January is not the demonstrably dull month of Minor League invites it once was. It's time we mentally adjust to the reality that the offseason is itself a full season, one in which market logjams and especially scrupulous executives spread the activity out over several months.Last year, six contracts worth
January is not the demonstrably dull month of Minor League invites it once was. It's time we mentally adjust to the reality that the offseason is itself a full season, one in which market logjams and especially scrupulous executives spread the activity out over several months.
Last year, six contracts worth $70 million or more (Chris Davis, Justin Upton, Wei-Yin Chen, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy) were handed out in the month of January. This year, the free-agent class, on the whole, was considerably weaker, but the open market still includes Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista, Matt Wieters, Jason Hammel and many others, and there is still a compelling crop of trade candidates, fronted by White Sox lefty Jose Quintana.
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So there's still a lot on tap in these waning weeks before camps open in Florida and Arizona. Here are 10 clubs that could be particularly big noisemakers and newsmakers this month.
White Sox: This list will otherwise revolve around clubs adding to, not subtracting from, their 2017 competitive hopes. But after years of ho-hum outcomes for the South Siders, their fan base was oddly yet understandably invigorated by the hauls in the trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, and there is a chance of another big one for Quintana. The White Sox hold all the leverage in the Quintana talks, and they are holding firm in valuing him similarly to Sale, who netted two of Boston's top five prospects, per MLBPipeline.com's rankings (Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech).
There is a possibility they keep Quintana, but the feeble free-agent market for starting arms keeps this conversation humming in the New Year.
Rangers: After the free-agent departures of Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran and Mitch Moreland, the Rangers are probably going to sign another bat. Odds are, it'll be a reunion with Mike Napoli.
If not, the slugger market is crowded with Trumbo, Brandon Moss, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Reynolds and others. There is some incentive for Texas to ease the pressure on Joey Gallo and to ensure Jurickson Profar can remain in a super utility role. Texas is also making a push to sign pitcher Tyson Ross.
Dodgers: The current No. 1 on the second base depth chart is Kiké Hernandez, who hit .190 with a .607 OPS last year. So … something's coming here.
If it's a trade for James Dozier, then countless bandwidth and breath expelled on conversation about that potential swap will be justified. If not, then the world will continue to be a strange and confusing place designed to trick you at every turn (and the Dodgers could re-sign Chase Utley).
The Dodgers also need some help in their setup situation.
Blue Jays: They need an everyday outfielder, which means they could be the team that steps up and acquires one of the many available (or potentially available) options in the trade market, such as Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Lorenzo Cain, J.D. Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez for the short term, or Andrew McCutchen or Charlie Blackmon for the long term.
Bringing back Bautista and/or Michael Saunders is still a possibility.
Pirates: Could they trade away McCutchen? Could they trade for Quintana? Could they do both? The answer to all three of those questions is yes.
That's not an invitation to hold your breath in anticipation of either move (and a McCutchen trade seems particularly doubtful after ample discussion at the Winter Meetings went nowhere), but the Bucs are still a particularly intriguing club at the moment.
Mariners: The Mariners' November/early December rate of one trade per week has cooled, but it doesn't seem a stretch to suggest that general manager Jerry Dipoto could at least pull off one more deal between now and the start of camp. One possibility is dealing the left-handed-hitting Seth Smith out of the corner outfield to open up at-bats there for Danny Valencia and allowing Seattle to sign one of the right-handed bats still available in free agency.
Beyond that -- and perhaps more pressingly -- Dipoto is known to be looking for another experienced starter to augment the middle of his rotation after the Taijuan Walker trade, so this could be a landing spot for a remaining free agent like Hammel, Ross, Brett Anderson or old friend Doug Fister.
Orioles: The waiting is the hardest part for most of us, but for the Orioles it's the go-to offseason modus operandi, and that's the case again this year. The Davis re-signing became official on Jan. 21 last year. What are the odds Trumbo is brought back on a similar date?
If not Trumbo, the market, as discussed above, is replete with slugging bats for a team that was very reliant on the long ball last year.
Astros: Houston could still land another starting arm to a unit that disappointed and ran into injury trouble last year. What they'll definitely do is acquire another left-handed reliever after Tony Sipp suffered a steep statistical regression in '16. Boone Logan, Jerry Blevins, Travis Wood and J.P. Howell are among the free-agent options. Wood has added value as a potential swingman.
Nationals:Mark Melancon, Jonathan Papelbon, Felipe Rivero, Yusmeiro Petit and Matt Belisle all logged meaningful innings out of the Nats' 2016 bullpen, and none of those guys are still on the roster. Maybe the next ninth-inning guy is already in-house (Shawn Kelley? Blake Treinen? Koda Glover?), but for the Nats to raid their farm system for Eaton and not meaningfully address the 'pen this winter would be odd, to say the least. This could be Tommy John returnee Greg Holland's eventual landing spot.
Rockies: Maybe they're set with Desmond at first base and Mike Dunn joining a bullpen in which Adam Ottavino could close and Jake McGee could bounce back. But this is certainly one of the clubs that could be in the market for one of the remaining right-handed relievers, such as Joe Blanton, Neftali Feliz, Trevor Cahill, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo or David Hernandez.
And then, of course, there is the speculation about the Rockies trading Blackmon or Gonzalez for pitching, moving Desmond to the outfield and signing one of the aforementioned first-base bats. It's a complicated -- and therefore not particularly likely -- scenario, but it would certainly have the transaction wire jumping in January.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.