10 topics to watch at Winter Meetings

December 8th, 2018

The baseball world is gathering in Las Vegas this week for the annual Winter Meetings, and like anybody else that heads to Sin City, all 30 clubs hope to head home Thursday with more than they had when they showed up.

There will be plenty of talk during the four-day event, from trade discussions to free-agent negotiations, concluding Thursday morning with the Rule 5 Draft.

What are the biggest stories to watch this week? Here's a primer of 10 stories that should dominate the headlines:

Manny and Bryce

For the past few years, we've all known that the 2018-19 offseason would be defined by the free agency of Manny Machado and . The two superstars are entering their age-26 seasons, a rarity for free agents of their caliber.

Which one will be the first to sign? Which teams will make the financial commitment necessary to secure their services? How much will each player get? For our purposes here, will either player make his decision during this week's Winter Meetings?

Harper is from Las Vegas, so it would be a storybook ending to his free-agent journey for the announcement to come there. But his agent is Scott Boras (more on him in a bit), who has a tendency to drag out negotiations in order to extract every possible dollar from the market.

The market for both players seems relatively limited in terms of the number of teams that can shell out $300 million or more on one player, though as long as there's more than one in the mix for each of them -- which there appears to be -- then a bidding war could make things interesting.

Aces for sale?

We've seen our share of big trades already this offseason, with players such as , , , , , , Mike Zunino and changing teams.

But several big-time arms have been rumored to be on the trade block, presenting several juicy scenarios as clubs try to bolster the top of their respective starting rotations.

The Mets are reportedly open to trading , while the Indians have been fielding offers for both and . The Giants might be open to moving , a fan favorite in San Francisco who is coming off a pair of injury-shortened seasons.

Acquiring one of these arms won't be cheap, though with two of the top starters already signed off the free-agent market ( and ), a team in search of a front-line starter might be forced to turn to the trade market.

Will the Phillies get stupid?

Only a few weeks ago, Phillies owner John Middleton told USA Today that his team was prepared to spend big this winter, "and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it."

They showed some restraint when it came to Corbin, declining to offer a sixth year to the left-hander. Corbin ended up getting six years and $140 million from the National League East-rival Nationals, though it's quite possible Philadelphia could counter by signing Harper, who has been the face of the Washington franchise.

Machado also remains in the Phillies' sights, as most industry insiders believe Philadelphia will sign one of the two premier free agents. Is that where general manager Matt Klentak's plans would end, or might that only be the beginning? The Phillies are most certainly a team to watch in Vegas.

Are the Yankees going to be big spenders?

The Yankees have spent several years trying to get their payroll beneath the competitive balance tax threshold, which they finally did in 2018. Now that their tax rate has been reset, will the Bronx Bombers go back to their roots and spend big in free agency?

Corbin was their top pitching target, so with him and Eovaldi both off the market, New York could turn to J.A. Happ to fill the final spot in its rotation. Shoud Happ go elsewhere -- the Phillies and Blue Jays are also said to be in the mix -- the Yankees could make a run at or make a smaller move by signing , though they might also pivot back to the trade market.

While pitching remains GM Brian Cashman's priority -- the Yankees are also looking for a relief arm or two -- there's a growing belief that they could wind up as serious players for Machado. With Didi Gregorius out for several months following Tommy John surgery (and heading for free agency next winter), Machado could fill that void at shortstop in a major way.

Reds: In search of pitching

The Nationals, Red Sox and Yankees have already bolstered their respective rotations, though New York isn't done yet. To nobody's surprise, the Phillies and Astros continue to seek pitching upgrades as well, though they might face competition from an unlikely suitor: the Reds.

Cincinnati has posted five consecutive losing seasons, finishing each of the past four with at least 94 losses. The Reds have let it be known that they plan to be aggressive on the pitching market this winter, with Keuchel among their top targets. Other free agents such as Happ and Yusei Kikuchi could also be in play for the Reds, who have also been linked to center fielder A.J. Pollock.

Keystone market

No position is as deep as second base on this year's free-agent market, with , DJ LeMahieu, , , and all seeking new contracts.

Of course, with that many second basemen on the market, most of their former teams are now seeking help at the position, setting up a big game of musical chairs. Who will land where when the music stops?

Will Realmuto stay or will he go?

Since the Marlins traded , , and Dee Gordon before the 2018 season, the lingering question has been if -- or more likely, when -- catcher J.T. Realmuto will be the next player shipped out of Miami.

Realmuto has drawn interest from roughly half of MLB teams, according to various reports, but the Marlins aren't going to trade him unless they get the type of package they're insisting upon. The Mets are the most recent team to be identified as a serious suitor for the All-Star catcher.

Realmuto's agent has made it clear that his client won't be signing an extension with Miami and wants to be traded, but it remains to be seen whether that will happen this week, this offseason or even this year.

The Boras effect

Last offseason, a number of Boras' free-agent clients didn't sign until February or March. Those included notable names such as , J.D. Martinez, , Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland, who represented five of the top players on the 2017-18 market.

Boras' roster of free agents this winter is just as loaded, starting with Harper and Keuchel. Zach Britton, , Moustakas and Matt Harvey are also represented by the veteran agent, leading some to speculate that the group of players might not sign anytime soon.

One Boras client who most certainly will sign before too long is Kikuchi, the Japanese left-hander who must agree to a deal with a big league club by Jan. 2 if he wants to make the move to the Majors.

Closing time

Second base might be the deepest position on the free-agent market this winter, but the relief-pitching options are even more plentiful. and have already signed with the Rangers and Nationals, respectively, but no less than 10 notable relievers remain available.

is clearly the No. 1 option, and he's looking for a contract commensurate with that stature, likely something in the $75 million-$90 million range. Other potential closer options include , , Britton, , , and . and Joe Kelly are also expected to garner significant interest.

The relief market moved faster than any other last winter. Will this year see the same rush of relievers signing once the first domino falls?

Will Greinke be the next D-back to go?

The D-backs traded Goldschmidt to the Cardinals on Wednesday, dealing the face of the franchise to St. Louis for three players and a Competitive Balance Round B selection in next year's Draft.

There had been plenty of speculation that Arizona would try to attach Zack Greinke's contract (he's owed $104.5 million over the next three years) to Goldschmidt in any trade, though that turned out not to be the case. It's difficult to imagine that GM Mike Hazen won't continue to try to find a new home for the 35-year-old, right-handed Greinke, who has thrown 410 innings with a 3.20 ERA over the past two seasons.

Any potential deal could be complicated by Greinke's partial no-trade clause, which, according to MLB.com's Steve Gilbert, allows him to block a trade to the Reds, Yankeees, A's, Padres, Giants, Orioles, Red Sox, Rockies, Tigers, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Angels, Dodgers, Twins and Phillies. That leaves plenty of suitors, of course, with the Astros, Braves and Brewers chief among them.