Baseball’s Winter Meetings start Monday in Nashville at the sprawling Opryland Resort and Convention Center. It could be four memorable days with superstar players available in the trade and free agent markets and several prominent teams — the Red Sox among them — eager to improve their rosters.
The Cardinals worked fast and added Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson, and Lance Lynn to their rotation. Free agents Kenta Maeda (Tigers) and Luis Severino (Mets) changed teams and Aaron Nola remained with the Phillies for seven years and $172 million.
As names come off the board, Nashville could see a quick-moving run on starting pitchers. With so many teams needing rotation help, unhurried teams could be left scavenging the leftovers.
Here are some of the people who will be in the spotlight this coming week:
Blake Snell and Yoshinobu Yamamoto: Snell is in a good position. The National League Cy Young Award winner has averaged only 5⅓ innings per start the last three seasons but can market himself as the best available free agent starter once Yamamoto agrees to a deal.
The Red Sox are among the teams expected to be finalists for Yamamoto, who is only 25. The Sox moved fast (too fast, in retrospect) to sign Masataka Yoshida last season. They may need to do that again for Yamamoto, whose price could soar past $200 million.
Yamamoto isn’t the only Japanese star available. Shota Imanaga, who won the championship game of the World Baseball Classic against the United States, was posted this past week. That window closes at 5 p.m. on Jan. 11.
Imanaga had a 2.80 ERA in 22 starts for Yokohama last season and struck out 174 over 148 innings with only 24 walks.
Prices will be high. Severino, who hasn’t made more than 19 starts in a season since 2018, landed a one-year, $13 million deal with the Mets with performance bonuses that could bring the contract to $15 million.
Corbin Burnes: The Brewers are willing to trade their ace, who is a year away from agency. Burnes, 29, has pitched 295⅔ innings the last two seasons with a 3.16 ERA, a combination that’s hard to find.
Shane Bieber (Guardians), Dylan Cease (White Sox), and Tyler Glasnow (Rays) also are trade candidates.
Shohei Ohtani: Not even the Manhattan Project was a more closely guarded secret than Ohtani’s free agency.
His agent, Nez Balelo, took meetings with teams at a different hotel during the GM Meetings last month in Phoenix. Teams also have been instructed to say nothing about any interactions with Ohtani during the process or their chances to sign him could be diminished.
Meanwhile, Ohtani has not spoken to reporters since Aug. 9. It’s all a mystery.
The NBA and NFL have successfully turned free agency into an event that fans avidly follow. But MLB continues to chase away attention by dragging free agency out over four months as agents and executives act like they’re working for the CIA instead of an entertainment business.
The result? Ohtani is the most notable free agent in recent history and it has been a non-event to date. The Dodgers, Blue Jays, and Cubs are seen as the most realistic landing spots. But don’t discount the Angels, who catered to Ohtani’s every whim the last six seasons.
Juan Soto: The death of owner Peter Seidler will bring changes to the Padres, most notably a sharp reduction in their franchise-record $256 million payroll.
Trading Soto, who is projected to receive $33 million via arbitration, is an obvious solution. He will become a free agent after the coming season and the Padres would be wise to collect some prospects before he walks.
Within the industry, there is growing consensus that Soto almost certainly will be dealt.
The Yankees, who are 0-5 in the ALCS since 2009, have a business model based on winning. Trading for Soto, even if only for a year, would reinforce that message.
The Cubs and Giants (who are desperate for a star attraction) are other teams with the ability and nerve to make such a deal. That Scott Boras is Soto’s agent complicates any transaction as Soto is unlikely to agree to a contract extension.
Craig Breslow: To date, the new chief baseball officer of the Red Sox has not made any significant moves. That will change at some point. The Sox have the payroll space to sign one starting pitcher and the prospect depth to trade for a second. They need an All-Star at the top of the rotation and that’s not Chris Sale at this stage.
They also need more power after finishing 10th in the American League in home runs last season. Justin Turner and Adam Duvall, who combined for 44 of the team’s 182 homers, are free agents.
Ownership has signaled a willingness to be aggressive in improving the roster. Fans are eager for action coming off consecutive last-place finishes.
