The week before Major League baseball's winter meeting was epic. It featured one of the most incredible days of buying and trading we have ever seen. Two of the top free agents signed massive contracts last week, with Robinson Cano getting ten years, $240 million from the Mariners and Jacoby Ellsbury signing a seven year, $153 million deal with the Yankees.
After all that excitement, the winter meetings might feel just a little less important than they have in prior years. The top three free agents have already signed. The Yankees have reloaded. The Mariners have resurfaced as big spenders. The World Series Champion Red Sox and the National League Champion Cardinals have both addressed the major issues facing them this winter. Several blockbuster trade deals have gone down. The big stories seem to have been written already, leaving only the less-compelling minor transactions behind.
Don't be fooled!
This year's winter meetings have the potential to be every bit as dramatic as the week that proceeded them. With the top-tier of players disappearing fast and a significant drop-off to the next tier, the trade market seems primed to take off while all the key people are gathered in Orlando. Teams that have missed out players like McCann, Ellsbury and Cano could bid up the few remaining impact players to dizzying heights. The hot stove might look like it is simmering down, but there is no shortage of coal for the fire.
Before the blaze completely engulfs these pages again, let's take a look at some of the teams that could bring the heat this week.
The Texas Rangers
Even after swapping Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder, it is impossible to imagine that Rangers are done building. The Rangers had been connected to both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann at the start of the off-season, but they have missed out on both. They wanted to beef up their catching but with McCann off to New York, they whiffed on Dioner Navarro and said no to bringing back Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They added some talent in a deal that sent defensive specialist Craig Gentry and pitcher Josh Lindblom to Oakland for a power-bat near the majors at the same position in Michael Choice and a wild-card in Chris Bostick, but that deal hardly addresses any immediate concerns. They want an outfielder and Shin-Soo Choo is a strong possibility, but another major trade could also be the answer. Texas appears to be nearing their spending limit thanks to the Fielder deal. Acquiring another young, cost-controlled player might be preferable to paying for Choo and they should have the chips to make it happen. Giancarlo Stanton anyone?
The Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are dangling the biggest trade chip of all out there right now and any team that is at all interested in competing in 2014 is going to at least ask about David Price. What inquiring teams are likely to hear in response is a who's who of the top prospects in the game. The Rays model is straight-forward. They develop top players (usually pitchers) and ride them to the playoffs. Then they ship them off at extraordinary prices for even more young talent. Rinse and repeat. If the Rays actual deal Price, they will be getting a return to rival the James Shields-Wil Myer deal. Even if that deal isn't out there, they could still trade Jeremy Hellickson or Matt Joyce to accomplish the same thing on a smaller scale.
After spending like sailors on shore leave last year, the Dodgers have been quiet so far this off-season. Maybe a little too quiet. They are a possible landing spot for Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka if is finally posted, but the new rules leave them vulnerable to other bidders and more luxury tax liability than they would have faced under the old system. That could push them in another direction. With the Rays shopping David Price, L.A.'s gold card might just start burning a hole in their pocket. They also have extremely high-profile trade candidates of their own to consider. They have been talking about a possible Matt Kemp deal and failing that, Andre Ethier could be moved. Every element is in place for Los Angeles to produce Mega-Trade- The Sequel this week, a big-budgeted, deal extravaganza that sees hundreds of millions of dollars change hands and farms systems sliced up like extras in a Tarantino flick.
The Seattle Mariners
Sure, Seattle just handed out the third largest deal in baseball history, but that was last week. As insane as it may seem, they still have money to spend. The Mariners financial obligations for 2014 are still well under $60 million before arbitration salaries come in and they have ton of needs. They have apparently turned their attention to the rotation and are looking at Bartolo Colon right now. They have also been connected to David Price, with top prospect Taijuan Walker looking like the centerpiece of a deal there. Should Tanaka be posted, they would be logical suitors for him as well. Their outfield is still in of an upgrade and Choo or Nelson Cruz could provide that help. After watching reports of dysfunction in his front office detract from the post-Cano buzz, GM Jack Zduriencik can't be happy. He is in the final year of his contract and he needs to build a winner now to put all that misery behind him. Signing Cano helps, but that deal alone isn't enough.
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