MLB Winter Meetings: The Six Biggest Storylines

Winter Meetings 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all-ages; the moment you’ve been waiting for is finally here. Let’s get ready to ruuuuuuuuuumble…

And by rumble, I obviously mean partake in lengthy discourse about the relative long-term value of one individual over another with millions and millions of dollars riding on the accuracy of those value assessments.

No pressure or anything.

What am I yammering about? Let’s get right to it, Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings kickoff at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego today. As such, you can expect that the next four days will be chockfull of rumors, speculation, trades (both big and small), big-ticket free agent signings, drunken hotel bar discussions, and wide-eyed interns passing out resumes in hopes of becoming the next Theo Epstein.

While it would be foolish to speculate on everything that might happen at the Winter Meetings, we can take a look at the most intriguing storylines for six teams headed into the annual event:

Can the Red Sox add pitching and move some outfielders?

Boston_Red_SoxBoston started the offseason off in a big way by gobbling up two of the top free agents on the market in Hanley Ramirez (4yrs/$88M) and Pablo Sandoval (5yrs/$95M) in November. As a result of those additions, the team currently has a glut of outfielders, a need for pitching, and an obvious willingness to belly up to the trading table.

The Red Sox are still in the mix for former ace Jon Lester as he draws closer to making a final decision on where he’ll pitch for the next half-decade or better. Reports had Red Sox owner John Henry flying down to Atlanta to meet with Lester over the weekend to help sweeten the offer. If that doesn’t pan out, there was some mild speculation that the club could go all-in to land Max Scherzer.

Beyond that the Sox have long been rumored to be interested in the like of James Shields via free agency with “tire-kicking” level interest in Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano, and Brandon McCarthy. It’s entirely possible the team still looks to Philadelphia to reinvigorate the on-again, off-again rumors of the club trading for Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee.

Either way, Red Sox general manager, Ben Cherington, figures to be a very popular and very busy man at the Winter Meetings.

What’s next for Billy Beane?

Oakland_AthleticsBilly Beane is not afraid to make splashy moves. He’s proven it time and time again, but did so most recently when he dealt the club’s best player, Josh Donaldson, to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for former top-prospect Brett Lawrie, minor league pitchers Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin, and shortstop Franklin Barreto.Thanksgiving weekend.

Beane is rumored to be working hard to move Brandon Moss to make room in the lineup for recent additions Ike Davis and Billy Butler and the Cleveland Indians are believed to be the front-runner among the teams linked to Moss with the Miami Marlins lurking in the weeds as a contender for his services. Update: Moss was officially traded to the Indians just as this article was published.

It’s also believed that Beane is nearing a deal to send starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija with the Chicago White Sox. The Boston Red Sox and a smattering of other clubs are also rumored to be very interested in adding “The Shark” to their rotations.

Beane is always a man with a plan, even if it might seem very unconventional. The team isn’t expected to add any big salaries this offseason, but more trades could certainly be in the works. Beane is definitely someone to keep an eye on this week

Are the Mariners going all-in for 2015?

Seattle_MarinersThe Seattle Mariners were one of the biggest players in free agency last year, signing Robinson Cano to a monster ten-year, $240 million contract before the Winter Meetings ever even started. This year, the club has been equally proactive adding slugger Nelson Cruz and inking stud third baseman, Kyle Seager to a 7-year/$100 million deal.

The Mariners seem poised to contend in the wide-open American League West and figure to go all-in between now and spring training in an attempt to put the club over the top. The club has been linked to free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera and has been mentioned in trade rumors for outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes.

The club definitely needs another big bat to help boost an already very solid starting rotation. The recent addition of J.A. Happ potentially makes young studs Taijuan Walker or James Paxton expendable, but only in the right deal.

Expect Seattle general manager, Jack Zduriencik to be working hard to land that big bat before he leaves San Diego at the end of the week.

Can we expect the Cubs to get aggressive?

Chicago_CubsThe Chicago Cubs have been mediocre in recent years, but a lot of that mediocrity has come as part of a long-term plan to rebuild the farm system, cultivate homegrown talent, and build a contender that only needs to rely on one or two big free agent signings.

The stud prospects are on the way and many of them made their big league debuts in 2014. The future is bright in Chicago, but the club still needs pitching to support what could be baseball’s most explosive offense in two or three years’ time.

Last offseason the Cubs made a hard play for Masahiro Tanaka. This year, they’re rumored to be one of the final four clubs in the mix to land lefty Jon Lester. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer clearly have a plan in place.

If they miss on Lester, will they go after Scherzer or Shields? They’re already rumored to be closing in on a reunion with Jason Hammel, perhaps they would load up on second-tier starters of the Santana, Liriano, McCarthy ilk as well in an aim for quantity over quality.

If they can’t land a free agent ace, will the club switch gears and aim for an ace via trade? The club put a waiver claim on Cole Hamels this past summer, so it’s not hard to imagine they’d be willing to discuss a trade this winter as well.

Epstein and Hoyer have a lot of promise to deliver on in the North Side and this year’s free agent crop of pitchers could go a long way toward helping them achieve that goal.

What are the Dodgers up to this winter?

