Fact or Fiction on All of MLB's Hottest Free-Agency, Trade Rumors

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2014

Fact or Fiction on All of MLB's Hottest Free-Agency, Trade Rumors

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    Recent offseason moves may affect Stephen Drew's free-agent process.
    Recent offseason moves may affect Stephen Drew's free-agent process.Associated Press

    Step by step, the MLB offseason riddle is beginning to come together as the game's top remaining players pick landing spots.

    A few major pieces of the puzzle were configured, which should expedite the process for remaining free agents. Masahiro Tanaka chose a massive $155 million deal from the New York Yankees, and the Milwaukee Brewers landed Matt Garza for an affordable $50 million over four years.

    Grant Balfour, whose earlier deal with the Baltimore Orioles fell through due to a faulty physical, will now attempt to become the next signed reliever the Tampa Bay Rays magically turn into Mariano Rivera.

    Now that those three pitchers have signed on the dotted line, the list of available hurlers is dwindling, which amplifies the pressure for players and teams alike to make a move.

    The Tanaka signing also springs the Yankees payroll over the targeted $189 luxury threshold, so the cost-conscious club may now revert to the free-spending Evil Empire we've all come to loathe.

    Let's scour the hot stove and examine some of the league's loudest noise. 

    Note: Contract information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

David Price Staying Put...for Now?

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    Trade talks revolving around David Price have simmered down.
    Trade talks revolving around David Price have simmered down.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The offseason's hottest trade topic could carry over into the 2014 season and beyond.

    Given their pattern of trading prolific pitchers before they become too expensive, everyone figured the Tampa Bay Rays would balk on David Price's raised price tag. The ace will earn $14 million in 2014, which is minimal compared to other salaries but far more than any of his teammates will make.

    Yet the 28-year-old lefty is still with the Rays, who are a prominent contender with him on board. With the team shelling out $12 million over two years for Balfour, they might be chasing a title rather than pinching pennies.

    MLB.com's Bill Chastain said that Price remaining with the Rays this season is looking probable these days:

    The possibility of Price returning seems to be gaining momentum daily... However, one word of caution. Tampa Bay's payroll is hovering at around $80 million, by my count. That is a lot of dough for a team that ranks last in attendance.

    At this point, the odds of Price staying put increase with each passing day. Trade whispers have died down as teams talk themselves into a peace of mind with their penciled-in Opening Day rosters.

    Discussion may resume with fervor during the season, but only if the Rays fall short of expectations. The club has two years before Price hits free agency, so perhaps Tampa Bay is not in a rush to trade him.

    Verdict: Fact

Stephen Drew to New York Yankees?

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    Would Stephen Drew play a different position for the New York Yankees?
    Would Stephen Drew play a different position for the New York Yankees?Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Free from the mirage of delving into the abyss of financial responsibility, the Yankees can readily return to treating their cash like Monopoly money.

    Tacking on the $22 million due to Tanaka, the team's 2014 payroll now resides at $194 million, and that only incorporates 19 players. New York still has an uncertain bullpen and cavernous hole at third base to address, so there's no reason the Yankees can't empty their deep pockets now that they must cough up the luxury tax whether they're $5 million or $50 million over the edge.

    Unfortunately for them, there's no enticing third baseman left on the market, so the Bronx Bombers have shifted their attention to a sure-handed middle infielder who could possibly follow Alex Rodriguez's ascension from shortstop to third.

    According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the Yankees are pursuing Stephen Drew, who hit .253/.333/.443 and played above-average defense for the Boston Red Sox last year:

    The Yankees are now considering free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, which could potentially put another dent in the rival Red Sox's up-the-middle alignment only weeks after the Yankees signed Boston star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

    They could also shift Drew to second base and play the newly signed Kelly Johnson at third, leaving Brian Roberts without a regular role. Or they can risk inciting a riot by acknowledging Derek Jeter's defensive limitations and using him as a designated hitter, but don't count on that.

    Either way, signing a shortstop whose best asset is defense is rather silly if you're not going to let him play shortstop. A career .264/.329/.435 hitter, Drew's bat is solid at short but unspectacular anywhere else.

    This money would be better used in cultivating a farm system, so the Yankees don't have to always patch over their areas of need with expensive veterans.

    Verdict: Fiction

Fernando Rodney to New York Mets?

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    Fernando Rodney can fill the void Jim Johnson left by leaving the Baltimore Orioles.
    Fernando Rodney can fill the void Jim Johnson left by leaving the Baltimore Orioles.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The New York Mets don't appear to feel too confident about Bobby Parnell returning on time and at full strength from neck surgery.

