PHOENIX – There's an interesting vibe going here, beyond the usual early rattling of baseball's offseason, not all of which can be ascribed to Brian Cashman's new goatee-ish thing.
Barely two weeks since the San Francisco Giants were forced to hurdle their own third baseman on the way to their championship party, general managers and their various hardball posses arrived in the desert to what feels like a strangely unsettled winter.
When was the last time 28 general managers watched a World Series and found neither remaining team particularly susceptible to imitation? (OK, start with a pitcher who'll throw nearly every inning … )
There are, turns out, six new general managers to these meetings, or new to these meetings under their current colors, which means at least those six new directions. Also, there are five – soon to be six, as soon as Tampa Bay whittles its list of candidates to a number that could fit in your typical party bus – new field managers, as well, which is not insignificant in a place such as Chicago and the hire is Joe Maddon.
Indeed, new urgency in Chicago and new leadership in Los Angeles is of special interest here, given the fact money and talent run deep in both franchises.
At this time of year, when possibilities are as endless as rumors are plentiful and both are competing to fill the Internet, this means the Cubs are back in business and the Dodgers are, well, in the business of doing business. Again.
What it means for the moment is the Cubs are expected to do something immediately with their pitching staff, and the immediate things available run along the lines of Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields. You don't go hire Maddon at $5 million per and watch your starters throw fewer innings than all but the Colorado Rockies again. Nobody – not even Maddon – is that good at finessing a bullpen.
The new Dodgers and their house of GMs inherit 94 wins, a lopsided roster and a clubhouse that is somewhere between unwieldy and rampantly dysfunctional. Some of that disappears with Hanley Ramirez, who, like the 11 others in his position, on Monday turned down a qualifying offer. It doesn't solve the surplus of outfielders, which the last regime did not view as surplus but insurance and, sure enough, over long stretches covered for widespread fragility.
Andrew Friedman rolled his luggage across the lobby here a month as president of baseball operations for the Dodgers, several minutes before Farhan Zaidi checked in, he only several days as the club's general manager.
Asked if he was settled enough after that month to be clear about what could – or must – happen here or in the coming weeks, Friedman said that while he had plenty to learn, some parts are impossible to miss.
"I know what our plan is for this offseason," he said. "That's not to say it won't evolve. For the most part, the things we're focused on are relatively obvious. Pretty much, our areas of surplus are clear to the world. It's not real tenable to go into next season with this exact roster configuration."
That means an outfielder from among Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford almost has to go, and ownership is believed to have a strong affinity for Puig. So there's that.
Beyond that, the Red Sox and Mariners are looking spend-y again, except the game-changing free agents start to run thin after Lester, Scherzer, Victor Martinez, Yasmany Tomas, Nelson Cruz, Russell Martin and Pablo Sandoval, and some of those are debatable, followed by Andrew Miller, David Robertson and Ervin Santana. Some of those carry the qualifying-offer surcharge, which could complicate things.
One for whom it didn't, apparently, was Rockies outfielder Michael Cuddyer, who rejected a qualifying offer and within minutes had himself a two-year, $21 million contract with the Mets. Cuddyer won a batting title two seasons ago, was healthy enough to play in only 49 games last season, and by opening day will be 36. As usual, the Mets have wandered into the unknown, and you didn't have to travel a great distance in the lobby here Monday to find conflicting opinions on the signing.
Hey, it's something, and it's got a chance to be something other than treading water, and maybe it leads to the Mets beginning to come back to life. Or not. They almost certainly have some curiosity about Rockies' shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, but so far it's just that.
It is the time of year for those kinds of whimsical conversations and reaches, and it's why there's an anything-can-happen feel to this winter. For instance, what happens in Miami? Marlins president David Samson was spotted last week in Los Angeles, which is where Giancarlo Stanton lives. What happens in New York? The Alex Rodriguez situation hovers. What happens in Tampa? The Cubs say they welcome a tampering investigation as it relates to their hiring of Maddon. What happens in Texas? Maybe Elvis Andrus is available. Maybe more.
The rest? It's all in play. Unless you want to be the Giants. Because that only happens for the Giants.
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