Winter Meetings roundup: 'Trickle-down effect' stalls market, but action imminent

December 6th, 2023

NASHVILLE -- dominated talk at the Winter Meetings again Tuesday, though the conversation was as much about the impact he is having on the rest of the market as where the two-time American League Most Valuable Player might wind up.

The Cubs remain in the hunt for Ohtani, as do the Blue Jays, while the Dodgers, Giants and Angels are also continuing to pursue him. But what about the rest of the market?

This week’s Meetings haven’t been loaded with player movement, either on the trade or free-agent front, leading many to speculate that Ohtani’s impending decision is the first domino that must fall before the market can open up.

“It would probably be the best theory I could have for why this seems to be a slower developing Winter Meetings,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said. “When you've got a generational -- that’s probably not the right word, it's like a century, Babe Ruth talent -- it’s a pretty big deal. There are some really big teams that seem like they're focused almost entirely on him right now, and that's by nature going to clog things up.”

It’s obvious why Ohtani’s situation would have a direct impact on ’s market, not to mention the trade market for Padres slugger . But why would a player who is poised to land a deal worth north of $500 million have such an effect on deals for players on the mid- or lower-level tiers of free agency?

One executive pointed out that the teams that don’t sign Ohtani will find themselves with quite a bit of money to spend, and while no single player will command anything close to Ohtani, those teams could look to spread it around to two, three or even four players.

“It is having an impact,” the exec said. “Ohtani isn’t signed, so now [agent Scott] Boras isn’t doing anything with Bellinger because he’s waiting to see where that lands. Everyone thinks it's L.A., right? If it ends up going in a direction he didn't expect or any of us didn't expect, that impacts Bellinger’s market.

"Then Bellinger’s market impacts the rest of the center-field market. I didn’t think Ohtani would hold up every free-agent market, but that -- combined with the Soto trade market -- has a huge trickle-down effect.”

“I think a lot of that money for the teams that are the bridesmaids will go back into the market,” Elias said. “If you’re an agent, maybe you're waiting on that. … There’s a calm-before-the storm kind of vibe here.”

Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander believes there has been “a lot more discussion with other clubs across the board” than there was a year ago -- “and it’s not even close.” Those conversations haven’t led to much activity yet -- the Braves’ trade for Jarred Kelenic and the Yankees' trade for Alex Verdugo are the most prominent moves thus far -- but the groundwork for these deals could make things move quickly once the top dominos begin to fall.

“It does feel more active than the action here,” Neander said. “Just waiting for the action part of it."

Deals for Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto -- plus a Soto trade -- could start a rapid-fire series of moves, as teams involved in those high-end players have assuredly been putting together their Plans B, C and D.

“We obviously know who the big ones are, but I think it's not only that top tier, but that next tier,” Royals GM J.J. Picollo said. “If they would start coming to some agreements, I think we would see a lot more widespread movement, particularly in the pitching area. But I think it's waiting for a couple of pieces, couple of things to take shape, and then things will fall in place. It just hasn't happened yet.”

Lobby chatter

  • ’s market is still a bit of a mystery, though sources said they believe the closer -- who is looking to top Edwin Díaz’s record five-year, $102 million deal -- will have to wait until Ohtani, Yamamoto, Bellinger and Blake Snell sign before identifying which teams will have money to spend on a nine-figure contract.
  • continues to draw interest from a number of clubs, with the Blue Jays, Mets and Red Sox among them, per sources. Taylor hit a career-high 21 home runs for the Twins in 2023, posting a .720 OPS -- the second-best mark of his career.

Tuesday transactions
Although the big names remain unsigned, several deals went down on Tuesday:

  • Verdugo was traded by the Red Sox to the Yankees in exchange for Richard Fitts, Greg Weissert and Nicholas Judice.
  • Marco Gonzales was traded to the Pirates in exchange for a player to be named later. He was previously acquired by the Braves in the Kelenic trade.
  • Erick Fedde, who won KBO MVP honors after going 20-6 with a 2.00 ERA for the NC Dinos in 2023, agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with the White Sox, per sources.
  • Chris Devenski agreed to return to the Rays on a one-year, $1.1 million deal with a club option.
  • Kirby Yates agreed to a one-year deal worth more than $4 million with the Rangers, per sources.