    After getting spurned by Balfour, the Mets are now redirecting their attention to Fernando Rodney. ESPN New York's Adam Rubin linked them to the 36-year-old reliever, who fell back down to earth after posting mind-numbing numbers in 2012:

    In the wake of the Mets losing out on Grant Balfour, Sandy Alderson has been in dialogue with free-agent closer Fernando Rodney's representatives, a source familiar with the team's interest told ESPNNewYork.com. 

    Mets officials have insisted they have payroll flexibility if a free agent is available at a valued price. The team currently has about $87 million committed to players in 2014. 

    After allowing only five earned runs in 74.2 innings during a breakthrough 2012 campaign, Rodney reverted to a 3.38 ERA in 2013, as his walk rate catapulted from 5.3 to 12.4 percent. But with 85 saves over the past two seasons, he has the "closer experience" that attracts clubs in need of a ninth-inning operator.

    But they're not the only team interested in obtaining Rodney's services. According to Grantland's Jonah Keri, the Orioles are "making progress" with the high-profile reliever. Bleacher Report MLB lead writer Jason Martinez broke down that rumor in last week's installment of "fact or fiction," and he branded the idea as a sensible move that will come to fruition.

    For good reason. The Orioles traded Jim Johnson, who recorded a league-high 101 saves over the past two years. That doesn't mean he was the best reliever (or anywhere close to it), but that's how many fans and media members think.

    They are also more willing to spend money than the Mets, who would certainly go no higher than two years, and that's pushing it. Expect another reliever to reject the Mets when Rodney stays in the AL East with Baltimore.

    Verdict: Fiction

Ubaldo Jimenez Re-Upping with Cleveland Indians for Short Term?

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    Despite his sensational finish to the 2013 season, Ubaldo Jimenez is not attracting much interest around the league.
    Despite his sensational finish to the 2013 season, Ubaldo Jimenez is not attracting much interest around the league.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Although Garza finally found a new destination, Ubaldo Jimenez remains in the cold.  

    Out of reluctance to forfeit a compensatory draft pick, nobody is lining up for a chance to snag Ubaldo Jimenez. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal discussed the quiet market for Jimenez, which could lead to him sticking with the Cleveland Indians:

    Re-signing free-agent righty Ubaldo Jimenez? It is not out of the question. Nearly two weeks ago, I reported that Jimenez’s agents were telling clubs that he still expects to sign a multiyear deal at $14 million-plus annually. But so far, he has yet to complete such a deal.

    While Garza's signing at least removes one of his prime competitors, his team-friendly deal did not raise the bar high for Jimenez, who recorded a 3.30 ERA and 9.56 K/9 ratio last season with Cleveland.

    The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes also suggested the two sides could settle for a one-year deal and test their luck again in 2015: "If Jimenez can’t get a three to four year deal, and comes knocking on the Tribe’s door, I bet both parties would jump at the chance to sign a one-year deal at or below $14 million." 

    I'm not selling the scenario of Cleveland willingly keeping Jimenez on board, and it's a logical move if no other clubs are interested. But in a market where general managers are always hungry for power arms, somebody (maybe even Cleveland) will bite and award the righty a multi-year deal.

    The Indians have enough talented young arms to rightfully shy away from presenting Jimenez with three or four years, but a more desperate organization (the Toronto Blue Jays come to mind) will relent and offer a larger commitment.

    Verdict: Fiction

Bronson Arroyo to Los Angeles Dodgers?

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    Bronson Arroyo has started at least 32 games in each of the last nine seasons.
    Bronson Arroyo has started at least 32 games in each of the last nine seasons.Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

    Since money is no object to the Los Angeles Dodgers, they're reportedly looking to bolster an already strong unit by signing Bronson Arroyo.

    Heyman tweeted that the Dodgers met with Arroyo after losing the Tanaka sweepstakes, but he was unsure if they were just sending out a feeler. The two parties have been connected before, and speculation will only grow with Tanaka out of play.

    Do the Dodgers need Arroyo? No, not really. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren already give them one of baseball's best rotations. If they can't squeeze out any more utility from Josh Beckett or Chad Billingsley, 22-year-old prospect Zach Lee is lurking in the minors.

    Arroyo, 37, is an innings-eater more suited for a squad that can't afford more alluring starting pitchers. Much like Bartolo Colon with the Mets, Arroyo makes for a nice stopgap for a team that doesn't want to rush a prospect or roll the dice on a journeyman.

    Beckett and Billingsley are due a combined $29 million, and one must only travel back to 2012 since they both pitched decently in the big leagues. It makes sense for them to compete for the rotation's fifth and final spot.

    Then again, the Dodgers are crazy. Their team payroll has already surpassed $200 million, and they're going to pay Andre Ethier $15.5 million to convey words of encouragement from the dugout. We can't put it past them to hand Arroyo a check for two years and $25 million.

    If Brandon League can get $22.5 million to be a replacement-level reliever, why not pay Arroyo to throw 200 OK innings?

    Verdict: Fact