Top Offseason MLB Targets Whose Markets Are Starting to Dry Up
During this MLB offseason, Stephen Drew was supposed to sign a long-term contract, Ubaldo Jimenez should've broken the bank in a thin class of free-agent pitchers and Brandon Phillips seemed certain to change addresses through trade.
The markets are rapidly drying up for all those players, however.
For the second straight winter, we're seeing several free agents struggle to generate interest after refusing one-year qualifying offers. Also, because demand varies based on specific skills and positions, there are reputable veterans who haven't been as popular as anticipated.
Each of the following players is going to have a major league job in 2014, but not necessarily under ideal working conditions.
Ubaldo Jimenez (Free Agent)
Back in mid-September, Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors was convinced that Ubaldo Jimenez would "undoubtedly appeal to a number of teams."
And that opinion was very justifiable.
Jimenez ranked among MLB's best second-half performers in 2013. The Venezuelan right-hander posted a microscopic 1.82 earned run average following the All-Star break. He surrendered three earned runs or fewer in each of those 13 outings and finished on a streak of eight consecutive quality starts. His durable track record and 1984 birth date added extra appeal.
Unfortunately, he's fallen victim to the qualifying offer.
The San Francisco Giants, for example, entered this offseason with the motivation to add at least one starter, possibly through free agency. However, according to Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, they decided early on that no addition would be worth the loss of a draft pick:
Ubaldo Jimenez could be a perfect fit for the mound at AT&T Park. Or, imagine Shin-Soo Choo adding that high on-base percentage to the lineup.
Not going to happen, at least not soon.
That was the message from Giants general manager Brian Sabean as he checked into the general manager meetings tonight in Orlando, Fla.
The 2012 World Series champs ultimately agreed to terms with Tim Hudson (two years, $23 million).
Ken Rosenthal tweets that we can count the Los Angeles Angels out of the Jimenez sweepstakes too:
#Angels lost first-round picks each of last two years for Pujols, Hamilton. Will not do same with Jimenez, Santana, etc.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 10, 2013
Jimenez's recent years of inconsistency deter anybody from taking him seriously as a long-term option. He might be best served accepting a one-year pillow contract, then testing free agency again next offseason.
Brandon Phillips (Cincinnati Reds)
Brandon Phillips rubbed some Cincinnati Reds folks the wrong way this past summer in an interview with Justin Williams of Cincinnati Magazine. He gave off the impression of being ungrateful for a six-year, $72.5 million contract extension.
Jon Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer cited to those comments and the Reds' interest in then-free-agent middle infielder Alexander Guerrero as indications that Phillips could be dealt.
However, even with few superior second basemen available, there have been numerous red flags influencing potential trade partners.
Phillips deteriorated down the stretch in 2013 and posted a .706 OPS overall, his worst ever as a major league regular. Entering his age-33 campaign, there's concern that he'll continue trending in a negative direction.
The Gold Glover still has four years and $50 million to go on that aforementioned extension, while Omar Infante, a slightly younger player coming off a superior season, is likely seeking less than that in free agency. Per Buster Olney, he wants at least $8 million per year, but there's plenty of wiggle room between that and Phillips' average annual value of $12.5 million.
Jon Heyman tweets that the Reds' inability to move him "dims their chances" of re-signing Shin-Soo Choo.
Kendrys Morales (Free Agent)
Kendrys Morales' market was a concern from the get-go.
Merely two days after the Seattle Mariners' 2013 season ended, Buster Olney predicted that he'd have difficulty finding employment during the offseason:
If Zduriencik follows through & gives a $14m qualifying offer to Kendrys Morales, it'll crush Morales's free agency, because of draft comp.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 2, 2013
One month after formally declining that guaranteed eight-figure salary, his outlook is depressingly bleak.
Here's what an executive told ESPN's Jayson Stark leading into the winter meetings:
"He's in trouble," said one AL exec. And one NL executive made it clear how much he agreed -- by picking March 20 as Morales' signing date, unless the Mariners strike out on the other bats they're chasing and bring him back. "I think he has all the makings," the exec said, "of this year's Kyle Lohse."
The only semi-encouraging rumor regarding Morales was his link to the New York Yankees, per CBS Sports' Jon Heyman. But Heyman cautioned us that they had a "long list" of targets, and since signing Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, it's doubtful that the Bombers would want this 30-year-old clogging up their designated hitter's spot.
Olney now speculates that Morales could wind up on the New York Mets, although the club already has a surplus of first basemen with Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. The Mets finished with one of MLB's 10 worst records, thus protecting their 2014 first-round draft pick, then signed Curtis Granderson (another qualifying offer guy), so they'd only need to sacrifice a third-rounder for Morales.
Stephen Drew (Free Agent)
Like Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew is a Scott Boras client.
Boras negotiated a $9.5 million contract between Drew and the Boston Red Sox last winter when the shortstop was coming off an unproductive, injury-shortened season. He'll surely be able to do better this time around.
The question is how much better.
Which team will willingly commit long term to a player who has only eclipsed 600 plate appearances once in the past five seasons? Moreover, Drew's strikeout rate has soared since leaving the Arizona Diamondbacks in August 2012, and he doesn't affect games on the basepaths. On top of all that, the Red Sox extended a qualifying offer to tie him to a compensatory draft pick.
From Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe:
Stephen Drew has a market but not at extensive as previously thought. Red Sox feel they have a good chance to retain him.— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) December 9, 2013
Few competitive teams still desire a starting shortstop. Even the New York Mets, who have money to spend, won't ink Drew unless he lowers his asking price, tweets Newsday's David Lennon.
The excess of shortstops on several teams further weakens his market.
Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi hear that the Cleveland Indians will consider trade proposals for Asdrubal Cabrera. Although his 2013 campaign didn't measure up to Drew's, Cabrera is nearly three years younger and owed only $10 million next summer before reaching free agency.
In their quest for a front-line starting pitcher, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic wonders if the Arizona Diamondbacks could part with one of their middle infielders. Didi Gregorius can be team-controlled through 2018, while Chris Owings is retainable through the end of the decade.
Boras may have overestimated how many shortstop suitors would cast their fishing rods into the free-agent pool. The bigger issue is that they're all reluctant to use high-quality bait.
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.