Winter Meetings Preview: Mets, Yankees lead teams to watch

Rich Hill, a 36-year old lefthander with a history of injuries, including recurring blister problems, is the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market. Which is another way of saying that teams in need of pitching need to get creative this off-season.

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Rich Hill is the best of a weak crop of free-agent pitchers.

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

And that brings us to the Winter Meetings, which begin in Maryland on Monday. Long a showcase for free agent-signings, baseball’s off-season extravaganza this time could be a setting for blockbuster trades to make the biggest splash.

Is a team willing to meet the White Sox pricey demands for Chris Sale?

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Chris Archer of the Rays could be another pitcher on the move for the right price.

(Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Which team will put together a package for Chris Archer?

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Are the Tigers serious about dealing Justin Verlander as part of a plan to reduce payroll?

What would it take for the Diamondbacks to trade Zack Greinke and get out from under his huge contract?

The availability, or at least the potential availability of such No. 1 starters makes for great intrigue at these Winter Meetings. As always, there are plenty of teams looking for high-end starting pitching, and some this winter that could very well feel they’re just an ace away from winning a championship.

But in an era when prospects are valued more highly than ever, it seems, are any of them willing to raid their farm systems to make such a deal?

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The trade possibilities help make up for what is a weak free-agent class whose most dynamic player, Yoenis Cespedes, is off the market.

Nevertheless, the bidding for the top closers, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon, could make for some great drama. As will the pursuit of sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, and Jose Bautista.

So as the Winter Meetings begin, here are the 10 teams, including our locals, that should be most interesting to watch.

YANKEES

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They always have everyone guessing, waiting for the big splash, even after two winters of relative inactivity. Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman are committed to their rebuild, which is why they won’t unload the farm system for Sale, but they’re also trying to contend while waiting for their kids to blossom.

So they want to re-sign Chapman to be there when they’re ready to win again. Can’t see them doing a four-year deal with Encarnacion, but if Bautista’s market sags, would they bring him to the Bronx on a short-team deal?

METS

It’s already mission accomplished for Sandy Alderson in locking up Cespedes, but they should still be plenty busy this week in trying to find the best trade for Jay Bruce, either for a quality reliever or a top prospect. They’d rather not trade Curtis Granderson instead, but if the offers are significantly better for him than Bruce, they just might.

Yankees at Winter Meetings: GM still seeking a young pitcher

If they don’t get a reliever in a trade, they’ll be working that second-tier reliever market for a solid set-up reliever, perhaps a Brad Ziegler or a Joaquin Benoit.

NATIONALS

Desperate to get over the hump in the playoffs, GM Mike Rizzo is going to make big moves. The Nats are in the bidding for one of the top closers and they’ve been in discussions with the Pirates for days about an Andrew McCutchen trade, but some baseball people are convinced Rizzo wants to pull off a trade for Sale, which would give the Nationals quite a star-studded starting rotation, adding the White Sox lefty to the likes of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.

The Nats have the young pitching in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez to satisfy the White Sox, but it’s hard to imagine they’ll give up shortstop/center fielder Trea Turner, and that could be a deal-breaker. If the Sox settle for highly-touted center field prospect Victor Robles in a package instead, the Nats just might get Sale. That wouldn’t be good news for the Mets, to say the least.

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CUBS

They could do nothing, which would include not re-signing Chapman, and still be favorites to win it all again next year, such is the strength of their core. But Theo Epstein is always looking for ways to get better, and he has the type of surplus of position players to make a deal for one of the top starting pitchers, which would be a hedge against Jake Arrieta leaving as a free agent next winter.

Even if Dexter Fowler leaves as a free agent, the Cubs have too many outfielders, with Kyle Schwarber back in left field next season. They just signed Jon Jay to play center, which means Jason Heyward stays in right, so where does that leave Ben Zobrist after Javier Baez played his way into starting at second base? As spectacular as Baez can look at times, he’s still prone to strikeouts, as the World Series proved; would the Cubs deal him to the Rays as part of a package for Archer?

RED SOX

Primed to win a championship with a core of young position players that rivals that of the Cubs, the Sox may be looking for that blockbuster trade for an ace that could put them over the top.

They have plenty of young talent, on the major-league roster and the farm system, but are they willing to give up an Andrew Benintendi as part of a package for Sale? A package with Yoan Moncada as the headliner probably wouldn’t get it done, so we’ll see.

WHITE SOX

If they’re serious about breaking up their team and doing a rebuild, they could be the centerpiece of the Winter Meetings. Teams such as the Nationals, Astros, Rangers Red Sox, and perhaps the Dodgers, among others, have the talent in their farm systems to make such a deal, but it would depend on the asking price. At the trade deadline last summer the Sox were asking for four or even five of the top young players from interested teams, and nobody was willing to go that far.

If they’re in sell-mode, the Sox also would get plenty of interest on the likes of Carlos Quintana, Todd Frazier, and Jose Abreu. Even if they don’t go all-in on a rebuild, they’ll probably look to trade closer David Robertson. The ex-Yankee wasn’t great last season but with two more years and $25 million left on his four-year deal, he could be a cheaper alternative or a consolation prize of sorts for teams that don’t get Chapman, Jansen, or Melancon.

TIGERS

GM Al Alvila has made it clear he needs to reduce payroll, but to what extent? Verlander’s bounce-back to Cy Young Award-caliber form makes him marketable, even with $84 million owed over the next three years — plus a $22 million vesting option. The Tigers will get offers on him, but for that type of money they probably won’t get what they would consider equal value.

Same goes for Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers may not want to go into a full rebuild anyway, so it seems more likely they could make trades for J.D. Martinez and perhaps Ian Kinsler, get a little younger and cheaper, and still try to contend. But they should be very active.

ASTROS

They’ve already made significant moves, trading for Brian McCann and signing free-agents Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran, but they aren’t stopping there, as their GM Jeff Luhnow has made clear.

They pursued Yoenis Cespedes, yet their biggest need is a top starting pitcher to go with Dallas Keuchel, who figures to bounce back in 2017. Would they trade Alex Bregman, their highly-touted young third baseman, in a deal for Sale or Archer? That’s probably what it would take, as part of a package deal, and the ’Stros are saying they won’t do it, but their front office feels they’re ready to win it all now, only they’ll need to an ace to have a real shot.

DODGERS

Another team that might be one top starter away from winning a championship. Clayton Kershaw may be the best pitcher in baseball, but he needs someone riding shotgun with him in the playoffs, after the Dodgers let Zack Greinke walk a year ago.

Maybe it’s Julio Urias, but can L.A. and its win-now payroll afford to wait on the young lefty? Or would the Dodgers include him in a package for Sale or Archer and go all-in for the next couple of seasons. Even without including Urias they have enough prospects to make a deal for pitching. And they need to re-sign Justin Turner as well — or would they with the White Sox for Frazier instead?

RANGERS

In the last two postseasons their pitching hasn’t been good enough, even with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish at the top of the rotation. They dealt top prospects to get Jonathan Lucroy at the trade deadline, but their system is deep enough to make a play for Sale if they’re willing to deal power-hitting Joey Gallo as part of a package.

They also could be in play for an impact hitter, whether it’s signing Dexter Fowler, or trading for a first baseman like Jose Abreu.

Tags:
mlb
mlb transactions
chris sale
chicago white sox
chris archer
tampa bay rays
justin verlander
detroit tigers
zack greinke
arizona diamondbacks

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