8 Bold Predictions for the 2020 MLB Winter Meetings
The days of roaming a hotel lobby in search of baseball executives are on hold temporarily, much like many other things in 2020.
Baseball's winter meetings will be held virtually this year, with the coronavirus pandemic preventing thousands of baseball industry executives, scouts, reporters and job seekers from mingling in the bar of a Dallas hotel next month. Instead, the game's key convention will be relegated to a series of socially distant teleconferences from Dec. 7-10.
But that doesn't mean winter meetings will lack the action of years past. Trades will still be made and free agents will be signed. And even if few deals are made, the framework will be laid for transactions in the coming weeks.
Here is a look at some of the top storylines in baseball to predict some moves that could shake up the offseason. It's been an unpredictable year so why not try and speculate about an unpredictable offseason?
Here are eight predictions for the 2020 winter meetings and beyond.
Trevor Bauer Will Sign with the Mets
Trevor Bauer, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, is in need of a new home and the New York Mets are in need of a big arm. Bauer became a free agent this winter when he rejected the Cincinnati Reds' $18.9 million qualifying offer. Although he left the door open for a return, Bauer and his agent, Rachel Luba, seem to have an interest in testing the market. Luba’s Instagram stories have frequently featured fans making pitches for Bauer to go to their team.
The Mets were able to secure a key piece of their rotation when Marcus Stroman accepted a qualifying offer. and they rarely make big moves for key free agents, but it’s a different era in Queens these days. No longer forced to shop in the bargain bin, lifelong fan and new owner Steven Cohen is looking to turn the Amazins’ into contenders right away. Bauer would help do that, teaming with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Stroman to create a dominant rotation. His personality and his pitching seem perfect for a big market like New York, and he already released a YouTube video gushing about Cohen and his management.
Bauer could set the tone for the rest of the offseason. He’s the biggest name on the market, so the dominoes will fall after he signs. But if he doesn’t, then the winter meetings could be pretty uneventful.
So Will J.T. Realmuto
Speaking of the Mets, the club has eyed catcher J.T. Realmuto since Sandy Alderson was in charge of baseball operations. Alderson is back as team president and the interest has not waned.
Realmuto is the best free agent available at the position the Mets most need an upgrade. Possibly the best overall catcher in the game, Realmuto posted splits of .273/.333/.492 with an .825 OPS in two years with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2019, he was named an All-Star, won a gold glove and a silver slugger award. The Mets’ depth at catching is exceptionally thin at the moment with Tomas Nido and Ali Sanchez. After years of rumors, Realmuto to the Mets feels like a foregone conclusion.
Cohen previously said he doesn’t want the team to spend like "drunken sailors" this winter, so maybe the Mets can't go out and get Bauer, Realmuto and outfielder George Springer in free agency, but the Mets have a little more than $20 million to spend with Robinson Cano suspended for the season. No one is quite sure how slow the market will move. Reeling in two big fish like Bauer and Realmuto is a sure way to jumpstart the offseason and the Cohen era. Not to mention, it would intensify their NL East rivalry by significantly weakening a division foe.
George Springer Will Go Home to New England
The best outfielder on the market is another free agent that could work well with the Mets, but the Boston Red Sox seem to check more boxes. Springer has expressed a desire to be closer to Connecticut, where he grew up rooting for the Red Sox and still resides in the offseason, and he has a familiarity with manager Alex Cora, who was his bench coach in Houston. The Red Sox seem to know they can’t endure another season as bad as 2020 and Springer would be a good replacement for free agent center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
However, Springer has also made it known that he wants to win. It’s unclear whether the Red Sox share that desire right now. The Red Sox still need to build depth on their major league roster and in their farm system. But spending on a big-name free agent like Springer would signal to the fanbase that they plan to be competitive again in the near future.
Cubs' Kris Bryant Will Be Traded
It's still unclear whether new Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer will undertake a full rebuild or simply retool, but if it's the former, then third baseman Kris Bryant is as good as gone. Bryant was billed as the savior of the then-moribund franchise when he was drafted out of the University of San Diego in 2013. And he delivered, helping the Cubs win the World Series in 2016. But the three-time All-Star and 2016 NL MVP is coming off of the worst season of his career. He hit a career-low .206 with an OPS of .644 in 131 at-bats in 2020.
