CARLSBAD, Calif. -- For the past three days, executives from all 30 teams gathered at the Omni La Costa Resort for the annual General Managers Meetings, discussing a variety of club- and league-related issues as they put a bow on 2018 and look ahead to the 2019 season.
But in between the formal meetings, the execs met with each other privately to discuss trade possibilities, squeezing in meetings with agents representing those players available on the free-agent market.
As expected, top names such as Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel got plenty of attention as teams weigh the pros and cons of diving into the deep end of the free-agent pool to fill holes on their respective rosters.
But plenty of other players generated quite a bit of buzz, both in the free-agent and trade markets. Here's a look at some of the names that had people talking:
Mike Zunino is already gone from Seattle, traded to Tampa Bay in a five-player package that sent center fielder Mallex Smith to the Mariners. Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto is trying to reshape the roster this offseason, and with Mitch Haniger, Edwin Diaz and Marco Gonzales reportedly not on the block, no player would bring back a bigger return than Paxton, the hard-throwing lefty who, despite a lengthy injury history, is considered by many to be one of the top southpaws in the league.
Corey Kluber/Carlos Carrasco
Kluber could have been the choice here given their ages -- Kluber is entering his age-33 season, while Carrasco will be playing at 32 -- and contract situations. Kluber is owed $13 million in 2019 and has club options for 2020 and 2021 worth $13.5 million and $14 million, respectively; Carrasco will earn $9 million next year and has a club option for 2020 ($9.5 million). Kluber's track record is stronger, so although he might fetch a better return, the Indians would probably prefer to hang on to their ace and deal Carrasco.
Aside from Tim Tebow, Kikuchi was the only player not in the big leagues that generated significant buzz. The 27-year-old Japanese left-hander hasn't officially been posted by the Seibu Lions yet, though that's expected to happen in the next week or two. Kikuchi has been heavily scouted by most teams and is expected to have at least 10 teams interested in bringing him to the Majors. He's 73-46 with a 2.77 ERA over parts of eight seasons in the Pacific League, and while two executives said he's not as good as Masahiro Tanaka, he's expected to be a No. 2-3 starter.
Nobody has raised his free-agent profile more significantly thanks to his memorable postseason, vaulting himself to the top tier of starting pitchers. Eovaldi's talent has never been in question, but a number of GMs appear somewhat wary about his health history -- he's had two Tommy John surgeries -- and that could keep him from landing the same type of deals Corbin and Keuchel are expected to land. Still, Eovaldi looks to be in strong position to land a three- or four-year deal with an average annual value many estimate will be in the $15 million-$17 million range.
Happ's age -- he turned 36 last month -- could actually work in his favor this offseason, as he's expected to command a three-year contract. With Corbin and Keuchel seeking longer deals, Happ could find himself with even more suitors, as many clubs are hesitant to hand out lengthy contracts for pitchers. Happ has thrived in the difficult American League East, most notably going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts after being acquired by the Yankees this summer. New York would like to bring back the southpaw, though the Blue Jays -- who traded him to the Yankees -- have also expressed a strong desire to bring him back to Toronto.
The 2015 AL MVP was limited to just 52 games in 2018 due to injury, but it wasn't too long ago that Donaldson was considered to be one of the best players in the game. More than a half-dozen teams are expected to make a run at Donaldson, who might have as many as 10 teams bidding for his services as he enters his age-33 season. If he can stay healthy, the third baseman could provide massive offense for whatever team he joins.
Kimbrel might be getting most of the attention in a fairly loaded relief market, but multiple executives suggested that Ottavino might be the most appealing reliever available in free agency. He's likely to sign for less than half of what Kimbrel is seeking, and although he doesn't have the closer's résumé that Kimbrel offers, Ottavino put together a tremendous season with the Rockies in 2018 and would make any bullpen significantly better. The Yankees are said to be high on the New York native.
The Mariners' trade for Smith gives them a new center fielder, meaning Dee Gordon can remain at second base. That likely shifts Robinson Cano to a DH/first base role moving forward, which appears to spell the end of Cruz's time in Seattle. The 38-year-old can still rake -- he hit 37 home runs in 144 games and he's averaged 41 per season over the past five years -- and based on the buzz in California, Cruz should have no problem landing a two-year deal. His DH-only status limits his market, but the Twins, Rays and White Sox are all said to be interested.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman has made no secret of his intent to trade Gray, who was New York's chief Trade Deadline acquisition only 15 months ago. Gray's tenure in the Bronx has been mostly disastrous, but his home/road splits -- he had a 6.98 ERA over 59 1/3 innings at Yankee Stadium and a 3.17 ERA in 71 innings on the road -- suggest he could be a prime change-of-scenery candidate. With one year remaining until free agency, Gray would also be highly motivated to have a bounce-back season. According to sources, at least five teams have already reached out to the Yankees to discuss Gray.