- Shohei Ohtani has signed with the Angels and Giancarlo Stanton is a Yankee, but Yu Darvish's next stop is still unknown. Here, we preview what promises to be a crazy Winter Meetings.
Baseball's annual winter meetings are nearly upon us and the timing couldn't be any better. We already have our first major signing: Shohei Otani is going to the Angels and our first major trade with Giancarlo Stanton going to the Yankees. What else will happen? Big-name free agents are expected to generate plenty of buzz as teams and agents meet in Orlando.
Before the festivities get underway, the SI MLB staff made plenty of predictions and addressed some of the biggest questions going into the winter meetings, which officially begin on Sunday.
Tom Verducci: He’ll have to wait until Ohtani signs, because his best landing spots are all on Ohtani’s final list: Mariners, Angels, Cubs and Rangers. Don’t rule out a return the Rangers, but the Angels, with the clock ticking before Mike Trout’s free agency, are the surprise winner.
Jay Jaffe: The Twins. If they're ever going to get serious about contending, the Twins have to find pitchers who miss bats; this is a team that has ranked 14th or 15th in the AL in K's in five of the last six years. Darvish, happens to have the highest career strikeout rate of any active starter in terms of both percentage (29.7%) or per nine (11.0). With such a young core—five players making at least $8 million next year and two of them, Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier, come off the books after 2018—the team has significant financial flexibility. The front office has a link to Darvish via GM Thad Levine, who was previously an assistant with the Rangers. They’re already aggressively pursuing the 31-year-old righty. Add Darvish to Ervin Santana and a full season of Jose Berrios and suddenly that rotation looks a lot better.
Stephanie Apstein: I could see him going back to Texas. By all accounts he loved it there, and it’s possible that they think they’re a piece or two away from contention.
Jack Dickey: Darvish did his free agency no great favors in his post-deadline Dodger stint, looking less like an ace than a No. 2 with occasionally electric stuff. His disastrous World Series may have left a bad taste in general managers’ mouths. He is nevertheless the best starter on the market, young enough (he turns 32 in August) to earn a medium-term deal. If the price is right, a Rangers reunion seems likely. If bidding goes crazy, something suggests the Angels (who tied with Baltimore for the fewest quality starts in the American League in 2017) will be involved.
Jon Tayler: The catastrophe that was Darvish in the World Series—3 1/3 innings pitched, nine runs allowed, zero strikeouts, and enough flat sliders to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool—probably left most GMs wary of handing him $100 million. So, too, will his age (31) and the reconstructed ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. At least one team, though, is familiar with and fond of Darvish: his old club, the Rangers. Should Texas lose out on Ohtani, I expect them to pursue and pick up this winter’s other Japanese ace, bringing him back to the Metroplex to front a rotation in desperate need of a No. 1 starter.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Darvish might be the last major free agent to sign. The teams that need him the most (Brewers, Twins) don't have the money he wants, and the teams that do don't really need him. In terms of raw stuff, Darvish remains one of the most talented starting pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately for him, his abysmal World Series performance didn't help the idea that he's a potential star who will never fulfill his potential. My guess is the Phillies, who have a host of promising young prospects, a lot of money, and an awful starting rotation.
Connor Grossman: Presumably the Cubs will let both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey get away this offseason, leaving an innings void that needs to be filled. Darvish appears to be a great candidate to so—two disastrous World Series starts aside. The Japanese righthander improved marginally after being traded to the Dodgers last season, putting up a better ERA (3.44), WHIP (1.148), BB/9 (2.4) and K/9 (11.1) in nine starts with LA versus his 22 starts in 2017 with Texas.
A small-market team like the Twins—who have been linked to Darvish—make for an intriguing landing spot, but the Cubs have the financial wherewithal to lure him away.
Tom Verducci: The Cardinals. This is a critical winter for St. Louis. They need a middle-of-the-order masher, and if they lose out on Stanton, Martinez is the next best available option.
