Predicting MLB Signings, Trades That Will Still Happen Before Opening Day
The arrival of spring training marks both the unofficial beginning of the spring season itself, and the unofficial end of baseball's offseason.
Teams don't know what their Opening Day rosters are going to look like yet, but by now they're all stocked with enough players to pick and choose from over the next few weeks. The free-agent market, meanwhile, is almost entirely dried up.
But there are still moves to be made. Michael Bourn found a home with the Cleveland Indians on Monday, leaving veteran right-hander Kyle Lohse as the lone big-name free agent still on the open market. He and other free agents will find jobs before Opening Day, and teams will be busy making trades and working out extensions as well.
With many weeks still to go until Opening Day, here are 10 moves that I see happening during spring training.
Dustin Pedroia Signs Long-Term Extension
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During spring training in 2012, we saw Ryan Zimmerman, Yadier Molina, Andrew McCutchen and Alex Gordon all sign lucrative long-term extensions.
Look for Dustin Pedroia to follow in their footsteps this year. The Red Sox control him through 2015, but look for them to hammer out an extension anyway.
Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com wrote in November that the Red Sox were eyeing an extension for Pedroia in the near future, and Boston principal owner John Henry told Rob Bradford of WEEI.com on Monday that he believes Pedroia is very much deserving of a new long-term deal.
Boston's interest in extending Pedroia makes perfect sense on a couple levels, the simplest of which is the fact that he's among the game's best second basemen when he's healthy. The Red Sox also seem to be realizing after what they went through in 2012 just how important Pedroia is within Boston's clubhouse. He's the heart and soul of the team.
But the Red Sox must also have their eye on New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. He's due to become a free agent after the 2013 season, and is sure to sign a monster contract that will set the market for all other star second basemen.
The Red Sox can therefore save themselves some money in the long run if they're quick to the punch with Pedroia. And since Pedroia's health has been a little shaky in the last couple years, he should be just as willing to negotiate a long-term extension as the Red Sox appear to be.
Bud Norris Traded to San Diego Padres
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Bud Norris is one of a very few quality major leaguers the Astros have on their roster, but keeping him on the payroll represents a dilemma. Norris is a solid pitcher, but his $3 million salary is a little too expensive for an Astros team that wants its rebuild to carry on as cheaply as possible.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com wrote last week that Norris was drawing interest in the wake of the trade that sent Jed Lowrie to the Oakland A's. His salary may be expensive for them, but it's dirt-cheap for other teams. Norris also has appeal because he's controllable through 2015.
The San Diego Padres expressed interest in Norris at the trade deadline, and they stand out as being the best fit for him now at the outset of spring training. Their rotation is solid enough at the top with Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez, but it's lacking in stability beyond the two of them.
Norris could certainly provide stability at the back end of San Diego's rotation. Though he regressed in 2012 after a strong 2011 season, he's logged over 350 innings and compiled a solid 4.19 ERA over the last two seasons.
The Padres are a natural trade partner for the Astros because of the depth of their farm system. It's not as outrageously deep as it was this time last season, but San Diego's farm system still checked in at No. 6 on ESPN's Keith Law's farm system rankings (Insider required).
Houston's system could use some additional pitching depth, and that's where the Padres can help out. With so much pitching depth at their disposal, they should be willing to swap a youngster or two for Norris.
Drew Stubbs Traded to New York Mets
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The Indians scored a surprise victory in signing Michael Bourn to a relatively modest four-year contract with a vesting option for a fifth. But in the process, they created something of a logjam in their outfield.
Drew Stubbs was going to be Cleveland's center fielder in 2013 after coming over from the Cincinnati Reds in a trade, but Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com says Stubbs is now "very likely the odd man out" and that he is "eminently available."
The best thing for the Tribe to do would be to give the New York Mets a call and see if they want Stubbs after missing out on signing Bourn for themselves. He may give it begrudgingly, but Mets GM Sandy Alderson's answer should be yes.
Alderson was making light of the weakness of his outfield back in November, but he's done little to strengthen it since then. An upgrade is needed, and center field would be a fine place to target for an upgrade.
Stubbs wouldn't be Bourn, but he'd be better than what the Mets have in center field (Kirk Nieuwenhuis is penciled in as their starter). Stubbs is one of the better defensive center fielders in the league. Strikeouts are a huge problem for him offensively, but he's generally been good for around 15 homers and 30 stolen bases over the last three seasons.
