Winter Meetings are here: 7 stories to watch

December 9th, 2019

This year’s Hot Stove season has heated up far earlier than the past couple years, setting up what could be a very exciting week at the 2019 Winter Meetings, which begin today in San Diego.

Executives from around the league will try to tune up their rosters for the upcoming season, whether it’s dealing with their peers or negotiating with agents to add talent from the free-agent market.

What will be the biggest stories to watch this week? Here are seven stories of particular interest.

1) Agent of change?

Agent Scott Boras will have a lot to say about this year’s free-agent movement, as he represents Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Nicholas Castellanos and Dallas Keuchel, all of whom are among the top 15 players available this winter.

Strasburg is heading back to the Nationals, and Cole has already held meetings with multiple teams, most notably the Yankees, who would become prohibitive favorites in the American League if they’re able to add the ace.

Boras has been deliberate with his free agents in past years -- just last offseason, Bryce Harper didn’t sign until late February, and Keuchel remained available until June -- but Strasburg has a deal, and the markets for Cole and Rendon already appear to be active. It feels possible that all three could sign before the end of the month.

Huge contract announcements have been made at the Winter Meetings before; Alex Rodriguez signed his 10-year, $252 million pact with the Rangers at the December 2000 event in Dallas, and Albert Pujols inked his 10-year, $240 million deal with the Angels at the 2011 Meetings, which also happened to take place in Dallas.

2) Start it up

Cole and Strasburg are the pitching gems of the free-agent class, but other impact starters are drawing plenty of attention.

Zack Wheeler was the first major domino to fall with his five-year, $118 contract with the Phillies. (Technically, Cole Hamels signed his one-year, $18 million pact with the Braves a few hours earlier, but Wheeler’s signing will be a bigger factor in the market.)

With Madison Bumgarner, Ryu and Keuchel still available, there are options for pitching-starved teams looking to spend on a starter. Bumgarner is the most sought-after arm of this group, but all three should generate significant interest.

Other free-agent starters are Wade Miley, Tanner Roark, Rick Porcello and Julio Teheran.

3) Hot (corner) market

Mike Moustakas’ four-year, $64 million deal with the Reds is the third-biggest free-agent contract doled out this offseason, as the 31-year-old decided not to wait for Rendon and/or Josh Donaldson to sign before doing so himself.

Rendon and Donaldson are the top two position players on the free-agent market, so the fact that they play the same position is relevant. Will Rendon get more money than Nolan Arenado did earlier this year, when he signed an eight-year, $260 million extension? Will Donaldson wait for Rendon to set the market? Will clubs looking for an impact player at third base decide to make a big play for Donaldson rather than wait for Rendon?

And speaking of corners, the corner-outfield market has some notable names seeking jobs, too. Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna, Corey Dickerson, Avisaíl García, Brett Gardner, Yasiel Puig and Kole Calhoun are all available, giving outfield-needy teams a number of alternatives to consider.

4) Bullpen bonanza

Will Smith’s three-year, $40 million deal with the Braves at the end of the General Managers Meetings took the lone true closer off the free-agent market, while Drew Pomeranz (Padres, four years, $34 million), Chris Martin (Braves, two years, $14 million) and Jake Diekman (Athletics, two years, $7.5 million) have also inked new contracts this winter.

Although the market has no proven closers to speak of, there are some very intriguing arms out there, including Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Steve Cishek, Craig Stammen, Pedro Strop, David Phelps and the recently non-tendered Blake Treinen and Kevin Gausman, who may want to be a starter but teams might prefer in relief.

The most interesting reliever available might be Dellin Betances, who was arguably the most dominant bullpen arm in the game from 2014-18 before injuries cost him all but two batters in 2019. Betances underwent Achilles surgery this fall and is expected to miss the first two or three months of 2020, but he could be a true difference-maker during the pennant race.

5) Trade show

Free agents tend to draw the most attention this time of year, but the trade market has the potential to be just as impactful. With such superstars as Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant and Francisco Lindor all seemingly available for the right price, a franchise player or two could be on the move.

It was only three years ago that the Red Sox pulled off a huge trade of their own at the Winter Meetings, acquiring Chris Sale from the White Sox and sending Yoán Moncada (and others) to Chicago. Other star players have also been traded at the Winter Meetings, including Giancarlo Stanton, who was moved from Miami to New York two years ago.

Miguel Cabrera was dealt to the Tigers during the 2007 Winter Meetings, and that trade came two years before Detroit made another big swap at the Meetings, sending Curtis Granderson to the Yankees in a three-team deal that sent Max Scherzer from the D-backs to the Tigers.

6) Texas two-step

The Rangers have already made one significant signing, landing right-hander Kyle Gibson on a three-year, $30 million deal. But given the expectations this offseason for Texas as the club prepares to move into its new ballpark this spring, most believe GM Jon Daniels will be one of the more active executives in San Diego.

Texas has already met with Rendon, a Houston native who would be a popular signing with Rangers fans. The Rangers were also in the mix for both Wheeler and Hamels before they signed their respective deals, leaving the team to consider such arms as Bumgarner, Ryu and Keuchel.

Ryu is one to watch in this situation; he recently said it would be “special” to play with fellow South Korean Shin-Soo Choo, who remains on the Rangers' roster.

7) Catch me if you can

The catching market has been the most active in the early weeks of the offseason. More than a half-dozen catchers have already signed deals, led by Yasmani Grandal, who inked a four-year, $73 million contract with the White Sox.

Travis d’Arnaud (Braves, two years, $16 million) and Yan Gomes (Nationals, two years, $10 million) also signed multiyear deals, while Stephen Vogt, Alex Avila and Tyler Flowers got one-year contracts worth between $3 million and $4.25 million.

Despite the heavy early activity, some notable names remain on the market and figure to draw plenty of interest: Jason Castro, Robinson Chirinos, Martin Maldonado, Welington Castillo, Austin Romine, Jonathan Lucroy, Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli are among the nearly two dozen backstops looking for teams.

And let’s not forget about Cubs backstop Willson Contreras, who has been mentioned in a number of trade rumors.