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Trade winds? Talks start early at GM Meetings

Clubs looking to work deals before shelling out free-agent dollars

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- In the hallways and meeting rooms, there's chatter. Yes, more than usual at this point in an offseason.

"Yeah, people are kind of throwing things out there in a more serious way," Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said.

That's a good sign, right?

• Hot Stove Tracker

We love it when the Hot Stove is really, really hot. This week's General Managers Meetings is the next logical step in a feeling-out process.

Why would this offseason be any different than dozens of others? This typically is the time of the year when teams are still feeling one another out in terms of needs and availability.

Here are some working theories about a possible heightened sense of urgency:

• Nine teams have new people in charge of baseball operations, and they might not be as attached to the players they've inherited as their predecessors.

• Baseball's parity is forcing general managers to be more aggressive. If six of the top seven payroll teams didn't play a postseason series this season, it's not about money anymore.

• If 18 of 30 teams have played at least one postseason series the past three years, then there's pressure on every team to join the party.

The Blue Jays made the playoffs for the first time in 22 years in 2015. The Astros (10 years), Mets (nine years) and Cubs (seven years) all also ended long postseason droughts.

• With a large number of playoff teams identified several weeks before the 2015 season ended, more teams had a chance to begin planning for '16.

Whether it's one of those things or some combination of all of them, there clearly is a different vibe. Before committing millions of dollars on free agents, teams are seeing if there are other options out there.

The Padres are being asked about the availability of James Shields and Craig Kimbrel. The White Sox will have plenty of chances to trade Chris Sale.

Video: Hot Stove gambles on where free agents will end up

And there are the players a year away from potential free agency: Stephen Strasburg, Andrew Cashner, Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Gomez, Mark Trumbo, Neil Walker, Mitch Moreland and Jesse Chavez.

This could be a time to maximize their value in preparation for them leaving a year from now. If some contender sees, say, Chapman as the guy who can get their club over the top, the Reds surely would be compelled to at least listen.

Again, there's lots of talks going on.

"Some of them are more advanced," Dombrowski said. "Now that doesn't mean anything. I've had advanced talks mean nothing. I thought we already had the chance of making one deal, and they came back and said no.

"You just never know about those things. And I've learned that my predictive abilities are not very accurate. Every free-agent year is different. You just never know."

It's important to remember that payroll size is also a function of service time. The Astros went to the playoffs with the second-smallest payroll in the game. However, if they keep their core guys together -- Carlos Correa, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel -- they'll be making big dollars soon enough.

Still, there's a new formula at place, not just in the use of analytics, but in the ability to identify a core group of players and then piece together serviceable pieces around it.

"I think we're going to do a lot of discussions," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "We may not do anything. It may lead to complete stagnation or radical changes at the same time. I'm just open-minded to doing whatever. That's the way we've operated for a long time. Finding matches are always difficult, but you've got to go through the process. That's what we're all here for."

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