Final Predictions for the 2017 Winter Meetings' Top Free-Agent Signings, Trades
Major League Baseball's annual winter meetings have arrived. That means deals, deals and more deals.
This might have been a tad presumptuous as recently as last Friday. Even more than a month after the end of the World Series, the offseason market was slowly creeping along as it awaited some sort of kick-start.
Next thing anyone knew, Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels and the Miami Marlins traded Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees. What had been a lukewarm stove is now scalding hot, setting up a tremendous flurry of activity in the winter meetings.
Going in order from smallest to biggest, here are predictions for eight free-agent signings and trades (four of each) that will come out of Orlando, Florida, over the next four days.
8. New York Yankees Re-Sign CC Sabathia
The Yankees led MLB with 241 home runs in 2017. Now they have a 6'6", 245-pound behemoth who just won the National League MVP with 59 homers.
So, consider that a strength that's been solidified. Now they just need to shore up their last remaining weakness, which they can do by re-signing veteran lefty CC Sabathia.
It was no secret that the Yankees were hoping to complete their starting rotation with Ohtani. When that ship sailed, though, a reunion with Sabathia was put on the table.
"We know CC and he’s a tremendous asset for us," general manager Brian Cashman said, according to Dan Martin of the New York Post. "We know everything about him, what a competitor he is and that he can perform on the biggest stage."
The signings of Mike Minor (three years, $28 million) and Tyler Chatwood (three years, $38 million) set the market for back-end starters in the neighborhood of $10 million per year. Assuming the 37-year-old Sabathia fits there, then he fits a Yankees budget that's only about $11 million short of the luxury-tax threshold.
Filling that space with a pitcher who put up a 3.69 ERA in 27 starts last year would be money well spent.
7. Pittsburgh Pirates Trade Josh Harrison to Los Angeles Angels
Now that the Angels have Ohtani, who'll serve as an arm for their rotation and a bat for their lineup, their next move should be to add infield depth.
The best thing they can do is trade for a guy who is infield depth incarnate: Josh Harrison.
Per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Pittsburgh Pirates will "generally listen on anyone." That includes Harrison, who'll be easier to move than former MVP Andrew McCutchen or staff ace Gerrit Cole.
The 30-year-old is signed to a reasonable deal that will pay him $10 million in 2018 with $22 million worth of options for 2019 and 2020. As a sparkplug offensive presence who can handle himself at second base, third base and elsewhere on the diamond, he appeals to a lengthy list of suitors.
With glaring needs at both second base and third base, the Angels can view a trade for Harrison as a two-birds-one-stone acquisition that would be a natural follow-up to their signing of the Japanese Babe Ruth.
The Angels' horribly thin farm system is a bump in the way of a trade, but it isn't a barrier. Athletic outfielder Jahmai Jones and fast-rising righty Jaime Barria are viable trade chips who could appeal to Pittsburgh.
6. Detroit Tigers Trade Ian Kinsler to New York Mets
The Detroit Tigers are headed for lean years, but one guy who won't be around to experience them is Ian Kinsler. He's due for free agency after 2018 and is a stone-cold lock to be traded before then.
Indeed, Katie Strang of The Athletic reported Detroit's efforts to trade the four-time All-Star have "intensified recently." Per Marc Carig of Newsday, the Tigers have engaged in talks with the New York Mets.
The Mets have a gaping hole at second base and incentive to improve a defense that was the worst in the National League at turning balls in play into outs last season. Although his offense declined in 2017, Kinsler continued to rate as an above-average defender.
Just as important, he's also a relatively low-risk target for the Mets.
With his value damaged by his rough 2017 and only $11 million headed his way in his walk year, the 35-year-old should have a modest acquisition cost. If he were to help the Mets rebound from a 92-loss 2017, then great. If not, oh well. He wouldn't stick around long enough to be a headache in a potential rebuild.
5. Chicago Cubs Sign Alex Cobb
Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta will be available at the winter meetings, but it's easy to imagine them holding off until the market has some clarity about the going rate for top-tier starters.
To that end, what would help is deals for the second-tier starters on the market. Alex Cobb is one of them, and indications are there's a contract for him on to the not-too-distant horizon.
Both Heyman and Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago have highlighted the 30-year-old righty as a prime target for the Chicago Cubs. They filled one rotation spot when they signed Chatwood, but they didn't blow their budget in doing so. Thus, they do have the rationale to bring Cobb aboard.
