It is an inborn feature -- a flaw, really -- that many of us human beings feel compelled to answer questions we don't actually know the answer to. Personal pride and fear of embarrassment cause us to offer conjecture and suppositions where a simple phrase -- "I don't know" -- would suffice.
The problem with my particular line of work is that "I don't know" doesn't make for particularly exciting copy, even if it is the only accurate answer.
How will the Yankees specifically respond to the rival Red Sox's World Series glory? I don't know.
Will the D-backs trade Zack Greinke and/or Paul Goldschmidt this offseason? I don't know.
How much money will Josh Donaldson get after all his injury trouble? I don't know.
But if you read the tea leaves, listen to executives, pick the brains of scouts and fellow media members, you can, at the very least, make an educated guess. And that's what I'm going to do here with these nine bold -- and, yes, flawed -- predictions for the 2018-19 Hot Stove season.
(And if your favorite team or player isn't mentioned here, fear not! I've got all offseason to get other stuff wrong.)
1. Bryce Harper signs with the Cardinals
The Phillies are the safest pick, a return to the Nationals is still possible, and the Dodgers and Yankees certainly have the funds and are more enticing markets. But let's go off the grid.
We know the Cardinals bid boldly for David Price a few years back. We know that they were willing and able to take on Giancarlo Stanton's contract a year ago. This franchise has the funds to make a top-of-the-market deal happen, and after three consecutive October absences, it has all the incentive in the world to make Harper the solution to the long-standing quest to find a legitimate middle-of-the-order stick.
Though guarded about his personal preferences, Harper has typically been tied to bigger markets. But we know enough about him to know that he would appreciate the Cards' rich history and loyal fan base and, yes, the accompanying dollar signs from a team that hasn't had much luck with half-measures and might be ready for something more dramatic.
2. Manny Machado signs with the Yankees
Machado's, uh, interesting postseason probably should cost him significant dollars and/or opportunities in this free-agent marketplace. But does anybody really think it will? We're talking about a player who has accumulated north of 30 Wins Above Replacement through his age-25 season. He's going to get paid.
The Yankees were certainly knowledgeable about Machado's hustle deficiencies when they bid for his services this summer. Add in the Didi Gregorius injury dynamic, the need to improve the defense on the left side of the infield (when Gregorius is healthy, Miguel Andujar can shift to first and Machado can go back where he belongs at third) and the luxury-tax reset that put the Yanks in a better position to bid on players this offseason, and sometimes the obvious answer and the actual answer turn out to be the same. Although, I admit that the possibility of Machado signing with someone random, like the Padres, or his hometown Marlins, is a lot more fun.
3. What does the above mean?
The Phillies don't sign either Harper or Machado.
The oddsmakers have made Philadelphia the favorites in these two markets, and for good reason. We've spent years speculating that the Phils are saving up for the day when Harper and Machado are available. Heck, we've even floated the idea that this club has the local TV revenue to sign both of them.
One wonders, though, if the somewhat disappointing return on investment from last offseason, when the Phillies spent more money ($169 million) in free agency than any other National League East club combined, will lead to some reluctance to go the extra mile here, even for two players as young and talented as Harper and Machado. Though nothing said by any executive or agent this time of year should be taken at face value, it was interesting to see president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, in his comments to the media shortly after the season, pretty much go out of his way to lower expectations as to how aggressive the Phils will be.
The Phillies will definitely spend to improve their roster. But after a dramatic fall from grace in the second half in 2018, it's anybody's guess where they are on the competitive spectrum right now, and next offseason's free-agent class (to say nothing of Michael Trout, post-2020) looks like it might be worth saving up for, too.
4. The Giants retain Madison Bumgarner
This probably doesn't qualify as "bold," but the speculation about where Bumgarner might wind up in a trade is, understandably, growing, and all of us probably ought to pump the brakes. Whoever takes over the Giants' general manager job is going to need time to assess the system, and dealing a franchise icon as one of the first tasks has both baseball and business implications.
