After a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Major League Baseball winter meetings return Monday to the place they were last held in 2019 — the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego.

Will these meetings resemble the pre-pandemic informal chaos, which was more like a convention of the working baseball world jammed into one overpopulated hotel, and specifically one overwhelmed hotel bar, or will they be more subdued in nature?

The prevailing thought from MLB insiders is that the absence will make meetings grow larger in terms of population and motivation.

Video conferencing might have changed the way everyone does business, including MLB teams, but the in-person meetings between baseball executives, agents and even players — scheduled and random — bring a familiar level of comfort for most, considering the potential financial commitments in some deals.

The offseason hot stove has been a slow burn of minimal transactions, only picking up heat in the recent days with the Rangers stunning the baseball world by signing Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $185 million deal.


Looking at FanGraphs’ free-agent tracker based on projected Wins Above Replacement, only deGrom (No. 2) and Clayton Kershaw (No. 10) have signed contracts. As expected, Kershaw has agreed to re-sign with the Dodgers — the only team he’s ever played for — on a one-year contract for a yet-to-be-announced amount.

The top position players in the free-agent class, headlined by outfielder Aaron Judge and the shortstop quartet of Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson, remain unsigned along with outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Andrew Benintendi and catcher Willson Contreras. Reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, talented lefty Carlos Rodon and ultra-durable right-hander Chris Bassitt are the top remaining starting pitchers.

Multiple reports have surfaced in recent days that Judge, the reigning AL MVP, will make his decision on returning to the Yankees or returning home to California to play for either the Giants or Dodgers in the next week.

It would be a huge domino to fall. The shortstop market could be similar if Turner or Correa, who are expected to garner at least $30 million per season, reach an agreement with a team.

“The free-agent market seems to be picking up a little bit,” Mariners general manager Justin Hollander said in a video conference. “Once the free-agent market picks up, the player-trade market tends to pick up. I think there’s always some give and take between those lines. When people find out how much it costs to just use money to pay for club improvements, they tend to circle back to the trade market to see what it costs in player talent and vice versa. Those things work together. When one unravels a little bit or shows a little bit more of what the marketplace has to offer, the other tends to go with it.”

How active will the Mariners be in San Diego?

Typical to his past transactional behavior, Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto was aggressive early in the offseason. They acquired outfielder Teoscar Hernandez from the Blue Jays in a trade and moved outfielder Jesse Winker and utility infielder Abraham Toro to the Brewers in exchange for second baseman Kolten Wong.


With those two moves, the Mariners addressed two glaring needs — a corner outfielder and a middle infielder.

“We feel the middle of the diamond has been solidified,” Hollander said. “But that’s not to say that other opportunities might come along there. We’re not expecting it, but we’re open to those opportunities. It’s not a natural area that we’ll work under every rock for at this point.”

Dipoto has been firm in saying that J.P. Crawford is the team’s starting shortstop. That seems unlikely to change unless something unexpected happens with the free-agent shortstop market.

“If something presents itself, part of the position we’re in is that we’re flexible enough that we can do a lot of different things to make our team better,” Hollander said. “And we’ll continue to explore opportunities everywhere. I think that’s important right now.”

Realistically, the Mariners still need to add another proven hitter to their lineup. The preferable position would be another corner outfielder to join Hernandez and Julio Rodriguez. If that route isn’t available, the Mariners could go against their preferred philosophy and bring in a hitter that is more of primary designated hitter, limiting roster flexibility.

“We definitely want to be opportunistic in the marketplace right now, whether that’s free agency or trade to add more offense to our team if it’s available,” Hollander said. “That is something we’re looking at. The corner outfield is a spot where we feel like we could add another bat having just subtracted from that. It’s definitely something we’re looking at as we get into San Diego. I’m sure we’ll be talking about hundreds of different ways we can add to the position. We have DH days and we have corner outfield days available. So that’s something we’ll continue to look at.”


The most logical and expected solution would be a reunion with veteran outfielder Mitch Haniger, who has been with the team since 2017.

The team has been in negotiations with Haniger’s agent, Adam Karon, since the season ended. The Mariners would love to bring back Haniger on the right contract. They love his leadership, work ethic and his production when healthy. But they also won’t get into a bidding war with another team for an outfielder who will be 32 years old this season.

The news that Pirates All-Star outfielder Bryan Reynolds requested to be traded certainly captured the attention of Dipoto and Hollander. They’ve coveted Reynolds even before he broke into the big leagues. But multiple calls to Pittsburgh over the past few years have only yielded trade-return requests that have bordered on illogical.

Will the Mariners find a match this time? There are reports already surfacing that the Pirates asking price for Reynolds is much too steep and he won’t be traded.

Among the more logical candidates for a free-agent signing is outfielder Michael Conforto, who was a standout at Redmond High before becoming an All-American at Oregon State.

After missing all of last season because of a shoulder surgery, Conforto’s contract demands vs. team’s contract offers could vary. He is only 29. But the concerns over his shoulder might limit long-term offers.

Another name to remember is Brian Anderson, who was non-tendered by the Marlins. Anderson, who will be 30 during the season, can play both corner outfield spots and third base. He was a player the Mariners had interest in during the 2021 season, but the Marlins asking price was deemed too high. Anderson has battled injuries the past two seasons, which have sapped his production. He is a potential buy-low candidate, and the Mariners crave positional versatility.