This will be the most interesting February in Major League Baseball since, well, the last one.A year ago at this time, we were still waiting on J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer and many others to find a home. This year, we're still waiting on Bryce Harper and
This will be the most interesting February in Major League Baseball since, well, the last one.
A year ago at this time, we were still waiting on J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer and many others to find a home. This year, we're still waiting on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
Baseball's Hot Stove season has changed a lot in a short time, and with a bevy of ballplayers still up for grabs, some big things are bound to happen this month. Exhibition games start in just three weeks, for crying out loud, and teams still have holes to fill.
Here are six bold predictions for what will transpire between now and the end of the month.
1. The Harper and Machado contracts will finally happen, and they will be crazy complicated.
This winter, I really didn't want to be that guy who makes a prediction (read: educated, but ultimately a blind guess) in November and then altered it as we got a better read on the market. I wanted to stick to my guns (read: I didn't mind looking really dumb), and that meant maintaining my stance that Machado would sign with the Yankees and Harper would wind up with the Cardinals.
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At this point, neither club looks especially eager or likely to back me up on this. But rather than humbly pivoting to alternative predictions (read: a little more educated, but still basically blind guesses) that are somehow only going to make me look dumber, I'll just say this: The mega-contract, as we once knew it, is effectively gone. Machado and Harper will be proof that it has been replaced with a different sort of deal that has Ben Zobrist-like versatility.
We saw the seeds of this with Arrieta's Phillies deal, which was three years and $75 million, but with a player opt-out after 2019 or a team opt-in that voids that opt-out and tacks on two more years beyond 2020. Boras negotiated that deal and similarly strange opt-out/opt-in structures this winter in the Yusei Kikuchi contract with the Mariners and the Zach Britton deal with the Yankees.
It stands to reason that the Boras-negotiated Harper deal will also involve this creative clause, but with much higher dollars and much more significant stakes for player and team. I think Harper's contract will have a range that lasts anywhere from two to 12 years, with various opt-out possibilities in between. Teams don't want to totally commit to a player -- even a 26-year-old player -- for a decade-plus, and you have to wonder if a player like Harper might want a deal that gives him an opportunity to potentially reinvestigate his market after the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (post-2021).
Given these market conditions, it only stands to reason that Machado's contract with the Padres will be comparable in complexity to Harper's deal with the Phillies. (Oops.)
2. Craig Kimbrel will remain unsigned.
Last year in this space, I pegged Arrieta as the major free agent whose market would linger into March, and that was accurate. (Don't bother scrolling through the rest of the predictions in that piece, just take my word that they were all correct, too).
This year, I think it will be Kimbrel who holds out the longest.
At the moment, if Boston isn't biting because of the luxury tax concerns, if his "hometown" Braves aren't itching to make a long-term entanglement with a closer and if the Phillies are distracted by other pursuits, it's hard to see his market suddenly escalating. But the fragility of big league relievers could work in Kimbrel's favor here, as those first pitches thrown in earnest in back-field bullpen sessions and exhibition tilts are, unfortunately, an opportunity for pops, pains and unforeseen needs arising.
I still can't shake the idea of Kimbrel going back to an Atlanta team whose projected Opening Day payroll is actually a little bit below what it was in 2018. But then again, I've got the Braves busy in another pursuit…
3. The Braves will land J.T. Realmuto (maybe any minute now).
If you think the Machado and Harper markets have dragged on forever, how about the Realmuto trade talks, which seemingly began when the Marlins were still wearing all-teal caps?
Talks were said to have reached the "advanced stages" on Thursday, per MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, so hopefully a deal will finally be consummated. The thought of the Padres landing Realmuto and a grade-A free agent is a lot of fun. The Reds are involved, but if they weren't willing to pay the price for three years of Corey Kluber in the trade market, one wonders if they'll pay a similar price for two years of Realmuto. The Dodgers are uber protective of their prospect pieces, and the Rays have been tied to this market, but have already traded for Mike Zunino.
I wrote at the start of the winter that the Braves have the right combination of need and resources to get this done, and while the Brian McCann acquisition changes the formula a bit, it's obviously not a deal-breaker since the Braves have indeed still been involved.
Hopefully, by now, the Marlins have come to the unavoidable conclusion that you can't dismiss dealing within the division if the return is right.
4. The Angels will sign Dallas Keuchel.
Keuchel's market could also linger into March, but that's not advisable for player or team, given the need for a starting pitcher to build up innings in a game setting. The Astros had re-engaged in conversation with Keuchel, but then signed Wade Miley and might be set if young rotation pieces like Josh James and Forrest Whitley emerge this season. The Yankees could do it, but probably won't. The Brewers arguably have the need, but probably won't push their payroll much further. The Phillies could definitely do it with some of that "stupid" money, but they obviously have other people on top of their mind at the moment.
The Angels are a wild card here. They say they're confident with their roster, but should they be? Their injury-plagued rotation didn't get considerably less iffy with the additions of Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill, and because they've limited their spending this winter to one-year deals, they can still do a Keuchel deal without exceeding the luxury tax threshold. The clock is ticking on Mike Trout (a free agent after the 2020 season), and this team would become a bona fide contender with Keuchel.
5. The White Sox will sign Marwin Gonzalez.
Frankly, this is a commitment that would make much more sense than a Machado or Harper signing for a rebuilding team that is simultaneously trying to climb the ladder and evaluate where the holes in the lineup are. Gonzalez can plug and play all over the place, and for a team with question marks in the corner outfield and in regard to Yoán Moncada's long-term home (second base or third?), that's an asset.
Money does not seem to be an issue here. The White Sox have reportedly been in pursuit of Machado and Harper, and Gonzalez won't come close to that kind of contract. And if we can assume that the Harper and Machado sagas will finally be resolved this month, then the other dominoes can fall, too. Gonzalez to the Windy City would work.
6. Upon arrival to spring camp, none of the Mariners' players will unpack their stuff.
Just in case Jerry Dipoto has some more moves up his sleeve.
OK, that's a joke. But seriously, Edwin Encarnacion, you might not want to unpack the parrot in Peoria just yet.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.