NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Winter Meetings are over, but the Hot Stove season is not. Believe it or not, teams are still allowed to make acquisitions after leaving this glorified outdoor mall across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., and many of them will.
So don't fret if your club looks unfinished.
But the Meetings are always a fascinating and expeditious event, and this year did not disappoint. Here are 10 takeaways.
1. The Red Sox are (seemingly) super.
We went three full seasons without a 100-win team, and then the 2015 Cardinals came along with sub-3.00 staff ERA and pitched themselves to the century mark. Then the 2016 Cubs came along with their ridiculously replete roster and won 103 and a World Series title. And so now, in a game that had seemingly been trending toward more socialistic standings, the concept of a Super Team, for lack of a less comic bookish designation, is back en vogue, and Dave Dombrowski is obviously intent on building one.
Dombrowski's Red Sox weren't supplied with much financial wiggle room, because the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and its harsh penalties for repeat offenders carries an especially punitive penalty on any significant offseason spending for a team already carrying too many large commitments. But Boston was stocked with upper-level talent, and Dombrowski, true to form, showed no shyness in packaging expendable or unproven pieces to pull off a pair of significant trades -- the seismic swap for Chris Sale from the White Sox and the less-heralded but still-impressive addition of reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers. He threw in a Mitch Moreland signing, for good measure.
The result, as of this writing, is that FanGraphs' American League East projections currently look like this:
Are the Red Sox really at least 11 games better than every other team in the East? Debatable. But it would take a mountain of moves from one of the other clubs to unseat them as division favorites (dubious though that title might be).
Oh, and of course the Cubs, who at 95 wins are now projected to be at least 10 games better than the rest of the NL Central after landing Wade Davis, are still pretty super themselves.
2. But the Indians' division picture might be even sunnier.
The Indians continued to investigate the market for offensive help at these Meetings, and much of the scuttlebutt was about Edwin Encarnacion's market crumbling to the point where the Indians, even with their limited budget, might be able to capitalize. No tangible results have arrived just yet, and Encarnacion's camp continues to insist that he'll get the lucrative multi-year contract he's seeking.
But that's not the point. The point is that the Indians' sole intent this offseason is to contend, to defend the AL Central title they won by eight games in '16 and, if all goes well, defend the AL pennant, too. And this is a contrast to the other clubs in the division, where other motives might undercut the contention effort.
We saw the White Sox rebuild officially begin with a flourish in the Sale and Adam Eaton swap, and it will of course continue with others. The Twins, who imported former Tribe assistant GM Derek Falvey as their president of baseball operations, are basically an entire starting staff away from contention at the moment. These are two organizations with an eye beyond '17.
Then there are the Tigers and Royals, who certainly have the talent and the goal to push the Tribe. But this goal could be compromised by the concurrent goal of reducing payroll. Tigers GM Al Avila stressed to reporters that "there's no demand to dump" dollars in Detroit, but the Tigers are pretty plainly more focused on subtracting and getting under the luxury tax threshold than they are on adding the depth they'll likely need to assist an aging roster. And the Royals began turning over a roster loaded with pending free agents with the Wade Davis deal that brings upside to their order but ravages their once-bullish 'pen.
What this means is that the Indians probably have the clearest path to a division crown of any club in baseball.
But after the way things transpired in the 10th inning of Game 7, their own goals are a little loftier than that.
3. Rick got a Hahn-ful.
Eaton always bristled at the praise he received last year for his major surge in the defensive metrics with the move to right field (he went from minus-14 defensive runs saved to plus-22 in right). He viewed it as tacit disrespect of his work in center field, where, for whatever it's worth, he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2014. And remember, he had shoulder issues that necessitated surgery after 2015.
Oh, and he's also got a ridiculously affordable contract through 2021.
So Eaton had a ton of trade value in this market, and credit to the Sox for capitalizing on it. Their haul of Lucas Giolito (No. 3 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 list) and Reynaldo Lopez (No. 38), along with right-hander Dane Dunning (No. 6 on the Nats' list) sent a big buzz through the lobby and suites here and, combined with the acquisitions of Yoan Moncada (No. 1) and Michael Kopech (No. 30), prompted one exec from another club to say, "They are going to be damn good in a couple years."
Yeah, there's something to be said for clarity in path and consistency in message -- things the Sox have lacked in recent years. These are not all slam dunks (Giolito had a 6.75 ERA and 4.6 K/9 rate in his first 21 1/3 innings, affecting his allure, and Lopez might profile better for the bullpen), but it's injected energy into a bored fan base, which is a good start.
4. But does the Dombrowski hex strike again?
Broad-shouldered with a thick upper body, pure power, fleet feet, a strong arm and a spot in the middle of the diamond, Moncada is the White Sox's first young position player prospect who stokes genuine excitement since... well… wow. If we remove the straight-to-the-bigs, 27-year-old Jose Abreu from the conversation, you probably have to go all the way back to when Carlos Lee was coming up.
Maybe Moncada is as can't-miss as he looks and maybe Kopech becomes an elite arm. But the biggest knock one can come up with for either of these guys is that Dave Dombrowski traded them.
