LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Baseball's Winter Meetings started extremely slow, finished with a steady stream of done deals and, as usual, brought plenty of bar business to the Swan and Dolphin Resort on the Walt Disney World campus. There was a bustle of activity Wednesday before executives began filtering out of the building, with relievers flying off the shelves and some big names like Marcell Ozuna and Ian Kinsler changing hands.
But ultimately, these Meetings created more questions than they answered. So let's run through five prominent ones here.
1. What's next for the Yankees and Red Sox?
The baseball world was once guilty of putting undue attention on this rivalry, but … jeez. There is not a more compelling plot point in baseball right now than the escalation of this rivalry now that the Yankees have acquired Giancarlo Stanton.
As we've seen, the Stanton acquisition has not altered one iota the long-stated goal to get under the $197-million luxury tax threshold for 2018. The Yanks want to reset the penalties in advance of that loaded 2018 free-agent class, which of course includes Manny Machado. Even after shedding Chase Headley's $13 million salary this week, the Yanks would have a hard time acquiring Machado in a trade now, patching up the rest of their pitching staff and leaving themselves the necessary wiggle room for the in-season Trade Deadline without surpassing that threshold. So if Machado does become a Yankee, it's probably not for another year (or at least another seven months), which gives Yankee haters ample time to book their therapy appointments.
Anyway, Machado or not, the Yankees need an infielder, because, even if Gleyber Torres is ready to assume an everyday role in 2018, it will only be at second base or third and not, you know, both. And while there is always the chance CC Sabathia comes back or another innings-eater arrives to round out the rotation, the Yankees' system is so loaded that they could absolutely swing a swap for an impact, controllable arm like Gerrit Cole.
So it's the Yankees' world, and we're just living in it. The Red Sox's need to amplify their offense was amplified all the more by the Stanton swap, but Dave Dombrowski, though typically known to act swiftly and aggressively, is wisely biding his time in this market fronted by high-priced Scott Boras clients Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez. The Red Sox will very likely end up with one of those guys (it says here that Hosmer's the better positional and ballpark fit).
2. Should the rest of the American League East fold up shop for 2018?
It would ordinarily be outrageous to suggest a single transaction by one club should totally alter the approach of others, but there were already key competitive questions attached to the Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays before the Yankees got Stanton. And with the budgets and pieces in play, there is no scenario in which the Yankees and Red Sox won't enter '18 as the obvious favorites for October advancement out of the East. That doesn't mean surprises don't happen, because baseball will bite you in the butt as soon as you start assuming stuff. But it's general managerial malpractice not to make an honest evaluation of your roster and act accordingly, and, coming out of the Meetings, it is still unclear whether these clubs will take the nuclear approach of trading one or more of their signature stars.
Though they acknowledge internally that again fielding one of the oldest rosters in the big leagues makes for a less-than-ideal outlook going into the new year, the Blue Jays appear to be the least likely to go down that road, though there's no doubt Josh Donaldson has attracted interest in this trade market (most notably from the Cardinals, who have already added Ozuna to their outfield). The Cards have been similarly associated with Machado, who joins Zach Britton as the type of trade chip that can get a somewhat aimless Baltimore club the kind of upper-level talent their system is short on. John Mozeliak went the rental route when he landed Jason Heyward two years ago, and, this being a critical winter for the Cards, could get similarly aggressive again. There is always the idea that ingraining a guy to your clubhouse and culture increases the odds of convincing him to stay when he hits the open market.
The Rays' payroll demands opportunism in the trade market and their roster is loaded with intriguing targets -- Chris Archer, Evan Longoria and closer Alex Colome. It's been assumed all winter that Colome, entering arbitration after saving 84 games the past two seasons, is as good as gone. But moving Longoria and/or Archer obviously signals a much bigger reconstruction plan, which is something the Rays, for all their budgetary restraints and trades of big-name ballplayers, haven't really done full-scale before in the time that Stuart Sternberg has been their owner.
3. Is the starting pitching trade market about to go bonkers?
There is inherent risk associated with all pitchers, free-agent or otherwise, but this free-agent class is especially precarious. Tyler Chatwood's three-year, $38-million deal with the Cubs -- a pretty big bet on the stats that indicate better days ahead for Chatwood outside of Coors Field -- established a pretty interesting bar for the middle tiers of this market and only added to the allure of the trade route for the 27 or 28 teams that need starting arms.
We've already mentioned Archer. We've mentioned Cole. On the last full day of the Meetings, there were rumblings about the Royals making Danny Duffy available. The D-backs have had some discussions involving not just the arbitration-eligible Patrick Corbin, but also Zack Greinke, who takes on a punitive percentage of their payroll and would really change the scope of an acquiring club's rotation. The Indians have gotten calls on Danny Salazar.
Controllable, quality starting pitching is always an attractive trade chip, and it's really attractive when Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish are still aiming high with their free-agent price tags.
4. Are the Marlins done slashing?
To rephrase this question, is Christian Yelich getting dealt or not? With Stanton, Ozuna and Dee Gordon all gone, the Marlins are already pretty close to their goal of getting the 2018 payroll down around $90 million. Keeping Yelich, who is a market change and some blossoming power away from breaking out as a real star in this sport, and catcher J.T. Realmuto would at least lend some credibility to this ravaged roster. But at this point, what is that worth? If you're going to start over, you might as well go all the way, because the Marlins sure don't profile as a team that's going to be a contender.
Yelich has a really attractive contract (he's due $44.5 million over the next four years), which only adds to the allure of his speed-defense-patience portfolio. The Marlins could get a huge haul for him and ultimately walk away from this winter looking a lot like the White Sox did a year ago -- emaciated at the big-league level but beefed-up down below.
5. Wade Davis has to sign any second, no?
It was pretty fair to put Davis at the top of the relief ladder this winter, and a ton of rungs have now been taken out below him. Goes to show that this process isn't always as clean and linear as we'd like it to be.
Just when it appeared teams were learning not to go too crazy paying for "proven closers," Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman received the three highest relief contracts on record last year. So it says here that Davis will do quite well for himself, even if lower-profile guys like Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith and Juan Nicasio came off the board first. That said, Davis is not the indomitable assassin he was during the Royals' run of excellence. His groundball rate dipped, his walk rate rose and he actually gave up a handful of home runs (gasp). Oh, and if I'm remembering right, he threw 947 pitches over his last two appearances of the playoffs.
So it's understandable if teams tread a little bit carefully here. But Davis is still capable of totally altering the look of the back end of a bullpen. A reunion with the Cubs is still a possibility here.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth and MLB Network contributor and MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.