10 Last-Minute Predictions for the 2013 MLB Winter Meetings

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIDecember 9, 2013

10 Last-Minute Predictions for the 2013 MLB Winter Meetings

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    The 2013 MLB winter meetings appear to have come one week too late.

    It's possible that the flurry of activity in the opening days of December will make for a slow week in Orlando, Fla. Then again, with so many big names already accounted for, there's an excellent chance that the ridiculously rapid pace will continue as general managers fight over the remaining scraps.

    Here are 10 last-minute predictions for the 2013 MLB winter meetings.

Prediction: The Seattle Mariners Will Sign Nelson Cruz to a Monster Deal

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    The Seattle Mariners are making big moves.

    The club has already locked up Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million deal and is in the discussion to acquire David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays. As Peter Gammons writes on GammonsDaily.com, part of the logic behind signing Cano was to "help attract other players—like Cano's good friend Nelson Cruz." 

    The Mariners would certainly benefit from plugging Cruz's bat into the lineup. Last year, Seattle's right fielders posted a combined .694 OPS, as per ESPN.com. Cruz, of course, also comes with some red flags.

    Last season, Cruz swatted 27 home runs, but also missed substantial time while serving a 50-game ban for PED usage. In parts of nine seasons, Cruz has only totaled 500 at-bats once. Despite though concerns over durability and past links to PEDs, Cruz is one of the final remaining power sources on the market.

    The Mariners have sent a clear message that they are willing to wildly overpay to attract top talent, and Cruz makes for the perfect target.



Prediction: The Arizona Diamondbacks Will Make a Splash

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    As Nick Piecoro of AZcentral.com writes, the Arizona Diamondbacks could be one of the "busiest" teams at the winter meetings. Then again, maybe not.

    GM Kevin Towers explained to Piecoro:"I think we could be really active. I think we could be not active at all. I kind of see us at one of the spectrum or the other. Not somewhere in between."

    The top two items on Towers' wish list this offseason are a front-line starter and an impact bat. To acquire either one the Diamondbacks would need to part with some premier prospects, which likely explains why Towers either expects a lot of activity or none at all. 

    While David Price would come at an enormous cost, there are still plenty of reasonable targets to pursue. Piecoro floats the names of Jeff Samardzija and Nate Schierholtz, among others. Neither player would create the same splash as Price would, but they would still represent major upgrades for the Diamondbacks. 

Prediction: The San Francisco Giants Will Trade for Brett Gardner

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    The San Francisco Giants need another outfielder.

    As Henry Schulman tweets, the team is pursuing free-agent options, "but the club still feels its best route to a left fielder is a trade."

    According to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, the New York Yankees are shopping outfielder Brett Gardner. If the Giants swing a deal for Gardner, they could put the speedy outfielder in center field and slide Angel Pagan to left.

    Last year, Giants left fielders posted a .651 OPS, which was the worst in all of baseball, according to ESPN.com. For the Giants, the question is whether they have the pieces that the Yankees are looking for.

    According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Yankees would likely be looking for a starting pitcher—an area the Giants would be unable to help with. Then again, with GM Brian Sabean making it clear to Schulman that he won't sign a player who received a qualifying offer, a trade seems increasingly likely.

    Landing Gardner would require some creative maneuvering from Sabean, but that's exactly what he does best. 

Prediction: Beware of Qualifying Offers

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    It's hard to know how the market will develop for Ubaldo Jimenez. 

    The right-hander is coming off a strong season in which he posted a 13-9 record with a 3.30 ERA and an impressive 9.6 K/9 ratio. The downside, though, is that Jimenez was poor in back-to-back seasons before that. Plus, the team that signs Jimenez will have to give up a draft pick since he rejected the Cleveland Indians qualifying offer. 

    As one executive put it to Jayson Stark of ESPN: "You should never forget...how many teams don't want to give up those draft picks."

    That comment suggests that Jimenez could be in for a long offseason. Another player who could face a similar fate is Kendrys Morales. Back in October, Buster Olney of ESPN warned that rejecting a qualifying offer would "crush" the 30-year-old's prospects on the free-agent market. In the opening weeks of the hot stove season, there has been next to zero buzz surrounding the slugger.

    Stephen Drew, who like Morales is a Scott Boras client, is yet another big-name free agent who could be in line for an extended wait. However, Drew will benefit from a remarkably shallow group of free-agent shortstops.


Prediction: The New York Yankees Will Sign Omar Infante

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    Omar Infante is no Cano, but as far as the second base free-agent market goes, he represents the Yankees' best bet.

