What to watch for at the 2014 Winter Meetings

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SAN DIEGO — Greetings from beautiful southern California. Where the weather is gorgeous and the speculation about free agents and trade possibilities is endless. It’s the Winter Meetings, baseball’s annual transaction frenzy, where owners, GMs, agents and everyone else in and around the game assemble and make the moves which set the groundwork for the coming year. This year the work is being done at the Manchester Grand Hyatt In San Diego, and it is from here I will be writing all week to keep you in the loop.

This year’s Winter Meetings are shaping up to be very different from last year’s when, it seemed anyway, all of the big deals happened before the Winter Meetings got underway. Robinson Cano signed with Seattle in the runup to it all. As did  Carlos Beltran, Joe Nathan, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski, Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau, Scott Kazmir and Ryan Vogelsong. Indeed, it seemed like most of the big names were off the board before everyone even made it to Orlando in 2013. But this year it is a different story indeed, with all manner of players still available.

On the market:

STARTING PITCHING

We still await Jon Lester’s decision. He, reportedly, has offers in hand from the Cubs and Red Sox and possibly the Dodgers and Giants. The deal he ultimately accepts could be around $150 million, but for now, he is leaving everyone guessing and the rest of the pitching market is likely waiting for him to make a choice before it all falls into line. Once he does, expect the market for Max Scherzer to heat up as well as the trade market for any number of other starting pitchers, any of whom could go to teams which fell short of Lester. Included in this group could be Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Jeff Samardzija and any of the Reds’ many pitchers reportedly on the market.

BATS

Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Matt Kemp are the big bats on the block. If the Dodgers can’t move Kemp they may try to trade Andre Ethier and/or Carl Crawford. Jay Bruce of the Reds and free agent Melky Cabrera each own some big bats which are also in demand, the former via trade and the latter via free agency.

RELIEVERS

David Robertson is the biggest name reliever left, though his market is hard to define. The Yankees may welcome him back, but probably not at the salary he’s expecting given that they signed Andrew Miller already. The Astros — who actually outbid the Yankees for Miller, only to see him choose New York — are a possibility. Other free agent relievers include Sergio Romo, Pat Neshek, Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano and Francisco Rodriguez. Jonathan Papelbon is being shopped by the Phillies and, given their rebuild, the Braves could dangle Craig Kimbrel as well.

HALL OF FAME

Beyond the free agents, trade targets and rumor news, there is some other business to be attended to at the Winter Meetings. Most notably today, when the Veterans Committee announces which of the Golden Age candidates it has voted into the Hall of Fame. The candidates: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills. If I had to guess I’d say that Howsam — the executive who built the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s — Hodges and Oliva get voted in, but really it’s anyone’s guess. Dick Allen and Minnie Minoso are certainly deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown, but whether they get there or not is an open question.

But really, we can preview until the cows come home but every year there are some surprises at the Winter Meetings. Follow us at HardballTalk all week to keep abreast of what is going on at baseball’s biggest offseason event.

The Brewers aren’t going to give up the National League pennant easily

Jesus Aguilar
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The Dodgers only need one more win to clinch the NL pennant and advance to a World Series showdown against the Red Sox, but they might not get that chance tonight. Following David Freese‘s leadoff home run off of Milwaukee left-hander Wade Miley, the Brewers erupted for four runs in the bottom of the first inning to take the lead.

In his second start of the NLCS, Dodgers’ southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu had a two-on, two-out situation when Jesus Aguilar came up to the plate in the first inning. Aguilar worked a 2-1 count against Ryu, then lashed a two-run line drive double to right field, bringing both Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun home to score. In the next at-bat, Mike Moustakas drove in Aguilar with a first-pitch double to right, while Erik Kratz‘s RBI single topped off the Brewers’ four-run spread to give them an early 4-1 advantage.

Ryu didn’t get a reprieve for long. In the second, Christian Yelich and Braun went back-to-back with another pair of doubles to advance the Brewers 5-1 above their National League rivals. The lefty was pulled after just three innings of seven-hit, five-run, three-strikeout ball — per MLB.com’s Bill Shaikin, it marked just the second time the 31-year-old had given up four or more runs in a start this season.

The Dodgers started to work their way back in the fifth inning: Freese returned with an RBI double that plated Brian Dozier, who scooted around from first and easily beat the tag at the plate to score the Dodgers’ second run of the night. Together, the teams have combined for five doubles in five innings. The Brewers still lead in the fifth, 5-2.