Several potential contenders dream of leaving the winter meetings with Carlos Beltran under contract.
An enormous volume of transactions are always either conceived or completed during the MLB winter meetings. This year's edition will be held from Dec. 9 to Dec. 12 in Orlando, Fla.
Most teams have lofty expectations, with free agents like Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo—or perhaps a dynamic trade candidate like David Price—atop their wish lists.
Somewhat reminiscent of our best-case scenarios article, we're focused on what could happen rather than super-realistic possibilities. And, just to be clear, there's a lot of overlap (e.g. clubs with identical flaws or even the same ideal candidates).
Joel Reuter already provided blueprints for all organizations, detailing what moves would be in their best short- and long-term interests. But we attempt to go inside the minds of the front offices and elaborate on their deepest desires, regardless of whether they're the most logical.
General manager Kevin Towers
Controllable Starting Pitcher with Elite Stuff
MLB.com's Steve Gilbert presents the thought process of Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers:
It is always dangerous to predict too much about the Winter Meetings, but one thing seems fairly certain: Trade talks will take up far more of Towers' time than meetings with free agents.
"Probably been much more aggressive on the trade front than the free-agent front," he said. "I've spoken a little to our own free agents, but from the looks of where this free-agent market is right now and where it's headed, it's not a place where I want to do a lot of business."
Arizona's starting pitchers ranked toward the bottom of the National League in strikeout rate last season. That could be very problematic if the team's fielding isn't so spectacular again.
Towers has highly touted prospects to move, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick explains. He ought to be in conversations with the Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays about Jeff Samardzija and David Price, respectively.
Powerful Corner Outfielder
Cody Ross' hip issues will cause him to miss a chunk of 2014, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe.
Adding another young player in a possible Samardzija package to acquire Nate Schierholtz could make sense for the D-backs.
Dan Uggla Trade Partner
Luckily for the Atlanta Braves, MLB teams will make generous financial commitments to power guys at a time when so few are available.
There's potentially a desperate general manager who would trade for the 33-year-old Uggla and take responsibility for some portion of the $39 million remaining on his contract, which runs through 2016. Requesting a young player in return would be getting greedy, though.
Any savings that come from such a transaction could be allocated toward filling the rotation void that was created by Tim Hudson's departure.
Veteran Starting Pitcher
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien explains that the Braves don't want to block their top starting pitching prospects. So their targets for this roster spot include Jeff Samardzija, Kyle Lohse and John Lackey, all of whom are two years away from free agency.
Ideally, this pitcher could be trusted to eat a ton of innings without requiring an average annual salary of eight figures.
Powerful Corner Outfielder
The Baltimore Orioles had a solid offense in 2013, but it wasn't quite enough to compensate for a shaky pitching staff.
Joel Reuter already explained that Nate McLouth suits them best because of his price tag, defensive adequacy and familiarity with the organization.
But with Baltimore's designated hitter's spot unoccupied, Fox Sports' Jon Morosi tweets that the club is in pursuit of Nelson Cruz. The consistency of his production is perhaps most inviting; if not for a 50-game PED suspension last season, he would've easily topped 50 extra-base hits for the fifth straight year.
The O's won't shy away from surrendering their 2014 draft pick to complete the signing.
Hearing teams need to be in 3-year, $30 million range to engage on Scott Feldman. Yes, the price of starting pitching is high.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 5, 2013
If Feldman sticks to that price tag, the Orioles will find alternative rotation solutions.
However, they would likely find it acceptable if he settled for a deal with similar average annual value that's spread across two seasons.
The right-hander has considerable appeal to them because of his stint in Baltimore during the second half of the summer. Also, if Feldman's 2013 ground-ball rate is at all indicative of his future performance, then he shouldn't be adversely affected by Camden Yards' hitter-friendly conditions.
WEEI.com's Rob Bradford had reported in late November that the Boston Red Sox were ready to move on from their notable free agents. Sure enough, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia soon left town for more security with the New York Yankees and Miami Marlins, respectively.
Napoli is a much different case, however. Boston lacks decent internal solutions at first base, and the free-agent market doesn't offer many others who can hit for elite power.
The reigning world champs made a one-year offer to the 32-year-old early this offseason. They presumably have another chance at the winter meetings to come up with something more competitive.
