You never know what's going to happen at the Winter Meetings. But in an odd twist this year, we didn't know if the Winter Meetings were even going to happen. The prolonged process of the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations made it unclear whether club executives would actually report to National Harbor, Md., for baseball's annual industry gathering.
Thankfully, the CBA is complete, and we can now plan on the usual round of rumors, rumblings and results next week. And so I present to you my annual bold* predictions, with the annual caveat that we'll be lucky if even half these deals get done (and I'd be blown away if I got even half of them right).
*Admittedly, some of these predictions are bolder than others. But every one of them is written in bold, so no jury could convict me of false advertising.
Chris Sale traded to the Nationals
For my money, Sale is this Winter Meetings' biggest name, so it's only fitting that the "host" team, as it were, would make the biggest splash by landing him.
By now, you know the drill, right? The White Sox don't have to trade Sale, but, given the conditions in this market, they just might -- and maybe even probably/possibly should.
There are a number of young, controllable players who would move the needle on a Sale swap. Guys like Julio Urias, Alex Bregman, Rougned Odor, Dansby Swanson and the Nats' own Trea Turner. But how realistic is that?
I think it's more likely for the Sox to get a package centered around some instant rotation options (I'm talking here about Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) while sending Sale to a win-now ballclub with a history of strengthening an already stout rotation and a glaring organizational need to not only get back to October, but actually advance within it, for once.
Edwin Encarnacion signs with the Yankees
The Encarnacion contract -- wherever he lands -- is probably coming down very soon, now that the Yoenis Cespedes domino has fallen.
The Blue Jays could still bring him back, and Encarnacion's agent said earlier this week that they're "showing Edwin the most love." But while nobody's claiming Justin Smoak is an ideal first-base solution, the fact that the Jays extended him like five minutes ago, in addition to signing Kendrys Morales, makes you wonder if the love is as strong as stated.
The Astros are still in on E.E. and are a good fit. The Red Sox are not as good a fit, no matter David Ortiz's past public sentiments. Maybe some National League team will shock us and stick him at first base, but I doubt it (prove me wrong, Rockies!).
Predicting the Yankees will spend a bunch of money on an aging slugger used to be a really lame prediction. But they didn't sign any free agents a year ago and are generally going younger, so I guess it counts as reasonably bold. The fact is, the Yankees just have too many DH/1B types at their disposal not to come away with one of the bats available in a market deep on sluggers. So why not get the best one still available?
(Seriously, though, it would be fun if he went to the Rockies.)
Andrew McCutchen traded to the Dodgers
This one is totally wishful thinking. Because every time I think about the increasing likelihood of the Pirates trading McCutchen, I get irrationally sad. Not because I'm a Pirates fan (I'm not), but because I think of these two kids and their dad, who became the stars of a viral video that quite simply never gets old:
But here's the silver lining, folks: The family in that video IS FROM LOS ANGELES. So if there's one swap scenario that would appease them, it's this one. And the Dodgers, who could dangle Jose De Leon as the heart of a deal, absolutely have the prospects and the lineup need to get it done, as discussed in this rundown of teams in the McCutchen market.
Aroldis Chapman signs with the Astros
Look, if you're putting money on Chapman's final destination, the Bronx is still your safest bet. Or maybe he and Dusty Baker reunite. But we're (occasionally) trying to be bold here! And man, could you imagine the left-handed Chapman in that Astros bullpen?
Well, OK, you don't have to imagine it, because lefty Kevin Chapman has pitched 55 relief innings for them over the last four seasons.
But signing this Chapman would be the most extreme way in the world to land the left-handed help the 'Stros need. Obviously, you don't sign Chapman to be your lefty-on-lefty matchup guy in the seventh, but the Astros could make Chapman and Ken Giles a high-octane late-inning tandem. You naturally defer to Chapman as the primary closer in that scenario, but with the way bullpen roles are evolving and with a guaranteed contract in hand, perhaps there could be opportunities to give Chapman the Andrew Miller treatment.
In a perfect world, the Astros would add a front-line starter -- and there has been some speculation that they're loading up on veteran bats to free themselves up to move young bats in a trade for such an arm. But putting together a super 'pen is a way for the Astros to take some of the pressure off an iffy rotation.
