The 10 most fascinating players of baseball’s Winter Meetings – Yahoo Sports

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Baseball’s Winter Meetings have begun, meaning you can count on a week of free-agency rumors and trade innuendo. It’s a mid-December tradition!

This year’s Winter Meetings ought to be especially interesting because the free-agent class is historically weak and the man who had the No. 1 spot on the list, Yoenis Cespedes, is already off the market.

When Jeremy Hellickson qualifies as a top-10 free agent, you know the market is rough. But when Hellickson opts for a one-year qualifying offer instead of seeing how he plays on the open market, you know anything can happen.

While the free agents getting attention this week might not blow you away (unless you’re really excited about the latest Mark Melancon rumors), this year’s Winter Meetings could be a swarming with trades. For all the ho-hum that exists in free agency, the trade market could be the exact opposite. There are two ex-MVPs out there (Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Braun), a couple guys with Cy Young-level stuff (Chris Sale and Chris Archer) and maybe even one of the best relief pitchers around (Wade Davis).

So, to help you get ready for the Winter Meetings, we’ve pinpointed 10 of the most fascinating names to watch this week, either because they’re players who are sure to generate chatter or they might be on a new team when this week wraps.

1. Andrew McCutchen: The biggest rumor of the past week involves the Pittsburgh Pirates dealing face-of-the-franchise outfielder McCutchen. The return would have to be steep, but less steep considering he’s coming off a rough year. The most talked-about suitors are the Washington Nationals, who could make a big splash at the Winter Meetings in their own backyard by reeling in Cutch.

2. Edwin Encarnacion: The ex-Toronto Blue Jays slugger is the best free agent left, according to Jeff Passan’s rankings. The Houston Astros looked like a good landing spot … until they signed Carlos Beltran. Still, Encarnacion should get big money to walk the parrot in someone’s uniform. His agent said Sunday there’s a chance a deal gets done during the meetings. The Red Sox and Yankees have been mentioned as potential destinations. Don’t rule out a return to Toronto either.

Will we finally see a Chris Sale trade? (AP)Will we finally see a Chris Sale trade? (AP)

3. Chris Sale: The 2016 baseball offseason might as well be subtitled “or, the year that everyone was waiting for Chris Sale to get traded.” Sale trade rumors have been flying every day of the offseason, and don’t expect that to change. He’s the most transformative pitcher on the market. But it doesn’t seem like there’s a deal that’s close. The White Sox are looking for a big return (and Sale is worth it) so there’s no guarantee he gets dealt unless the Sox get their price.

4. Chris Archer: If you’re an MLB GM desperate for a top-flight starter and you can’t get Chris Sale, then Chris Archer is the next best option. Archer, who isn’t a free agent until 2020, is a strikeout machine who is better than his 4.02 ERA from a season ago. He won’t be as pricey as Sale, but he won’t come cheap either.

5. Mark Melancon: Of the three big closers on the market, it sounds like Melancon might come off the board first. Reports over the weekend indicate that he has offers in hand. The Giants are thought to be among the most likely destinations, but many teams need a closer, including the Dodgers, Marlins, Nats and Cubs.

6. Wade Davis: As you can see above, there are more teams looking for a closer than there are top-flight free-agent closers. So the Royals hold a desirable trade chip in Davis, who when healthy is one of the best relievers in baseball. The Royals have decisions to make about how they’re going to manage all their young stars approaching their walk year. If they decide to trade Davis — it wouldn’t be a bad idea considering the market — other teams will certainly be interested.

Ryan Braun would be an expensive addition, but he would help many teams. (AP)Ryan Braun would be an expensive addition, but he would help many teams. (AP)

7. Ryan Braun: For big spenders looking to add a top outfield bat, Braun is a name to watch. He’s been mentioned in trade rumors going back to last season and now that his value is maximized again, Braun could get a big return. He hit .305 last season with 30 homers and a .903 OPS. Only 16 players in MLB had an OPS over .900. His contract is what makes a trade more complicated. Braun is owed $76 million over the next four years, including $20 million each of the next two seasons.

8. J.D. Martinez: If Braun is too rich, then maybe J.D. Martinez is the right price. Like Braun, the Detroit Tigers outfielder had an OPS above .900 last season. Unlike Braun, he’s a free agent after 2017 and is only just $11.7 million next season. The Giants are said to be interested in Martinez, which would be a good fit.

9. Rich Hill: The Dodgers are reportedly close to a deal with Rich Hill, and have been for a few days now. So it’ll be interesting to see both whether the Dodgers wrap that one up and how much they pay Hill, considering he’s a 36-year-old coming off a good season that would have been great if not for injuries. Like Hill, look for some resolution between the Dodgers and third baseman Justin Turner, another top free agent who is reportedly close to returning to L.A.

10. Brian Dozier: Did you know Dozier — he of 42 homers and 99 RBIs — was the 10th most valuable players in the American League last season, according to Fangraphs’ WAR? He’s on a very team-friendly contract ($6 million next season and $9 million in 2018) so he’s a great piece of trade bait. The Twins aren’t going to just give Dozier away, they’ve looking for a big return. But it’s been reported that the Dodgers have been aggressive in their pursuit and other teams are interested too.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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