As we know from the legislative process, things can often move slowly in Washington, D.C. But we're all hoping that's not the case for baseball's Winter Meetings, which take place just outside the Beltway in National Harbor, Md., this week.
We want to see trades! We want to see signings! We want to see somebody fall into a lobby pool (sorry I bring this up every year, but it never gets old)!
These are my six picks for teams that could, and perhaps even should, dominate discussion at baseball's industry gathering.
1. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are a struggling team with some really good players. That is a recipe that could make them the Sultans of Swap at these Meetings.
Of course, the best of those players are in the rotation. The Sox had both Chris Sale and Jose Quintana finish in the top 10 of the American League Cy Young Award voting and still only managed to win 78 games. They are open to discussing both names, though Quintana is less likely to move, by virtue of being attached to four years of affordable contractual control versus Sale's three. But the asking price on Sale has reportedly been stratospheric so far, and that is not unexpected in a market so thin on starting pitching and in an environment in which the new Collective Bargaining Agreement just further hammered home the importance of long-term cost certainty.
If you're more interested in a back-end starter, would you mind taking on the salary of James Shields (who, um, did not finish in the top 10 of the AL Cy Young Award voting)? Not interested in a starter at all? Well, OK, how about a year of Todd Frazier's power output (don't look at that OBP, it's a misprint)? If the ages or asking prices of the free-agent bats don't entice you, perhaps the soon-to-be-30-year-old Jose Abreu, who has three years of arbitration-eligibility coming, is of interest -- or you can take a chance on Melky Cabrera. Once the top-end closing market shuts down, David Robertson could suddenly look a lot more appealing. Same goes for Dan Jennings, given the crazy contracts going out to left-handed relievers. Additionally, teams are asking about Adam Eaton, who could shore up center field on a contender with a friendly contract through 2021.
After several years of inter-organizational struggle over how best to get things on the South Side pointed north, the Sox finally seem to be embracing the idea of a total rebuild, which means they enter these Meetings open for business. They are so open for business, in fact, that general manager Rick Hahn released a statement the other day reminding us that the Sox are open to discussing deals with all 29 clubs, even the cross-town Cubs (the only thing missing was a, "Call me, Theo!").
2. Washington Nationals
There is no rule that just because the Winter Meetings are taking place so close to your home park that you have to act like a good host and keep people entertained. But Mike Rizzo's club has been attached to so many provocative possibilities that its activity will obviously be a focal point here.
The Nats didn't steal Yoenis Cespedes from the division-rival Mets, as many Washingtonians might have hoped, and that means they still have an opening in their outfield, because moving Trea Turner back to short makes too much sense not to happen. Yes, the Nats did tender a contract to incumbent shortstop Danny Espinosa on Friday, but his full arbitration salary won't be guaranteed until he makes the 25-man roster in Spring Training. In other words, while there was plenty of chatter about the Nats wanting to complete an Andrew McCutchen trade before the non-tender deadline, there's nothing stopping them from shopping or cutting Espinosa further down the road should a Cutch trade come to fruition.
Or maybe it's not McCutchen. Maybe the Nats reunite with Ian Desmond or sign Dexter Fowler or Carlos Gomez. Maybe they swing a trade for another center fielder, such as Eaton or the Reds' Billy Hamilton.
And as has been widely reported, maybe the Nats do as they did when they signed Max Scherzer and turn an obviously strong rotation into an even greater strength. They have the pieces to land Sale.
All of the above doesn't even begin to address the Nats' most pressing need, in the back end of the bullpen. And with that market taking shape, they are certainly a team to watch closely.
3. Detroit Tigers
We've known for a long while that the Tigers' habit of handing out nine-figure contracts would come back to bite them eventually, but the new CBA came with even sharper teeth than expected. The rises in the 2017 and future luxury tax thresholds are modest ones. That not only puts the Tigers in peril of penalties, but could limit the trade value of their more pricey pieces, because even the high-revenue clubs have to be mindful of how the future thresholds are going to affect their roster construction.
And so we'll go ahead and say here that it's doubtful the Tigers move one of their two signature stars -- Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera -- in this marketplace, fun though the concept might be. What's intriguing here is the obvious organizational incentive to shed salary and to get, as general manager Al Avila put it, "leaner, younger and more efficient."
