It's that time of year when players sign contracts with lots of zeroes on them and executives wheel and deal for holiday bargains.
The general manager's meetings are over, with the winter meetings just around the corner. That means the hot stove season is percolating -- though several deals have already been consummated.
Before a slew of moves go down, we asked a panel of experts for their opinions on what's to come. Who will go where and what teams will be most active?
Our 15 team executives and baseball insiders answer those questions and more.
1. Which team will make the biggest splash of the offseason?
Survey says: Angels 7; Padres 2; Rangers 2; White Sox 2; Cubs 1; Yankees 1
Not everyone could agree on what the biggest splash will look like, but signing Joe Maddon is a good start to a potentially big offseason for the Angels, who are desperate for pitching. Maddon represents Mike Trout's best chance to go deep into a postseason. They won't get there without help on the mound, and they just might reel in the biggest fish in Gerrit Cole.
Since we sent out this survey, we've already seen the White Sox -- who got a pair of votes to tie for second place here -- hit the free-agent market, giving catcher Yasmani Grandal the biggest contract in team history and re-signing Jose Abreu.
"If any team signs two of the bigger names, then that's the biggest splash," one voter said. "The Angels are the easy answer here, but they can't win the winter via trade. It has to come by signing some pitchers."
2. Which of these three players is most likely to start next season with a new team: Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor or Kris Bryant?
Survey says: Lindor 8; Bryant 7; Betts 0
Most interesting is that Betts didn't receive even a single vote despite being the closest to free agency among the three. He can walk after next year. New Red Sox GM Chaim Bloom is facing a dilemma: Keep Betts, hoping to sign him to a long-term deal after next season, or trade him as the executive's first big move in his new job.
Bryant's situation is murky as well. His service-time grievance should be decided soon, meaning if he wins, he'll be a free agent next winter along with Betts. In any case, insiders believe he or Lindor -- both are currently slated to become free agents after the 2021 season -- are most likely to move teams this offseason.
"Bryant's grievance would seem to complicate matters [for the Cubs]," said one executive who voted for Lindor.
But, said another exec who voted for Bryant: "The Cubs aren't afraid to make a big move."
3. Anthony Rendon is the clear top hitter on this market. Where will he land and for how much?
Where he'll land: Nationals 13; Rangers 1; Cardinals 1
For how much: Highest response: Eight years, $280 million (Texas); Lowest response: Six years, $200 million (Washington); Average response: Seven years, $227 million
One executive referred to Rendon as "juiced-ball proof" because of his ability to lay off borderline pitches while driving the ball into the gaps (88 doubles over the past two years) when he does swing. Rendon can play on any team in any ballpark -- with any kind of ball.
As evidenced by answers to the question below, most simply believe he'll stay in Washington, where agent Scott Boras already has a cozy relationship with ownership.
And their answers to question No. 8 indicate how much they believe Rendon will be worth whatever contract he signs: His name never came up as someone who will be overpaid. It says a lot in the era of mega-deals for star players that no one polled thinks he brings the risk that often comes with a player about to turn 30.
4. Who's more likely to return to the Nats, Stephen Strasburg or Rendon?
Survey says: Rendon 12; Strasburg 3
The team that "loses out" on Cole will be plenty happy if they ink Strasburg. His 209 innings pitched led the National League, but most believe he's less likely to return to Washington than Rendon simply because he opted out of his contract there.
While Clayton Kershaw did return to Los Angeles after opting out, it's no sure thing that Strasburg will do the same. Either way, the timing of his MVP performance in the World Series made his opt-out a no-brainer and, while he likely won't get Cole money, he could also make some history this winter (see below) -- in Washington or elsewhere.
5. Will Gerrit Cole get a $300 million deal: Definitely, no chance or it'll be close but under?
Survey says: Close but under 9; no chance 6; definitely 0
Cole had one of the best free-agent seasons in recent memory, perhaps among the best of all time, as one executive put it. Will he be as good on another team not named the Astros?
