Hottest MLB Free-Agent, Trade Rumors Entering the 2013 Winter Meetings

Alex EspinozaCorrespondent IIIDecember 8, 2013

Hottest MLB Free-Agent, Trade Rumors Entering the 2013 Winter Meetings

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    MLB will be hard-pressed to keep up with the pace of last week's offseason action, with a flurry of trades and free-agent signings reshaping the makeup of the entire league.

    Jayson Stark of ESPN noted that 20 teams made deals or signings between Monday and Tuesday alone, while the end of the week was marked by a 10-year, $240 million deal between the Seattle Mariners and Robinson Cano.

    Starting on Monday, executives from all 30 clubs will convene in Orlando, Fla., for the league's annual winter meetings. Here's a look at the hottest trade and free-agency rumors entering the four-day event.

David Price, LHP

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    David Price is the biggest trade chip on the market heading into the winter meetings. The 28-year-old lefty entered the offseason with expectations that he would be traded, and it could come to fruition this week in Orlando.

    Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times laid out an updated overview of the Price situation, and it sounds like a trade involving the former Cy Young winner is imminent. Topkin listed eight teams in play to acquire the talented southpaw, while noting that Price's first choice would likely be the Atlanta Braves.

    Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports also weighed in on the situation and listed the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers as the favorites to acquire Price.

    The Mariners have become the top suitors linked to Price since inking Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million deal, with the team's new TV contract giving it the chance to dream of a rotation that features Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Price. Talented 21-year-old Seattle righty Taijuan Walker would be a nice centerpiece in a return package for Price, but it remains to be seen if the Mariners can part with a pitcher they previously deemed "untouchable."

Masahiro Tanaka, RHP

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    Masahiro Tanaka's future with MLB in 2014 remains in doubt.

    MLB has been in negotiations with Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball about a posting system for free agents, with the two leagues reportedly close to coming to an agreement on Wednesday, as detailed by Matt Snyder of CBS Sports. The major sticking point of the new deal is that Japanese teams can receive a maximum of $20 million from MLB clubs during the bidding process.

    After going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA this past season, the 25-year-old Tanaka was expected to demand a bid higher than the $51.7 million posted by the Texas Rangers for Yu Darvish in 2011. As such, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported Rakuten Golden Eagles president Yozo Tachibana might not even make Tanaka available this offseason since he will become a devalued asset.

    Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times relayed comments made by Tachibana to Japanese publication Sponichi, with the team president saying, "We have an obligation to explain to our stakeholders whether it's fair. There’s a possibility we won’t take the next step."

    Patrick Newman of NPBTracker.com reported that Rakuten will discuss the posting fee process with Tanaka by Tuesday, and that "asking him to stick around will be the priority." No coincidence, the upcoming discussion in Japan will take place as the winter meetings proceed in Florida.

    If Tanaka is available, he figures to have many suitors, especially with a $20 million bidding cap. Once Tanaka's situation is settled, expect the rest of the pitching market to follow suit with other top arms like Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza still available.

Matt Kemp, OF

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    Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp has been the subject of trade rumors all offseason, and the latest rumblings have him going to the Boston Red Sox.

    Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com recently spoke to Kemp's agent and former MLB pitcher Dave Stewart, who said he plans on being in Orlando for the winter meetings because he believes "something could happen." Edes reported that the Red Sox have made inquiries about Kemp and that Stewart has already discussed the idea of playing in Boston with his client.

    For Boston general manager Ben Cherington, this potential deal comes down to Kemp's recent injury history and the six years and $128 million remaining on his contract. Kemp has had two shoulder surgeries and another on his ankle since last October, repairing injuries that have limited him to just 179 games the past two years.

    Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe tweeted that the Red Sox could work out a deal if the Dodgers include cash, with most media reports expecting Los Angeles to include at least $30 million to make Kemp a tradeable asset.

    The Dodgers have three high-price outfielders in Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, along with talented young star Yasiel Puig. Trading away one of them would give the big-spending Dodgers some salary relief as they prepare for Clayton Kershaw's upcoming free agency following the 2014 season.

    For the Red Sox, Kemp would fill the void left by Jacoby Ellsbury, who jumped ship to the New York Yankees this offseason.

Shin-Soo Choo, OF

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    Now that Jacoby Ellsbury has inked his monster seven-year, $153 million deal with the New York Yankees, fellow Scott Boras client Shin-Soo Choo figures to receive the biggest payday of any position player on the free-agent market.

    But it appears that his list of suitors is shrinking, as the New York Yankees have signed Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, while the New York Mets have signed Curtis Granderson. Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe wrote it's "unlikely" the Red Sox pursue Choo, given the team's recent trend of signing veterans to moderately-priced, short-term deals. And even though the Diamondbacks made a big push for Beltran, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic speculated Choo's price tag will be too much for the team to consider.

    The prospects of Choo staying in Cincinnati also look dim. Reds general manager Walt Jocketty recently claimed his team will be hard-pressed to retain Choo, saying, "It's going to be very difficult for us with the amount of money that's out there," per Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. Sheldon also wrote that the team is prepared to give speedy prospect Billy Hamilton a crack at the everyday job in center field and at hitting leadoff, the two spots Choo occupied last year.

    Don't rule out the Seattle Mariners, even though they have signed Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million deal. Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News mentioned the Texas Rangers as a "great fit" for Choo, so don't be surprised if he ends up in the star-studded AL West.

Jeff Samardzija, RHP

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    Along with David Price, Jeff Samardzija's name has surfaced as one of the most high-profile pitchers who could be traded this offseason.

    The hard-throwing right-hander has been a major contributor to the Chicago Cubs rotation in the past two seasons, going 17-26 with a 4.10 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 ratio in 61 starts. Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reported the Cubs have offered Samardzija an extension in the neighborhood of five years, $55 million this winter.

    But there is still widespread speculation Samardzija could be moved, as he is set to be a free agent following the 2015 season. Both Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune and Jim Bowden of ESPN picked the Toronto Blue Jays and Arizona Diamondbacks as the top two teams suited to acquire Samardzija via trade, so keep an eye on those clubs going forward.

Omar Infante, 2B

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    Robinson Cano's departure from the Bronx means there's a big void at second base for the New York Yankees.

    Anthony McCarron and Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News cited a baseball official who claimed Infante is currently the best fit for the Yankees at second base and that the team already had an offer on the table for Infante before Cano signed with the Mariners.

    Infante turns 32 later this month and has spent eight of his 12 MLB seasons with the Detroit Tigers, including the past two years. Since 2010, he's averaged 137 games played, batting .295/.327/.415 with yearly averages of nine homers, 50 RBI and 61 runs scored.

    He has since been replaced by Ian Kinsler as Detroit's starting second baseman and will command a nice raise from the Yankees after completing a two-year, $8 million contract with the Tigers.