GM meetings set stage for busy offseason to come

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BOCA RATON, Fla. -- When Major League Baseball's general managers gathered at the Boca Resort and Club for their annual meetings this week, there was a lot more getting acquainted than usual. The Phillies, Angels, Brewers, Tigers, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Mariners, Marlins and Braves have all hired new GMs or changed some titles in recent weeks, so it's hard to know precisely who's making the decisions for a lot of teams these days.

"It's a little harder to keep track of people and who they're working with, because there's been so much turnover this year,'' said Dan Duquette, Baltimore Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations. "People are moving around so much, you have to have your scorecard in place.''

David Price, Zack Greinke and the other top free agents are still in the early phases of the decision-making process, but the first 10 days of the hot stove season showed that a lot teams are ready to deal. As MLB executives disperse to take a breather and update their offseason strategies, here are five questions to monitor between now and the winter meetings in Nashville in December:

1. How active will the trade market be?

Extremely. Entering the winter, it appeared that teams would focus primarily on a stacked free-agent market. But now the signs are pointing to a trade-first, spend-second mentality taking root among clubs.

Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto sprung into action last week when he sent Brad Miller, Logan Morrison and Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay for starter Nathan Karns and two minor leaguers. On Wednesday, the Yankees sent catcher John Ryan Murphy to Minnesota for center fielder Aaron Hicks -- leading to speculation that Brett Gardner could be on his way to Seattle or another team in need of a center fielder.

Several executives pointed to the rampant front-office changes as a driving force behind all the trade discussions.

"Anytime you have GM turnover, new administrations value players differently,'' said Texas GM Jon Daniels. "That leads to more trade discussions. That's something we're seeing right now. New administrations tend to go in a little different direction, too. Clubs are willing to do some things they might not have been thinking about earlier.

"I've been guilty of it, too. If you weren't there when a player was drafted or acquired, you still value him. But you might not be as vested.''

All the trade talks could gum up the works in certain free-agent categories. If Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Mark Melancon and several other prominent closers are available in trade, it could have a domino effect on all the late-inning free agent options. Some of those relievers might have to wait a while for things to shake out.

2. How serious are the Cincinnati Reds about making trades?

Very. The Reds began to acknowledge reality in July when they traded Mike Leake to San Francisco and sent Johnny Cueto to Kansas City for prospects. Walt Jocketty, Cincinnati's president of baseball operations, said the team's fans are now on board with the idea of injecting some young talent into the mix and doing whatever it takes to compete with St. Louis, Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs in a stacked National League Central.

More important, owner Bob Castellini is on board, too.

By broadcasting their intentions so publicly, the Reds set up something of a feeding frenzy in Boca. But as Jocketty takes pains to points out, it's more of a retooling than a flat-out rebuild. The Reds will try to thread the needle and remain competitive as they overhaul the roster, and that's always a challenging proposition.

"I think clubs have been more aggressive than they normally would have, because they know we're seriously considering moving certain guys,'' Jocketty said. "Whether we move any or all of them is still to be determined. We want to find the right value for guys. We're not going to just trade guys for the sake of trading them.''

Dick Williams, Cincinnati's new general manager, said Kansas City's recent World Series run helped provide a roadmap for where the Reds hope to go in coming years.

"People in Cincinnati want a World Series bad, and they're starting to see the blueprint for small markets,'' Williams said. "Writers are writing a lot more about what it takes to build a cycle, and the fans are becoming educated. They're starting to look for that feeling of 'Let's rebuild now.'''

So the Reds are officially "open for business,'' as the saying goes. In the coming weeks, we could see a lot of buzz surrounding Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart and other players who've been staples on the Cincinnati roster in recent years.

But even a mass overhaul has its limits. Joey Votto still has $199 million left on his 10-year deal and has a full no-trade clause. It's a major stretch to think the Reds will be trading him anytime soon.

3. What do the Detroit Tigers need to do to become relevant in the AL Central again?

Upgrade the pitching -- in both the bullpen and the rotation.

The Tigers will enter 2016 with J.D. Martinez in right field and Anthony Gose in center field. They can re-sign Rajai Davis to form a platoon with Tyler Collins in left field, or explore one of the other relatively low-cost, right-handed hitting outfield options on the open market. That group includes Chris Young, Steve Pearce, Alex Rios, Shane Victorino, Jeff Francoeur and Drew Stubbs.

