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MLB’s Winter Meetings Return After Two Years Away

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SAN DIEGO — A glittering class of free-agent shortstops awaits baseball’s highest bidders as, for the primary time since 2019, the league will gather for the winter meetings, which begin on Sunday.

The meetings were canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and were axed in 2021 due to the owner-imposed lockout. While some may query the necessity for old style face time in San Diego in an age of conducting trade talks via text messages and emails, the four-day gathering still generates enthusiasm, adrenaline, a free-agent frenzy — and deals.

“I feel it’s a superb thing for the sport,” Alex Anthopoulos, Atlanta’s president of baseball operations, said during a telephone conversation this week. “Anytime you could have the chance to collect and talk baseball, and baseball is within the news, it’s a superb thing.”

4 shortstops who helped their teams win World Series over the past six seasons have filed at no cost agency and can help set the tone in relation to roster construction each this week and beyond: Carlos Correa (2017 World Series winner with Houston), Xander Bogaerts (2018, Boston), Trea Turner (2019, Washington) and Dansby Swanson (2021, Atlanta).

There isn’t any shortage of top-shelf options beyond the shortstops, with stars just like the outfielder Aaron Judge and the right-handed starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom in the marketplace.

“Without moving into specifics, I can say I’m having energetic and pretty regular dialogue on numerous fronts,” Mets General Manager Billy Eppler said Thursday when asked about deGrom, who has spent his entire nine-year profession with the Mets. “The quantity of phone calls and connections we’re making on a day by day basis on the starting and relief and position-player market, it’s pretty constant.”

The Mets, in fact, are set at shortstop. After they prolonged Francisco Lindor for 10 years and $341 million before the 2021 season, it was — and stays — a record for shortstops. It also was a market-shaping deal for this winter’s group of Turner, 29; Correa, 28; Bogaerts, 30, and Swanson, 28.

“They’re all phenomenal players,” said Jerry Dipoto, Seattle’s president of baseball operations. “It’s funny, every yr, the highest of each free-agent market is at all times awesome. They’re great players. Simply to get to major league free agency is such a novel thing. It’s rare for a player to play that long and get to that stage of his profession, and for this many star players to hit the market at the identical time, it creates opportunity.”

Deep-pocketed teams are expected to shell out eight or nine years and $260 million or more to Correa and Turner and 7 or so years and $150 million-plus to Bogaerts and Swanson. But Dipoto was referring to the scramble amongst teams to fill roster spots after those top players sign, and to the scrum amongst players currently occupying roster spots who will turn into available as free agents take their jobs.

“It does create motion, and to me, that’s the fun stuff, what happens afterward,” Dipoto said. “That’s while you see 30 teams involved relatively than the few who is perhaps engaged within the free-agent pursuit. It opens a variety of opportunities that could be appealing.”

Turner, Bogaerts and Swanson all declined the usual one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer from their 2022 employers, which suggests they’ll include a value of a compensatory draft pick each player’s destination must pay his old team.

Correa, who exercised an opt-out clause after only one yr in Minnesota, doesn’t have a pick attached to him. That might make him a little bit more attractive on the margins. Though one soap opera twist with him is whether or not the Los Angeles Dodgers will turn into involved in his pursuit after his role within the 2017 Houston cheating scandal, which could make him hard to just accept for the still-bitter Dodger fan base.

In fact, players have crossed lines before under emotionally charged conditions. Consider the Yankees spiriting away Wade Boggs before the 1993 season and Johnny Damon before the 2006 season from the Red Sox. Each went on to win a World Series within the Bronx.

That is the second consecutive winter that shortstops are a primary focus of free agency. Last yr, Texas signed Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million). Detroit signed Javier Báez (six years, $140 million). Boston signed Trevor Story (six years, $140 million) and moved him to second base so Bogaerts could remain at shortstop. And Minnesota signed Correa (three years, $105.3 million, but with an opt out clause after one yr that Correa exercised).

This yr’s group is much more attractive, in keeping with most talent evaluators, especially defensively.

There is also the prospect that contenders may have some gaping holes to fill after the 4 shortstops sign. The Twins are said to be fascinated by Bogaerts if Correa prices himself out of their market. Turner has been a sparkplug for the Dodgers since they acquired him from Washington, together with Max Scherzer, on the trade deadline in 2021.

The Dodgers haven’t telegraphed their plans for this winter — but additionally haven’t shown much of an appetite to pay what Turner is predicted to command. There may be even some speculation that the Dodgers could play Gavin Lux at shortstop, move Mookie Betts from right field to second base and seek an outfielder to fill out their roster.

“Now it’s about really rolling our sleeves up and digging in,” Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, said at an end-of-season news conference following his team’s shocking loss to the San Diego Padres in an N.L. division series, adding that his group would use the unexpected time it had in October properly to review, study, and “do the whole lot we are able to to choose ourselves off the bottom and be one of the best team on the market next yr.”

Atlanta, which hurried to amass first baseman Matt Olson when it failed to achieve an agreement with the franchise icon Freddie Freeman last off-season, again faces a seismic roster decision with Swanson, a Georgia native. Anthopoulos declined to talk specifically in regards to the club’s situation with Swanson, saying only, “we’re open minded to the whole lot. I don’t view it as ‘We want this’ or “We want that.’ I don’t view it as locking into certain things.”

Anthopoulos has loads of company in his creativity and open-mindedness. The Dodgers have played Betts, a former infield prospect, some at second base already they usually’ve moved players like Lux, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor everywhere in the field. The Padres (Jake Cronenworth, Jurickson Profar, Wil Myers), Tampa Bay (Ben Zobrist, going back a number of years, and several other others) and more have had success doing the identical.

“I feel this generation of baseball front offices has been very much in tune with trying to maximise the worth of the 26-man roster,” Dipoto said.

The Mariners, who in October broke a 20-season playoff drought, don’t figure to land one among the 4 shortstops. But they’re positioned to strike if opportunity beckons. While they currently have J.P. Crawford at shortstop and Dylan Moore at second base, Dipoto would love to amass an “impact player” for the center of the infield and “determine” where everyone plays later.

He’ll have just that chance on the Grand Hyatt in San Diego, though in making 138 trades (and counting) since taking control of the Mariners’ baseball operations group in September 2015, Dipoto has proved he doesn’t need the winter meetings to amass players.

One in all those trades, nevertheless, showed how dedicated Dipoto is to his craft.

Just as Jim Hendry of the Chicago Cubs had pushed through a contract in 2006 for pitcher Ted Lilly despite being taken to a Florida hospital on the winter meetings to be treated for a heart attack, Dipoto refused to let his own health issue stand in the way in which of a deal on the meetings in 2018.

While being treated for blood clots on his lungs, Dipoto helped engineer the Mariners through a three-way trade with Cleveland and Tampa Bay. Because Seattle was sending money within the trade to Cleveland, the deal required Dipoto’s approval. So the team’s assistant general manager, Justin Hollander, with Manager Scott Servais within the room as well, took a photograph of Dipoto giving a thumbs up from his hospital bed and sent it to Cleveland’s brass.

Deal, done.

Now, because the winter meetings resume after two years off, here’s to a productive week — and to good health for the executives who try to make their teams higher.

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