MLB Winter Meetings: 6 Teams to Watch Next Week
Oh, the Winter Meetings—baseball's trailer for the blockbuster release of the regular season.
It's the time of year when team general managers travel south in hopes of warm weather and the free agents hope for even warmer checkbooks.
While much of baseball's offseason has centered on big moves by the Florida Marlins, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers, there are still plenty of big name free agents available and plenty of teams with deep pockets and big needs hoping to lure them in.
Let's take a look at what teams you should keep your eye on when the Winter Meetings kick off next week.
New York Yankees: GM Brian Cashman
Let's get this out of the way first: The New York Yankees have some big needs and the biggest pockets of any team.
After being manhandled by the Texas Rangers in the ALCS, the Yankees are in need of some starting pitching, but there are other questions yet to be answered.
They still need to negotiate with their own free agents, reliever Mariano Rivera and shortstop Derek Jeter. No one doubts that both will be back with the club next season, and probably for the rest of their respective careers. The talks with Rivera have been silent, but Jeter is proving to be a much tougher nut to crack.
Will the Yankees try to wrap things up with Jeter before pursuing any other free agents?
Biggest target: Cliff Lee
It's no secret that the Yankees need Cliff Lee and are willing to pay big money for his services. While the Texas Rangers reportedly have a five-year deal ready to present to Lee, he is reportedly looking for a five- to six-year deal for around $140 million.
It's doubtful the Rangers can give Lee that type of money, leaving the Yankees as the probable landing spot for the talented lefty.
But with the Jeter negotiations still unresolved, it would only make things harder if the Yankees had to say to their All-Star shortstop, "Look, we'd love to up our offer, but we just gave Cliff Lee $23 million per season."
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: GM Tony Reagins
After finishing last season 80-82 and third in the AL West, the Angels are going to be big players at the Winter Meetings.
Offensively, the Angels had trouble with everything. They were 19th in baseball in runs scored (681) and 23rd in batting average (.248).
The Angels are in need of some speed and power.
Biggest Target(s): Adrian Beltre, Carl Crawford
Yes, that's right. The Angels are going to be in the mix for both of those players.
Alberto Callaspo is No. 1 on the Angels' depth chart at third base, starting in 146 games last season. He hit just .265 with 10 homers and 56 RBI.
Beltre is easily an upgrade at third base. Last season with the Boston Red Sox, Beltre hit .321 with 28 homers and 102 RBI with an OBP of .365.
Beltre is going to probably get a deal of around four years at $50-55 million.
Carl Crawford is another free agent on the Angels' radar. Angels OF Torii Hunter is pushing hard for the club to sign Crawford, and it's no secret they need him.
The Angels got decent production out of outfielders Bobby Abreu and Hunter, but adding Crawford's speed and athleticism would put the Angels over the top both offensively and defensively.
Crawford could earn a deal of six to seven years and $100-120 million. Does winning mean that much to the Angels? I think so.
Boston Red Sox: GM Theo Epstein
The Boston Red Sox are one of the best-run teams in all of baseball, and playing in the AL East certainly requires them to make smart moves.
In this offseason, however, they can make both smart and splashy moves.
Last season, the Red Sox were, as usual, a solid offensive team. They ranked second in baseball in runs scored (818) and second in slugging percentage (.451). However, injuries kept the Red Sox from keeping pace with the Rays and Yankees in the AL East, eventually finishing 89-73.
Having already lost both Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre to free agency, the Red Sox are in need of some offense, big time.
Martinez has already signed with the Detroit Tigers, and the Red Sox hope to be able to re-sign Beltre. But even if they are able to re-sign Beltre, they'll need more help than that.
Biggest Target(s): Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford
With the Winter Meetings set to begin Monday, the Red Sox are hot on the trail of both outfielders. They have already met with both Werth and Crawford and their respective agents.
Crawford may very well command a contract in the range of seven years, $100 million-plus. The Red Sox have never signed a free agent to a contract longer than five years (John Lackey: five years, $82.5 million). Will they be willing to go that far with Crawford, whom manager Terry Francona called a "game-changer?"
