It's one of the most wonderful times of the year, and it has nothing to do with the fact that it's holiday season.
Baseball's Winter Meetings get underway in Nashville, Tenn. on Monday, and with them comes a major uptick in chatter from the rumor mill.
With virtually every team in the game still looking to fill holes and improve their clubs heading into the 2013 season, the Winter Meetings are where much of the groundwork is laid.
That chatter isn't only limited to players available via free agency, either, as a number of players currently on rosters will become the focal points of trade discussions between clubs, whether they are thought to be on the trading block or not.
Let's take a look at seven players who are sure to be dominant names in the news to come out of Nashville over the next week.
Giancarlo Stanton didn't hide how he felt upon learning that the Miami Marlins had traded away virtually everyone worthwhile in their 12-player deal with the Toronto Blue Jays last month:
Alright, I'm pissed off!!! Plain & Simple— Giancarlo Stanton (@Giancarlo818) November 13, 2012
Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports shortly after the trade went down that Stanton was not going to be traded: "We [sic] went someone to hit behind him, someone to offer more power. Giancarlo represents the power on our team."
While it's understandable that Beinfest would stick to that line, he can't deny that the Marlins are rebuilding once again.
For as much as the team would like to build around Stanton, the 23-year-old slugger is clearly not happy with the situation—and there's no question that the Marlins could get a huge package in exchange for him.
Considering the team's recent track record, we simply cannot put it past them that they would deal away the only player on their roster who people would actually come out to the ballpark to watch play.
We've been round and round on where Greinke might wind up.
Just last week, we pegged the Los Angeles Dodgers as the likeliest destination for the 29-year-old right-hander who is the cream of the free-agent pitching crop.
With the Angels trading for Atlanta right-hander Tommy Hanson, many, including Bleacher Report's Lead MLB Writer Ian Casselberry, believe that the team that Greinke finished the 2012 season with could be preparing themselves for life without the former American League Cy Young Award winner.
Not so fast, as an unnamed agent told ESPN's Jayson Stark:
I think the Angels are acting like they're out because they don't want to get in a bidding war with the Dodgers. So they'll let the Dodgers go to their top dollar -- and then come in over that. They've got too much money invested in that team, and not enough pitching. They can't let him get away.
If that's the case, as another agent tells Stark, the Angels are playing a dangerous game:
"They're [competing] with a behemoth, in the Dodgers. They're the ultimate Goliath. So you can't play possum if you want the player. You've either got to be aggressive or you'll get killed."
With Greinke in a class by himself among the crop of available starting pitchers via free agency, he isn't waiting for the market to be set by another comparable arm.
ESPN's Buster Olney believes that Greinke is going to receive the most lucrative contract ever bestowed to a pitcher this winter:
One person involved in the Greinke talks believes there is a good chance he beats CC Sabathia's record of 7/$161m.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 27, 2012
It's going to be fascinating to see whether the Dodgers, Angels or another team is ready to spend that kind of money this week.
While Stephen Drew is a decent shortstop, the fact that he's the best one available in free agency this winter isn't going to get those teams looking for an upgrade to engage in a bidding war to acquire him.
The same can't be said for 27-year-old Asdrubal Cabrera, who is being shopped around baseball by the Cleveland Indians, according to CBS Sports' Danny Knobler.
Cleveland is looking for young pitching with high ceilings that is under team control for the foreseeable future.
As ESPN's Jayson Stark notes, three teams who have been linked to Cabrera so far—the Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland A's and Tampa Bay Rays—all have a plethora of arms who fit that description.
Stark's ESPN colleague, Jim Bowden, says to add the Detroit Tigers to that list. Bowden goes on to say that the Tigers, Diamondbacks and A's aren't just interested in Cabrera—they are actively pursuing him.
How much is a National League Cy Young Award worth?
We are about to find out.
ESPN's Jim Bowden reports that negotiations between 38-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and the New York Mets are not progressing nearly as fast as some would like:
R.A. Dickey negotiations continue at snails pace...but they had dialogue today..and Mets willing to improve offer...but both sides NOT close— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) November 30, 2012
With that in mind, this latest tweet from CBS Sports' Jon Heyman about the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner makes even more sense than it would without Bowden's nugget of information:
Half-dozen teams looking to meet with mets next week to talk about possible R.A. Dickey trades. cbsprt.co/SCID3P— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 1, 2012
We can almost assuredly count on the Kansas City Royals being one of those clubs, as Heyman notes that the two clubs have already had preliminary discussions about a trade involving Dickey.
One of the biggest offensive forces in the game today, 31-year-old Josh Hamilton is unquestionably the most intriguing player available this winter.
The pros and cons of signing Hamilton have been widely discussed, debated and dissected, but someone is going to plug him into the middle of their lineup in 2013.
I'm still of the belief that the Texas Rangers remain Hamilton's most likely destination, though we should note two things.
Rangers GM Jon Daniels told MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan that "nothing has changed" in regards to where the team stands on Hamilton—and as ESPN's Andrew Brandt reported in early November, the Rangers are not willing to give Hamilton a long-term deal:
Rangers only willing to offer Josh Hamilton 3 yrs.Other teams have to wonder "Ok, they know him best and don't want him long-term."— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) November 9, 2012
Also, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman points out that the Rangers are not going to overextend themselves financially this winter:
this is probably obvious, but #rangers can only sign 1 of greinke & hamilton— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) November 30, 2012
I'm not convinced that anything will happen with Hamilton during the Winter Meetings, but all it takes is one team to shake things up.
One of the darlings of the non-waiver trade deadline in 2012, 30-year-old James Shields is one of many Tampa Bay Rays pitchers rumored to be on the trade block.
As ESPN's Jayson Stark notes, virtually every starting pitcher Tampa has not named David Price is available in the right deal, and "Big Game" James leads the way.
With six consecutive seasons of double-digit wins and at least 200 innings pitched, it's easy to see why Shields is garnering so much interest.
Owed $21 million through the 2014 season—$9 million in 2013, $12 million team option in 2014—his value will never be higher than it is right now.
In an earlier post, Stark said that the Rays' asking price is a five-player package similar to what they received in exchange for Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2011 season.
Toward the end of August, we talked about why the Boston Red Sox should look to trade 28-year-old southpaw Jon Lester, and many of the reasons we discussed remain the case today.
While many Boston fans thought I was out of my mind, the fact remains that the Red Sox are open to dealing him.
As WEEI's Rob Bradford reported, the team has discussed the beginnings of a deal with the Kansas City Royals built around Lester going to Kansas City and outfield prospect Wil Myers heading to Boston.
When Tim Britton of the Providence Journal caught up with Boston GM Ben Cherington recently, Cherington didn't confirm—or deny—that Lester was on the market.
Anything is possible, but certainly it's harder to do that, to subtract somebody from the rotation. We have a number of players that teams like. We're in a perhaps different situation than we have been in the past coming off the year we did. Maybe in light of that, teams not surprisingly are inquiring about things that maybe they wouldn't have in the past.
Look, we have to be open-minded; we lost 93 games. But our primary focus is to build the best team we can for 2013 and one that doesn't in any way get in the way of a great team for a long time. That's our focus, and that will guide us for the next several weeks. But you've got to be open-minded when you have a year like this, and we're trying to build a team that will sustain a level of success over a long period of time.
Quality left-handed starters typically aren't made available by their current teams, especially those with the kind of track record that Lester has.