Major League Baseball's annual Winter Meetings are underway and they will be unlike any Winter Meetings in history. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced MLB to scrap plans to hold the Winter Meetings in-person in Dallas. Instead, the event is being held virtually. Here's what you need to know about the 2020 Winter Meetings.
The Winter Meetings are typically the busiest week of the baseball offseason each year. Executives from the 30 clubs (and agents) are in one place for four days, allowing for face-to-face meetings that help facilitate trades and free agent signings. With the Winter Meetings going virtual, that in-person dynamic is lost, though I'm still hopeful this will be an exciting and eventful week.
"When you do what I do, the crux of the Winter Meetings is about the people I represent," agent Scott Boras told Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. "When you're an advocate for them, you have a steady dialogue with the principals that really provide the barometer of the baseball hot stove, which are the journalists. The teams don't give any insight. The interaction with the journalists, and having that forum, creates a level of excitement that frankly doesn't exist in other sports."
Now that virtual Winter Meetings have arrived, let's lay out some virtual bold predictions for the virtual week. Here are five bold predictions that will undoubtedly come true during this year's Winter Meetings.
1. There will be a big free agent signing
Big name free agent signings are a Winter Meetings tradition. There are always a few each year -- Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, and Anthony Rendon signed on consecutive days last Winter Meetings -- but this year is unlikely any other, and the free agent market has been very slow-moving. To date, .
The slow-moving offseason will probably continue this week because clubs aren't eager to commit dollars to 2021 payroll without knowing what the 2021 season will look like (number of games, fans in attendance, etc.), but I do think we'll see our first major free agent signing at the Winter Meetings. In fact, I'll boldly predict it. We'll get a big name free agent signing this week.
The player: DJ LeMahieu. The team: New York Yankees. The contract: $80 million across four years seems reasonable enough. , beating out Trevor Bauer, George Springer, and J.T. Realmuto, and I see no reason to shift gears. Both sides are interested in a reunion and it's a natural fit. It works.
There's also this: LeMahieu is the only one of the four big free agents who has been a free agent before, and when he was a free agent two years ago, he had to wait until Jan. 14 to sign. I don't think he wants to wait that long again. Free agency can be stressful for players. The Yankees want LeMahieu, LeMahieu wants the Yankees. They'll work it out this week.
For more MLB hot stove talk, check out Fantasy Baseball Today, where the crew breaks down the best destinations for the top free agents.
2. Cleveland will trade a big-name player
But it won't be Francisco Lindor. We know Cleveland is looking to cut costs this offseason because a) every team is looking to cut costs at all times but especially during the pandemic, and b) they put Brad Hand on waivers in hopes of avoiding the $1 million buyout of his club option a few weeks ago. That's as clear a sign as any that this team wants to limit their spending.
I do think Lindor will be traded before Opening Day but I don't think it'll happen during the Winter Meetings. Mookie Betts was not traded until Feb. 10 and I expect a similar timeframe for a Lindor trade. Instead, the big name player I boldly predict Cleveland will trade this week is Carlos Carrasco. The veteran righty is among their highest paid players and that makes him trade bait.
There are several reasons to expect a Carrasco trade other than money (he's owed at least $27 million from 2021-22). One, Cleveland is very deep in pitching -- they are the sport's best pitching development organization -- and moving Carrasco clears room for younger arms. Their current rotation depth chart looks something like this:
- RHP Shane Bieber
- RHP Carlos Carrasco
- RHP Zach Plesac
- RHP Aaron Civale
- RHP Triston McKenzie
- RHP Cal Quantrill
- LHP Scott Moss
- LHP Logan Allen
ZiPS projects six of those eight pitchers at approximately 1 WAR or better in 2021, which is great depth in the eyes of a projection system. Few teams have the depth to trade Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco in an 18-month span, but Cleveland does. They'd deal from a strength to address a weakness(es).
Two, the free agent pitching market lacks high-end starters beyond Bauer, especially with Charlie Morton and Marcus Stroman now off the board. The second-best free agent pitchers now are, uh, Jake Odorizzi and Masahiro Tanaka? Put Carrasco on the market and Cleveland could get a nice haul that nets multiple big league pieces and better sets them up to contend in 2021.
And third, Carrasco will reach 10 years of service time next April, giving him 10-and-5 full no-trade protection as a player who has spent 10 years in the league and the last five with the same team. This offseason is Cleveland's last chance to trade him without his consent. That's an important consideration. It may be now or never to cash Carrasco in as a trade chip.
Where will Carrasco end up? I'll say the Blue Jays given team president Mark Shapiro's familiarity with Carrasco dating back to his time in Cleveland's front office. My terrible trade idea: Toronto trades Teoscar Hernandez for Carrasco, then signs Michael Brantley or Joc Pederson or George Springer to replace Hernandez in the outfield. Eh? Eh?