Jay Jaffe: While Boston seems to be the obvious answer given their desire for power and a right-handed bat—not to mention the presence of Dave Dombrowski, who as Tigers GM plucked him off the scrap heap in 2014—they've got a full outfield and a pricey designated hitter in Hanley Ramirez. Since neither Ramirez nor Martinez can play first base, the Sox would either have to eat much or most of the $22 million the former is owed in order to make the transaction work, or trade Jackie Bradley Jr. and move Mookie Betts to centerfield. That seems too complicated. Martinez could be a fallback for the Giants if they can't get Stanton, but if that doesn't happen, I think he and the Diamondbacks find a way for him to return, perhaps with an opt-out clause.
Stephanie Apstein: Boston seems like a good fit. President of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski loves a free-agent splash and that lineup finished last in the AL in home runs last year.
Jack Dickey: The Diamondbacks would be wise to keep him—he provided a Yoenis-Cespedes-to-the-Mets-in-2015 jolt to their season, slugging .741 in 232 at-bats with Arizona after a midseason trade from Detroit. But Martinez hired Scott Boras this November for a reason. Where is he likeliest to find a megadeal? Boston, probably. But don’t sleep on Baltimore. While the O’s need pitching more than another bat, they’ve been known to fall hard for flawed power hitters in the past.
Jon Tayler: Dave Dombrowski is still in charge in Boston, right? Then Martinez will soon be holding up a pristine white Red Sox jersey next to a beaming Dombrowski and new manager Alex Cora in front of the assembled media as the promised fix to a lineup that struggled mightily in the post-David Ortiz era. Martinez’s prodigious power makes him a needed piece in an offense that was unexpectedly light last year. And his connection with Dombrowski—who signed him as a no-name minor league free agent in Detroit years ago—coupled with the general manager’s perpetual willingness to spend on elite talent improves Boston’s odds.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski loves spending his money established power hitters. Boston could do a bit of everything last year except hit for power. Martinez, one of the game's best power bats, will fit right in for the Red Sox.
Connor Grossman: After enduring a surprising power outage last season, the Red Sox will be the team to tackle Scott Boras’s sky-high contract demands for Martinez. The slugger’s outfield skills are already subpar, so it makes sense he would land in the American League where he can start DHing now (and throughout a deal that should last until he’s 36 or 37). Martinez is reportedly seeking $200-plus million, most of which is only possible thanks to his 45-homer career year in 2017. Even if he doesn’t get $200 million, Boston is one of the few franchises that could approach that figure.
Tom Verducci: If his market doesn’t develop, the Royals still have a shot at signing him as part of their rebuild to be the “face of the franchise,” which may be smart from a loyalty perspective but not from a baseball sense. But I like the fit with the Rockies, where he would give them one of the best infield defenses in baseball, leadership and a complementary bat in a deep lineup.
Jay Jaffe: Boston. From a positional and age standpoint, Hosmer makes far more sense for the Red Sox than Martinez. It's true that he's never had two good seasons in a row, which makes him a big risk, but the more favorable hitting environment of Fenway Park could help level off his production. He’s one of the best in the game at hitting the ball to the opposite field, which in this case means taking aim at the Green Monster. The metrics don't love his defense despite the four Gold Gloves, but I can see Dombrowski being more swayed by the hardware.
Stephanie Apstein: Even though Hosmer is a Scott Boras guy, I could see him staying in Kansas City. That has been a really good fit thus far and there are not too many holes at first base around the majors.
Jack Dickey: Does it really make sense to pay Eric Hosmer? These are the facts: over the last five seasons, 38 men have accumulated at least 1,500 plate appearances while playing most of their time at first base or DH. Hosmer ranks 17th among them in adjusted OPS+. His defense, touted as exemplary (four Gold Gloves), is considered well below average by advanced metrics. He may look the part of a complete baseball player more than, say, fellow free-agent first baseman Lucas Duda, but for his career Duda has 20 points of slugging on Hosmer with an essentially identical OBP. How much do those singles get you, really, relative to walks? Hosmer also hits too many ground balls—53.4 percent of the balls he has put in play for his career, according to Fangraphs. A return to Kansas City is rational if the smartest teams stay away.
