The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are the perennial giants of the MLB offseason.
They're always among the game's biggest spenders. This year, they've also got stellar farm systems, meaning mega-trades are theoretically on the table.
It's possible, however, that Boston and New York could tinker around the edges without significantly impacting the winter landscape.
If so, they'll ironically be factors by being non-factors—and make a weak free-agent class into the ultimate buyer's market.
After trading for closer Craig Kimbrel and signing left-hander David Price to a seven-year, $217 million pact last winter, among other moves, Boston apparently intends to take a more passive approach.
As president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said prior to the general managers' meetings in Arizona, per Tim Britton of the Providence Journal:
Compared to last year, we were going full-bore for a closer, we were going full-bore for a No. 1 starting pitcher. I don't know what's going to happen because you don't know what phone call's going to take place. There are some clubs looking to move players. I'm not so sure patience may not end up being [best in] this situation.
Or, as Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald put it, "The Red Sox's lavish winter of a year ago could never be an annual blueprint, not even for George Steinbrenner."
Translation: Don't look for the Sox to throw their bulk around.
The Yankees, meanwhile, signaled their intentions when they traded veteran catcher Brian McCann and cash considerations to the Houston Astros on Thursday for a pair of pitching prospects, per ESPN.com's Andrew Marchand.
The move made sense, with super-rookie Gary Sanchez ready to take over behind the dish. It also continued a rebuild in the Bronx that began with the trades of relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller and proven postseason masher Carlos Beltran at the 2016 deadline.
The Yankees aren't waving the white flag. They remained in contention until the end of September despite their uncharacteristic sell-off.
They've shown interest in bringing back Chapman, despite his $100 million demands, reported by CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney. And New York may be looking to unload its cache of minor league chips for newly minted American League MVP Mike Trout, according to CBS New York's Sweeny Murti.
"You don't accumulate all those prospects with the intent of keeping them all," an unnamed scout told Murti. "They have value, and it makes complete sense to spin off four or five of them for Trout."
It's possible the Yanks are prepared to gut their suddenly fertile farm for a generational talent like Trout. It's also exceedingly doubtful the Halos will make him available.
The safe bet is that New York keeps its young talent, offloads another veteran or two—outfielder Brett Gardner is a prime candidate—and rolls into 2017 with the youth movement in full swing.
Would the Yankees obliterate the system for a win-now swap?
"[If] you're an organization that's one piece away, and you back the truck up with four or five players to finish off, you'd have to be one piece away," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters in October. "And I would not recommend that type of decision-making as we approach the 2017 season. I think that would be a dangerous approach."
Getting back to our original point: An inactive offseason from the Yanks and Sox would equal bad news for the winter's free agents.
Hitters such as Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo are counting on an AL bidding war. All of them profile best as designated hitters. If the Junior Circuit's top two spenders are out, prices will slide.
Yours truly linked the Red Sox and Encarnacion with a David Ortiz heir apparent angle. Dombrowski, however, applied a wet blanket.
"Do you want to tie up that one spot with one individual?" the Boston executive said to the media. "I'm not sure. So if you said, 'One year,' well, maybe one year is different. But from a long-term basis, do you want to do that? I'm not sure."
The Yankees, likewise, could tip the market for closers. If they're not ready to entertain Chapman's nine-figure asking price, it will drive down the cost for the Cuban fireballer and other bullpen studs such as Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon.
Other high-payroll franchises, including the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, will bid aggressively for relievers. Sluggers like Encarnacion will find homes.
If you remove the Yanks and Sox from the equation, however, nearly every bidding war is reduced to a skirmish.
It's never wise to assume Boston and New York will sit it out. A seismic swap or mega-contract is always within the realm of possibility for these deep-pocketed antagonists. With so much burgeoning talent on both sides, the rivalry is about to reheat, as ESPN.com's Scott Lauber and Andrew Marchand elucidated.
Baseball's offseason giants, however, are showing signs of sleepiness.
If they keep snoring, the 2016-17 offseason will adjust accordingly.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.