SAN DIEGO -- Welcome to baseball's revolution. You do understand this is what you're seeing, don't you? That it's never before like this before?

Sports are cyclical. When something works for one team, a dozen others will try at least part of it. After awhile, teams adjust and we move onto the next new thing. Maybe that's what will be on display at the Winter Meetings this week. Maybe things will return to normal soon enough.

On the other hand …

It has the feel of fundamental change, or at least the first few steps toward a place from which we won't return. Here's how you know.

This offseason has exploded around us. It's not even so much what teams have done as much as what they're willing to do. Never before have so many big names been discussed in trades. Jason Heyward and Josh Donaldson and Shelby Miller have already been traded.

Matt Kemp and David Price and Yoenis Cespedes could be the next to go. Add to that list Jordan Zimmermann, Rick Porcello, Carl Crawford, Jay Bruce and Justin Upton.

The Rays will discuss anyone except Alex Cobb and Matt Moore. Do you think the Giants might inquire about Evan Longoria's availability?

One of the reasons the bidding war for Jon Lester has been so intense is that the Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers might see him as the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

The Cubs might outbid all of them because they are attempting to take the next step toward being competitive. They've got a bunch of gifted young kids and a superstar new manager (Joe Maddon) who are about to change the entire dynamic at Wrigelyville. Who better to insert into this mix than Lester?

That's how the Astros feel about free-agent closer David Robertson. Like the Cubs, the Astros have a bunch of nice young players. Now they'd like to make a free-agent splash that would both anchor the back of their bullpen and send a message about them taking another step forward.

Parity reigns

All of this is a byproduct of baseball's new world order. That is, the difference in talent among the top two dozen or so teams may be closer than it has ever been.

Payroll no longer matters as much as it once did. It still matters -- let's not kid ourselves -- because when a club has deep pockets it can cover up its mistakes easier than a team on a tight budget.

In the end, though, money isn't the deciding factor the way it once was. That's an odd thing to claim with the way teams are spending money this offseason. But there's a strategy to this spending.

When teams spend now, it's often to win back the hearts and minds of their fans. The Mariners did this with Robinson Cano last year, the Marlins with Giancarlo Stanton this year.

Or teams spend because they believe they're on the cusp of being good enough to win the World Series. The Blue Jays just did this with Russell Martin.

There also are teams with players a year from free agency. These teams face an interesting decision. For instance, the Reds.

Four of Cincinnati's five starting pitchers are a year from free agency. If the Reds keep all four -- Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon -- they might be good enough to win the World Series next season. And then they might lose them all.

In baseball's new world order, the Reds would be aggressively shopping at least two of those guys in exchange for younger, controllable players.

How do they balance that risk about the ability to win in 2015? That's what the Reds have spent a lot of time debating over the last few weeks. At the moment, they seem inclined to keep the band together and go all in for 2015. If things go south, they would have the option of trying to trade all four of them by the non-waiver Trading Deadline next summer.

The Tigers are an even more interesting case. Their ace of the past two seasons, Max Scherzer, is exploring his options in free agency. Meanwhile, two other Detroit starters -- Price and Porcello -- will be free agents after next season.

Like the Reds, the Tigers might just be good enough to win the World Series in 2015. Like the Reds, they might be willing to take the risk of losing both guys or at least holding onto them until the Trade Deadline.


The Tigers appear to be one of those clubs thinking big. What about trading Price or Porcello and then going all in to re-sign Scherzer?

Unlike prior years, every team seems to be pursuing something. The Padres have attempted to pry Kemp from the Dodgers.

The Dodgers jumped into the Lester sweepstakes fairly late in the game. He would join Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to form the best top three of a rotation in the game. At least on Opening Day, the Dodgers would have the look and feel of being unbeatable. And because Greinke has an opt-out clause in his contract after next season, the Dodgers would be protected if he decided to sign elsewhere.

Also interesting are the teams loaded with young players who've done nothing. The Rangers say they're aggressively pursuing at least one veteran starting pitcher either through free agency or a trade.

Yet general manager Jon Daniels admits that he wrestles with his trade options. His pride and joy is a farm system that's deep enough in talent to keep the Rangers in the mix for years to come.

Is there a trade out there that would get him the starter to thrust the Rangers back into contention in 2015?

Or should Daniels stay the course and count on healthy seasons from Prince Fielder and Shin Soo-Choo and Yu Darvish and hang onto kids like pitcher Alex Gonzalez and third baseman Joey Gallo for a natural transition in the years to come?

No need to rebuild

Teams may feel the need to consider more options because they believe they could still remain in contention even if the gamble doesn't work.

On Sept. 1 of last season, 17 of 30 teams were within 5 1/2 games of a playoff berth. And 15 of baseball's 30 teams have played in at least one postseason series the last three seasons.

With three of the top five payroll teams -- and five of the top nine -- missing the postseason in 2014, there's pressure on teams, not to spend, but to figure out what the small-market A's and Rays and Royals have done that works so well.

Roster construction is as much an art as a science, and so fans have every right to be demanding.

And that seems to be the larger story of this offseason. Teams are under pressure to get it right, or at least to put themselves in position to make a late-season run.

This isn't about a three-year or a five-year plan. Fans aren't going to be patient. When the A's announced a roster overhaul three offseasons ago, they publicly said they were willing to take a step back for a larger step forward in the seasons ahead. And then they went out and won the American League West with that overhauled team. Others took note. Others are trying to do the same thing.

If you're a fan, this is as good as it can get, not just because big names have moved and more could move, but because of the possibilities.

Here's to a fun ride.


Richard Justice is a columnist for and Sports on Earth.