David Stearns: After spending wildly last winter only to finish 75-87, the Mets stepped back and hired Stearns to come up with a more cogent and fiscally conservative plan. But the Mets could still be in play for Cody Bellinger and another rotation piece.
Mike Hazen: The general manager of the Diamondbacks views last season’s run to the World Series as the start of something.
He already has traded for power-hitting third baseman Eugenio Suarez and is intent on adding to the rotation. With a young and inexpensive roster, Arizona is positioned to make a splashy move.
Mike Elias: The Orioles won 101 games last season then were swept in the Division Series by the Rangers. A deep farm system gives Elias the opportunity to trade for any player on the market.
Financially, the Orioles can’t compete with the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Yankees. But they could still improve the roster enough to win the division again.
Baltimore needs bullpen help with closer Felix Bautista expected to miss next season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Orioles also need a mid-rotation starter as Gibson left as a free agent after winning 15 games last season and providing 192 innings.
his latest chapter
Dennis Eckersley retired from NESN after the 2022 season and moved home to northern California.
A year later, there are no regrets.
“I had a nice run and I left in a good spot,” Eckersley said this past week when he returned to Boston to be honored at The Tradition. “Had the privilege to do the Red Sox games. And it was a privilege; I loved it. But it was a lot of work and it takes its toll on you.
“Life is short and you can’t just sit there your whole life.”
At 69, Eckersley is now a full-time husband, father, and grandfather. He lives a short drive from Oakland Coliseum and makes occasional promotional appearances for the Athletics.
He’s disappointed in the team’s decision to move to Las Vegas, but that won’t be until 2028.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Eckersley said.
Eckersley is a Hall of Famer because of the work he did in Oakland. He was a dominant closer for the 1989 World Series championship team, then won the MVP and Cy Young in ‘92.
But the Red Sox hold just as much of his heart. He won 84 games for the Sox as a starter from 1978-84 then returned as a reliever in 1998 to close out his career.
“Boston was a big part of my life,” Eckersley said. “It’s not where I started but I think of it like that [because] 1978, when I got here, that was a big year. Then I came back in ‘98 and I wondered why at the time. But if I didn’t come back I wouldn’t have been at NESN and been a part of four championships I had nothing to do with.”
Eckersley spent 44 years in baseball as a player and broadcaster. He thought the pace-of-game rules were a huge success last season, joking that he wished they had been instituted while he was still calling games for NESN.
“How could you not like it?” Eckersley said. “I left too early! You can watch the game and still have a life.”
Eckersley was hit hard by Jerry Remy’s death in 2021, and again in October when Tim Wakefield passed away.
Remy was one of the people who advised Eckersley to retire while he was still in good health and could enjoy his family. Wakefield was a golfing buddy and an occasional partner in the booth.
“I don’t think anybody really knows how to deal with that,” Eckersley said. “Just live your life. That’s all we can do.”
Eckersley visited Fenway Park several times last season to mingle with fans on behalf of the team, something he plans to repeat in 2024.
“I miss the passion. I’ll always miss it here,” he said.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Enmanuel Valdez has struggled at the plate in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .111 with a .430 OPS through 11 games for Toros del Este. But how well Valdez hits this winter is less important than making progress with his defense at second base.
The Sox know he can hit. But does he have a position on the field?
Ozzie Chavez, a minor league coach with the Sox, is on the Toros staff and has been putting Valdez through daily workouts.
The Sox feel Valdez’s range has improved as well as his ability to convert ground balls into outs. One point of emphasis has been getting better finish on his throws. Valdez has been charged with two errors, one that was undeserved, according to observers.
Nine players had at least one start at second base for the Sox last season. Valdez and Pablo Reyes are the best of the in-house candidates for next season. A signing or trade to bolster the position is likely.
▪ SoxProspects.com has released its latest prospect rankings. Only four pitchers are in the top 20 and one of them — 24-year-old lefthander Shane Drohan — was not deemed worthy of protecting from the Rule 5 Draft.
Two of the pitchers — 20-year-old righthander Luis Perales and 21-year-old righthander Wikelman Gonzalez — were signed during Dave Dombrowski’s tenure.
There’s no one reason Chaim Bloom was fired. But his inability to solve the organization’s long-term issue with developing pitching was certainly part of the decision.