While there is value in trading Bumgarner in advance of his free-agent walk year, there could actually be added value in taking him into 2019 and hoping a resurgent season from the 29-year-old (his 119 ERA+ in '18 was his lowest since '14, and he pitched just 129 2/3 innings) inspires some Trade Deadline desperation from contending clubs.
5. The Braves trade for J.T. Realmuto
The free-agent market behind the plate fronted by Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos offers a lot of possibility, but Realmuto is still the biggest fish (and Fish). There's a pretty good chance he opens 2019 in the NL East, just not in Miami. The Nationals and Braves have both shown a lot of interest in him in the past year.
Several other clubs from outside the division, including the Astros, Dodgers, Red Sox, Rockies and Brewers, make a lot of sense here, but I think Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who has a particularly deep system at his disposal, will get his man and Realmuto will get his wish to join a contender. The Braves could build a package around a pitching prospect such as Kyle Wright or Ian Anderson (rated No. 2 and 3 in Atlanta's system by MLB Pipeline, respectively).
6. Patrick Corbin signs with the Padres
It's staggering how many people in the industry assume Corbin will wind up with the Yankees. And obviously, that makes all the sense in the world. But we already did one semi-obvious Yankees deal here, and how often does the obvious happen in free agency, anyway?
Under general manager A.J. Preller, the Padres have been surprisingly prone toward the big deal (no matter how dubious it might be). That includes signing Eric Hosmer and James Shields and trading for Craig Kimbrel and Matt Kemp. With young talent like Francisco Mejia, Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr. either at, or nearing the big league level, this offseason presents an opportunity to take a forward step, and the most obvious area of need is a rotation that had an ERA north of 5 last season. It might not be Corbin (and it could be somebody on the trade market, because the Padres have a deep system) but I'd expect San Diego to do something of significance.
7. Nathan Eovaldi signs with the Reds
Somebody's going to go crazy for October hero Eovaldi, despite his unflattering elbow injury history. Best early guess? Four years and upwards of $80 million. That could be way high (or low), but that's what a postseason run in which you demonstrate your value in both a rotation and bullpen can do for you.
The Yankees have employed and like Eovaldi, and it goes without saying that the Red Sox love him. Honestly, it's hard to imagine a club like the Reds winning any bidding wars, especially if those teams are involved.
But this prediction is offered only as an alert that Cincinnati enters this offseason with a clear intent to spend on arms, and the Reds will likely enter 2019 with a franchise-record payroll. Does that mean they'll land an upper echelon commodity like Eovaldi? Not necessarily. But don't be surprised if they make some waves.
8. Charlie Morton accepts a qualifying offer from the Astros
Only 5 percent of all qualifying offers made since this process was initiated in 2012 have been accepted. But Morton feels like the rare case in which the offer, which this year is valued at $17.9 million, makes sense for both player and team. For the Astros, that's a reasonable rate for one season of an impact pitcher like Morton, who remade himself with the club by focusing more on velocity and less on sink. For Morton, who has made no secret that he's nearing a point where he wants to spend more time with his growing family, that's a pretty premium for one year after dealing with some late-season shoulder discomfort in '18.
By the way, the deadline for teams to make qualifying offers is today at 5 p.m. ET.
9. Carsten Sabathia signs with the Angels
The general presumption/assumption prior to the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas in 2008 was that Sabathia wanted to play on the West Coast, and the Angels were serious suitors. As tends to be the case, the Yankees crashed that party, and the relationship between CC and the Yanks was fruitful enough that the two sides maintained it with a one-year, $10 million deal last offseason.
But with the Yankees in need of greater upside in their rotation, the two sides could finally be parting ways. Sabathia still wants to pitch, and he's remade himself as a crafty innings-eater who could help stabilize the Halos at a modest price. So maybe CC to the Angels at the Meetings in Vegas will happen a decade later than initially expected (though a return to his Oakland roots feels like a viable possibility, too.)