Previewing this week’s winter meetings

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Expect the rumors to come fast and furious as the league’s top executives converge on Dallas. The winter meetings officially start Monday, but the general managers will arrive and start talking among themselves this afternoon. With so much of the free-agent talent congregated at a few select positions, there could well be more trades than usual, and chances are we’ll see at least a couple of significant signings over the next few days. Some potential highlights:

– Starting pitching trades – Since the pitching market beyond C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle is pretty barren, many familiar names will be tossed around this week. There has been plenty of talk about Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez, Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens and Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez already. The White Sox may be open to moving either John Danks or Gavin Floyd. There’s also the Rays’ James Shields, the Cubs’ Matt Garza and the Twins’ Francisco Liriano, none of whom are certain to be available but who would generate plenty of conversation.

– A Buehrle signing – Just two of this winter’s top 20 free agents are currently off the board and those two are closers (Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell). One gets the impression that the top two starters might be the next to go. Buehrle doesn’t seem like the type who will want the free agency process to drag on, and he already has a handful of offers to choose from. Wilson is also a candidate to sign in the next few days, though that process may take a bit longer to play out.

– Closer trades – The Rockies’ Huston Street appears to be pretty much free for the taking, as Colorado would prefer to reinvest his $7.5 million salary elsewhere. Oakland’s Andrew Bailey and Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan would be considerably more expensive, but both could be had by a team not wanting to commit $10 million per year to Ryan Madson or Francisco Rodriguez.

– Mystery teams! – The big three of Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes aren’t making nearly enough noise at the moment, so it’s definitely time for some mystery suitors to become involved. Of the trio, only Reyes looks like any sort of candidate to get a deal done this week. The Marlins, though, would likely have to step up their offer to make that happen. Possible mystery teams for him include the Red Sox and Tigers.

– A Michael Cuddyer signing – The Twins want Cuddyer back, and the market is quiet enough that they may not have to go to three years to make it happen. Only the Phillies have made much noise regarding Cuddyer. The Red Sox are unlikely to chase him, and the Indians’ interest ended when Grady Sizemore chose to re-sign.

Twins’ top prospect Nick Burdi will undergo Tommy John surgery

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Twins’ right-hander Nick Burdi is set to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the team announced on Friday. Burdi made 14 appearances for Double-A Chattanooga before succumbing to a torn ulnar collateral ligament and is not expected to make his major league debut until mid-2018 at the earliest. A UCL tear doesn’t always require Tommy John surgery — less severe cases can be treated with platelet-rich plasma injections, for example — but Twins’ chief baseball officer Derek Falvey told the press that surgery was unavoidable as Burdi had sustained a “full thickness tear” in his elbow.

Entering the 2016 season, Burdi was widely considered a top ten prospect in the Twins’ system. His exceptional velocity and potent fastball-slider combo made him a fearsome relief option as he came off of his first season in Double-A Chattanooga in 2015. During the 2016 season, however, the 24-year-old experienced a significant setback after a bone bruise cut his season short in late July. Prior to Friday’s diagnosis, he appeared to be staging an impressive comeback with the Chattanooga Lookouts this spring, decorating his efforts with a sparkling 0.53 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 10.6 SO/9 over 17 innings.

It’s a tough break for the Twins, whose farm system was ranked 21st in the league by Baseball America. “Obviously he’s proven when he’s healthy he’s an absolute premium prospect, and the Twins are treating him that way,” Burdi’s agent, Matt Sosnick, told Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. “We just want to make sure everything we do ultimately leads to the goal of getting him back on the field as quickly as he can.”

Brock Holt has been shut down from game activity

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Things have gone from bad to worse for Red Sox’ outfielder Brock Holt, who was shut down “for the foreseeable future” on Friday after meeting with head trauma specialist Michael Collins. The Red Sox placed Holt on the 10-day disabled list in April after he began experiencing vertigo, the latest in a series of head injuries he’s sustained since last spring.

According to the Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato, the outfielder was initially advised to attempt playing through his symptoms, but it quickly became apparent that the strategy wasn’t going to work. Now, the plan is to shut him down from any game activity in the hopes that he’ll be able to recover from all lingering symptoms before returning to the roster. Club manager John Farrell told reporters that the 28-year-old is still cleared to take batting practice and work on his defense, but won’t continue his rehab starts in Triple-A Pawtucket for the time being.

Holt had been making regular appearances for the Pawtucket Red Sox and was batting .209/.292/.372 with two home runs through 14 games this spring. This season marks his fifth run within the Red Sox’ organization. He experienced a bit of a slump at the plate in 2016 and slashed .255/.322/.383 after breaking out during his first All-Star year in 2015.

Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe suggests that the team’s concern for Holt extends past his setbacks at the plate. It’s still a long road to a full recovery, and while Farrell told reporters he believes the outfielder is on track to make a return sometime in 2017, he’ll need to make sure that Holt is both physically and mentally prepared to do so.