What’s the Next Move For MLB’s Top Contenders After Winter Meetings?

What’s the Next Move For MLB’s Top Contenders After Winter Meetings?

What’s the Next Move For MLB’s Top Contenders After Winter Meetings?

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    FILE - Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani celebrates as he rounds first after hitting a two-run home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees Monday, July 17, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif. Shohei Ohtani is a favorite to win his second AL Most Valuable Player award, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

    AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File

    As we await Shohei Ohtani’s free-agency decision, the entire MLB ecosystem has seemed frozen in time.

    That is apparently what happens when a generational player hits the market in his prime and is projected to command a contract unlike anything we have ever seen.

    Yet, there was some action that started just after the winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, with Juan Soto being traded to the New York Yankees after details of the deal trickled out throughout Wednesday.

    A few teams worth mentioning, though not yet considered contenders, are the Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants. All three are considered to be some level of contender for Ohtani in free agency, which is certainly relevant.

    With all of that in mind, here is a look at the next move for MLB contenders based on what we learned from the winter meetings.

AL East

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    Craig Kimbrel

    Craig KimbrelElsa/Getty Images

    Baltimore Orioles

    The Orioles went into this offseason prioritizing pitching, both in their rotation and bullpen. They wanted someone who could upgrade the rotation but also a reliever with closing experience.

    Insert Craig Kimbrel, who the Orioles are reportedly signing to a one-year deal for $12 million, with a $13 million club option and $1 million buyout for 2025.

    The move fills a need for Baltimore created by the loss of Félix Bautista, who is expected to miss the entire 2024 season to recover from Tommy John surgery.

    Kimbrel, 35, posted a 3.26 ERA with 23 saves in 71 appearances for the Philadelphia Phillies last year and made the NL All-Star roster.

    The next big question is whether the Orioles can land the high-end starting pitcher they’ve been looking for. With a payroll that ranks dead last in MLB, they can afford it.

    New York Yankees

    This was a fairly busy group in Nashville. The Yankees reached a deal with the San Diego Padres for Juan Soto, the 25-year-old four-time Silver Slugger, three-time All-Star and former National League batting champion.

    On Tuesday, they traded with archrival Boston Red Sox for outfielder Alex Verdugo. Two starting outfielders in two days along with Gold Glove winner Trent Grisham, who was included in the Soto trade.

    Their plan was always to add multiple outfielders to join Aaron Judge, and preferably left-handed batters to help balance the right-handed-heavy lineup.

    This idea of switching Judge to center field seems like a curious one, but it would be the move if New York teams him up with both Verdugo and Soto.

    Now, the focus turns to starting pitching and the big prize of Yoshinobu Yamamoto. If the Yankees land the right-hander, and they believe they are leading that race, they are firmly back into the mix for World Series contention.

    Toronto Blue Jays

    Count the Blue Jays as one of the clubs with the feeling they have a real shot at landing Ohtani. The vibe described north of the border as “an absolute frenzy” with the possibility of landing Ohtani.

    Keegan Matheson of MLB.com wrote the Blue Jays are “legitimate finalists with a realistic opportunity to pull off the biggest move in this franchise’s history.”

    So, when you put it that way, there was nothing short of signing Ohtani that Toronto could have done during the winter meetings that could have captured our full attention.

    The Blue Jays are being purposefully secretive about their talks with the Japanese star, which is the way he prefers it.

    They still need to address left field, rotation depth and third base if they decide not to bring back Matt Chapman. But what’s next almost entirely depends on one guy.

    The stakes are high in Toronto right now.

    Tampa Bay Rays

    The Tampa Bay Rays left the winter meetings with the same question they had when entering them: Which of their marquee players are on the move?

    They re-signed reliever Chris Devenski to a one-year deal with a club option, but that’s more housekeeping than landscaping.

    It’s still up in the air how long players such as Tyler Glasnow, Randy Arozarena, Isaac Paredes and Manuel Margot will still be Rays.

    If and when they trade Glasnow presents a natural follow-up question of how the Rays will address their rotation depth. They could also use another catcher since René Pinto is the only one on the 40-man roster.

    There are more questions than answers in Tampa right now.

AL Central

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    Derek Falvey

    Derek FalveyDavid Berding/Getty Images

    Minnesota Twins

    There was absolutely no buzz surrounding the Minnesota Twins at the winter meetings. Outside of some conversations about potential trade fits, it was mostly quiet for them this week.

    They are among the teams waiting for the bigger dominoes to fall before things get going in-house. Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey was candid about waiting out the market.

    Once there is more action, they can start addressing pitching depth after losing Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda and adding right-handed bats to a strikeout-prone lineup.

AL West

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    Jordan Montgomery

    Jordan MontgomeryDaniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    Texas Rangers

    Despite winning the first World Series in franchise history, the Texas Rangers knew they needed to make moves to bolster their bullpen. They tried throughout last season, and a surplus of starters ultimately helped cover where they were weak.

    Texas agreed to a one-year deal with right-handed reliever Kirby Yates on Day 2 of the winter meetings, but it was mostly a time of information gathering.

    MLB insider Jon Heyman believes Jordan Montgomery is headed back to Texas. The 30-year-old was a major contributor to its World Series run, especially when he shut down the Houston Astros to win Game 1 of the ALCS.

    Trading for Montgomery turned out to be one of the more underrated moves of the deadline and retaining him in free agency would be another win for the Rangers.

