Biggest Storylines Heading into the MLB Offseason's 2nd Month

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistNovember 30, 2013

Biggest Storylines Heading into the MLB Offseason's 2nd Month

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    With one month of the MLB offseason complete and the winter meetings coming up, what has already been a busy first few weeks of transactions promises to only get busier in the weeks ahead.

    On the free-agent market, Brian McCann, Jhonny Peralta and Ricky Nolasco have each landed long-term deals to join new teams.

    The trade market has been active as well, with the big move being the Detroit Tigers' swap of Prince Fielder and $30 million for Ian Kinsler. It's a move that could open things up for Detroit to re-sign Max Scherzer at some point.

    On a smaller scale, the Cardinals swapped David Freese for Peter Bourjos in a four-player trade with the Los Angeles Angels.

    There are still plenty of storylines left to play out, from figuring out where the market's top free agents will be playing in 2014 to sorting through whether or not the top rumors of the day will wind up coming true or not.

    As the calendar flips over to December, here is a look at the biggest storylines heading into the MLB offseason's second month.

Has It Become 'When,' Not 'If,' Jeff Samardzija Will Be Traded?

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    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    This year's free-agent market is fairly thin on impact starting pitching, and the trade market could be a busy place as a result. Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price is the marquee name expected to be on the move, but he is far from the only hurler who could be changing teams.

    Right-hander Jeff Samardzija looked like a potential extension candidate and future building block for the Chicago Cubs after a breakout 2012 season (9-13, 3.81 ERA, 180 K, 174.2 IP). However, he took a step back this past season (8-13, 4.34 ERA, 214 K, 213.2 IP), and an extension was looking less and less likely heading into the offseason.

    Then, this past week, David Kaplan of CSN Chicago reported that one industry source said there is a 99 percent chance Samardzija will be moved by Opening Day.

    "I don't see him throwing another pitch in a Cubs uniform. I think it's 99 percent that he gets moved. They're not ready to win and he brings you the young pitching you need for the future," said a major league source. 

    The article by Kaplan pointed to the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks as the front-runners to add the 28-year-old at this point. With two more years of team control and a history free of injury concerns, he should be able to net the Cubs a substantial return if and when he is in fact dealt.

Will the Angels Deal Mark Trumbo for Pitching?

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    The Angels have already pulled off a pair of moves this offseason, trading outfielder Peter Bourjos to the Cardinals for third baseman David Freese in a four-player deal and signing setup man Joe Smith to a three-year, $15.75 million deal.

    However, their biggest need remains unaddressed at this point. They are still in need of at least one starting pitcher to fill out the rotation behind the trio of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards.

    Those three went a combined 34-21 with a 3.52 ERA in 74 starts last year, while the rest of the Angels starters combined to go 24-36 with a 5.05 ERA. That second group includes the departed Jason Vargas, who was a solid 9-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 24 starts.

    A splash signing seems unlikely given how much payroll the team has added over the past two offseasons, making the trade market its likely area of focus.

    Infielders Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar could be shopped, as could catcher Chris Iannetta, but there is no question the team's top trade chip is slugger Mark Trumbo. 

    Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the 27-year-old is by far the team's most coveted asset and that he's already drawn "huge interest," though the Angels would still prefer to hold onto him.

    It will be interesting to see just how badly the Angels want to add quality arms and if they'll deem that desire worth moving Trumbo.

Who Signs First Between the Top Three Free-Agent Starters?

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    There is no clear top starter on the market this offseason, but the trio of Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana all profile as solid No. 2 starters on a contender and should be in for sizable paydays.

    Top Free Agent Starters 2013 Stats

    Matt Garza 302410-63.82 1061.23615042136155.1
    Ubaldo Jimenez 293213-93.30 1141.33016380194182.2
    Ervin Santana 30329-10 3.24 1271.14219051161 211

    There's no clear consensus on which pitcher ranks as the No. 1 option on the market. I personally think Jimenez is the best of the bunch after he closed out the year on fire, going 6-5 with a 1.82 ERA in 13 second-half starts. That's just my opinion, though, and all three guys are capable of being front-line arms.

    Once the first one of this trio signs, it will greatly shape the market for the remaining two and could cause a domino effect of sorts, with all three potentially signing within a few days of one another. But who signs first?

    My guess is Garza is the first to ink a deal, as signing him does not carry the draft-pick compensation that signing the other two does. Garza was not eligible to receive a qualifying offer after joining the Texas Rangers at the deadline, while the other two will cost a first-round pick to sign after declining their $14.1 million offers.

    That makes the market for Garza a bit bigger, and that could be reason for someone to make an aggressive offer in an effort to secure his services. 

Which Top Free-Agent Outfielder Will Sign First, and for How Much?

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    On the offensive side of things, there is no true superstar along the lines of Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton like there has been the past couple of offseasons, but there is a solid crop of outfielders set to cash in.