Some of the love we bestow upon Dombrowski for acting decisively and getting what he wants can be a little misleading, because razing a farm system you didn't build to land obvious superstar talent does not necessarily require a stroke of genius. But Dombrowski's track record insists he is remarkably good at trading the right prospects. Sure, he should have held on to Trevor Hoffman with the Marlins way back when, and Carl Everett turned out better than anticipated (although some of that is offset by his disbelief in dinosaurs). But guys like Jose Martinez, Julio Ramirez, Cameron Maybin, Jacob Turner, Avisail Garcia and even Andrew Miller (who didn't become a star until he moved to the 'pen, long after Dombrowski dealt him to the Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera deal) proved that oftentimes prospects are suspects.
Here's hoping Moncada and Kopech don't succumb to the Dombrowski voodoo.
5. The Rockies stunned us.
In a market deep on first-base bats, several of which were not tied to Draft pick compensation, the Rockies filled their first-base hole and gave up the No. 11 pick (the highest possible pick you can surrender, because the top 10 are protected) for… Ian Desmond? And at five years, $70 million, no less.
Desmond's athleticism is somewhat wasted at first, and while he has great numbers at Coors Field (1.016 OPS in 95 at-bats), well, geez, who doesn't (only four active position players with at least 100 at-bats have less than a .735 career OPS there)? Purer sluggers still existed on the open market or trade market.
So either another domino -- Charlie Blackmon? Carlos Gonzalez? -- is going to fall (potentially allowing the Rox to sign Mark Trumbo or Encarnacion) or a Rockies team that is looking a little frisky with a budding rotation just made the biggest head-scratcher of the offseason, to date.
Doesn't make it wrong (Desmond's versatility is, ultimately, a strength), but this was certainly an unexpected landing spot.
6. Viva transparency!
The Baseball Writers' Association of America voted in favor of future Hall of Fame ballots (beginning in 2018) being made public. Many writers already follow this formula by sharing their votes and their rationale behind them in whatever public forum -- Twitter, Facebook, a column -- they see fit. But others, including the three people who left Ken Griffey Jr. off their ballot last year, have had their votes shrouded in secrecy.
Long story short: If you leave Chipper Jones off your 2018 ballot, beware those Twitter mentions. Heck, @RealCJ10 himself might come after you.
7. The free-agent starting pitching market is thin.
Rich Hill came off the board just ahead of these Meetings, and then the crawl came.
It's interesting, really. If only because of the J.A. Happ precedent and his second-half turnaround with the Pirates, Ivan Nova just might be the next-best option on the open market. But have you heard one substantive rumor about Nova? It's been similarly quiet on Jason Hammel. There are medical bouncebacks being bandied about -- guys like Tyson Ross and Derek Holland -- but no deals just yet.
Generally speaking, teams are focused more on the trade market than the all-but-barren free-agent market in trying to fill their rotations right now.
8. Jorge Soler: You have ONE job.
Nobody knows if Soler will untap his true potential with the Royals. But if he does, he has the power potential to take aim at the only sports record that really matters: Steve Balboni's Royals franchise record of 36 homers in a single season!
The record, set in 1985, has somehow survived all these decades.
Can it survive Soler?
There is some thought that more consistent playing time -- something unavailable to Soler in the Cubs' deep picture and Joe Maddon's mad scientist lineups -- will nurture Soler's thus-far stunted development. But there are also major concerns with his troubles with sliders, his approach and the hamstring issues that hung him up in '16.
9. Wade-ing into troubled waters?
Meanwhile, how much should Cubs fans fret about the flexor strain that twice landed Davis on the DL in 2016? That injury is too-often a precursor to the ligament tear that requires Tommy John surgery, so it's no small thing.
But the Royals said the strain was further up the forearm, closer to the wrist, and Davis' fastball velocity was fully intact at year's end. A review of the medicals was part of the trade process, and the Cubs' trainers examined Davis personally.
So maybe there's nothing to see here. But even though Davis is only attached to one year of contractual control, you'd have to think, in a market crazy for closers, that the Royals could have landed another prospect had there been no medical red flags whatsoever.
10. To the nines.
Mark Melancon, at four-year, $62 million deal, held the record for largest contract ever given to a relief pitcher… for roughly 60 hours. Then Aroldis Chapman and the Yankees reunited late Wednesday night on a five-year, $86 million pact.
And Kenley Jansen will be the next to get a crazy contract, with Yahoo's Jeff Passan reporting that the Marlins have made a five-year offer worth more than $80 million -- even though Jansen is tied to a Draft pick and the Marlins have the No. 13 overall selection.
Baseball has gone ninth-inning nuts, a natural byproduct of the increasing emphasis on 'pens. That said, because the Yankees also have Dellin Betances, it would be fascinating to see Chapman, now that he's got the security of a long-term deal, go into an Andrew Miller-like role in which Joe Girardi can use him in high-leverage moments that don't necessarily arise in the ninth. Chapman entered two World Series games in the seventh inning, so it's not totally out of the question. But this is a guy who has generally been averse to roles other than closing in the recent past, and the regular season is fundamentally different than October, where anything goes.
For the record, the way the Indians used Miller down the stretch last season isn't something you can do for the full 162. And his October schedule is absolutely an outlier (extrapolate it over a full season, and he would have pitched more than 200 innings!). Still, it would be fun to see the Yankees get added value out of Chapman, especially given the extreme cost of this acquisition.
-- Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.