Major League Baseball will hold its 115th annual Winter Meetings from December 4-8, 2016, just south of Washington, D.C., at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. For baseball fans around the world and those within the industry, the annual Winter Meetings are an exciting time where many teams shape their rosters for the coming season through trades and free agent signings. In anticipation of the closely-watched player movement, let’s take a look at the two local teams and gauge what their interests, needs, and targets may be as they head down to the National Capitol Region:
New York Mets
2016 finish: 87-75, 2nd National League East
• NL Wild Card Game: lost to San Francisco Giants, 3-0
Free Agents: LHP Jerry Blevins, LHP Jonathan Niese, OF Alejandro DeAza, INF Kelly Johnson, 1B James Loney, RHP Fernando Salas
Returning: Free Agent OF Yoenis Cespedes (4 years/$110M, full no-trade clause); Free Agent 2B Neil Walker (1 year/$17.2M, agreed to qualifying offer)
Farewell: Free Agent RHP Bartolo Colon to Atlanta Braves (1 year/$12.5M)
When we last saw them: Locked in a memorable pitching duel at Citi Field between the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard and the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, Giants’ 3B Connor Gillaspie belted a ninth-inning, pinch-hit, three-run home run off Mets’ closer Jeurys Familia. A stunned Citi Field crowd watched as the legend of Bumgarner grew, closing out New York in the 9th inning and completing his second career complete game shutout in the NL Wild Card Game (’14 at Pittsburgh, ’16 at New York).
• Center Fielder
• Bullpen help
• Starting pitching depth
Center Field. With the re-signing of OF Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets now have a backlog of outfielders – but who will play center field? The Mets now have six outfielders on the roster with major league experience: Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Juan Lagares, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo. While Cespedes and Granderson have played center in recent years, only Lagares (a 2014 Gold Glover) is a true center fielder. Lagares has battled injuries and inconsistency over the last two seasons. Granderson and Bruce are experiencing trade interest, as both enter the last year of their respective contracts; Granderson is apparently garnering more interest with his versatility at multiple outfield positions and at multiple locations in the lineup. Conforto struggled at the plate after an impactful debut in the summer of ’15, and was even sent down to AAA Las Vegas in mid-year. Nimmo displayed promise during his mid-summer recall, but does not project as a long-term center field option.
Potential targets: Free Agent CF Dexter Fowler (Cubs); Fowler, 30, looks on his way out of the Windy City after the defending World Champion Cubs (yes, amazing to write that) signed San Diego CF Jon Jay this week to a 1-year/$8M deal. The Cubs have depth on the major league roster, with help on the way through their productive farm system.
Bullpen help. The Mets will look to bolster their pen for a couple of reasons. Following an allegation of assault at his Fort Lee, NJ, home, closer Jeurys Familia faces a December 15th court date, and the possibility of a suspension issued by Major League Baseball for violating the domestic abuse policy. The Mets have setup man and former White Sox closer, RHP Addison Reed, as insurance. LHP Jerry Blevins and RHP Fernando Salas are free agents.
Potential targets: There are numerous candidates on the market, but look for the Mets to proceed with caution, after watching the St. Louis Cardinals signed LHP Brett Cecil (Blue Jays) to a whopping 4-year/$30.5M contract. The Mets may look to solve their bullpen problems from within, or wait until the market plays itself out through December and January.
Starting pitching depth. The Mets have four of their five young starters – RHP Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet), LHP Steven Matz (left shoulder), RHP Jacob DeGrom (right forearm/nerve), RHP Zack Wheeler (2015 Tommy John surgery) looking to come back from recent surgery. RHP Noah Syndergaard pitched through suspected bone chips in his elbow during the second half. RHPs Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman came to the rescue in the second half and buoyed the Mets’ depleted rotation. RHP Bartolo Colon has departed as a free agent to Atlanta.
Potential targets: Health. The Mets will optimally look for their young starters to heal and return to the numbers and promise they showed in 2015. The free agent starting pitching crop is thin and Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson would prefer to supplement his starters with help through the minor league system, or through a trade involving one of the Mets’ six outfielders.
Way Ahead: The Mets made their big wave(s) of the offseason in their re-acquisition of Cespedes, the third time the Mets traded for, or re-signed, their cleanup hitter and biggest offensive threat. With Neil Walker’s signing, the Mets are set across the infield with 3B Jose Reyes, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Walker, and 1B Lucas Duda, with hope that Captain and 3B David Wright returns to health and provides depth. The Mets will likely trade either Granderson or Bruce for pitching prospects, as GM Sandy Alderson looks to replenish the team’s young pitching within the overall system. If the Mets’ elect to go with a platoon in CF with Juan Lagares from the right-side, Alderson may look through for help in the thin free agent market to find Lagares a partner from the left side. The Mets should remain relatively quiet during the Winter Meetings, with a most likely course of action of moving one or more of their outfielders.
