MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Reign here, GMs: Add some very shiny pros!

Reign here, GMs: Add some very shiny pros!

These Winter Meetings just might make a larger statement about baseball if they deliver a rush of free-agent signings and trades. Or, they may simply lay the groundwork for later action.

If the days leading up to the Meetings are any indication, we are in for a busy week. The Astros agreed to a deal with Carlos Beltran on Saturday, the Dodgers reportedly were close to re-signing Rich Hill and trade rumors continued to swirl around Chris Sale and Miguel Cabrera.

Sure, we hope for this kind of thing every year. Baseball people of a certain age will forever cherish the moment years ago when a prominent general manager was working on so many trades that he stepped to the podium and announced one he hadn't made. You were a piece of work, Al Campanis.

Hot Stove Tracker

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 9 a.m. ET.

And here's why this year's Winter Meetings could deliver excitement for every franchise: Competitive balance has changed the game.

It's not just that every team now has a chance to compete. It's also that every team feels the pressure to compete.

In the last five seasons, 22 of baseball's 30 teams have played at least one playoff series. The American League has had five different champions in six seasons, the National League four. Furthermore, 13 different franchises have been to the World Series at least once the last 10 seasons.

This is the competitive balance baseball dreamed of having for so long. Remember when the Cubs, Pirates, Royals and Indians were also-rans? No more.

This is baseball's new normal. If you're one of the people charged with putting a team together, that ratchets up the expectation of a job that already has plenty.

Labor negotiations may have delayed the start of some of the offseason action, but once the dominos begin to fall, they can fall quickly. Last offseason's three largest contracts -- Zack Greinke, David Price and Jason Heyward -- happened in a seven-day stretch in early December.

In a span of 17 days, free agents signed contracts totaling close to $1 billion. So these Winter Meetings that begin on Sunday night at National Harbor could be intense.

Here are the seven teams to keep an eye on:

WHITE SOX

General manager Rick Hahn has a chance to dramatically reshape his franchise if he decides to trade Sale and Jose Quintana. Sale is arguably one of baseball's five best pitchers, and Quintana isn't far behind. Both are 27 years old and signed to team-friendly contracts: Sale for three seasons, Quintana for four.

Several clubs showing interest in Sale

With a thin free-agent pitching market, Hahn is positioned to field offers, sort through them and make a decision on what's best for his franchise. The Dodgers, Astros, Yankees, Nationals, Red Sox and Braves are among the teams with deep enough Minor League systems to tempt Hahn into making a deal.

Quintana's brilliant start

TIGERS

Whether GM Al Avila's motivation is to lower his payroll or give his team a different look, he's listening to offers on every player on his roster -- especially outfielder J.D. Martinez and second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Neither is likely to bring a bounty of talent back, since Martinez is a year from free agency and Kinsler might want a contract extension in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause.

J.D. Martinez's two-run homer

It's less certain how willing Avila is to trade his two superstars -- Cabrera and Justin Verlander -- and it'll be interesting to see if he gets an offer that even tempts him. Cabrera indicated his preference is to stay in Detroit, but he won't stand in the way of a trade.

NATIONALS

This is a club that thinks big, that wants to rattle coffee cups. When word leaked that the Nats were one of the clubs interested in Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, it seemed a natural fit. Not only does Nats general manager Mike Rizzo have the Minor League depth to make that kind of deal, he has the inclination to do so.

IT: Intriguing or Not?

Only the Cardinals have won more regular-season games than Washington the last five seasons. But the Nationals have yet to win a postseason series, and Rizzo is driven to change that.

McCutchen could be the guy to change the October storyline. Sale might also be that guy. Or someone else. Because Rizzo has money to spend and loads of young talent, he's put his franchise in a nice spot.

YANKEES

Never underestimate this club. The Yankees have more farm depth than any time in recent years. They've got money to spend. And, they haven't won a postseason series since 2012.

GM Brian Cashman has kicked the tires on Aroldis Chapman and Edwin Encarnacion, and was interested in a reunion with Beltran, who is now headed to Houston. He got glowing reports from the Arizona Fall League on his 19-year-old shortstop, Gleyber Torres.

Encarnacion's 42nd home run

Cashman and his boss, Hal Steinbrenner, say they're committed to building a super farm system and not relying on the signing of aging free agents. But they would also like to upgrade the roster to better position the team to win in 2017.

RANGERS

This is one of the more fascinating offseason teams. General manager Jon Daniels has holes in center field, at first base, designated hitter and in his rotation. He has money to spend for free agents and a surplus of prospects to make a deal.

So he's casting a wide net, with Encarnacion, Ian Desmond, Sonny Gray, Sale, Chris Archer and probably a long list of others as potential targets. At the moment, Daniels said he's focused on trades rather than free agents.

Gray's solid start

But he's sure to end up doing both. With five playoff appearances over the last seven seasons, he has shown he knows what he's doing.

CARDINALS

The Cardinals want an outfielder, preferably a center fielder. GM John Mozeliak may circle back to Dexter Fowler or Desmond at some point. But, as MLB.com's Jen Langosch has reported, he seems more focused on making a trade -- say, a pitcher for an outfielder like the White Sox Adam Eaton. Miami's Christian Yelich or possibly McCutchen would make sense, too.

ASTROS

General manager Jeff Luhnow has positioned himself to make the biggest move of the offseason by including 22-year-old Alex Bregman in a potential deal for Sale. To trade Bregman would be a huge gamble. He appears to be headed toward multiple All-Star appearances. But the White Sox will only trade Sale if they get multiple Major League-ready players in return.

Sources: Beltran agrees with Astros

Luhnow's offseason acquisitions now include Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Charlie Morton in addition to Beltran. He has given his team a dramatically different look and may have one more move on his to-do list.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.