Odds of Top Suitors Acquiring Top Available 2014 MLB Free-Agent, Trade Targets
Attention, holiday shoppers: If you're a general manager of a Major League Baseball team, there may not be much available in position players anymore, but they're not quite sold out just yet, and there still are pitchers galore ready to be plucked from the shelves in time for the new year.
As the calendar gets ready to flip, here's a rundown of the top names who remain up for grabs as either free-agent factors or trade targets.
The problem for many of the former is that a bunch are second- or third-tier talents who are tethered to draft-pick compensation, which severely limits their market.
And of course, the holdup on the pitching side can be traced to the fact that the baseball world is waiting on a final decision about the potential posting of a certain Japanese right-hander.
The expectation, it seems, is that one of these last big chips is about all that needs to fall for the others to follow suit. Much like that big ball that drops at midnight next week.
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David Price, LHP, Rays
As the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner, David Price is the top name on either list—free agents or trade options—and there has been rampant speculation, including from the left-hander himself, that the ever-cost-conscious Rays will have to deal him. At some point.
The question, though, is whether that will be sooner or later, as a Tampa team that hopes to contend yet again does not appear to be in any rush to unload one of the very best pitchers in the majors who is under team control through 2015, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
And here's Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports on the decision the club faces with Price:
The Rays will not and cannot quit on 2014. So, if they trade Price, they’re going to want the same type of major-league ready talent they got for Shields, if not better. Two of the four players that they acquired for Shields, outfielder Wil Myers and right-hander Jake Ordorizzi, contributed in the majors last season – and Myers won AL Rookie of the Year.
Make no mistake: Price will be traded, and there's still a good chance that happens this winter. But it's starting to look more likely that this might not happen until midseason, at a point when a few teams get desperate, allowing the Rays to do what they do—get exactly what they want.
That, by the way, would be a truckload of young, cheap, team-controlled talent that can help Tampa continue its recent wave of success built on top prospects. Like Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Zach Lee from the Dodgers, or Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin from the Mariners or Archie Bradley and Chris Owings from the Diamondbacks.
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Free Agent (Pending)
The bad news is that Masahiro Tanaka, the 25-year-old Japanese sensation who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season in leading his team to its first-ever Japan Series title, may not be posted by said club, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
The Golden Eagles still control Tanaka's rights through 2015 and have less incentive to make him available via the new "release fee" agreement between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball, writes Tracy Ringolsby of MLB.com.
If they decide he's worth more to them as the team's—and country's—biggest baseball star than the $20 million maximum they'd receive in exchange, the Eagles could push off Tanaka's dream of pitching in the majors for another offseason or two.
The good news? As Ben Badler of Baseball America writes, a final decision on Tanaka could come right around Christmas. If that's actually the way it plays out, at least we'll know—one way or the other—and the rest of the pitching market can start falling into place.
Of course, if Tanaka is posted, it will cost north of $100 million to score him, but because of his age, there's appeal for teams that want to win now (Yankees and Dodgers) as well as in the near future (Cubs).
Odds (if posted)
Cliff Lee, LHP, Phillies
Despite rumors to the contrary, it appears that Cliff Lee may not even be up for discussion at this point—at least, if you listen to GM Ruben Amaro Jr. Plus, the timing might not be the best, given that there's no shortage of arms to be had.
Should the Phillies definitively make the veteran southpaw available, though, any number of teams would be interested in acquiring one of the most consistent top-of-the-rotation starters around. His remaining contract—upward of $90 million through 2016—would be seen as an obstacle for pretty much all but a handful of the big-market teams.
He might make more sense as a trade chip to be used during the season, by which point a little more of his hefty contract will be out of the picture and Amaro finally may have realized that a rebuild is overdue.
Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Cubs
As a hard-throwing 28-year-old right-hander, Jeff Samardzija is as enticing as he is enigmatic. To wit, the Cubs' nominal No. 1 starter had 214 whiffs in 213.2 innings pitched in 2013, but he also sported a 4.34 ERA.
While the Cubs have indicated they would like to sign him long-term, they also realize that the best option may be to cash in on Samardzija, who will reach free agency after 2015, now as another means to further their rebuilding process.
The Braves, Blue Jays and Diamondbacks—three clubs who are after a potential top-flight arm but might not be able to hand out tens of millions to a free agent—have been mentioned as interested parties, among others.
Blue Jays: 6-to-1
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Free Agent
Ubaldo Jimenez is one of the primary starters whose market seems to be on hold until the Tanaka situation is resolved.
Given that, it's looking like a decent possibility that the roller-coaster right-hander—who put up a 5.57 ERA through May, followed by a 2.40 ERA the rest of the way—could head back to Cleveland, as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports pointed out earlier this month.
Being tied to draft-pick compensation certainly hasn't helped his case, and the Indians need the pitching. But can the club make Jimenez happy with the right mix of dollars and years, or will it be some other pitching-starved squad?
Blue Jays: 20-to-1
Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, OFs, Dodgers
A few weeks ago, Matt Kemp was practically out the door, but these days, nary a peep on that front. Same goes for fellow outfielder Andre Ethier.
A big reason why, of course, is that both players are due many, many millions. Another factor? They're needed as insurance for each other, because neither one has proved to be the pillar of health recently.
For those reasons, until more is known about the status of both, expect them to stay put while the Dodgers hope to figure out a solution to their four-outfielders-for-three-spots "problem."
