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Hot Stove dominoes that might be ready to fall

November 18, 2017

We need just one or two dominoes tumbling to get the Hot Stove going. If it's the right guy -- say Jacob Arrieta to the Phillies or Lorenzo Cain to the Giants -- it might just start a chain reaction of other deals.For instance, if Arrieta signs elsewhere, the Cubs

We need just one or two dominoes tumbling to get the Hot Stove going. If it's the right guy -- say Jacob Arrieta to the Phillies or Lorenzo Cain to the Giants -- it might just start a chain reaction of other deals.
For instance, if Arrieta signs elsewhere, the Cubs might feel a bit of urgency to get a deal done with Yu Darvish, which could then open up several possiblities for Lance Lynn.
That's how it's going to go. So if Cain is off the market, the Red Sox feel a bit more urgency to close a deal with J.D. Martinez.
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Or if the Astros sign Wade Davis, then the market for Greg Holland and Pat Neshek would suddenly ramp up.
First, though, there has to be one domino. Now, with the awards having been given out and every executive having had time to make a preliminary assessment of the market, it's time to get down to business.
When one big domino falls, others will follow, which happens every offseason around this time.
So here is a look at a few big dominoes that could make the Hot Stove really hot.
1. The Red Sox acquire a bat
Other teams are approaching the offseason with more urgency than the Red Sox, because Boston president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski doesn't have to do anything.
The Sox could win the American League East again without a single significant addition. But Dombrowski wants -- and could really use -- a power bat for the middle of his lineup. He's not a patient man. When Dombrowski identifies a player he believes can help his team, he doesn't sweat the small stuff. He goes out and gets him.

Here's Dombrowski's quandary: The top power-hitting free agents -- Martinez, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas -- are represented by agent Scott Boras, who has shown he is willing to wait until deep into the offseason to strike deals for his players.
To the people who have watched Dombrowski construct teams over the years, it's nearly inconceivable that he'll wait very long, that is, unless he's really prepared to do nothing.
As has been rumored, don't be surprised if Dombrowski makes a serious run at Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. The question is if the Marlins can find a club that will give them the right combination of salary relief and prospects for the National League Most Valuable Player Award winner. After Stanton is off the market, that'll bring some clarity to the markets for Martinez and Cain.
The Giants and Cardinals reportedly have made trade offers for Stanton, and could compete with the Red Sox for other free-agent bats.
2. Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta signs
When one starting pitcher signs, there's going to be a run on the others, because clubs generally believe there are just four elite ones on the market: Darvish, Arrieta, Lynn and Alex Cobb.
How many teams are looking for starting pitching? Try all of them, and at least six of them are ready, willing and able to spend: the Cubs, Rangers, Brewers, Phillies, Twins and Yankees. Darvish may command enough to eliminate some teams, and there'll be a scramble for the others.

In other words, it's a great offseason to be Cobb. Because some teams will see him as more affordable, he may end up with more offers than either of the top two, Darvish and Arrieta.
And those deals will open things up for other starters like Andrew Cashner and Tyler Chatwood.
3. The Phillies make a move
Philadelphia believes it has turned a corner and is ready to jump into the free-agent market. With just $3.35 million in guaranteed money committed for 2018 -- all to center fielder Odubel Herrera -- the Phillies could be connected to every available free agent.
But Philadelphia's focus will be pitching. If you're looking for a team that might spring the entire market loose, the Phillies are a club to keep an eye on. Because the Phils are going to have so many options, they could prompt a speeding up of the entire market.
4. A relief ace finds a home
Last offseason, the three largest free-agent contracts ever given to relievers were signed by Albertin Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. That means Davis, Jake McGee and Holland are hitting free agency at the right time and that others -- Anthony Swarzak, Neshek, Brandon Morrow, Mike Minor -- are going to get nice deals.
After one of the big three signs, the remaining teams seeking closers will try to close a deal with one of the other two. But there's likely to be intense bidding for the others as well.

5. Shohei Ohtani signs
Assuming we finally get a new posting system in place, Japanese two-way sensation Ohtani will be a top priority for a bunch of teams. Because Ohtani's believed to be talented enough to be both a pitcher and hitter, he will change the game in ways we can't yet fully understand.
But Ohtani's more than just a player. He's going to be great for some club's marketing campaign. How often do you sign a player who is unlike any other since, perhaps, Babe Ruth?

Ohtani may not be holding up the free-agent market, but once he's off the market, he'll clear up the options for others.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.