New York Yankees
2016 finish: 84-78, 4th American League East
• None; missed playoffs for third time in four years
Free Agents: None; the Yankees were the only MLB team not to sign a free agent in the 2015-2016 offseason, and they have no free agent of significance from the roster heading into the winter meetings and 2017.
Farewell: C Brian McCann, traded to the Houston Astros, for two minor league pitchers, RHP Albert Abreu and RHP Jorge Guzman; LHP James Pazos to the Seattle Mariners for RHP Zack Littell; RHP Nathan Eovaldi (released/2016 Tommy John surgery); OF/INF Dustin Ackley (released)
When we last saw them: The Yankees struggled to score runs during the first four months of the year, and then went through a turbulent and memorable transformation at the trade deadline, moving LHP Andrew Miller (Indians), LHP Aroldis Chapman (Cubs), and OF Carlos Beltran (Rangers) for a host of prospects. DH Alex Rodriguez elected to retire immediately in August, while 1B Mark Teixeira also announced his retirement, effective at the end of the ’16 season. GM Brian Cashman promoted C Gary Sanchez, OF Tyler Austin, and OF Aaron Judge from AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre and continued the Yankees’ long-awaited youth movement. The Yankees sprung to life and stayed alive in the AL Wild Card race up until the final weeks of the regular season. As they head to Washington, D.C., for the winter meetings, the Yankees have less committed payroll ($136M heading into ’17), more prospects, and more options than at any time in recent franchise history; the Yankees will be an interesting player during the Winter Meetings.
• Power hitting
• Closer / back-end bullpen help
• Starting pitching depth
Power hitting. The Yankees need a “thumper” back in the middle of their lineup. A difference maker in the #3 or #4 hole would alleviate some of the pressure on Sanchez, Judge, Austin, 1B Greg Bird and others. The Yankees have been linked to multiple bats on the market, including DH/1B Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays), DH/OF Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), and Beltran (Rangers). Cashman has money and prospects, enabling him to work through both trades and the free agent market.
Closer / back-end bullpen help. Following the trades of Miller and Cashman, RHP Dellin Betances struggled in his first extended run as the team’s closer, raising concerns within the organization. Chapman enjoyed his time in New York and is open to the idea of a return, but it will come down to term and overall contract value. Chapman and his agent have apparently expressed interest in a potential contract totaling over $100M, which would be a record for a reliever, and a number that will likely inhibit any potential return to the Bronx. RHP Mark Melancon (Nationals, and a former Yankee farmhand) and RHP Kenley Jansen (Dodgers) are also free agents and bear watching.
Starting pitching. The Yankees have plenty of question marks in the starting staff heading into ’17. RHP Masahiro Tanaka, LHP C.C. Sabathia, and RHP Michael Pineda are the only sure members of the ’17 rotation that will head to Tampa in February. Competition for additional starting opportunities will come from RHP Bryan Mitchell, RHP Chad Green, and RHP Luis Cessa. The Yankees have a slew of prospects now and can explore potential trades, including LHP Chris Sale (White Sox) who apparently is on the market as the Pale Hose consider rebuilding. On the free agent slide, the Yankees have apparently expressed interest in LHP Rich Hill (Dodgers) and RHP Jason Hammel (Cubs).
Way Ahead: It is clear that the Yankees and their ancient rivals, the Red Sox have switched places. Boston President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski arrived in Boston in win-now mode in late ‘15, and last off-season’s signing of David Price and trade for closer Craig Kimbrel reflect that reality. The Yankees are now the team working to stay away from long-term free agent deals, keep the payroll down, and utilize their farm system to reinforce needs at the major league level. What a stunning reversal.
The Yankees will continue to stay patient, rebuild and reload at the same time, and await the expiration of their last two onerous, and long-term Free Agent contracts (Rodriguez – ’17; Sabathia – ’17). The Yankees will be the most interesting New York baseball team during the winter meetings and throughout the offseason. Again, Cashman has freedom, money, and prospects, which will be an entertaining combination to follow throughout the Hot Stove season.
Expect action and something unexpected. Look for Cashman to wheel and deal, potentially moving 2B Starling Castro, OF Brett Gardner, or 3B Chase Headley for a mid-20s starting pitcher with some upside. The Yankees will be in on a free agent power bat and starting pitcher. I would expect them to sign either Hill or Hammel, and land a bat as well…especially if they can agree to a short-term deal with either Bautista or Beltran. The longer those two remain on the market, the more chance the Yankees sign one, as the market, in terms of years and dollars, comes back to them. The same goes for a potential closer; look for the Yanks to secure Chapman or Melancon – especially if their demands lower, plus Melancon did not receive a qualifying offer from Washington and is not tied to draft pick compensation.
Enjoy the Hot Stove!
Mike Lalor can be heard talking NY Sports on the Spadora on Sports radio program. His blog can be found at www.spadoraonsports.com.