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Ready, set, Stove: 6 clubs could fire up meetings

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- OK, Dave Dombrowski, you're on the clock. How's that for cranking up expectations?

Why not? The new Red Sox president of baseball operations has a long history of making large, teeth-rattling trades, and he would surprise no one by pulling off another in his first offseason in New England.

Every baseball general manager loves this time of the year. That's the challenge of formulating visions and constructing competitive rosters. Baseball's new landscape offers opportunity to improve quickly.

With the talent level so close among so many teams, it's the teams that find subtle ways to upgrade rosters and fill holes that have been rewarded almost as much as those that make the huge, splashy, expensive signings.

As baseball's general managers convene here this week, there'll be a flurry of conversation and maybe even a trade or two. At the very least, this is a time to lay groundwork for possible future deals.

Here are six teams to keep an eye on as the offseason picks up steam this week:

1. Red Sox
First, a word about Dombrowski. He's one of the most respected executives in the game, and also one of the most accomplished, having constructed a World Series winner while in charge of the Marlins (1997) and two American League champions with the Tigers (2006 and '12). Along the way, Dombrowski developed a reputation as a first-class trader. During his career, he has acquired Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Ian Kinsler.

If you're timid, you don't make those deals. Also, if you're timid, you don't trade away (as Dombrowski has done) Prince Fielder, Curtis Granderson, Rick Porcello and Andrew Miller.

Dombrowski is different from some other general managers in that he's absolutely unafraid to trade prospects. Among those he has dealt: Miller, Cameron Maybin, Jacob Turner, Robbie Ray.

"I've had some sleepless nights over some of the players I've traded away," Dombrowski said. "That's part of the business."

In the risk-reward game of trading prospects, Dombrowski has jumped at the chance to improve his club immediately and deal with the consequences later. Incredibly, there have been very few.

Video: Top five offseason storylines according to Rosenthal

Here we go again.

The Red Sox have finished last three of the last four years. But they have a deep farm system and some highly regarded young players on their big league club. They also have a pair of veterans -- Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval -- who might not fit into Dombrowski's vision of the 2016 Red Sox.

That's a formula for making trades. Dombrowski's No. 1 goal is to acquire starting pitching, preferably a No. 1 guy. But if the right guy becomes available, it could lead to all sorts of machinations.

Free agent Jordan Zimmermann is widely seen as someone who fits the profile of what the Red Sox are seeking. But Dombrowski seems likely to explore every avenue, from kicking the tires on other free agents (Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto) to exploring the trade market.

2. Cardinals
They're in a fascinating position. They could probably field a contender in 2016 without doing a single thing if they simply slide their best young guys -- Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham -- into the starting lineup and give them an opportunity to grow and flourish.

But general manager John Mozeliak could decide to do something bolder, especially if he's unable to sign his two prominent free agents, right fielder Jason Heyward and right-hander John Lackey. The Cardinals have won three straight National League Central championships by doing things a certain way. They're largely a homegrown team that has not been compelled to add a big-ticket free agent. Is this the winter Mozeliak tries another blueprint?

3. Cubs
No team has more highly regarded position players. And the Cubs need pitching. Could they tempt the Athletics into trading Sonny Gray? Would the White Sox part with Chris Sale for enough of those prospects? How about getting Julio Teheran from Atlanta or Lance McCullers from Houston?

The Cubs almost certainly will make a run at a free-agent starter to line up with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, but they're equipped to do more than that. Having gotten to within four victories of their first World Series in 70 years, this could be their moment.

4. Nationals
General manager Mike Rizzo could take a cautious approach and shore up his bullpen while keeping the rest of his team mostly intact. With Trea Turner sliding in at shortstop, Michael Taylor in center and Tanner Roark and Joe Ross in the rotation, the Nationals might be good enough to win the NL East.

But teams that have spoken to Rizzo through the years are convinced he's open to doing something bigger and splashier, that he won't hesitate to dramatically reshape his club if he sees an opportunity.

Because the Nats have talent at the big league level and because Rizzo has desirable pieces in the Minor Leagues, he may have that opportunity.

5. Astros
This club took a young jump into the postseason last year, but general manager Jeff Luhnow has a laundry list of needs: bullpen, rotation, left field, first base. He has a very good farm system, and some of those prospects -- for instance, first baseman A.J. Reed -- could step in and play at a high level next season.

Having gotten the Astros to the postseason for the first time in a decade, Luhnow has a window of opportunity with his stars -- Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Correa, George Springer, etc. -- still under control. If Luhnow doesn't make a big deal, it won't be for lack of trying.

6. Athletics
Finally, a word about the Oakland Athletics and Billy Beane, who now has the title of executive vice president of baseball operations.

He has a nearly blank slate in terms of payroll commitments -- three players (Coco Crisp, Billy Butler and Sean Doolittle) will make $24 million in 2016. The A's have a slew of arbitration-eligible players.

But …

They also have the kind of Minor League pitching depth every team covets. Offensively, there are no pressing needs.

It's not a stretch to see the Athletics back in contention in 2016. It's also not a stretch to see Beane tearing the whole thing up and starting over. His track record says it would be a mistake to try and guess what he might do. But the A's will hover in discussions large and small. They always do.

Our little Hot Stove would be a lot less hot without them.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.