2014 MLB Free Agency: Playing Fact or Fiction with All the Early Rumors and News
The MLB offseason is officially under way. Let the rumors begin!
If you can sense my excitement, you are also likely a fan of the Hot Stove, where 99 percent of things discussed never actually happen. It doesn't mean that it's not fun. The 1 percent of what actually does happen can have a tremendous impact on how the seasons turns out.
The world champion Red Sox, who revamped their roster last offseason, are the perfect example.
While the Sox could once again dominate headlines this winter, they won't be alone. The Yankees probably have more holes to fill than any team in the majors, but no one knows how much they're willing to spend.
The Astros and Twins may or may not be big spenders. The Cardinals and Dodgers have the ability to spend big but could stand pat. Will teams that are coming off disappointing seasons shake up their rosters?
Because we don't know the definite answers to all these questions, there are going to be interesting rumors floating around for the next few months.
I'll be doing my best this offseason to help you to separate fact from fiction, starting with these five.
Fact or Fiction: The Angels Will Trade a Big League Hitter for Pitching
Unless Angels owner Arte Moreno plans on opening up his wallet again in free agency, this is a fact.
Considering how poorly some of his money was spent the past few years—an aging Albert Pujols is still due more than $200 million through 2021, while a past-his-prime Josh Hamilton is due $98 million through 2017—another big free-agent splash would seem unlikely.
The farm system isn't in great shape either, and the Angels would be foolish to trade any of their handful of prospects with value and further deplete the team's minor league depth.
While the need is already pretty obvious, general manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed that the team is seeking young, controllable pitching, via Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.
Thus, it makes sense for them to shop either Peter Bourjos or Mark Trumbo (pictured), either of whom could net the team a solid starting pitcher with five or six years of club control. ESPN's Buster Olney reported that they are willing to move either, and there have also been rumblings that they could shop second baseman Howie Kendrick, per Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, although the in-house options aren't as good should they move an infielder.
Failure to trade a big league hitter for young pitching could result in the team looking for a bargain-basement free-agent signing, which would include pitchers looking to bounce back from injuries or poor seasons.
Fact or Fiction: The Dodgers Will Win the Negotiation Rights to Masahiro Tanaka
It's a fact that the Dodgers have the resources to place a ridiculously high bid on Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (pictured) and blow every other bidding team out of the water.
However, coming off a successful season with a very talented roster still in place, they're likely to remain fiscally responsible in their offseason approach and not make a desperate attempt to acquire any player.
That would include a bid that they feel is fair and competitive for the 25-year-old Tanaka, who is expected to be available in the posting process that most recently brought Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yu Darvish to the majors, but not the winning bid if just one major league team decides to go all out by placing an outlandish bid on the table.
Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times reported that the Dodgers have scouted Tanaka, who projects as a top-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues, and the success of Ryu and Yasiel Puig, who was signed out of Cuba last year, could encourage their efforts to land him.
In the current posting system, bids aren't made public, so the Dodgers would have no way of knowing how high they needed to bid in order to secure rights. All they can do is take an educated guess and hope no other team offers more. Since there's always at least one team willing to spend unwisely during the offseason, this one will end up being fiction, and they'll have to "settle" on one of the top free-agent starters instead.
Fact or Fiction: The Reds Will Trade Brandon Phillips
After their season ended with a disappointing wild-card loss to the Pirates, the Reds could be one of a handful of teams looking to shake up their roster this winter by trading a veteran player who has enough value to bring back a package of young talent or another veteran to fill a roster hole.
That player could be second baseman Brandon Phillips (pictured), who Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported was on the trade block.
Reds GM Walt Jocketty addressed these rumors in a typical political way, but he hardly shut the door on the possibility, according to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com:
We've got some things we've got to look at on how we're going to improve our club. I'm not going to say nobody is untouchable. Obviously, we want to keep as much of this club intact as we can.
Depending on how the rest of the offseason goes, it could make sense. Maybe they sign Stephen Drew to play shortstop and move Zack Cozart to second, which would at least give a right-handed-heavy lineup another left-handed hitter.
It would be tough to see the Reds trading the 32-year-old, though, and ending up being a better ballclub in any realistic scenario.
Despite Phillips' mediocre .310 on-base percentage in 2013, it's hard to replace a Gold Glove second baseman who has a .766 OPS with an average of 20 homers, 83 runs batted in and 19 stolen bases per season since 2006. He may not belong at the top of a lineup, but he fits just fine in the middle of the Reds' order.
Expect them to try to fill their need for more on-base ability without having to trade Phillips. This rumor will end up being fiction.
Fact or Fiction: The Twins Will Land One of the Top Free-Agent Starters
Even if the Twins do have as much as $40 million in payroll space, as reported by Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com a couple months back, it doesn't mean they're going to spend it all. And while they might have the worst starting rotation in the majors heading into the offseason, that doesn't mean a top free-agent starter will want to sign on to be the savior in Minnesota.
There are enough free-agent starters, though, that they have a decent shot at landing one of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana (pictured). They could also be in the mix for Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, who is expected to be posted this winter.
The Twins also have a pitcher-friendly ballpark and one of the top farm systems in baseball as selling points. They just might be desperate enough to sign a major free agent after their starters posted a league-worst 5.26 ERA in 2013.
General manager Terry Ryan is hoping to land one, according to Darren Wolfson, also of 1500ESPN.com, and sounds like he thinks they can. It's time for a big splash in Minnesota, and this one will end up being fact.
Fact or Fiction: The Yankees Will Raise Their Payroll Substantially
As we've gotten closer to the offseason, rumors surrounding the Yankees have intensified, and the quality of players they've been connected with has also increased.
According to Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com, the Yankees could spend $300 million on free agents this offseason. Re-signing Robinson Cano (pictured) would probably take up a good chunk of that, but having that kind of spending ability would allow them to cast a wide net in their quest to fill potential holes in their rotation, bullpen, infield, outfield and at the catcher spot. There isn't a more porous roster in all of baseball heading into the offseason.
Along with pursuing top free agents like Shin-Soo Choo, who Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported was on their radar, they could be in on catcher Brian McCann, starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and one of the many free-agent closers available.
If the Yankees are no longer interested in getting below the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014, as was the thought as of last offseason, they're perfectly capable (financially) of going on a ridiculous spending spree that could end with Cano, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter and Hiroki Kuroda all back in pinstripes, along with some new teammates that have very impressive resumes.
I wouldn't be surprised if the Yankees spent more than $300 million in free agency. That's what it would probably take for them to avoid a disaster of a season. This rumor is fact.
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