The virtual winter meetings arrive this week, which is to say there will not be thousands of people gathered in one place spreading one bad rumor after another about where George Springer is going.
I will drink less coffee (and beer) and walk fewer steps chasing the back of a head that I am 100 percent certain belongs to Andrew Friedman, only to have it turn out to be an insurance salesman from Evanston, Ill., now dying to regale me with his “who says no?” trade between the Cubs and White Sox. Scott Boras will not hold court on Wednesday, at least not with a huddle of reporters around him. No job seekers will corner me under the pretense of wanting my wisdom, when really what they want is help getting them work.
Man, am I going to miss it.
The winter meetings is the convention of the baseball business. The cross street in which executives, agents, reporters, major leaguers, minor leaguers, athletic apparel companies and more jam into a hotel and leave regular folks gawking, “who is that?” when a few dozen reporters encircle Brian Cashman. It starts annually with team officials trickling in on a Sunday and ends with the baseball version of the Running of the Bulls as every baseball official rushes for the exit and airport at the conclusion of the Thursday morning Rule 5 draft. In between, there is an annual game of “did Billy Beane show up this year or not?,” fixation on which big free agent is going to be left without a financial chair to sit in and anticipation of the Washington Post’s Dave Shenin regaling all with immense singing talent one drunken night.
Did I mention, I am going to miss it?
It is 2020, so there are no mass gatherings (at least by sane folks). So the winter meetings will be held in absentia. Here is hoping we get what we always hope for this week — significant transactions. Let’s just say it wasn’t a great look last week on the contract tender day when there were 59 non-tenders, 59 pre-tender contracts and two minor trades, and those 120 moves were swallowed whole when the Rockets flipped Russell Westbrook to the Wizards for John Wall and the next morning Anthony Davis signed for $190 million.
MLB and the players association cannot agree the sun is hot, yet I do hope they can figure out a mechanism — an offseason trade deadline and/or free agent signing deadline — to create a greater flurry of moves (and attention to the sport) rather than the slow-walk trickle that now overwhelms all. It was sure engrossing last winter meetings when one day after another Boras clients Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon signed mega-deals.
In that spirit, I will offer what I think would be the most interesting landing spots for the Big Four free agents with the hope that one or two (or three or four) come off this week:
George Springer, Mets
If asked which of the Big Four I expected to sign first, I would pick Springer. That is in part because a) the Mets are not camouflaging their interest and b) in case you didn’t hear, the Mets are now owned by the richest guy in the sport.
Springer just fits every Met criteria. He is super talented. A center fielder. A righty hitter. A proven postseason performer. A high-energy performer with a rep as a superb teammate. Want to throw in Connecticut roots? I think the Blue Jays, White Sox and others would love him, but if I had to bet this will be the first time we see a Yankee-like reality under new Mets ownership — if Steve Cohen wants him, Steve Cohen gets him.
DJ LeMahieu, Dodgers
Force me to bet on it and I would say LeMahieu ends up back with the Yankees. I assume one reason the Yanks have been so inactive is that Hal Steinbrenner has set a stricter, lower 2021 payroll and the team cannot delve into other markets until they know how much LeMahieu is going to cost. My gut says LeMahieu will give the Yankees — with whom he has loved playing — last chance and Steinbrenner will have to decide what to do. If the Yanks keep him, then they will have little to spend elsewhere. If they don’t, they will be more open to finding lefty bats and rotation depth.
The Mets would be a fun landing spot because it would be another indicator of a new phase in which they actually took a desired Yankee away. The Blue Jays would love to integrate LeMahieu’s veteran steadiness/talent into their young positional core. But imagine the already tough Los Angeles lineup with LeMahieu.
The Dodgers see value in bringing back Justin Turner, not just as a player, but as a key leader. Fine, at 36, Turner plays, what, 110 games at third? So there are 50 games there for LeMahieu. And 60-70 at second along with Gavin Lux, whose shine diminished some last year. And there are another 30 at first against lefty starters when Max Muncey doesn’t play. If there is an NL DH next year it is even easier to get LeMahieu to 150 games. And if LA loses Corey Seager to free agency after the 2021 season, then Lux could go to short and LeMahieu just plays second.
I heard the Dodgers had interest in LeMahieu when he was a Rockie. And how LA manages payroll and keeps layering talent from the farm system allows it to be viable in any market. In my virtual winter meetings, the Dodgers are the coastal superpower that goes for LeMahieu.
Trevor Bauer, White Sox
The Mets are certainly interested. But if they sign Springer do they invest in another big guy? Chicago has a strong positional core and putting a Springer here would make it all the better. But the White Sox could sign a Michael Brantley and upgrade the lineup and have greater overall impact sliding Bauer atop the rotation with Lucas Giolito ahead of Dallas Keuchel and with perhaps Michael Kopech returning from opting out of 2020. I think this would make the White Sox the AL Central favorite.
J.T. Realmuto, Mariners
If the Mets go with James McCann to save their major dollars for Bauer and/or Springer and the Phillies are in more payroll consolidation than expansion, where does Realmuto find his money?
Seattle has accumulated interesting young talent at a time when the Astros (Springer, Brantley, Justin Verlander) and the A’s (Liam Hendriks, Marcus Semien) could be losing huge pieces in 2021. The Rangers are not ready to win. Are the Angels? The Mariners have not been to the playoffs since 2001 — the longest drought in the four major North American sports. Think about rebuilding clubs such as the Tigers with Pudge Rodriguez/Magglio Ordonez and the Nationals with Jayson Werth putting down tentpoles of change with big-money free agents. Realmuto should be the Mariner tentpole — a player who can impact both sides of the ball, DH when he doesn’t catch and offer context to Seattle youngsters on how to prepare and play.
Maybe Realmuto cannot find the long-term deal as a catcher if the Mets or Phillies don’t play for him. But how about Seattle making him the highest average annual value catcher ever for four years at say $112 million ($28 million per)?