The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings will start next week in Nashville, and at least two of the big questions of this offseason have already been answered. The first was whether the Boston Red Sox were back to acknowledging they're a big market team with the clout to spend to win. They proved that they are, 217 million times over, in signing David Price. The other question was if the recent increase in MLB revenues was going to lead to larger contracts for premium free agents. That one looks like a yes, too; Price's contract, to some extent, answers both.
The Price deal should set the mood for the winter meetings, which have evolved quite rapidly from their trade show roots over the past couple decades to become the premiere destination for free agency and trade talk. There's more to the meetings, of course—most prominently, it's something of a job fair for lower level front office employees and those who aspire to be them—but the main reason fans care is the perception that, with representatives from all 30 teams and just about every major player agent in the game packed into the same few city blocks, things are bound to happen. In these short, dark, baseball-free days, that counts for a lot.
This perception is not wrong, either. Things will go down at the winter meetings, and if it won't quite be baseball, it'll be close. Here are some of the big things to expect from Nashville.
The market's basically been set on starting pitching with the deals to J.A. Happ (3 years, $36 million), Jordan Zimmermann (5 years, $110 million), and David Price (7 years, $217 million) defining the lower, middle, and upper bounds. Zack Greinke might be able to extract more from the Dodgers, the Yankees, or the Cardinals than Price did with Boston, but Johnny Cueto probably won't. Besides reclamation projects like Mat Latos, everyone else fits nicely on that sliding scale.
We've yet to see anything comparable for the crowded outfield market, though. That market is made more crowded by agent Scott Boras's attempt to pitch former Orioles 1B Chris Davis, possibly the best pure hitter available in this year's free agent class, as a credible RF option. Even without Davis, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes, Ben Zobrist, and more all need homes. Other than Heyward, all of the above are corner outfielders all the way; Cespedes's time in center for the Mets last year is more an argument against playing him there than an argument for it. They are all competing for the same collection of spots.
So expect to hear what you always hear in situations like this: teams like the Rockies, the Marlins, the Orioles used as stalking horses by agents and teams alike in anonymous leaks to reporters to drum up interest and create negotiating opportunities where there are none. That's generally the strategy, at least. And don't cry for the Orioles or the Rockies; they love to be used like this, because then it looks like they're actually out there ready to spend money to fans who desperately wish it were so. Usually one or two teams that have just made big front office changes will be linked to every free agent on the board; last year that team was the Padres, and they backed up those reports wholesale. This year it might be the Mariners, who just hired ex-Angels GM Jerry Dipoto and have been quite active so far this offseason. It might also be the Blue Jays, who just hired Mark Shapiro as team president and generally look to be cutting costs, though they've also made a number of signings. There is always at least one.
A small subset of teams, emboldened by the fail-your-way-to-the-top success stories of the Astros and the Cubs (to differing degrees), are dumping any contract that's not nailed down—or, more fittingly, that's not padlocked around their neck like a weight. This year's most egregious entry is the Atlanta Braves, who have already dealt away Andrelton Simmons and were rumored to have made every single player making "significant money" on the MLB roster available for trade. They specifically denied that All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman was part of that group, but have since been rumored to be shopping Shelby Miller, a young pitcher with a couple years of team control left who appeared to be as much a franchise cornerstone as Freeman. Miller is entering arbitration, however, and so apparently isn't as attractive to the Braves as some prospects might be.
Joining Atlanta is the Philadelphia Phillies, who will probably be bad next year but could be good as soon as 2017 with the right combination of player development and good decisions next offseason. They are getting a lot of inquiries about lights-out reliever Ken Giles, a strikeout artist who could improve any bullpen; he also won't be arbitration eligible until 2018 and could easily be the relief ace of the next good Phillies team. It's unlikely that Giles will be dealt unless the offer is overwhelming, but such an offer might be out there; there continue to be reports of high interest in him from teams that believe they're just a closer away.
The third team in this group is the Cincinnati Reds, a team that everybody outside the organization says should dump contracts left and right. Most of these people are self-interested: they want to see their team of choice get ahold of Aroldis Chapman or Todd Frazier. The Reds are far more likely to ship off the likes of Jay Bruce or Brandon Phillips—they'll almost certainly need to eat some money on any trade in which Phillips is involved—than they are to get rid of guys still in the arbitration process. The Reds would probably love to find someone to take Homer Bailey's roster spot and some chunk of the remaining $86 million on his contract off their hands, but realistically their best hope is for him to come back healthy and have a good year.
The real story, of course, will be the media people who are about to descend on Nashville. Thankfully, we can count on them to use social media to keep us posted on how bad the weather is, how good the bars are, whether or not they like the beer, who's going to fistfight who over what. You know, all the #good #content.
This is only sort of a joke. The most important parts of the winter meetings will not be heavily covered, either because they don't bring the clicks—the job fairs, the professional meetings, the slight policy revisions and changes—or because, like the signings and trades, they unfold entirely behind closed doors. Your brave media personalities will do their best, but the signal-to-noise ratio can get pretty bad.
All of which means that this is the season of people retweeting bizarre, franchise-upending trade reports from, like, @KenRosenthai or ten different Jon Heyman clones. You, of course, are too smart to overreact to a three-team deal being "reported" by a guy with 231 followers and the handle @assman23, but spare a moment, please, for those who are not. Stay frosty out there, and we'll see you on the other side.