7 Impact Deals Most Likely to Be Pulled off During 2015 Winter Meetings
The winter meetings are set to kick off on Monday in Nashville, Tennessee, and with the market set for pitching and no shortage of trade rumors swirling around, the MLB world could be in four a busy four days.
Heck, it's already been a busy offseason, and the calendar just turned over to December.
Two of the marquee free agents on the pitching side of things have already signed, as Jordan Zimmermann agreed to a five-year, $110 million deal with the Detroit Tigers and David Price inked a record seven-year, $217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.
The Zimmermann signing will likely set the market for secondary starters, while the Price signing means the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants could find themselves in a bidding war for Zack Greinke.
Greinke is expected to make a decision by the end of the week, and once he does that could trigger a domino effect on the rest of the pitching market that begins just as the meetings kick off.
Meanwhile, the position player market has been slower to develop.
The biggest names to sign so far have been lower-level players like Franklin Gutierrez, Chris Young, Alex Avila, Chris Iannetta and Nori Aoki, and as a result there's not shortage of impact talent still looking for a new home.
So what might go down during this year's annual meetings?
What follows are seven impact deals that could be pulled off during the 2015 winter meetings, with the likelihood of those deals getting done next week based on a combination of rumors and speculation.
Free-Agent Signing: RP Darren O'Day to the Washington Nationals
As the top bullpen arm on the free-agent market this winter, Darren O'Day has seen no shortage of interest from teams here in the early stages of the offseason.
On the surface, though, it appears the list of suitors has been narrowed to two.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweeted on Nov. 22 that the Washington Nationals had joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as the front-runners to sign O'Day, and those two teams still appear to be at the head of the pack to secure his services.
In fact, according to one outlet, the Nationals might actually be considered the favorites.
"According to a source familiar with O’Day’s thinking, the veteran right-hander has mutual interest in the Nationals, owing in part to the fact his wife (Elizabeth Prann) is a Washington-based reporter for Fox News Channel," wrote Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington.
The 33-year-old is coming off of a fantastic season serving in a setup role for the Baltimore Orioles, as he posted a 1.52 ERA, 0.934 WHIP and 11.3 K/9 over 68 appearances to earn a spot on the AL All-Star team.
That standout performance was nothing new, though, as he logged a 1.92 ERA, 0.939 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 in 273 appearances over the past four seasons in Baltimore.
O'Day is said to be seeking a four-year deal in the $28-36 million range, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
For a Nationals team in serious need of a bullpen overhaul and with legitimate hopes of contending in 2016, that a price worth paying.
Trade: RP Jake McGee to the Los Angeles Dodgers
Once top free agent Darren O'Day makes his decision on where to sign, that could set off a domino effect of sorts on the reliever market.
Assuming that previous prediction is true and O'Day winds up signing with the Washington Nationals, expect the Los Angeles Dodgers to move quickly to land an impact bullpen arm of their own.
The team could really use another proven veteran reliever or two after ranking 19th in the league with a 3.91 bullpen ERA last year, and ideally it would find a right-hander to pair with J.P. Howell in the setup role.
The Dodgers are among a number of teams that have been linked to Tampa Bay Rays reliever Jake McGee, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, and he could quickly become the team's top target.
While McGee is a left-hander, he actually has better career numbers against righties (.190 BA, .536 OPS) than lefties (.224 BA, .616 OPS) in his career so he fits what the team is looking for.
The 29-year-old began last season on the disabled list and lost the closer's job to Brad Boxberger as a result, but he still had a terrific year with 19 holds, a 2.41 ERA, 0.938 WHIP and 11.6 K/9 over 39 appearances.
McGee has two remaining years of team control and is projected to earn $4.7 million in arbitration, so while he's relatively expensive for the small-market Rays, he'd be a significantly cheaper alternative to O'Day for the deep-pocketed Dodgers.
Free-Agent Signing: SP Doug Fister to the Detroit Tigers
Entering the 2015 season, Doug Fister looked like a lock to receive a qualifying offer this winter.
