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GM meetings might be lively this time

Cleveland Indians right fielder Shin-Soo Choo
Shin-Soo Choo is one of several Indians players who could be a fit with the Red Sox.
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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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In baseball, the general managers’ meetings long have lacked the mystique and functionality of the winter meetings. Often, they are held too early in the offseason for deal-making to occur onsite. They act as the kickoff event, where agents gauge interest in clients and GMs discuss potential trade fits with their colleagues.

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This year could be different.

A collection of executives and agents will gather in Indian Wells, Calif., beginning Wednesday, and the possibility exists that a significant trade or signing will be announced there. The exclusive window for free agents — during which they can’t discuss financial terms with other teams — has passed. And GMs know which players have been tendered qualifying offers — a meaningful change from previous years, when the arbitration process wasn’t resolved until December.

Next month’s winter meetings in Nashville loom as the bigger swap meet, but here are five questions that could be answered by the time the proceedings adjourn Friday in Southern California.

1. How much of a “legend bonus” will the New York Yankees give Mariano Rivera — and potentially Andy Pettitte?

When shortstop Derek Jeter became a free agent two years ago, the Yankees signed him for more money (three years, $51 million) than his recent production suggested he was worth. But that wasn’t viewed as a mistake, because this was Derek Jeter. Besides, the Yankees had a limitless budget, right?

Turns out, that’s not the case anymore. Or so they say. Under Hal Steinbrenner’s plan to reduce their payroll to $189 million by 2014, the Yankees need to make every (million) dollar count. And while the coming austerity will be a greater issue at this time next year, it could impact the Yankees’ ability to afford players in this winter’s free agent class.

Against that backdrop, their closer Rivera, soon to be 43, has told the club he intends to return, and 40-year-old starting pitcher Pettitte might do the same. Now the question is how much they will cost. Rivera earned $15 million this year, Pettitte $11.75 million in his most recent full season (2010). Can the Yankees afford to give them similar deals now, at a time when they also need a catcher, right fielder, designated hitter, setup man and another starter?

2. How long until the first trade between the Indians and Red Sox?

It will be a mild surprise if the two franchises don’t strike at least one trade this winter.
The environment is ideally suited to a deal: The front offices know each other well, and they have been frequent trading partners. The Indians are coming off a 94-loss season and could begin another rebuild by trading the likes of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, closer Chris Perez and starting pitcher Justin Masterson. Each could fill an area of need for the Red Sox, who have financial flexibility thanks to their August blockbuster with the Dodgers.

On top of that, new Cleveland manager Terry Francona has intimate knowledge of Boston’s prospects through his tenure with the Red Sox. John Farrell, the new skipper in Boston, had a good relationship with Masterson when the right-hander was a Red Sox prospect during Farrell’s time as the Boston pitching coach.

Stay tuned.

3. Will the Rays trade a starting pitcher before the likes of Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse sign their new contracts?

With a modicum of power in their lineup, the 2012 Rays would have reached the postseason as a genuine threat to win the World Series. Their starting rotation was that good.

Instead, the Rays were eliminated during the final series of the season, largely because of their meager .243 batting average with runners in scoring position.

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So, the time has arrived for general manager Andrew Friedman to part with one arm from his ample pitching stable. James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson are the most obvious candidates to be traded for the first baseman or corner outfielder the Rays so desperately need (e.g., Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel, Paul Goldschmidt, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer or Allen Craig).

In order to maximize his return, it might behoove Friedman to trade the cost-controlled pitcher before teams remove themselves from the marketplace by signing someone else. This could be the week to do it, once GMs blanch after hearing the asking prices for Greinke, Sanchez, Lohse and others.

4. Are the Rangers going to be spectators in the Josh Hamilton sweepstakes?

The estimable John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus reported recently that Hamilton’s asking price is seven years and $175 million. If Hamilton sticks to those numbers, it’s difficult to imagine his current team will stay in the bidding for very long.

Despite their considerable resources, the Rangers might be a player in the Hamilton sweepstakes only to the extent that the Brewers pursued Prince Fielder last offseason: If the market collapses completely, the Rangers will be there with a short-term offer. Other than that, Hamilton is likely to find a more eager suitor elsewhere. The Rangers have too many concerns about Hamilton’s future durability and reliability to invest $175 million in him.

The Rangers, with a rich farm system, might choose to shop for what they need on the trade market instead.

5. Will the Dodgers continue spending their way to status as the Yankees of the West?

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Talk about a parallel universe: The Yankees plan to tighten their budget while another club taps into a vault of limitless cash. The most recent example of L.A. largesse was last week’s three-year, $22.5 million contract for reliever Brandon League, who not long ago was deposed as closer of the last-place Seattle Mariners.

Despite massive spending under new ownership — Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett, to name a few more — the Dodgers have holes on their 2013 roster. Namely, they need another starting pitcher and additional bullpen depth.

And with the GM meetings held only a two-hour drive from Dodger Stadium, it would be very Hollywood of them to make a splash while all the executives, agents and reporters are gathered in the same hotel lobby this week.

Tagged: Red Sox, Indians, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, Rangers, Dodgers, Cardinals, Rays, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Josh Beckett, Josh Willingham, Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton

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