By: Chris Larson
The Winter Meetings have officially concluded for 2019 and that means that Spring Training is rapidly approaching. Surely that is terrific news for all of the baseball diehards out there, but it also means that there is still a lot of Hot Stove business to take care of for all thirty teams across baseball. Sure, some teams have taken care of business, but many of those teams are far from done for the offseason. In addition, there are another group of teams that have yet to address their needs this offseason and have a full agenda ahead of them over the next two months leading up to Spring Training.
With that being said, every year the Winter Meetings typically have a theme and this year's theme was gathered the Sunday before the meetings started. As Scott Boras said himself, the title for last year's Winter Meetings was "Slow Burn." However, Boras accurately predicted the title for this year's Winter Meetings which was "Fast and Furious." Fast and Furious it was as there was a lot of money spent, aggression being shown by a multitude of different teams on various fronts, and a much different storyline from the past few years. In fact, this year's Winter Meetings revitalized the game of baseball in a sense and brought about a whole new level of excitement for the casual and diehard fans alike.
Here are five key takeaways from this year's Winter Meetings and what each thing could mean for the remainder of the offseason leading up to Spring Training and Opening Day.
1. Scott Boras Megalodon Extravaganza - The Winter Meetings treated agent, Scott Boras very nicely as Boras came to contractual terms with three of the free agents that he represents over the last three days. Prior to the start of the Winter Meetings, Boras helped to negotiate the Cincinnati Red's four-year, $64 million dollar deal with free agent third baseman, Mike Moustakas and continued in grand fashion over the last three days. It all started on Monday when Boras reunited free agent right-hander, Stephen Strasburg with the Washington Nationals on a seven-year, $245 million dollar deal. Then, things picked up steam big time as Scott Boras helped to negotiate the record-breaking nine-year, $324 million dollar deal for free agent Gerrit Cole with the New York Yankees. Following that, Scott Boras didn't stop and stood by his word as he negotiated a deal worth seven-years and $245 million dollars for free agent third baseman, Anthony Rendon with the Los Angeles Angels. When you combine all four of those deals together, it comes out to ($878) million dollars and considering that Scott Boras has three remaining prominent free agents left in: outfielder Nicholas Castellanos and left-handers Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel, that amount is expected to surpass one-billion dollars before the offseason is said and done.
Looking ahead, this takeaway helps illustrate the point that teams are willing to invest significant dollars into upgrades for their team this offseason and aren't shying away from signing free agents to record-breaking deals like they might have over the past few offseasons. As agents noted during the Winter Meetings, more teams are being aggressive and putting big offers out on the table compared to the last few offseasons and that could mean that this might end up being one of the best Hot Stove Seasons in a while. It's a great sign for the game that teams are willing to invest this kind of money, willing to consider any and all free agent options, and that they are staying aggressive in trying to field a competitive team.
2. Pitching, Pitching, Pitching - Every offseason, it seems like pitching is a key focal point for many different teams, but this offseason that seems to be the point for nearly half of the league. There are a number of contending teams from last season as well as teams that are on the periphery towards being contenders again that are in the marketplace for pitching. Whether that be in free agency or the trade market, for a frontline starter or someone to fill a middle-to-back end of the rotation spot, or someone to compliment an already stellar piece of their starting rotation - teams are scouring the marketplace for all of those options and really ramped up their efforts in San Diego at the Winter Meetings. Throughout the Winter Meetings, there was plenty of chatter surrounding the two big fish free agents in Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole at the top of the market, prior to them signing with their respective teams, and the chatter carried over to three prominent options in the second tier of the free agent starting pitching class in the aforementioned Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel as well as Madison Bumgarner. All three of those pitchers are getting a lot of attention in the marketplace right now, but if you had to pick one that is receiving the most interest it would be left-hander, Hyun-Jin Ryu who is garnering interest from his former team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as the Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and Chicago White Sox to a lesser extent. Every single one of those teams could use a starting pitching upgrade in the form of Ryu, but it's a matter of trying to find a deal that works for both parties.
From this takeaway, it is easy to interpret that the main storyline for the remainder of the offseason will be pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Teams have come to the realization that having a solid starting rotation is important again after a few seasons where teams were building their pitching staff from the back to the front. That trend really started after the Kansas City Royals won the World Series following the 2015 regular season, but now it seems that starting pitching is being valued like it used to be. With some teams such as the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, and Minnesota Twins still having a need to add multiple impact starting pitchers this offseason, this is one storyline that won't be going away until probably Opening Day.
3. Changing Competitive Landscape - Besides Scott Boras ruling the roost and pitching dominating everything at the Winter Meetings, another key takeaway is the idea of a changing landscape of competitiveness around the league. Before the Winter Meetings started, the Cincinnati Reds made the aforementioned free agent signing of third baseman, Mike Moustakas pushing their payroll to a record territory. Furthermore, the Chicago White Sox signed free agent catcher, Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $72 million dollar deal - the largest free agent contract in franchise history. Meanwhile, during the Winter Meetings teams like the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels were very aggressive on the free agent front and stayed in hot pursuit of the big fish on the market until the very end. For the Rangers, those pursuits haven't brought anything to fruition quite yet, but the Los Angeles Angels came away with a significant deal with aforementioned third baseman, Anthony Rendon as previously noted above. Therefore, the biggest takeaway from these four teams is the idea that they feel as though a new competitive window is opening and that there is a legitimate shot for them to compete in their respective divisions for the number one spot. On the other hand, there are teams like the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox who have been competitive over the last few seasons, looking to trim down their payroll and potentially start retooling or rebuilding in some regard. All of this illustrates the point that the competitive cycle doesn't carry on forever and that eventually every team enters a period where they must face reality and start making tough decisions about the future.