After all, the 31-year-old was coming off the best season of his career, having gone 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA and 1.079 WHIP to finish sixth in NL Cy Young voting.
Suffice to say, things did not go according to plan in 2015.
Fister missed a month early in the season with a flexor tendon strain, and after going 4-7 with a 4.60 ERA and 1.419 WHIP over 15 starts he was demoted to the bullpen in early August.
So what was the reason for such a significant drop-off in performance?
For one, the velocity on his sinker—his primary offering—was down from 88.61 mph in 2014 to 86.89 mph in 2015, according to Brooks Baseball.
That may have been a direct result of the early-season arm issues, but regardless of the reason he saw his hits per nine innings climb from 8.4 to 10.5.
A full offseason of rest could lead to a return in his velocity, and given his track record he's one of the more intriguing buy-low reclamation projects on the market this offseason.
Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted back on Nov. 18 that the Detroit Tigers were interested in a possible reunion with Fister, who went 32-20 with a 3.29 ERA in parts of three seasons with the Tigers before joining the Nationals.
The Tigers have already made a splash with the signing of Jordan Zimmermann, who will join Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez atop the team's rotation.
As it stands now, some combination of Daniel Norris, Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd and Buck Farmer would likely fill the final two spots, but taking a chance on Fister on a one-year deal to be the No. 4 starter seems like a risk worth taking.
For Fister, it's a chance to move back to a comfort zone of sorts as he looks to rebuild his value in hopes of securing a more lucrative deal next winter.
Trade: 2B/3B Brett Lawrie to the Chicago White Sox
Following the Oakland Athletics move to reacquire Jed Lowrie from the Houston Astros, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the team would likely look to move either Brett Lawrie or Danny Valencia before the offseason was over.
Here's exactly what she had to say:
Both are drawing interest from American League teams, according to big-league sources, but Lawrie, obtained in the Josh Donaldson deal with Toronto last winter, is considered the better bet to be traded: He can play second and third well, he has an enormous amount of natural ability and he turns 26 in January.
Sounds like exactly the kind of player the Chicago White Sox should be targeting this offseason, and Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors lists them along with the Indians, Astros, Padres, Braves and Brewers as teams that could have interest in trading for Lawrie.
The White Sox got well below-average production at both positions last season:
- 2B: .222/.275/.305, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 52 R
- 3B: .226/.277/.345, 13 HR, 50 RBI, 59 R
While the team has a pair of solid young players with upside in Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson to potentially man second base, there is a glaring hole to be filled at third base.
Lawrie has yet to turn his terrific all-around skill set into consistent production, and injuries have played a part in that, but he's still young enough to put it all together and emerge as an impact player.
He did manage to stay healthy last season, hitting .260/.299/.407 with 29 doubles, 16 home runs and 60 RBI for a 1.9 WAR.
The White Sox don't have the deepest farm system and they won't part with Frankie Montas, Tim Anderson or Carson Fulmer, but they should have enough talent behind those three to put together a sufficient package.
It's also worth nothing that the two teams also have a good working relationship dating back to last offseason, when the White Sox acquired Jeff Samardzija in a six-player blockbuster.
Free-Agent Signing: 2B/OF Ben Zobrist to the New York Mets
As expected, veteran Ben Zobrist has been one of the most in-demand free agents on the market this winter, and his price tag has continued to climb as a result.
The latest estimate has the 34-year-old seeking a four-year, $60 million deal, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo, and he's quick to note that price could go even higher before all is said and done.
Despite missing some time early with knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, Zobrist still enjoyed a strong 2015 season as he hit .276/.359/.450 with 36 doubles, 13 home runs, 56 RBI and 76 runs scored.
That offensive production, coupled with his incredibly valuable defensive versatility, makes Zobrist a potential fit for all 30 teams in some capacity.
In fact, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that there is said to be as many as 20 teams in the mix to sign Zobrist, but the one to keep an eye on right now appears to be the New York Mets.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted on Nov. 29 that Zobrist has been identified as the No. 1 target for the Mets, and the team clearly needs to do something to address the offensive void left by the departures of Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy.
