If the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, had a slogan, it’d be “ready, set, go.”

It’s the scene of baseball’s 2016 winter meetings, after all, which kick off in earnest Monday and run through Thursday. With a new labor deal in place and a clutter of high-profile free agents and trade targets on the board, it figures to be a transaction-packed few days.

Imagine the collective bargaining negotiations as a cork and the offseason market as a roiling bottle of your favorite carbonated beverage. Any moment now, it’s going to pop.

To wet your whistle and/or whet your appetite, here are some final predictions and teams to watch based on the latest rumors and rumblings, plus a dollop of educated gut feeling.


Prediction: The Los Angeles Dodgers Will Sign Rich Hill

Rich Hill is the closest thing to an ace in a comically shallow free-agent pool. He’s also 36 years old and has a shaky injury history. Regardless, someone is going to give him multiple years and a lot of dollars.

The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are all in “full pursuit” of Hill, per ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden. Any of the four makes sense, but Los Angeles is the front-runner.

On Saturday, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register tweeted the Dodgers and Hill were “closing in on [a] multi-year deal.” These things can fall apart up to the moment the John Hancock meets the contract. The dots connect, though.

Los Angeles needs another arm to join Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda atop an otherwise-muddled starting rotation. The Dodgers have money to spend despite reports of debt-related financial constraints.

Plus, Hill was a success in his limited L.A. audition, posting a 1.83 ERA in six starts and picking up a win in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.

Anything past a two-year deal would be dicey, but tacking on an option and/or some incentives could be enough to get it done.


Team to Watch: New York Yankees

These aren’t your father’s Yankees. Heck, they’re not even your older brother’s Yankees.

The Yanks are in rebuild mode, sort of, jettisoning veterans and stockpiling young, cost-controlled talent. They initiated the strategy at the 2016 trade deadline and continued it when they dealt catcher Brian McCann to the Astros in November.

There are other possible trade targets on the roster, including outfielder Brett Gardner, so don’t be shocked if New York further bolsters a farm system that’s already No. 1 in the game, per Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter.

That said, the Yankees signed 36-year-old outfielder Matt Holliday to a one-year, $13 million deal Sunday, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, and they might just be getting started.

They’ve been heavily linked to closer Aroldis Chapman, whom they acquired last December and dealt to the Chicago Cubs at the deadline.

“I would love to be a Yankee again,” Chapman told NY Sports Day’s Ray Negron in November.

They could also be in on Edwin Encarnacion, the best free-agent power hitter since the New York Mets re-signed Yoenis Cespedes.

New York is “well-positioned to make a play” for Encarnacion, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Encarnacion‘s agent, Paul Kinzer, told Joel Sherman of the New York Post his client is “likely” to find a home during the winter meetings.

Giving multiple years and something approaching nine figures to the 33-year-old would be a departure from the club’s recent M.O.

The Yankees are always looking to win now, however, and Encarnacion‘s 40-homer pop would slot nicely into the middle of their youthful lineup. He’d serve as a designated hitter in the Bronxpossibly sharing time with Hollidaybut he’d also provide insurance at first base, where Greg Bird is returning from shoulder surgery.


Prediction: The San Francisco Giants Will Break the Elite-Closer Logjam

Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon—the offseason’s game-changing closers—remain unsigned entering Monday.

It says here that will change during the meetings and that the San Francisco Giants will be the team to change it.

San Francisco was undone by its pen last season, and three of the team’s top relievers—Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez—are free agents.

General manager Bobby Evans said the Giants “like all of the options” when it comes to the bullpen Big Three of Chapman, Jansen and Melancon, per ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick.

Melancon, however, is the most plausible target. He’ll be a bit cheaper than Chapman or Jansen, and the Giants also have a hole to plug in left field.

The 31-year-old Melancon has multiple offers of four years and $60 million-plus, per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. One is from the Giants, Rosenthal added, and it is “thought to be [the] strongest.”

Other clubs are circling the reliever pool, including the Yankees, Dodgers and Miami Marlins, who have made Jansen their “top target,” per Heyman. That’s a bit of a head-scratcher given Miami’s situation, but, well, they’re the Marlins.

The Giants’ need is greatest, however, and they’ll carry that sense of urgency to National Harbor.


Team to Watch: Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves are coming off a 93-loss campaign and a last-place finish in the National League East. They’re also looking to get some good mojo flowing as they move into a shiny new ballpark in 2017.

That could mean adding a free agent such as catcher Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star and Georgia Tech alum.

It could also mean pulling the trigger on a big trade. They were in on Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale but balked at the asking price of shortstop and top prospect Dansby Swanson, per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman.

Atlanta has also inquired about Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer, but the Rays’ demands are likewise too high, per Bowman.

The fact the Braves have put loafer to Goodyear on such high-profile arms shows they’re serious about accelerating the rebuild and contending sooner rather than later.

Even if they stick to their guns on Swanson, they’ve got six other prospects among the game’s top 100, according to MLB.com, which should be enough to swing a blockbuster.

Speaking of which…


Prediction: There Will Be a Blockbuster Trade

A weak free-agent class almost always means a robust trade market, and this year will be no exception.

In addition to Sale and Archer, the Detroit Tigers have indicated they’re willing to sell off expensive veterans from a group that includes second baseman Ian Kinsler, outfielder J.D. Martinez, two-time American League MVP Miguel Cabrera and ace Justin Verlander.

Then there’s Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, another former MVP who could be on the move.

The Bucs and Washington Nationals are “working on a lot of different angles” to get a deal done, per Bowden. The Nats even think they may have the pieces to trade for McCutchen and Sale, per USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale.

McCutchen is coming off a down year in which he posted a career-worst .766 OPS, but the 30-year-old possesses elite talent and is under contract for a relatively reasonable $14 million in 2017 with a $14.75 million option for 2018. He’ll draw plenty of interest.

The lack of free-agent starting pitchers means the White Sox, Rays, Tigers and any other sellers can keep the price tags for their studs in the stratosphere. Thus, a seismic trade for a position player—possibly McCutchen—is more likely to happen at the meetings.

Either way, look for All-Star MLB talent and blue-chip prospects to change uniforms.

All together now: Ready, set, go.


All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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