The Indians could use some pitching depth, and that's an area where the Mets could help out. They have lower-end pitching prospects like Luis Mateo and Michael Fulmer they could be willing to deal since young studs Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler are ready to be major contributors.
Chris Capuano Traded to Seattle Mariners
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The Dodgers should be worried about Ted Lilly's left shoulder and Chad Billingsley's right elbow, but they still have enough starting pitching depth to make a deal during spring training.
If they do, it's going to be either Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang who goes. The smart money is on Capuano being traded, as he has greater trade value than Harang coming off a season in which he posted a 3.72 ERA over 198.1 innings.
The Seattle Mariners have looked like a natural trade partner for the Dodgers all along. They admittedly look like less of a trade partner now that they've signed veteran lefty Joe Saunders to a one-year deal, but they still have incentive to bolster their rotation by doing business with the Dodgers.
The Mariners clearly want to compete based on the moves they've made this winter, but they're looking at competing in a very tough division. If they were to add Capuano to a rotation that already includes Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Saunders, they'd have the kind of pitching that none of their AL West rivals would take lightly.
Mike Petriello of FanGraphs suggested in an ESPN Insider piece in January that Casper Wells could interest the Dodgers, and it still sounds like a good idea. There's no place for Wells in Seattle's crowded outfield, but he could fit on the Dodgers as a part-time outfielder and a platoon partner for Andre Ethier in right field. He can't hit lefties, and that's Wells' specialty (.891 OPS vs. southpaws in 2012).
The Mariners would likely have to sweeten the deal by mixing in a low-level prospect, and they should be perfectly willing to do that with the trade-off being a dangerous new-look rotation.
Javier Vazquez Signs with Washington Nationals
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Javier Vazquez is 36 years old, and he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2011, but he's become something of a hot item thanks to his performances in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Ken Rosenthal reported via Twitter that Vazquez was pitching at 93 miles per hour in one start.
Vazquez has since undergone a minor procedure on his knee, but Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported on Sunday that he's still being monitored by the Washington Nationals. They've appeared to be his top suitor all along, at one point dispatching GM Mike Rizzo to watch Vazquez pitch in Puerto Rico.
On paper, there's no room for Vazquez in Washington's rotation, which is loaded with talent. It's only flaw is depth, as the Nats don't have an abundance of options beyond the five guys they've lined up for their rotation.
Depth could very well be the Nats' Achilles heel if they don't do something about it. Dan Haren is coming off an injury-riddled season. Ross Detwiler has yet to make 30-plus starts in a season. Gio Gonzalez may be disciplined by MLB in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal.
Signing Vazquez to a major league deal and stashing him in the bullpen as a long man until he's needed couldn't hurt. Signing him to a minor league deal would hurt even less.
Either way, Vazquez seems destined to be a National this season.
Casey Kotchman Signs with Milwaukee Brewers
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The Brewers appeared to be all set at first base with Corey Hart penciled in to play there on a full-time basis in 2013, but his knee had other ideas.
Hart had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee late last month, and Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported at the time that Hart is probably going to be out as long as four months.
The Brewers are planning on playing Mat Gamel at first base in Hart's absence, but they shouldn't be too confident in that plan. Gamel is coming off a major knee surgery himself, and he hasn't shown much promise as a hitter in his limited major league career. He owns a .229/.305/.367 slash line in 106 games.
Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald says the Brewers had a minor league offer out to Lyle Overbay before he signed with the Red Sox, a clear sign that they're not overly comfortable with Gamel as Hart's stand-in. Assuming that's the case, they should give Casey Kotchman a call and see if he's interested.
Kotchman only managed a .612 OPS in Cleveland last year, but he hit over .300 with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011, and he's generally been a solid fielder at first base. He's also still only 29, making him a more attractive option than, say, Aubrey Huff.
It wouldn't cost the Brewers much to bring Kotchman aboard, so signing him wouldn't compromise their ability to make other signings this spring.
Jose Valverde Signs with Milwaukee Brewers
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The Brewers have totally overhauled a bullpen that led the majors in blown saves in 2012, but Milwaukee's new-look pen isn't perfect.
The biggest potential pitfall is the lack of a Plan B option to turn to in case John Axford struggles closing out games again. That's a very real possibility, as Axford's control abandoned him last year, and he suffered a bout with gopheritis. He was demoted in favor of Francisco Rodriguez in July at one point.
