The first week of December is typically an optimistic time for all 30 Major League Baseball teams because it marks the start of the winter meetings, where club executives and agents discuss potential deals.

There was a storm cloud hanging over this year’s meetings, though, with owners and the players’ union struggling to agree to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Fortunately, the two sides found the middle ground to keep the two decades of labor peace alive and well. It also ensured this year’s winter meetings, which begin Sunday, will continue to be an active spot for teams to talk potential free-agent signings and trades to boost their outlooks for 2017.



Extended Party at Napoli’s

Mike Napoli proved as a member of the Cleveland Indians last season that he still has some gas left in the tank with a .239/.335/.465 slash line and new career highs in home runs (34), RBI (101) and games played (150).

It’s no surprise that Napoli‘s looking to cash in on one more multiyear deal, but there’s reportedly a gap between what he wants and what the Indians are willing to offer.

“Club executives say Mike Napoli is looking for a three-year deal, following a season in which he hit 34 homers and drove in 101 runs,”’s Buster Olney reported. “The Indians, responding to the glut of sluggers in the market, would prefer to limit their investment in Napoli or another slugger to one year.”

While Napoli was a valuable piece in Cleveland’s lineup last season, he has severe limitations, recording a .322 on-base percentage against right-handed pitching while rating as one of the worst defensive first basemen in the American League, per FanGraphs.

Despite their success in 2016, the Indians are still a small-market team that has to be diligent in how it spends money.

The Indians know they already have one player who’s capable of shifting between first base and designated hitter—Carlos Santana. If they don’t want to rush Michael Brantley back to the outfield from his various shoulder problems, he can handle DH duties early in the year. 

The Seattle Mariners have reportedly shown interest in Napoli, per Jon Morosi of But Bob Dutton of the News Tribune reported they plan to use a combination of Dan Vogelbach and Danny Valencia at first base.

This isn’t the ideal market for Napoli to cash in, with Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, Brandon Moss and Steve Pearce among the other available options.

The New York Yankees have also been linked to Napoli, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, though they don’t seem to be a fit as a rebuilding club that should be giving at-bats to young talent in hopes of competing for a playoff spot in 2018.

Things can change, especially when teams get desperate, but as it stands, the Indians look like they could luck out by virtue of a market surplus and bring back Napoli at their price for one more run at the World Series title in 2017 after finishing one win short this year.

Prediction: Indians re-sign Napoli for one year.


The Chapman Conundrum

On the heels of another dominant season that ended with a World Series title with the Chicago Cubs, closer Aroldis Chapman could end up earning the biggest deal ever given to a reliever. 

Since being promoted to the big leagues in 2010, Chapman ranks second among all relievers in wins above replacement (14.1), per FanGraphs. He’s achieved that status by posting a 2.08 ERA with 636 strikeouts and 201 hits allowed in 377 innings.

George A. King III of the New York Post reported the Yankees will likely be the front-runners to sign Chapman, though he noted that could change if the closer “really is looking for five years and $100 million.”

Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the highest average annual salary for a reliever in MLB history is $15 million, which Yankees legend Mariano Rivera received from 2008 to 2012. 

Chapman has the on-field pedigree to warrant that kind of money, and he picked an opportune time to hit the market after an October in which relievers dominated the conversation.

But there are other options for teams to pick from. Kenley Jansen, who has been nearly as dominant as Chapman, is also available. Mark Melancon is an older free agent at 31, but he’s had sub-2.00 ERAs in three of the previous four seasons.

At this point, it seems like it will be the Yankees or bust for Chapman, who hasn’t hidden his love for the organization.

It would be a puzzling fit, however. The Yankees need to find starting pitchers, especially since Masahiro Tanaka can opt out of his contract after next season, for when their young position players are ready to take off—and their dominant bullpen featuring Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances didn’t lead to results last year.

Prediction: Yankees sign Chapman for five years.


Running Up That Rich Hill

In a particularly dreadful market for starting pitching, Rich Hill, who still possesses the ability to miss bats and limit hard contact, is the best of the bunch.

There’s a steep downside with Hill, who turns 37 in March, as last year marked the first time he’s hit 100 innings in an MLB season since 2007.

Despite those red flags,’s Jim Bowden reported the Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are in full pursuit of Hill, with the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles also expressing some interest.

The Yankees need more starting pitching, but their focus should be on finding someone who can contribute in 2018 and beyond. They’ve also largely gotten out of the habit of giving multiyear deals to players on the wrong side of 30, at least for the time being.

The two Texas teams could also use starting pitching to get over the hump in 2017, yet neither feels like an ideal fit for Hill—and putting his fragile body in the exhausting Texas heat during the summer months is an easy way for him to fall apart.

The Dodgers should still provide Hill with the best overall package. They need a strong No. 2 starter behind Clayton Kershaw, have money to spend and understand how to handle Hill to keep him healthy after acquiring him from the Oakland Athletics in August.

A two-year deal with a sufficient average annual salary could be just the thing to entice him to remain on the West Coast.

Prediction: Dodgers re-sign Hill for two years.

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