Loudest MLB Trade Buzz, Free Agency Updates from Around the League

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2014

Loudest MLB Trade Buzz, Free Agency Updates from Around the League

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    With roughly a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, many players still have no idea whether they'll be heading to Arizona or Florida when camp begins.

    We aren't just talking about the aging veterans hoping to stick around for another season and role players that are seemingly interchangeable, either. Big names, both on the mound and at the plate, remain without a team to call their own for 2014—and for many of them, the rumor mill has remained eerily quiet.

    But things are beginning to heat up for a handful of players, with rumors and speculation buzzing around their heads like a swarm of gnats on a humid summer day.

    Here's a look at the latest from the rumor mill—and what it might mean for your favorite team.


    *Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Masahiro Tanaka: A Three-Team Race?

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    If Masahiro Tanaka has his way, he'll be pitching in Boston, Los Angeles or New York in 2014, according to The San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea. While those three cities are home to five teams, neither the Boston Red Sox nor the New York Mets are expected to make a serious run at the 25-year-old free agent.

    His wife would like to live on the West Coast, per a report from The New York Times' David Waldstein, but both Los Angeles clubsthe Angels and Dodgersare far from sure things to sign him.

    There's no question that the Angels need another starting pitcher, but the team hasn't met with Tanaka, GM Jerry DiPoto told The Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovana. Plus, with the roughly $15 million that the team has available before exceeding the luxury tax threshold, Tanaka might be too expensive for them.

    After agreeing to a record seven-year, $215 million extension with Clayton Kershaw, originally reported by ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, the Dodgers may not be the prohibitive favorites to sign Tanaka after all. While Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweets that the team still wants to add another pitcher to its already stacked rotation, he notes that veteran free agent Bronson Arroyo is on the team's short list of targets—and that signing Tanaka would be up to ownership, not GM Ned Colletti.

    The New York Yankees, long believed to be the Dodgers' biggest competition for Tanaka's services, still desperately want to sign him and have essentially put the rest of their offseason on hold until he decides on his future, according to Anthony McCarron from The New York Daily News.

    Even if the Dodgers are out of the Tanaka sweepstakes, the Yankees will still face stiff competition to sign the phenom—from the Chicago Cubs, who plan on offering him a nine-figure deal, according to CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney.

    Bringing Tanaka to Wrigley Field would be a major coup for GM Jed Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein. Not only would it give the team a frontline starter in the prime of his career for the foreseeable future, but it could also impact Jeff Samardzija's future with the club (more on that shortly).

    Of course, there's always the chance that a "mystery team" seemingly comes out of nowhere and makes Tanaka an offer that he can't refuse. Don't count on the Toronto Blue Jays being that team, however, team sources tell Peter Gammons.

    One thing is for sure: at some point over the next week or so, Tanaka is going to become a very, very rich man.

Jeff Samardzija: Unlikely to Be Traded Before the Season

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    Long speculated to be a trade candidate given the lack of an extension with the Chicago Cubs, sources tell CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney that Jeff Samardzija is likely to be part of the Cubs rotation on Opening Day, regardless of whether the team signs Masahiro Tanaka.

    Signing Tanaka may actually increase the club's chances of retaining Samardzija, who told Mooney earlier this month that he wanted to see how the rebuilding process in Chicago continued to unfold.

    Chicago seems to believe that Samardzija's value will only increase as the 2014 season rolls along and will look to move him closer to the July 31 trade deadline if an extension still has not been worked out, Mooney's sources report.

    While that may be the case, Samardzija's comments to Mooney earlier this monthwhen he said that were he traded, he was unlikely to sign an extension with his new clubcertainly don't help to increase his value.

    Of course, plans can change in an instant.

    Given the seemingly widespread lack of interest in free-agent pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana—largely due to the draft pick that a team would lose by signing one of them—teams that miss out on Tanaka or former Cub Matt Garza could make Chicago an offer they can't refuse for Samardzija before the season begins.

