As we approach the New Year, only two free agents who rejected qualifying offers remain unsigned: starting pitchers Max Scherzer and James Shields. Both are virtually certain to land lucrative multiyear contracts, meaning the top of the free-agent class is unlikely to reprise the widespread gridlock we witnessed last January, February and March (and later, in the cases of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales).
But one aspect of the marketplace should see heavy activity in the early part of 2015: trades for outfield bats.
Consider nine teams with outfield depth to trade:
Phillies: Marlon Byrd
Reds: Jay Bruce
Rays: Ben Zobrist, an infielder/outfielder whose status I examined recently
Padres: Wil Myers, Seth Smith, Will Venable, Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin
Rockies: Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs
Diamondbacks: Mark Trumbo, David Peralta, Ender Inciarte, Cody Ross
Dodgers: Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford
Indians: Nick Swisher, David Murphy, Ryan Raburn
Angels: Josh Hamilton
Given all of those alternatives, the possible pairings are almost too numerous to mention. But we know there are plenty of buyers: The Orioles, Mariners, A's, Marlins, Rangers, Cubs, Reds, Astros and Giants are among the teams with at least one unsettled outfield spot on their projected 25-man rosters.
Of course, Padres general manager A.J. Preller is one of the most intriguing actors to watch in the unfolding outfield drama. The industry still is feeling the aftershocks of his six trades involving 25 players -- and $32 million -- over only three days earlier this month.
If Preller truly is willing to make Myers the key piece in a blockbuster trade for Phillies ace Cole Hamels -- the teams have discussed the possibility, according to the Philadelphia Daily News -- then part of the outfield market actually hinges on a pitcher (Hamels) ... who may need to wait for Scherzer and Shields to sign before learning his own destination.
So, with the industry poised to emerge from its brief holiday respite, the Hot Stove remains as entangled -- and vexing -- as three strands of meshed-together Christmas lights. The unspooling will take awhile.