An Early Look at the MLB Rumors Set to Dominate the Offseason
One of the best things about baseball is that while the rumor mill might slow down, it never actually stops churning.
There's always something floating out there, whether it's a move that could be made in the near future or one that might come further down the line.
With roughly three months to go before we hit the offseason and the rumor mill in a lull following the non-waiver trade deadline, now is as good a time as any to take a look at the players who will be dominating the rumor mill this winter.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through games of August 4.
Where Will Jeff Samardzija Pitch in 2014?
There's no question Jeff Samardzija made the right decision when the former All-American wide receiver for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish decided to forego a career in the NFL for one in Major League Baseball.
Where that career will take him after the 2013 season, however, is going to be one of the burning questions of the offseason.
The Chicago Cubs fielded offers for their ace leading up to this year's non-waiver trade deadline, but as general manager Jed Hoyer told ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine, they "never came close with any deal."
But the team has twice tried to work out a long-term extension for the 28-year-old right-hander, who is arbitration-eligible through the 2015 season, failing to reach an agreement both times.
Both CBS Sports' Jon Heyman and Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Tribune report the team will try to get Samardzija locked up one more time this winter and that if they are unable to agree on a deal, the team will look to move him while his value is at its highest.
According to Heyman, the Cubs were looking for a package of front-line prospects in exchange for Samardzija this time around, and it's fair to speculate the team's asking price won't change all that much this winter.
Boston, St. Louis and Texas all have the prospects—and potentially the need in their respective rotations—to get a deal done this winter should the Cubs put him on the block.
What Is the Market Price for the Best Second Baseman in Baseball?
Keeping with the trend of big-time position players highlighting free-agent classes, All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano is set to hit the open market after the season and could find himself in the midst of a heated bidding war.
While the Los Angeles Angels, who made the biggest splashes in free agency in each of the past two seasons with Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, won't be players for the 30-year-old middle infielder (he celebrates his 31st birthday in October), a handful of teams will be in pursuit of Cano.
His current club, the New York Yankees, are certainly going to do whatever they can to keep Cano in pinstripes, something that could be made much easier should Alex Rodriguez's $25 million salary not be part of the team's payroll next season as a result of his expected Biogenesis-related suspension.
But they'll have competition.
The Yankees of the West, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have been on a spending spree since new ownership took control of the team in 2012, and the former Brooklyn tenants certainly have a hole at second base that Cano could easily fill.
One team we shouldn't sleep on is Detroit, who shocked the baseball world in 2011 by signing Prince Fielder. Owner Mike Ilitch is looking to win now and has the financial wherewithal to fit Cano into the team's payroll should he decide that winning is more important than not paying the luxury tax.
While some will point to the seven-year, $100 million extension Dustin Pedroia recently signed with the Boston Red Sox as fair value for Cano, neither he nor his representatives are going to agree with that assessment, looking for a multiyear deal that pays more than $20 million annually.
What Will Boston Do with Jon Lester?
Toward the end of August last season, I wrote that the Boston Red Sox should look to move both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester in the offseason.
While I was wrong on Ellsbury, who has been a key piece of Boston's return to prominence in the American League this year, I nailed it with Lester, who has seen his value decrease as the season rolls along.
Lester (10-6, 4.52 ERA, 1.37 WHIP) has allowed at least four earned runs in nine of his 23 starts this season, and while his velocity hasn't changed much from last season, he no longer looks like the front-of-the-rotation arm he once was.
Boston holds a $13 million team option (with a $250,000 buyout) on the southpaw, who will celebrate his 30th birthday before the start of the 2013 season.
With the team's addition of Jake Peavy at the trade deadline, a handful of quality starters set to hit the market and multiple young pitchers biding their time in the minor leagues, there's no guarantee the team will pick up that option.
How he performs down the stretch this season will likely dictate the team's actions after the season.
What Is the Freak's Future?
The San Francisco Giants have already made it known they plan on tendering Tim Lincecum a qualifying offer after the season (approximately $13.8 million). If he turns the offer down and signs elsewhere, that would guarantee the Giants would receive a compensatory draft pick.
No longer the dominant force who won back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009, Lincecum has pitched better than his 4.43 ERA this season would indicate.
But his velocity is down for a third consecutive season (via FanGraphs), and there are questions about how much longer his arm can withstand the heavy workload that comes along with a spot in the starting rotation.
Earlier this year, Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi reported that both Baltimore and Detroit had interest in trading for "The Freak" and converting him into a reliever—rumors that never gained much traction, as neither team was ever reportedly close to working out a deal with San Francisco.
The only thing that is for sure when it comes to Lincecum is that the 29-year-old right-hander will never again see an annual salary as high as the $22 million he's earning this season.
Other than that, it will be fascinating to see if he accepts the qualifying offer from the Giants or if he believes more lucrative offers await him on the open market.
Where Will Jacoby Ellsbury Be Patrolling Center Field?
