At the MLB Winter Meetings, reports about Shohei Ohtani and where Juan Soto might be traded come to the fore.
At the MLB Winter Meetings, reports about Shohei Ohtani and where Juan Soto might be traded come to the fore.

There is a lot of excitement building up for baseball’s yearly Winter Meetings, which are being held this year in Nashville, which could be a future site for expansion.

A lot of teams had a lot of things they needed to do before the off-season, but only a few have started to cross things off their lists. Aaron Nola stayed with the Phillies as their co-ace. Even though two of the new starters are only on one-year contracts, the Cardinals have already added three starters. All three have made the average age of the team much higher, which was hard to do since Adam Wainwright left after the season at age 41.

But there is work to be done for everyone else. When it comes to some teams, things need to fall into place before they can move on. Shohei Ohtani is the most important one. He is a once-in-a-generation star who is now a free agent for the first time and will definitely sign the biggest deal in MLB history.

This week should be fun. Let’s look at some of the most important plots.

Everyone wants Hiroshi Ohtani

A few weeks ago, it was said that Ohtani and his team wanted to keep the talks between them private and that any leaks would hurt their chances of making a choice. It looks like the teams that want Ohtani have heard that because there haven’t been many rumors lately. This is strange because Ohtani is the biggest free agent in MLB history and everyone who even remotely likes baseball is dying to know what he will do.

It’s been quiet so far.

At the Winter Meetings, that might get different. I hope so. Early reports said that Ohtani wanted to finish the process as soon as possible. He might make his choice by the beginning of December, which is now. Every team that’s in the running would love for Ohtani to make up his mind during the talks. That way, if he ends up signing with someone else, at least those teams will know and can use the money they might have set aside for Ohtani on other free agents.

Hope all goes well. Everyone still thinks the Dodgers will win, but the Cubs and Rangers are close behind. The Blue Jays, Red Sox, Giants, Mets, Mariners, Braves, Phillies, and maybe the Padres are in the next group. At least that’s what people are guessing, since neither the person nor the teams have said anything official.

Yamamoto or no bust!”

Two of the “premium” free-agent starting pitchers have signed: Aaron Nola is back with the Phillies, and Sonny Gray has signed with the Cardinals. This has caused some fans to feel a little anxious. For example, the Braves were said to be in the running for both Nola and Gray. Either one would have been great for the Red Sox. The same goes for the Giants, the Dodgers, the Cubs, both New York teams, and the Rangers.

The people who work in the front offices of those companies may not be panicking just yet, but they can feel the stress. The price of Yoshinobu Yamamoto goes up over all of this. He is the most sought-after starting pitcher in the market. At just 25 years old, he is a true ace who has been dominant in Japan, where his career ERA is 1.72, with a 1.16 ERA in 2023. He’s pretty much perfect.

The right-hander was officially posted on November 20, which means that teams have 45 days to talk to him. He doesn’t have to make up his mind right away, but it’s likely that he won’t need all 45 days to do so. He is said to have started Zoom talks with teams that are interested from Japan. After those meetings, the process will move forward.

There’s a small chance he’ll sign during the Winter Meetings, but it’s not likely. There will be a lot of talk about him, especially between the Giants and the Red Sox, two teams with a lot of money to spend and a lot of needs in their starting rotation.

What about the “other” starting pitchers who are free agents?

There are, in fact, a good number of starting pitchers with big impacts still available as free agents. It’s not enough for everyone to fill out their shifts, but it’s enough to give aggressive teams a break.

Let’s quickly look at some of the best starts out there. I don’t think it will be a surprise if at least half of these guys sign soon after or before the Winter Meetings end.

1. Yoshinobu Yamamoto (on Opening Day, he was 25 years old)

It wouldn’t be a surprise if he got a deal worth more than $200 million. Some desperate teams might even pay even more.

2. Jordan Montgomery, thirty-one

You can count on him during the regular season, and in the playoffs, he’s Mr. Electric. What else do you need from a starter?

3. Blake Snell, age 31

It’s a good way to get into the free agent market to win your second Cy Young award.

