The annual MLB winter meetings are set to start on Monday, and the 2013 MLB trade and free agency markets will take center stage at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tenn.
Some of the dominoes have already started to fall, setting up what could be an active week.
In just the past week alone, Russell Martin and B.J. Upton have taken up residence in new homes, Denard Span takes his talents to the nation's capital and two closers—Jonathan Broxton and Ryan Madson—are off the big board as well.
The New York Yankees signed two of their Core Four—Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera—to bring back their magic for one more season as well.
With an uptick in transactions in the week prior to the meetings, it could just be a harbinger of things to come.
Here are 25 predictions of transactions that could be seen in Nashville over the next week. Some of the predictions will be based partly on chatter seen on the web in recent days and weeks. Some will also be more speculative based on a team's particular need.
The Philadelphia Phillies struck out in their efforts to sign B.J. Upton, who opted to sign with the Atlanta Braves.
On the hunt for outfield help, the Phillies could turn to another right-handed outfield bat—Ryan Ludwick.
Ludwick hit .275 with 26 HR and 80 RBI last season for the Cincinnati Reds.
The Phillies are looking for help in left as well as center field, so Ludwick could help fill that as well as a right-handed bat to complement lefties Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the lineup.
This is likely a prediction that has the least chance of happening on this entire list, but it's certainly worth keeping an eye on.
In his Insider-only blog post on ESPN.com on Saturday, Buster Olney broached the subject of the Tampa Bay Rays dealing reigning Cy Young Award pitcher David Price sometime within the next 13 months.
Could it actually happen within the next week?
Olney brings up the fact that Price will likely be priced out of Tampa. The Rays are also looking for offense that they can plug into their lineup right away.
Price could certainly provide that offense.
General manager Andrew Friedman would have to be completely blown away by any offer that comes his way. However, teams looking for an ace at the top of their rotation could very well entice Friedman with a package that makes sense for the Rays for the future.
With Russell Martin now off the table and the Texas Rangers non-tendering catcher Geovany Soto, there is no major league-ready catcher currently on the roster for the Rangers.
The pool of quality catchers is running thin on the open market. While the Boston Red Sox have made a strong play for free-agent backstop Mike Napoli, the Rangers may not be so willing to see Napoli leave town.
Napoli and the Rangers will come to an agreement, somewhere in the four-year, $40 million-$45 million range.
Thus far in this offseason, the Houston Astros have been relatively quiet.
The Astros' relative inactivity could change in the next week.
General manager Jeff Luhnow certainly gave some indication that he's ready to start adding some pieces.
Luhnow told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com that he's ready and open to discussing whatever may come up.
"It's a good opportunity, first of all, to discuss possible trade matches with other clubs, and we're going to be doing a lot of that," Luhnow said. "We've already started some of that. And secondly, a lot of the free agents and their representatives/agents are there at the Winter Meetings, so it's a good opportunity to talk to them firsthand and to get the ball rolling on any discussions."
It's a safe bet that Luhnow is targeting an impact bat with the Astros' move to the AL West Division next season. His boss, owner Jim Crane, has already had a sit-down with free-agent slugger Lance Berkman about the possibility of returning home to Houston as well.
Berkman isn't ready to retire just yet, especially after the way last season ended for him. This is a deal that gets consummated next week.
With a relatively weak market for impact bats, the Chicago Cubs could be well-positioned do something that's been rumored for the past two years—trade Alfonso Soriano.
According to Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com, the Cubs have every intention of talking to teams next week about the possibility of moving Soriano.
Soriano still has two years and $36 million left on his contract, but he's coming off a strong year in which he hit 32 home runs.
Several teams will be looking for power from the right side, and Soriano could slide into a DH role with an American League team as well.
Soriano would have to waive his no-trade clause, and the Cubs will have to pony up some significant cash as well, but there likely has never been a better time to finally get this deal done.
The Boston Red Sox are positioned to make a splash this offseason, and that splash could begin next week.
In recent comments, general manager Ben Cherington hinted that things could start coming together next week.
