Dark-Horse Suitors for the Top Available Offseason Targets
While future free-agent signings and trades can often be predicted, sometimes the biggest moves come out of left field. For instance, few saw the Doug Fister trade breaking or even Jacoby Ellsbury signing with the New York Yankees.
But perhaps this surprise element is what makes the MLB offseason unlike that of any other sport.
Even with the offseason in its post-winter meetings stage, there are still plenty of quality targets available. This, of course, also means that the heavily rumored teams could very well lose out to sneaky dark-horse suitors, too.
Read on to see all dark-horse suitors for the top available offseason targets.
Masahiro Tanaka, Seattle Mariners
After signing Robinson Cano to a mammoth 10-year, $240 million contract, few expected the Seattle Mariners to be linked to another prime offseason target. But according to ESPN's Shannon Drayer, the Mariners could be a player for Masahiro Tanaka.
The 25-year-old posted a 1.27 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a 5.72-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Japan last season. Before MLB and the Nippon Professional League hammered out a $20 million maximum posting fee, many critics felt Tanaka would break Yu Darvish’s $51.7 million record.
Beating out the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers for Tanaka’s services would be a big win for the Mariners. But more importantly, adding Tanaka to a rotation already featuring Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma would make the Mariners a legitimate contender in the AL West.
Shin-Soo Choo, Houston Astros
With Jacoby Ellsbury off the board, Shin-Soo Choo instantly becomes the best outfield free agent. Choo posted a .285 batting average, 15.7 percent walk rate, park-adjusted 143 OPS+, 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 2013.
Even though Choo has long been coveted by the Texas Rangers according to ESPN’s Richard Durrett, it’s possible a surprise team could emerge for the dynamic player. Per the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich, the Houston Astros could be that team.
For an organization that’s still a ways away from contending, the Astros have been active this offseason. Thus far, they’ve acquired Dexter Fowler, Scott Feldman, Matt Albers, Anthony Bass and Chad Qualls.
If the Astros are serious about Choo, they’d have to offer him at least seven years, $140 million, which is what the outfielder recently turned down from the New York Yankees per Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan.
David Price, Cleveland Indians
As is the case with many star Tampa Bay Rays players, David Price is becoming increasingly expensive for the small-market organization. And while the Seattle Mariners were reportedly engaging in strong conversations with the Rays according to the Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish, the Mariners could be trumped by another American League team.
According to The Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto, the Cleveland Indians contacted the Rays about a possible David Price blockbuster. Pluto mentions that the Rays asked for Carlos Santana, Danny Salazar and Francisco Lindor in exchange for Price.
It’s unlikely the Indians would pull the trigger on the proposed rumor, but perhaps a trade centered on just Salazar and Lindor would have some legs.
A.J. Burnett, Baltimore Orioles
A.J. Burnett made it pretty clear an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel that his 2014 plans involved either re-signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates or retiring.
But apparently the Baltimore Orioles didn’t get the memo (or didn’t care to read it). According to MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko, the Orioles contacted Burnett’s representation at the winter meetings.
The Orioles’ interest in Burnett makes some sense. The 36-year-old posted a 3.30 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 107 ERA+), 1.21 WHIP and 3.12-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 191 innings in 2013. And with 29-year-old Miguel Gonzalez currently acting as the “veteran” pitcher in the team’s rotation, a truly seasoned hurler like Burnett would be a welcome addition.
Burnett last pitched in the American League (and AL East, for that matter) in 2011 as a member of the New York Yankees.
Stephen Drew, New York Mets
Even with top prospect Xander Bogaerts ready and able to take over at shortstop, the Boston Red Sox are still the favorites to re-sign Stephen Drew. And per The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, the Red Sox are interested if the deal is right.
But that’s not to say that the New York Mets couldn’t swoop in and upgrade their depth chart by inking Drew. According to New York Post’s Mike Puma, agent Scott Boras and Mets COO Jeff Wilpon chatted about the best remaining free-agent shortstop at the winter meetings.
In spite of his past injury-plagued seasons, the 30-year-old was an asset for the World Series-winning Red Sox. Drew hit to the tune of a park-adjusted 111 OPS+, walked at a 10.7 percent clip and collected 13 home runs over 501 plate appearances. And according to UZR/150, Drew was a solid defender, too, gloving a solid 6.7 UZR/150.
Unlike other potential suitors, the Mets wouldn't need to surrender their protected first-round pick to sign Drew, despite his declined qualifying offer. But with Sandy Alderson tasked with accounting for every nickel and dime the team spends, any marriage between Drew and the Mets would likely be limited to a moderate two- or three-year deal.