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Andrew McCutchen will be traded, and other Winter Meetings predictions

Who will win the offseason? Who will make the moves to win the season that actually matters? It’s your 2016 Winter Meetings preview.

Gaylord National Resort And Convention Center Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It’s the Winter Meetings, everyone! Or, as I like to call them, the Almost Winter, Yet Still Fall, Don’t Be A Lawyer Meetings. This is where team representatives, agents, and journalists like to huddle under fluorescent lights powerful enough to cook a rotisserie chicken and decide the future of baseball.

What will happen in these Winter Meetings? Big moves. Stunning moves. Expected moves. Lots of moves. This is likely to be the most active week of the offseason, with a simple free agent signing knocking down an entire row of dominoes for 15 teams. There are sellers, buyers, not-surers, and everything in between.

If you’re looking for a preview, you found this by accident, and it will have to do. What will happen at the 2016 Winter Meetings? We have guesses.

Most active team of the Winter Meetings

The Nationals have home-field advantage, which means they get the final chance to top every offer in the bottom of the ninth. At least, that would make sense. What’s the point of hosting a Winter Meetings if that’s not true?

But they’ll sign Mark Melancon unless they trade for Andrew McCutchen unless they trade for Chris Sale unless they do all three. When there’s this much chatter, for a team with this much urgency, something is going to happen. Trade for Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera the same day they finalize the Rich Hill and Aroldis Chapman deals? Sure, why not?

Checklist of obvious moves

This is the most important step. Mark down all of the gimmes, and turn your attention toward something more fulfilling, like the steady stream of dumb Twitter rumors.

The Giants will sign a closer. There are three premium closers (and Brad Ziegler), and the Giants will sign one of the three (or Brad Ziegler). Mark Melancon is the likeliest acquisition because he’s the right mix of super expensive but not too expensive. His contract would prove a point, but it wouldn’t salt the earth. (Unless they sign Brad Ziegler.)

The Dodgers will sign Rich Hill. This is apparently something of an open secret, with the master tweeting that rival teams are expecting Hill to agree to terms on a three-year deal. That would make just a ton of sense, which is why the Marlins will crawl out from under the floorboards and offer him $90 million. Except it makes far, far, far too much sense for the Dodgers to bring back the Kershaw complement they got used to.

The Blue Jays will do something unpopular, but note: This isn’t synonymous with dumb or unfortunate. That remains to be seen. But they’ll probably lose Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista in the same week, ending the Great Era of Inexplicable Found Money. In their place, the Blue Jays will make ... other moves.

Mitch Moreland replacing Encarnacion is like eating concert tickets for your favorite band on a dare, then spending the night sitting on a keyboard, over and over again, in a dark room, alone, while singing their biggest hits at the top of your lungs, sobbing, wishing you hadn’t eaten the tickets. Other than that, it’s basically the same thing, you won’t even notice the difference.

That written, there are still a lot of ways for the Blue Jays to have a fine Winter Meetings. Remember that Bautista is going to be 36 and is looking for an expensive, multi-year deal, even though he looked like he was slowing down at the end of last season. And remember that Encarnacion will be 34 and posted his lowest OPS+ since 2011 (don’t be fooled by the glittery league-leading home run totals.) There are very real baseball reasons why a smart, big-market team would prefer to stay away from both of them.

The alternatives won’t be popular. Sorry. That’s not really fair, but it’s what baseball does. When fan favorites leave, accept no substitutes, even if they’re better ideas.

Edit: The answer was Steve Pearce, who makes sense, but is also tied for the league lead in not being Edwin Encarnacion.

Andrew McCutchen will be traded because it just makes too much sense. This is the Pirates’ window, the only time when the rest of the league will agree to forget that 2016 ever happened. Wait another year, and maybe McCutchen’s trade value is roughly where Jay Bruce’s is.

Or maybe the Pirates cobble together some pitching and McCutchen leads them to the promised land. But you’ll hurt your pretty little head thinking about that sort of thing. There are baseball reasons to trade McCutchen. Probably.

