MLB Winter Meetings: With Stephen Strasburg off the market, 10 teams that could turn up the hot stove
The upcoming Winter Meetings could be a frenzied one, and these teams figure to be at the center of the action
MLB's MLB's Utmost Hootenanny, are upon us. Typically, the Winter Meetings occasion and even a handful of major signings and trades. While baseball's winters have proceeded at a glacial pace in recent years, the 2019-20 offseason has been comparatively frenzied thus far., which should really be called
Might the likes of Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole and Josh Donaldson find new homes over the next few days? At least one of them probably will join Stephen Strasburg in leaving the market. Beyond that, we should have some market clarity moving into the remainder of the offseason, and multiple notable names should put ink to paper in San Diego. To set the scene for what's to come, let's have a look at the 10 teams most likely to control the buzz over the next, oh, 96 hours or so.
In keeping with a philosophical appreciation of chaos, these 10 teams appear in no particular order. Forthwith:
The Angels have already swung a trade for right-hander Dylan Bundy this offseason, but that doesn't fully repair what was one of the league's worst rotations in 2019. Yes, the likely return of Shohei Ohtani to the mound after Tommy John surgery will help matters, but he's not entirely a known quantity at this point, at least insofar as his pitching is concerned. That's why the Angels will be looking to make a splash free-agent addition in an effort to put a contending roster around super-duperstar Mike Trout and at the disposal of new manager Joe Maddon. After all, Maddon -- now 65 and highly decorated -- likely didn't sign on for a rebuilding project or continued water-treading.
The Angels are heavily in on Gerrit Cole, and they've already met with him. He's the best pitcher on the free-agent market -- not a close call, that one -- and he's still on the right side of age 30. He's the most dominant strikeout pitcher in the game today, and Cole's notched at least 200 innings in four of the last five seasons. It says here that he's going to sign the largest contract ever by a pitcher, and the Angels very much hope that Cole, an Orange County native, comes home for the next eight or so years. If the Angels don't add a true ace to the front of the rotation -- most likely meaning Cole -- then the offseason of GM Billy Eppler will likely be a failure.
Speaking of Cole, the progress he's made in terms of spin rate has taken the former No. 1 overall pick from good to genuine greatness. Every team needs an arm like Cole at the front end, and that's especially the case for the 103-win Yankees. The Yanks want that bedrock ace in front of Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, and James Paxton, and as noted there's none finer available than Cole.
So are the Yankees the favorites to land him? Cole, as you've no doubt heard, grew up a Yankees fan, but this will be about their willingness to make the highest bid. Speaking of which, ESPN's Jeff Passan recently reported that the colossus in the Bronx has prioritized inking Cole, and ownership is willing to approve for a pitcher. That is almost certainly what it's going to take to sign Cole. Whether the Yankees build momentum toward signing Cole or even close the deal in San Diego will be a major storyline to monitor. You can bet the Angels will be following.
The Dodgers are a bit hard to read. They're obviously very much in contending mode -- what with those seven straight division titles and counting -- and they have boundless resources. They also have some roster needs despite clocking 106 wins last season. The Dodgers under Andrew Friedman have, despite those aforementioned boundless resources, stressed greater payroll efficiency. Mostly that's meant operating with one eye on the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold. According to the latest estimations, the Dodgers have significant room under that threshold at the moment -- $45 million or so, according to the very excellent Cot's Contracts at Baseball Prospectus. Potentially, that's enough to afford Cole or Rendon. That would be somewhat out of character for the Dodgers under Friedman, but the pressure to win the World Series for the first time since 1988 continues to mount.
The Rangers are moving into a new ballpark (), and they're presently at risk of enduring four straight losing seasons for the first time under longtime GM Jon Daniels. The desire for a return to relevance is certainly there, and so is a willingness to spend. Already the Rangers have been linked to Rendon, but they also have significant bullpen needs. Since the farm system isn't among the strongest right now, an active approach to free agency, rather than trades, is the best way for them to improve the roster.