Red Sox: 50-to-1
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds
The beef between longtime second baseman Brandon Phillips and the Reds franchise is approaching the depths of the divide that existed a year ago between Justin Upton and the Diamondbacks, who are his now-former team.
The Reds have managed to hold it together so far, but as Dave Clark of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote, it doesn't seem to be a secret that Phillips could be moved. In fact, there was a reported proposal involving Brett Gardner of the Yankees that New York nixed, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
There aren't many teams who would be willing (or able) to pony up the $50 million Phillips is owed through 2017, but if the Reds swallowed a good chunk of that, it might open up the possibilities.
Blue Jays: 12-to-1
Ervin Santana, RHP, Free Agent
Like Jimenez, Ervin Santana is chained to draft-pick compensation, so like Jimenez, it's becoming increasingly likely that the veteran right-hander, who is coming off an impressive 2013, could find his way back to his most recent employer.
Problem is, Kansas City already has spent about $60 million to lock up left-hander Jason Vargas and second baseman Omar Infante, so it would need Santana to return on its terms, as Jerry Crasnick of ESPN noted.
Otherwise, the usual suspects—clubs in need of an innings-eating arm with some upside (and downside)—apply.
Blue Jays: 20-to-1
Matt Garza, RHP, Free Agent
Matt Garza picked a bad time to have a poor half of baseball. While the 30-year-old righty was very good for the Cubs upon returning from early-season injury (3.17 ERA, 1.14 WHIP), he struggled after being traded to the Rangers (4.38, 1.32) to the point where his value got hit around as much as he did.
The real shame of it is that Garza is one of the few available intriguing arms who is not anchored by draft-pick compensation due to the fact that he was moved midseason. If he had finished strong, there's a good chance he would be the top free-agent starter (other than Tanaka). Instead, he's stuck behind Jimenez and Santana in the pecking order.
There still are plenty of interested parties, though, given that signing Garza doesn't impact a club's selections next June. The Angels and Diamondbacks, both of whom are still searching for another mid-rotation option have been mentioned repeatedly as the leading suitors.
And of course, any team that misses out on Tanaka—that is, whether he signs elsewhere or simply never gets posted in the first place—will shift gears toward Garza. That includes the Yankees and Mariners, among others.
Blue Jays: 20-to-1
A.J. Burnett, RHP, Free Agent
A.J. Burnett led the NL in strikeouts per nine (9.8 K/9) in 2013, but there isn't much in the way of news and rumors surrounding the maddeningly inconsistent yet occasionally dominant righty.
That's because the soon-to-be 37-year-old Burnett has indicated that he is likely either going to return to the Pirates or retire, having told Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he does "want to go out a Pirate."
Alas, the ever-mercurial Burnett has yet to make up his mind, and so the waiting continues.
If there's a long shot here, it just might be the Orioles, who have expressed interest, per Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports.
Stephen Drew, SS, Free Agent
The Red Sox took a risk in giving Stephen Drew a qualifying offer, but even after he rejected it, the veteran might yet come back to Boston, per Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.
While there are teams out there—like the Mets, Pirates and perhaps even the Yankees—who could surely use a capable shortstop, most of them seem to prefer not to lose a draft pick in addition to signing Drew to a mid-range multi-year pact.
That might, in fact, put the Red Sox in a position to offer Drew a one-year deal for slightly below the $14.1 qualifying offer he negged—say, $12 million—and using him as insurance in case hotshot rookie Xander Bogaerts isn't quite ready to handle everyday duties for the defending world champs.
That way, Drew could hit the open market again in 10 months and take another swing at a multi-year contract at age 31.
Red Sox: 3-to-1
Nelson Cruz, OF/DH, Free Agent
Another victim of draft-pick compensation, Nelson Cruz's market has shriveled up, even more so after Shin-Soo Choo signed with the Rangers, taking away one of Cruz's likeliest destinations.
The righty-swinging slugger still could return to Texas, but only if his options go from few to nil. And he does, apparently, still have a few.
The Rockies are at least on the fringes of interest, per Troy Renck of the Denver Post. And Jerry Crasnick of ESPN wrote earlier in the month that the Orioles could use a bat in left field, while the Mariners may still be in, too, even after splurging on Robinson Cano and bringing aboard Corey Hart and Logan Morrison.
Cruz, though, may have more problems than suitors, as he's a 33-year-old with a long injury history and a detrimental defensive profile who also has to prove he's past last year's 50-game suspension for being linked to Biogenesis. In other words, buyer beware.
Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH, Free Agent
Stop us if you've heard this before, but Kendrys Morales is being undercut by—you guessed it—the fact that he's under the draft-pick compensation umbrella.
The 30-year-old is more of a solid complementary piece than the middle-of-the-order force he was with the Angles prior to his career-threatening ankle injury a few years ago. Plus, Morales is a better fit as a designated hitter than as a first baseman, although he's apparently being pursued by teams in both leagues, according to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, who cites agent Scott Boras.
Boras' latest gambit involves trying to engage the Mets—whose first-round pick is protected because it's No. 10 overall—on Morales as a solution to their hole at first base, per Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. Still, the Mets don't appear all that interested at the moment, writes Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News.
An encore with the Mariners would seem unlikely given that Corey Hart and Logan Morrison have been added to the mix with Justin Smoak still around. Then again, they do seem to be cornering the market on first base/designated hitter types.
Of all the big-name free agents still out there, Morales may have the longest wait ahead of him.
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