MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Predictions for top free agents, trade targets

With Winter Meetings near, these big-ticket names could have new homes soon

Predictions for top free agents, trade targets

We pause now to consider an offseason that's about to get interesting. Check the calendar. Teams feel some urgency to get things done as the holidays approach and New Year's Day closes in. Happens every year around this time.

Now with all the managerial openings filled -- five in all -- and with front offices taking shape, we're about to turn to the good stuff. One month in, nearly all the big-ticket free agents -- except for Jordan Zimmermann, it appears -- are still unsigned.

Hot Stove Tracker

First, though, let's offer a word of praise for new Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto. When he took the gig a few weeks ago, he said two things: The Mariners were close to being good enough to compete for a postseason berth, and he would be aggressive.

In a whirlwind few weeks on the job, he has been baseball's busiest general manager, acquiring a starting pitcher (Nathan Karns), center fielder (Leonys Martin), reliever (Joaquin Benoit), catcher (Chris Iannetta) and hotshot prospect (center fielder Boog Powell).

Mariners acquire Martin and Bass

Those of us who love the Hot Stove owe Dipoto big time. And here's to Dave Dombrowski -- the new president of baseball operations of the Red Sox who pulled off the first head-turning trade of the offseason by acquiring one of baseball's best closers, Craig Kimbrel, from the Padres for a package of prospects.

Now teams are turning their focus to the prominent free agents -- David Price, Zack Greinke, Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes and others.

Things are likely to be moving quickly by the time baseball's Winter Meetings crank up in Nashville on Dec. 6.

While Max Scherzer didn't sign with the Nationals until Jan. 21 this year, the three most recent free-agent pitchers before him to change teams -- Jon Lester, CC Sabathia and Greinke -- all were signed between Dec. 10-20.

Top free agents of 2016

This much we know: The Giants, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Astros, Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers and D-backs seem determined to add starting pitching either by trade or free agency. The Mets, Pirates, Orioles and others are focused on offense, with San Francisco and St. Louis also interested.

Are there matches? Sure. That's the easy part. Working those guys into budgets is another matter. Let's look at five free agents and where they might be headed:

1. Price

The lefty is 30 years old and has averaged 234 innings, 248 strikeouts and a 2.88 ERA the past two seasons. His workload is the highest in the Majors during that span, and only Clayton Kershaw, Scherzer and Corey Kluber have more strikeouts. Among pitchers with at least 400 innings, only five of them have a lower ERA than Price's 2.88.

Suitors: Giants, Cardinals, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, D-backs and the always popular mystery team.

Predicted winner: Cardinals.

Comment: The Cardinals have spent cautiously so they have the resources for a splashy signing. The timing is right.

Money: Seven years, $185 million.

2. Greinke

Gammons on Greinke, free agents

At 32, the righty is two years older than Price. Greinke's also coming off one of the great seasons any pitcher has had -- 222 2/3 innings and a 1.66 ERA. He allowed one or no runs in 21 of 32 starts. His ERA hit its high point at 1.97 on June 2. It was 1.50 in 21 starts after that.

Suitors: See Price list.

Predicted winner: Giants. Greinke is pretty simple about this thing. He'll almost certainly sign with the team that makes the highest offer. Every team knows this, which could make the D-backs a major player. The Red Sox, Dodgers and Cubs could all end up in the mix.

Money: Six years, $160 million.

3. Chris Davis

He has led the Majors in home runs two of the past three seasons and is only 29 years old. So the bidding is likely to begin at more than $25 million per year and at least six years. Not every club is going to be comfortable paying at that level, but at a time when power hitters are in short supply, Davis probably can name his price.

Suitors: Orioles, Giants, Mariners, Cardinals.

Davis is the home run king

Predicted winner: Orioles. Team owner Peter Angelos is personally involved in negotiations, and even though the contract may be way outside Angelos' comfort zone, Davis is important to keep the O's momentum of recent seasons going.

4. Heyward

Some will say he has never reached the greatness predicted for him. But no one will argue about his impact on games, both in the outfield and with a .797 OPS last season in St. Louis.

Suitors: See Davis list.

MLB Now: Jason Heyward

Predicted winner: Cardinals. This may be the kind of free-agent money the Cardinals have never spent, but Heyward was nearly a perfect fit last season. To add both Heyward and a frontline starter might just deliver a fourth straight division championship.

5. Cespedes

Suitors: See Davis list.

Predicted winner: Giants. Could they really afford both Cespedes and Greinke? Inside the industry, there's skepticism the Giants would sign two big-ticket free agents, and pitching is a higher priority. But these are the kinds of additions that could position the franchise for a fourth championship in six seasons.

Also keep an eye on: Ben Zobrist, Johnny Cueto, Alex Gordon and Justin Upton. Zimmermann was on this list, but he reportedly agreed to a five-year, $110 million deal with the Tigers on Sunday.

MLB Now: Cespedes' market value

Now, let's consider five prominent players being mentioned in trade discussions:

1. Aroldis Chapman

Chapman's trade possibilities

The closer is a year away from free agency, and with the Reds trying to catch the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates, Chapman could bring enough players to fill a couple of positions. The Astros, Nationals and Cubs are among the teams believed to be interested.

2. Andrew Miller

The Yankees might package Miller and outfielder Brett Gardner to get a starting pitcher. Problem is, how many teams have quality starters to deal? Would the A's part with Sonny Gray? Could the White Sox be persuaded to deal Chris Sale? For the first time in years, the Yankees might have enough young, controllable players to get a deal done.

3. Andrew Cashner

The San Diego righty seems certain to be traded at some point before the non-waiver July 31 Trade Deadline, as he approaches free agency a year from now. The Padres are seeking young players, and so they might not be interested in a Miller-Gardner deal, either. The Astros have enough talent to make this kind of deal, but they are focused on a reliever.

4. Mark Melancon

Melancon named top NL reliever

Like Chapman and Miller, Melancon is a year from free agency and could be dealt. The Pirates have such a deep farm system that they may not need to fill an immediate need, so prospects -- are you listening, Astros? -- could be the ticket.

5. Jackie Bradley Jr.

Bradley is the best defensive center fielder in the game, and even though his career batting average is just .213, he's probably good enough to bring the Red Sox an additional bullpen arm. Dombrowski has enough outfield depth to wait for a deal he's comfortable with.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.