    Infante is coming off one of the best seasons of his career as he hit .318/.345/.450 with 10 home runs. As Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York points out, the addition of Infante "makes a lot of sense" because his defensive versatility would provide the club coverage at third base as well if Alex Rodriguez is suspended. 

    The Yankees could also pursue trade targets like Brandon Phillips or Howie Kendrick. However, as Andy McCarron and Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News note, the Yankees' lack of "impact talent" at the top of the club's minor league system. With a trade seeming unlikely, Infante to New York only appears to be a matter of time. 

Prediction: The Los Angeles Angels Will Upgrade the Club's Rotation

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    The Los Angeles Angels' starting staff needs serious help.

    Currently, the Angels' rotation consists of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards. According to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com, the Angels are likely to fill at least one of the spots in the rotation via free agency. 

    Gonzalez points to Matt Garza, who would not cost the team a draft pick, as one potential option. Bronson Arroyo represents another free-agent target, but the team will likely pursue the trade route as well.

    Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Mark Trumbo are the three Angels who have been involved in the most trade rumors this offseason. While Kendrick wouldn't bring back the largest haul, he appears to be the most likely to get dealt as the Angels have in-house options at second base. 

Prediction: The Boston Red Sox Will Land Matt Kemp in a Trade

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    Matt Kemp has been the subject of a wide array of trade rumors this offseason, and with the winter meetings underway that speculation will only grow. 

    His agent Dave Stewart explained to Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston that he has a "strong feeling" that Kemp could be on the move. The major question mark with Kemp  is his durability. Last year, the two-time All-Star only appeared in 73 games, and in 2012 he only appeared in 106.

    There's also the consideration that the Los Angeles Dodgers still owe Kemp $128 million. As Edes notes, however, a deal could still be agreed to:

    One hypothetical trade scenario to consider: If the Dodgers were to chip in $32 million of the $128 million owed to Kemp, he would cost the Red Sox $16 million per season, seemingly well within the range of what they were willing to pay Ellsbury.

    Such a deal would entail massive risk based on Kemp's inability to stay on the field. Still, the potential of having Kemp, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli in the heart of the order makes this a move worth making. 

Prediction: The Rakuten Golden Eagles Will Finally Post Masahiro Tanaka

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    As Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports writes, MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball are likely to arrive at an agreement on a new posting system this week.

    However, that doesn't mean that Golden Eagles president Yozo Tachibana will post Tanaka, as Rosenthal explains:

    An agreement is expected this week, leaving Tachibana with a business decision: Accept the $20 million posting fee for Tanaka now, accept it after next season or receive nothing for the pitcher once he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season.

    As Rosenthal observes, from a business perspective there's no reason for Tachibana to hold out. The final negotiations could still take several days, but ultimately Tanaka will be posted. Then, the rest of the starting pitcher market will finally begin to develop. 

Prediction: The Detroit Tigers Will Sign Shin-Soo Choo

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    With a number of big-name free agents coming off the board, Shin-Soo Choo is now the top position player on the market. 

    As Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports notes, the most likely destinations for Choo in 2014 are the Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds or Seattle Mariners. Rosenthal adds that Choo is likely to net a deal nearly as large as the $153 million deal that Jacoby Ellsbury landed.

    That seems steep for a player like Choo who struggles so extensively against left-handers. In 2013, the leadoff man posted a .612 OPS against lefties. Still, with so many suitors in on Choo, it's easy to see a bidding war break out. 

    The Tigers appear to be an ideal match. The team shipped out Prince Fielder to clear payroll for Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer down the line. However, the team still needs to add more talent to the roster for the 2014 season to maintain its level of success from recent seasons. With his rare combination of power and on-base skills, Choo would be the perfect fit as Detroit's new leadoff man. 

Prediction: The Tampa Bay Rays Will Not Deal David Price

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    The Rays don't have to deal Price as the left-hander remains under team control for two more seasons. It's possible that the club could even hold on to the 2012 Cy Young Award winner and ship him out at the deadline.

    However, as Jim Bowden of ESPN (subscription required) notes, that's unlikely to happen. Bowden writes that "the Rays will likely be in the pennant race by July so it will be difficult to trade Price."

    It's a shrewd observation from Bowden and provides more evidence that the Rays will finally part with the lefty. However, the winter meetings themselves will be too soon for a deal to go down. Last winter, the Rays dealt James Shields in the days after the meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

    A similar pattern should develop this year, as well. The Rays will use the meetings to lay the groundwork, but the actual deal won't come until a couple of days, or perhaps even a couple of months after the meetings have concluded. 



    If you want to talk baseball find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.