K-Rod said in October that he wouldn't mind returning to Milwaukee, but there's been nothing but silence between him and the Brewers since then. It would seem the interest isn't mutual, which could have something to do with Rodriguez's asking price. He made $8 million last year, and may not be willing to take a big pay cut.
The Brewers are much more likely to get Jose Valverde at a discounted rate, as he's three years older than K-Rod, and his market appears to be just as quiet. The silence makes sense seeing as how he was last seen bombing in October with stuff that wasn't fooling anyone.
But Valverde is worth a roll of the dice. FanGraphs shows that his velocity didn't suffer that much in 2012, which could mean that his struggles were related to his mechanics rather than his health.
If the Brewers were to get Valverde's mechanics squared away, they'd have themselves a solid eighth-inning setup man and a nice insurance policy for their closer's role.
Francisco Rodriguez Signs with Minnesota Twins
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The Twins have been aggressive about shoring up their starting pitching depth this winter, but they haven't made any major additions to their bullpen.
This can be forgiven to a degree, as it's not like Minnesota's bullpen was awful last year. It managed a respectable 3.77 ERA and had one of the lowest walk rates in the league (see FanGraphs).
What Minnesota's pen didn't do well was strike people out. Twins relievers combined for a 6.48 K/9 in 2012, lowest in baseball.
Francisco Rodriguez could help correct that problem. His control is erratic, and he doesn't have the same stuff that he used to, but he's still an above-average strikeout pitcher. He had a 9.0 K/9 in 2012, and he had a 9.9 K/9 in 2011.
K-Rod doesn't fit the bill of a typical Twins pitcher, but he's a good guy for them to take a gamble on because he could serve as a Plan B in case Glen Perkins falters closing games, and because he could develop into attractive trade bait if he performs well.
Rodriguez wouldn't come dirt-cheap for the Twins, but they can afford to take a gamble on him. After opening 2012 with a payroll over $100 million, they currently have less than $73 million committed to 2013. Adding a couple million bucks to that by bringing in K-Rod is doable.
Brian Wilson Signs with Miami Marlins
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It doesn't sound like Brian Wilson will be returning to the San Francisco Giants. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle has heard from Giants GM Brian Sabean that Wilson is looking for too much guaranteed money.
If so, then Sabean's unwillingness to meet Wilson's demands is understandable. Wilson isn't worth a big guarantee seeing as how he's coming off Tommy John surgery, and the Giants have even less incentive to give him one with Sergio Romo penciled in as their closer.
A club that could be more willing to meet Wilson's demands is the Miami Marlins.
The Marlins don't necessarily need Wilson from a baseball perspective, as they have a decent enough closer in Steve Cishek, and they recently bolstered their bullpen depth by signing Jon Rauch.
But seeing as how these are the Marlins we're talking about, club owner Jeffrey Loria could be willing to spend a couple million bucks to sign Wilson in hopes that he'll fill seats. The Marlins don't have many marketable stars outside of Giancarlo Stanton, and that's an area where Wilson, in all his bearded glory, could certainly help out.
The best-case scenario for the Marlins would involve Wilson endearing himself to the fans by acting characteristically goofy and pitching well. Then the Marlins could ditch him at the trade deadline, as is their custom.
Kyle Lohse Signs with Milwaukee Brewers
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Kyle Lohse has looked like an intriguing fit for the Brewers all along, and I still can't quite ditch the idea.
Neither can the Brewers themselves. Based on comments that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio made at the club's fan fest in late January, Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel deduced that Lohse's ties to draft-pick compensation aren't what's keeping the Brewers from making a play on him.
If so, then the Brewers may just be waiting for Lohse's price to drop, which is always an iffy game when it comes to Scott Boras' clients. Michael Bourn's contract, however, gives them hope.
When Bourn first rejected the Atlanta Braves' qualifying offer, early estimates had him getting five years and $80 million on the open market. Instead, his market quickly dried up, and he had to settle for four years and $48 million guaranteed.
Lohse's market appears to be ever drier than Bourn's ever was, so Boras could be forced to settle with his contract like he did with Bourn's. Instead of a three- or four-year deal worth $15 million per, the going rate for Lohse could be more like $12 million per year now.
The Brewers can afford a deal like that, as they've gone from a 2012 Opening Day payroll of nearly $100 million down to $71 million committed for 2013 (so far). They could also use another veteran arm for their rotation, as it's not foolproof beyond Yovani Gallardo.
There's surely a mystery team out there preparing an offer for Lohse, but the Brewers are the best bet among his clear suitors.
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