Los_Angeles_DodgersThe Los Angeles Dodgers are at an interesting crossroads heading into this year’s winter meetings. They’ve got access to Scrooge McDuck’s vault of gold coins, but they’ve recently brought in one of the most savvy (and thrifty) front office men in the game in former Tamba Bay Rays’ general manager, Andrew Friedman.

The club let Hanley Ramirez walk and he promptly signed a four-year, $88 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. The club has an overloaded and overpaid outfield. The infield is good, not great and could use some serious improvements over the likes of Juan Uribe and Justin Turner. The catching situation needs to be upgraded and is clearly a priority as evidenced by the recent attempt to land Arizona’s Miguel Montero.

Despite all of those holes, the Dodgers have mostly been linked to Jon Lester in recent days. Starting pitching seems like the least of the Dodgers needs heading into 2015, but Zack Greinke does have an opt-out clause after this season, so the club may be looking for long-term stability over gambling that they can re-sign the right hander next year.

Friedman should be looking to move an outfielder, although only Matt Kemp seems to be drawing any real interest. The obvious issue is that with Ramirez now plying his trade in front of the green monster, Kemp is the club’s best source of right-handed power.

The Dodgers will be a serious wildcard at the winter meetings. They have a lot of holes and a lot of issues for a club with a $200+ million payroll and their best trading chip is arguably the one player they can least afford to trade.

Friedman may appreciate the financial freedom he’s gained in Los Angeles, but it’s certainly not making his job any easier than it was in Tampa Bay.

Are the Yankees a sleeping giant?

new_york_yankeesThe New York Yankees said they didn’t intend to spend any big money this winter. Granted, they’ve uttered this phrase plenty of times in the past and almost always followed it up with a shopping spree.

The club is in a tough place with a number of long-term, bloated contracts on the books for the foreseeable future. The health and productivity of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Masahiro Tanaka, and Carlos Beltran is up for grabs at this point.

While they do have many unknowns around the diamond and in the rotation, they have already spent big bucks to add Andrew Miller to their bullpen to serve as either an elite setup man, if they re-sign David Robertson, or as part of a two-headed closing beast with All-Star right-hander Dellin Betances if they are unable to bring Robertson back into the fold.

The club needs to add to the starting rotation and this is arguably one of the best offseasons in a long time to do just that. Could the Yankees swoop in with big money offers for Lester, Scherzer, or Shields? Yes. Will they? It’s hard to say.

The club is wary of putting anymore long-term deals on the books, and understandably so given their current roster logjam, but if that reluctance is going to keep the team out of contention for a number of years, you’ve got to assume push comes to shove soon.

The Yankees front office and fans have rarely shown the patience to endure a single season without a playoff berth, let alone a full rebuild. Keep an eye on Yankees general manager, Brian Cashman over the next four days. If anyone is going to turn this year’s meeting on its ear, it’s the Yankees.

Bits and Pieces

The San Francisco Giants have a lot of holes to fill after winning the World Series. They’ll be on the lookout for starting pitching, a corner outfielder, and a third baseman. The top free agent options could be too rich for their blood, so the trade market might be the way to go. Top prospect Kyle Crick could yield a large bounty, but it’s a steep price to pay for San Francisco.

The San Diego Padres have been heavily rumored to be in the mix for offense this offseason. They were one of the finalists for Pablo Sandoval and have been linked to Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. The club can deal from a wealth of pitching for a big bat, but how much of their interest is genuine and how much is an attempt to appease a beleaguered fanbase?

The Miami Marlins locked slugger Giancarlo Stanton up long-term with a monumental (13yrs/$325M) deal earlier this offseason and they’re currently working to do the same with other members of the team’s core. Owner Jeffrey Loria has indicated that he’s ready and willing to spend on the team once again, so the Marlins could be considered a sleeper for any number of free agents.

The New York Mets have quietly assembled one of the better rotations in baseball and could field a dramatically improved offense in 2015 if everyone is healthy. The club still has major questions at shortstop, but that appears to be the only glaring weakness on the diamond. The Mets could roll with an in-house option of Wilmer Flores or Ruben Tejada or they could get splashy and try to upgrade via trade. The club was rumored to have made a play for Jimmy Rollins, but the Philadelphia stalwart reportedly used his no-trade clause and rejected the trade.

The Texas Rangers were a perennial contender before injuries decimated the roster last year. The club is reportedly on the lookout to add another arm to the rotation and could be looking to move incumbent shortstop Elvis Andrus if they can find a taker for his big salary and declining skills. Texas always has money and should be viewed as a potential sleeper for any of the big free agents this offseason.

There figures to be plenty of additional action in San Diego this week, keep checking back here at Cheap Seat Chronicles for any major updates.

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About Jeremiah Graves

I am a professional library dude, a cheeseburger enthusiast, a wannabe writer, a slow-pitch softball center fielder, an avid hunter (of churros), a cat-person, and -- hopefully -- one of your two or three favorite Iowans.
This entry was posted in AL Central, AL East, AL West, American League, Baseball, Ben Cherington, Boston Red Sox, CC Sabathia, Cheap Seat Chronicles, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Cole Hamels, Free Agency, Hanley Ramirez, Jack Zduriencik, Juan Uribe, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB, MLB Trades, MLB Winter Meetings, National League, New York Mets, New York Yankees, NL Central, NL East, NL West, Pablo Sandoval, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Trade Rumors, Yoenis Cespedes. Bookmark the permalink.

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