Stephen Drew: Veteran Shortstop Re-Branding Himself as a Utility Player?

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    Despite being widely considered the best shortstop available this winter, Stephen Drew remains a man without a team.

    But is Drew more than a shortstop? That's the angle that über-agent Scott Boras is taking with his client, according to Peter Gammons. Boras is now marketing Drew as a veteran shortstop willing to play the role of super-utility player for the right club, despite the fact that he's never played anywhere besides short over his eight-year career.

    Boston, Drew's former team, told Boras months ago that prospect Xander Bogaerts will be its shortstop in 2014. If Drew truly is willing to bounce around the diamond—becoming the new version of Michael Young—he could see time at short, third base and first base against right-handed pitching for the Red Sox.

    That willingness to play multiple positions might make him more attractive to the New York Yankees as well, a team that could certainly use Drew at third base in the wake of Alex Rodriguez's 162-game suspension, not to mention as insurance at second base and shortstop.

    While Yankees GM Brian Cashman told Gammons in December that his club wouldn't be signing Drew, his willingness to play multiple positions—and the likely reduction in his asking price—could potentially make the GM change his mind.

    Back in November, Boras balked at the idea of a three-year deal for Drew, pointing to the eight-year, $120 million extension that Elvis Andrus signed with Texas last April as the kind of deal he was seeking when discussing his client with CBS Sports' Jon Heyman.

Matt Garza: Market Heating Up for Veteran Starter

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    Make no mistake about it—Matt Garza is unlikely to sign a deal with a new team until after the Masahiro Tanaka saga has played out. But once Tanaka signs, Garza could be quick to follow suit.

    The New York Post's Joel Sherman originally reported the Angels interest in Garza back in December, and owner Arte Moreno confirmed that his club has spoken with Garza's representatives recently in a chat with Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi.

    With roughly $15 million available to spend, Garza would fit perfectly in both the team's budget and starting rotation, joining with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson to give the Angels a solid trio of veteran starters while removing some of the pressure off newcomers Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs.

    But the Angels aren't the only team interested in the veteran's services.

    Paul Hoynes of The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports that the Cleveland Indians have long coveted Garza and tried trading for him at last year's trade deadline, ending talks when the Chicago Cubs asked for third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall in exchange.

    After losing Scott Kazmir to the Oakland Athletics as a free agent and with Ubaldo Jimenez still unsigned, the Indians need to sign at least one established veteran starter if they have any chance of contending for a playoff spot again in 2014.

    Garza has also drawn significant interest from the surprisingly aggressive Minnesota Twins, who continue to try and bolster a starting rotation that they've already added to with Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco this winter.

    The Twins are willing to meet Garza's asking price but not the number of years that he seeks on a new deal, according to 1500ESPN's Darren Wolfson. Last month, Wolfson tweeted that Garza was looking for a four-year deal.

Mark Reynolds: Strikeout-Prone Veteran the Market's Most Sought-After Slugger?

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    As crazy as it may sound, Mark Reynolds—not Nelson Cruz—has been the hottest position player on the rumor mill of late.

    On second thought, the interest in Reynolds isn't as crazy as it seems given the relative lack of power available on the open market.

    While he strikes out a ton—no player has struck out as often as Reynolds has since 2008—only four players have hit more home runs than him over that period (via Baseball-Reference's Play Index):

    Miguel Cabrera227609
    Albert Pujols210383
    Prince Fielder205717
    Adam Dunn2021,128
    Mark Reynolds1851,147

    Multiple teams have extended offers to Reynolds, and the 30-year-old slugger is expected to make a decision by the end of the week, tweets Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post.

    CBS Sports' Jon Heyman recently tweeted that teams known to have interest in Reynolds include the Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals.

    While he's a mediocre defensive player, his ability to play both corner infield spots, ability to hit for power against both left-handed and right-handed pitching and the fact that he's not going to command a high salary makes him a very, very attractive target.