Ervin Santana's four-year deal remains the largest handed out to a free agent in Twins history. (Photo Credit: Brian Curski, Cumulus Media)

As things wrap up at the GM Meetings in Orlando — where they’ll reconvene in a month for the annual Winter Meetings — it’s time to see the offseason kick into full gear. The BBWAA awards are being handed out this week, and from there it’s time for the movers and shakers to do what they do.

It’s Scott Boras season, and he’s already provided some great fodder for discussion as we await actual news.

We need real baseball news more than ever, friends.

With that in mind, I’m peeking into my crystal ball to let you all know what I think awaits us over the winter.

Shohei Ohtani will sign with a club that is off the radar, so to speak

It’s not about money, as Ohtani is leaving Japan a year before he could make a ridiculous payday as a free agent unencumbered by international free agent caps. It’s about fit, role and probably a number of other intangibles that only Ohtani himself knows. Surely I’ll eat my words if/when he signs with the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees, but something tells me he wants to join a team he can be a key part of the ascent with, rather than along for the ride.

Might it be the Minnesota Twins? I was told by someone I trust not to rule them out.

Ian Kinsler will be traded

At this point, he is who he is, an aging second baseman who’ll hit right around league-average marks with good defense. Is he more the guy who posted a 122 OPS+ in 2016 or the guy who checked in at 90 this past year? It’s hard to say as he enters his age-36 season, but what remains undoubtedly true is that it makes no sense for him to block a player like Dixon Machado at second base while making $11 million in a walk year. The Tigers might be able to get something if they eat some money, but otherwise, he’ll just be off to help a team looking to get improved production at the keystone. The Rangers make sense for a reunion, but he’s clearly burnt those bridges. Maybe the Angels?  

Giancarlo Stanton will be traded — but it won’t be for as much as you’d think

It’s a really weird scenario brewing in Miami, as Derek Jeter and co. have more or less put up a “For Sale” sign in front of Stanton with little to no shame. But Stanton’s contract is the thing of nightmares regardless of who is paying it. He’s due a perfectly reasonable $77 million over the next three years, at which point he can opt out and forgo the final $218 million he’s due from 2021-27 with a buyout of a $25 million option costing $10 million in 2028 — when Stanton is 38.

So either Stanton is terrific and opts out after three years — and again, he’d be paid reasonably over that time frame and probably worth assets sacrificed — or he plays poorly in perhaps the final year of the first part of the deal, and opts in with no guarantee that he can right the ship on the wrong side of 30. He played in 159 games this past year and was a complete monster, but that was the first time he’d played in 150 games since 2011, when he was 21.

The time is right to acquire Stanton if he can keep up his production — three years of this for under $80 million? sign us up! — but the downside is too strong for any team to go nuts.

You did this to yourselves — or a previous version of you — Marlins.   

The Marlins won’t stop at Stanton

Short of getting back a bunch of MLB-ready talent, it might be time for yet another fire sale in South Beach. Would that be No. 4? We’ve lost count. Dee Gordon is probably also on the chopping block, and while the team insists Christian Yelich is not, they were trying to move Marcell Ozuna to no avail a year ago. Now after a terrific season in left field, he could have a really hot market.

This feels like an old-fashioned teardown, with Jeter installing all the pieces in place like he likes it. There’s no sense in half-assing it, Jeets. It’s a shame, too. This offense is really, really good. Just one player (Gordon) had an OPS+ under 100 this year, and he provides plenty of value elsewhere.

The Twins will sign a player for more than the Ervin Santana deal

On Dec. 12, 2014, the Twins signed Santana to a four-year deal worth $54 million — plus $1 million buyout of 2019, if applicable — which still stands as the largest free-agent deal the club has ever handed out. In this era, that’s….sort of bananas. They’ve handed out bigger in-house deals to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, and reportedly offered more to Johan Santana before trading him to the Mets, but now’s the time for the Twins to get serious but supplementing this young core before the guys get expensive. Even if it isn’t spending mega bucks on Yu Darvish, a guy like Lance Lynn or even Alex Cobb might be in this price range — and both would be good fits for a stop in the team’s top three with Santana and Jose Berrios.

We’ll see what kind of pull Thad Levine and Derek Falvey have financially with the Pohlad family.

The Giants will have an active offseason

It was a cataclysmic season by the bay that resulted in the team coming one game away from holding the top pick in next June’s draft. Madison Bumgarner had a dirt bike incident, Brandon Belt battled concussion issues and Hunter Pence inexplicably fell apart as the Giants descended into the abyss at the bottom of the NL West. However, the team is still wildly talented, highly compensated and as a result more likely to dive back into the mix than to opt out of it.