    Top Free Agent Outfielders 2013 Stats

    Carlos Beltran 36.296/.339/.49116430 324 84 79 2
    Shin-Soo Choo  31.285/.423/.46216234 221 5410720
    Nelson Cruz 33.266/.327/.50611018 027 76 49  5
    Jacoby Ellsbury  30.298/.355/.42617231 8 9 53 9252
    Curtis Granderson 32.229/.317/.407 4913 2 7 15 31 8

    There are clear question marks about Beltran (age), Cruz (PEDs) and Granderson (health), but all three are capable of making a significant impact in the middle of someone's lineup. It seems unlikely that anyone from that trio will get anything longer than a three-year deal, though.

    Choo and Ellsbury could both approach or surpass $100 million and get as many as six years on their deals, as both are terrific table-setters.

    Choo brings a bit more pop and on-base skill, while Ellsbury is the better base stealer and superior defender, so both guys have their strengths.

    All five guys received qualifying offers, so that will certainly have an influence on their respective markets. But with Brian McCann signed, an argument can certainly be made that these are the top five remaining free-agent bats.

    Much like with the pitchers, these signings could have a ripple effect. The first guy off the board will likely influence the rest of the market, both in terms of who is interested and how much money players can expect.

Does the Clayton Kershaw Extension Happen Before Opening Day?

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    With Justin Verlander turning in a less-than-dominant 2013 campaign and Felix Hernandez being out-pitched by his own teammate, Hisashi Iwakuma, it's fair to say that the consensus best pitcher in baseball right now is Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw.

    He's been one of the game's most electric starters since breaking into the league as a 20-year-old back in 2008, but he's been an absolute stud the past three seasons.

    Clayton Kershaw's Stats, 2011-2013 (Bold = NL leader)

    20113321-52.28 1610.97717454248233.1 $500K
    20123314-92.53 1501.02317063229227.2$7.5 M
    20133316-91.83  1940.91516452232236.0 $11 M

    Even projected to make $18.25 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility, Kershaw remains an absolute steal, but it's safe to say this will be the final year that is the case.

    According to Buster Olney of ESPN back in October, the Dodgers offered Kershaw an extension in the area of $300 million, but the two sides were unable to come to terms. The record contract for a pitcher was given to Verlander last offseason, a seven-year, $180 million deal, and Kershaw should have no problem topping that.

    After all, the left-hander won't turn 26 until March 19, so he should have many more Cy Young-caliber seasons in him. With a seemingly endless pool of money to work with, there's no way the Dodgers let Kershaw get away.

    The only questions are whether they can lock him up before the start of the season and just how much it will wind up costing in both dollars and years.

What Will the Yankees Do While They Wait for Robinson Cano?

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    The top free agent on the market this offseason, Robinson Cano is one of the game's true superstars. But early reports of the 31-year-old seeking a 10-year, $310 million deal have left him and the New York Yankees far apart on an extension to this point.

    The Yankees reportedly offered him a seven-year, $160 million deal this past Monday, according to ESPN New York, but the deal has an expiration date, and the two sides remain far apart on negotiations.

    The sentiment around the league is that the two sides will come to terms eventually but that it could take until late into the offseason. So what do the Yankees do in the meantime?

    They have already signed catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million deal but likely aren't done. Carlos Beltran is one name they've been tied to all offseason.

    Meanwhile, the current projected starting rotation features CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and no one else, and the bullpen is still looking for a way to replace Mariano Rivera.

    Signing one of the top starters on the market, re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, making a run at someone like Grant Balfour or Joe Nathan and locking up Beltran could all be in the works between now and when Cano signs.

Will David Price Be Moved at the Winter Meetings?

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    The highlight of December in the MLB is usually the annual winter meetings, which will take place this year from Dec. 9-12 in Orlando, Fla.

    There will be no shortage of action on both the rumor mill and in actual signings and trades being completed, but the one name everyone will have an eye on is Rays ace David Price.

    It's become almost a foregone conclusion that Price will be traded at some point this season. He will hit free agency at the end of the 2015 season, but he's already become too expensive for the Rays, who paid him $10.1 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility last winter. And he's projected to make $13.1 million this time around.

    Even Price seems resigned to the fact that he'll be moved, at least according to an article from Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times back in early October.

    If you go with what's been done in the past, I guess you're going to have to think you're going to get traded. That's kind of the way it's happened with this organization when pitchers kind of get to this period in their career. We've seen it happen a couple of times already. I don't know what's going to happen, but I know what's happened in the past.

    The 28-year-old left-hander took home AL Cy Young honors in 2012. In parts of six major league seasons, he has gone 71-39 with a 3.19 ERA, 1.158 WHIP and terrific 3.06 K/BB ratio.

    He's one of the game's true aces at this point and should net the Rays an enormous return whenever they do decide to pull the trigger on a deal. The question is, could that be as soon as a couple of weeks from now?