Despite Jeff Samardzija's reluctance, the Chicago Cubs continue to come after him with contract-extension offers. Bruce Levine of 670 The Score hears that the latest figures being thrown around are in the five-year, $55 million range, or slightly greater.
Point is that the front office isn't eager to let him go.
Instead, the Cubs want to acquire major league pitching, specifically a closer. It's been years since they've had any semblance of consistency in the later innings.
From president Theo Epstein, via Carrie Muskat of MLB.com:
We have guys who could close, ... but I think that's an opportunity for us. If you go to market with the closer's role ready to bestow on somebody, that can help you sign a pretty good pitcher and can help your club. ... We're going to hit the market with a full closing opportunity to offer to the right pitcher we acquire, either through free agency or a trade, and know we have some interesting options in house.
Neither Tyler Flowers nor Josh Phegley showed much promise last summer behind the plate for the Chicago White Sox. General manager Rick Hahn was disappointed, per MLB.com's Scott Merkin.
It's a situation that could compel Hahn to trade for somebody who's more established.
Alexei Ramirez Trade Partner
Available shortstops were already scarce at the beginning of the winter. The market has withered even more since then.
Not many teams will value Ramirez as much as, say, Stephen Drew, due to his age (32) and limited power (15 HR since 2012). But his reasonable contract—guaranteed through 2015 with 2016 club option—and durable history ought to be selling points for the White Sox.
Brandon Phillips Trade Partner
There have been rumblings about Phillips' departure since the Cincinnati Reds' season concluded.
Although in decline, the 32-year-old is an above-average second baseman, so there ought to be other teams willing to discuss him.
Before even entertaining the thought of re-signing Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds must find somewhere to dump the $50 million still owed to Phillips. The trade talks haven't commenced yet, according to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon.
The Cleveland Indians have moved on from Chris Perez and been outbid for Joe Smith, which means that their 2014 bullpen will look radically different from the 2013 edition.
But they won't necessarily regress.
We're mere days removed from the non-tender deadline, and former closer John Axford has just joined the free-agent class.
Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith hears that nearly half the league has varying degrees of interest in him, but that shouldn't deter the Tribe. He can be had on a one-year deal, and the right-hander still comes with excellent upside.
Rex Brothers emerged as an excellent bullpen weapon for the Colorado Rockies in 2013 (1.74 ERA, 76 K in 67.1 IP). The club has also invested in free agent LaTroy Hawkins, who owns shockingly serviceable career numbers in the high altitude of Coors Field.
One more experienced flame-thrower would really solidify the pitching staff.
Amid a miserable 2012 campaign, the Rockies limited their starters to 75 pitches per outing. That policy isn't expected to make a comeback, but it was born from data that showed how the Colorado conditions forced pitchers to fatigue quickly.
Therefore, amassing relief depth is conducive to the franchise's success. Troy Renck of The Denver Post reports that the Rockies may turn to the Kansas City Royals and their surplus of arms.
Withholding qualifying offers from Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante. Trading away Prince Fielder. Dumping Doug Fister's salary. Announcing Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos at the infield corners.
This sequence of major decisions made by the Detroit Tigers has poised them to spend heavily in free agency. Specifically, on an everyday left fielder with elite offensive skills.
Choo is the perfect fit.
Re-Sign Joaquin Benoit
Joe Nathan is going to be the most accomplished relief pitcher to ever don a Tigers uniform, and even at age 39, he's putting up a good fight against Father Time.
Nathan's efforts will be for naught, of course, if there's nobody to serve as a bridge between him and the starters. Drew Smyly is sliding into the rotation, and Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez can't last eight-plus innings in every outing.
Benoit has enjoyed comparable success to Nathan over the past four seasons (since returning from rotator cuff surgery). He's arguably the best reliever available on the rapidly shrinking free-agent market, an ideal fit for the eighth inning and an insurance policy in case Nathan abruptly deteriorates.
Jason Castro Trade Partner
The top priority for the Houston Astros this offseason is revamping a bullpen that was arguably the worst that Major League Baseball has ever seen.
But that won't get done during the winter meetings, as the Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich explains. General manager Jeff Luhnow says he'll wait for "the dam to break" before engaging in serious contract talks.
