The General Managers’ Meetings this week in Orlando are merely a preamble to the Winter Meetings in December. They are important in that in this day and age, when face-to-face conversations are uncommon, the GMs can begin preliminary talks on potential trades.
A few agents usually show up — usually the major ones — to begin preliminary talks with teams on free agents. These talks aren’t usually in depth, more mainly to gauge which teams have the most interest in their clients.
Scott Boras will likely have a powwow with the media and stress a certain theme and buzz phrase. Boras will be prominent this offseason because he has some of the major players in free agency, including Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, and Greg Holland.
It’ll be interesting to watch how certain teams interact at the GM meetings. Here are the ones that will be the most active in seeking pieces to put themselves in a stronger position to contend:
1. Red Sox — Barring a change of plan, the Red Sox will look to add a major slugger to their lineup. Martinez and Hosmer would be the preferred targets, but if the price is prohibitive, watch for the Sox to drop down to the next tier of free agent hitters — such as switch-hitter Carlos Santana and first baseman/DH Logan Morrison — or explore a deal with the White Sox for first baseman Jose Abreu. By adding a slugger and getting their incumbent hitters to improve, the Sox should score more runs. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr. combined to hit just .238 with only 28 HRs and a .688 OPS after the All-Star break.
2. Cardinals — St. Louis is a proud organization that tries to fill its needs from within, usually with good results. But like the Red Sox, they need a big bat, so expect them to go big on Martinez and also explore a Giancarlo Stanton deal. The Cardinals have the talent to make such a deal, as the Marlins prefer young pitching. The Cardinals might be willing to part with righthanders Sandy Alcantara and/or Jordan Hicks in a package of prospects to make it happen.
3. Orioles — If Baltimore wants to compete in the AL East it must do two things: re-sign Manny Machado and acquire two starting pitchers. Team owner Peter Angelos likes to cite Baltimore’s small market as a reason the Orioles don’t spend like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays. But the team’s needs are obvious and they will cost money; Machado may cost a record amount. He’ll likely hit free agency at the end of next season and the Orioles may not be able to ward that off. If they can’t, they have to seek a package of players in a trade. The pitchers are a must. Arrieta is unlikely to return to the team that traded him to the Cubs, but the Orioles need to be in on Yu Darvish and lesser free agents like Jason Vargas and Lance Lynn.
4. Brewers — Mark Attanasio is a competitive owner who had a winning team in 2017 and wants to reach the next level. There’s been a lot of speculation that his baseball ops department has targeted Arrieta as that No. 1-type starter Milwaukee needs. The Brewers have built themselves up nicely, but they need a big addition to compete with the Cubs and Cardinals in the NL Central.
5. Astros — As good as they were as World Series champions, the Astros need to rebuild their bullpen. They need a closer, and they’re likely to be in on Wade Davis and Holland. They may tweak their DH situation with Carlos Beltran a free agent, perhaps finding a lefthanded complement to Evan Gattis.
6. Yankees — With Masahiro Tanaka staying put, the attention has shifted to a new manager and CC Sabathia, who was not given a qualifying offer. The Yankees want Sabathia back on a two-year deal, at likely half the $25 million salary he’s been earning. Overall, the Yankees could do nothing, or think big. They could give first base to Greg Bird or go for Hosmer, or sign a DH or go huge with Stanton. They have the young pitchers and prospects to make it happen. They would love to dump Jacoby Ellsbury, but would likely have to take on a similar contract.
7. Twins — The small-market Twins may be thinking big this offseason. They had a fine 2017 season and made the playoffs, and now need a No. 1-type pitcher to reach the next level. Joe Mauer’s enormous contract ends after the 2018 season so they are likely able to take on some payroll. GM Thad Levine has a history with Darvish from their Texas days, so it wouldn’t be overly surprising to see the Twins show some interest. Alex Cobb will definitely be on their radar.
8. Giants — They need to solve their offensive issues. They’re likely to be in on some of the top hitters, from Stanton to Martinez to Moustakas to Lorenzo Cain. Martinez would be an ideal fit, and so would Moustakas as Pablo Sandoval is surely not the answer the Giants are looking for at third base. Center field is also a need.
9. Phillies — They will soon start spending big, whether this offseason or next, and they will be tempted to jump in on pitchers Darvish and Arrieta and hitters Martinez and Moustakas. We’ve also linked them with Stanton as they have the prospects and/or young major leaguers the Marlins could bite on. They are also major fans of Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich.
10. Cubs — Theo Epstein bears watching as he tries to improve his pitching. He may pounce on Darvish and Cobb. He also has the resources to pick off someone like Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer in trade, perhaps by dangling Ian Happ. I’ve also said that it wouldn’t be shocking to see Stanton in Epstein’s sights.
11. Mariners — Jerry Dipoto loves to make moves and he knows he’s going to need a bat as Nelson Cruz enters his walk year. Stanton could be a long shot here. Bet you Dipoto at least inquires about him.
12. Blue Jays — They need a hitter and have money to spend. They’re a year away from possibly losing Josh Donaldson, unless they re-up him this offseason. They’ve finally parted ways with Jose Bautista, so they need an outfielder/DH. Free agent Jay Bruce has often been linked to Toronto. We also know they need starting pitching and they may very well dip into the Darvish/Arrieta market.
Apropos of nothing
1. Anyone seen or heard from John Farrell?
2. Yes, that is former Baseball America editor John Manuel now scouting for the Twins. And yes, that’s former big league lefty Wesley Wright now a pro scout with the Twins.