3. The catcher market will begin moving
Pitching has dominated the free agent action thus far and that can't last forever. The position player market will begin to heat up this week, particularly the catcher market. J.T. Realmuto is the best all-around catcher in the sport and a special case as a free agent in that his market affects everyone else. Teams will want to exhaust their options with him before looking elsewhere.
Not all teams, however, and I boldly predict a rush of catcher transactions will begin during the Winter Meetings this week when the Mets pivot from Realmuto and instead sign James McCann. . Here's how I envision the game of catcher musical chairs playing out these next few days:
- The Mets sign McCann. Let's call it a three-year deal worth $24 million with a fourth year club option.
- Yadier Molina returns to the Cardinals now that he can no longer pretend the Mets and Yankees, who retained Gary Sanchez, .
- The Phillies move on from Realmuto and land Willson Contreras in a trade with the Cubs. Catcher prospect Rafael Marchan is among those that goes to Chicago.
- The catcher-needy Rays sign pitch-framing extraordinaires Tyler Flowers and Tony Wolters to a low-cost one-year deals in very Rays moves.
That knocks two suitors (Mets and Phillies) out of the Realmuto race, trimming his market to a few obvious fits (Astros? Blue Jays? Nationals?) and a couple other possibilities (Angels? Mariners? Rangers?). Don't forget the Mystery Team™ either. The Tigers signed Ivan Rodriguez after going 43-119 in 2003, right? Maybe they'll sign Realmuto so he can help groom their young pitchers.
To get back to the original point, the prediction here is there will be notable movement on the catching market this week, once the Mets take the plunge and sign McCann. Catcher is such a difficult position to fill that the McCann signing will spring several other teams into action before the Winter Meetings let out. Expect a busy week for backstops.
4. Ha-Seong Kim will sign
Kim was officially posted Monday, according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi. The star shortstop of the Kiwoon Heroes in Korea is now available to MLB teams, and while he will have 30 days to negotiate and sign a contract once posted, I don't think he'll wait long. This bold prediction calls for Kim to agree to a new contract during the Winter Meetings.
. Long story short, the 25-year-old is viewed an impact all-around player with the talent to pop 15-plus homers and steal 20-plus bags a season while being an asset in the field. He may experience a bit of an adjustment period at first, particularly against MLB velocity, but Kim is awfully talented and very promising.
As for a destination, I'll say Kim lands with the Athletics on a four-year deal worth $36 million that allows him to become a free agent after the four years (rather than require the usual six years of service time to qualify for free agency). The A's need a shortstop now that Marcus Semien is a free agent and they've been aggressive internationally in the past (see: Yoenis Cespedes).
Once Kim signs -- which will happen this week, as we're boldly predicting -- the rest of the shortstop market will fall into place. The Phillies and Reds among the clubs in need of a shortstop now that . Semien, Didi Gregorius, and Andrelton Simmons are the top free agents available and, of course, Francisco Lindor is a trade candidate.
5. It will be the busiest Rule 5 Draft in years
, but it is a date on the offseason calendar, and it is a means to add talent. The Rule 5 Draft is a way to funnel players to the big leagues and prevent clubs from burying prospects in the minors indefinitely. The short version of how it works:
- After so many years in the minors, players must be placed on the 40-man roster or be exposed in the Rule 5 Draft.
- Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on their new team's active MLB roster all next season.
- If the player doesn't stick on the roster, they are placed on waivers and offered back to their former team.
- Our R.J. Anderson covered the top names you need to know for this year's Rule 5 Draft.
Brad Keller, Mark Canha, and Tommy Kahnle are among the Rule 5 Draft picks to pay off in recent years and Johan Santana, Joakim Soria, and Dan Uggla are among the most notable Rule 5 Draft success stories. From 2010-19, teams averaged 14.6 Rule 5 Draft picks per year, with a low of nine (2013) and a high of 19 (2010). I boldly predict we'll see 20-plus this year.
I say that because payrolls are coming down amid the pandemic and teams will prioritize inexpensive talent even more than usual. It's not uncommon for rebuilding teams to make multiple Rule 5 Draft picks -- the Padres carried three Rule 5 Draft picks in 2017 (Allen Cordoba, Miguel Diaz, Luis Torrens) in one of the most aggressive acts of tanking we'll ever see -- and I expect those efforts to be put into overdrive this year. Multiple teams will make multiple Rule 5 Draft picks.
The Rule 5 Draft takes place on Thursday, the final day of the Winter Meetings, and all those selections mean it is technically one of the most active days of the offseason. Only a handful of Rule 5 Draft picks actually work out, so it gets more attention than it probably deserves, but I think conditions are ripe for a Rule 5 Draft extravaganza. Rebuilding teams in particular will be busy.