There was once a time when the baseball hot stove season was some of the biggest news in sports, with big name free agents changing teams, blockbuster deals, and rumor mills that made guys like Peter Gammons, Ken Rosenthal, and Jayson Stark household names. These days, however, the baseball off-season has clearly been eclipsed by both the NFL and NBA off-seasons. Those leagues figured out how to condense their off-season to a week-long feeding frenzy of rumors, signings, trades, and “Woj Bombs.” Meanwhile, the baseball hot stove season has gone into an ice age, with rumors moving at glacial speed, and some players going unsigned well into the season.
There are signs this winter that the frozen state of baseball front offices are starting to thaw out a bit. So this could be an interesting off-season after all, if not in Kansas City, at least around baseball. And the week that will be most interesting is typically when teams meet for the Winter Meetings, which take place next weee, December 9-12 in San Diego.
What are the Winter Meetings?
The Winter Meetings are first and foremost, an industry convention. Representatives from all 30 teams assemble at a convention hotel to network, work on potential deals, meet with agents, and tell each other bad jokes. There are seminars, workshops, and tons of job-seekers looking to get their foot in the door of the baseball industry. Those from the minor league baseball industry will be there as well, although there could be some tension between those two groups right now.
But amid all the cocktails and fleece vests, teams will work out trades and sign free agents, many times the most significant transactions of the winter. The meetings will also conclude with the Rule 5 draft on Thursday morning.
What will the Royals look to do during the Winter Meetings?
Probably not much. Dayton Moore has typically not been an active general manager during the Winter Meetings, instead using the time to lay the foundation for deals for later in the off-season. And this could be a particularly slow off-season as the team goes through a rebuild. There have been rumors they have some interest in Japanese left-handed pitcher Kwang-Hyun Kim. The Yankees are reportedly interested in left-handed reliever Tim Hill. Danny Duffy’s name has come up a lot. And there have been persistent rumors on the Cubs’ interest in second baseman Whit Merrifield.
The Royals have a projected payroll just over $80 million, or about $20 million less than last year’s Opening Day payroll. But with a new ownership group and a rebuilding team, don’t expect them to make much of a splash with free agency. Most likely Dayton Moore will be looking to do what he did last winter, waiting out the market and trying to pick up cheap free agent relievers and role players and hoping they can still have some value.
The Royals are also likely to make a selection in the Rule 5 draft, having cleared four roster spots last week. They have picked up two players in each of the last two drafts, acquiring Brad Keller and Burch Smith in 2017 and Sam McWilliams and Chris Ellis last year.
What will other teams look to do during the Winter Meetings?
The big free agents this winter all starred recently in the Fall Classic - pitcher Stephen Strasburg and third baseman Anthony Rendon of the Nationals, and pitcher Gerrit Cole of the Astros. All three are represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who could dictate how the off-season operates.
The Cubs, Red Sox, and possibly Dodgers will be looking to cut costs in fear of luxury tax penalties. The Rangers will look to make a splash heading into their new ballpark. The Reds are looking to continue doing interesting things. The Blue Jays have a ton of payroll flexibility and great young players. The Angels need to capitalize on Mike Trout’s prime. The Braves could push their chips in.
Some big names could get moved as well. The Red Sox may shop Mookie Betts to get under the luxury tax threshhold. The Cubs may do the same with Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. The Indians could deal both Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber. The Pirates could move outfielder Starling Marte.