Di­a­mond­backs will es­tab­lish the off­sea­son tone

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Bob Night­en­gale

CARLS­BAD, Calif. — The con­fetti still hasn’t been all swept up in down­town Bos­ton, the Red Sox still smell of cham­pagne, and the Dodgers still feel the sting, but the mem­o­ries and heart­break of the base­ball sea­son are over.

Red Sox gen­eral man­ager David Dom­browski and the 29 other Ma­jor League Base­ball GMs ar­rived at this sea­side town al­ready look­ing to the 2019 sea­son, pre­pared to wheel and deal at the an­nual meet­ings.

There rarely are any deals con­sum­mated or free agents signed, but this week will be the gen­e­sis for most of the moves this offsea­son.

We won’t see Bryce Harper or Manny Machado signed here, but this is the spot where agents Scott Bo­ras and Dan Lozano will be weed­ing out the pre­tenders from the con­tenders. We won’t see Mar­cus Stro­man or Zack Greinke traded, but Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins and Di­a­mond­backs GM Mike Hazen will shop their pitch­ing stars.

And time will tell just how the Yan­kees act now that they’re below the lux­ury tax and just watched their bit­ter ri­vals win the World Se­ries.

What will hap­pen? The top 10 ques­tions en­ter­ing the first full week of the 2018-19 hot stove sea­son:

Who will be the most pop­u­lar team at the meet­ings?

Step on down, Di­a­mond­backs. They are telling ev­ery­one they will lis­ten to all offers, in­clud­ing for their heart and soul, first base­man Paul Gold­schmidt, who will be a free agent af­ter next sea­son. The one they most want to move is ace Greinke, re­al­iz­ing it’s silly to be spend­ing $35 mil­lion on a pitcher who eats nearly one-third of their pay­roll. They’ll have to ab­sorb a por­tion of the re­main­ing $104.5 mil­lion re­main­ing on Greinke’s con­tract, but they know they need to get rid of the con­trac­tual al­ba­tross if they re­ally want to re­build in style.

Are the Cubs out of the Harper and Machado talks?

The Cubs, who have reached the post­sea­son four con­sec­u­tive sea­sons, tipped their hand when they ex­er­cised starter Cole Hamels’ $20 mil­lion op­tion. They couldn’t pick it up un­less they dealt Drew Smi­ley and his $7 mil­lion con­tract. The Cubs, with an es­ti­mated $205 mil­lion in finan­cial com­mit­ments in 2019, are fo­cus­ing in­stead on the trade mar­ket, with top trade pieces be­ing outfiel­der Kyle Sch­war­ber and short­stop Ad­di­son Rus­sell.

Will the Mets and their new GM spend?

While it was as­sumed all sum­mer that the Mets would dump their prized pitch­ing and reload for the fu­ture, Brodie Van Wa­ge­nen made their in­ten­tions clear. Not only is Ja­cob deGrom stay­ing, but so is Noah Syn­der­gaard and the rest of the ro­ta­tion. The way the Mets see it, the Na­tional League East is wide open with the Na­tion­als’ strug­gles, and the Phillies per­haps not ready for prime time. New York needs offen­sive help, and speed, which makes free agent cen­ter fiel­der A.J. Pol­lock a fab­u­lous at­trac­tion.

Are the Phillies pre­pared to spend with the big boys?

They not only plan to make offers ex­ceed­ing at least $250 mil­lion in the hopes of lur­ing mega-free agents Harper or Machado, but per­haps both. Yes, they have that kind of money. And yes, they are that com­mit­ted to bring­ing in a star.

Will Machado’s an­tics in Oc­to­ber cost him tens of mil­lions of dol­lars?

Sim­ply put, no. Oh, sure, Machado would love to take back that quote where he told Fox that he is not “Johnny Hus­tle.” And, yes, it was a bone­headed move to kick Brew­ers first base­man Je­sus Aguilar in hopes he would drop the ball. He’ll have acts of defiance when frus­trated or an­gry. Yet he is con­sid­ered a beloved team­mate, is a fiery com­peti­tor, and, oh, does he have a world of tal­ent. He’ll still get his $300-plus mil­lion, and the Yan­kees, his pre­ferred des­ti­na­tion, still are the per­fect fit.

The Yan­kees and Dodgers have spent years try­ing to get below the $197 mil­lion lux­ury tax to re­set their penal­ties at 20 per­cent and give them the op­tion of go­ing wild in the free agent mar­ket. So will they?

The Yan­kees, who have watched the Red Sox dom­i­nate the Amer­i­can League East the last three years, aren’t about to let the op­por­tu­nity slip by. It’s time to go for the jugu­lar. They want to add at least two starters and will do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to sign Patrick Corbin, the ace of the free agent mar­ket, and per­haps grab Machado, too. Corbin will fit in as their No. 2 starter be­hind Luis Sev­erino, and Machado can play short­stop un­til Didi Gre­o­ri­ous is healthy, then shift to third while Miguel Andú­jar slides to the outfield or sec­ond.

The Dodgers, af­ter win­ning back-to­back pen­nants and com­ing up short in the World Se­ries, aren’t ex­pected to be in the mar­ket for any of the prized free agents. They signed their man in Clay­ton Ker­shaw with a three-year, $93 mil­lion ex­ten­sion and likely will spend their money on re­liev­ers, giv­ing closer Ken­ley Jansen a breather af­ter his post­sea­son strug­gles.

Will the Red Sox keep spend­ing and keep their free agents?

There’s cer­tainly no rea­son for them to stop now, not with this cash cow. The Red Sox had a ma­jor league-high pay­roll of about $240 mil­lion, but af­ter win­ning the World Se­ries, what’s a few mil­lion in lux­ury tax penal­ties? The Red Sox want to keep on win­ning, so they are ex­pected to be ag­gres­sive in their bids for closer Craig Kim­brel, who pro­duced 108 saves the last three sea­sons, and World Se­ries hero Nathan Eo­valdi. If they don’t come back, the Red Sox cer­tainly will find some­one else to take their money.

Will the White Sox and Reds con­tinue re­build­ing?

The White Sox were em­bar­rassed by this sea­son, be­liev­ing they would at least be com­pet­i­tive in the AL Cen­tral, but they aren’t go­ing to spend $300 mil­lion on Machado or Harper be­liev­ing it would be a mag­i­cal cure-all. They’re not at the point to spend.

The Reds, mean­while, plan to put their money where their mouth is and sig­nificantly up­grade their pay­roll. They badly need pitch­ing and will be ag­gres­sive in their bids for Dal­las Keuchel and Matt Har­vey. Keuchel would be the great­est fit for a young staff with his tremen­dous lead­er­ship skills.

Will the In­di­ans trade one of their All-Star start­ing pitch­ers?

Yes, in­deed, they are open for busi­ness, know­ing they could trade at least one of their starters — Corey Klu­ber, Trevor Bauer or Car­los Car­rasco — and still run away with the AL Cen­tral. They don’t have to make a move, and the price tag will be steep, but if they can make the right trade to bol­ster their offense while also giv­ing them prospects, they’ll do it.


Paul Gold­schmidt might be on the trad­ing block for the Di­a­mond­backs.

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