As the Houston Astros decompress from their World Series celebration, the New York Yankees search for a manager, Derek Jeter charts the course of his new team and Scott Boras invents some entertaining new terms to describe his powerhouse free-agent class, it's time for the 30 Major League Baseball teams to get down to business.
The game's 30 general managers will gather in Orlando, Florida, on Monday -- in conjunction with the quarterly owners meetings this time around -- and plunge into conversations with agents and one another to lay the groundwork for industry activity over the coming weeks. This is where the dialogue, rumors, spin and speculation begin in earnest.
Ahead of the meetings, ESPN.com polled 40 general managers, assistant GMs, baseball operations people and scouts about nine hot stove questions that will be making news across the game. The survey was conducted primarily by email, and respondents were assured anonymity to best allow them to speak candidly. In cases where a half-point is given, the respondent split his vote between two clubs.
1. Will Giancarlo Stanton be traded this offseason? If so, where?
Responses: Yes, 32; no, 7; no opinion, 1
Most likely destination: Cardinals 10; Giants 6; Phillies 2; Yankees 2; Red Sox 2; Dodgers 1; Padres 1. Several "yes" respondents declined to predict where Stanton might land.
It might be the most compelling question of the offseason: How far is Jeter, the future Hall of Famer and new Marlins owner, willing to go to reduce payroll and reshape the direction of his team? Stanton just turned 28. He is coming off a 59-homer, 132-RBI season, is a finalist for National League MVP and fits the classic definition of "face of the franchise." But the Marlins ranked 28th in attendance even with Stanton chasing 60 home runs, and there's enough smoke swirling around him to suggest he'll be gone this winter.
Much of the early buzz has swirled around the Cardinals, who have a pressing need for a middle-of-the-order bat and enough talent in the system to lay the groundwork for a deal. Miami needs pitching, and Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver are among the young arms who give St. Louis' front-office tandem of John Mozeliak and Mike Girsch some momentum.
The Giants also need a big bat and have the financial wherewithal to assume a big chunk of the $295 million still owed Stanton, but their weak talent pipeline could be problematic. "I think the Giants would have to get very creative," an AL scout said. "That's a bottom-five farm system in San Francisco."
One scout made a case for San Diego as a dark-horse Stanton candidate. "He's a California kid," the scout said. "A.J. [Preller] likes to make big splashes. They had an anemic offense, and they have a very deep group of Latin prospects who would be a nice fit in Miami."
Of the executives and scouts who voted "no," several cited Stanton's onerous contract and blanket no-trade clause as major obstacles. The Marlins will want talent in return as they try to dump salary. Will Jeter drive too hard a bargain because he feels a need to "win" his first big trade?
"I'll be surprised if he's moved," a National League personnel man said. "I don't know if Miami fully realizes the extent to which they're probably going to be asked to pay down a portion of the contract."
2. Which team will Shohei Otani be playing for on Opening Day 2018?
Responses: Yankees 7½; Dodgers 7½; Rangers 5; Nippon Ham Fighters 4; Mariners 4; Padres 1; Cubs 1; Astros 1; Giants 1; Red Sox 1. The remaining respondents had no prediction.
If Stanton's status is No. 1 on the hot stove must-watch list, Otani's destination qualifies as 1A. He's a 23-year-old dual threat who has been called "Japan's Babe Ruth," so the euphoria is understandable.
Respondents who predicted Otani will remain with Nippon in 2018 did so amid a flurry of activity last week. In the span of a few days, Otani designated CAA as his agent, and the Fighters formally announced they will make him available to MLB teams through the posting system.
On Saturday, Otani held a news conference and told reporters, "I hope to do my best in America from next year on." But MLB and the players' union still have to negotiate the specifics of a new posting system to satisfy the interests of all parties involved.
If Otani comes to America, what's the best fit? The Yankees and Dodgers are natural candidates as big-market teams in culturally diverse markets with an abundance of endorsement opportunities. Seattle has a strong history with Japanese players, and the Cubs could jump into the fray even though they didn't score strongly in this survey. Several respondents think Otani might lean toward an AL club because it would provide the opportunity to both pitch and DH. One talent evaluator advised keeping an eye on the Rangers, who signed Yu Darvish out of Japan in 2012 and have a strong scouting presence in Asia.
"Their work and overall track record in Asia has always been highly regarded," the evaluator said. "They're ahead of the curve on Otani."
Responses: Hosmer 25; Cain 10; Moustakas 4; no opinion 1
"All three come with risk, in my opinion," a National League executive said. "Hosmer is coming off a career year and has been inconsistent with regards to hitting for power. Moustakas is a lower OBP type of guy who relies on some ball-in-play luck, and there's a chance for his body to go backward a bit. And with Cain, there's his age and the fact that a good portion of his value is in his legs on defense and baserunning."
Still, most respondents gravitated toward Hosmer for his all-around skill, leadership and passion. Several scouts classified him as a first-rate defender whose glove is shortchanged by the new defensive metrics. Hosmer just turned 28, so he's in the middle of his prime years.