Jon Tayler: The wave that was the Royals crested with the 2015 World Series and broke slowly but surely over the last two years as they flopped out of contention. And with Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain all hitting free agency at once, it’s hard to imagine the Royals coming anywhere near those heights any time soon unless they can keep at least one of that trio. Hosmer is a hard one to peg, with his underwhelming stats clashing against his superstar potential. At 28 and with at least a few All-Star years likely still ahead of him, the bidding will be fierce, but here’s betting that Hosmer will feel some sympathy for the only team he’s ever known and return to Kansas City to try to lead the next generation.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: This is the toughest free agency to peg out of them all. Hosmer's underwhelming power but high contact rates make him a great option in a deep lineup. He's not, however, a marquee option for a team that struggles to score. I'll guess that Hosmer returns to the Royals to help raise the new crop of prospects. If he wants to win another title, however, he should look to Colorado, which has a hole at first base in an otherwise terrifying lineup.
Connor Grossman: In this case I’ll take the bait on a small fish nabbing a relatively big one. Hosmer will sign a sizable deal with the Padres. Yes, the Padres. They hardly have any payroll commitments outside of first baseman Wil Meyers, who reportedly OK’d a move to the outfield if the team signs Hosmer. Despite losing 91 games, San Diego played better than most expected them to in 2017 and they just handed manager Andy Green a contract extension through the 2021 season.
Clearly the franchise is excited about the direction it’s headed. With the surprise emergence of teams like the 2015 Cubs and the 2017 Yankees, both of which blossomed sooner than expected, don’t be stunned if the Padres believe they’re next and take a chance on signing an expensive asset like Hosmer.
Tom Verducci: The Cardinals. They want Stanton, may have to “settle” on Martinez, could use bullpen help, including a closer, and are likely to trade from their outfield depth.
Jay Jaffe: The Mariners. Jerry Dipoto is apparently the shark of general managers; if he stops wheeling and dealing, he may die.
Stephanie Apstein: It’s hard to bet against the Mariners here as long as they continue to employ Dipoto. They even traded us last year.
Jack Dickey: Why bet against Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners? The most active general manager in baseball may very well stay that way, with his team in need of a first baseman, center fielder, ideally another starter, and perhaps some insurance for soon-to-be-38-year-old Nelson Cruz. Could Ohtani fill the last two holes himself?
Jon Tayler: Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto awakens in a dark hotel room in Orlando’s Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort, curtains drawn and furniture strewn like boats in a harbor after a hurricane. He bolts upright, his mouth dry. What time is it? He looks around the room, sees scattered trays of congealing room service hamburgers and fries and a stained, dogeared copy of last year’s Baseball Prospectus Annual. Hell, what day is it? He finds his phone next to him, its battery drained to four percent. His screen is nothing but text messages and missed calls from his assistants. Why am I getting emails from the Cardinals that you traded them our entire starting rotation?!? reads one. Another: Jerry, we can’t acquire literally every pick in the Rule 5 draft. Dipoto licks his chapped lips, gets out of bed, and pulls the curtains slightly aside. It’s blindingly bright outside. I think we need a new sixth outfielder, he absently thinks to himself. His phone starts buzzing.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: The Winter Meetings didn't even begin and Jerry Dipoto already traded for Dee Gordon and switched him to a new position. As long as Dipoto is running the Mariners, they'll always be busy in December.
Connor Grossman: The Giants have already shown in the Stanton and Ohtani sweepstakes that they’re serious about flipping last season’s disaster upside down. That doesn’t mean a rebuild, but more so a willingness to part with familiar faces to sure up weaknesses like center field or an overall power-starved lineup. Outside of the outfield, San Francisco has holes to address at third base and in the bullpen.
General manager Bobby Evans seems willing to explore adventurous deals, which is a bit of a departure from past Giant teams that have re-signed their proven players. If Stanton doesn’t pan out, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Giants shifted gears toward Andrew McCutchen.
