Bold Predictions for the MLB Winter Meetings
Although the frenzy of free agency has turned into a wait-until-February subject, Major League Baseball's winter meetings are a source of trades, rumors and more.
This year, executives will convene in San Diego from Monday through Thursday for the annual convention. Fans and most media, however, are largely interested in the transactions that can emerge from having general managers and agents in one place.
And unlike the last two years, it seems there is real potential for a blockbuster deal or marquee free-agent signing.
What might happen during the 2019 winter meetings? Bleacher Report is taking a carefully considered crack at some predictions.
Cubs Trade for Whit Merrifield
Throw on Chicago sports radio for Cubs talk and you'll regularly hear complaints about the lack of a leadoff hitter since Dexter Fowler joined the rival St. Louis Cardinals after the 2016 season in which he had an .840 OPS.
It's all completely justified, too.
Last season, the Cubs' leadoff hitters posted a miserable combined .212 average and .294 on-base percentage. For a club with World Series dreams and superstars Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo deeper in the lineup, that's simply unacceptable.
Whit Merrifield could eliminate those problems. Though he'll be 31 next season, he has a team-friendly contract ($16.25 million through 2023, per Spotrac) and a .303 average with a .358 OBP over the last two years. Plus, he can play second base and as a corner outfielder.
Plenty of fans on the North Side are optimistic about Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner, but Merrifield is the best answer right now. He's worth the price, especially if the Royals are interested in Kyle Schwarber, a power bat but a poor defender.
Blake Treinen Heads to New York—but Not the Yankees
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the Oakland Athletics were looking to shed Blake Treinen's salary, and he was correct. The team decided not to offer a contract and turned him loose in free agency.
The 2018 All-Star might not need to wait long to sign a deal.
That's partly because the New York Mets may be desperate to upgrade their pitching staff. Their bullpen posted the MLB's sixth-worst ERA last season. And after watching lefties Will Smith and Drew Pomeranz sign elsewhere while losing Zack Wheeler to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Mets are running thin on options.
Like current Mets closer Edwin Diaz, Treinen followed a superb 2018 with a mediocre-to-bad 2019. But if he signs a deal and both players bounce back, New York could have a terrific combination at the end of games next season.
White Sox Snag Dallas Keuchel
Dallas Keuchel served an important role for the Atlanta Braves in 2019 as the veteran leader of a young rotation. Why not do the same for the Chicago White Sox next season?
Chicago may enter 2020 with Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopech in rotation spots. While an enticing group, that staff would benefit from the reliable presence Keuchel can provide. He posted a 3.75 ERA in 112.2 innings with Atlanta.
And he won't break the bank, either.
The White Sox offered $120 million for Zack Wheeler, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, so they have money to spend. Gerrit Cole is the dream addition, but securing Keuchel for three seasons with an average annual value in the neighborhood of $15 million is reasonable.
Given the youthful talent on this roster, Chicago is ready to contend. But that won't happen without an improved pitching staff.
Yankees Add Hyun-Jin Ryu
Similar to the White Sox, the New York Yankees are eyeing Cole. He is, without question, the grand free-agency prize.
Yes, the organization hasn't actually spent as much as its reputation suggests in recent years. The Yankees recently met with Cole, and according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, "the dollars will be there." The issue, though, is they believe Cole prefers Los Angeles to New York.
As top starting pitchers steadily sign—Wheeler to Philly, Cole Hamels to Atlanta—the Yankees don't have a lot of time to waste. If it's clear Cole won't sign, they should move on quickly.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, meanwhile, hasn't attracted much attention this offseason despite a 2.21 ERA in 265 innings over the last two years. Although the 32-year-old may seem like a consolation prize to Yankees fans, he would still be a quality addition to the rotation.
Braves Make It Rain 1 More Time
No organization has been busier than the Atlanta Braves, who have re-signed Chris Martin, Darren O'Day and Nick Markakis while adding Will Smith, Travis d'Arnaud and Cole Hamels.
Finally, it appears ownership is truly invested from a financial standpoint. But the Braves aren't done already, right?
Although they've been linked to Madison Bumgarner, adding Hamels—a veteran lefty—suggests MadBum to Atlanta isn't happening. While the rotation needs a fifth starter, the Braves will probably first look to Sean Newcomb or a minor leaguer to fill the void. Doing so would allow Atlanta to focus on the vacancy at third base.
Josh Donaldson thrived during his one-year contract and the 33-year-old is likely seeking a long-term deal. That's a risky proposition for Atlanta, even if it has Austin Riley as the potential future at the position.
The recent signings say the Braves are aiming for a title. You chase one with Donaldson, not Riley and Johan Camargo.
Atlanta definitely won't pay for Anthony Rendon, and the Cincinnati Reds already swiped Mike Moustakas, the perceived backup plan. At this point, the Braves can't afford to let Donaldson walk. Otherwise, their busy offseason won't be as meaningful.
Twins Reel In Bumgarner
Let's make it simple: With respect to the pitching market, the Minnesota Twins cannot strike out.
The Yankees swept the Twins in the American League Division Series, scoring 23 runs during the three-game set. Although blame fell on both starters and relievers, Minnesota simply didn't have the pitching depth to truly compete with New York.
Madison Bumgarner, who the Twins unsuccessfully targeted on the trade market throughout 2019, is now freely available.
But the longer Minnesota waits, the more expensive he'll get. The Twins' failed pursuit of Wheeler should only hasten the chase. Bumgarner isn't the World Series-dominating ace he once was, yet his 3.90 ERA over 207.2 innings for a San Francisco Giants team that rarely provided run support still qualifies as a solid year.
Minnesota's glaring need for another starter ought to outweigh the risk of a long-term deal for Bumgarner.
Nationals Hang On to Stephen Strasburg
After winning the 2019 World Series MVP, Stephen Strasburg elected to decline his player option for the final four years and $100 million of his deal and enter free agency.
But that's all business.
Strasburg has earned a raise, and Washington should have no issues providing it. The 31-year-old has been the centerpiece of the organization for a decade and isn't showing signs of regressing anytime soon.
On the negative side, the Nationals—if they're not careful—face the possibility of losing both Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. That would be absolutely crushing for an organization currently standing atop the precarious MLB mountain.
Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported Strasburg met with the New York Yankees. That's a reason for concern. But the Nationals shouldn't let that New York checkbook delay the inevitable as they look to re-sign their ace.