The Red Sox reportedly had interest in trading for Bryant over the summer, but the club seems content to keep Rafael Devers at third base. Maybe he's a fit for the New York Yankees if they fail to re-sign DJ LeMahieu, but Bryant seems to make the most sense for the Washington Nationals, who are in win-now mode but have an uncertain infield. The Nats have shown some interest in Bryant already.
Bryant has one year left of team control, which diminishes his trade value since teams would not be guaranteed draft pick compensation if he leaves as a free agent after the 2021 season. So if he is going to be traded, it's more likely he'll be traded to a contending team. He's by far the biggest name on the trade market and the timing of winter meetings makes sense so Hoyer can take decisive action and take advantage of a bad market.
Justin Turner Will Re-Sign with the Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers power-hitting third baseman known is a hometown hero and a fan favorite. Turner played college ball just south of Los Angeles at Cal State Fullerton and grew up in Long Beach listening to Vin Scully. But there are questions as to whether or not or not the relationship between Turner and the Dodgers was strained after he decided to break coronavirus quarantine and celebrate the World Series on the field. Plus, he’s 36 and has missed time with injuries over the last two seasons. It might be time to move in a younger direction to keep the Dodgers under the luxury tax threshold.
However, all signs seem to point to the Dodgers keeping their revered clubhouse leader.
Even at his age, he’s one of the best to play a tough, run-producing position. Plus, since the club will likely slot top prospect Gavin Lux in at second base next season, having Turner around to mentor him would be beneficial. Sure, he may be able to go elsewhere and find more money, but the World Series champs are not afraid to spend money.
They might be willing to go over the luxury tax threshold since they have so much money due to come off the books in 2021, but he might be a hometown discount type of candidate. The Dodgers will sign him early to avoid any further conflict and be able to put the COVID-19 controversy behind them.
The Angels Will Revamp Their Rotation
There may not be another team in baseball that needs a premier starting pitcher like the Los Angeles Angels. Mike Trout has put his faith in a team that has yet to reward him with a playoff run, and that team is wasting his best years. The Angels and new GM Perry Minasian should absolutely throw everything they have at Bauer, but there could be a few consolation prizes if Bauer chooses not to return to his native Southern California.
Realistically, the Texas Rangers are a few years away from being contenders again. Lance Lynn, who will be 34 during the final year of a three-year deal, has been a durable innings-eater for Texas over the last two seasons, leading the league with 292.1 innings pitched. He's also a bargain with $9.3 million left on his contract. Or, maybe they try to reunite free agent right-hander Corey Kluber with the pitching coach that helped shape him into an AL Cy Young Award winner, Mickey Callaway.
Whatever the case may be, it's crucial for the Angels to bring in starting pitching.
Theo Epstein Will Make a Move
Former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey made the decision to step away from the game and spend more time with his children in October, only to do an abrupt about-face and take a job with the Philadelphia 76ers a few days later. Epstein, the architect of the World Series titles that ended curses in Boston in Chicago, recently stepped down from his role as Cubs GM with the intent to take a break and spend time with this family, but the duration of that break is already being questioned.
Former Miami Marlins GM David Samson thinks Epstein, like Realmuto, is bound for the Mets. If he wants to end another curse, going to Flushing is the logical option. But another one is in the commissioner's office. Problems beyond the pandemic plague baseball. Epstein himself brought up the high number of strikeouts and pace of play in his exit press conference. Epstein could help bridge the divide between the front offices, commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark when it comes to future initiatives.
Maybe this isn't something that happens overnight during the actual meetings, but this could be one where a discussion that begins in December leads to an eventual role.
Nothing Will Happen
The theme of the year is uncertainty. The league is mulling over a delayed start date, which could encourage teams to wait out the market. Tensions are high between the league and the MLBPA, and the pandemic has also exposed tensions between the owners and the front office employees who have been furloughed.
Everyone is tightening their belts, except for maybe Cohen and the Mets, so while there could be a lot of talks and some tires kicked in, there is a real possibility that these virtual winter meetings will be as quiet as the hotel bars where they typically take place.