Baseball's winter meetings open Monday in Nashville to the sounds of rolling luggage and personal ring tones. A rapper once nicknamed the city "Cashville," perhaps after the last time baseball came through. Or maybe he saw the Dodgers coming.
The meetings promise nastiness and seedy underbellies, half-truths and egos, thousand-dollar suits and empty wallets. But they won't be entirely about the Miami Marlins.
Some will leave rich, others not so much. Here are the stories, teams and players to watch:
A solid month into the free agency of Hamilton, and what we know is … we're a month into the free agency of Josh Hamilton. We know what teams would benefit from his power, speed and glove, those being the Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, pick one. We're a little unclear on which general manager (or his owner) believes he needs Hamilton, for how long and for how much. Want a little quiet time? Call Hamilton's agent, Mike Moye, leave a message, and wait for the phone to ring.
The best pitcher on the market conducted his tour of the Los Angeles teams this week and is expected to get some love in Texas and Washington as well. There's a sense among interested general managers that Greinke, while seeking his due financially, also will favor a city and team that afford him comfort and familiarity. In other words, he might sacrifice a few dollars for a place that feels right to him. That factor could bring other organizations into the conversation. Negotiations have been measured thus far, meaning Greinke's agent, Casey Close, appears to be preparing to take serious bids in Nashville.
Again, yeah. In the days after B.J. signed for five years with the Atlanta Braves, attention turns again to younger brother Justin. It's been a long, strange saga for Justin in Arizona. Clearly there are days general manager Kevin Towers wakes up and sees in Upton a young, multi-talented player under team control for three more years. And then there are days he sees a new shortstop and maybe some new young pitching. Yes, we're entering our third consecutive winter meetings in which Upton is everyone's favorite rumor. Already, speculation has brought Justin to Atlanta to form a two-thirds Upton outfield, to Texas, to Detroit, to Boston. And now, again, to Nashville.
If not Hamilton, then Michael Bourn or Angel Pagan or Shane Victorino. If you worked hard enough, you could make a case for 20 teams to sign one of them – speed guys, top-of-the-lineup guys, go-get-the-baseball guys. The Phillies, Giants, Indians, Reds, Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers and Mets come first to mind. Bourn is the best of the trio, and if you opened the Scott Boras binder on him you'd learn Bourn has been in the National League's top 11 in WAR in three of the past four seasons. You'd also find that six players have stolen 40 or more bases in each of their ages 25 through 29 seasons – Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, Kenny Lofton, Joe Morgan, Juan Pierre and Bourn. Of those, the first four were still stealing at least 30 bases at age 36. The other two aren't yet 36. My gut: Pagan to Giants, Bourn to Phillies, Victorino to Reds.
Can a brother get a closer?
There are plenty out there, some with buyer-beware warnings. Like Ryan Madson, who signed with the Angels, Brian Wilson and Joakim Soria are returning from Tommy John surgery. Wilson was non-tendered Friday by the Giants and would like to pitch for the Dodgers or the Red Sox. Jose Valverde apparently is healthy and just a year removed from his 49-for-49 season. Alas, the lasting image of Papa Grande is him searching for velocity and command in September and October, including a perfectly miserable postseason. The best of them – now that Mariano Rivera is safely re-signed in the Bronx – is Rafael Soriano, who had 42 saves and blew four opportunities for the Yankees. Only Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney had more saves in 2012. The Tigers are interesting here. Reports have linked them to Soriano, though GM Dave Dombrowski seems open to giving prospect Bruce Rondon a shot.
The Dickey saga
Here's where it stands between the Mets and their 38-year-old, 20-game winner: R.A. Dickey is under contract for 2013 for $5 million, the sides are negotiating an extension, and if they can't come to an agreement Dickey likely will be traded. Meantime, there's plenty of discussion about whether Dickey can maintain his breakout, knuckleball success of '12, whether his body will hold up, and whether he's a sound long-term investment for a team with good young starters on the horizon. The Mets probably aren't ready to contend in the NL East, so GM Sandy Alderson's best course is to get what he can for Dickey. I like him in Pittsburgh best.
Boston Red Sox
Ben Cherington finds himself in an interesting place. That is, where he must remove the stink of last season (and the one before), react to all that went wrong, try not to overreact too much, stay away from the word "rebuild," adjust to his third manager in three seasons, and ultimately show up in the very tough AL East. So far, that's meant trolling for first basemen (Mike Napoli and Adam LaRoche), signing two character guys (outfielder Jonny Gomes and catcher David Ross), re-signing another character guy (David Ortiz), watching Jon Lester and Andrew Bailey get kicked around the trade market, and holding onto the rebate money on Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. How Cherington proceeds from here, with the Red Sox both vulnerable and capable, will set the course for years.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Everybody's favorite ATM. Reluctant bottom feeders for years, the Dodgers have the resources and the motivation to go big this winter, starting with Greinke. GM Ned Colletti has a handful of other issues to clean up, but the offseason will be a success if he can find and land a 1-B ace to slot behind 1-A ace Clayton Kershaw. Colletti will hang around on Anibal Sanchez and might eventually have to bite on Kyle Lohse, if it comes to that, but the difference-maker for a staff that doesn't know what it will get out of Chad Billingsley or Ted Lilly is Greinke.
Tampa Bay Rays
Looks like the Rays are running long on starting pitching and short on cash again, which would be a shame anywhere but in St. Petersburg. Their circumstance is their circumstance, and GM Andrew Friedman makes the best of it through difficult but wise choices. It's an odd year when you could find reigning Cy Young Award winners from both leagues on the trading block, but that appears to be what we have. Reports have David Price available, same as Rays teammates James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson. A rival GM who checked in on the latter two said the Rays were hoping to get more in return than they did for Matt Garza.
The interesting thing about the Rangers is that they're in on everyone and everything. You know, the way the Yankees and Red Sox used to be. Armed with money and prospects, GM Jon Daniels figures there's always a hole to fill, and, if not, he can trade out of surplus. It still seems as though Hamilton is theirs to lose. And they'll push the pile, at least, on Greinke. They're a good landing spot for Justin Upton. And if the Rays are talking pitching, the Rangers are likely to talk back. If Hamilton lights somewhere else, they could consider Nick Swisher. They're considering playing Ian Kinsler in multiple positions in order to make room at second for Jurickson Profar. And they definitely need help in the bullpen.
Kansas City Royals
Is it time for the Royals to make their move? The evidence would suggest Dayton Moore thinks so, and it appears he'll consider almost anything to upgrade his starting rotation. He traded for Ervin Santana and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, which gets him about halfway home. The Royals still need a veteran stud to lead them, and Moore could move young major-leaguers or major league-ready prospects to acquire one of those Rays starters – Price perhaps. So, expect to hear the likes of Wil Myers, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer rolled through the lobby in Nashville.
The Phillies went from very good to very average in a heartbeat. Now they're looking for bounce-back years for some, rooting against the calendar for others, have lost their All-Star catcher for most of April, are carrying lots of payroll and just saw the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves get better. Accordingly, they're in on every center fielder, including Hamilton. Bourn would seem to fit well here, as would, in trade, Justin Upton or Dexter Fowler.
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