What the Tigers can't abide is the status quo with the pitching staff, which was a major culprit in the team's slide to 74 wins and a last-place finish in the American League Central after four straight playoff appearances.

Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez are set at the top of the rotation, and the Tigers envision a competition among Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Shane Green at the back end.

"The goal is to have those guys battling for a fifth starting job, and hopefully sign two starting pitchers to round out the rotation,'' said GM Al Avila.

If the Tigers can make the money work, Jordan Zimmermann would be an ideal fit. Jeff Samardzija makes some sense, and Ian Kennedy could be a name worth watching. The Tigers have a track record of signing Scott Boras clients, and Kennedy's fly ball orientation shouldn't be a major concern in spacious Comerica Park.

Detroit's bullpen, which logged a 4.38 aggregate ERA (27th in the majors) and a .271 batting average against (30th overall), is badly in need of repair. The Tigers are working to bring back closer Joakim Soria, and they're in the mix for several other late-inning free agent options. Detroit's wish list includes Darren O'Day, Shawn Kelley, Tommy Hunter and Ryan Madson, to name a few. It won't surprise anyone if the Tigers sign multiple free-agent relievers.

4. How can new team president Mark Shapiro and interim GM Tony LaCava plug the pitching holes in Toronto?

The Blue Jays ended their 22-year playoff drought and advanced all the way to the American League Championship Series with David Price in the rotation. But he's gone and, barring a surprise of epic proportions, he's not coming back.

At the moment, the only sure things in the Toronto rotation are 41-year-old R.A. Dickey and Marcus Stroman, who recovered from knee surgery to make a major contribution in October. The Jays are also hoping for a bounce-back season from Drew Hutchison, who backslid in a major way with a 1.48 WHIP, 5.57 ERA and 179 hits allowed in 150 1/3 innings pitched.

The Jays will get some clarity shortly on Marco Estrada, who received a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in exchange for a terrific 2015 season. The deadline for Estrada to accept or reject the offer is Friday, and it's possible the Jays will sign him to a multiyear extension before then.

The Jays can plug another hole by moving Aaron Sanchez or closer Roberto Osuna to the rotation, but that would weaken a bullpen that was already a source of concern during the postseason.

If the Blue Jays want to add a true impact starter, it will be tough to do in trade, given the hit that Toronto's prospect pipeline took with the Price and Troy Tulowitzki acquisitions in July. Is Rogers Communications willing to step up and sign an impact free agent to maintain the momentum from the 2015 season? Jordan Zimmermann would look nice near the top of the Toronto rotation, and former GM Alex Anthopoulos was a fan of Jeff Samardzija. It's uncertain if Shapiro and LaCava share his enthusiasm for the Shark.

5. How do the St. Louis Cardinals move on from the loss of Lance Lynn to Tommy John surgery?

Wearily -- until the shock subsides. The Cardinals won a major-league-high 100 games despite a run of injuries that cost Adam Wainwright, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday and Jon Jay significant amounts of time in 2015. Then Yadier Molina tore a thumb ligament in September and Carlos Martinez went down with a shoulder injury that put him out for the playoffs.

The whole "resilient Redbirds'' narrative is starting to get old. After doing so much plugging from within, the Cardinals might have to dabble in free agency for reinforcements.

"I don't know if we're saying, 'Enough already.' It's more like, 'How long can you take the body blows?''' said general manager John Mozeliak. "That's why it might make sense to start thinking about outside markets and understanding, 'Maybe it's time to be more aggressive.'''

Things could be worse. Wainwright is back from his torn Achilles, and Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez (assuming he's healthy) and Jaime Garcia (always an iffy proposition) round out the top four. The Cardinals still have Marco Gonzales, Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney for organizational depth.

A return engagement for John Lackey in St. Louis seems to make sense, but the Cardinals are sending out mixed signals. According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cards are "lukewarm'' on the prospect of bringing back Lackey, who is almost certain to decline the team's one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer.

If the Cardinals decide to take the plunge on a free agent, Doug Fister and Mike Leake could land on the radar. As diligent, athletic pitchers with an appreciation for the all-around National League game, they're right out of the Cardinals' organizational mold.