Tom Verducci: The Twins. They have a good core of rising young position players, but need to supplement it with one or two proven pitchers. They should be aggressively in on Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb.
Jay Jaffe: The Giants. If they're going to compete with the powerhouse Dodgers and the resurgent Diamondbacks and Rockies, they have a lot of work to do. They need significant help at third base, all over the outfield (where Denard Span and Hunter Pence are shadows of their former selves) and the rotation. At best, Stanton and Ohtani would fill two of those holes.
Stephanie Apstein: The Angels. The Justin Upton deal was a good start, but they need to put a reasonable team around Mike Trout and then try their luck in the playoffs.
Jack Dickey: Presumably the Phillies, having hired a manager for the future (Gabe Kapler), are ready to advance to the next phase of their rebuild. To do that, though, the team should surround useful youngsters like right-hander Aaron Nola, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, and hot-prospect shortstop/third baseman J.P. Crawford with a veteran starter or two. Keep an eye, too, on the Brewers, who finished 86–76 in 2017 despite essentially being a collection of spare parts. Adding Darvish or Jake Arrieta would do them good.
Jon Tayler: Thanks to an unexpected season that brought them within one game of a playoff spot, the Brewers are suddenly contenders when they were supposed to be amid a painful and protracted rebuild. But all the youth flourished earlier than expected, and Milwaukee has a chance to make real moves to make the team a real threat in the NL Central. So the Brewers should go into Winter Meetings ready to do just that. Pitch Jake Arrieta on staying in the division and on the benefits of all-you-can-eat bratwursts. Try to get a better second baseman than Eric Sogard. See if Jonathan Lucroy is interested in coming back to catch. Learn from the Pirates, who let their window close with nothing but three wild-card games and a Division Series appearance to show for it. Act now, knowing that the future is still bright.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: The Giants look like they're trying to remedy the problems that sunk them in 2017, but they shouldn't be investing their future in Giancarlo Stanton. Instead, they should try and figure out third base by engaging Tampa Bay for Evan Longoria, see what the Reds want for Billy Hamilton and what Toronto would need for Kevin Pillar. The farm system is bad and they'll bankrupt themselves if they sell the house for Stanton, who will regress in AT&T Park even if he bolsters a currently dreadful lineup. Just about everything went wrong for the Giants last year, and they need to make small acquisitions—the way Brian Sabean did in compiling their 2010 World Series team—instead of selling the house for a big name.
Connor Grossman: I’m a big advocate for the best teams consistently trying to get better, avoiding the complacency that can easily set in after a World Series run. With that in mind, both the Dodgers and Astros should be the most aggressive. Both teams had weaknesses exposed in October, with Houston standing to improve their relief depth and Los Angeles in need of a spark in its starting rotation.
The idea of Ohtani and/or Stanton joining the Dodgers should strike a boatload of fear into the rest of the National League. The path to the Fall Classic just got that much more difficult.
Tom Verducci: This question has more to do with the market than the player, and Lance Lynn is likely to find a very good market as a second-tier starter. He fits in on so many staffs (Rangers, Phillies, Twins, Orioles, Mariners, Brewers, etc.), that Lynn’s price is likely to go up and beyond his true value. The red flags: Lynn is coming off a season with career worsts in strikeout rate, walk rate and FIP.
Jay Jaffe: Particularly if he goes to Boston, I think Hosmer stands to be the biggest overpay. Hosmer’s been worth a modest 8.6 WAR over the last three years, but the popular perception of him is inflated by those World Series appearances with the Royals, so much so that Scott Boras is talking about a $200 million deal, Even anything north of $100 million could be way out of line. With Pablo Sandoval gone and Hanley Ramriez heading into the final year of his contract (unless, of course, his 2020 option vests), the Red Sox seem due for a deal like this.
Stephanie Apstein: Jake Arrieta. He is still an excellent pitcher, but whoever gets him will be paying for past performance and getting future decline.
