To this point, the MLB off-season has been quiet: no major trades or signings quite yet, only questions. Where will the Marlins trade Giancarlo Stanton? What does Shohei Otani actually want? Will J.D. Martinez, dubbed the King Kong of Slug by Scott Boras, really make as much money as his agent expects?
Chances are we’ll start getting some answers to those questions and others next week, when the GM Meetings take place in Orlando, Fla. All 30 general managers will be in one place to discuss the state of the game and, to borrow a phrase that’ll be repeated often over the next seven days, ‘lay the groundwork’ for potential deals.
With that in mind, here’s a look ahead at what to expect…
What’s the difference between the GM Meetings and the Winter Meetings?
There’s understandably some confusion between the GM Meetings, which take place as winter approaches, and the Winter Meetings, which are attended by every GM. Let’s start there.
Relatively speaking, the GM Meetings operate on a small scale. Top baseball operations executives gather in one place and spend the day discussing on- and off-field issues. For example, they might debate the merits of moving the trade deadline back or discuss ways to regulate international signings. Afterwards, the execs can discuss potential moves with one another or the many agents who make the trip.
The Winter Meetings, meanwhile, are a TV-ready event on an entirely different scale. This time it’s about deal-making, not attending to league business. Everyone from trainers to scouts to analysts attend, and even then we’re just getting started. You’ve also got equipment companies, minor-league teams and scores upon scores of job seekers.
The setting changes, too. Where executives gather in hotel boardrooms at the GM Meetings, they spend much of their time in team suites at the Winter Meetings, preferring privacy to the chaos of the hotel lobby. By comparison the GM Meetings are peaceful.
What are the odds of a major trade or signing taking place?
To some extent, deadlines drive the MLB off-season. Players must decide whether to accept qualifying offers by Nov. 16, teams must protect Rule 5-eligible players by Nov. 20 and non-tender decisions are due Dec. 1. With each passing deadline, teams gain clarity and the tempo of the off-season picks up a little. That’s one reason that the Winter Meetings are so busy.
Even so, you’ll often see some significant deals at the GM Meetings. A year ago the Blue Jays announced their deal with Morales soon after the meetings concluded; two years ago they re-signed Marco Estrada in mid-November; three years ago the Tigers signed Victor Martinez for $68 million.
Generally speaking, bargains are hard to find until January, so deals signed at the GM Meetings tend to compensate players well.
Where do the Shohei Otani sweepstakes stand?
Otani, the 23-year-old who hit and pitched at an elite level in Japan, will be made available to MLB teams this winter. MLB hasn’t yet finalized an agreement with NPB, but the sides are close to renewing the previous posting agreement, according to the New York Post. That would allow all 30 teams to bid on Otani, but because spending restrictions limit his potential bonus to a maximum of $3,535,000, money likely won’t be the driving factor behind his final decision.
Until MLB and NPB reach a final agreement, teams can’t know for sure how to proceed. To some extent that uncertainty will slow down off-season activity. Once there’s clarity, though, agent Nez Balelo can expect a flurry of calls from interested teams intent on wooing a player who offers the rare combination of being elite on the field and chronically underpaid off of it.
What teams can we expect to hear the most about?
The Marlins are seemingly willing to move any of their three elite outfielders. The Cardinals and Red Sox have already been linked to many of the biggest bats available. After an off-year, the Giants could spend aggressively on the market’s top free agents. These are the teams that will drive much of the off-season action.
As for the club that’s historically been baseball’s biggest spender, don’t expect much. Beyond a managerial search and a push for Otani, the Yankees are saying they’ll remain quiet in an attempt to stay below baseball’s competitive balance tax. That self-imposed moderation might be short-lived, though. A year from now, when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hit free agency, the Yankees can re-assert themselves as a financial powerhouse.