Technology has changed baseball’s winter meetings. It used to be more of a social event, with baseball’s front offices gathering in one place, fostering plenty of face-to-face negotiations. Now, texting and email has allowed executives to remain mostly sequestered in their respective war rooms. Nevertheless, plenty of deals should get done this week in Nashville.
Here are five questions going into the winter meetings:
1. Are the Mets going to land Ben Zobrist?
The Mets have put the full-court press on Zobrist, who has emerged as their top priority in the offseason despite the fact that he’ll be 35 by Opening Day. His defensive versatility and plate approach make him enough of a fit that the Mets are willing to extend a four-year deal to sign him. It’s an acknowledgment of the stiff competition that the Mets are facing for his services. The Giants, Dodgers and Nationals have all reportedly been in the mix. This week, general manager Sandy Alderson led a contingent of Mets officials to spend the day showing Zobrist around New York as part of an effort to recruit him. A decision could come during the winter meetings in Nashville, where Zobrist lives during the offseason. The Mets are also in search of outfield help and a bullpen arm. But don’t expect any significant movement on other fronts until the Zobrist situation gets resolved.
2. How will the Yankees find a way to acquire a controllable young arm?
Executives around the game, including Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, have said that trade chatter has been more active than usual this winter. Perhaps, the Yankees can turn some of that talk into action by landing a controllable arm for the starting rotation. The Braves, for instance, are said to be open to dealing right-hander Shelby Miller. (And it’s worth noting that the clubs have done business in recent years). But finding a deal won’t be easy. Cashman has said he’s willing to entertain any trade to make the team better, triggering speculation around trading away Andrew Miller or Brett Gardner. But barring a blockbuster, it’s difficult to envision either player being moved. Meanwhile, the Yankees have shown little appetite for moving some of the recent graduates from their farm system such as Greg Bird or Luis Severino. Of course, the Yankees could be motivated to be more aggressive on the trade market since they’ve shown little willingness to make a splash in free agency.
3. How will the rest of the free agent arms fare?
Within the space of a week, the rest of baseball watched as the Red Sox and Diamondbacks (yes, the Diamondbacks) doled out two of the most lucrative pitching deals of all time. The Red Sox inked David Price to a seven-year, $217-million deal, the richest total deal for any pitcher of all time. But the Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke for six years, $206 million, giving him an average annual value of $34.3 million, eclipsing the record $31 million per year that Price will earn. With the two biggest arms off the board, a relatively deep second-tier of pitching options figure to be the next to go. The group includes the likes of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. But the price of pitching could also lead to some high-profile pitching trades. (It’s worth noting that the Mets reiterated this week that don’t intend to move any of their arms, though it’s clear that any of them would be highly coveted in this market).
4. Who will be the first bat to fall?
The pitching market has seen big movement, with Price, Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann coming off the board. But the premier bats on the free agent market remain unsigned. That should begin to change shortly. Outfielder Jason Heyward doesn’t profile as a prototypical middle-of-the-order bat, but he should fetch a monster deal, an acknowledgment of the game’s improved ability to accurately evaluate a player’s contributions on offense. Alex Gordon presents a similar skill set. Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Davis bring plenty of pop and are available. The crop also includes Justin Upton. Indeed, the position player market has taken a back seat to the pitchers. But the winter meetings should quicken the pace.
5. What will the silver medalists do?
The Dodgers spent more than $300 million on a roster that fell in five games to the Mets in the first round of the playoffs. Now, they face increased pressure to improve their team, especially after they were outbid by the Diamondbacks for Greinke. The Giants and Cardinals could fall in the same boat as well. The Giants had been linked to Greinke and the Cardinals to Price. Both left empty-handed, meaning they should have the resources to channel toward making another big move. The Red Sox have essentially filled their needs for the offseason and the Yankees don’t spend like the Yankees of old. But as the Diamondbacks proved this week, it’s always possible that there’s another team laying in the weeds, waiting to make a splash.