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Lack of Big Free Agents Will Give 2016-17 MLB Offseason Trade Deadline Feel

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2016

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Kansas City Royals during the fourth inning at U.S. Cellular Field on September 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Jon Durr/Getty Images

If you know the feeling when you sit down at a restaurant and the server tells you the place is out of your favorite dish, you can empathize with baseball executives heading into this offseason.

Free agency typically provides general managers with a wide-ranging selection of players who can improve their chances heading into the upcoming season. This offseason, though, it's as if baseball is out of everything on the menu.

Winter might actually feel like August in Death Valley for the likes of hopeful contenders in 2017. The list of available impact players is shorter than that of presidents on U.S. currency, making a typically prosperous time seem like a drought for championship-thirsty organizations.

So, contenders will have to turn their attention toward the trade market to try to improve their teams for the upcoming season. And as those teams engage in bidding wars with sellers, this winter could have more of a trade deadline-like feel to it.

This year's class features Toronto Blue Jays first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, but he is likely an American League-only player. His teammate for the last eight seasons, right fielder Jose Bautista, offers similar power at the plate but, at 36 years old, is less of a long-term solution. Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner rounds out a paltry list of impact position players, and there isn't a single front-line starting pitcher available.

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Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson is the best among them but only had a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts with the club last season. His 3.98 FIP, per Baseball-Reference.com, however, suggests he was worse than traditional metrics might otherwise indicate.

Back-end relief is the position that boasts the most talent. Chicago Cubs left-hander Aroldis Chapman, the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen and the Washington Nationals' Mark Melancon are the elite closers available for hire.

But one bullpen signing isn't usually the answer for teams eyeing the World Series.

The good news for those squads: The dearth of free agents might motivate rebuilding teams to be more active in trading MLB talent this winter.

Sep 26, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun (8) reacts after grounding out during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Teams like the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers are undergoing some form of a remodel and have players on their rosters who could impact a division race.

The lack of free agents could also prompt teams to overpay for stars like White Sox lefty Chris Sale, Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera or Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander.

The New York Yankees (No. 2), Houston Astros (No. 3), Dodgers (No. 5), Nationals (No. 6) and Boston Red Sox (No. 7) are 2017 contenders with top-10 farm systems, according to MLB.com's midseason rankings.

Each of those teams made a playoff appearance in at least one of the last two seasons, and the Dodgers, Nationals and Red Sox were all division winners in 2016.

Add in the World Series champion Chicago Cubs and AL West champion Texas Rangers, who have promising prospects they could deal, and most of the teams primed to contend have the kind of building blocks sellers routinely look for.

So, a bidding war—or two or three—could ensue among these contenders as they seek under-contract stars.

That label applies to Braun, Cabrera, Verlander and particularly Sale, who is signed to a team-friendly deal through 2019. They would each command a huge haul of prospects that could alter the future of their respective franchises.

That could cause a frenzy.

The more interest sellers hear from buyers, the longer they might drag out trade talks, trying to induce teams into bidding wars. That kind of drama is usually reserved for the July trading period.

But with so few impact free agents available, teams have nowhere to turn but to one another.

That could spur the most head-spinning offseason baseball has seen in some time.

    

Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.

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