"There’s things we know we could do right now. Things we’re not ready to do right now. Things we’re choosing not to do right now. I still see the weekend before the winter meetings as pretty early in the offseason. There’s a lot of time before pitchers report and plenty of time to do stuff. The water is kind of moving down the river. We haven’t gotten to the waterfall yet. The winter meetings is usually when the water starts getting a little quicker and things start falling. Sometimes there’s a domino effect to these things. We’re actively engaged on a number of fronts. The free agent market, the trade market."
The Red Sox have been engaged in numerous rumors concerning a bevy of different players, including the possibility of dangling starting pitcher Jon Lester.
After a 93-loss season, the Red Sox won't be quietly observing at this week's winter meetings.
One of the biggest free-agent sluggers on the market has drawn considerable interest, but he could remain unemployed by the end of the week.
Josh Hamilton and his agent have remained in touch with his former employer, the Texas Rangers. For now, the Rangers are content to let the process play out before involving themselves in negotiations.
Several other teams have been linked to Hamilton as well. However, the factors that are in play concerning Hamilton's signing—injury history, substance abuse—could keep Hamilton sidelined for a bit longer as each team continues determining whether the risk in signing him is worth the reward.
The hottest pitcher on the free-agent market is the hot topic du jour, especially on the West Coast.
On Friday, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reported that the Dodgers and Zack Greinke met sometime last week to discuss his future.
The Los Angeles Angels are obviously the other big West Coast suitor for Greinke, having traded three top-25 organizational prospects last season to acquire his services.
Greinke also met with the Angels last week as well. Halos GM Jerry Dipoto has already cleared payroll with the departures of Ervin Santana, Dan Haren and Torii Hunter, all presumably to have the necessary cushion to offer Greinke a deal to stay in Anaheim.
However, they still don't have the resources now available in Chavez Ravine.
Sources told Jim Bowden of ESPN.com last week that the Dodgers don't plan on letting any team outbid them for Greinke's services.
By the end of the week, Greinke will have a nice fat contract. And the Dodgers will have their right-handed complement to ace Clayton Kershaw.
If the Los Angeles Angels can't get the man they're after, they'll go to Plan B.
With targeted free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke being signed by the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez will become the fallback option for Angels GM Jerry Dipoto.
Sanchez certainly proved his worth this past postseason, and signing him gives the Angels a rotation that includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Sanchez and the recently-acquired Tommy Hanson.
That's a pretty solid top four.
The Washington Nationals decided to end their six-year relationship with left-handed pitcher John Lannan.
Lannan was non-tendered by the Nationals over the weekend, and the southpaw will now offer up his services in a market not necessarily rife with left-handed rotation help.
The Boston Red Sox showed interest in acquiring Lannan last spring—they now have the opportunity to pounce.
They won't pass up that chance this time around.
The San Francisco Giants had eight arbitration-eligible players they needed to offer contracts to by the end of the day on Friday.
They offered tenders to seven of those players.
Brian Wilson was the only one left out of the mix.
Wilson is now a free agent after the Giants failed to tender him a contract, and according to Henry Schulman of SFGate.com, Wilson has no plans to consider negotiating a contract with the only team he's ever played for.
Still rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery, Wilson now faces an uncertain future.
But you can bet the farm that plenty of teams are interested, including the Boston Red Sox.
Wilson grew up in New Hampshire rooting for the Red Sox, and while he lives in Los Angeles, the allure of pitching for his childhood team could be tempting.
For the Red Sox, they can make an investment in a pitcher who is eminently marketable and who has a track record of proven results.
It's likely that Wilson won't break the bank and could get a deal similar to the one recently signed by Ryan Madson, another pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery.
Fresh off the signing of third baseman David Wright to a long-term extension, the vibe in the New York Mets camp is considerably brighter right now.
The Mets should absolutely capitalize on that vibe and get Cy Young Award pitcher R.A. Dickey signed to a deal as well.
According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, the Mets have talked with several teams who are interested in trading for Dickey.
Will Dickey have value for the Mets in any potential trade package? Yes, but at 38 years of age, can he bring back the type of return the Mets envision?
Their best play here is signing Dickey, and getting a deal done this week would be advantageous for general manager Sandy Alderson.