Werth is considered the second-best free agent outfielder available, behind Crawford. Werth, a Scott Boras guy, may have a similar price tag as far as money is concerned, but he is two years older than Crawford, so the Red Sox won't have to committ to as many years as with Crawford.
Werth may be the better choice for the Red Sox though, as they will look to add a right-handed power bat to replace Adrian Beltre.
Arizona Diamondbacks: GM Kevin Towers
When the D-Backs brought in Kevin Towers as GM, they did not hire him to sit back and let the team struggle in mediocrity.
While the Diamondbacks don't have the money to spend on big free agents, they don't have to chase after players—they just have to let other teams chase after them.
There are a lot of rumors flying around that the Diamondbacks are shopping their young OF Justin Upton. Upton, 23, is one of the best young players in the game. Last season, he hit only .273 with 17 homers and 69 RBI but also stole 18 bases.
Upton only appeared in 133 games, but if the Diamondbacks are really willing to deal their young outfielder, they can expect plenty of teams to be interested.
The price tag is going to be very high, with the Diamondbacks expected to ask for at least one major league-ready player and two high-level prospects in return for Upton. There are plenty of teams with the prospects to make the deal, so the ball is entirely in Towers' court.
Prediction: Depends on where Crawford and Werth land
Don't expect the Diamondbacks to deal Upton just yet. If they do it, it could be to the team that loses out on Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. If the Red Sox or Angels are unable to sign either player, both teams have the prospects and the need to add a player like Upton.
Milwaukee Brewers: GM Doug Melvin
The Brewers aren't the team to watch for big signings, but they might be more of the seller type.
With their rotund first baseman Prince Fielder set to become a free agent after the 2011 season, the Brewers know they're not going to be able to re-sign him.
Reportedly, Fielder is going to be asking for Ryan Howard-type money (five years, $125 million), which is out of the Brewers' range.
Unable to re-sign Fielder, they may try to shop him at the Winter Meetings.
While a deal is unlikely, teams are going to be approaching GM Doug Melvin about Fielder's availability. The Red Sox are one possibility, as they have both the prospects and the room to add Fielder. However, with the likelihood of signing Fielder to an extension after the 2011 season very slim for the team that trades for him, the Brewers will have to be sure to find the right offer.
The Athletics, Nationals, Braves and Mariners could also be interested in making a deal.
The Brewers are in a difficult situation here. If they deal Fielder before the season begins, will they have enough and/or get enough for him in order to contend in the NL Central in 2011? If they don't deal him and find themselves in the mix at the trade deadline, they might not be able to afford to lose him but won't have any choice. Tough call, but I think a deal gets done, most likely for plenty of starting pitching.
San Diego Padres: GM Jed Hoyer
Adrian Gonzalez is one of the most, if not THE most, underrated and underpaid players in baseball. He has been the Padres' best offensive player for years and will be a free agent at the end of the 2011 season.
His situation is almost identical to Prince Fielder's with the Brewers. The Padres will not be able to re-sign their slugging first baseman and will look to deal him rather than let him walk.
Last season, Gonzalez, 28, hit .298 while crushing 31 homers with 101 RBI. How much was he paid in 2010? $4.8 million. That's just laughable for a guy who averages 32 homers and 99 RBI per season and is still young.
Plenty of teams will be inquiring about Gonzalez's availability, like they have every offseason for the last two years.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but the Red Sox are the team to watch here too, as well as the White Sox, Orioles, Nationals, Braves and Cubs.
Prediction: No Deal
We'll have to wait and see if the Padres pull the trigger, but I don't think they'll part with Gonzalez. They came within one game of winning the NL West and will need Gonzalez's bat to get back into that position in 2011. They still have excellent pitching and can match up well with the pitching rotations of the Giants and Dodgers.
However, if a team were able to blow away the Padres with a big offer, they might take the deal.
This year's Winter Meetings will be very interesting, with both big name free agents available and big name players possibly on the trading block. There are plenty of teams to watch out for, but these teams I named here are most likely to get the most attention next week.
There are still other teams that might make moves, like the Dodgers, A's and Nationals, so we'll have to wait and see what happens.
So much wheeling and dealing!
Can't beat the baseball offseason!
If you have any team you think we need to watch or players that could get traded, leave them in the comments section and let us know.