The baseball world returns to Nashville this week — more specifically, the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, the cavernous biodome structure that will house the sport’s winter meetings.
Sixteen years ago, this was the site of a Music City staredown between the Mets and Yankees over Johan Santana, who wound up being traded to Flushing after the heavy lifting was done at the Opryland.
That was one of the last times the New York adversaries went toe-to-toe for a hotly contested A-lister on the offseason market. On this trip to Nashville, however, the long shadow of Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto looms over both clubs, even as their more immediate agendas could otherwise take them in different directions at these meetings.
Unlike Santana, the path to Yamamoto is paved with cash rather than prospects. He was posted by the Orix Buffaloes, and it does not appear that he’ll make his decision until after Nashville, and probably later this month, once he’s trimmed the field of suitors. But his impact could be felt anyway, with Yamamoto potentially holding up the market for elite starting pitchers, especially for two at the top, Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery.
Both are Scott Boras clients — an agent who’s worked the clock to perfection in extracting record deals — and the desperation experienced by clubs that whiff on Yamamoto is likely to overheat the pitching market as a whole. What’s unclear, given the voracious appetite for rotation help around MLB, is whether teams will feel compelled to go for the big score even before Yamamoto picks his destination.
“There is really a frenzy for pitching,” Boras said last month. “I’ve had seven teams tell me they need two [starting] pitchers, let alone one. And there’s some very valuable pitchers in the market, obviously. It’s something that’s going to make a huge difference in a [team’s] championship prospects.”
Oddly enough, the biggest name in that category won’t step on a mound next season but could be the next one off the board: Shohei Ohtani, who’s kept his recruiting process tightly under wraps heading into Nashville.
The two-way star and two-time MVP won’t pitch in 2024 because of September elbow surgery, but that’s not expected to dent what many predict will be a record-breaking payday with a floor of $500 million. ESPN reported Friday that the Dodgers, Cubs, Blue Jays and Angels remain in the bidding for Ohtani and that the Mets, Red Sox and Rangers have “turned their attention to other players.”
Ohtani probably had a good idea where he wanted to go before the season ended, but the only feelings he expressed publicly mostly involved playing for a contender after failing to make the postseason in six years with the Angels. The Dodgers have always been the favorite, partly because they check a number of boxes for him. There also is their uncharacteristic frugality this past year, with only $150 million currently on the books for 2024. That money was put aside for a reason.
Given Ohtani’s stealth negotiating process, there is a suspicion that he could be among the first to move in the coming week. Who follows is anyone’s guess at this point.
The Yankees have been trying to pry Juan Soto from the Padres since the offseason began, but SNY reported Friday that talks between the two clubs had cooled because of San Diego’s excessive prospect demand, which was built around Michael King, the Yankees’ prized reliever-turned-starter.
That’s how negotiating works, of course. And with the Yankees’ urgency for major upgrades this offseason, they’re not going to walk away from the chance to acquire a 25-year-old perennial MVP candidate even if he’s merely a rental for next season. General manager Brian Cashman has the young pitching that the Padres are seeking, and the opportunity to do this deal without including names such as Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez is too tempting to pass up.
Getting the Ohtani and Soto situations resolved would help accelerate the rest of the market in Nashville, but it should be an eventful week in any case, coming after a half-dozen free-agent starters already have signed. Aaron Nola going back to the Phillies on a seven-year, $172 million deal was the headliner, with Sonny Gray (three years/$75M), Kenta Maeda (two years/$24M), Luis Severino (one year/$13M), Kyle Gibson (one year/$13M) and Lance Lynn (one year/$11M) setting the market for the mid-tier group.
But that’s only the appetizer. In addition to Snell and Montgomery, free-agent starters include Eduardo Rodriguez, Lucas Giolito, Marcus Stroman, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo and Mike Clevinger, to name a few. On the trade front, former Cy Young Award winners Corbin Burnes and Shane Bieber are being dangled in discussions along with past vote-getters such as Dylan Cease and Tyler Glasnow.
Up to now, it’s mostly been talk. But once everyone gets under one roof in Nashville, this stuff tends to percolate, with the potential for the winter meetings to take on more of a carnival atmosphere. And this offseason is shaping up that way.