If the upcoming MLB offseason were a movie directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, it would be titled There Will Be Trades.
Don't worry, Daniel Day Lewis isn't coming for your milkshake. But general managers across baseball will be extending their straws, looking to make deals and siphon up talent.
Buckle up. We might be in for the wildest winter swap-a-thon in recent memory.
This is a safe assumption for two reasons. First, despite an active non-waiver trade deadline, multiple top-tier players whose names popped up in rumors stayed put—which means teams could dangle them again in the offseason.
Second, and most importantly, the free-agent cupboard is ridiculously bare.
A handful of impact bats—Wilson Ramos, Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, Yoenis Cespedes, if he opts out of his contract—could spark epic bidding wars.
On the starting pitching side, the picture is even bleaker. Outside of Stephen Strasburg, there are no legitimate aces in the bunch. Now that the Washington Nationals have locked up Strasburg—well, let's just say 36-year-old, oft-injured Rich Hill is arguably the best option.
The only area where the 2016-17 class shines is in the bullpen, with elite closers such as Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon and Kenley Jansen up for grabs.
Outside of that, the needle edges away from "feast" and hovers over "famine."
Of course, a shallow free-agent pool doesn't guarantee trades will go down. But it means GMs and other front office types will get creative as they look to plug holes.
Here's another factor: Multiple big-budget contenders have deep, loaded farm systems.
Per Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter, the Los Angeles Dodgers boast baseball's No. 6 system and should be in the market for starting pitching and offense.
The Boston Red Sox's system checks in at No. 5, and they need rotation reinforcements as well.
Then there are the New York Yankees, whose flurry of deadline deals moved them to the top of Reuter's rankings. New York could hold on to its hoard of minor league talent and build for the future. But GM Brian Cashman now has the pieces to swing a megadeal or two, at least.
So who are the possible targets?
The Chicago White Sox listened to offers on left-handers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana leading up to the deadline, per Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball.
Both stayed put, but a gaudy package could pry either or both away from the South Side this winter.
The Oakland A's sent Hill to the Dodgers along with outfielder Josh Reddick, but they kept right-hander Sonny Gray. He is suffering through a disappointing, injury-plagued campaign; however, he is also just 26 years old, under team control through 2019 and one season removed from a top-three American League Cy Young Award finish.
Oakland executive Billy Beane is a seasoned wheeler-and-dealer and may correctly identify this free-agent wasteland as an opportunity to get top value for pitching.
The Tampa Bay Rays traded lefty Matt Moore to the San Francisco Giants at the deadline, netting infielder Matt Duffy and a couple of prospects. Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer also churned through the rumor mill, with Los Angeles sniffing after Archer, per ESPN's Jayson Stark.
Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has mostly resisted raiding his farm system. But the prospect of pairing Clayton Kershaw and Archer—who has ties to Friedman from the latter's days in Tampa Bay—could be too tantalizing to pass up.
As for bats, catcher Jonathan Lucroy went from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers, while outfielder Ryan Braun remained in Wisconsin despite persistent buzz.
"It seems regardless of which team we're playing, that's the team I'm getting traded to," Braun said in June, per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The 32-year-old carries his share of baggage, but he's hitting .325 with a .954 OPS. Plus, the four years, $76 million remaining on his contract (including a buyout) could be below market value.
Or how about Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez? In June, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post laid out the case for moving CarGo, noting that he's signed through 2017 and "the Rockies would like to get something for him before he leaves."
Even allowing for his diminished defensive skills and the Coors Field bump, Gonzalez's 2016 slash line of .321/.371/.562 would slot into any lineup. And an American League club could give him reps at designated hitter to save his legs.
When Los Angeles sent troubled outfielder Yasiel Puig to Triple-A on Aug. 2, I wondered if the mercurial Cuban had played his last game in a Dodgers uniform.
That's still an open question. Los Angeles isn't going to give him away, but takers could be willing to part with prospects or MLB talent and hope Puig rediscovers his five-tool mojo.
We could keep going, but you get the idea. Headline-grabbing targets are scattered across both leagues. There are serious shoppers with blue chips in the bank.
Virtually every winter brings a seismic swap or two. This year, however, the trades could easily outshine the free-agent signings.
Hot stove season is a few months off. When it arrives, there will be trades.
Bank on it.