Alderson has other moves to make—the longer the Dickey situation remains unresolved, the longer it could take to make those moves.
The Atlanta Braves now have the man they want manning center field in B.J. Upton.
Now, they have to find a partner for him in left field.
According to David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Braves are looking for that partner.
#Braves interested in several FA OFs including Ludwick, Ross, Victorino. But don't entirely rule out them going bigger, in form of J.Upton.— David O'Brien (@ajcbraves) November 30, 2012
Ross is an excellent fit for the Braves. For $3 million last season, Ross provided the Boston Red Sox with 22 HR and 81 RBI in a rebound season.
While it will cost the Braves a bit more than that to ink Ross, his swing could work very well at Turner Field, where he has hit .300 with an .893 OPS during his career.
For the past four seasons, the Cincinnati Reds have been waiting on center fielder Drew Stubbs to realize his full potential.
That wait could now be over.
The Reds are desperate to find a leadoff bat as well as a left fielder and some depth on the bench. According to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com, the Reds could use Stubbs to help fill those needs.
Sheldon only offered up Stubbs' name as a suggestion, the Reds have not publicly stated their desire to trade Stubbs.
But it's a move that makes sense. The Reds have speedster Billy Hamilton in waiting and could be ready to contribute full-time in 2014. Stubbs clearly has power, speed and great range in center field, so dealing him could net them a decent return.
After the season he had with the San Francisco Giants in 2012, center fielder Angel Pagan finds himself to be a wanted man.
One of the teams desiring his services is his former team, the Giants.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com, Pagan was offered a four-year deal by both the Giants and Philadelphia Phillies.
Considering the success Pagan had in the Bay Area, the guess here is that he sticks with the Giants.
It hasn't been any secret that the Washington Nationals and first baseman Adam LaRoche are interested in continuing with their relationship.
LaRoche declined his mutual option for $10 million for the 2013 option, but it was more of the belief that he could get a multi-year contract.
According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, the only difference between the two sides is the possible difference of one year.
“To be honest, it’s a years thing now,” LaRoche told Kilgore. “I think they’re really wanting to stick to two years. I’m trying to talk them into lengthening that. To be honest, probably just one year. I’m not looking for four or five. I understand I’m 33 years old.
The two sides will work together to come to an agreement this week.
It's a deal that works for both sides as well. The Nationals love LaRoche's clubhouse presence, and LaRoche has clearly enjoyed his stay in the nation's capital. He can continue to provide leadership and contribute to the offense for the next three seasons.
With the trade that brought Denard Span to the Washington Nationals and the possible re-signing of first baseman Adam LaRoche, left fielder Mike Morse would appear to be the odd man out.
According to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, the Nationals are indeed shopping Morse to other teams.
With Span in place and the emergence of 25-year-old Tyler Moore, moving Morse makes sense. General manager Mike Rizzo can offer up a potent right-handed bat and fill other needs, including possibly a back-end rotation option.
The Minnesota Twins are without question pitching-poor, having posted the worst ERA from its starting rotation in the American League in 2012.
General manager Terry Ryan will be heading to the winter meetings with approximately $25 million to spend, according to Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com.
With several holes to fill, Ryan will have to be fruitful with his money.
Brandon McCarthy could provide a great return without spending the vast portion of that money.
McCarthy would certainly present a risk, given his shoulder woes in the past. However, he thrived in Oakland over the past two seasons with a 3.29 ERA, and could provide the same kind of production at pitcher-friendly Target Field as well.
McCarthy's injury history will limit the overall money he receives—just perfect for a tight Twins budget.
Starting pitcher Dan Haren is a West Coast guy. Specifically, he's a Southern California guy.
Which is part of the reason he signs with the San Diego Padres.
Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com said several weeks ago that a rival executive told him Haren was going to the Padres.
It's a great fit for both. Haren enjoyed an excellent relationship with Padres GM Josh Byrnes when both were in Arizona. If Haren is indeed healthy, he adds a great veteran presence and pinpoint command to a young starting rotation.
The Cleveland Indians picked up the 2013 option on starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez for $5.75 million.
However, that by no means guarantees anything.
