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Let's scheme the craziest Hot Stove possible

@RichardJustice
November 15, 2019

Will one free-agent signing trigger a half-dozen more? This loaded-at-the-top market may lend itself to that. For instance, if Stephen Strasburg re-signs with the Nationals, do the Phillies, Yankees and Angels suddenly ramp up their efforts to sign Gerrit Cole or Zack Wheeler? Or let’s say the Rangers sign Anthony

Will one free-agent signing trigger a half-dozen more? This loaded-at-the-top market may lend itself to that.

For instance, if Stephen Strasburg re-signs with the Nationals, do the Phillies, Yankees and Angels suddenly ramp up their efforts to sign Gerrit Cole or Zack Wheeler?

Or let’s say the Rangers sign Anthony Rendon? Will Josh Donaldson suddenly have the Nationals, Phillies and Dodgers knocking on his door or blowing up his phone?

That’s the fascinating thing about this free-agent market. There are a handful of franchise-changing players at the top, and then lots of other players on whom there’s little agreement.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said.

He waved his hand around a room of his peers.

“Every person in here might give you a different opinion,” Daniels said.

Does that make for a more brisk free-agent shopping period? We’ll have to wait and see. While we wait, let’s have some fun and take a stab at predicting how the dominoes could fall.

1) Gerrit Cole signs with the Yankees, and the Angels would like to know if anyone has Dallas Keuchel’s phone number.

Let’s start with a surprise. While the consensus in the industry is that Cole will end up with the Angels, the Yankees were always going to be serious bidders. To state the obvious, they do not finish second in free-agent pursuits very often. This signing rattles both the free-agent and trade markets, especially for the Angels, who envisioned Cole being their crown jewel acquisition.

2) Stephen Strasburg’s price just went up, and the Nationals happily dig deep to re-sign him.

The Angels and Padres join the pursuit of Strasburg as Cole checks out Manhattan real-estate prices. Strasburg is two years older than Cole, but that doesn’t matter as the offers inch up from five years to six to possibly seven. The Nationals close the deal and maintain the momentum that comes with winning a World Series.

3) Anthony Rendon joins the Dodgers, and Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas couldn’t be happier for him.

Rendon is precisely what the Dodgers are seeking as they shake up their roster in search of an October breakthrough. Rendon has been where the Dodgers are trying to get. His 1.003 OPS in 17 postseason games is a statement about a player who is at his best when the stakes are the highest. If Rendon signs for, say, $225 million over seven years, that would more clearly define the market for Donaldson and Moustakas. They both owe Rendon lunch.

4) Mookie Betts is traded to the -- wait for it -- White Sox!

Seeing nothing promising in free agency, the White Sox do a shock-the-world trade for the 2018 American League MVP Award winner. They make this deal knowing Betts could be a one-year rental and are willing to pay that price to create a buzz on Chicago’s South Side. They’re one of the clubs with enough Minor League talent to convince new Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom to do this trade. Sure, it costs them second-base prospect Nick Madrigal, who becomes Boston’s heir apparent to Dustin Pedroia, but the Chris Sale-for-Yoan Moncada (and more) swap a few years back worked out well for both sides, so why not go to the well one more time?

Besides that, the White Sox think Mookie will love Chicago, dig being the face of the franchise’s renaissance and consider making this a long-term commitment. Can you imagine an outfield of Betts, Eloy Jiménez , and soon-to-arrive future star Luis Robert? Watch out, world.

5) Zack Wheeler signs with the Braves after turning down the Yankees, Astros, Phillies, Twins, Rangers and Brewers.

Wheeler loved playing in New York and would have been open to either the Mets or Yankees. In the end, his hometown team pursued him so aggressively that his choice was an easy one. Along with the addition of left-handed reliever Will Smith, the Braves are set for a run at a third straight National League East title.

6) Josh Donaldson signs with the Phillies, and the Rangers telephone the Cubs.

Donaldson had plenty of options after Rendon signed and seriously considered the Nationals and Rangers. But the Phillies, who’d promised to not stop adding impact players until they were back in contention, closed the deal.

7) Cubs trade Kris Bryant to Rangers for prospects.

The Rangers have enough Minor League depth to convince the Cubs to trade Bryant in the wake of Rendon and Donaldson signing elsewhere. Bryant is a game-changing addition to both the Rangers' offense and defense. The Rangers don’t care that he’s two seasons from free agency, they’ll part with their top two prospects per MLB Pipeline -- third baseman Josh Jung and catcher Sam Huff -- as a starting point to entice the Cubs to make it happen. This trade is about contending in 2020 and '21, and teaming Bryant up with fellow Las Vegas native Joey Gallo.

8) Twins sign Madison Bumgarner, and the AL Central title will remain in Minnesota.

The Twins checked one box when right-hander Jake Odorizzi accepted their $17.8 million qualifying offer, and they'll check another by signing Bumgarner. Odorizzi and Bumgarner team with righty José Berríos to give the Twins' rotation a solid top three.

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