This had been a slow cooker of a month since the World Series ended, with little happening outside the purview of Jerry Dipoto. Then Shohei Ohtani announced he's going to the Angels! Then the Marlins and Yankees agreed to terms on a Giancarlo Stanton trade! Game on.
Still, the top 21 free agents on Keith Law's top-50 list remained unsigned. At this point, however, it's clear many of these deals aren't going to come down until late January or even the early days of spring training. I think three issues have slowed the market:
1. Ohtani and Stanton. This was only a minor effect on what's happened, because Ohtani's initial contract -- the major league minimum -- shouldn't have influenced a team's other offseason moves. He'd merely have been considered a bonus acquisition. The exhausting Stanton dispatches impacted only a few teams, although maybe the Cardinals and Giants held off on other moves.
2. It's a risky free-agent class. There isn't a free agent out there without an obvious flaw or two. J.D. Martinez is the best hitter available and he's a 30-year-old corner outfielder with below-average defense who probably has to move to DH in a couple seasons (if not immediately). Yu Darvish is the best pitcher, but he has a Tommy John surgery in his past and concerns about his durability and postseason performance. Eric Hosmer had a terrific 2017 but has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career. And so on. Does J.D. Martinez sound like a $200 million ballplayer to you? Of course not. Front offices are simply waiting for the agents to drop their asking prices.
3. Teams are saving money for 2018-19, a much deeper class of free agents that includes Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, probably Clayton Kershaw, and a whole slew of dominant relievers.
The good news is the winter meetings start Sunday at Disney World. Lots of face-to-face communication! The expectation that deals will be made! Agents and sports writers acting like best buddies to get inside information! It all means the dam is about to burst and we should finally see some major action. Here's a preview:
Top five stars who could be traded
Marcell Ozuna, OF, Marlins. The Marlins have said they want to keep Ozuna (and Christian Yelich), but if the Astros-like teardown is happening, then you might as well strip everything to the bones. Ozuna is coming off a monster .312/.376/.548 year and has two seasons left until free agency. Is there value to keeping him around if Stanton is gone and you're rebuilding?
Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox. We've heard the Red Sox rumors, and it makes some sense for them to trade for Abreu and about $40 million in arbitration salaries the next two seasons rather than spend $100 million-plus on Hosmer. Even though the White Sox are unlikely contenders the next two seasons and cashing in Abreu for more young talent sounds logical, they might just keep him. The front office values his leadership in the clubhouse and views him as a mentor to all the young players, especially fellow Cuban Yoan Moncada. They'll have to be blown away to make a deal.
Chris Archer, P, Rays. Yes, another winter meetings with Archer trade rumors. He's attractive not just because he's good and a workhorse -- three straight seasons with 200 innings, one of just five pitchers who can make that claim -- but because his contract is so team-friendly. He's owed just $34 million and change over the next four seasons. The Rays also have a nice group of young starters in Blake Snell, Jake Faria, Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon. They have to be realistic: Can they contend right now with the Red Sox and Yankees? If they can get a couple of impact prospects for Archer, maybe it's time to finally deal him.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates. He's no longer an MVP candidate and shouldn't be considered a center fielder at this point in his career, but the bat still plays. He has one season remaining until free agency. The Pirates could also look to deal Gerrit Cole, who has two years left of team control.
Victor Robles, OF, Nationals. OK, he's a future star. While he seems like the heir apparent to replace Bryce Harper, the Yankees' trade for Stanton also means it's more likely Harper remains in Washington after 2018. If the Nationals decide they want another starting pitcher, maybe Robles is the bait.
Five teams that can create winter meetings chaos
San Francisco Giants. Even after losing out on Stanton and Ohtani, the Giants have a lot of wheels spinning. At the minimum, they need a center fielder and third baseman, and the front office has talked of reconstructing the bullpen. They could still use a power bat in the outfield (which ranked last in the majors in home runs).
Chicago Cubs. They filled one rotation hole with Tyler Chatwood, but the big question remains: Do they trade a young position player? The Cubs have Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Albert Almora -- five players for four positions. That doesn't even include veteran Ben Zobrist, who is signed for two more years. They need another starting pitcher and a closer.
