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2017 MLB Winter Meetings preview

Now that Stanton and Ohtani have found homes, might we see some action in Orlando this week?

MLB: Winter Meetings Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

All of baseball is heading to Orlando, Florida as you read this for the 2017 Winter Meetings. So far, the 2017-18 offseason has been quiet, but with the first two major pieces off the board with Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton finding new homes, the trade and free agent market could heat up considerably over the next week.

So what is going to happen at this year’s Winter Meetings? First, there are going to be some dinners where they honor some of the best in Major and Minor League baseball in 2018. Coaches and trainers will be honored, as well as the guy who came up with the coolest bobblehead of the year. Next, major league managers will have press conferences to talk with the media about the upcoming season. Meanwhile, thousands of people who want to work in the industry will be hounding Major and Minor League executives with their resumés and demo tapes, hoping to get a job in the industry. Finally, as everyone rushes to catch a plane on Thursday, MLB will conduct its annual Rule 5 Draft.

But you don’t really care about any of that, do you? (Maybe the Rule 5 draft.) What you want to know about is what deals are going to get made during the Winter Meetings. The truth of the matter is that no one knows. Deals are made at the Winter Meetings out of tradition more than anything else. But teams are going to want to make their big deals now, if only so that their front offices can have at least a little time to spend with their families over the holidays. You put executives of 30 teams in a hotel together along with agents and players and sooner or later a deal is going to get made.

But with the caveat that no one can know what exactly is going to happen this week, what might we expect to see this week in Orlando?

Pitch Perfect

Let’s start with the Cubs, since that’s what I assume most of you are here for. The Cubs need pitching and that’s not a secret. Tyler Chatwood is a nice addition to the back of the rotation, but that’s all he is. The Cubs have said that Jake Arrieta is as good as gone, so that means they need another starter to go with Chatwood, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. They also need a closer assuming that free agent Wade Davis goes elsewhere.

The obvious name that gets thrown around here is free agent Alex Cobb, who pitched for Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey in Tampa Bay. But Cobb is gaining interest from more teams than just the Cubs. Might Rangers or Yankees, two teams that missed out on Shohei Ohtani, blow the Cubs out of the water with a big offer?

The other option is to trade for a starter, and most Cubs fans still regret that the Cubs let Chris Archer go all those years ago in the Matt Garza deal. Might the Cubs make a play for Archer and Rays closer Alex Colome, thus killing two birds with one stone?

It sure would be nice, but the Cubs don’t really have the minor league prospects to tempt the Rays with. The Cubs would have to part with a major league player and the Rays would undoubtedly ask for either Addison Russell or Javier Baez. The Cubs have shown no desire to deal either player, but perhaps the Rays would accept Ian Happ or Kyle Schwarber? (And to be clear, this is the same dilemma the Cubs will face when trying to trade for any quality starter this winter.)

As far as bullpen help goes, the Cubs don’t seem interested in former Rockies closer Greg Holland. But might they make a move for Orioles closer Zach Britton? Britton followed up a nearly-perfect 2016 with an injury-plagued 2017. Britton can be a free agent after next season, so the Orioles may try to deal him for whatever they can get now rather than lose him for nothing. Of course, the O’s might gamble that they could get more for Britton at the trade deadline.

Yu’s Next?

The two big pitchers on the free agent market are Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Neither one is expected to sign with a team at the Winter Meetings, preferring for other pitchers to “set the market” first. But these two aces will be holding talks with teams and we should have a good idea which teams are in the hunt for the both of them.

The Cubs have been mentioned as being on the periphery of the Darvish bidding, but they aren’t expected to meet his contract demands. The Rangers may be looking to bring back their former ace now that they’ve missed out on Ohtani.

In fact, every team that missed on Ohtani could be in on Darvish or Arrieta. The Twins and Brewers to young teams who lack experienced pitching, have been linked with both. The Cardinals could also be interested in these two pitchers if they deal a starter for hitting.

People Have The Power

The Red Sox and Cardinals are two contending teams looking to add offense. The big free agent names on the market include Eric Hosmer, Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce. The Cardinals could also be looking to add through the trade market as the Blue JaysJosh Donaldson and pretty much everyone in Miami could be had for the right deal.

Gone Fishin’

Derek Jeter and the Marlins may deny it, but after dealing Stanton and Dee Gordon, Miami is in full tear-down mode. Outfielder Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna may be players the Marlins want to build around, but they are also the two players that other teams will offer the most for. Catcher J.T. Realmuto is also a player that other teams will call on. The Marlins might be willing to package one of those players to any team willing to take on the contract of the aging and oft-injured Martin Prado.

Calling All Angels

The Angels just got Ohtani, but they are still a bullpen piece and a second baseman away from being a true contender. Might the Angels be a player for Wade Davis or any of the closers that the Cubs might be after in trade? Free agent third baseman Mike Moustakas might not be able to play second base, but he clicks all the other boxes the Angels need and they could move third baseman Luis Valbuena over to second. Plus, Moustakas is a Southern California native.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers can’t just sit there and watch the Angels steal the spotlight, can they? They aren’t a team with many (if any) weaknesses to fill, but they’ve got a strong farm system and will look to pounce on any deal that makes them better in 2018.

Rule 5 For Fighting

And please, it’s “Rule 5” and not “Rule V.” The importance of the Rule 5 draft has dropped in recent years as the number of years teams have players under control increased. What’s left are mostly a collection of lottery tickets, back-end starters, middle relievers, utility infielders and fifth outfielders.

Still, fans tend to get pretty worked up over the Rule 5 draft. Former first-rounders Mark Appel, Max Pentecost, Kohl Stewart and Trey Ball are still well-known, but they aren’t the players in the most demand here. Rays RHP Burch Smith is 27 and missed two seasons to Tommy John surgery, but he’s showed good stuff in his return to the mound last year and should be one of the first players taken in the draft. Yankees right-handed reliever Cale Coshow can hit 100 mph on radar guns and some team is likely to stash him in their bullpen this year.

The player the Cubs are most likely to lose in the Rule 5 draft is RHP Trevor Clifton, who was one of my top 10 Cubs prospects after the 2016 season but had a miserable 2017 that saw his stuff back up. But some team might still take a shot at him as a back-end starter or a middle reliever.