Even the World Series-champion Cubs, who have such a strong rotation they didn't exercise the contract option on Jason Hammel after his 15-win season, would love to find a starter they can count on after 2017, the last year on the contracts for Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. 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.
As usual, it would be easier to herd cats than make reliable predictions on any business that will be transacted. Here are five surprises that could create a buzz:
1. A rare '312' swap
No, not that one. Sale to the Cubs? Don't get crazy.
After dealing Gleyber Torres to the Yankees and saying Kyle Schwarber is "untouchable," Theo Epstein likely no longer has the pieces to pull off a Sale trade, even if the White Sox really are open to sending him across town.
The all-Chicago deal that has legs would be the Cubs moving in to scoop up closer David Robertson, who is due $25 million over the next two years.
The Cubs need bullpen help with Aroldis Chapman in free agency and Joe Maddon seeming to lose some trust in Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop in the World Series. Robertson is not Wade Davis, but he could be acquired at a low cost, maybe even for surplus outfielder Matt Szczur if the Cubs take all of the contract.
As for Sale, don't be surprised if he winds up with the Nationals, Cardinals or Dodgers, and winds up giving White Sox fans something to root for next October.
2. Homecoming north of the border
Yes, the inevitable, recurring Joey Votto rumor!
Because Votto is still owed $147 million over six years, the financial relief would be a plus for the rebuilding Reds. The return would be Smoak (signed for two years and an option) and a good prospect or two (maybe even right-hander Sean Reid-Foley, shortstop Richard Urena or outfielder Anthony Alford, the former Ole Miss defensive back). And this is one club Votto might waive his no-trade clause for.
3. Tigers go bold … again
Expected by many to start lowering their payroll, with even Miguel Cabrera and Verlander in some trade discussions, the Tigers instead add a free-agent center fielder (Dexter Fowler or Ian Desmond) while holding on to J.D. Martinez.
If you think the Tigers are going to fold their tent with Verlander back on form and the American League Central looking winnable, well, you haven't been paying attention. They can't be aggressive forever, but they want to have at least one more October run before the downsizing begins.
(Although it would be fun to read Kate Upton's Tweets if they did trade Verlander.)
4. Cubs bring back Archer
No, not Sale. Not Quintana. Not Gray. But a guy who they had previously acquired (from the Indians in 2008) and traded (to the Rays in the Matt Garza deal of '11). That's Archer, who might be the most attractive starter on the market, considering that he's entering his age-28 season, has five years of control -- including options for '20 and '21 -- and how he re-established his market with a solid second half.
But there was a time in 2016 when Archer seemed lost (4-12, 4.66 ERA), and that might be enough to motivate the Rays to move him for the right package. The Cubs have that, offering Jorge Soler, No. 1 prospect Ian Happ, according to MLBPipeline.com, switch-hitting third baseman Jeimer Candelario (No. 4) and left-hander Rob Zastryzny to land Archer and closer Alex Colome. (As noted above, even if they get something like Robertson, they are looking for bullpen depth.)
As for Rays' side of the deal, Zastryzny doesn't throw hard enough to be a big-ticket prospect, but neither did Kyle Hendricks. He is polished and solid enough that the Cubs put him on the National League Championship Series roster (although he didn't get in a game).
While Soler is still working to make enough contact to tap into his power, Happ (who homered from both sides of the plate in the Arizona Fall League championship game) is an intelligent hitter along the lines of Kris Bryant and Schwarber, but he's blocked by Baez and Ben Zobrist. Candelario provides an option that could allow the Rays to deal Evan Longoria (Dodgers?) while he still has a market.
5. Boston bolsters its bullpen
With free-agent compensation diminished in the just-completed CBA, the Royals have decisions to make in handling seven prominent players headed for free agency next offseason (including Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Danny Duffy and Jarrod Dyson). That list includes closer Davis, who would look good as a setup man for Craig Kimbrel. And remember, he made his name setting up for Greg Holland, so this is a role he worked in until late in the '15 season.
The Red Sox have the pieces to get a deal done. Blake Swihart and a pitching prospect like 6-foot-7 reliever Kyle Martin sounds about right. If the deal was expanded, the Royals could ask about Travis Shaw or a prospect like Rafael Devers.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.