigger offer than the Phillies, and they couldn't reel in Jordan Lyles either. Price has no no-trade protection, so he can't block a deal. The trade i am boldly predicting:
- White Sox get: Price and $20 million ($10 million each in 2021 and 2022)
- Red Sox get: Kelvin Herrera and infield prospect Jake Burger
Price has the big contract and he was limited to 22 starts this past season by elbow woes, so he's not going to bring back much in a trade. Herrera wasn't any good in 2019 (36 runs in 51 1/3 innings), but he still missed bats (22.6 percent strikeout rate) and is a worthwhile reclamation project for the bullpen-needy Red Sox. Mostly though, Herrera is included in this trade to offset money. He's owed $9.5 million in real money in 2020 and will count as $9 million against the luxury tax.
Burger is a reclamation project himself. The 23-year-old was the 11th overall pick in the 2017 draft but he hasn't played the last two seasons after rupturing and re-rupturing his left Achilles tendon. When healthy, Burger is the kind of righty bat who could do big damage at Fenway Park. The White Sox are set all around the infield with Yoan Moncada at third, Tim Anderson at short, the recently extended Jose Abreu at first, and eventually prospect Nick Madrigal at second. Burger is expendable.
As for the Red Sox, their primary motivation for the trade is salary relief. They'd clear $22 million in luxury tax payroll space in 2020 (Price's $31 million minus Herrera's $9 million) and $21 million in 2021 and 2022 (Price's $31 million minus the $10 million sent to the White Sox in the trade). That gets them under the luxury tax threshold next season and even leaves them a little spending money this winter. (Money Bloom may have to use replace Price in the rotation.)
The White Sox get Price on what amounts to a three-year contract worth $64 million. They don't need him to be an ace -- they already have Lucas Giolito for that -- nor do they even need him to be their No. 2 starter. Flamethrower Michael Kopech is set to return from Tommy John surgery next year and he could fill that role in short order. The ChiSox get a veteran starter in what amounts to a salary dump and the Red Sox get to, well, dump salary. A win-win.
7. Blue Jays signs three of our top 50 free agents
Does anyone expect the Blue Jays to be big spenders this offseason? No, not really, but they are a sleeper team to watch. Toronto is mostly set on the position player side given all their youngsters, though they desperately need pitching, and they should have money to spend. Their projected $63.9 million Opening Day payroll is roughly $50 million -- $50 million! -- below this year's $114.5 million Opening Day payroll (per Cot's Baseball Contracts).
The Blue Jays are going to spend money this winter. No, they're not going to get involved in the Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg bidding, but there is money to spend. Expect them to spread it around. Because of that, I am boldly predicting Toronto will nab three ofduring the Winter Meetings this week:
- No. 36: Tanner Roark (two years and $25 million)
- No. 39: Eric Thames (one year and $8 million with a club option)
- No. 41: Alex Wood (one year and $10 million)
I know at least one Blue Jays fan who would be very happy to see them bring Thames back. Toronto needs a first baseman/DH to pair with Rowdy Tellez and Thames can fill that role cromulently. Roark is a boringly reliable innings eater and Wood an upside play after missing most of 2019 with a nagging back injury. You needn't look back far to see the last time he was an impact starter (2018 with the Dodgers). The Blue Jays are in position to roll the dice and promise him a rotation spot, no questions asked.
Here is the Blue Jays' rotation depth chart with Roark and Wood:
- RHP Tanner Roark
- RHP Chase Anderson
- RHP Trent Thornton
- LHP Alex Wood
- RHP Matt Shoemaker
- LHP Anthony Kay
- LHP Ryan Borucki
- RHP Jacob Waguespack
Still not great! But certainly better it would be without Roark and Wood. The next contending Blue Jays roster is beginning to take shape and, more than anything, they need veterans who provide competence while the kids find their way at the MLB level. Roark and Thames can do that, and Wood is an upside play. I boldly predict the Blue Jays will be among the most active teams at the Winter Meetings this week.
8. Two new Hall of Famers are elected
A few years ago the old Veterans Committee split into four "eras" committees that meet every few years to review and vote on former players and personnel who either are not eligible for the BBWAA's Hall of Fame ballot or have exhausted their eligibility. The Modern Era committee will meet this year to consider 10 candidates: Dwight Evans, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, and Lou Whitaker.
The committee consists of 16 members and 12 votes are required for induction. The 16 members: Hall of Famers George Brett, Rod Carew, Dennis Eckersley, Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith, and Robin Yount; executives Sandy Alderson, Dave Dombrowski, David Glass, Walt Jocketty, Doug Melvin, and Terry Ryan; and media members/historians Bill Center, Steve Hirdt, Jack O'Connell, and Tracy Ringolsby. The committee will announce its Hall of Fame selections Sunday evening.
My official (bold) prediction for this year's Modern Era committee: Garvey and Whitaker are voted in. Whitaker because he deserves to be voted in following a distinguished, if not understated, 19-year career that saw him amass 75 WAR. It is a damn shame he fell off the BBWAA's Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility in 2001. One of the most egregious omissions in recent Hall of Fame voting history. The Modern Era committee will fix the BBWAA's mistake.
Garvey will get voted in because these committees are always good for an unexpected Hall of Fame selection or two, like Harold Baines last year. I don't mean this as a slight against Garvey. He was a very good player for a very long time. Former MVP, two-time NLCS MVP, World Series champ, 10-time All-Star. Wonderful career. Like Baines though, I'd say Garvey falls into the "good but not quite good enough" Hall of Fame bucket for most observers, so his selection would qualify as a surprise.
Two new members of the Hall of Fame were voted in Sunday, however they were not Garvey and Whitaker. Instead,
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