    Houston Astros

    One of the Astros’ stated offseason goals was to find a backup catcher to Yainer Díaz, who is taking over the starting role for outgoing veteran Martín Maldonado.

    They did just that by agreeing to a two-year, $12 million deal with former Milwaukee Brewers catcher Victor Caratini, who also provides some depth at first base when he’s not catching.

    Houston also has to replace three key relievers it is expecting to lose in free agency, so it traded for Dylan Coleman from the Kansas City Royals. It still needs more bullpen arms.

    There are also the looming questions of whether the Astros will sign long-term deals for star players like Alex Bregman, who becomes a free agent after this season, while Framber Valdez and Kyle Tucker become free agents after the 2025 season.

    If not, will they sell high early or risk losing them for much less. Some major in-house decisions need to be made as well as adding from the open market.

    Seattle Mariners

    Making the most of a situation that is less than ideal is the theme of the Mariners’ offseason. They are coming off a disappointing campaign in which they failed to capitalize on breaking the longest postseason drought in baseball.

    Now, they are financially impacted by their regional sports network, and while president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto is reluctant to talk about their budget, it is clear from the Mariners’ actions that they are shedding salary.

    Last month, they traded Eugenio Suárez to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Then, just ahead of the winter meetings, they traded Jarred Kelenic, Marco Gonzales and Evan White to Atlanta.

    Seattle needs a middle-of-the-order bat and some help in the outfield, which should remain the focus following the meetings. How it goes about acquiring such a player will be interesting to watch.

    The Mariners are also one of the few teams linked to Cody Bellinger, per Jon Morosi of MLB Network, and they have an abundance of pitching if they choose to go the trade route.

NL East

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    Bryce Harper

    Bryce HarperElsa/Getty Images

    Atlanta

    Picking up where we left off with the Mariners, it was Atlanta that addressed its need for a left fielder by trading for Kelenic from Seattle.

    If it is able to tap into the 24-year-old’s potential as the sixth overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft, then it gets another left-handed slugger to fill a hole in left field that was desperately needed.

    This was, arguably, Atlanta’s only weakness aside from starting pitcher depth, despite its lackluster finish in the 2023 postseason. It should still be a favorite in the National League, but this only fortifies the team.

    Atlanta still wants a starting pitcher. Now that the winter meetings are over, it’s worth monitoring if it can land Corbin Burnes or Tyler Glasnow in a trade.

    Philadelphia Phillies

    The Phillies could use an experienced reliever who can pitch late innings after losing Craig Kimbrel to the Baltimore Orioles.

    Even though they re-signed Aaron Nola, they are also in the market for more rotation depth.

    Outfield depth is also something Philly could address, but president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told reporters he does not expect the market to really open until after the first of the year.

    He also addressed questions about a Bryce Harper extension, as wild as it sounds for someone signed through 2031. But he acknowledged that is something to consider much further down the road, even if Scott Boras wants to discuss it now.

NL Central

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    Corbin Burnes

    Corbin BurnesJohn Fisher/Getty Images

    Milwaukee Brewers

    By all accounts, the Milwaukee Brewers are serious about competing for another NL Central title in 2024. The big question is whether ace Corbin Burnes will be a part of it.

    MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy noted that rival executives have mixed opinions about whether the 29-year-old remains with Milwaukee through the offseason.

    Brewers general manager Matt Arnold maintained his stance that Burnes would be their Opening Day starter against the New York Mets, despite it being his last arbitration-eligible year.

    Teams have approached Milwaukee about Burnes and it is listening out of due diligence, according to McCalvy.

    Beyond those rumors, the Brewers re-signed Wade Miley and would like to continue adding pitching depth that doesn’t break the bank.

NL West

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    Eduardo Rodriguez

    Eduardo RodriguezDuane Burleson/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks

    Some late news coming out of the winter meetings was the Diamondbacks striking a deal with left-handed starter Eduardo Rodríguez.

    The move addresses Arizona’s No. 1 priority after winning the NL pennant and falling just short of a World Series title. It wanted more quality behind Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Rodríguez provides exactly that.

    The D-backs also addressed the need for a right-handed bat with their trade for Eugenio Suárez, but they remain in the market for another one.

    So, adding a bat along with shoring the bullpen are the next steps for the team.

    Los Angeles Dodgers

    Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was, arguably, the top newsmaker at the winter meetings. He told reporters there that Mookie Betts was moving to second base on a full-time basis.

    He also revealed the team had met with Shohei Ohtani at Dodger Stadium, confirming on the record what the entire baseball world seemed to know already.

    The thought after the winter meetings was that the Japanese star would make his decision by the end of the weekend. There is no bigger prize or priority for the Dodgers than Ohtani, so his decision is everything.

    They do, however, have some immediate needs in their rotation, which has been hampered by injuries. Tyler Glasnow and Corbin Burnes are still names to look out for with the Dodgers along with Yamamoto.

    Nobody has the combination of money to spend and farm-system depth to deploy quite like the Dodgers.

    San Diego Padres

    The Padres are included in this list of contenders as a courtesy, but it is fair to question how much they belong in the conversation.

    The most relevant move they made was shipping away one of the game’s best players, a year and a half after their own trade for him.

    Juan Soto arrived ahead of the 2022 trade deadline, seemingly joining a superteam that already included Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. Then San Diego doubled down on the aggression and signed Xander Bogaerts in free agency.

    Now the Padres have punted on Soto and are searching for discounted pitching under new skipper Mike Shildt.

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