(RADIO.COM Sports) Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in February, and we've barely even scratched the surface when it comes to the Hot Stove.
To say the offseason has been quiet is an understatement, as nearly every top free agent remains unsigned, although the trade market has been active.
Blake Snell and Yu Darvish were dealt to the Padres, the Pirates traded Josh Bell to the Nationals and the biggest blockbuster of the winter took place last week when the Mets acquired Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco in a trade with Cleveland. Perhaps the Lindor trade is the spark that's needed to ignite the rest of the league to start striking deals and getting their rosters in order for the upcoming season.
In fact, the White Sox just agreed to a three-year deal with star closer Liam Hendriks on Monday night – potentially the first domino to fall in the relief pitcher market.
Here’s what we imagine could happen next.
Cubs trade Kris Bryant to Braves
The Cubs are clearing payroll – as indicated by their Darvish trade – and looking more toward their long-term future, so it seems likely that Bryant could be moved.
The National League MVP in 2016, Bryant is coming off a career-worst season and is due $19 million in 2021 before he becomes a free agent after the season. His trade value has probably never been lower, which could allow for a team to acquire him without parting with its top prospects. Enter the Atlanta Braves, who are still in limbo with what to do with Marcell Ozuna. A trade for Bryant could be a good alternative to add another strong bat.
Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has had success giving one-year deals to players looking for bounce-back seasons – see Ozuna and Josh Donaldson – and Bryant could fit that mold for Atlanta in 2021 via the trade route. Bryant would give the Braves flexibility in their lineup too, as he can play left field, which would allow Austin Riley to stay at third base. If the NL brings back the designated hitter, Riley or Bryant could assume that role while the other mans the hot corner. The Braves have been among the more active teams in this slow winter, signing Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton, but they still have concerns within their lineup to address and Bryant could be the solution.
George Springer signs with Blue Jays
With the Mets trading for Lindor and the White Sox adding Hendriks, it's hard to see anywhere else Springer would land other than Toronto. Along with the Mets, the Blue Jays have been among the more aggressive suitors in trying to sign Springer, and he would be an ideal fit for a team that needs a center fielder.
Springer may not get the $175 million he's reportedly looking for, but the Blue Jays have been linked to nearly every big free agent this winter, so they figure to spend enough to get their top target. Springer would bring leadership and playoff experience to an up-and-coming team that's looking to compete with the Yankees and Rays in the AL East.
Mets sign Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brad Hand
If the Mets plan to extend Lindor and Michael Conforto, signing Springer to a long-term deal seems unlikely. Instead, the Mets may use those resources for a cheaper center fielder in Jackie Bradley Jr. and shore up the bullpen with Brad Hand.
Bradley may not have the power of Springer, but he's a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder who can serve as a decent bat at the bottom of the lineup.
In the bullpen, the Mets desperately need a lefty, and new owner Steve Cohen will surely have his eyes set on Hand – who's arguably the top reliever on the market now that Hendriks has signed. The Mets’ bullpen has been a weak link for years, and Hand would immediately bolster it.
DJ LeMahieu re-signs with Yankees
The most recent chatter signaled that the 32-year-old LeMahieu has become impatient with the Yankees' slowing-playing tactics – opening the door for another suitor to come in. Of course, the Yankees’ negotiation strategy is no different than what's going on around the rest of baseball. It's hard to fathom that LeMahieu will find a better deal out there than what the Yankees are offering him.
Even if another team has a better offer, the Yankees – where LeMahieu prefers to play – would likely match it unless it's substantially higher. It's hard to remember the last time the Yankees let their top priority get away, and general manager Brian Cashman is strategically making sure the team doesn't bid against itself for a middle infielder who turns 33 next summer and could see a decline in the latter half of a five-year contract.
Trevor Bauer signs with Angels
The reigning NL Cy Young award winner, Bauer hasn't been linked to many teams directly, although he spoke to the Blue Jays recently. With that in mind, it still feels like he's most likely headed back home to pitch for the Angels.
Bauer recently outlined the process of his free agency and what he's looking for – which includes a “partnership” with his team to allow him to build his brand on and off the field. He also suggested he would want to pitch every fourth day instead of five, which would allow him to make more starts over the season.
Angels manager Joe Maddon, who has a reputation for his relaxed personality and outside-the-box thinking, could be the ideal fit for Bauer – one of the more analytically savvy pitchers in the game – to thrive and achieve those goals.
Winning and money are also factors, but the Angels could check off those boxes as well. Albert Pujols’ contract is off the books after this season, giving the Angels plenty of room to add a big contract. And an ace pitcher may be the missing piece of the puzzle for the Angels to compete in the AL West.