"Hosmer will impact the game the three ways a position player can impact the game -- as a run scorer, run producer and run-stopper -- for a longer period than the other two guys," a scout said. "I would love to have all three of them, but for me Hosmer brings the most balanced and longest-lasting package to the table."
Moustakas, 29, ranked second to Joey Gallo among MLB third basemen with 38 homers this season. Cain, an AL Gold Glove finalist in center field, is the oldest of the three Royals at 31. His supporters cite his defensive contribution and think he could be the best bet because he's likely to command the shortest contract of the three. "He can provide immediate value at a premium position in center field, plus he can age into a corner outfield role and still provide some value as he declines," a National League scout said.
4. J.D. Martinez is the top free-agent bat on the market. Where does he wind up, and for what size deal?
Responses: Red Sox 23; Diamondbacks 5; Giants 5; Cardinals 2; Phillies 1; Cubs 1; Orioles 1; don't know 2
Scott Boras, Martinez's newly minted agent, hasn't been shy about trumpeting his client's greatness. Teams that have inquired on Martinez think he's seeking a deal in the $200 million range, and Boras didn't exactly temper that perception when he referred to Martinez as the "King Kong of Slug" in an interview with Jon Paul Morosi of the MLB Network.
Boston was the runaway winner in the ESPN.com survey for multiple reasons. The Red Sox need a power bat after ranking last in the AL with 168 homers this season. GM Dave Dombrowski is in perpetual "win now" mode, and he's familiar with Martinez after signing him as a free agent in Detroit in 2014.
Although the Diamondbacks would love to have Martinez back, club president Derrick Hall downplayed the idea of a reunion last week. The D-backs expect their payroll to remain status quo this winter, and Martinez's decision to hire Boras precludes any chance of a goodwill discount.
A few observers predicted Martinez will sign a contract similar to Justin Upton's five-year, $106 million deal with the Angels. But most respondents expect him to come away with the haul in the $120 million-$160 million range.
"I think Boras will try to position him with past elite free-agent bat deals -- like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols," one general manager said. "But he'll likely end up in the $140 million range over six years."
5. What kind of impact will Yu Darvish's World Series performance have on his next contract? (A) Zero -- it was only two starts; (B) somewhat -- it's a caution flag; (C) substantial -- he bombed twice on baseball's biggest stage.
Responses: Somewhat 23; zero impact 13; substantial impact 3; no opinion 1
Darvish enters free agency with a lot to recommend him. He's a four-time All-Star who leads MLB starters with an average of 11.04 strikeouts per nine innings since his debut in 2012. When he's on his game, he's as dominant as a starting pitcher gets.
But Darvish experienced some highly publicized blips in his free-agent walk year. In a showcase start with Texas at the trade deadline, he allowed 10 runs to the Marlins in 3⅔ innings. After pitching well in the National League playoffs, he logged a 21.60 ERA in 3⅓ innings in two World Series starts.
About one-third of survey respondents said it won't matter in the slightest.
"Maybe 15 years ago it would create more attention, but now with the sabermetric community and small-sample-size campaigning out there, it's a void blip in the radar," an American League scout said.
Some of the perception surrounding Darvish is already baked into his market projection. Several evaluators said Darvish has a reputation as a high-maintenance pitcher who needs everything to be just so when he takes the mound. Darvish supporters have pointed to tipped pitches and slick baseballs as a factor in his poor outings. But others see an enigmatic talent who's not at the level of Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and other pitching royalty.
"I want to love the guy," an American League scout said. "He's got as good stuff as anybody in baseball, and several pitches. It's so easy and pretty and everything. But he just finds a way to get a lot of traffic, and then a long ball. It wasn't just the World Series. I saw him three times last year when I thought he was going to throw a no-hitter and he was out of there after [a few] innings."
Nevertheless, most survey respondents expect Darvish to land a deal well in excess of nine figures and $20 million annually.
"He doesn't strike me as a No. 1 guy," an AL personnel man said. "I think he's probably comfortable as a No. 2 as opposed to being the leader of the staff. But there's him and Jake Arrieta, and after that it's a big drop. I think the money will be there."
6. Where will Jake Arrieta sign as a free agent?
Responses: Rangers 10; Cubs 5½; Phillies 4½; Dodgers 3½; Angels 3; Mariners 3; Yankees 2; Braves 1; Blue Jays 1; Nationals ½, don't know 6
The industry love for the Rangers is attributable to two factors: (1) Texas needs pitching help; and (2) Arrieta grew up in the Lone Star State and played at Texas Christian University.
Two locations that seem like prime Arrieta fits have yet to generate much traction. While the Angels appear to make some sense, GM Billy Eppler's comments to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register suggest he'll focus on offensive upgrades and roll with the current group of Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano and Parker Bridwell.
