Perhaps lost in the lively discussion surrounding the Baseball Hall of Fame ballots is that the MLB hot stove is heating back up after the lull of the holidays.
As teams offer their best shots to woo Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka, other big names are starting to circulate the rumor mill, too. Don't look now, but there's only about five weeks left until pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
Some teams still have some heavy lifting to do before Opening Day, and there are marquee names on both the trading block and in free agency. It all adds up to what should be a nice flurry of offseason activity in winter's final weeks.
Here's a look at some of the biggest baseball rumors as of late and analysis of which ones have the best chance of coming to fruition.
Scenario: Bobby Abreu signs with the Cleveland Indians.
Analysis: Bobby Abreu wll turn 40 during spring training and hasn't seen an MLB pitch since 2012, but it sounds like the former All-Star is trying to get one more season in while he can.
Tony Lasortia of Indians Baseball Insider was the first to report that Cleveland had interest in Abreu, while Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports confirmed that the club and Abreu's agents have had discussions.
Later on Tuesday, Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) downplayed any interest from the Indians. For what it's worth, Abreu has belted five home runs in five games in the Venezuelan winter league playoffs, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, as he ramps up for a comeback attempt.
Abreu made a name for himself during a nice run with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1995-2006. Throughout his 17-year career, he batted .292/.396/.477 with yearly averages of 17 homers, 79 RBI and 23 stolen bases while winning a 2005 Gold Glove in right field.
But his production dipped markedly following the 2010 season, and at this point, Abreu isn't worth much more than a low-risk minor league contract with a spring training invite, similar to the deal the Indians recently made with outfielder Jeff Francoeur. Cleveland already has four outfielders on its roster in Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, Ryan Raburn and newly signed David Murphy.
However, with the spring training invites extended to players like Francoeur and Matt Carson, the Indians don't seem averse to giving fringe players a shot to show their skills in a big league environment. While it will be tough for Abreu to crack a roster that also features Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi, I suspect Cleveland will give him a chance.
Scenario: Stephen Drew signs with the New York Mets.
Analysis: While Jhonny Peralta had no problems securing a four-year, $53 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this winter, fellow top free-agent shortstop Drew is still looking for work. It appears that teams are scared off by Drew's recent injury history after he missed a combined 197 contests over the past three years.
Drew and the Mets have been heavily linked all offseason, as New York received next to nothing offensively from last year's shortstop combination of Omar Quintanilla and Ruben Tejada. Adam Rubin of ESPN New York recently cited a source who said the team is speaking with Drew's agent, Scott Boras, but termed any agreement as a "possibility" rather than a "probability."
Drew batted .253/.333/.443 with 13 homers and 67 RBI in 2013 with some fine glovework at shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, but Rubin reported the Mets aren't willing to offer anything longer than a three-year deal. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says it makes sense for the Mets to sign Drew now, but I don't see it happening.
If Drew is going to settle for a short-term deal, he might as well play for a proven contender and return to the Red Sox.
Scenario: Toronto Blue Jays sign a top free-agent right-handed pitcher.
Analysis: The Blue Jays haven't made any big splashes in free agency yet, but a recent report by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports portrays Toronto as a major player in the remaining market for starting pitching.
As it stands now, four of the marquee right-handed free agents are still available. Recently posted Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka is the leading candidate among the crop of starters, and he is currently making visits to clubs around the country with about two weeks left to make his decision.
From there, expect the market for Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana to shake out. Rosenthal pegs the Blue Jays as a "leading candidate" to sign either Jimenez or Santana, saying the team could sign one or two arms by the start of spring training.
The Blue Jays need some rotation help after a disappointing 2013 when high-priced veterans like Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson struggled while Brandon Morrow's season was cut short due to injury. While Morrow has recovered from his nerve injury, Johnson is gone, and the team could bolster its rotation.
As Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star noted, the club's first-round picks (No. 9 and No. 11) are protected this year, meaning the Blue Jays won't have to sacrifice a top selection to sign Santana or Jimenez, who were extended qualifying offers by their teams. According to Kennedy, general manager Alex Anthopoulos said it was "50-50" that the club inks a starting pitcher this winter, clearly meaning he has given heavy consideration to the idea.
Considering all of these factors, I think it makes sense that the Blue Jays sign either Santana or Jimenez in the upcoming weeks.
Scenario: David Price is traded before Opening Day.
Analysis: Ever since the end of last season, Price has told reporters that he's expecting to be traded this winter. It's the second week of January and he's still with the Tampa Bay Rays, who have shown some commitment to 2014.
The club, trying to maintain momentum from last year's 92-win campaign that ended in the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox, re-signed first baseman James Loney (three years, $21 million) and outfielder David DeJesus this offseason. As Roger Mooney of the The Tampa Tribune noted, the team's salary would be higher than $72.8 million if Price sticks around in 2014.
Vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman recently told Mooney “we feel like we have a really good chance to be great next year. That's why we're doing what we're doing." That type of comment gives legs to the possibility that Price could be sticking around in Tampa Bay one more season.
Price isn't a free agent for two more years and would still command a significant haul at the trading deadline in 2014, next offseason or at the trading deadline in 2015. The Rays clearly haven't received an offer they deem worthy for the 28-year-old former Cy Young Award winner and they've added to the payroll, so they might as well make one more run with Price while they can.
Scenario: Bronson Arroyo signs with the Baltimore Orioles.
Analysis: The Orioles have made headlines this offseason for trading away Jim Johnson and backing out of a deal with Grant Balfour at the last minute, but it sounds like they could be adding to their pitching staff in the near future.
Buster Olney of ESPN recently tweeted that the O's have expressed an interest in Arroyo, who has been one of baseball's most durable starting pitchers over the past decade. As Dan Connolly of the The Baltimore Sun noted, Arroyo has thrown at least 199 innings in each of the past nine seasons and has a good relationship with new Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace.
The team has a hole in its rotation following the departure of Scott Feldman, and Arroyo would be a reliable option for the staff. Even though he is 37 years old, Arroyo has failed in his quest to secure a three-year deal this offseason.
Rich Dubroff of CSN Baltimore speculated that the Orioles wouldn't be willing to offer anything more than a two-year deal to Arroyo. In the end, I think this is a great fit for both sides and Arroyo will settle for a short-term contract, helping provide a steady rotation presence for a team that needs it. For Arroyo, it would be enticing to join a team that includes a talented core of Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy.