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Predictions for the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings, 1 Week Out

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistNovember 28, 2016

Predictions for the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings, 1 Week Out

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    Mark Melancon
    Mark MelanconMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Generally speaking, the annual winter meetings are when the MLB offseason really takes off.

    While we've already seen a handful of notable free-agent signings and a few significant trades, there's still a lot of roster shuffling to be done between now and the start of spring training.

    That wheeling and dealing will kick into high gear next week, as all 30 teams will converge on National Harbor, Maryland, from Dec. 4-8 for four days of excitement.

    With an incredibly weak pitching market, this year's meetings in particular could have a feel similar to the days leading up to the trade deadline when the rumor mill was buzzing and more than a few trades come to fruition.

    So, one week out, what follows are some quick predictions on what this year's winter meetings might bring.

Drew Muren Goes No. 1 Overall in the Rule 5 Draft

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    This year's Rule 5 draft will take place on Dec. 8 and will once again be the final major event of the annual winter meetings.

    After finishing with the worst record in baseball at 59-103, the Minnesota Twins will have the first pick, and right-hander Drew Muren from the Arizona Diamondbacks system is one player they could target.

    Here's what J.J. Cooper of Baseball America wrote about Muren in his Rule 5 draft preview:

    Muren was a two-way player in college who tried to make it to the big leagues as a hitter, but he flamed out in Double-A. After spending two years in indy ball as a hitter, the Diamondbacks took a chance on his arm, moved him to the mound and saw him make it to Triple-A briefly in his first pro season as a pitcher.

    Muren’s stuff has helped make up for lost time. He sits in the mid-to-high 90s and touched 100 mph this year. He struck out 61 in 41 innings between three stops although he also showed below-average control. Muren’s delivery is a little unconventional as might be expected for a converted hitter. His release point is nearly sidearm giving hitters a very odd look for a pitcher with a near-top-of-the-scale fastball. His secondary stuff is still primitive.

    The 28-year-old sported a 4.4 BB/9 walk rate and 13.4 K/9 strikeout rate—decent returns for someone who was new to pitching at the pro level.

    The organization has its fair share of power arms, headlined by J.T. Chargois and Nick Burdi, so they know a thing or two about developing top-tier velocity.

The Houston Astros Make Another Major Signing

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    Mike Napoli
    Mike NapoliElsa/Getty Images

    It's already been a busy offseason for the Houston Astros.

    Outfielder Josh Reddick and starter Charlie Morton were signed in free agency and outfielder Nori Aoki was claimed off waivers, while catcher Brian McCann was acquired from the Yankees and Pat Neshek was shipped to the Phillies.

    There's still work to be done, though.

    The Astros are still searching for a front-line starter, another bat that can split time between first base and designated hitter and potentially a center fielder if they prefer to leave George Springer in right field.

    The young trio of Joe Musgrove, David Paulino and Francis Martes gives them some attractive trade chips in a market that is placing extra value on controllable pitching.

    As for the free-agent market, the team has shown interest in Mike Napoli, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. They have also been tied to Carlos Beltran, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

    With the preference being to add a left-handed bat, per Rosenthal, guys like Brandon Moss, Mitch Moreland, Adam Lind and Pedro Alvarez could also get a look.

    One way or another, look for the Astros to have at least one more new face by the time this year's winter meetings conclude.

Ivan Nova Finds a New Home

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    Ivan Nova
    Ivan NovaJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Oftentimes the free-agent market can unfold with a domino effect of sorts, as the first player to sign at a given position generally sets the market for the rest of the players at that position.

    This year's pitching market is a different story, though.

    With Jeremy Hellickson accepting his qualifying offer and Rich Hill unlikely to get more than three years, Ivan Nova appears to be the only starter likely to land a long-term deal.

    Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported back in September that Nova was seeking a five-year, $70 million deal, and MLB Trade Rumors predicted a four-year, $52 million deal.

    The 29-year-old improved his stock considerably after being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the deadline, going 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and a 52-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    Since he won't be waiting around in hopes of someone else setting him up for a bigger payday, the market for Nova could move quickly once the winter meetings begin, and there's a good chance he'll have a new home before they wrap up.

    Where he signs is still tough to predict, but keep an eye on the Miami Marlins if they don't like the way the trade market is shaping up.

Carlos Beltran Signs with the Boston Red Sox

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the market for veteran Carlos Beltran is shaping up to be a three-team battle between the New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox, with the Texas Rangers still a possibility as well.

