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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

MLB’s GM meetings: Burning questions for the hot stove season

Baseball’s GM meetings kick off Monday in New York to officially begin the offseason, which should involve Shohei Otani, Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees next manager and the inclusion of a pitch clock.

Japan's Shohei Ohtani reacts after hitting a solo

Japan's Shohei Ohtani reacts after hitting a solo home run off Netherlands  starter Jair Jurrjens at Tokyo Dome on   Nov. 12, 2016. Photo Credit: AP / Koji Sasahara

ORLANDO

Not to be confused with Major League Baseball’s winter meetings, the annual industrywide extravaganza that takes place in December, the lower-profile gathering of the sport’s general managers kicks off Monday at the Waldorf Astoria here and serves as the unofficial start to the offseason.

With team executives scheduled to huddle a month later anyway, it wasn’t all that long ago that the GM meetings had sort of faded from the spotlight. But the appetite for baseball news is insatiable, so why not crank up the machinery as early and as often as possible? At the midpoint of the conclusion of the World Series and the start of the Thanksgiving holiday, these meetings can provide the opportunity to lay the groundwork for future trades and open preliminary free-agent discussions involving their reps and interested teams.

With everyone lining up and the starter’s pistol about to go off, we figured this would be a good time to touch on a few of the more pertinent offseason topics, even if their resolution is sure to stretch beyond this week’s session (the owners will meet in Orlando on Wednesday and Thursday). Here’s the list:

SO WHERE IS SHOHEI OTANI HEADING?

In a broad sense, almost certainly to play in the States, with his NPB team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, announcing Friday that they indeed will post Otani to allow him to sign with an MLB club. The Fighters are honoring an agreement they had with Otani as a condition for initially signing the two-way Japanese star, even though the future of the posting system itself remains murky at the moment. Both sides have been operating under the assumption that Otani would be grandfathered in by the old rules — any MLB team can pay a flat $20-million posting fee to the Fighters to negotiate with Otani — before they change again. That way, at least the Fighters are compensated and Otani gets his dream shot at the majors, albeit on the cheap because of the new collective-bargaining agreement.

Because Otani is only 23, two years below the cutoff age, he’s limited to the signing money that a team has available in its international bonus pool, and that’s not very much. According to The Associated Press, the Rangers have the most, at $3.535 million, followed by the Yankees ($3.25M) and Twins ($3.245). Because of that, this won’t be a bidding war for Otani, and we anticipate him considering the usual big-market spots before settling on the Yankees, based on their quick return to promin ence, their success with other Japanese megastars and, of course, their brand name.

And for the teams left out in the Otani sweepstakes . . .

A few other Japanese pitchers are drawing interest this offseason, just not on Otani’s level, and the NPB deadline to decide on filing for free agency is Tuesday. Orix’s Yoshihisa Hirano and Seibu’s Kazuhisa Makita could be helpful bullpen pickups at reasonable prices, and Chiba Lotte’s Hideaki Wakui could vie for a starting job in the States.

Hirano, a 33-year-old righthander, had a 2.67 ERA and a 7.4 K/9 ratio in 58 appearances for Orix. Makita, also a 33-year-old righthander, had a 2.59 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP in 58 appearances. Wakui, 31, is a former Sawamura Award winner (the NPB’s Cy Young Award), but the righthander was 5-11 with a 3.99 ERA in 25 starts for last-place Chiba Lotte last season.

IS GIANCARLO STANTON LEAVING SOUTH BEACH?

It certainly appears that way, with the Marlins’ new CEO — Derek Jeter — aiming to slash payroll for 2018 and Stanton scheduled to be cashing the biggest checks from now through the 2027 season.

Stanton is the game’s most lethal power threat, coming off his 59-homer season, but his salary jumps to $25 million for next season and he’s still owed $250 million of the 13-year, $325-million contract he signed in 2014. As the Miami Herald pointed out this past week, that monster deal — the richest in the history of North American sports — incredibly included incentive clauses, too, for being an All-Star and winning the Silver Slugger, a combo that netted him an additional $100,000. If he’s named the NL MVP this week, he’ll get another $100,000.

With all that cash, however, the question becomes which team will be willing to take on that contract — and how much of it the Marlins would agree to swallow to facilitate the move. Two teams that reportedly could be in the running are the Cardinals and Stanton’s hometown team, the Angels, but he has a no-trade clause that will complicate any negotiation. Those looking for someone more affordable to pluck from the South Beach fire sale could ask for second baseman Dee Gordon, who is due a guaranteed $38.9 million through 2020.

IS SOME TEAM REALLY GOING TO SCORE THE NEXT A.J. HINCH?

The manager of the newly crowned 2017 World Series champion Astros has become like the super-popular, must-have holiday toy this winter. But because there’s only one, teams are trying to come up with their own knockoff version, or at least an outside-the-box facsimile, as we saw during this latest round of managerial hires.

True, the Tigers did appoint 59-year-old Ron Gardenhire, who comes to the Detroit job after 13 years (and 1,068 wins) as the Twins’ skipper. But the Red Sox grabbed former Met Alex Cora, 42, recently the Astros’ bench coach, despite his lack of managing experience at any level, other than the Puerto Rican winter league. The Mets hired Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway, 42; the Phillies named Gabe Kapler, 42, who most recently was in the Dodgers’ player development system, and the Nationals tabbed former Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, 53.

The buzzwords for every hire? Communication and analytics, two themes also showing up in the Yankees’ ongoing search after this past week’s interviews with two candidates, Rob Thomson and Eric Wedge. Brian Cashman hasn’t put a timeline on the hiring process, but the Yankees seem to be at least another week away and could take longer.

ARE WE FINALLY GETTING A PITCH CLOCK?

Yes, the time is right for commissioner Rob Manfred to push for the pace-of-play initiatives he couldn’t get past the union a year ago, so you’re going to be hearing a lot about his plans to speed things up on the field. Manfred has no choice, really. The average length of a nine-inning game last season was 3 hours, 5 minutes — up from 3:00 in 2016 and 2:56 in 2015 — and it’s not as if MLB is going to start trimming the commercials. Look for the 20-second pitch clock, or some version of it, to either be agreed upon or unilaterally imposed by Manfred, who has the power to do so through the collective-bargaining agreement. While he’s at it, maybe he’ll even try to limit mound visits.

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