In the meantime, the Astros will give some thought to shopping Castro, who's blocking highly regarded prospect Max Stassi and set to get semi-expensive via the arbitration process.
Jerry Crasnick expects Beltran to find a new home during the winter meetings.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweets that the Kansas City Royals weren't the ones to present him with a $48 million offer, but the franchise's desire to get him has been heavily reported on.
Acquisitions of Jason Vargas and Norichika Aoki didn't quite earn the Royals industry-wide respect. Bringing in this veteran switch-hitter, however, would establish them as a legitimate postseason threat.
Billy Butler Trade Partner
The Royals have been sacrificing prospects over the past couple years to patch up roster holes. They'll have to forfeit another potential impact player for Beltran, too, because he's tied to draft-pick compensation.
Relocating Butler with one reasonably priced guaranteed season remaining on his contract would go a long way toward replenishing K.C.'s farm depth.
Howie Kendrick Trade Partner
The Los Angeles Angels want to contend in 2014, but they cannot be taken seriously without adding starting pitching depth.
Unfortunately, inking California native Matt Garza would likely push their payroll above the luxury-tax threshold. Through qualifying offers, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez have both been linked to compensatory draft picks, which makes them highly undesirable for a franchise with such a barren farm system. The Orange County Register's Jeff Fletcher tweets that Bartolo Colon and Bronson Arroyo are essentially off the wish list, too.
Perhaps the only free agent that meets all of the Halos' criteria is Masahiro Tanaka, but it's unclear if he'll even be posted this winter. And regardless, if the contract negotiations began at the winter meetings, they wouldn't conclude until 30 days later.
Therefore, L.A. is leaning toward trading for pitching.
General manager Jerry Dipoto has already indicated that Mark Trumbo is staying put, according to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.
But Howie Kendrick, his buddy on the right side of the infield, isn't quite so indispensable. The Angels could rid themselves of nearly $19 million that he's owed through 2015, while clearing a path for 26-year-old Grant Green.
The Los Angeles Dodgers learned last season that there's no such thing as too much starting pitching. They opened 2013 with eight impressive options, but by Memorial Day, the club was already short-handed.
If the new season were beginning now, the Dodgers would have to rely on Chad Billingsley or Josh Beckett to fill out the rotation. Both are coming off significant surgeries.
Considering the immense resources at his fingertips, general manager Ned Colletti probably subscribes to the "better safe than sorry" philosophy.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports links the Dodgers to David Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner. They certainly have the prospects to execute such a blockbuster.
Matt Kemp Trade Partner
MLB.com's Ken Gurnick draws our attention to the fact that Kemp, whose effectiveness hinges on his power-hitting and speed, has repeatedly suffered injuries to both his shoulder and ankle.
He'll eventually return to the field, of course, but likely never to the form of a top MVP candidate.
Colletti would leap at the chance to unload Kemp if it means cleansing his books of most of his contract while netting a couple solid prospects in return.
Acquiring Jarrod Saltalamacchia bolstered the Miami Marlins lineup at one of its weakest positions. Even the Rafael Furcal acquisition makes them a tiny bit better.
Still, there's no reason to expect the franchise to contend in 2014 as presently constituted. Salty can only do so much to elevate an offense that barely averaged three runs per contest en route to suffering 100 losses.
The Fish need much more power, and getting it while keeping their cheap, talented outfield intact means upgrading at first and third base.
Conveniently, Logan Morrison is a hot name on the trade market, reports MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo. Placido Polanco, after faring miserably at the hot corner, has entered free agency.
These developments position Miami to sign Mike Napoli and/or Juan Uribe. Ken Rosenthal tweets that there's definitely interest in the former.
Coghlan was non-tendered by the Marlins barely four years after receiving his National League Rookie of the Year hardware.
But they haven't completely given up on him, tweets Clark Spencer of The Miami Herald. Team president Michael Hill says that they're making an effort to retain the 28-year-old for less than he would've earned in arbitration.
Miami's coaching staff went through a lot of trouble to mold Coghlan into a versatile defender; might as well give him another shot to try a utility role.
The only obstacle, as MLB.com's Joe Frisaro explains, is that he's receiving a "good amount of interest" in free agency.
