The 10 busiest at the Winter Meetings
One of the greatest events in the baseball industry is the annual Winter Meetings. Where else can you talk to the best and brightest baseball minds all in one place at the same time -- and usually someplace warm?
With so many big names still available via free agency or trade, this year's Meetings in San Diego should be eventful. Here's my list of the 10 teams and/or people who will be the busiest.
New York made some notable moves on Friday leading up to the meetings, signing reliever Andrew Miller to a four-year deal and trading for Derek Jeter's replacement, Didi Gregorius. But most people in the industry believe the Yankees will make a move for an impact starting pitcher in case the elbow problem that shortened Masahiro Tanaka's 2013 campaign becomes a long-term issue.
The Yankees already diminished their rotation depth by using Shane Greene to acquire Gregorius, and they still need to improve an offense that finished 13th in the AL in runs in 2014. Re-signing Chase Headley makes a lot of sense on that front.
Whenever there is a change in the front office chair, it takes time to assess your assets -- who needs to move on and who should be retained as a core player? Now that the Dodgers' new President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has had some time to do that, he must replace Hanley Ramirez at shortstop while clearing his outfield logjam.
There are many teams interested in making offers for Matt Kemp now that he has returned to full health. Meanwhile, there is less interest in Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier because of their inflated salaries. But the Dodgers front office is a creative bunch, unafraid to think or act outside of the box (look at Friedman's track record in Tampa). So it would not be surprising if they considered most anyone on the roster, even Yasiel Puig, expendable -- if they can improve on Don Mattingly's clubhouse chemistry.
General Manager Ruben Amaro is trying to revamp by shopping some of his most valuable commodities, specifically Cole Hamels, Marlon Byrd, and possibly even Jonathan Papelbon. The Phillies have already admitted publicly that this season will be one where they take a step back and re-tool, and the challenge will be sorting through the multiple offers for Hamels and deciding if the return is worth trading one of the best commodities in the game.
With most of the quality offensive free agents having signed ahead of the meetings, Amaro can dangle Byrd to the teams that are left standing without an acquisition. With one year left on his contract -- and having hit at least 24 homers in the last two seasons -- Byrd should be a valuable piece to most lineups despite his advanced age.
4. Red Sox
The Red Sox have a lot of work to do after finishing in last place in the AL East, yet they have already made a huge splash. Their offense will be much improved with the signings of Pablo Sandoval and Ramirez, and their biggest need now is starting pitching. After finishing in the bottom third in baseball in team ERA, the Sox will be looking to bring back Jon Lester after sending him to Oakland back in July.
In addition, they have valuable currency in the fact that they have too many outfielders for the positions available, and GM Ben Cherington will continue to field multiple phone calls during the Meetings. As he sorts through them he will need to figure out how he can secure a young, controllable starting pitcher or two.
5. Scott Boras (representing Max Scherzer)
One of the many sights to see at the Winter Meetings will be Scott Boras holding court in the lobby of the Winter Meetings hotel, with hundreds of writers craning their necks to hear his latest comments on the market for Scherzer. By now, Boras has distributed his player profile on Scherzer and has started the many conversations with executives and owners regarding his client's merits.
Those negotiations will intensify in San Diego with all of the interested teams confirming their desire to sign his client. The most engaged clubs will set up more specific conversations where they talk parameters of a deal, pending certain conditions like ownership approval and an intensive medical exam. But the main players in this negotiation, Scherzer and Boras, hold the upper hand simply because Scherzer is a true No. 1 starter, something most teams do not possess.
The O's lost the best power hitter on the market (Nelson Cruz) and their best homegrown position player since Brian Roberts (Nick Markakis) in a one-week span, and they have not added anything of substance to their 25-man roster. Unfortunately for them, most of the top free agents have gone off their board, although Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, and Michael Morse are among the names that you hear most associated with them.
The organization continues to search for creative and under-the-radar ways to improve, making them one of the more active teams in terms of dialogue.
Billy Beane surprised the baseball world by trading his best position player, Josh Donaldson, and he could trade his best pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, as well. There has been plenty of dialogue with multiple suitors so far with Samardzija due to enter the free-agent market next season. Any club that acquires him now -- as opposed to during the season -- has some protection if he leaves as a free agent, as they would be able to give him a qualifying offer.
Beane will have additional work trying to rebuild the middle of his offense around Billy Butler, Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick. In addition, he may decide to move another starter, and while he has cornered the market on first basemen, most of them are limited defensively, so sorting out who stays and who does not will take some effort. Look for him to be busy making offers.
Veteran GM John Hart has hit the ground running in his return to the executive chair. By nature, Hart seems to love being back in the middle of the action as illustrated by his decisiveness in making two significant moves -- trading right fielder Jason Heyward for right-hander Shelby Miller and replacing Heyward with free agent Nick Markakis.
There continues to be rumors of a B.J. Upton /Evan Gattis package deal since Gattis is a quality bat with four years of team control left. Additionally, Justin Upton's name still surfaces on a regular basis, and while the Braves have not offered him in any deal, they are certainly willing to listen.
9. Aces Inc. (representing Jon Lester)
The Lester sweepstakes has dragged out a little longer than anticipated, but that's primarily because of the level of interest in him as a pitcher and clubhouse influence. The Red Sox and Cubs have been consistently negotiating for his services while the Giants have tried to make up ground after losing Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox.
With so many storied franchises competing for his services, and two of the front offices having a prior relationship with Lester, this is a fascinating subplot of the offseason.
10. PSI Management (representing James Shields)
After the dust settles and Lester signs -- and while teams decide if they can afford Scherzer -- the remaining teams looking for a workhorse will turn their attention to Shields.
And while the Shields camp will not wait around for long, his agent, Page Odle, has the difficult task of continuing to engage the teams that view Shields as a consolation. That requires a lot of phone work and individual team meetings, so expect him to remain extremely active in San Diego despite the fact that it is unlikely Shields will sign during the Meetings. Shields' price tag and contract length will not be as high as the top two pitchers, making him attainable and desirable to multiple teams.