Baseball's Hot Stove League has had a few flickers thus far but really should starting heating up soon. Here are a few dates in MLB's offseason that bettors should monitor as they could certainly affect futures odds next spring.
December 2, 11:59 p.m. ET
This the non-tender deadline around the majors. What does that mean? By that 11:59 deadline, clubs must decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. If they do, the player remains under team control and the sides negotiate a salary for the next season. If the sides can't agree, it goes to arbitration and that salary ruling is binding. Nowadays most sides avoid arbitration and meet in the middle. If a player is non-tendered, he immediately becomes a free agent.
A team will non-tender a guy if it feels he's not worth even the low-end salary he might receive from an arbitrator. For example, the White Sox traded Gordon Beckham to the Angels late this past season because the Sox were likely going to non-tender Beckham (as might the Angels now). The most famous example of a club really screwing up and non-tendering a guy was following the 2002 season by the Minnesota Twins. In that '02 campaign a guy named David Ortiz hit 20 homers and had 75 RBIs for the Twins but apparently they thought that was a fluke. Ortiz became a free agent, signed with the Boston Red Sox and the rest is history. He has had a Hall of Fame-caliber career in Boston.
Ortiz obviously was a fluke, but there can be value to be found out there. Last year guys like former closers John Axford and Andrew Bailey, outfielder Chris Coghlan, starting pitchers Tommy Hanson and Jerome Williams, and catcher J.P. Arencibia were non-tendered. Coghlan, the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year, had a nice season with the Cubs, batting .283 with nine homers and 41 RBIs in 385 at-bats. Axford had a 3.95 ERA and 10 saves with the Indians and Pirates last year. Williams pitched for three teams last season but was very good late in the season with the Phillies, going 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA in nine starts. That earned him a 2015 contract.
These are the Winter Meetings in San Diego and this is where a vast majority of deals will either get done or at least the groundwork laid for them. Either free-agent signings or trades. For example, at last season's Winter Meetings the biggest trade was a three-way deal between the White Sox, Diamondbacks and Angels that saw Mark Trumbo head from Anaheim to Arizona, pitchers Hector Santiago (White Sox) and Tyler Skaggs (Arizona) to the Angels and outfielder Adam Eaton from the Diamondbacks to the White Sox.
Hard to say yet who won that deal. Trumbo was limited to 88 games for a terrible Arizona team due to injury. Skaggs had Tommy John surgery in August and may miss all of 2015. Santiago started terribly for the Halos but finished 6-9 with a solid 3.75 ERA. Right now the White Sox have to like the deal as they have their center fielder and leadoff man for the next few years at least. Eaton hit .300 with 35 RBIs and 15 steals in 2014 games.
The Cubs could be very active at these Winter Meetings. They lost out on free-agent catcher Russell Martin, who surprisingly signed with Toronto. So the Cubs might look to acquire someone like Arizona catcher Miguel Montero. Chicago also is looking for pitching, especially if losing out on Jon Lester. The Cubs have All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro to dangle for pitching. The Mets have a lot of young pitching, need a shortstop and could be a fit.
Philadelphia will be active as the Phillies are rebuilding and just about anyone is available. Cole Hamels, another potential Cubs candidate, is the big name who could go. The Yankees need a shortstop to replace Derek Jeter. Texas would love to trade its shortstop, Elvis Andrus. The Dodgers need a shortstop to replace Hanley Ramirez and have been eyeing the White Sox's Alexei Ramirez. L.A. also is going to trade at least one of its glut of outfielders.
Atlanta already dealt outfielder Jason Heyward but probably isn't done as the Braves look more toward 2017 and their new ballpark than perhaps next season. Seattle needs another bat. Pittsburgh needs starting pitching. Colorado has made Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez available.
Expect sportsbooks to alter their MLB odds immediately after the Winter Meetings unless the meetings are strangely quiet.
The Winter Meetings conclude with the Rule 5 Draft. That probably won't help a team next season but diamonds in the rough can be found. A team that selects a player in the Rule 5 Draft pays $50,000 to the team from which he was selected. The receiving team must then keep the player on the big-league 25-man roster for the entirety of the next season or offer him back to the original team for $25,000. All players on a team's 40-man roster are protected and ineligible for the Rule 5 Draft.
No player of note was taken in the Rule 5 Draft last year, although the White Sox did use catcher Adrian Nieto from the Nationals in 48 games. Johan Santana and Josh Hamilton both were selected in Rule 5 Drafts at one point. So was Roberto Clemente.