NATIONAL HARBOR – (Wire Service Report) – Now that the new collective bargaining agreement is set, major league baseball can turn to the real business of winter — stocking, restocking and de-stocking as teams turn toward to the 2017 season.
Some teams will step up.
Some will step into the future.
There will be many more near-deals than deals, although with all 30 teams in their hotel rooms/nerve centers at the Gaylord National Harbor hotel rooms on the Potomac River and myriad agents available, the opportunities for business are substantial. Sometimes things do not get serious until the big dominos fall.
Sometimes value is found early, and the big dominos are all that is left.
A couple of things are certain:
Scott Boras will hold his annual state-of-his-clients press conference in a Gaylord hallway. Standing room only … if you can find him.
And if you hear the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” on the telephone ringer, Cincinnati exec Kevin Towers is nearby.
Five teams to watch
Chicago White Sox
In left-hander Chris Sale, the Sox have one of the most-sought trade piece available. Sale, 27, has won 70 games with a 3.04 ERA and averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings in a hitter’s park in the last five seasons and is owed only $36 million including two team options through 2019. The White Sox have not had much success catching Cleveland, Kansas City and Detroit in the AL Central despite spending big the last two winters, and there is a sense in the industry that they will try a different path. Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera and closer David Robertson could be available, and closers will be in demand.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays seem to grow young pitching and they have plenty with which to wheel and deal in D.C. Only Minnesota had fewer than the Rays’ 68 victories last year, a down year that was shared statistically by ace right-hander Chris Archer. With lefty Blake Snell posted to join the rotation full-time, the Rays have the arms to swap for an offense that was 14th in league in runs and on-base percentage despite a career year from Evan Longoria, who is owed $107 million through 2023. And if the Rays really wanted to make a splash … Longoria has been linked to the Dodgers in speculation.
Boston Red Sox
Like track records? Franchise builder Dave Dombrowski has used the winter meetings to make a splash for a decade, dating to the 2007 deal in which he acquired Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for Detroit at the cost of Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin and three others. He knows the art of the deal, landing Max Scherzer (2009) Ian Kinsler (2013), Yoenis Cespedes (2014) and David Price and Craig Kimbrel in his first season in Boston last winter. The Red Sox are stocked with young talent at the major league level, but a bat to replace David Ortiz would help, and the Sox have system to consider a move.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have built with a purpose the last few years, rebuffing repeated requests to part with top pitching prospect Julio Urias and other up-and-comers. Their situation is a little different this winter with the (at least temporary) loss of free agents Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill, which leave big holes in the bullpen, third base and the rotation. Major league baseball reportedly has told the Dodgers to reign in spending in order to accommodate the league rule on debt to cash on hand ratio regarding new ownership. Urias will join the rotation this year, but the Dodgers have a host of other young talent indulging Cody Bellinger, Alex Verdugo, Willie Calhoun and Jose De Leon. The Dodgers’ front office prizes the young, controllable set, but is this the winter they trade the kids for someone such as Chris Sale or Chris Archer? Stay tuned.
After busting a 108-year curse, the Cubs could be excused for taking a few deep breaths. They won’t, of course. The Cubs have a hole at closer, and after the success of now-free agent closer Aroldis Chapman could decide former closer Hector Rondon is not the answer there. The Cubs also could be proactive in addressing a rotation in which both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will become free agents after 2017. They have an excess of young outfielders in Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, and Schwarber particularly appears to be a star-in-waiting as evidenced by his World Series contributions while returning from a broken leg.
Five players to watch
Closer Kenley Jansen. The Giants have stated their desire to add a closer after their bullpen struggled down the stretch and in the NLDS against the Cubs, and they have money to spend on Jansen or Aroldis Chapman, the most expensive of the free agent crew. The Dodgers would welcome a reunion at the right price, but as in the case of free agent Zack Greinke last winter, they are not likely to make the final offer. Miami has been mentioned as landing point, a move that would not only reunite Jansen with former manager Don Mattingly but also would bring him closer to his home in Curacao.
OF/1B Mark Trumbo. He found a perfect fit in Baltimore last season, where his power played to the tune of a major league-leading 47 homers in 2016. Trumbo has always hit in the American League, including a short stay in Seattle. Colorado, which has a hole at first base, is said to exploring the possibility, but the AL seems a better bet.
3B Justin Turner. The best third baseman on the open market, Turner hit his stride in his native Southern California after being nontendered by the New York Mets three years ago, At the same time, the market on him seems undefined. Turner will play this season at 32, and the back of his baseball card in not particularly eye-catching until the last two seasons, when he took advantage of an opening and seized the Dodgers’ third base job. Some are projecting it will take five years to sign Turner, and it will be instructive to see how far teams are willing to go on Turner, who had 27 homers and was far above average defensively in his contract year.
Closer Mark Melancon. He generally considered the third of the three top free agents closers available, but why? Melancon does not have the power arm of Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, but he has the success. He has 33, 51 and 47 saves with a 1.93 ERA the last three seasons, all but two months with Pittsburgh, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is strong believer in his mental makeup. Melancon throws strikes, and his strong ground-ball rate makes him a fit in any park. He may not be as sexy as the other free agents, but he may be the best fit and the best value. The Giants made a play for him at the 2016 trade deadline.
CF Dexter Fowler. The Orioles’ three-year, $33 million deal with Fowler last winter fell apart when the language on an opt-out provision could not be ironed out, leaving Fowler as an $8 million fallback option that the Cubs jumped on late in spring training. Fowler had a sparkling year with a career-high 126 OPS+, and he also played at career-best levels defensively after a simple adjustment to play a little deeper in center. He will play next season at 31 and should earn much more than the $11 million he was in line for last year. St. Louis needs a center fielder, and Washington could be a landing spot.