The Milwaukee Brewers were already hopeful about re-signing Hart, but this trade ought to make it an even higher priority:
BREAKING: The #Brewers have acquired left-handed pitcher Will Smith from Kansas City in exchange for outfielder Norichika Aoki.— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) December 5, 2013
Moving Aoki means that Khris Davis is taking over as Milwaukee's starting left fielder. The 25-year-old was outstanding in limited plate appearances as a rookie—.279/.353/.596, 11 HR in 153 plate appearances—but what if he regresses at the plate? Encouraging as his minor league performance was, you just never know.
Meanwhile, if we're assuming that Davis continues to thrive, then there's still a glaring need for Hart at first base. Without him in 2013, the Brewers collectively batted .206/.259/.370 at the position.
Now several months removed from his second knee surgery, Hart has been cleared for baseball activities, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com.
Low-Risk/High-Reward Starting Pitcher
The Minnesota Twins doled out $73 million total to Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. Hard to imagine any of their other signings this offseason rivaling those deals in terms of years and average annual value.
Yet there's still room to address the starting rotation.
La Velle E. Neal of The Star Tribune reports that they've explored a multi-year deal with Mike Pelfrey. The right-hander posted a gross 5.19 earned run average in 2013, but the peripheral stats suggest those results aren't indicative of his mid-rotation ability.
Shaun Marcum also might make sense for Minnesota.
Powerful Corner Outfielder
Ken Rosenthal tweets that the New York Mets are pulling away from the pack in negotiations with Curtis Granderson. The consensus is that they can secure his signature by guaranteeing four years of the deal.
The Mets aren't limiting themselves to the Grandy Man, but they absolutely must add another power threat. Their games were close to unwatchable last summer during David Wright's stint on the disabled list.
New York can avoid a similar situation this year by getting somebody who's capable of carrying the offense for extended stretches.
Super agent Scott Boras deviated from his usual routine when he finalized Jacoby Ellsbury's $153 million contract within a month of free agency. Oftentimes, his high-profile clients wait around until the snow melts before signing (see: Lohse, Kyle).
But if Boras moved quickly in Ellsbury's case, he could conceivably take Drew off the market during the winter meetings.
Besides the 30-year-old, there are no other starting-caliber shortstops available to sign. Having non-tendered Omar Quintanilla and ticked off Ruben Tejada, the Mets have a big void at the position.
According to Newsday's Marc Carig, the Yankees have had a lucrative one-year offer on the table for Kuroda since the beginning of the offseason. Moreover, general manager Brian Cashman indicates that the right-hander indeed wants to continue pitching for them, via Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger.
Once and for all, both sides ought to get this settled in Orlando.
Jon Heyman reports some progress:
#yankees getting closer to deal with kuroda. not quite done but should be about $16M, 1 yr— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 6, 2013
Brett Anderson Trade Partner
The Oakland Athletics have settled most of their offseason business already.
Trades for Luke Gregerson and Jim Johnson fortified the back end of the bullpen following Grant Balfour's impending departure, outfielder Craig Gentry steps into Chris Young's old role, and Scott Kazmir will serve as the new experienced rotation leader.
Brett Anderson's move "seems inevitable," according to Jane Lee of MLB.com. The A's have a surplus of starting options, plus the southpaw's $8 million salary for 2014 compares very favorably to what talented free-agent pitchers have been demanding.
Few MLB teams have a better one-two punch than the Philadelphia Phillies have with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. On the flip side, not many others need help as badly as they do filling out the bottom three-fifths of their rotation.
There are questions about the elbow health of Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Philly's Cuban signee. And Kyle Kendrick's numbers dipped below their career norms in 2013 when we was stretched out to 182 innings.
More so than Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza, Bronson Arroyo is likely to sign in the coming weeks, possibly during the winter meetings.
Controllable, Top-of-the-Rotation Starter
Conversations with right-hander A.J. Burnett have been stagnant. At the winter meetings, the Pittsburgh Pirates may finally shop to replace the potential retiree.
They're overflowing with talent in the high minors, such as Gregory Polanco, Jameson Taillon and Alen Hanson.
That means trade candidates like David Price and Jeff Samardzija aren't out of the question.
Young First Baseman
With Justin Morneau off the market, the Pirates will have to go in a new, younger direction at first base.
