Top 10 questions heading into MLB’s hot stove season

CARLSBAD, Calif. — The confetti still hasn’t been all swept up in downtown Boston, the Red Sox still smell of champagne, and the Los Angeles Dodgers still feel the sting, but the memories and heartbreak of the 2018 season are over.

Red Sox General Manager David Dombrowski and the 29 other MLB general managers arrived at this seaside town already looking to the 2019 season, prepared to wheel and deal at the annual meetings.

There rarely are any deals consummated or free agents signed, but this week will be the genesis for most of the moves this winter.

We won’t see Bryce Harper or Manny Machado signed here, but this is the spot where agents Scott Boras and Dan Lozano will be weeding out the pretenders from the contenders. We won't see Marcus Stroman or Zack Greinke traded, but Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins and Arizona Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen shop their pitching stars.

And time will tell just how the New York Yankees act now that they’re below the luxury tax and just watched their bitter rivals win the World Series.

“The Red Sox winning doesn’t change the hunger level of trying to win a world championship sooner or later for our fan base,’’ Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. “We’re going to continue with the process that served us well and put us in position to be contenders again and dream big. …

“The hunger, the effort and the passion is there, despite the horrible outcome that took place in the World Series this year.’’

So what will happen? The top 10 questions entering the first full week of the 2018-19 hot stove season:

Who will be the most popular team at the meetings?

Step on down, Diamondbacks. They are telling everyone they will listen to all offers, including for their heart and soul, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who will be a free agent after the 2019 season. The one they most want to move is ace Greinke, realizing it’s silly to be spending $35 million on a pitcher who eats nearly one-third of their payroll. They’ll have to absorb a portion of the remaining $104.5 million remaining on Greinke’s contract, but they know they need to get rid of the contractual albatross if they really want to rebuild in style.

Are the Chicago Cubs out of the Harper and Machado talks?

The Cubs, who have reached the postseason four consecutive seasons, tipped their hand when they exercised starter Cole Hamels’ $20 million option. They couldn’t pick it up unless they dealt Drew Smyly and his $7 million contract. The Cubs, with an estimated $205 million in financial commitments in 2019, are focusing instead on the trade market with top trade pieces being outfielder Kyle Schwarber and shortstop Addison Russell.

Will the New York Mets and their new GM spend?

While it was assumed all summer that the Mets would dump their prized pitching and reload for the future, Brodie Van Wagenen made their intentions clear. Not only is Jacob deGrom staying, but so is Noah Syndergaard and the rest of the rotation. The way the Mets see it, the NL East is wide open with the Washington Nationals' struggles, and the Philadelphia Phillies perhaps not ready for prime time. They need offensive help, and speed, which makes free agent center fielder A.J. Pollock a fabulous attraction.

Are the Phillies prepared to spend with the big boys?

 The Phillies not only plan to make offers exceeding at least $250 million in the hopes of luring either mega free agent Harper or Machado, but perhaps both. Yes, they have that kind of money. And yes, they are that committed to bringing in a star.

Will Machado's antics in October cost him tens of millions of dollars?

Simply put, no. Oh, sure, Machado would love to take back that quote where he told Fox that he isn’t “Johnny Hustle.’’ And, yes, it was a boneheaded move to kick Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar in hopes he would drop the ball. He’ll have acts of defiance when frustrated or angry. Yet, he’s considered a beloved teammate, is a fiery competitor, and, oh, does he have a world of talent. He’ll still get his $300-plus million, and the Yankees, his preferred destination, still are the perfect fit.

Free agents:Ranking the top 57 of the 2018 class

Awards:Our picks for MVP, Cy Young, Rookie and Manager of the Year

Gold Gloves:Baseball's best defensive players in 2018 announced

The Yankees and Dodgers have spent years trying to get below the $197 million luxury tax to reset their penalties at 20% and give them the option of going wild in the free-agent market. So will they?

The Yankees, who have watched the Red Sox dominate the AL East the last three years, aren’t about to let the opportunity slip by. It’s time to go for the jugular. They want to add at least two starters, and will do everything possible to sign Patrick Corbin — the ace of the free-agent market — and perhaps grab Machado, too. Corbin will fit in as their No. 2 starter behind Luis Severino, and Machado can play shortstop until Didi Greorious is healthy, then shift to third while Miguel Andújar slides to the outfield or second.

The Dodgers, after winning back-to-back pennants and coming up short in the World Series, aren’t expected to be in the market for any of the prized free agents. They signed their man in Clayton Kershaw with a three-year, $93 million extension, and likely will spend their money on relievers, giving closer Kenley Jansen a breather after his postseason struggles.

Will the Red Sox keep spending and keep their free agents?

There’s certainly no reason for them to stop now, not with this cash cow. The Red Sox had a major-league high payroll of about $240 million, but after winning the World Series, what’s a few million in luxury tax penalties? The Red Sox want to keep on winning, so they are expected to be aggressive in their bids for closer Craig Kimbrel, who produced 108 saves the last three seasons, and World Series hero Nathan Eovaldi. If they don’t come back, the Red Sox certainly will find someone else to take their money.

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