5 Hot Stove takeaways from the GM Meetings
CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Carsten Sabathia and Brett Gardner returned to the Bronx, the Mariners and Rays consummated yet another trade, and player agents met with club officials to gauge valuations in a market headlined by Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Patrick Corbin.
Now, the major Hot Stove movement can begin.
Here are five big takeaways from 72 hours at the annual General Managers Meetings:
1. The Reds and White Sox are ready to spend
Two player agents offered identical statements to me: "The Reds are interested in everyone."
Reds officials have been forthright in acknowledging the need to upgrade a pitching staff that surrendered the most runs in the National League in 2018. Fortunately, they're looking to do so in a free-agent market rich in starting pitching. Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and J.A. Happ are among the starters Cincinnati is considering.
The White Sox are taking an even broader view of the market, as Chicago general manager Rick Hahn is interested in the same high-end rotation options and a franchise hitter, like Harper or Machado. With the right moves, the White Sox can compete for a playoff berth as early as 2020. Now, the South Siders must recruit the star free agents to help fulfill that vision.
While Chicago has given indications that it will pursue both Harper and Machado, a starting pitcher might be the more impactful acquisition this offseason. Among all Major League teams, only the Orioles gave up more runs than the White Sox this year.
2. Suddenly, the Astros need to add at least one more starting pitcher
For much of the season, the Astros' rotation was discussed as being among the greatest in baseball history, as Houston allowed the fewest runs in the Majors. Now, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has two choices: add (or retain) proven veteran starters, or rely upon youngsters Framber Valdez, Josh James and Forrest Whitley to throw significant innings behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
Where did the depth go? Keuchel and Charlie Morton are free agents, and Houston announced this week that Lance McCullers would miss all of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
After making multiple significant trades in recent years, Luhnow could choose to protect his prospect base and pursue free agents instead. One possibility: Red Sox postseason hero Nathan Eovaldi is from Alvin, Texas, the same hometown as Astros legend and advisor Nolan Ryan.
3. One year after the Giancarlo Stanton deal, another blockbuster trade remains possible
The Angels have offered no public indication that they will trade Michael Trout. For now, the Rockies are intent on trying to sign Nolan Arenado to a long-term contract rather than trade him before he enters his final season before free agency.
Still, a number of marquee names haven't been ruled out of trade talks quiet yet, namely Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and Indians two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. (The Cardinals are an intriguing suitor for Goldschmidt, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has suggested.)
Among the group, Bumgarner is the most likely to be moved. New Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has full autonomy over roster decisions. For Zaidi, a Bumgarner trade would afford him greater payroll flexibility and the chance to start restocking a farm system that needs to be replenished.
4. Even during the bullpen revolution, teams value All-Star closers
The fluidity of relief pitching roles became a common theme of the 2018 postseason, much as it did for the Astros one year earlier. Still, there's no shortage of interest in free agent Craig Kimbrel -- a traditional closer for nearly all of his career and a seven-time All-Star because of his ninth-inning dominance.
Kimbrel is drawing interest from NL East clubs, most notably the Braves, Phillies and Mets. The World Series champion Red Sox also have interest in bringing him back, and the Twins could become involved if the bidding centers on a three-year deal.
5. Corbin is the top pitcher in this offseason's class, but other starters are expected to sign before him
Some executives in the industry believe Corbin's market will coalesce around the six years and $126 million that Yu Darvish received from the Cubs last February. In fact, Corbin's average annual value could exceed Darvish's $21 million; Corbin will be 29 on Opening Day and finished fourth among all Major League pitchers this year in Wins Above Replacement, trailing only Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Verlander.
The Yankees, Reds, White Sox and Twins are among the teams with early interest in Corbin, but he may not be among the first free-agent starters to sign. That distinction is likely to belong to Happ. Even clubs that aren't expected to contend in 2019 -- the Blue Jays, for example -- have interest in Happ, because of his leadership qualities and expectation of a three-year deal.
One way or the other, the Yanks are likely to add a significant starting pitcher from the outside. And given the dimensions at Yankee Stadium, it won't surprise anyone if that starter is left-handed.