The Giants already have nearly $188 million committed to the 2018 payroll — only about $9 million under the competitive balance tax threshold — but that jumps nearly $10 million in 2019, when the Giants have just $117.6 million committed to their payroll. The Giants can get creative with contract structures if they wish to stay under the tax threshold, and a rotation of Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija with guys like Matt Moore in the mix as well is not a bad start. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them land Lorenzo Cain and then work a platoon out with Denard Span and Pence.

The Royals won’t be able to retain any of their big free agents…

The cruel reality of the Royals’ long path to back-to-back AL pennants is that it took so long to get those guys up to speed in the big leagues — baseball is hard — that virtually the entire core of the team is up for free agency this time around. This is the kind of danger that is inherent to building a team exclusively through draft and development, and why it makes sense for the Twins to surround their stars while they’re still cheap.

Both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas took a while to find their way in the big leagues — the latter more so, but I digress — and now as they head into their late 20s, they’re eligible for big free-agent paydays. The Royals opted to pay up for Alex Gordon — who had a horrible 2017 season, Gold Glove notwithstanding — and now Danny Duffy, but it likely means they can’t pay the piper with regards to Hosmer, Cain or Moustakas — which is truly unfortunate.

It might make more sense to trade Duffy and blow this thing up, honestly — but that’s a bad look less than a year after he signed a long-term deal.

….but at least one of them will turn up across the state in St. Louis

It won’t be Cain most likely — Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler and one of a handful of other guys (Piscotty/Grichuk/etc.) make up a fairly strong outfield — but either of the corner guys makes sense for the Cardinals, who are desperately seeking more pop. They were fifth in the NL in average, third in OBP but 10th in slugging percentage. That’s where Moustakas, who hit .272/.314/.521 last year, could come in handy. He doesn’t have the most discerning eye at the plate (.305 career OBP), but he’s a solid defender who can crush the baseball. Either he or Hosmer makes sense, with Matt Carpenter playing the other corner not occupied by the signee.

The next Cubs closer will come from outside the organization…

A year ago it might have made sense to give Carl Edwards Jr. the job, but he took a troubling step back in his age-25 season this year. It’s not the four-pitch walk in the NLCS against Yu Darvish, but that’s on the right track. Edwards managed a 2.98 ERA this season — down from 3.75 the year before — but it came with a ghastly 5.2 walks per nine innings. That sort of control is terrifying late in games, and was far more reminiscent of his 2015 cup of coffee than his solid 2016 season. Hector Rondon also took a step back, Pedro Strop is probably better suited to a set-up role and Wade Davis is a free agent looking for a big payday. It makes sense for the Cubs to look elsewhere, and perhaps peel off another asset from their minor-league riches — which have dwindled a bit — to supplement here.

….and it might be Zach Britton, who will be moved this offseason despite his value being down

In a perfect world, the Orioles would hold Britton until July, then move him as he rebounds to something near his previous form which saw him post an ERA of 1.38 over a three-year, 209-inning span. It doesn’t look like the Orioles can afford to do that, however, as he took a step back last season and remains an injury risk moving forward. Britton had issues with his forearm and knee this year, and is almost certainly getting a raise from the $11.4 million he made last year as he heads into his final year of arbitration-eligibility.

He should still have a sturdy market, and the Orioles need to think about life after some guys — like Manny Machado, but also Britton. The time may never be better, once you consider hindsight.

Logan Morrison will be the best free-agent value….

He certainly took advantage of a so-called “juiced” ball this year, as he hit 38 home runs — or seven more than his previous two seasons combined. LoMo slashed a terrific .246/.353/.516 for the Rays, who did not tender him a qualifying offer. Morrison struck out a bit more in 2017 than his career rate (24.8 percent compared to 19.1 percent), but the payoff was huge. His walk rate jumped and so did his power, and it was because he embraced the grip-and-rip philosophy that is sweeping through the game. It wasn’t that Morrison was necessarily a grounder machine, but he went all out to elevate in 2017, and the results show what that can do for a hitter. His GB/FB rate was 0.72 (1.14 career) and his fly ball rate (42.9 percent) was uncharted territory (37.5 percent career).

He’s only 30 and will still have teams skeptical because of his previous seasons, but if he’s even close to legit — the numbers appear to indicate that he is — he’s going to be a nice find.

….the team that signs Hosmer will wish they’d spent the money on Carlos Santana

Santana is consistent as they come. Sure, he’s had down years — like when he hit just .231/.357/.395 in 2015 — but he’s posted wRC+ figures in excess of 100 in every single year of his MLB career. That’s the bonus of having probably the second-best batting eye in the game after Joey Votto. Even if the power takes a one-year vacation, a hitter can be propped up by on-base percentage. And when it returns….boom. You have a bona fide star. He’s a pretty good first base defender who was a finalist for the Gold Glove award, works counts and has plenty of pop. Hosmer has the flash and is three years younger, but for the money likely to be involved — $100 million-plus for Hosmer, maybe half that for Santana — the sticker shock is likely to be far less painful with the former catcher.


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