Baseball's annual rumor fest is upon us. The winter meetings start Monday in San Diego, and what traditionally deteriorates into a week of overblown analysis of overblown hype might actually amount to something big.
One reason: teams looking for offense may have to trade for it.
Among the free-agent class, Victor Martinez is gone. Hanley Ramirez is gone. Pablo Sandoval, Nelson Cruz, Russell Martin — gone, gone, gone. The second tier? Adam LaRoche, Nick Markakis, Torii Hunter, Billy Butler — all gone.
The best available bats in free agency: Melky Cabrera, Chase Headley, Michael Morse, Colby Rasmus. Not so great.
That means trades might be the best bet for a bat, with executives from all 30 teams under the same roof at the winter meetings.
Here's a primer on some other potential activity:
The Dodgers have bats to move. Is this the week they finally trade one of their outfielders?
Could be, but the Dodgers are not the only team with outfielders available. The Atlanta Braves could trade Justin Upton or Evan Gattis. The Boston Red Sox would move Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig. The Philadelphia Phillies have made Marlon Byrd available.
None of those players comes with a contract worth even half the $56 million owed to Andre Ethier, let alone the $62 million to Carl Crawford or the $107 million to Matt Kemp. The Dodgers would prefer not to trade Kemp, but major league players are not being offered in return for Ethier or Crawford.
What teams are looking for outfielders?
The Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres, all linked to Kemp, and maybe the San Francisco Giants if they cannot sign Headley to replace Sandoval at third base.
The Orioles have lost Cruz and Markakis in free agency, and they cannot rely on third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Matt Wieters to prosper after injury, and first baseman Chris Davis to prosper after a drug suspension.
The Padres, trying to energize a depressed fan base and conjure up an offense under new General Manager A.J. Preller, have swung and missed at Sandoval and Cuban newcomer Yasmany Tomas. They have catchers to move — Yasmani Grandal, Rene Rivera and prospect Austin Hedges — in a market desperate for catching.
Which player is most likely to make headlines this week?
Jon Lester, who appears ready to choose from a field of suitors that includes the Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox and Chicago Cubs but, despite industry speculation, does not include the Angels. Lester told the Boston Herald in August that he would sign where he feels most comfortable, not necessarily with the high bidder.
"If someone gives you $170 million and someone gives you $150 million," he said, "is that $20 million really going to change your lifestyle?"
Lester's decision should jump-start the sluggish pitching market, since James Shields can draft off Lester's contract and Max Scherzer can use it as a starting point in his negotiations. Beyond the big three of Lester, Shields and Scherzer — the Dodgers have checked in with all of them — other available starters include Francisco Liriano, Brandon McCarthy, Jake Peavy and Ervin Santana via free agency and Cole Hamels, Jeff Samardzija, Mat Latos, Ian Kennedy and Bartolo Colon via trade.
Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda has not been posted for bidding among major league clubs. Maeda is not considered as elite as Masahiro Tanaka, who commanded $155 million from the New York Yankees last off-season, but he would rank just below Lester, Scherzer and Shields among free-agent starters if he becomes available. Tanaka was posted at Christmas last year, triggering a 30-day bidding period.
If baseball is swimming in money, and Giancarlo Stanton's $325-million contract with the Miami Marlins is the most recent proof, is there any position where salaries are not shooting up?
Closer. Joe Nathan got $20 million from the Detroit Tigers last off-season, and did not get his earned-run average below 5.00 until the final week of the season, but the three other free-agent relievers to get at least $15 million were setup men.
The Yankees just gave Andrew Miller $36 million to pitch the late innings, but not necessarily the ninth inning. Their closer last season, David Robertson, is a free agent, and his chance to match Miller money might be slim since any team that signs him away from the Yankees also forfeits a top draft pick.
The Phillies have not generated interest in Jonathan Papelbon, who saved 39 of 43 games last season with a 2.04 ERA and 0.90 WHIP but has a $13-million annual salary.
Is there a shortstop option available for the Dodgers?
Not a good one. Free agency offers a whole lot of meh, in Everth Cabrera, Stephen Drew and Jed Lowrie. The trade market has Elvis Andrus of the Rangers, Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox and, perhaps the Dodgers' best hope, Jimmy Rollins, who has veto rights and whom the Phillies might be better off keeping as an icon from glory days past than trading for the low-level prospects he might be worth in trade.
Any other shortstops we might hear about?