SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Baseball’s general managers have scattered after three-plus days of meetings. While Will Smith’s $40 million deal with the Braves and Adam Wainwright’s return to the Cardinals were the only notable signings, the General Managers Meetings surely helped lay the groundwork for what promises to be an eventful offseason.
The trade market might be just as fascinating as free agency, though. With some very high-profile players available on the latter market, the decisions of players such as Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg and Josh Donaldson will surely play key roles in determining the course of the 2020 season and beyond.
As we begin the countdown to the Winter Meetings in San Diego -- they get underway in 25 days -- here’s a look at six takeaways from this year’s GM Meetings:
1. Free agency might move faster than in recent years
There was plenty of chatter about a number of prominent free agents this week, capped by Smith’s surprising deal with the Braves on Thursday afternoon, which removed the lone proven closer from the market.
That’s not to say we’re necessarily going to see top free agents coming off the board in the next week or two, but the sense among both executives and agents alike is that players such as Strasburg and Donaldson could sign before the Winter Meetings.
2. A mega-trade might not happen this winter
The first day of the meetings featured much buzz about the availability of Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant, three All-Stars whose names have been thrust into the trade market in recent weeks. Executives around the league believe the price tag for each of those three players will be exorbitant, which could prevent deals from going down before Spring Training.
Betts’ situation -- he has just one year of contractual control, likely will earn from $27 million to $30 million in his final year of arbitration and is on a Red Sox team that appears set to slash payroll by $30 million to dip below the competitive balance tax threshold -- is the most interesting of the three, as Boston’s asking price for the 2018 American League MVP will be sky-high.
Lindor and Bryant both have two years of control remaining, so the Indians and Cubs could opt to wait until this year’s Trade Deadline to move their stars, who would still be able to contribute to a pair of pennant races for a new team. Of the three, Betts is believed to be the one with the best chances of being dealt.
3. The Reds and Rangers are poised for big offseasons
While such teams as the Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers and Angels were predictably attached to some of the market’s top free agents, it was the inclusion of the Reds and Rangers that raised some eyebrows.
Cincinnati is looking to improve its offense, with outfielders Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna among those of whom the club has shown early interest. The Reds are even open to signing a player who rejected a qualifying offer, which would result in the loss of their third-highest selection in the 2020 Draft.
Texas GM Jon Daniels raised expectations for his offseason earlier this week when he said he expects the Rangers to return to the top of the market for the first time in a few years, with Rendon and Donaldson chief among their targets. With a new ballpark opening next spring, the Rangers will attempt to sign one or two big-name players to boost the team’s performance -- both on the field and at the box office.
4. Pitching is still king
For all the talk generated by Rendon, Donaldson, Ozuna and Castellanos this week, it was minor compared to the conversations revolving around the guys charged with getting them out.
Cole remains the most coveted player on the free-agent market, while Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler and Hyun-Jin Ryu garnered plenty of interest. Even with the emergence of deep, talented bullpens around the league, this year’s World Series reminded everybody how valuable starters can be.
A number of executives believe that Cole and Strasburg will land two of the top three contracts this winter (along with Rendon), while Bumgarner, Wheeler and Ryu could all sign deals that rank among the top 10.
5. Third base is the hottest non-pitching market
Rendon, Donaldson and Mike Moustakas are all primed to cash in this offseason as myriad teams, including the Nationals, Phillies, Braves, Rangers and Dodgers, are seeking help at third base.
Rendon’s market is developing slowly, but surely, but all five aforementioned teams have shown interest in Donaldson, whose name was mentioned as much as anybody at these meetings. Moustakas, who was forced to settle for one-year deals in each of the past two offseasons, should finally be able to land a multiyear deal this winter, thanks to the abundance of teams looking for help at the hot corner.
6. The qualifying offer has become more appealing to players
Entering this season, only six of the 80 players (7.5%) who received qualifying offers actually accepted them. This year, two of the 10 players who were extended qualifying offers accepted them: White Sox first baseman José Abreu and Twins starter Jake Odorizzi. And Smith was prepared to accept his qualifying offer from the Giants before signing with the Braves less than 30 minutes before the deadline.
What changed? The deliberate pace of the past two winters might have been a factor, but Odorizzi and Abreu will now earn $17.8 million each in 2020. (Abreu and the White Sox are said to still be talking about a multiyear deal.) Assuming Abreu and Odorizzi perform well next season, they can go back into free agency a year from now without any Draft compensation attached to them.