Jack Dickey: Mike Moustakas. He plays a premium defensive position well enough and is hitting the market at age 29 fresh off a 38-homer season. This is the kind of profile that prompts teams to open their wallets. Here’s the thing: He has a career on-base percentage of .305, and the ball was juiced in 2017. What happens if his fly balls start falling short and his defense continues to tail off with age? He’s less of a looming disaster than Hosmer, his longtime Royals teammate, but there are more teams hunting for third basemen than first basemen, which could spell a bidding war.
Jon Tayler: Eric Hosmer’s contract is going to feel too big by at least $30 or $40 million and a handful of years, even given his age and pedigree. And whichever team ends up paying Wade Davis like the All-Star closer he once was instead of the increasingly shaky reliever he looked like in the second half with the Cubs will want to keep that receipt handy. But the real winner of the desperation sweepstakes that is Winter Meetings will be Lance Lynn, who is going to reap the benefits of one of the worst and most scarce starting pitcher markets in the history of free agency by inking a deal far above his mid-rotation station.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Don't pay relievers for more than three years (Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel excluded). Wade Davis still has occasionally electric stuff, but some team will dramatically overpay him thinking that their bullpen is the next one to rule October.
Connor Grossman: Paying big money for a thirty-something center fielder that relies heavily on their legs is a risky gamble. That’s why Lorenzo Cain is a scary commitment. He deserves to get paid after collecting a career-best 175 hits last season hitting .300 on the nose. But he doesn’t hit for much power, doesn’t steal that many bases and will be turning 32 just after Opening Day.
He’s bound to sign for four or five years and it’s difficult to imagine he’ll still be a productive top-of-the-order hitter playing centerfield every day.
Tom Verducci: Jay Bruce. The market for power hitters has cratered because home runs are so prevalent. Three years ago Bruce would have been looking at a four- or five-year deal. (Think Curtis Granderson: four years, $60 million.) Now he could be had for about $39 million over three years. That’s a good value for someone who can hit in the middle of an order, play good defense in the outfield or at first base.
Jay Jaffe: Lance Lynn. You don't hear him being talked about as a potential $100 million pitcher, but in a winter where Darvish and Jake Arrieta are the only two top-tier pitchers, the going-on-31-year-old righty is worth a closer look. Despite missing all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, he's proven durable, making 31 or more starts in every other year since 2013, posting a 3.30 ERA (118 ERA+) and 3.7 FIP with 8.2 strikeouts per nine and a decent groundball rate.
Stephanie Apstein: Is it cheating to say Shohei Ohtani?
Jack Dickey: Todd Frazier. While his best days may be behind him, he managed to post a .344 OBP and 27 homers while splitting time between the White Sox and Yankees last year. He’s a useful player, not a complete one, which often leads to a lack of free-agent appreciation. He’d make a fine signing for either New York team.
Jon Tayler: In years previous, a lefthanded slugger who hit 38 home runs and set full-season career highs in on-base and slugging percentage would set the free-agent market (or at least his agent’s cellphone) on fire. That likely hasn’t been the case for Logan Morrison, though, who will have to wait for Hosmer to find a home before teams come calling despite his brilliant 2017 season (135 OPS+, 3.6 WAR, one ill-conceived war of words over the home run derby with Gary Sanchez). And with front offices increasingly wary of giving big bucks to first basemen no matter how much power they provide, one team could find itself landing Morrison for relative peanuts—especially compared to the haul Hosmer is going to get.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: All Carlos Santana does is hit. He's forever been underappreciated. He may be a bit limited defensively, but he'll stabilize any lineup that needs an effective contact hitter with good power.
Connor Grossman: Eduardo Nuñez isn’t going to be dirt cheap, but given his versatility and relatively solid season at the plate last year he’s a good fit on almost any team. Nuñez took off after getting traded from the Giants to the Red Sox, nearly hitting .400 in his first 10 games and equaling his home run total (four) that he had in his first 76 game in San Francisco.