While that might not lead to Kate Upton joining a new fan base, it could mean Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Upton or lefty reliever Justin Wilson are shipped off.
Other clubs have come away from talks with the Tigers with the perception that they are motivated to move at least one or two veteran pieces, so Detroit could be dealing this week.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
The CBA affects the Dodgers, too, because they are the only club in danger of enduring its most punitive penalties.
The Dodgers spent north of $270 million on their payroll in '16. If they spend $235 million or more in '17, they would pay an unprecedented 92-percent tax (50 percent as a third-time offender and a 40-percent surtax for being more than $40 million over the $195 million threshold) on every dollar over $195 million.
That's as close to a salary cap as this sport has ever seen, and, again, the Dodgers are the only team in serious jeopardy of reaching that level. So this colors every conversation about this club, which reportedly re-signed Rich Hill over the weekend and still has holes to fill at third base, second base and in the back end of the bullpen.
What we've seen from the Andrew Friedman regime is an aversion to the mega-contracts (the largest deal Friedman has handed out in his time in L.A. was Brandon McCarthy's $48 million deal) that now looks especially wise. The club has focused more on trades. And when you line up the Dodgers' needs with what projects to be an especially active trade market this week, you can see the potential for them to be busy in the coming days.
5. Atlanta Braves
A year ago, the Braves made one of the biggest splashes of the Winter Meetings in turning Shelby Miller into a package fronted by Dansby Swanson, and their execs spent the night toasting a trade that felt then and definitely feels now like a win for the franchise. What are the odds they swing another big swap, only this time as the big-league buyer?
This club's a wild card this week. The Braves are heading into a new ballpark and feeling frisky. That doesn't mean they are destined to do more heavy lifting than they've already done, but their aggressive action thus far -- adding Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia to the rotation and utilityman Sean Rodriguez to the lineup -- speaks to a shifting organizational mindset from roadkill to roadrunner.
To label the Braves, who lost 93 games in 2016, an immediate contender on the heels of those moves and a second-half leap in offensive production takes a major leap of faith, and the safest bet remains that the Braves wind up holding on to their ample prospect stash as they take a measured approach to the climb up the NL East ladder.
But these Meetings could present a golden opportunity to land a front-line, controllable starter like Sale or Chris Archer. If the Braves, who have discernible middle-infield depth in their system that could make a highly touted prospect like Ozzie Albies a trade chip, do that, we'll go into 2017 looking at them much, much differently.
6. Houston Astros
We'll put them on the lower end of the spectrum here, because the Astros have already had an offseason that would qualify as complete in many markets. They acted quickly on Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick, Charlie Morton and Brian McCann.
But on the heels of a drastically disappointing 2016, Jeff Luhnow's shopping list was not small and neither, after years of fiscal frugality, was the budget, which makes this club fun and fascinating to watch right now.
Maybe the Astros hold serve with what they have, with their only remaining move of note, perhaps, some left-handed relief after Tony Sipp struggled in '16. But given the way the rotation withered last year, leaving the Astros scrambling for starting assistance in the September stretch run, and given the way the season-opening unit simply wasn't as strong as the organization expected internally, it's entirely possible that Luhnow has one more surprise in store for us.
We've heard rumblings that perhaps the addition of these veteran bats was a precursor to the Astros moving one of their young position players to add an elite arm. Despite that chatter, it would be an absolute shock to see the Astros part with 22-year-old infielder (and former No. 2 overall Draft pick) Alex Bregman, who posted a respectable OPS+ of 115 in his first 201 big-league at-bats. And maybe that means the Astros get nowhere with the Sox on Sale.
That said, perhaps Luhnow could use other young bodies -- among Francis Martes, Joe Musgrove, David Paulino, Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, to name a few -- to swing a swap that takes their Dallas Keuchel-led rotation from iffy to nifty. Or maybe the Astros, who still only have two players (Reddick and Yulieski Gurriel) with guaranteed contracts that extend past 2018 make another move in free agency. Delving into the closer market to build a super 'pen that takes pressure off the starting set might make sense in this market.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor and MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.