ESPN's Jayson Stark has identified several of their candidates:
Clubs that have talked to #Pirates believe James Loney emerging as their top choice at 1B. Heard they've also asked on Adam Lind & Moreland— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 4, 2013
Loney distinguishes himself from the rest with his solid glove work. Moreover, as a free agent, he wouldn't cost the club any prospects.
MLB.com's Corey Brock reminds us that the San Diego Padres have made a habit out of revamping their roster after the winter meetings.
However, general manager Josh Byrnes is deviating from that this offseason. He has already signed Josh Johnson and traded for Seth Smith, the left-handed bat he'd been coveting.
But the latter acquisition forced him to cut ties with Luke Gregerson, who was arguably San Diego's most valuable reliever in 2013 (2.71 ERA, 64 K in 66.1 IP).
The Padres will look to address that opening, preferably with a left-hander.
Good job, good effort, Gregor Blanco, but a corner outfielder ought to mash more than three home runs when he's allocated 500-plus plate appearances. The 29-year-old failed to do so on last season's underachieving San Francisco Giants.
Chris Haft of MLB.com insists that it's San Francisco's top priority to find somebody superior to start at that position. That way, Blanco can transition back into a reserve, defense-oriented role.
It's worth noting, though, that the Giants have persistently stated that they won't be chasing after any "qualifying offer guys," such as Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran.
Newly added Robinson Cano—a move reported by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman—isn't going to lead the Mariners to respectability all by himself. They could sorely use a powerful right-handed bat following a nightmarish season of production against southpaws.
Butler suits their needs beautifully with a .314/.394/.527 lifetime batting line when given a platoon advantage.
Unsurprisingly, a rival executive tells Ken Rosenthal that Seattle has the hots for him. And conveniently, Butler should immediately become expendable if/when the Kansas City Royals work out a deal with Carlos Beltran.
They could still look to Matt Kemp, Nelson Cruz or Beltran, among others.
On top of Butler, the Mariners' payroll flexibility certainly allows for the addition of another All-Star-caliber slugger.
Being Left Alone
Don't take it in a rude way; it's just that the St. Louis Cardinals have their 2014 roster virtually set, and they don't want to be persuaded into any ill-advised moves at the winter meetings.
The National League pennant winners entered the offseason with a desire to upgrade at shortstop, add outfield depth and retain their high-upside pitchers.
General manager John Mozeliak executed that plan to perfection in time for Thanksgiving.
Of course, MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch notes that there are bound to be minor league signings, perhaps even legitimate trades. But those can wait until much later.
David Price Trade Partner
This is the rare case of a small-market contender recognizing that trading one of its superstars will optimize its odds of staying relevant long term. The Tampa Bay Rays actually have the organizational depth to excel without Price as soon as next season.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports hears that the "David Price sweepstakes" is heating up.
Tampa Bay should have no issues obtaining an enormous package of talent.
Being on the receiving end of the Prince Fielder trade and operating with a tighter budget than the Detroit Tigers will hinder the Texas Rangers in a bidding war for Shin-Soo Choo.
With that said, questionable lineup depth surrounding Fielder and Adrian Beltre could motivate them to go to extremes.
Joel Reuter cautions the Rangers not to overspend to complete their outfield, but that's what it will likely require to come away with Choo, Carlos Beltran or Nelson Cruz.
Controllable Starting Pitcher with Elite Stuff
The Toronto Blue Jays have been checking in on all the same trade candidates as the Arizona Diamondbacks. They also have the spending power, however, to aim at free-agent pitchers with the most desirable skill sets.
Co-rotation leaders R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle will go through the 2014 season at ages 39 and 35, respectively. Brandon Morrow has struggled to evade the disabled list. All of them could be gone within the next two years.
If the Blue Jays feel that their newly opened window to contend is already closing, they could make a forceful push for Jeff Samardzija.
The Washington Nationals bullpen allowed a .255 batting average to left-handed opponents in 2013, the fourth-worst mark in the Senior Circuit.
That's largely because fewer than 100 innings of their relief pitching came from southpaws. The club has since dealt Ian Krol to the Detroit Tigers, creating an even greater urgency to find somebody capable of neutralizing lefties.
According to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, the Nats are prepared to bid on Oliver Perez. Boone Logan and J.P. Howell ought to be targets, too.
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.