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Viva Las Vegas: 2018 Winter Meetings Preview

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Over the weekend the baseball world will descended on Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for the 2018 Winter Meetings. There’s a lot of work to be done. Let’s talk about what’ll go down in the desert in the next week.

Free Agents

The two biggest names on the market — Manny Machado and Las Vegas’ own Bryce Harper — have yet to find new homes, and they’ll certainly be the most talked-about players at the Winter Meetings. But there were, by my count, 151 other free agents out there when the offseason began and so far only 14 of them have signed. Some of them, like Patrick Corbin and Josh Donaldson, were major signings. Most of them were minor signings, though, and guys like Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, A.J. Pollock, J.A. Happ, Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Marwin Gonzalez and many, many more are still looking for employment.

In early November we ran down the top free agents, from highest-ranked to lowest, to help you get a jump on who is available.

Teams buying, teams selling

It’s not just players looking for homes this week, however. It’s teams looking to fill their needs. The Phillies are allegedly hunting for big game. The Yankees need some pitching. The Braves have to find a right fielder and are also in the hunt for a starter or two. If the Nationals don’t retain Bryce Harper, they will likely be looking for an outfield bat. The Mets claim that landing Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz were not the end of their offseason moves and that they’re in win-now mode. The Dodgers may have been handed the NL West with the Diamondbacks’ rebuild, but they need some more talent if they are to be more than N.L. pennant-winners. The Cubs and Brewers have the Cardinals breathing down their neck thanks to their just landing a big fish in Paul Goldschmidt. The Rays believe they are contending but will need some offense, one suspects, if they are to truly do so. There are any number of teams — maybe too many — embarking on or continuing rebuilds, so any number of big name players are likely on the trading block. Even contenders like the Indians are said to be dangling big names, with Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer apparently available. There is a lot of potential wheeling and dealing to be done.

Managers on Parade

Trade deals and free agent negotiations take place behind closed doors, so we can only talk about those once they happen. One of the major public activities of the Winter Meetings is when all 30 of the managers meet and greet the press. Or, well, 29, given that the Orioles don’t currently have a manager. They may want to get on that, by the way. Aside from them, there are five new men at the helm of their teams: David Bell with the Reds, Chris Woodward with the Rangers, Charlie Montoyo with the Blue Jays, Brad Ausmus with the Angels, and Rocco Baldelli with the Twins. I’ll be in the scrum for a lot of these guys — they do them two at a time so I can’t see everyone — and I’ll let you know if they say anything fun. And, of course, I’ll be rolling out my annual Most Handsome Managers rankings, which have shockingly become a Winter Meetings institution.

Hall of Fame Vote

The Today’s Game Committee — formerly known as the Veterans Committee — will meet on Sunday to vote in, or not vote in, new inductees for the Hall of Fame. For the past week or so I’ve been profiling the candidates. Here are those profiles:

My guess is that if anyone gets in it’ll be Piniella, and I can squint and see Lee Smith getting in given how long he stayed on the BBWAA ballot, but you never know with this bunch. They’ve voted in absolutely no one on several occasions in recent years. Be sure to check in on Monday when we find out.

The Boring Business of Baseball 

Outside of the transactions and the Hall of Fame stuff, we have the more mundane Winter Meetings business. As I discussed in this story about the changing nature of the Winter Meetings, the vast majority of the people at the Meetings aren’t there for transactions. They’re there to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball like any other industry convention. Ever year we hear about a rule change or a proposal for future rule changes at the Meetings. There is no single rule change that everyone is talking about at the moment, but a pitch clock has been rumored to be in the offing for a few years now. Sometimes we’re completely surprised with that kind of stuff.

The Rule 5 Draft

The final event of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 8am on Thursday morning. You likely have no idea who most of the players who will be selected, but by next summer you may very well know some of them who are either picked or who were made available this week. Max Muncy could’ve been had by anyone last year, went un-picked and all he did was hit 35 homers for the National League Champions. Given that even the combined minds of 29 front offices didn’t think he was worth a roster spot last year, you’ll be forgiven for not having any idea about the guys in this year’s Rule 5. But, if you want to at least attempt to be prepared for it, here’s a good place to start.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be done. I’ll be on the scene at Mandalay Bay — and maybe a few other places around Sin City — bringing you all the best hot stove business we have to offer and, as usual, some more fun odds and ends from baseball’s biggest offseason event.

Rakuten Golden Eagles sign Jabari Blash

Jabari Blash
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Former Angels outfielder Jabari Blash has signed a one-year deal with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball, the team announced Friday. Per the Japan Times, the deal is said to be worth around $1.06 million. Blash was released from his contract with the Angels at the end of November.

The 29-year-old outfielder has had a rough go of it in the majors, where he failed to duplicate the promising results he delivered in the minors. While he consistently batted above .250 with 20-30 home runs per season at the Double- and Triple-A level, he petered out in back-to-back gigs with the Padres and Angels and slumped toward a .103/.200/.128 finish across 45 PA for Anaheim in 2018.

The hope, of course, is that the environment in NPB will help him get a better handle on his issues at the plate — in a best case scenario, resulting in a full-scale transformation that could make him more marketable to MLB teams in the future. To that end, Blash expects to be utilized as a cleanup batter in the Eagles’ lineup and will focus on assisting the club as they make a run toward the Japan Series.