Now that the World Series has been over for roughly 72 hours, and every team’s focus shifts to catching up to the world champion Cubs — still sounds crazy, right? — the whole process kicks off Monday with the general manager meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona.
This isn’t the December carnival that the MLB’s winter meetings have morphed into during the past few years, sort of a baseball-palooza that has become more of a made-for-TV event than a bona fide, all-out talent grab. But very often, whatever deals do get done next month, the initial groundwork was discussed at the GM meetings.
It’s a perfect setting for it. All 30 GMs staying on the same hotel campus, with many agents, and occasionally players themselves, circulating there as well. Plus, there’s a few notable dates that usually coincide with this gathering, and Monday marks the deadline for teams to extend qualifying offers to their free agents.
This year, that figure is up to $17.2 million, a significant raise from $15.8 million in 2015. While the system itself has been under attack as unfair to players, who complain that attaching a compensatory pick hurts them in free agency, it’s a tempting one-year option for some. Last year was the first time a player went that route, and three of them did — Matt Wieters, Colby Rasmus and Brett Anderson.
The compensation plan itself certainly will be discussed further as MLB and the union work to draft a new collective bargaining agreement before this one expires Dec. 1. But this late in the offseason, both sides must continue to operate under the current rules. And once a player is given a qualifying offer, he has a week, in this case until Nov. 14, to decide.
That’s not going to have much of an effect at the top of the free-agent market, obviously, and these meetings should be a conversation-starter for the biggest names in a relatively lean group this year. Perhaps the most talked about will be Yoenis Cespedes, who chose Saturday to opt out of the remaining two years, $47.5 million left on his contract.
The Mets, at the very least, get to use the qualifying offer this time with Cespedes, whose previous contract prevented it. But what he might command on the open market remains up for debate. Sandy Alderson & Co. benefited from the slow-play last offseason and got him at a favorable rate on Jan. 26. It’s always possible that teams could be patient again with Cespedes, who turned 31 three weeks ago, but there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t get a deal in the $100-million range this winter after settling on a creative three-year, $75-million contract with the Mets. Beyond Cespedes, teams searching for fence-clearing power will have Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo to choose from.
Two names that may generate the most chatter, however, are Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, especially after a postseason that emphasized the importance of a shutdown bullpen. The Cubs envisioned Friday’s parade when they acquired Chapman from the Yankees in July, and aside from eventually tiring in Game 7 of the World Series — after three extended outings over a four-day stretch — the price tag for a lefty closer that throws 102 mph should blow away Andrew Miller’s four-year, $36-million deal from 2015.
Some other intriguing players are Justin Turner, Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler and Wilson Ramos. It’s hard to fathom that Turner was non-tendered by the Mets after the 2013 season, then went on to hit .296 with an .856 OPS over three years with the Dodgers — including 27 home runs this season. Desmond, a former Nationals shortstop, converted to centerfield in Texas after the market dried up for him and batted .285 with 22 homers on a one-year, $8-million deal.
Fowler was a postseason hero for the Cubs, hitting the first leadoff home run in Game 7 history in addition to playing a stellar centerfield, and he declined his mutual $9-million option with the champs. As for Ramos, his status is tricky. Despite the catcher’s best offensive season (22 HRs, .850 SLG) coming at the perfect time, Ramos tore his ACL on Sept. 26, muddying up what should have been a huge free-agent payday. He’s not expected back until roughly May, which leaves the Nationals on the fence about extending a qualifying offer and potential suitors leery of signing him.
Those situations, and plenty of others, may start to have a little more clarity this week in Scottsdale. Or just deepen the intrigue for next month’s winter meetings.