It will be interesting to see how much — and how soon — Craig Breslow changes personnel within the pitching infrastructure. That includes scouts, analysts, and coaches.
▪ The Rule 5 Draft is Wednesday. Baseball America lists Drohan, catcher Stephen Scott, and lefthanded reliever Brendan Cellucci as players the Sox could lose.
Angel Bastardo, a 21-year-old righthander who reached Double A last season, is another possibility. He has a 5.26 ERA over the last three seasons despite not allowing many hard-hit balls.
▪ The draft lottery is Tuesday. The Sox are one of 17 teams in contention for the top pick but have only a 1.2 percent chance, according to MLB. The Athletics, Rockies, and Royals are at 18.3 percent.
Based on the standings, the Sox have the 12th pick for now.
Hall is due
There could be some new Hall of Famers on Sunday night.
The Hall’s contemporary baseball era committee for managers, executives, and umpires will meet in Nashville to consider eight candidates for induction. The ballot includes former managers Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland, and Lou Piniella.
Piniella is 17th in career victories (1,835) and Leyland is 18th (1,769). With the exception of Gene Mauch, every eligible manager with more victories is in Cooperstown.
Bill White also appears to be a good candidate, assuming the committee takes in the totality of his career. White, 89, played 13 years in the majors (from 1956-69) and was a five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner.
He became a Yankees broadcaster in 1971, a run that lasted until 1988. He was then president of the National League from 1989-94.
The other candidates are umpires Ed Montague and Joe West, and the late Hank Peters, an executive best known for this time with the Orioles.
The 16-member committee includes Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, Bud Selig, Ted Simmons, Jim Thome, and Joe Torre, along with six executives and three representatives of the media.
As is the case with the BBWAA vote, 75 percent is required. The results will be announced at 7:30 p.m. on MLB Network.
The Ford Frick Award for broadcasting excellence will be announced on Wednesday in Nashville. Joe Castiglione is among the candidates. Castiglione, a finalist three previous times, would be a deserving choice.
The cost-cutting Twins are shopping Christian Vázquez, who had a .598 OPS last season and didn’t appear in any of the team’s six playoff games after Ryan Jeffers became the everyday catcher. Vázquez has two years and $20 million remaining on his contract. There should be a market for Vázquez given the dearth of catchers on the free agent market and the fact he remains a good defender . . . Carl Willis will return to the Guardians for his seventh consecutive season as pitching coach. Only Toronto’s Pete Walker (12 years) and Oakland’s Scott Emerson (seven) have been with the same team longer . . . The Athletics (or whatever they’ll be called at that point) are not expected to play in Las Vegas until 2028. The team’s lease at decrepit Oakland Coliseum runs through next season. That leaves three seasons to account for. Staying in the Coliseum is one possibility, although that facility gets worse every year. There’s also talk of playing in Triple A parks in Las Vegas, Reno, or Sacramento, or sharing Oracle Park with the Giants . . . The Brewers signed an outfielder named Brewer Hicklen to a minor league contract. There is a righthander named Matt Sox who played for the independent Boise Hawks last season. No word on when Craig Breslow will snap him up . . . Liam Hendriks, who beat cancer to pitch again, was the American League Comeback Player of the Year. The National League winner was Cody Bellinger, who came back from having a lousy season with the Dodgers in 2022. Nothing against Bellinger, but shouldn’t that award be for more than improving your statistics? If there’s not a worthy candidate for both leagues, select one player . . . Former Lynn English and Vanderbilt lefthander Ben Bowden has signed a minor league contract with the Braves. The 29-year-old made 39 appearances for the Rockies in 2021 but hasn’t returned to the majors. Bowden has since been with the Rays, Giants, Phillies, and now the Braves. The strikeouts are there but walks have been an issue . . . Missing baseball? The Yogi Berra documentary “It Ain’t Over” is well worth your time. It’s on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and Netflix . . . Happy birthday to Damon Berryhill, who is 60. His 10-year career as a catcher included 82 games for the Red Sox during the strike-shortened 1994 season. Berryhill hit .263 with six homers and 34 RBIs over 82 games. He also caught Roger Clemens 20 times with the Rocket posting a 2.56 ERA. As many catchers do, Berryhill was a minor league coach and manager after he finished his playing career.