The Indians are going to be active this week at the winter meetings. After a 94-loss season, they'll be entertaining any reasonable solution to fix what ails them.
Jimenez is only 28 years old, somewhat affordable and armed with electric stuff. And there are probably some pitching coaches out there who believe they can "fix" Jimenez and return him to 2010 form.
For teams who might be interested, Jimenez' value right now is certainly diminished after his disastrous 2012 season, so the price won't be steep. It could be a chance worth taking.
The Royals are far from done, however.
Despite the talk of trading any of their good, young position players, the Royals can simply look about 3.5 hours east on the I-70 to find what they're searching for.
That's where free-agent pitcher Kyle Lohse toiled with the St. Louis Cardinals, posting a 30-11 record and 3.11 ERA over the past two seasons.
Lohse gives the Royals a solid, consistent starter who may not blow anyone away with electric stuff, but he will put forth a quality effort each time out and give the Royals a chance to win with each start.
Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton has certainly been a hot topic on the rumor wire for at least the past year, and that likely won't change anytime soon.
One recent article brought about another scenario, however.
On Thursday, Mark Bowman of MLB.com wrote about the Upton brothers—B.J. and Justin—talking about the possibility of playing together sometime in the future.
However, it was this particular few paragraphs that certainly popped out:
The D-backs have sent signals that Upton could be available via trade twice in the past six months. The club has recently indicated that it will not move him unless it nets a significant return. But with the Winter Meetings beginning in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, there is always a chance things could change yet again.
The Braves would likely be interested in trading for Upton, and they have the kind of young arms -- Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado -- the D-backs are seeking.
But before doing this, the Braves would likely need to remove some payroll by trading pitcher Tommy Hanson or another veteran player.
Well, guess what? That's exactly what the Braves did. Hanson is now a member of the Los Angeles Angels.
Maybe Bowman was onto something.
Free-agent right fielder Nick Swisher has no shortage of suitors on the open market. He's been linked to at least six teams, and most recently the Boston Red Sox have thrown their hat in the ring as well.
But he could very well still be unemployed at the end of the week.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Swisher is biding his time as he awaits his future.
"It's supposed to be an exciting time, not a stressful time. I'm over the stressful part now. I'm going to just have fun with this. I just want to scroll to the bottom line, sign my name in a few places, and get ready to play."
Six teams have expressed interest — the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers confirmed that they've talked with Swisher's representatives — and two visits are planned after baseball's annual winter meetings, which begin Sunday in Nashville.
Considering he has visits planned for after the completion of the meetings, unless Swisher is completely blown away by an offer before then, he'll just keep waiting.
With 202 saves and a 1.36 ERA for the Hanshin Tigers in Nippon Professional Baseball, closer Kyuji Fujikawa figured to sign a nice deal with some team in Major League Baseball.
The Chicago Cubs turned out to be that team.
According to CBS.com, the Cubs agreed to a two-year, $9.2 million contract with Fujikawa on Saturday.
The signing of Fujikawa could signal the end of the road for current Cubs closer Carlos Marmol.
Marmol was already considered expendable, with the Cubs nearly dealing him to the Los Angeles Angels for pitcher Dan Haren. The deal was never consummated, presumably because of health concerns the Cubs had about Haren.
The Cubs will now likely look for a new suitor for Marmol, who is owed $9.8 million in the final season of his three-year, $20 million contract.
Marmol's cost will make it somewhat difficult to deal him, so the Cubs will likely have to include money in any deal.
But with Fujikawa now in tow, Marmol's days in Chicago are clearly numbered.
Now that B.J. Upton is officially no longer a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, they are definitely looking for an outfield replacement.
Desmond Jennings will likely be moving to center field, leaving Matt Joyce with one corner outfield spot.
The Rays are one of seven teams looking at free-agent outfielder Shane Victorino, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
Victorino can easily fill one of those slots and can help provide some production at the top of the lineup, something the Rays could certainly use. They hit just .229 collectively from the top two spots in the batting order in 2012.
Victorino also provides speed and Gold Glove defense. The Rays had the second-worst fielding percentage in the American League in 2012.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.