3. Brian Cashman is getting back to the practice of allowing managerial candidates to meet with the media after their interviews. Cashman feels it is important to see how the candidates handle the media, a huge part of the job in New York. Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson and Eric Wedge have interviewed so far.
4. Are Las Vegas and Montreal the next expansion cities for MLB? Lots of potential gambling-theme nicknames for a Vegas team.
5. I don’t get how Jackie Bradley Jr. was left out of Gold Glove consideration. He was a finalist in 2014 and 2016.
6. One of the more underrated offensive players of the year was Seattle’s Nelson Cruz, who hit .288 with 39 homers, 119 RBIs, and a .924 OPS.
7. Jason Varitek is among the honorees for The Sports Museum’s annual Tradition event at TD Garden on Nov. 28. Other honorees are Chris Berman, Dave Cowens, Willie McGinest, Rick Middleton, and Martina Navratilova. Tickets are $300 per person.
8. Speaking of former Red Sox catchers, Rich Gedman, Pawtucket’s hitting instructor, is deserving of the open job as Boston’s bullpen coach. Gedman has paid his dues in the organization, and he knows pitching, catching, and hitting. He’s the one who turned Bryce Brentz into a productive power hitter again by changing his stance and introducing a toe-tap to his swing.
9. If Blake Swihart winds up being a utility player on the Red Sox’ 25-man roster because he’s out of options, there’s a feeling that he wouldn’t do much catching and be used primarily at first base and in the outfield. It would be unfair to Swihart and the pitchers to think he could catch productively without regular reps. In an emergency? Sure. But not as a regular backup.
Updates on nine
1. Shohei Ohtani, P/OF, Nippon Ham Fighters — Huge breakthrough late last week when his Japanese team and MLB came to an agreement that Ohtani can come to the majors via the posting system. The sides will work out a posting fee, but while it once appeared Ohtani’s journey to the big leagues would be delayed, it now appears he’ll be with some team in spring training. Which teams will allow Ohtani to pitch and hit? Ohtani is expected to draw wide-ranging interest, but the team that wins his rights must be willing to let him be a two-way player. That is a huge commitment. The Yankees appear to be the front-runners. And don’t underestimate the Blue Jays.
2. Josh Byrnes, senior vice president of baseball operations, Dodgers — We’re hearing Byrnes’s name as a possible GM candidate in Atlanta. Byrnes has a history with Braves president John Hart from their Cleveland days. The former Red Sox executive and GM of the Diamondbacks and Padres has been looking to run his own team again.
3. Jose Bautista, RF/DH, free agent — Bautista wants to continue playing and feels there’s more left in the tank despite a poor season. Bautista might have to settle for a non-roster invitation to spring training.
4. Albert Abreu, RHP, Yankees — Mixed reviews from scouts and executives on Abreu, 22, from the Arizona Fall League. One side thinks the Yankees will have another top-of-the-rotation starter, in the mold of Luis Severino, in the near future. The other side wonders if Abreu is headed for a bullpen role in the majors. The pro-Abreu folks don’t think the Yankees will have to spend a lot of money on pitching in the future because they have it in their system.
5. Francisco Mejia, C, Indians — We all know how hard it is to find catching, but it appears the Indians have their future backstop in Mejia, who has a great arm and a big-time bat with power. Mejia was also used at third base in the AFL, but his future is clearly as a catcher.
6. Bryce Brentz, OF, Red Sox — Yes, even Brentz was a little taken aback when the Red Sox suddenly put him on the 40-man roster earlier this month after they failed to take advantage of his power in September. According to Dave Dombrowski, former manager John Farrell nixed it because he didn’t think he could guarantee Brentz any at-bats. Now it appears he has a chance to take Chris Young’s role as the fourth outfielder. Brentz is a pretty good outfielder with an above-average arm. The question is, can Brentz deal with sporadic playing time?
7. Dana LeVangie, pitching coach, Red Sox — Obviously, it’s not often a former catcher becomes a pitching coach, but it’s not unprecedented with the Red Sox. Joe Morgan’s pitching coach was the late Mike Rourke, one of the greatest pitching coaches ever and a former catcher. Also, Dave Duncan is regarded as one of the best pitching coaches of all time and he was a catcher.
8. Brandon Kintzler, RHP, free agent — Kintzler will be an interesting choice for teams looking for a back-end reliever, such as the Astros. But he could end up back with the Twins, who unwisely dealt him to the Nationals at the trading deadline. The Twins are looking for a front-line starter and a front-line reliever.
9. Marcell Ozuna, LF, Marlins — Ozuna has become a possible trade target for the A’s, according to a report by Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. The A’s have a strong young nucleus and now need to fill in with established, controllable stars. Given that the Marlins may not be able to deal the $295 million left on Giancarlo Stanton’s contract, they would then have to entertain dealing Ozuna or center fielder Christian Yelich.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Over the last three seasons, there have been about the same amount of stolen bases (in 2015: 2,505; 2016: 2,537; 2017: 2,527). But in 2017, only 934 runners were caught stealing, the lowest total since 1968, when 931 were nabbed.” Also, “Over the last three seasons, Eric Hosmer has played 10 games at Fenway Park and hit .325 with one HR, his only XBH in 45 PA. From 2015-17, he’s hit .280 against the AL East with 12 HRs in 104 games.” . . . Happy birthday to Rey Quinones (54) and Ike Delock (88) on Saturday and Wade Miley (31) on Monday.