The 2018 winter meetings will take place at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas from Monday, Dec. 10, through Thursday, Dec. 13. Officially, the winter meetings are about off-the-field business, especially on the minor-league side. Unofficially, the winter meetings are all about trades and free-agent signings and hot-stove rumors. Put all 30 general managers in one place — plus agents! — and deals inevitably get done.
These are often the busiest days of the winter. This particular set could be the busiest days in recent memory, with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sitting in free agency. Hey, anytime you have a couple mid-20s MVP candidates available, the stakes are high. Of course, for as much attention as those two get, they aren’t the only ones out there — and they won’t be the only ones talked about.
With the 2018 Winter Meetings forthcoming, we’ve decided to preview the league division by division. (Here are the AL East, NL East, AL Central and NL Central.) Now, let’s take a look at the American League West.
Needs: Up until this week, the Astros had a glaring need for a catcher. But after landing Robinson Chirinos on a one-year pact, their winter meetings priorities can shift to filling the hole they have in their rotation. With Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton as free agents and Lance McCullers Jr. out for the season after Tommy John surgery, the Astros would benefit from signing a starting pitcher. Houston could also benefit from signing an outfielder, or they could just opt to play Tony Kemp and Jake Marisnick more. With that being said, this 103-win team isn’t heading into winter meetings needing much.
Approach: They don’t need to be buyers in order to be competitive next year, but they should go for it. The list of free-agent starting pitching is beginning to shrink, but they could also inquire about a trade with the Cleveland Indians for Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. Plus, we can’t rule out Charlie Morton and/or Keuchel returning to Houston just yet. Houston might want to take a look a free-agents Andrew McCutchen, Michael Brantley or A.J. Pollock when it comes to filling out their outfield.
Los Angeles Angels
Needs: The Angels, without an excess of money or prospects, may still have a shot at catching the Astros in 2019. Sure, the team has a fairly long list of needs to fulfill this winter, but they also have a fairly long list of quality players they already have. You’ve got Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton and Shohei Ohtani whose still planning to hit in 2019 despite undergoing Tommy John surgery this past October. L.A.’s biggest and most important need right now? Pitching. The Angels non-tendered right-handers Matt Shoemaker and Blake Parker, plus Ohtani is out and Garrett Richards is heading to San Diego.
Approach: Buyers. This franchise has to start winning over the next two years, as Trout is scheduled to become a free agent in 2021. And if this team can’t find players to help Trout and co. win — L.A. has failed to win more than 85 games over the last four years — then their star will almost certainly sign somewhere else. The Angels should look to add Japanese pitching star Yusei Kikuchi at winter meetings. Kikuchi attended the same high school as Ohtani, and while the 27-year-old lefty isn’t generating the same frenzy as Ohtani, many scouts believe Kikuchi’s ceiling is that of a No. 2 starter in the big leagues. The Angels will need to approach winter meetings looking to add some established arms to their rotation, and Kikuchi could be a great start.
Needs: Oakland pretty much came out of nowhere to give Houston a surprisingly strong challenge in 2018. A lot can happen in the next few months of this offseason but you can’t help but wonder if this division’s going to end up a two-team race next season. It’s a possibility, as long as the A’s fill out the rest of their rotation and find a catcher. After losing their catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, to free agency, the A’s are left with 30-year-old Josh Phegley, who played only 39 games last year. On the other side of the battery, Oakland won’t be returning a single starter from their rotation with which it ended the season. They lost their emerging ace Sean Manaea to shoulder surgery, non-tendered Mike Fiers and Kendall Graveman. And if free-agent Jed Lowrie is picked up, they’re going to need to find a new second baseman too.
Approach: (Cheap) Buyers — they are the A’s after all. Given Oakland’s budget constraints, they’re going to have to target one or more high-upside reclamation projects when it comes to upgrading their rotation. Some options for them: bring Sonny Gray back home, go after veterans like Clay Buchholz and Doug Fister, or try for second-tier options like Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley. Oakland could take a look at Daniel Descalso as their possible Lowrie replacement for second base and Nick Hundley to fill their open backstop.
Needs: Well, right now Seattle’s missing a few big pieces like bullpen pitching. But at the rate general manager Jerry Dipoto’s getting rid of players, by next week, they could need a whole lot more. The Mariners said goodbye to a big chunk of their core players, but they were able to add top prospects to their farm system. The Mets gave them infielder Jarred Kelenic and the Yankees handed over left-handed pitching prospect Justus Sheffield. With many of the acquired prospects not quite ready to play in the big leagues, the Mariners will probably be starting the 2019 season with a lot of holes in their depth chart.
Approach: Sellers. The Mariners, who finished 89-73 this past season, are now fully committed to a complete rebuild. Dipoto already dealt left-hander ace James Paxton to the Yankees, catcher Mike Zunino to the Rays, reliever Alex Colome to the White Sox, Jean Segura to the Phillies and sent both Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano to the Mets. Their focus right now appears to be loading up their previously barren farm system so the M’s are definitely going to be continue selling next week. We should expect to see additional trades — some players who could be included: Kyle Seager, Mitch Haniger and Dee Gordon.
Needs: Coming off 95 losses, the Rangers don’t look like they’re going to be contending next season. Out of all the AL West teams, expect Texas to be the quietest in Vegas next week. Their biggest need? Pitching. The staff was in the bottom half of the league when it came to virtually every pitching statistic. While Texas may or may not completely build out their rotation at the winter meetings, they’re still going to have to get some pitchers before the 2019 season starts.
Approach: Stay put, for the most part. Like the Mariners, the Rangers’ top prospects aren’t close to contributing enough to make them contenders in 2019. This year’s winter meetings plan for Texas should be low-risk. The only instance they should stray from that plan is if general manager Jon Daniels finds a way for them to invest in a pitcher with a real upside. There are currently two Rangers who might be traded this winter, infielder Jurickson Profar and southpaw Mike Minor, so it could be interesting to see what happens there if teams inquire about them next week.
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