The Marlins will get weird because they are Winter Meeting cicadas, on an irregularly regular schedule, burrowed beneath the earth, ready to spring forth and pepper the Winter Meetings with nonsense and molted cicada skin.

For example ...

Ah, yes, you’ll remember Jonah Keri’s article from last month, “The Marlins Were Probably an Elite Closer Away From Winning the World Series.”

They cannot help themselves. For they are Marlins. This is what they do. The Earth’s grandfather clock is not audible to all, but it must be obeyed by those who hear its eternal ticking and tocking.

Checklist of completely nonsensical predictions

As these predictions are proven incorrect, I will quietly delete them.

The Royals will trade just about everybody. They have a significant projected payroll — just under the Nationals’, but just above the A’s and the Rays put together.

Do not weep for the dynasty that wasn’t. Marvel at the fact that the Royals won the danged World Series with a mix of homegrown talent and right time/right place acquisitions.

Chris Sale will not be traded. The White Sox are asking for the best young talent — the easiest, cheapest young players to project in baseball — and they should. The other teams are flagging their demands as spam because they should. The White Sox have the leverage, and unless there’s a Trea Turner, Alex Bregman, or Dansby Swanson coming back, why bother with anything else?

The Dodgers will trade for Justin Verlander and Evan Longoria on the same day, even if that’s ridiculous. At least I didn’t predict Sale. That will happen the next day.

There’s something about these two that makes far too much sense. Verlander already has Los Angeles ties. Longoria is the right combination of proven star and affordably expensive that the Dodgers have targeted over the last couple years. They’ve been a weird mix of pragmatic spending and reticent roster construction, but this seems like the right offseason in which to pounce.

The Twins will sign Jason Hammel to a three-year, $36 million contract. I don’t want to pick on the Twins, but this seems like a completely obvious move. Hammel would help other teams more, and the Twins would be better off doing just about anything else, but the best way to introduce a new front office is by confirming they’re doing everything the old front office did.

The Rangers will sign Jose Bautista and it will be funny. And awkward. But mostly funny. And also very awkward.

The Astros will win the offseason championship in six games. The offseason parade will be held on Houston Street, or whatever the big street is there, and it’s mandatory that you attend. Sorry.

Official Mystery Team of the 2016 Winter Meetings

The Marlins tipped their hand in their search for a big-money closer. They are no longer a mystery team. They are no longer allowed to roam the halls of Gaylord National Resort in a Matthew Lesko suit and ask agents to solve their riddles. They have to play by the rules.

The Rockies, though. The Rockies.

Consider that they have an absurd lineup foundation. Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story and D.J. LeMahieu, last year’s batting champ and Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez. That’s some fortuitous health away from being the new 2015 Blue Jays, minus the Tulowitzki, in an ironic twist.

Except they need a first baseman, and they have since Todd Helton retired. On the market? Two players who would hit approximately a million billion home runs in Coors, Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo. The former is just speculation, but the latter is an actual rumor.

It’s worth noting that Trumbo’s defense has usually graded out OK at first. He might hit a million billion home runs for the Rockies and shed the butcher’s reputation he’s developed, possibly because he hasn’t found a team willing or able to shove him at first base for an entire year.

Or maybe the Rockies will sign Rich Hill because they need pitching. And when you’re looking for a pitcher to navigate Coors Field, you automatically start thinking about the curveball specialists.

(I will hedge my bets here and note that the Padres have exactly zero dollars invested in guaranteed contracts right now. Literally zero. If they wanted to absorb Albert Pujols’ contract, they absolutely could, and they would still be the lowest paid team in baseball.)

A fond farewell from the official Winter Meetings mascot, Chorbles

Look at the little scamp. He wants to designate you for assignment right now. Just look at him.

Happy Winter Meetings, baseball friends! Remember that everything that happens over the next few years will happen because of what happens this very week, but try not to get so nervous about it. Play it cool.