February can be a rough time to be a big-name MLB free agent. In fact, it can be a rough time to be any kind of free agent.
There are still plenty of teams searching for that one final piece. The problem, of course, is that by this point in the offseason nearly every club has long since surpassed its respective budget.
There's also the consideration that many of the players who are still out on the market are attached to the dreaded draft pick compensation. Plus, there are also lower-profile free agents looking to find new employers before spring training kicks off.
So, here's a rundown of the latest MLB offseason rumors entering February.
Note: Stats via Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
The Seattle Mariners have demonstrated a "strong interest" in Nelson Cruz, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
After clubbing 27 home runs for the Texas Rangers last season, Cruz is the top power bat remaining on the free-agent market. ESPN's Jim Bowden also reported that the Mariners are the No. 1 suitor for the slugger, while mentioning a couple of other potential landing spots, as well:
Nelson Cruz market remains 1. Sea 2. Balt 3. TX w/Rangers only a fall-back if market crash & smaller “pillow” deal…Sea clearly best fit— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) January 30, 2014
It's unclear, though, if the Mariners would really be such a great fit for the two-time All-Star. Over the past three seasons, Cruz has hit .198/250/.327 in 86 at-bats at Safeco Field, per ESPN.com.
Now that A.J. Burnett has officially decided to pitch in 2014, there will be plenty of bidders for the veteran right-hander. Last season, Burnett went 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA and a 9.8 K/9 ratio while pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
According to Peter Gammons, the Baltimore Orioles are "all in" on the starter, and the Tampa Bay Rays are also in the mix. Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review adds the Philadelphia Phillies to the list of clubs that have "reportedly expressed interest" in the pitcher.
Stephen Drew appears to be running out of options.
The shortstop has been linked to the New York Mets, but a deal appears unlikely, as general manager Sandy Alderson explained to Anthony DiComo of MLB.com: "We have't ruled it out, but I think doing anything is unlikely...I know there's been a lot of speculation about Drew and the Mets, but at this point, that's what it remains—speculation."
There have also been rumors in recent weeks about Drew ending up with the New York Yankees. However, "major league officials" told Andy Martino of the New York Daily News that the Yankees "are highly unlikely to bid for" the infielder.
Ultimately, the Red Sox could be the big beneficiaries.
As Alex Speier of WEEI points out, Boston has "a history of waiting out a Scott Boras client whose market is limited." With each passing day, a return to the Red Sox on a short-term, club-friendly deal appears increasingly probable.
Ervin Santana is yet another big-name free agent who has seen his stock take a major hit after rejecting a qualifying offer from the Kansas City Royals.
GM Dayton Moore explained to Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star that there's still an outside chance that Santana could return to the Royals: "We're continuing to monitor his situation, and the level of our involvement has yet to be determined."
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports lists a whole slew of teams that are interested in the right-hander, including the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins and the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays like their chances of landing either Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, according to Jim Bowden:
The signing of either Santana or Jimenez would only cost the Blue Jays a second-round pick, as the team's first-round selection is protected.
Back in October, Buster Olney of ESPN warned that if Kendrys Morales rejected the Seattle Mariners' qualifying offer, it would "crush" his value on the open market.
With spring training rapidly approaching, there has been a noticeable lack of interest in the switch-hitter.
Now, Olney (subscription required) reports that Morales' "best play" might be to sit out until after the June draft so that the team that signs him won't have to part with a first-round pick. Of course, that option would entail Morales sitting out more than a third of the season.
Another alternative, as Olney observes, would be for Morales to settle for a one-year deal for less than the $14.1 million qualifying offer he rejected from the Mariners.
Bronson Arroyo is one the top starting pitchers still on the market who isn't attached to draft-pick compensation.
Despite that status, Arroyo has yet to receive a single offer this winter, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN. Arroyo explained to Stark that he has been contacted by 12 teams, but added: "I don't even have an offer to turn down."
The lack of opportunities for Arroyo is largely due to the fact that the right-hander has been seeking a three-year deal for around $30 million, as Stark explains.
One executive told Stark that he expects that Arroyo will have to settle for a two-year agreement with an option. Such a deal would represent a bargain for a starter who has pitched at least 199 innings in nine straight seasons.
David Ortiz has asked the Boston Red Sox for a one-year extension on his current deal, as Alex Speier of WEEI reports.
The two-year, $30 million contract that Ortiz is playing on expires at the end of the 2014 season. Ortiz is looking to secure the extension now so that he can avoid constant questions about his contract status during the upcoming season, as Speier explains.
From the Red Sox's perspective, the safest move would be to go year to year with the 38-year-old designated hitter.
However, after posting a 160 OPS+ during the 2013 regular season and earning the World Series MVP award, giving Ortiz a one-year, $15 million extension for 2015 seems a reasonable enough bet to make.
As has been the case with Santana, the market for Ubaldo Jimenez has been exceptionally slow to develop.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports notes that the Toronto Blue Jays "have done extensive background work" on Jimenez. Meanwhile, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Baltimore Orioles have also checked in on the veteran right-hander.
According to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a return to the Cleveland Indians can't be ruled out either:
If Jimenez can't get a three to four year deal, and comes knocking on the Tribe's door, I bet both sides would jump at the chance to sign a one-year deal at or below $14 million. It would allow the Indians to keep a grip on their payroll and add a key arm to their rotation, while giving Jimenez a chance to prove last year wasn't a fluke and take another bite of the free-agent apple after the 2014 season.
If Cleveland manages to snag Jimenez on a one-year deal for around $14 million, that would be an excellent value for the club.
Suk-min Yoon is one popular pitcher, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe:
Scott Boras indicated the Red Sox are one of "many teams" interested in S. Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon and says "we'll know more in 10 days"— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) January 30, 2014
The 27-year-old right-hander enjoyed his best season in the Korean Baseball Organization back in 2011 when he went 17-5 with a 2.45 ERA, according to Ricky Doyle of NESN. As Doyle adds, however, there are concerns over the pitcher's health after he suffered a shoulder injury last season.
Yoon still appeared in 30 games in 2013, but just 11 of those appearances were starts, per MyKBO.net. As a result, it remains to be seen if teams will pursue Yoon as a starter or as a bullpen option.
Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com predicts that Yoon will score a two-year, $10 million deal.
Chris Capuano has dropped his "asking price," according to Buster Olney of ESPN:
Chris Capuano's asking price -- at two years earlier in the winter -- is down to one year, according to sources.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 31, 2014
Now that the left-hander is willing to accept one-year offers, he's sure to receive far more interest on the free-agent front. Injuries limited Capuano to just 20 starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013.
In each of the two seasons before that, though, Capuano pitched at least 186 innings while making 31 starts or more. On a one-year pact, the 35-year-old Capuano makes for an intriguing buy-low option.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.