By Matt Straub
Baseball executives have gathered in Nashville for the annual winter meetings, where teams get together and start making the deals they laid the ground work for last month. With more money than ever flowing into the sport and the second wild card giving more teams hopes of competing, teams are going to be falling over each other to make big moves through trades or signings this week.
Let’s take a look at how the three teams from our area could use this week to improve their rosters for the upcoming season as well as the future.
The New York Mets come to the winter meetings off a World Series appearance but in danger of falling back to the pack in the National League quickly if they don’t have a big winter. That means they need a productive week in Nashville more than anyone else in baseball, and certainly more than the other two area teams.
The first decision to be made for New York will be on Daniel Murphy, who New York could suddenly be back in the mix on because he doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of hits on the open market. The second baseman became a folk hero with his incredible stretch of home runs in the postseason, but fell apart quickly in the World Series, making a crucial error while seeing his sudden power disappear. The draft pick attached to signing Murphy seems to be scaring teams away, as is his return to mere mortal status in November. The Mets might be able to use the lull in his interest to get him back at a shorter term than what Ben Zobrist wants.
Zobrist would be a perfect fit in New York, which has a number of holes defensively Zobrist could fill. He can play a multitude of positions, capable of giving numerous people the day off and providing Terry Collins with all kinds of options to move people around after double switches and substitutions. He will be old at the end of the four-year deal he wants, but his price won’t be as prohibitive as another recently signed free agent we’ll get to in a minute.
Whether the Mets go with Murphy, Zobrist or another option like Howie Kendrick, they will eventually fix their infield. What will be a bigger priority, however, is adding a power bat. Yoenis Cespedes, who was the Mets’ MVP this summer, is almost certainly gone, leaving a huge hole in the outfield and in the lineup. The Mets could try to put Zobrist in the outfield and find another infielder somewhere else, or they could try and get an outfielder on the free agent market. Jason Heyward seems too pricey for New York, but Alex Gordon would be a good fit being a solid hitter and really good defensive player.
Those players, however, aren’t the big bat the Mets need. There aren’t a ton of power hitters on the market in general, and certainly not at the Mets’ budget, meaning they could try the trade route. They do have a number of young pitchers as we all know, including Zack Wheeler, who is coming back from surgery in the near future. The Mets could add a relatively cheap veteran for the back of the rotation and use someone like Wheeler in a package to get a hitter. Zobrist is a great fit but isn’t the cleanup hitter the Mets need, so making both moves will be crucial to the team’s success. If the Mets could afford Chris Davis that could be a nice match, even if it doesn’t fill a positional need. The Mets have to get a power bat, however, and can figure out where to play everyone later.
The other need for the Mets is in the bullpen, which was a mess last season. It will cost some money, but adding a couple of middle-inning type guys to get through the sixth and seventh would be a big help. The Mets were never going to get a big name like Aroldis Chapman, now a Dodger, but filling out the bullpen is a must.
The Boston Red Sox came into the offseason needing pitching. A lot of pitching. They started the winter by getting themselves a big-name pitcher in David Price, who immediately fills the role of ace, something the Red Sox haven’t had since they foolishly traded their two best pitchers in the summer of 2014.
If you’ve been reading my writing on the Red Sox over the years on this site, you know how much of the team’s problems go back to the 2014 trade deadline, when Boston made a mess of its future. Did the Price deal finally buy Boston out of the muck it has been stuck in? Or did the Red Sox just make another mistake worth a small fortune?
The Red Sox spent more than $200 million on Price, which is bothering some people in Boston, but shouldn’t. I understand salaries don’t affect ticket prices to any large extent. Salaries are paid largely with TV money, which is why they’re about to jump. For those ripping the length of the deal, there are two key rebuttals. First, there’s an opt-out clause after year three. If Price is still great, he can go try and make more money. Second, if he stays in, which I think he will since there won’t be as much out there for a 33-year old pitcher when his out clause comes, his numbers won’t look as bad in a few years. If Price got $31 million a year this year, what will the best pitchers get in 2020? Price will never be a bargain, but he might not be the in the top five in contracts a few years from now, when revenues will have grown exponentially.
The problem isn’t the money Boston spent, it’s how it was spent. If Price were the only thing Boston needed, this would be perfect. Instead, the Red Sox need several pitchers and wouldn’t turn down a little more help in the lineup. The money would have gone a long way toward building depth.
Yes, Boston still would have needed an ace, but there are other ways to get them. Boston currently has a stacked minor league system and could have used some of it to trade for a younger, cheaper pitcher. Oakland says it doesn’t want to move Sonny Gray, but is also known for loving prospects ready to contribute immediately without costing anything. Gray’s salary is only going to rise, and the A’s can get some ready-now kids from the Red Sox like Blake Swihart, Henry Owens and Brian Johnson. Throw in a young prospect or two, and there’s a deal to be made. That kind of trade would hurt Boston’s farm system, but the Red Sox would have a couple years to build it back up before it needed much help from the farm. It also would have allowed the Red Sox to use the $31 million this year on a couple more relievers and a bit more bench help.
Instead, the Red Sox got Price, which isn’t a bad consolation prize. Did they get the best pitcher on the market, however? No.
Price has been fantastic in the regular season, which is how you get to the playoffs. He also has a good record at Fenway Park. He has been hideous in the playoffs, however, making him not the ideal fit for a team which wants to contend for a title. But you have to get there first, and you have to have a guy who can serve as a stopper during the regular season who can lead the young pitchers on the staff as well.
So now what for the Red Sox? The trade market is still there, both in and out. The Sox will be looking to bring in some players, perhaps someone like Gray or Chris Sale, but also could be shipping someone out. I don’t think they’ll dump Hanley Ramirez, but they could send out a veteran starter in hopes of building a stock of young players (further pointing to some more kids going out) or some bench and bullpen health.
It likely won’t be a big week for Boston, but their name will be mentioned in every rumor, which will make it fun.
The Yankees, strangely, are on the bottom of this list because they are the least likely to do much this week. They are waiting out some of their big salaries in order to be able to both get younger and gear up for some future winters. The talk around baseball has Bryce Harper and Matt Harvey just biding time until they can become Yankees in a couple of years, which means the Yankees have to let their big deals expire to reload for the next wave of free agents. In the meantime they are more than capable of putting together a contending team because they have a number of pieces. What they need is depth to cover for the inevitable Mark Teixeira injury as Greg Bird did this past year or if A-Rod slows down.
They could deal from a position of strength, sending Andrew Miller out for some young position players and letting Dellin Betances take over the closer role full time. I’d hate to see any team weaken their bullpen, but if it fills other needs, the Yankees can do it and try to help their bullpen from within. They are a team which always seems to have some young pitcher no one has ever heard of step up, so it’s possible it could happen again.
If New York does delve into the big market this week, expect them to go after a younger star. Jayson Heyward won’t turn 27 until August and New York could open a hole for him if it trades Brett Gardner. They’ll worry about where to put Harper in 2018 or so.
Most expect the Yankees to stay quiet this week, but the Yankees have plenty of options because of all those pieces they’ve collected. They could trade a veteran like Gardner or Miller, bring in a young star like Heyward, or, while less likely, trade some young pieces they don’t have room for currently like Bird for something they can use more immediately (another starter). Watch for the Yankees to get linked to younger, more affordable pitchers like Carlos Carrasco or Tyson Ross on the trade market. While they are the most likely to do nothing of any of the local teams this week, the Yankees, like Boston, have positioned themselves to be able to do anything they want, making them intriguing.
The winter meetings are always exciting, and with three local teams capable of going in a number of directions, this week will be dramatic, even if it isn’t very productive.