Dexter Fowler signs with the Blue Jays
We can now say with reasonable confidence that Fowler won't be returning to the Cubs, who signed Jon Jay this week to pair with Albert Almora in a center-field platoon. So what's next for Mr. "You Go, We Go" in the wake of a weird 2015-16 free agency and a leadoff homer in the Game 7 win?
The Blue Jays need an outfielder, and Fowler … let me look ... yep, Fowler plays the outfield. They need a leadoff hitter, and Fowler's .393 OBP last year was 60 points higher than what they got from their leadoff men. They need speed, and Fowler ranked eighth in FanGraphs' baserunning metric this season. They need better lineup balance, and Fowler is a switch-hitter.
Jarrod Dyson traded to the Cardinals
Meanwhile, a Cardinals team that also has a center-field need does the sort of thing the Cardinals tend to do, making a smart move and not necessarily one that wows you.
The Cards really need speed, defense, athleticism, and they need somebody to bridge the gap to top position player prospect Harrison Bader. Dyson fits the bill on every front. He is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility before he becomes a free agent, and though he is undoubtedly important to the Royals, he also presents them with an opportunity to shed some salary in the name of adding some long-term upside from the Cards' solid system.
The Royals do have right-field depth in the form of Whit Merrifield and Billy Burns, and they've got reserve speed in Terrance Gore. They can make it work, and Dyson can zip on over to the other side of Missouri, where he'd be an effective platoon partner with Tommy Pham.
Ian Desmond re-signs with the Rangers
Free agency has not been kind to Desmond. Last year, he rejected the Nationals' qualifying offer and quickly discovered the open market did not take kindly to a shortstop with a questionable glove coming off a down year. He waited and waited and waited and finally was given an $8 million offer from the Rangers to make a move to the outfield. Desmond's All-Star-worthy first half might have improved his market this time around (even in the face of a second-half dropoff), but then the new CBA came along and potentially adversely affected him yet again.
Because teams know they can sign free agents next year without giving up a first-round pick, they could be even more cautious with this current class of free agents tied to compensation. And a free-agent and trade market loaded with outfielders makes Desmond's situation even more challenging. Given the Rangers' need in center field, their respect for Desmond both in terms of his performance and his presence and Desmond's own history with the waiting game and the market conditions that seem to be stacked up against him, it would not be a surprise to see him return to a Texas team that obviously doesn't have to give up a pick to retain him.
Justin Turner stays put with the Dodgers
Creativity is not in short supply this time of year, so teams could certainly get creative with their infield alignments -- or Turner's role -- to make room for the bearded, redheaded one. But if you look at the spectrum of contenders objectively, it seems Turner picked a bad year to be a good free agent. There just aren't many glaring hot corner needs at the moment. (It would be funny if the Mets wound up in pursuit of the guy they non-tendered at the end of '13, but you have to imagine they'll continue to defer to David Wright for now.)
Turner might be the best total-package position player left in this market, but the lack of demand at his position -- even more than his age (32) and lack of long track record as an everyday guy -- leads me to believe he'll stay where he's still needed and valued, and I think he'd be wise to move reasonably quickly.
Ivan Nova signs with the Mariners
Wherever Nova signs, the conversation should go something like this…
General Manager: Ivan, do you pinky swear that you'll pull a J.A. Happ and go from unheralded midseason Pirate pickup to late-season Ray Searage-aided out-compiler to free agent to borderline Cy Young Award contender?
Nova: Uh … sure.
GM: OK, here's your three-year, $40 million contract.
Bad, location-themed jokes on social media
If Wikipedia is to be believed (and when is it not?), this is the first time the Winter Meetings are taking place in the D.C. area since 1958.
This is tremendously exciting for those of us all-too-well-accustomed to the regulars in the rotation (Orlando, Nashville and Dallas) and an opportunity to litter Twitter with a fresh batch of groan-worthy gags. I'll go ahead and get us started.
Teams on the lookout for a veteran bench presence should check out Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Yoenis Cespedes' salary is so large, he's going to need his own Secretary of the Treasury.
When Wilson Ramos signs with a new team, maybe he and Obama can share a moving truck.
If the Braves add any more old guys, they'll have to play their home games in the Smithsonian Museum.
Rich Hill's the best free-agent starter available? You're about to acquire a lot of capital, Hill.
Boy, if you think the legislative process is slow, you ought to see the service at the lobby bar.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.