He should have no shortage of suitors, but that being said, he’s not going to command the salary of a superstar. He just has a knack for moonlighting as one occasionally.
Tom Verducci: Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins must move him for their entire business strategy to work.
Jay Jaffe: Josh Donaldson. I think the Blue Jays have to swallow hard and face the fact that it's time to move on from the 2015–16 nucleus, which has now lost Jose Bautista and Edward Encarnacion and just has so many other question marks, not the least of which is the trial balloon Rogers Communications just sent out about selling the team. If they can lock in Donaldson, a third-year arbitration-eligible player who made $17 million last year and will still be underpaid with a raise, via a reasonable a long-term extension, they should. But assuming they can't, he’ll fetch a significant return, as he's a better player than any available free agent hitter.
Stephanie Apstein: This offseason? Stanton. During the season, if the Orioles get off to a bad enough start, I could see them shopping Manny Machado at the deadline. He’s free-agent eligible after this season and could bring back a lot.
Jack Dickey: Stanton, for sure. But keep an eye on the Cubs’ position players, too. With John Lackey and Jake Arrieta both free agents, Chicago may seize a chance to turn one of their quasi-misfits (Javier Baez? Addison Russell? Kyle Schwarber? Ian Happ?) into a young arm.
Jon Tayler: They don’t come much bigger—literally—than Stanton, whose awkward and unnecessary time on the market should come to a close at some point in Orlando. Beyond that, there’s no team out there like last year’s White Sox, embracing a rebuild by selling off its best assets. Unless the Pirates decide to punt on Andrew McCutchen, the only trades I expect beyond Stanton are teams getting rid of bad contracts. Maybe Brian Cashman will use his Jedi mind trick to foist Jacoby Ellsbury and his awful deal on some team in need of a centerfielder.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: The Rays aren't in any position to win the AL East in 2018, but they don't need a full rebuild to be competitive. By trading Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay can recoup some excellent value for their star third basemen. If Longoria moves, the Rays can start molding a potential contender for 2019 while the trading partner gets one of the trustiest bats and best gloves in the American League.
Connor Grossman: Sticking with Giancarlo Stanton here, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Cubs flipped Kyle Schwarber. His future home is somewhere in the American League—far, far away from outfield.
Tom Verducci: The Brewers will be active in free agency at an unprecedented level. They need an established starter, which puts them in the mix for Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, and a second baseman, which might include Neil Walker. The Brewers never have spent more than $50 million on a free agent (Matt Garza for four years, signed four years ago).
Jay Jaffe: Jake Arrieta back to the Cubs. They couldn’t sign him to an extension when his value was at its peak, but now that he’s come back to earth a bit and been dinged up by minor injuries, I think the two sides find a way to get a deal done.
Stephanie Apstein: The Arizona Diamondbacks will sign Lorenzo Cain en route to a World Series title in 2018.
Jack Dickey: Ohtani eventually starts thinking “Why stop at baseball?”, and looks for a team that will allow him to start, DH, and run for governor. Because California has no long-term residency requirements for its gubernatorial candidates, Ohtani, once naturalized as a U.S. citizen, will immediately be able to join the scrum to succeed a term-limited Jerry Brown, should he sign with the Angels.
Jon Tayler: The free-agent market is a bust, we already have a good idea of where the two biggest available players will end up, and there are no teams ready to hold a fire sale. My bold prediction is that this year’s Winter Meetings will be busy but unsurprising, devoid of the wild twists and turns that previous years have given us.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: The Twins will make their biggest splash in recent memory by splurging on Jake Arrieta, a second starter and a marquee reliever. With enough young talent to make another playoff run in 2018, the Twins may as well spend now while the Tigers, White Sox and Royals all either begin or continue rebuilding.
Connor Grossman: This is an easy one based on the current climate of the hot stove season: Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani will end up on the same team. That pretty much leaves the Giants and the Dodgers. Los Angeles would have to stitch together an 11th-hour deal with the Marlins to make it happen, but they have the prospects and financial backing to do so. Crazier things have happened.