5 teams likely to bring Hot Stove drama

November 10th, 2016

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- We don't know how large the free-agent contracts for or will be. We don't know which blockbuster trade will stun the sport. We don't know what changes the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will bring, or when it will be announced.

But after this week's General Managers Meetings, we can discern who will likely be the key actors in this Hot Stove season.

Here are five teams poised to deliver the trade rumors and splashy signings that sustain our baseball fascination between now and Spring Training.

Hot Stove Tracker

Atlanta Braves

The Braves are poised to inaugurate SunTrust Park in April, and they seem relatively certain will be their Opening Day starter.

After that? Well, that's why they're on this list.

The Braves, whose rotation was the envy of the sport one generation ago, now need multiple starting pitchers. They'd like to pursue free agents first, but it's unclear how willing they are to pay elevated prices for or .

Thus, trades could be the most likely course. The Braves have already spoken with the Rays about , sources said, while and of the White Sox are more available now than they have been at any time in the past couple of years.

Archer, Sale and Quintana make sense for the Braves, because all are under club control -- affordably -- through seasons in which Atlanta expects to win. Archer, a charismatic native of nearby North Carolina, is in many ways an ideal pitcher for the Braves in their first season at their new home.

Chicago White Sox

As the White Sox fell from contention during the summer, general manager Rick Hahn acknowledged that he needed to listen to trade offers on all of his players. In the end, left-handed reliever was the lone significant player dealt.

So why are Sale, Quintana and outfielder more likely to be traded this offseason?

Well, a few things have changed. For one, there are more buyers during the offseason than at the Trade Deadline. The free-agent class of starting pitchers is regarded as the thinnest in recent memory, making Sale and Quintana incredibly appealing. And a change in the dugout (manager Robin Ventura out, Rick Renteria in) is a natural starting point for an overdue rebuild.

In addition to the Braves, the Astros and Rangers are among the potential suitors for Sale and Quintana. Eaton, a superb defender and productive left-handed hitter, is a good fit for the Blue Jays, Orioles and Astros, among others.

With the American League's second-worst record over the past four years, the White Sox can't afford another stagnant offseason. And Hahn appears to have realized that.

Detroit Tigers

Al Avila, now beginning his second season as the Tigers' general manager, has been a popular man at these Meetings.

The reason: Avilahas made clear to his GM counterparts (and the media, for that matter) that the team's payroll is not sustainable. The Tigers committed nearly $206 million on players last season, according to spotrac.com; that was a team record and the fourth highest payroll in the Majors. With declining attendance in a mid-sized market, that's impossible to continue absent the intervention of owner Mike Ilitch.

And so Avila is listening to offers on all players. That includes , , , , and anyone else wearing the Old English D. The substantive process of determining trade fits began this week.

Avila, who has said the retooling could take multiple offseasons, is not desperate to trade Cabrera or Verlander this offseason, but he may decide to capitalize on their value before both creep too far into their 30s.

Houston Astros

The Astros are the inverse of the Tigers.

For years, their payroll has been lower than their market size suggested it could be. Now the Astros are prepared to move it northward, from below $100 million in 2016 to the range of $140 million -- if not right away, then gradually over the next few seasons.

Cabrera would be the biggest splash, of course, but other viable options exist on the free-agent market, including Encarnacion, and former Astros outfielder . (The New York Daily News has reported the Astros are pursuing Beltran.) Houston also has shown interest in acquiring catcher/designated hitter from the Yankees. One way or another, the Astros are certain to add an impact bat.

The need to acquire another proven starting pitcher exists, as well: 's ERA increased by more than two runs after winning the 2015 AL Cy Young Award, and was Houston's only starter to surpass 170 innings last season.

New York Yankees

It is the offseason, after all. You were expecting someone else?

More than four years have passed since the Yankees' last postseason victory, but the organization regained some momentum -- and perhaps an identity -- with the arrivals of , and in 2016. is poised to return, as well, after missing 2016 following shoulder surgery.

Now the Yanks can dream about their version of the Cubs' championship formula. (I'll admit it: Quite a sentence to type.) The Cubs' productive, inexpensive core of position players allowed them to make targeted free-agent investments and complete a World Series-championship roster.

We can't say -- yet -- that the Yankees have their answer to , , and . But two or three everyday players making near the Major League minimum would help the Yankees immensely, allowing them to sign Cespedes or Encarnacion to a long-term deal without pushing the payroll beyond last year's figure. After the and trades, they also have the prospects to land Sale or Quintana.

The Yanks could gain more financial flexibility by moving McCann's contract. And with and off the books after 2017, general manager Brian Cashman can back-load a major free-agent deal this offseason.

Remember how, not long ago, the Yankees seemed to lurk on every significant free agent? Those days are about to return, if they haven't already.