    Even entering his age-40 season, Beltran is still a highly productive run-producer, and his postseason track record makes him an intriguing target for all four of those team as they eye a playoff push.

    Splitting last season between the Yankees and Rangers, Beltran posted an .850 OPS with 33 doubles, 29 home runs and 93 RBI.

    He's best suited serving exclusively in a DH capacity at this point, but he's still capable of playing right field and played 69 games there this past season.

    Given his age, a one-year deal would be the preferred route for his suitors, but the team willing to offer up a second year could separate itself from the pack.

    Scott Lauber of ESPN.com wrote: "Heard from a major league source who characterized the Red Sox's interest in Carlos Beltran this way: 'They want him badly.' Might boil down to whether Beltran wants more than a one-year guarantee."

    As they look to fill the void left by the retirement of David Ortiz, Beltran looks like a perfect fit.

    A .335/.377/.555 career line in 167 plate appearances at Fenway Park is just icing on the cake.

Mark Melancon Signs with the San Francisco Giants

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    Mark Melancon
    Mark MelanconG Fiume/Getty Images

    One San Francisco Giants team official confidently told Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports during the GM meetings earlier this month: "We are getting one of the big closers."

    After the relief corps finished 15th in the majors with a 3.65 ERA last season and converted just 43 of 72 save chances, it's no surprise that upgrading the back of the bullpen is priority No. 1 this winter.

    So who will they target to take over the closer's role?

    It could take some time for things to unfold in the pursuit of Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, as their respective markets are largely interwoven and neither pitcher will want to be the first to sign and potentially leave money on the table in the process.

    Aside from the financial cost, the Giants might not want to wait around and risk missing out on signing any of the market's top bullpen arms, which would force them to turn their attention to the trade market.

    With that in mind, Mark Melancon makes sense as their top target.

    While many of the same teams interested in Chapman and Jansen are also in on Melancon, his market isn't tied to those two in the same way they're tied to each other.

    The 31-year-old might not have the same electric stuff or insane strikeout numbers, but he's been every bit as effective closing out games.

    Over the past four seasons, Melancon has converted 147 of 162 save chances with a 1.80 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 297 appearances.

    MLB Trade Rumors predicted a four-year, $52 million deal, and that would be money well spent for the Giants.

Yoenis Cespedes Re-Signs with the New York Mets

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Bringing back Yoenis Cespedes is not a move the New York Mets should make, it's a move they have to make if they plan to make another run at the NL East title and a postseason berth.

    As expected, Cespedes opted out of the final two years of his contract, and on the heels of another highly productive season, he's considered by most to be the top player on this year's free-agent market.

    The 31-year-old posted an .884 OPS with 31 home runs and 86 RBI last season, and his importance to the team was obvious.

    The Mets were 74-58 (.561) when he was in the lineup, compared to 13-17 (.433) without him as he missed time with a quad injury.

    The two sides are still working toward a reunion, and according to Mike Puma of the New York Post, the issue at the moment is the inclusion of a fifth year:

    As it stands, the Mets are likely committed to signing the 31-year-old if a four-year contract in the $100 million-to-$110 million neighborhood can be hammered out, according to an industry source, but there is less clarity on the matter when an additional year — which could push the value of a deal beyond $130 million — is considered.

    The Mets may have been wary of going that extra year to this point, but once other teams start sniffing around the free-agent slugger during the winter meetings, they may change their tune for fear of losing him to someone else.

    Here's predicting a shiny new five-year, $125 million deal from the Mets before the meetings wrap.

The Chicago White Sox Choose a Direction

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    Chris Sale
    Chris SaleJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Chicago White Sox might not pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal during the winter meetings, but expect them to make a decision on the direction of the team.

    And not just internallyexpect that decision to be boldly announced to the rest of the baseball world.

    My guess is they'll be open for business and willing to move anyone on the roster for the right return, which should set off a flurry of rumors and speculation as teams lay the groundwork for potentially landscape-altering deals down the line.

    Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are obviously the two most popular names on the roster as far as potential trade chips are concerned, but they are far from the only guys other teams will be eyeing.

    First baseman Jose Abreu, third baseman Todd Frazier, outfielders Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera, starter James Shields and closer David Robertson would all bring some quality young talent to a team in desperate need of a youthful infusion.

    The White Sox are the one team capable of turning the MLB offseason on its head, and they'll do just that next week when a long overdue rebuild finally begins.

                

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Projected salaries courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors. Contract information per Spotrac unless otherwise noted.

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