However, the sticking point could be that fourth year, as Adam Rubin of ESPN reports that the Mets are unlikely to go beyond three years as of now.
With one of the best rotations in baseball and coming off of a run to the World Series, the Mets can't afford to stand pat and hope for the best offensively.
Pulling the trigger on signing Zobrist, with that fourth year included, would prove they're serious about making a run again in 2016, and that's exactly what might happen next week.
Free-Agent Signing: Johnny Cueto to Whoever Doesn't Sign Greinke (LAD vs. SF)
With David Price and Jordan Zimmermann already off the market and Zack Greinke expected to make a decision by the end of the week, it will be interesting to see how the market for Johnny Cueto unfolds during the meetings.
This year's crop of free-agent starters is as deep as any in recent memory, but there's a fairly significant drop-off between those four pitchers and the rest of the class.
Mike Leake, Scott Kazmir, Jeff Samardzija, John Lackey, Wei-Yin Chen, Ian Kennedy and Yovani Gallardo are among the available second-tier options, but for a team looking to add a bona fide front-line starter Cueto may represent their last chance.
So what does that mean for his market?
It could mean waiting around for the perfect offer like Max Scherzer did last offseason, as he waited until Jan. 21 to ink his seven-year, $210 million deal with the Washington Nationals.
However, it could also mean a team goes all-in on Cueto and makes him an offer he can't refuse during the winter meetings.
That's what we're predicting will happen here.
Assuming Greinke makes his decision prior to the meetings kicking off this coming Monday, it stands to reason that whoever misses out on signing him between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants could quickly turn to Cueto as Plan B.
The 29-year-old struggled a bit down the stretch with the Royals last season, but he turned in a pair of terrific starts in the postseason and still finished 11-13 with a 3.44 ERA, 1.132 WHIP and 176 strikeouts in 212 innings during the regular season.
Cueto recently turned down a six-year, $120 million offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks, according to Steve Gilbert of MLB.com.
That was followed by a report from Jerry Crasnick of ESPN that Cueto is seeking somewhere in the $140-160 million range.
For whichever desperate team misses out on Greinke, that just might be an agreeable price tag.
Trade: SP Shelby Miller to the Chicago Cubs
We've written a good deal about a potential Shelby Miller-for-Jorge Soler swap in recent days.
Just yesterday, I proposed a deal that included the Cubs taking on Michael Bourn as a salary dump of sorts to help convince the Braves to pull the trigger on moving Miller.
That was purely speculation, but a Miller-for-Soler trade in some form seems like a very real possibility, and it has all the makings of a win-win deal.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweeted on Tuesday that the Braves are "smitten" with Soler, while a clear need remains for the Cubs to add a third quality starter alongside Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester.
The following was offered up by Buster Olney of ESPN to further explain the Cubs logic behind targeting Miller rather than making a more serious run at David Price:
Price and the Cubs were a perfect fit in every way but one: financial risk. The Cubs already have a ton of money owed to Lester for the next five seasons, and as the Red Sox stepped into the mix and made it clear to everybody else they were going all-in to get Price, Chicago just never got comfortable with the idea of owing $55 million per year for the foreseeable future to two starters on the backsides of their respective careers.
So the Cubs already have started to examine possible Plan B's, which might include a trade for (Shelby) Miller or another young, controllable starter, and Chicago would seem to have a natural framework for a swap of Jorge Soler and Shelby Miller. The savings on Miller might allow them to go after (Jason) Heyward, whose defense is ridiculously good and who wouldn't necessarily have to be a high-end offensive player for the Cubs because of the presence of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber et al.
Meanwhile, the Braves would be getting a 23-year-old outfielder with tremendous offensive potential and plenty of affordable team control as they continue to rebuild.
The Cubs signed Soler to a nine-year, $30 million deal after he defected from Cuba, and he has five years and $21.33 million remaining, so he certainly fits the budget.
This rumor likely won't die unless Miller winds up traded elsewhere or the Cubs come out and say that Soler is untouchable.
In the end, it might just wind up being the blockbuster of this year's winter meetings.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.