Winter meetings preview: Storylines, players to watch in Nashville
Baseball’s annual winter meetings will take place next Sunday to Thursday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville. As much we have finally started to see some notable hot stove action in the last week, the pace should accelerate greatly once representatives from all 30 teams, the top agents, some players and throngs of media (including SI’s Tom Verducci and Jay Jaffe) are confined to the same hotel for four straight days. Here’s a quick look at what to expect, in order of timeframe.
1. The Hall of Fame’s Pre-Integration Era ballot result
The first members of the Cooperstown class of 2016 will be announced on Monday, and if recent history is any indication we can expect a few names to be called. In the first three years of the new, era-specific Veterans Committee, eight men gained entry to the Hall of Fame, including the tragically overlooked Ron Santo; contemporary managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre; and, in 2013, three Pre-Integration figures (umpire Hank O’Day, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and third baseman Deacon White). Last year, however, the Golden Era committee elected no one. Among those on this year's ballot, long-time National League shortstop Bill Dahlen gets the JAWS stamp of approval from Jaffe, and former executive and pioneer Doc Adams deserves admission for his underappreciated role in the creation of the game itself during the 19th century. There’s also an argument to be made for the strong peak pitcher Wes Ferrell had against tough competition during the 1930s. For more on the candidates, check out Jaffe's full breakdown of the ballot.
The biggest news out of last year’s winter meetings came on the trade front. That should be no surprise, given that the entire idea behind the meetings—which date back to 1876, the same year that Alexander Graham Bell was granted the patent for the telephone, and have been held annually since 1901—is to get everyone in one place to facilitate such transactions.
Last year's deals were headlined by the Dodgers’ many moves, which included sending Dee Gordon and Dan Haren to Miami and Matt Kemp to San Diego while bringing in Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins to flesh out their infield. The Tigers and Reds were also active, with Detroit acquiring Yoenis Cespedes from the Red Sox for Rick Porcello and Cincinnati trading Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, with the latter heading to Detroit to replace Porcello. The White Sox also made a big splash, executing a six-player trade with the Athletics that was highlighted by starter Jeff Samardzija.
As for this year's action: It will be interesting to see if the Angels will be able to turn their excess of starting pitching into much-needed offensive upgrades. The Astros have been said to be seeking a high-end closer, the likes of which is not available among this year’s free agents. The Reds are reportedly shopping Aroldis Chapman, who is due a big arbitration award heading into his walk year, and are in the early stages of a rebuild; that could make them a popular team for rival executives to talk to next week, with Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart and possibly even Todd Frazier among the Cincinnati players on the block. The Cubs will also bear watching, as they seem poised to move one of their young infielders, likely either Starlin Castro or Javier Baez.
3. Free Agents
Trade news easily trumped free-agent news at last year’s meetings. Still, David Robertson, Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales all came to terms during the winter meetings, and with the heat surrounding the top of the pitching market, we could see even more free-agent movement next week.
Indications earlier this week were that Zack Greinke would come to terms with the Dodgers or Giants before the meetings opened. On Friday night, the righthander agreed to a reported six-year, $206 million deal with the Diamondbacks. His signing could be quickly followed by a deal for Johnny Cueto, who reportedly turned down a six-year, $120 million offer from the Diamondbacks earlier this month. Even if Cueto doesn’t sign, a Greinke decision could lead to action for the second tier of free-agent starters. Samardzija claims to have a $100 million offer in hand and could make a decision next week. Similarly, a Darren O'Day signing could unstick the market for relief pitchers; O’Day is widely (and correctly) considered the top available free-agent reliever. That should result in a big pay day for the 33-year-old sidearmer, who could find a team next week.
Another free agent who has reportedly been the subject of considerable bidding of late is second baseman Ben Zobrist, who was wined and dined by the Mets on Wendesday and is reportedly looking for $60 million over four years; he may get more given the number of interested teams. We haven’t seen much movement near the top of the market for offense so far; aside from Matt Wieters and Colby Rasmus accepting qualifying offers with the Orioles and Astros, respectively, no other notable hitter has signed. A Zobrist deal could get things moving, given that he’s seen as a one-player solution to multiple problems thanks to his ability to contribute in both the infield and outfield.
One bit of news we won’t get, however, is a result from Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda’s posting. Teams will have a month to negotiate with the 27-year-old righthander after meeting the release fee, which is likely to be set at the maximum $20 million.
4. The Rule 5 Draft
Every winter meetings ends with the Rule 5 draft of unprotected minor league talent on Thursday morning. Last year’s Rule 5 draft was uncommonly productive: Just two of the 14 players selected in the major league portion of the draft were returned to their 2014 teams, and 12 of the 14 players drafted appeared in the major leagues during the '15 season. Among that dozen were Delino DeShields, who claimed the centerfield job for a Rangers team that won the AL West; Odubel Herrera, who emerged as an elite defensive centerfielder in Philadelphia despite having never played the outfield as a professional before the season; lefty Sean Gilmartin, who pitched in the World Series for the Mets; and Mark Canha, who finished the season as the Athletics' primary first baseman.
This year’s draft could be similarly compelling, with 26-year-old Mariners rightfielder Jabari Blash an enticing target for the Phillies, who have the top pick thanks to their major-league-worst 63-99 record this past season. The 6’5” Blash hit .271/.370/.576 with 32 home runs in a 2015 season split between Double and Triple A and would fit nicely next to Herrera in Philadelphia's outfield.