Sometimes the biggest story of the winter meetings isn't what happened. It's what didn't happen. What almost happened. What's about to happen.
So let's take a look at some of the fascinating winter meetings plotlines that are still dangling -- because the clear message conveyed by the executives who were stampeding out the door Thursday was this:
The next week or two in this sport will be busier than the malls.
The good news is, Encarnacion is still the most game-changing bat on the market. The bad news is, he'll have a tough time forgetting he once turned down $80 million for four years from Toronto. And if you can figure out where he's going to get that sort of haul again this winter, from a team willing to lose its No. 1 pick, you're smarter than the baseball people I've been talking to this week.
Four teams that could have been fits (Blue Jays, Yankees, Astros, Rockies) all turned elsewhere. So the theme I heard most from executives and agents is this: Encarnacion should stop counting money he never had, take a short or creative deal with a team like Cleveland or Texas, and then try this again next winter, with no qualifying offer attached.
The Pirates and Nationals got so far down the line on a deal to send McCutchen to Washington -- for a package that would have been extremely close to what the Nationals offered for both Chris Sale and Adam Eaton -- that some of the Pirates' delegation thought it was on the verge of happening. But once the Nationals decided they preferred Eaton and pivoted away, the Pirates had a whole different sort of challenge on their hands.
By which we mean ... damage control.
The Cardinals (Dexter Fowler), Rangers (Carlos Gomez) and Nationals (Eaton) no longer need a center fielder. And there is a glut of corner-outfield bats available for those who don't view McCutchen in the middle of the diamond. So the only place McCutchen is likely to move now is to one of the outfield corners in Pittsburgh. It's a good thing this general manager (Neal Huntingdon) and this manager (Clint Hurdle) are so adept at the art of people skills. They'll need all of those skills to convince McCutchen he's as beloved as ever in Pittsburgh.
They've already traded Wade Davis (for Jorge Soler). The question now is how many deals like that are yet to come? The consensus among teams that have talked to the Royals is that they are likely to trade no more than two additional players from their core, with Lorenzo Cain/Jarrod Dyson/Danny Duffy probably atop that list.
But one club they spoke with says they are listening on "everyone," even though they're trying to figure out a way to retool but still keep enough of the band together to make one last run at October. If that doesn't work, though, then file away this prediction from one National League exec: "In July, they'll be the biggest seller in baseball."
Who out there would have bet on the Tigers trading nobody at these meetings? Not me. But that'll change in the next couple of weeks. Clubs that spoke with them see J.D. Martinez and left-handed reliever Justin Wilson as the most likely Tigers to dial up United Van Lines, with Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias as outside possibilities.
But remember, as the White Sox, Twins and Royals all hit the reset button, the Tigers suddenly see an easier path to contention in the American League Central. And GM Al Avila told a number of teams they're under no pressure to move money immediately. So this is not going to be a dramatic sell-off -- because the Tigers are still set on trying to win next year.
You won't be shocked to learn that the Dodgers already are on the hook for more guaranteed 2017 payroll dollars ($187.4 million, according to Baseball-Reference.com) than any team in this sport. You might be shocked to learn that, at the moment, none of those dollars have been allotted toward finding a third baseman, second baseman, closer or primary setup reliever.
But this is where we remind you that this front office thinks differently, and approaches roster-building differently, than any team in baseball. So the Dodgers have lined up layers and layers of options, contingency plans and trade/signing choices at every one of those spots. Translation: We have no shot at trying to predict whether they'll fill those holes with, say, a Justin Turner/Kinsler/ Kenley Jansen/Greg Holland quartet or a Todd Frazier/Brian Dozier/David Robertson/Santiago Casilla foursome. Or even none of the above.
Just factor in that payroll management is a big part of this, as the Dodgers maneuver to stay below the 92 percent luxury-tax bracket (which kicks in at $237 million) in two years.
Other teams to watch
White Sox: How perfect is it that this team lurched into sell mode by dealing a guy named Sale? What's next on their list? Other clubs see Robertson and Frazier as near locks to get traded. But Jose Quintana and Jose Abreu? Not so much.
Astros: Houston is still shopping for top-of-the-rotation arms and trying to be imaginative. But it's hard to envision the Astros giving up a package remotely comparable to what the Red Sox were willing to trade for Sale. Yet this team's lineup is so good, it wouldn't surprise anyone now if the Astros postponed their ace hunt until July.
Rockies: The Ian Desmond signing just doesn't compute unless it leads to other moves. So the Rockies immediately let clubs know they'd like to deal Charlie Blackmon for rotation upgrades. And there has been some buzzing that they could still sign Mark Trumbo to play first base and shift Desmond back to the outfield. But clearly, there is more to come 5,000 feet above sea level. Has to be. Right?