The fact that no one polled thought he would get $300 million is less about him having only two out-of-this world seasons under his belt and more about the nature of giving a pitcher that kind of deal. Besides, he doesn't need to reach the $300 million figure to set a record for a pitcher. That belongs to David Price at $217 million.
Everyone polled believes he'll still blow that number away, and most predicted it'll happen in a deal with the Angels.
"It would be hard to choose Cole over Rendon as the player to live up to his paycheck just based on positions," one executive said, "but if he takes his last two years and keeps on that path with whoever he pitches for, he'll be worth every penny."
6. Of the second-tier guys, which of these free-agent starting pitchers would you most want your team to sign this winter: Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler or Dallas Keuchel?
Survey says: Wheeler 8; Bumgarner 4; Keuchel 2; Three-way tie 1
It wasn't long ago that Wheeler would have finished far behind the two more accomplished pitchers, but now, a couple years past his arm issues and coming off a solid 195-inning campaign, the majority polled here believe he's the best bet of the three.
Even though they're roughly the same age, Bumgarner has pitched more than 1,000 more innings than Wheeler, and, as we've learned over the past couple of winters, teams are paying for the future over the past more than ever. Bumgarner is coming off a 34-start, 207-inning season, but some wonder how he'll fare in a ballpark other than Oracle Park.
This was no slam dunk vote, though, as Keuchel got support as well.
"Don't sleep on him," one Keuchel voter said. "He bet on himself by sitting out half a year and was a big help in Atlanta with solid numbers. Plus, the guy has a lot of heart."
7. How much does the 2019 baseball -- and what the ball will be like going forward -- impact your offseason decision making: A lot, some or not at all?
Survey says: Some 9; not at all 3, a lot 0; 3 respondents declined to answer
There's a big assumption that the 2020 baseball won't look like the 2019 one. Perhaps it'll resemble the postseason ball, which didn't carry as much. The bottom line for executives: While they aren't going to spend a lot of time thinking about it, that doesn't mean they won't spend any time thinking about it.
There's a chasing-their-tail kind of feeling to this topic.
"I think it's important to try to identify hitters [or pitchers] you think were impacted most by the apparent 2019 baseball," one exec said, "but what if it never changes? What if it changes drastically? I think there are other factors at play when evaluating players that are much more important ... because all 30 teams will be using the same balls."
8. Who is the one player most likely to be overpaid on a big contract this winter?
Survey says: Wheeler 4; Grandal 2 (Grandal signed with the White Sox after our survey was complete); Nicholas Castellanos 1; Daniel Hudson 1; 7 respondents declined to answer
What makes Wheeler so attractive -- the lack of mileage on his arm -- could make him a dangerous signing as well.
"What's on his resume?" one insider asked.
Wheeler has made 30-plus starts in just two seasons, but he's not the only free agent who elicits doubt. It's the nature of the game at that point in a player's career. For example, Castellanos is coming off a huge year, with an OPS+ 23 points higher than he's ever produced. Will that continue into a new contract or will he regress to the mean? It's the kind of question every executive faces with every free agent they sign.
9. Which of these hitters will produce more over the length of their next contract: Didi Gregorius, Marcell Ozuna or Nicholas Castellanos?
Survey says: Castellanos 7; Ozuna 6; Gregorius 2
As you can see, the uncertain nature of free agency, combined with the hard task of predicting production in baseball, allows for overlap on several questions.
Where Castellanos can make the overpaid list, he can also be one of the most reliable hitters among what's available.
"He's a gap-doubles machine," one executive who voted for him said. "That should play in any ballpark."
Nearly as many chose Ozuna, whose numbers have dropped since leaving a pitchers' ballpark in Miami. But the question is about performing over the length of a deal. So while Castellanos is coming off a monster year, he's bound to get the bigger deal, hence the neck-and-neck voting when it comes to value and production for their upcoming contracts.