It comes as a surprise to nobody that a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury is putting up solid numbers for the Boston Red Sox this season, as that's what the soon-to-be 30-year-old center fielder has done for the bulk of his career.
Hitting .302 with a league-leading 40 stolen bases, Ellsbury has certainly recovered some of the value that was lost by his injury-plagued past, having played in only 250 of a possible 486 regular-season games from 2010 through 2012.
Represented by Scott Boras, Ellsbury is going to hit the open market after the season. That's what Boras' clients do—they test the market.
While the agent hasn't ruled out a return to Boston for his client, as he told WEEI's Alex Speier at the All-Star break, another Boras client, Jackie Bradley Jr., is waiting in the wings for a chance to play.
That, coupled with a handful of teams that are sure to be interested in adding the Oregon native to top of their respective lineups, could find Ellsbury patrolling center field somewhere other than Fenway Park in 2014 and beyond.
Will Texas Keep Matt Garza for the Long-Term?
It cost the Texas Rangers a hefty price in prospects to acquire Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs before the trade deadline hit, especially when you consider Garza can become a free agent at the end of the season.
The Rangers certainly have deep enough pockets to work out a deal with their newest addition, who has gone 1-1 with a 2.82 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in three starts for Texas.
With the 29-year-old pitching as well as he ever has, you'd have to imagine free agency is something both he and his agents are going to want to explore.
While Texas has the finances to match any offer that comes Garza's way—and he is sure to have multiple suitors should he reach the open market—the Rangers may not like the number of years that are attached to those offers due to Garza's shaky injury history.
Still, it's hard to imagine the Rangers gave up the number of quality prospects they did to merely rent Garza for a few months, and re-signing him to a long-term deal is something that is sure to be near the top of GM Jon Daniels' to-do list after the season.
What's Up Doc?
Shoulder surgery earlier this season made Roy Halladay's $20 million vesting option with the Philadelphia Phillies for the 2014 season irrelevant, guaranteeing the 36-year-old former ace will hit the open market after the season.
Every team in baseball, including the Phillies, is going to want to see Halladay pitch before the end of the season before making any decisions about whether to pursue him as part of their respective plans for 2014 and beyond.
But there's no guarantee that's going to happen, though Halladay continues to throw bullpen sessions as he tries to work his arm back into game shape.
Even if he gets back on the mound and looks strong, it's hard to imagine any team, including the Phillies, committing to anything other than an incentive-laden, one-year deal for the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
What Does Brian McCann's Future Hold?
All-Star-caliber catchers in the prime of their careers don't normally hit the open market, but that's exactly what might happen with Atlanta's Brian McCann at the end of the 2013 season.
McCann, 29, has put his injury-plagued 2012 campaign in the past and is having one of his most productive seasons to date, hitting .286 with 14 home runs, 44 RBI and a .906 OPS in 67 games this season.
Not only that, but McCann has the second-lowest CERA (Catcher's ERA) in baseball among backstops with at least 55 starts behind the plate at 3.04, a number that trails Pittsburgh's Russell Martin by a hundredth of a point, according to ESPN.
Set to hit free agency at the end of the season, McCann is no lock to return to Atlanta, where both Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird are on the active roster and prospect Christian Bethancourt is working his way through the team's minor league system.
Multiple teams in both leagues could use an upgrade behind the plate, and the prospect of being able to extend the productive years of his career by serving as a designated hitter once or twice a week with an American League club could simply be too tempting of an opportunity for the veteran to pass up.
Will There Be a Chase for Chase?
Philadelphia and second baseman Chase Utley continue to talk about a contract extension, as reported by Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, and there is no question Utley is more valuable to the Phillies than he would be for any other team.
But should an extension not be worked out, the five-time All-Star, who will celebrate his 35th birthday before the start of the 2014 season, is going to hit the open market and generate significant interest.
Both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics could be in on Utley, who is going to command far less than Robinson Cano will on the open market, though the veteran comes with significant risk.
He has a degenerative condition in both knees, making a full season at second base nearly impossible, and the prospect of being able to serve as a designated hitter for an American League club an attractive option.
That said, given Philadelphia's affinity for Utley and the team's reluctance to embrace a full rebuilding process, it's hard to envision him wearing anything other than a Phillies uniform in 2014 and beyond.
How Much Will Biogenesis Impact Potential Earnings?
It's widely believed Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz will be one of the players suspended by MLB when it announces sanctions for multiple players linked to the Biogenesis Anti-Aging Clinic on Monday, which begs a question: What will this do to Cruz's value on the free-agent market?
Cruz, 33, averaged a .273/.332/.512 slash line, 27 home runs and 83 RBI a season from 2009 through 2012 and isn't far off that mark this season, hitting .269 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI through 108 games.
Will a team in need of a right-handed bat with power believe those numbers are legitimate and offer Cruz a lucrative multiyear deal?
Or will he find only a handful of teams willing to talk to him at all, forced to settle for the kind of two-year, $16 million deal admitted cheat Melky Cabrera received from Toronto earlier this season?