Beginning Monday morning and lasting through Thursday afternoon, the entire baseball world will revolve around the 2010 MLB Winter Meetings. Every team and countless agents - not to mention hundreds of writers and thousands of job-seekers - are on hand at the Walt Disney Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and the next four days will feature around-the-clock conversation and rumor generation. And sometimes there will even be actual moves.
For many baseball fans and executives, it's the wildest four days of the year, every year, a time to daydream about blockbusters and chase leads into the wee hours of the morning. So we here at SB Nation thought we'd help you - the fan - out by providing a bit of a primer on what we could see happen, and what players are out there for the taking. This is always an exciting time, but no one wants to go in underprepared.
WHAT'S ALREADY HAPPENED?
True - while the Winter Meetings are sure to be exciting, we've already seen a flurry of offseason activity. Just this past Sunday, for example, the Red Sox pulled off an Adrian Gonzalez trade, Jayson Werth signed with the Nationals, and the Brewers traded for Shaun Marcum. Earlier, Adam Dunn signed with the White Sox, Victor Martinez signed with the Tigers, and David DeJesus was traded to the A's. And there have been other moves, too.
The offseason has been anything but quiet up until now, with some elite-level talents changing teams. But still, there's plenty left.
SO WHO'S LEFT TO MOVE?
That's a good question. The answer: tons of talent. Why don't we just start with the very top of the free agent class? Cliff Lee is still available, with the Rangers, Yankees, and a possible mystery team in the hunt. Behind Lee, there's Carl Crawford - the jewel of the free agent position players - who has drawn interest from the elite of the American League.
Dropping down a tier, Adrian Beltre will be looking for a new home after the Adrian Gonzalez trade to Boston blocked his desired return. Paul Konerko's a free agent, although he's considered likely to re-sign with the White Sox. Carl Pavano is the best remaining free agent starting pitcher, while Rafael Soriano is the best remaining free agent reliever. Dozens of others, like Manny Ramirez, Carlos Pena, Jim Thome, and Adam LaRoche, are also looking for work.
Here's a handy list of free agents, courtesy of Yahoo!'s Jeff Passan. The free agents are listed in approximate order of quality, and there's a little red symbol to indicate whether or not each player has been signed. What you'll notice when you click on that link is that most of the free agents have yet to be signed. Here's a link to ESPN's free agent list, which can be conveniently grouped by position.
Not all of these free agents will be signed during the Winter Meetings, of course. But some of them will. With every team holed up in the same hotel, this is as good a time as any for a player and his agent to get to work, and we can assume that there are a lot of guys who are hoping to know of their new homes by Thursday night.
THOSE ARE ALL FREE AGENTS. WHAT ABOUT TRADES?
Indeed, the most exciting part of the Winter Meetings isn't the free agency talk, but rather the trade rumors that always start to circulate. And while these trade rumors can oftentimes be unpredictable, this time around, we know of a few guys who could and should get plenty of rumor mill attention.
Zack Greinke trade rumors have been swirling for a few weeks, as the Royals are open to trading him and he seems to be the only ace-level pitcher available other than Cliff Lee. Justin Upton trade rumors have also popped up, and Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers has said that he'll know by the end of the meetings whether Upton will begin the 2011 season in Arizona. Additionally, slugging Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder is a year away from free agency and should attract attention now that Adrian Gonzalez is off the table. And the Diamondbacks have been looking to move strikeout-prone but powerful third baseman Mark Reynolds.
These are only a few of the names you should expect to hear linked to trade rumors over the coming few days. Others can come up out of nowhere. Things can happen in a hurry, things can change in a hurry, and things can fall apart in a hurry. That's what happens when you have all 30 general managers rubbing shoulders with one another.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE WINTER MEETINGS A YEAR AGO?
A good way to get an idea of what to expect is to examine recent history. During the 2009 MLB Winter Meetings, we saw the following major transactions take place:
-the Twins signed Carl Pavano
-the Nationals signed Ivan Rodriguez
-the Braves signed Rafael Soriano
-the Yankees signed Andy Pettitte
-the Brewers signed Randy Wolf
-the Rangers signed Rich Harden
Additionally, it's worth noting that conversations that take place during the Winter Meetings can lay the groundwork for moves that come later, after the meetings end. It was during the meetings that the Mariners spoke to the Phillies and got the ball rolling on the Cliff Lee trade that would happen a week later. The Winter Meetings aren't just about getting deals done - they're about getting deals done and making progress towards other moves to come soon.
WHAT ARE THE MOST LIKELY BIG MOVES THIS TIME AROUND?
Here, I don't have any inside information, so all I can do is speculate. However, it would not surprise me to see Cliff Lee decide on a new team within a few days. He's essentially down to two suitors - the Rangers and the Yankees - and they should each have a good idea of what it'll take to bring him on. If Lee signs early, we could see Carl Crawford negotiations begin to intensify, and the Zack Greinke trade rumors will catch fire as well as the loser in the Lee bidding makes a play.
There will be a lot of action. I would expect at least one significant trade, and Reynolds is almost sure to find a new home. The list of available free agents will be whittled down. I wouldn't put it past the Angels to make a big, sudden splash, as they have interest in a number of top talents and are apparently looking to forego the standard negotiations process by leading with their best offer in every case. There should be enough major moves to keep these four days active. And even if there aren't, there'll surely be enough rumors to keep you on your toes. The Winter Meetings may not end up filled with transactions, but at the same time, they won't be slow.
WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND AS THE BEST WAYS TO FOLLOW ALONG?
We here at SB Nation will be keeping you all up to date on the latest moves of significance on our MLB page. Also, we have a whole network of baseball team blogs for further and more specialized analysis. But if you're looking for something quicker - something instant - then the only place to look is Twitter, where I would suggest paying attention to the following national writers:
There are plenty others, but this is a good start. You'll have to dig deeper if you want more local coverage, but every team will have at least one beat writer present.
WHAT OF THIS ‘RULE 5 DRAFT'?
Oh, right. Every year, the Winter Meetings conclude with what's known as the Rule 5 Draft. The Rule 5 Draft is conducted in ascending order of record from the previous season, and provides an opportunity for teams to add to their Major League rosters. This year's Rule 5 Draft will take place on Thursday.
Players eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft must not be on their teams' 40-man rosters, and they must meet the selection criteria. They must have been signed at 19 or older and a member of their organization for four years, or they must have been signed at 18 or younger and a member of their organization for five years. Here is what looks to be a complete list of the players eligible to be drafted this time around.
A player selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on the selecting team's Major League roster for the entire season, and he must be active (not on the DL) for at least 90 days. He may be waived and returned to his original team at any time. He may also be traded, but the Rule 5 requirements are transferred to the obtainer. If the player finishes the season on the roster, he may return to the minor leagues the next year, as the requirements are lifted.
Notable Rule 5 Draft selections include Johan Santana, Roberto Clemente, and Josh Hamilton, among several others. Selecting a player can be a gamble, but it can sometimes come with significant upside.
So that about covers it. By the time you read this, the Winter Meetings will already be well underway, and who knows - maybe the first significant move will have already taken place. For fans of the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, and Angels, these could end up being a very fruitful four days, but the same goes for anyone and everyone else as well, which is what makes this rollercoaster so damn exciting. Enjoy yourself, and if you're an around-the-clock rumor chaser, don't forget to bathe.