Los Angeles Dodgers. They're not going to sit quietly. They never seemed eager to join in the Stanton sweepstakes, but are they happy with a Joc Pederson/Enrique Hernandez platoon in left field? Or do they feel Alex Verdugo is ready? They need a setup guy for Kenley Jansen, whether it's re-signing Brandon Morrow or somebody else. They traded for Yu Darvish last year to bolster the rotation, so they could acquire a starter. They have money and prospects, and Andrew Friedman and company will do something.
St. Louis Cardinals. They signed Miles Mikolas for the rotation, but more moves are needed to compete with the Cubs, Dodgers and Nationals. Their desire for an impact hitter is known, as they have depth but need a star. They could maybe still use another starter. The bullpen needs another arm or two.
Five other players who could be traded
Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds. We just mentioned the Giants need a center fielder. The Rangers need one. The Mariners needed one but traded for Dee Gordon and plan to move him there. The Orioles could trade for a center fielder and move Adam Jones to a corner.
Yasmani Grandal, C, Dodgers. By the postseason, Austin Barnes became the starter. It could be a catching controversy if you keep both, and Grandal is in his final season before free agency. You can see this one both ways. Having two good catchers is a great luxury; having two good catchers is an unnecessary luxury. The Nationals need an upgrade over Matt Wieters, but would the Dodgers trade Grandal to one of their top rivals for National League supremacy?
Jake Odorizzi, P, Rays. If they keep Archer, maybe the Rays instead trade Odorizzi, although he's coming off a 30-homer season that hurts his value.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers. As the Tigers rebuild, there's no point keeping Kinsler, who is signed through 2018. After averaging 5.7 WAR from 2013 to 2016, Kinsler slipped to 2.1 in 2017, and he'll be entering his age-36 season. That hurts his trade value and there isn't a contending team with an obvious hole at second base. One possibility is the Red Sox, as Dustin Pedroia isn't expected back until May after knee surgery. The Angels are another.
Cesar Hernandez, 2B, Phillies. Rookie Scott Kingery is ready to take over at second, making Hernandez and his .373 OBP nice trade bait.
Five players who should be traded
Raisel Iglesias, P, Reds. Iglesias has been one of the more underrated relievers the past two seasons, compiling a 2.51 ERA in a tough park for pitchers. Still, the Reds are early in their rebuilding process, and a good closer is a luxury for a bad team. Iglesias is especially attractive, since he's cost-controlled for the next three seasons at less than $16 million, plus an arbitration year in 2021. For four years of Iglesias, the Reds should be able to get an impact prospect and a couple of lottery tickets.
Brad Hand, P, Padres. Like Iglesias, Hand is a luxury. The Padres resisted trading him last summer, and it might be difficult dealing him while relievers such as Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Anthony Swarzak are available on the free-agent market. Still, Hand has developed into one of the better lefty relievers in the game with a 2.56 the past two seasons (while having one of the heaviest workloads for a reliever). He's under team control for two more seasons. The Padres could wait until the 2018 trade deadline, but in waiting, they risk injury and performance decline.
Danny Salazar, P, Indians. The Indians are the one team with a surplus of starting pitching, with enough depth thanks to Mike Clevinger's breakout that even trading Salazar leaves Josh Tomlin as the No. 5 starter. Among pitchers with at least 100 innings, Salazar ranked fourth in the majors in strikeout rate. He did miss some time with injuries in June and July but was throwing well at season's end and is still under team control for three more seasons. With Santana departing as a free agent, they need a first baseman, although more prospect depth doesn't hurt.
Kyle Schwarber, OF, Cubs. Despite a short stint in the minors, Schwarber still managed to slug 30 home runs -- he also hit just .211 with a .315 OBP. Throw in his poor defense and Schwarber was worth 0.0 WAR. We know how much the Cubs love him and Schwarber is working hard to drop some weight this offseason. He also hit .255/.338/.565 after his return from the minors, and maybe that's his true upside at the plate. At heart, however, he feels like an American League player. With the Cubs needing pitching help, maybe they deal the fan favorite.
Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles. They should trade him, but they won't.
Five free-agent predictions for winter meetings week
Red Sox sign Carlos Santana. Less expensive than Hosmer, but just as valuable.
Twins sign Alex Cobb. They need rotation help and have money to spend.
Rockies sign Jay Bruce. They can use him either in right field or first base.
Dodgers sign Anthony Swarzak. They need bullpen depth and can't wait for Morrow.