Carrying forward into the remainder of this offseason, it's going to be interesting to continue to monitor the aggressiveness of the four teams mentioned above and to see what the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox will ultimately end up doing. There has certainly been a lot of chatter around both the Cubs and Red Sox will various deals prior to and during the Winter Meetings, but nothing has come to fruition quite yet. On the other end of the spectrum, the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and Los Angeles Angels are all still looking for upgrades to their team in one form or another. Whether those upgrades come in big or small fashion remains to be seen, but three of those teams have already made quite a splash this offseason. However, all of those teams could still make yet another splash and the Texas Rangers could make a splash or two as well.
4. Third Base and Outfield Markets - The catching market seemed to dominate the headlines for quite a period of time so far this offseason, but that seems to be changing as the offseason progresses forward. Outside of pitching, many teams were focused on the third base and outfield markets as well during the Winter Meetings and will be for the remainder of this offseason. In free agency, Josh Donaldson represents the biggest upgrade at the hot corner, while there are other options available via trade including: Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs, potentially Kyle Seager of the Seattle Mariners according to a report tonight by Ken Rosenthal, and to a lesser degree Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies. Miguel Andujar of the New York Yankees might potentially be another option available on the trade market for the right price. Of those four individuals, the easiest to acquire would probably be Kris Bryant followed by Miguel Andujar. Nolan Arenado has two-years remaining before he can opt-out of his current deal and will earn ($35) million dollars each season. In addition, Arenado has a full no-trade clause as part of his current deal which could definitely complicate negotiations between the Colorado Rockies and other interested teams. On the other hand, Kyle Seager is under control for two more seasons and will earn ($38.5) million dollars total over those two seasons. Seager's contract also includes a ($15) million dollar team option which could potentially increase to ($20) million or a team buyout ranging between ($0-$3) million dollars for the 2022 regular season. Regardless of the complicated terms for Arenado and Seager, the hot corner is an area that many teams are looking to upgrade.
In addition to the third base market, the outfield market has also generated a lot of chatter among a number of different teams around baseball. Free agent outfielder, Marcell Ozuna as well as the aforementioned Nicholas Castellanos are the two primary names generating the most buzz throughout the game. Following the signing of Mike Moustakas with the Cincinnati Reds, the price point for Nicholas Castellanos reportedly skyrocketed to the point that it took one interested team, the Miami Marlins, out of the derby for his services. There are definitely other fits around the league including the: San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, and San Diego Padres. Many of the same teams are interested in Marcell Ozuna as well, but another name to watch is centerfielder, Shogo Akiyama who was recently posted here in the United States after playing in the Japanese League for the last nine years. Akiyama is drawing interest from the aforementioned Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs as well as the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays. According to reports, Shogo Akiyama is seeking an Average Annual Value (AAV) of approximately ($5) million dollars so he could be a very affordable option for a team looking for an impactful upgrade in centerfield.
Over the course of the remainder of the offseason, it's going to be fascinating to watch how both of these markets end up developing and seeing which players ultimately land with which teams across baseball. If a team doesn't like a particular option in free agency or vice versa, they could get very aggressive as they pursue upgrades in the other market. For example, if the Atlanta Braves want to upgrade at third base but don't feel as though they are making headway with free agent Josh Donaldson, then they might become very aggressive and put together an enticing enough package to pry away Chicago Cubs third baseman, Kris Bryant. The same can be said for the Cincinnati Reds in their pursuit of an outfield bat. If Cincinnati feels as though the price of Nicholas Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna might be a little too high for their liking, then they might turn to a potential trade and pursue Starling Marte of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Mitch Haniger of the Seattle Mariners, or even one of the New York Mets outfielders as an alternative.
5. Twenty-Sixth Man Effect - During the Winter Meetings, there was a lot of mention about how teams will have an additional roster spot heading into the 2020 season and which players teams might have occupy that twenty-sixth spot of their roster. In many cases, most teams are likely going to carry fourteen pitchers and twelve position players, but it's also a situation that remains very fluid for a number of different organizations. During the season, there could be various situations where a team might need an additional pitcher during a particular series because their pitching staff and/or bullpen is taxed from too much overload. As a result, organizations might utilize that twenty-sixth spot of their roster to taxi a starting pitcher or reliever from Triple-A or even Double-A as a means of helping the team in the short-term. Additionally, there might be a time where a team feels as though they need extra offense heading into a series which means that if one of their pitchers can be sent down to the minor leagues via an option, that it could potentially happen. Depending on various matchups and the strength of the opponent, will greatly influence exactly how that works from a position player standpoint. Beyond that, some teams might even view the twenty-sixth spot as a more of a utility spot where they can utilize a player that can play multiple positions, someone that can be used late in the game, or even play a particular position when one of their starters needs a day off. Either way, it's going to benefit teams greatly and will allow them to preserve the health of many of their players to a greater degree.
Throughout the remainder of the offseason, it will be fascinating to see the strategy of some teams as they put together their plan for the 2020 season with this additional roster spot in mind. Some organizations might potentially use a player that they selected in today's Rule 5 Draft to help towards that cause or they might utilize a piece they received in a trade with another team. Better yet, the twenty-sixth man might be someone that is already within a team's farm system and is a prospect that is up-and-coming. There are a number of different ways this roster spot can be used and only time will tell exactly how every team will use it to their own advantage.