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Shopping season: Busy Hot Stove anticipated

November 6, 2017

In some years, the Hot Stove fails to live up to its name. The free-agent class underwhelms, the blockbuster trades never materialize and the Rule 5 Draft is the highlight of the Winter Meetings.The 2017-18 offseason won't suffer that fate.The frenetic 2017 World Series was a fitting prelude for the

In some years, the Hot Stove fails to live up to its name. The free-agent class underwhelms, the blockbuster trades never materialize and the Rule 5 Draft is the highlight of the Winter Meetings.
The 2017-18 offseason won't suffer that fate.
The frenetic 2017 World Series was a fitting prelude for the coming months, which will be filled with action across the industry.
Most significantly, this is the first full offseason of baseball's new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Last year, teams and free agents tiptoed through November, unsure of how a then-unfinished labor agreement would shape their future. Now they know, and decisiveness may replace caution as the virtue of choice, because the new CBA reduced the penalty for signing players who received qualifying offers, which should make teams more aggressive. (Under the old CBA, only the top-10 overall picks were exempt from forfeiture; now, every team's top pick is protected. Full explainer here).
Hot Stove Buzz
This offseason brings a good free-agent class: pitchers Yu Darvish, Jacob Arrieta and Wade Davis, along with position players J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. The marketplace's opening bell was resounding, in the form of Justin Upton's five-year, $106 million extension with the Angels less than 24 hours after the final out of the World Series at Dodger Stadium. And there is also Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese wunderkind, who is set to be posted by his Nippon Professional Baseball team, the Nippon Ham Fighters. He's not a true free agent, though, and the process to sign him is slightly different. More on that here.
If you're a fan of offseason intrigue, the right actors are involved. Three postseason teams -- the Yankees, Red Sox and Nationals -- made managerial changes. Two of the decade's National League standard bearers missed the playoffs altogether: The Cardinals finished with their lowest win total in a decade, while the Giants struggled through their second-worst season since moving to San Francisco.

And the richest contract in the history of North American professional sports -- Giancarlo Stanton's deal with the Marlins -- is in play, as new ownership in South Florida looks to reshape the franchise with a possible trade of the MLB home run leader.
The weeks ahead will be as rollicking and mind-bending as the extra innings of Game 5 ... or something close to that.
Here are five teams poised to deliver the most drama to the Hot Stove:
1. Giants
For years, the team of the young century -- as measured by World Series titles -- valued stability through its front office, coaching staff and playing roster. But that has changed, with the hiring of David Bell to run the farm system and a field staff shakeup affecting mainstays Dave Righetti and Hensley Meulens, among others. On-field personnel is next, with a focus on (belatedly) joining the home run extravaganza across the Major Leagues. San Francisco's 128 homers were the fewest in the Majors in 2017, and the Giants' .666 OPS in left field was second worst in the NL. Fortunately, impact corner bats are available on the trade market (Stanton) and through free agency (Martinez).

2. Cubs
By season's end, the Cubs' pitching staff included four pitchers who started 30 or more games in the Majors in 2017. Two of them -- Arrieta and John Lackey -- are free agents now, leaving Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer with the task of replacing 60 starts. The July trade for Jose Quintana diminished the Cubs' already dwindling prospect depth, meaning any trade for a starting pitcher this offseason could cost a young Major League regular, such as Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell or Ian Happ.
Ervin Santana will be among the most sought-after names on the trade market for starting pitching, but it may be difficult for the improving Twins to move him coming off a postseason berth. The Tigers likely would insist on multiple young players from the Cubs' Major League roster in any deal for right-hander Michael Fulmer. Regardless, look for the Cubs to aggressively pursue starting pitching, and possibly a closer as well with Davis set to hit the market.
3. Cardinals
St. Louis barely finished above .500 and ranked near the middle of the Majors in runs scored. The Cardinals' lineup has a clear need for a power bat in the middle; 11 players started in the cleanup spot for them this year, including four in the final week alone. The Cards have enough young talent to make a compelling offer for Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson -- who is eligible for free agency next offseason -- although he's very likely to remain in Toronto. The Marlins are a more plausible trade partner, with Stanton, Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna.
4. Red Sox
Boston's outfield has been described as the most athletic in the Majors: Andrew Benintendi in left, Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, Mookie Betts in right. But there's a chance the trio will break up over the coming weeks, with Bradley an obvious trade candidate. The Red Sox could move Bradley for pitching help, thus freeing up an everyday lineup spot for Dave Dombrowski to pursue Martinez as a corner outfielder/designated hitter. Because Benintendi or Betts can play center, and since Bradley ended the season batting ninth, Bradley likely would have greater value on another team.
The Red Sox don't have an obvious fit at first base for 2018, and given the variety of options available in free agency -- including Hosmer, Logan Morrison, and Lucas Duda (among many others) -- they could be active in that market. And after injuries and inconsistency plagued their rotation this year, perhaps the Red Sox will consider pursuing free agent Lance Lynn, who has thrown at least 175 innings in five of the past six seasons.

5. Nationals
The Nationals replaced likely Hall of Fame manager Dusty Baker with Dave Martinez, who has never managed in the Majors. All Martinez must do now is win at least one postseason series -- something no Washington-based MLB franchise has done since 1924 -- in Bryce Harper's highly scrutinized contract year. Easy enough, right? In fact, Harper isn't the only past All-Star entering the final season of his contract in D.C.: second baseman Daniel Murphy and left-hander Giovany Gonzalez are, too. With the departure of free agent Jayson Werth, the Nats may consider adding a right-handed outfield bat like Martinez or Cain.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for and MLB Network. He has also covered baseball for FOX Sports, the Detroit Free Press and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.