The Phillies also could use a veteran arm to slot in with Aaron Nola atop the rotation. But president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail recently dismissed the idea of a big free-agent acquisition as a cure-all when he compared it to looking for a "unicorn."
Although some observers think the ship has sailed on an Arrieta-Cubs reunion, some haven't given up on the idea.
"After a bunch of back and forth, I see the Cubs and Arrieta realizing that they are meant for each other," an AL scout said. "He got his career on track there and they won a World Series. Why leave now when they know each other best?"
Responses: Davis 34; Holland 3; Morrow 2; No opinion 1
This year's late-inning crop won't generate the same buzz as the 2016-2017 hot stove contingent of Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. But Davis, Holland, Morrow, Addison Reed, Brandon Kintzler, Jake McGee, Pat Neshek and Bryan Shaw are just some of the available options in a deep group of relievers.
Davis, 31, was the clear choice among survey respondents. Since moving exclusively to the bullpen in 2014, he has allowed the fifth-fewest hits per nine innings (5.33) behind Andrew Miller, Craig Kimbrel, Dellin Betances and Chapman.
"I like his delivery and the fact he's got that bulldog in him," an AL executive said. "He's kind of a quiet, even-keeled kind of guy."
Still, some scouts expressed concern about the top relievers and their workloads carrying over into next season.
Holland imploded in August, with a 13.50 ERA in 11 appearances, then rallied in September before faltering in Colorado's wild-card game loss to Arizona. Morrow was a workhorse for the Dodgers in October, but he had never pitched on three straight days before trying it and getting shelled by Houston in the World Series. And Davis had to dig too deep for comfort with stints of 44 and 48 pitches in the NL playoffs.
"He was on fumes," an NL scout said. "Every pitch he threw, he was giving more than he actually had. That's when you worry about a guy."
Responses: Carlos Gonzalez 29; Carlos Gomez 7; no response 3; neither 1
A few years ago, it was hard to envision either of these two players as second-tier options. In 2013, Gomez made the All-Star team with Milwaukee, won a Gold Glove and finished ninth in National League MVP balloting. Gonzalez hit .336 to win a batting title at age 24 and appeared to be doing the Rockies a favor when he agreed to a seven-year, $80 million contract extension in 2011.
Now they're looking at a different landscape. Gomez logged a more-than-respectable .802 OPS this year, but he's no longer an elite defensive center fielder and already has played for five organizations at age 31. Some personnel people think he's more of a 350-400 at-bat guy now than an every-day player.
Gonzalez recorded a sorry .637 OPS before the All-Star break before rallying with a .921 OPS in the second half. In early October, Gonzalez revealed that he was troubled by sleep issues this season and finally resolved the problem with a visit to a sleep specialist with about two months to go.
Potential suitors have reason to wonder how Gonzalez might fare away from Coors Field, where he has a career .329/.391/.607 slash line. But if he's open to a short-term contract to re-establish his value, he could be a popular hot-stove commodity.
"It's one of the first times he got exposed when he wasn't injured," an AL scout said. "He's got a lot of pride, and that's not who he wants to be. Whoever gets him is going to get at least one really good year. He doesn't want to be showed up like he basically was last year."
9. Bryce Harper won't be traded this winter as the Nationals take another run at a World Series. But Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado and Andrew McCutchen also will be free agents a year from now. Which of those three players is most likely to get traded this offseason?
Responses: McCutchen 26; Donaldson 11; Machado 0. Three respondents had no opinion
Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington has spent a lot of time dealing with McCutchen trade rumors, and they're likely to resurface this winter. The Pirates exercised McCutchen's $14.5 million option for 2018. But they have a long-term internal replacement in Austin Meadows, and Huntington has shown he's willing to make the hard calls by moving Neil Walker, Mark Melancon and other veterans for young talent as they've approached free agency.
McCutchen enhanced his trade value by recovering from a poor start to record a .279/.363/.486 slash line and a 2.8 WAR in 2017. He could be a nice piece for a contending team in search of an impact outfield bat.
Donaldson, 31, hit 33 homers and logged a .944 OPS while appearing in only 113 games because of injuries. Toronto management has expressed a hesitancy to tear things down after the team drew 3.2 million fans this season, so the Mark Shapiro-Ross Atkins front-office tandem might have a hard time selling a Donaldson deal.
"I would expect it to be really hard to trade Cutch, and I'm sure the price would be high, but it could be a good opportunity for the Pirates to help transition that roster fairly quickly assuming they get a good return," a National League evaluator said. "Donaldson is in the same boat, but I just don't know how willing they would be to go into sell mode right now. I think a case can be made that trading Machado is the right thing to do, but it's hard to see the Orioles going into an outright rebuild."
While Machado would fetch a mother lode of talent, not a single respondent predicted he'll be traded this winter. The Orioles resisted the temptation to move Zach Britton, Brad Brach and others at the trade deadline even when the team was floundering in the AL East race. They can't trade Machado without owner Peter Angelos' approval, and his reputation for standing in the way of big deals precedes him in the industry.