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The last time the Winter Meetings were in Las Vegas, the Yankees stole the show by signing CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, while the Mets pulled off a three-team trade involving 12 players — the key piece being closer J.J. Putz.
Let’s hope the background music provided by the slot machines in Vegas once again inspires a frenzied few days of activity.
The potential is obviously there with so much intrigue surrounding free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and stars such as Corey Kluber and J.T. Realmuto very much available on the trade front.
Of course, sometimes this front-office extravaganza only sets the table for deals to be concluded later this month or January, as was the case last year, when a bunch of relievers signed and not much else happened.
So we’ll see. Scott Boras has been waiting a long time for the chance to sign Harper to the richest contract in baseball history, so he’s likely to milk this moment for all it’s worth.
With that in mind, I offer 10 Bold Predictions — or not so bold, in some cases — as a primer of sorts for the Winter Meetings, with the understanding that from a deal-making standpoint, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always come to conclusion in Vegas.
1. Yankees Sign Manny Machado
Hal Steinbrenner’s willingness to knock Machado publicly last month only further convinced me the Yankees want the guy. If not, why would Hal care about those “Johnny Hustle” comments and be looking for an explanation?
The fit is too perfect, with Machado filling in at shortstop until Didi Gregorius returns from Tommy John surgery, and then sliding over to be a Gold Glove third baseman for the long term. This would also give the Yankees the flexibility to trade Miguel Andujar, as I’ll get to…
2. Phillies Sign Bryce Harper
We know the Phillies are dying to spend their money, as owner John Middleton said publicly, and everyone in baseball seems sure they’re getting one of the two heavyweights.
If the Yankees are indeed in on Machado, it makes sense the Phillies will make sure they get Harper. The highest bid will get him, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
3. Marlins Trade J.T. Realmuto to the Dodgers for Keibert Ruiz and Dennis Santana
As much as the Mets may want Realmuto, they can’t match what the Dodgers have to offer — a prized catching prospect in the 20-year old Ruiz, plus a 22-year old pitcher like Santana.
The Dodgers love Ruiz, but they’ll give him up because they’re desperate to end that 30-year championship drought, especially after getting so close the last two years. Their window is now as Clayton Kershaw has turned 30 as well.
4. Mets Sign A.J. Pollock, Andrew Miller, Martin Maldonado
The romance is on between Brodie Van Wagenen and the Wilpons, meaning he’ll have freedom to raise the payroll, perhaps to the $170-$180 million level. And these three free agents would fill holes nicely.
Two of them come with injury concerns, but as a right-handed-hitting CF, Pollock is a perfect fit, and the addition of Edwin Diaz gives the Mets room to gamble on Miller’s dominance when healthy. Finally, Maldonado makes sense as a defense-first catcher for a team whose success will depend mostly on its starting pitching.
5. Yankees Trade Miguel Andujar, Sonny Gray, Clint Frazier, to the Indians for Corey Kluber
This is based partly on the belief they’ll sign Machado, which frees up Andujar to be packaged in the deal. Also, Frazier would fill the Indians’ need for an outfielder, and Cleveland figures to be the type of place where Gray will find his game again.
Kluber comes with three years of control on a relatively team-friendly contract, and even at 32, he’s still pitching at a very high level. I wrote on Thursday about how the Yankees could get Trevor Bauer — or Kluber — at a diminished price by taking Jason Kipnis’ contract in the deal. But I hear they’re wary of Bauer’s outspoken personality, and if they’re signing Machado, they’re not going to take Kipnis in any trade.
6. Phillies Trade Prospects to the Giants for Madison Bumgarner
Bumgarner’s October-hero status is all that might stand in the way of the logical move to trade him, as the Giants desperately need a rebuild. Without a sentimental attachment, new GM Farhan Zaidi may be more willing to make such a move.
After losing out on Patrick Corbin, the Phillies have the farm-system depth to make such a trade, with the centerpiece perhaps being last year’s No. 3 overall pick in the draft, 22-year old third baseman Alec Bohm.
7. Braves Sign Craig Kimbrel
The champion Red Sox just spent $68 million on Nathan Eovaldi, adding to the highest payroll in baseball, and they may not be willing to ante up for Kimbrel, who is telling teams he wants a six-year deal.
And Kimbrel had a shaky postseason, which may or may not have been the result of tipping pitches. But the Braves need a bonafide closer as they think about a championship run in 2019, so why not bring Kimbrel back where he started?
8. Indians Trade Prospects to the Mariners for Mitch Haniger
The Mariners are in a full rebuild, so they might as well deal Haniger — their best position player — and he’d go a long way toward replacing Michael Brantley in the outfield for the Indians.
If the Indians were to do the deal suggested above with the Yankees, they might spin Clint Frazier off to the Mariners, and with Andujar in the fold, they could include third-base prospect Nolan Jones.
9. Angels Sign Matt Harvey
Anaheim is not Los Angeles, but it’s only 45 minutes down the highway. So Harvey would be all-in, while the Angels desperately need pitching and might be willing to take a chance on the artist formerly known as The Dark Knight.
He won’t get the monster contract he once imagined upon becoming a free agent, but he pitched well enough with the Reds after being exiled from the Mets to warrant a Jason Vargas-like, two-year, $16 million deal.
10. Cubs Sign Zach Britton
Theo Epstein is talking about budgetary restraint of late, no doubt feeling the pressure from Chicagoans who want him to sign Bryce Harper. So, this might be the biggest move the Cubs make.
They surely need to beef up their bullpen, especially with closer Brandon Morrow recovering from elbow surgery.