With zero 30-start seasons under his belt and a Tommy John operation in his recent past, Cobb does come with durability concerns. The Cubs have a greater need for his ability, however.
Regarding that, the 3.66 ERA that Cobb put up in 2017 is no small selling point. Lucky for him, he also knows two guys on the North Side who can vouch for his talent: manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey, who formerly oversaw Cobb in the same posts with the Tampa Bay Rays.
4. Seattle Mariners Sign Lance Lynn
Right there with Cobb in the market for second-tier starters is Lance Lynn, who owns a rock-solid 3.06 ERA in 97 starts dating back to 2014.
Once Cobb signs, the market will be ripe for Lynn to find a deal—vice versa also works, for the record. At present, there are fewer rumblings about where he could be headed. The Seattle Mariners, however, stick out as an all-too-obvious fit.
The Mariners made a statement when they acquired speedy All-Star Dee Gordon from the Marlins, and they seemed ready to follow it up with an even bigger statement by signing Ohtani. When he chose to go to the Angels instead, he left them disappointed and still in need of an impact arm.
Cobb could be the guy for the job, but there's one thing about Lynn that makes him a better fit.
Even though the 30-year-old also has a Tommy John operation in his recent past, he returned in 2017 to make at least 29 starts for the fifth time in his career. Such durability should appeal to a Mariners team that ranked 23rd in starter innings last season.
3. Miami Marlins Trade Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals badly wanted Stanton but were ultimately powerless to stop him from using his no-trade clause to say, "Nah."
On the bright side, Marcell Ozuna remains available.
Ozuna finally made the most of his power and athleticism in 2017, slamming 37 homers and winning a Gold Glove. As such, he comes closer than most to passing as a doppelganger for the mighty Stanton.
To boot, he's affordable. Stanton is owed $295 million over the next 10 years. MLB Trade Rumors has Ozuna projected to make $10.9 million in 2018, his penultimate season of club control.
A tremendous acquisition cost is the obvious downside of Ozuna's talent and affordability. However, that's where a trade for him suits the Cardinals better than a trade for Stanton would have. They're richer in prospects than they are in cash, most notably in terms of young arms (e.g. Jack Flaherty and Sandy Alcantara) that would fit well in Miami's barren farm system.
2. Tampa Bay Rays Trade Evan Longoria to San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants also badly wanted Stanton yet were equally powerless to stop him from exercising his no-trade clause.
For them, a trade for Rays third baseman Evan Longoria would be an excellent Plan B.
Richard Justice of MLB.com speculated that the Giants will be "first in line" for Longoria if Tampa Bay makes him available. Speaking to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Longoria himself acknowledged he's "somewhere in limbo" as tghe Rays seek to cut payroll.
The Giants have more than enough money to take the $86 million remaining on Longoria's contract off the Rays' hands. It'll be harder for them to find prospects to satisfy the Rays, but Heliot Ramos, Chris Shaw, Tyler Beede and Christian Arroyo are four names that carry intrigue.
The Giants wouldn't be getting a Stanton-level superstar, but they would be getting a player who fits them better than he would have. Longoria's power and defense would make him a huge upgrade over Pablo Sandoval at third base. He would also bring durability (he's averaged 160 games per year since 2013) to a lineup that struggled to stay healthy in 2017.
1. Boston Red Sox Sign J.D. Martinez
Publicly, Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski neither got mad nor vowed to get even after watching his club's biggest rival reel in the winter's biggest fish.
"In our case, you are trying to build a club to win a world championship already," he told Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. "In that case, you are not only trying to win your division, but trying to have the best club in your league. So, you are already doing everything you can to put the club on the field that you think gives you the best chance to win."
Privately, on the other hand, Dombrowski could be cooking up something big.
After finishing last in the American League with 168 homers in 2017, the Red Sox needed a power bat even before the Yankees traded for Stanton. Heyman reports they're now "seeking a big hitter," be it J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Kyle Schwarber or somebody else.
Martinez is the best they can do. He's averaged a .936 OPS and 32 homers per year since 2014, the year that Dombrowski picked him up off the scrapheap as the GM of the Tigers. This past season, Martinez went yard at a higher rate than Stanton en route to a career-high 45 dingers.
Mega-agent Scott Boras is said to be seeking $200 million for the 30-year-old slugger. That's unlikely, but no team has more incentive to entertain the idea than the Red Sox. That's a gateway to a deal.