One of the busiest weeks of the offseason is approaching, as the 113th annual Baseball Winter Meetings will begin on Sunday in San Diego. This annual gathering of team and player representatives provides one-stop shopping for agents trying to find a home for their free agent players and for teams looking to pull off a trade, be it with one or multiple other teams. With that in mind, here are a few things to watch heading into the meetings.
Hitters have been signing left and right thus far this offseason, but there has been precious little activity involving pitchers. Prior to Friday afternoon, the largest pitching contract handed out was the three years and $15 million the White Sox gave lefty reliever Zach Duke, and the only notable starting pitcher who has signed is A.J. Burnett, who went to the Pirates for one year and $8.5 million. It's clear that the market is waiting to see where the top names land before filling in the rest. That means that starters Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields, as well as relievers Andrew Miller and David Robertson, are the keys.
Movement on that front has already begun, with Miller inking a four-year, $36 million deal with the Yankees on Friday afternoon. Stemming from that, some have speculated that by signing Miller and letting Robertson sign elsewhere, the Yankees would gain a draft pick that would off-set the one they would have to sacrifice to sign Scherzer.
Though Scherzer is the consensus best arm available, rumors regarding the 2013 American League Cy Young award winner have been surprisingly slow to develop. Indications are that Lester is more likely to sign first, with the Dodgers and Giants joining the Red Sox and Cubs as the four teams bidding for his services. All it would take to get the pitching market to move would be for Lester and Miller to sign. The latter has done so, and a deal for the former is very likely before the end of next week.
2. Trade targets
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported Thursday night that the Padres had offered catcher Yasmani Grandal for Kemp, with the Mariners also interested in the Dodgers' outfielder. The Orioles, who lost both Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to free agency, are reportedly interested in both Kemp and Upton, with the Padres and Rangers are also showing interest, per Rosenthal's colleague Jon Paul Morosi. The Braves are also reportedly shopping catcher Evan Gattis, who would be moved to the outfield to make room for prospect Christian Bethancourt if he remains in Atlanta, though things appear to be quiet on that front at the moment.
If the top free agent pitchers start to sign, it could also lead to movement in the trade market for top arms such as Cole Hamels, Jeff Samardzija and possibly even Jordan Zimmermann and Zack Greinke. One of the latest rumors suggests that the Dodgers would shop Greinke, who has an opt-out after the coming season that he seems very likely to use, if they were to land Lester. The Dodgers are also among the teams interested in Hamels, as are fellow Lester suitors the Red Sox and Cubs, suggesting that a Lester signing would have a direct impact on intensity of the Hamels talks.
The White Sox were said to be in discussions with the Athletics over Samardzija around the time of the Josh Donaldson trade. As for Zimmermann, prior to Thanksgiving, the Nationals said that they would listen on both him and Doug Fister. I think they'd be crazy to trade Zimmermann, but they will need some solution to their upcoming financial crunch.
3. Hall of Fame Golden Era ballot results
One big piece of news that we know will happen: the announcement of the voting results on the Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Committee ballot. Last year, the Expansion Era Committee selected managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, all slam-dunk choices. The last time the Golden Era Committee voted, in 2011, it belatedly righted a wrong by selecting recently-deceased Cubs third baseman Ron Santo for induction.
This year’s ballot of nine players and one executive contains no such obvious choice, though I am one of many who think White Sox great Minnie Miñoso, who is pushing 90, is overdue for election. SI.com’s Jay Jaffe took a look at the ballot when it was released at the end of October and identified Miñoso, controversial slugger Dick Allen, Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer, and general manager Bob Howsam — who built Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, as well as the pennant-winning Cardinals teams of the late 1960s — as all deserving of induction. Of course, the committee is as likely to induct Gil Hodges by himself or to come up empty as it is to induct any of those four.