4. Eduardo Rodriguez, aged 31

Not as much attention has been paid to him as some of the other starts, but he should be in this group. He could stay in Detroit, but many teams would love to have him.

5. Marcus Stroman, age 32

He chose not to sign with the Cubs, which was a little shocking given how much time he spent on the IL in 2023. Was great before getting hurt, though.

6. Shota Imanaga, thirty

He didn’t have as good of numbers in Japan as Yamamoto, but he’d be a great back-of-the-rotation starter for a team trying to make the playoffs.

7. Trevor Bauer, age 32

Really interested in what Bauer does during the off-season.

8. 30 years old Lucas Giolito

As a soon-to-be free agent, Giolito’s value dropped the most in the second part of the year. He was great with the White Sox but terrible with the Angels and Guardians. Most years, he might only need to take a one-year deal to get his value back, but since so many teams need starting pitchers, he might still be able to get a 3- or 4-year deal.

9. Michael Wacha, age 32

Wacha’s career seemed to be going in the wrong direction—he had a 5.11 ERA across three teams from 2019–21—but he had back-to-back great seasons with the Red Sox and Padres, with a 3.27 ERA in 47 starts in 2022–23. During those starts, his teams went 32-15.

10. This is Seth Lugo, 34

Lugo made 26 starts in his first full season as a starter since 2017 and had an ERA of 3.57. He then chose to not renew his contract with the Padres, which could be a good deal for a competitor for two or three years.

11. Hyun-Jin Ryu, 37

At 37 years old, Ryu is mostly a five-inning pitcher and is likely looking at one-year deals. However, he was pretty good in his 11 starts after getting off the IL last year, posting a 3.46 ERA for the Jays.

12. Frankie Montas, 31

After having surgery on his arm, Montas worked hard to get back. He played one game for the Yankees at the end of September. The deal he signs will either be short or give him at least one way out.

13. Jack Flaherty, 28 years old

After coming in fourth place for the 2019 Cy Young Award, injuries have slowed his progress, but he was mostly healthy in 2023. Before the move to Baltimore, he was finally getting going in July (3.03 ERA), but he got hit hard in his 34 2/3 innings (6.75 ERA). He’s only 28, so it’s possible that he’ll sign a short-term deal to prove himself again.

14. Wade Miley, aged 36

Over the last three years, 105 pitchers have made at least 55 starts. Miley’s ERA over that time period (3.26 in 59 starts and one relief appearance) is the 20th best of the 105 pitchers who played during that time. If that’s what the smart experienced lefty wants, he looks like he’ll have a long career like Jamie Moyer’s.

The watch for Juan Soto

As the arbitration deadline approaches, the Padres are determined to cut salaries. As much as they love having Juan Soto in their lineup (and who wouldn’t?), his $30 million-plus pay (exact number TBD) and impending free agency make a trade for the young superstar seem very likely. While the Padres won’t get back as much as they sent to the Nationals in exchange for Soto, they will still get a lot.

The Cubs, Giants, Rangers, Yankees, and other teams that are interested in Ohtani would also be interested in Soto. One thing that makes Soto different from Ohtani is that he will be a free agent after the season, and he has made it clear that he doesn’t want to sign a deal.

So, don’t forget about teams that might only see Soto as a rental player for one year and have no plans to give an extension. The Rays, Phillies, Braves, Blue Jays, and maybe even the Cardinals are in that group.

No matter what, the Winter Meetings will likely be dominated by discussions about Soto.

C’mon, do something … 

Every year, some teams have it worse than others.

Will the Giants ever find a new “face of the franchise”? Or will they repeat the mistake they made with Aaron Judge? Can the Yankees fix all of their issues with a set of moves? Will Mets’ new manager David Stearns make two big moves in his first few days in charge?

The Red Sox need a boost to their rotation. Can they get one or two aces? It’s not possible for the Cubs to make a manager hire from a rival team their biggest move all summer, right? Are the Dodgers going to do nothing? These teams need to do something soon.

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