The White Sox have posted seven straight losing seasons and haven't made the playoffs since 2008. The desire to transition from rebuild to contention was evident last offseason, when they hotly pursued Manny Machado. Already this winter they've re-upped with Jose Abreu, landed top-line catcher Yasmani Grandal, and bid nine figures for Zack Wheeler, who of course landed with the Phillies. So there's a willingness to spend in place, and the Sox also have significant needs in the rotation and at DH. They have some highly interesting young arms in the rotation, and that's especially case once Michael Kopech gets back. Even so, the Sox during the Winter Meetings will likely be checking in on the second tier of rotation arms -- i.e., names like Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and the like. In addition to the void at DH, the Sox could also use some additional power in the outfield, which explains the recent Marcell Ozuna rumors.
They're coming off a World Series triumph, and now they've re-signed Stephen Strasburg, the No. 2 free agent on the market. That, plus they're likely going to receive almost $100 million from the Orioles to bring their broadcast rights fees up to speed (the Orioles own MASN, which broadcasts Nationals games). Despite all that, , who were essential to their championship efforts in 2019. The news that may seal Rendon's fate with the franchise. If that's the case, then do the Nats move swiftly to sign Donaldson, the most suitable Rendon proxy available?
GM A.J. Preller is probably on the hot seat in San Diego, which means he'll likely maneuver with an eye toward, you know, keeping his job. That means win-now improvements. Chairman Ron Fowler is impatient, and the Padres' winter should reflect that pressurized reality. Preller's already canned his manager, and that's typically something that puts the GM in the cross-hairs. It's already been an active winter on the trade front for the Padres, as they've added Tommy Pham, Jurickson Profar, and Trent Grisham to the fold. Will free-agent spending follow? They'd been heavily linked to Strasburg, who hails from the area and went to San Diego State. With him out of the the picture, their focus can narrow a bit. Still, at least one big signing seems like a given.
No, the Padres probably aren't going to catch the Dodgers in 2020 (L.A. finished 36 games ahead of them in 2019), but one of those two wild-card berths could be in play. Given the typically low bar for wild-card contention, targeted additions can move the needle in a big way, even for a last-place, 92-loss team like the Padres.
The Phillies invested pretty heavily in contention last offseason and got a .500 season, a fourth-place finish and a fired manager. Undaunted, the Phillies once again will be active. They've already landed Zack Wheeler at a cost of $118 million, but there's more work to be done. They've been linked to the biggest stars on the market, but continued focus on the rotation seems more likely than a surprise Rendon signing. Most encouragingly for Phillies fans, ownership is reportedly willing to pass the CBT threshold. That would be required if they're to land Rendon or Cole.
The Red Sox will be one of the most compelling teams to watch this winter. For reasons sufficient unto themselves, one of the richest teams in sports will reportedly prioritize getting under the CBT threshold for 2020. When you've got a controllable core in place of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, and Eduardo Rodriguez, you build around it, not compromise it. In good news for common sense, the Sox seem to be backing off those earlier trade rumors surrounding Betts. J.D. Martinez's decision not to use his opt-out limited their options to cut payroll, which means they may be active during the Winter Meetings in trying to trade David Price and his contract. Despite the hand-wringing, Price has been a quality pitcher on Boston's watch, so finding a market is possible. Mostly, though, it will be interesting to see what new GM Chaim Bloom does to improve the roster while also satisfying ownership's pointless mandate to cut payroll. Threading that particular needle could make for an interesting Winter Meetings from the Boston standpoint.
10. Chicago Cubs
Like the Red Sox, the Cubs are self-defeatingly not going to spend much money this winter. They should, however, be active on the trade front. What makes them compelling is that they'll be navigating the trade market in the service of improving the roster for first-year manager David Ross (in addition to seeking out some budget signings). Given that the farm system isn't particularly strong, that likely means trading current contributors for current contributors who address more pressing needs -- meaning, mostly, pitching. Already, rumors have swirled about Kris Bryant and hard-hitting catcher Willson Contreras. Either name gets you one side of a blockbuster trade, and it seems highly possible that such a trade materializes this week.
Now go forth, all you squadrons, and transact boldly for our uplift and entertainment.
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