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Impact MLB Free-Agent Deals That Will Go Down Before Spring Training

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2014

Impact MLB Free-Agent Deals That Will Go Down Before Spring Training

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    While most of baseball is making preparations for the beginning of spring training, a handful of high-profile, impact free agents remain stuck in limbo, uncertain of where they'll be reporting to camp in the coming weeks.

    That said, these players won't have to wait much longer to find new homes, as a number of teams have yet to make any substantial moves this winter and, as currently constructed, are heading into the 2014 season with holes that need to be filled.

    Who's going where, and what are they going to get? Here's a look at how we see things shaking out.

     

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

RHP Bronson Arroyo

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    Without the baggage of draft-pick compensation hanging around his neck, the only reason that Bronson Arroyo remains unsigned is that teams are leery of giving a soon-to-be-37-year-old starting pitcher a three-year contract, which is what the veteran is seeking, according to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo.

    Teams know what they are getting in Arroyo, who has been one of the more reliable starters in baseball over the past nine years, tossing at least 200 innings in all but one season—2011, when he finished one shy of the mark with 199.

    Back in November, 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson reported that Arroyo was looking for a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $27-$30 million per year.

    Even with a relatively realistic asking price, Arroyo remains unsigned while unproven commodities, like Masahiro Tanaka, sign far more lucrative deals. The veteran spoke to ESPN's Jayson Stark (subscription required) about his frustration recently:

    I get [Clayton] Kershaw. I get why he got all that money. But then you've got guys like Dice-K [Matsuzaka], who came over here and was good for the first couple years but then didn't pan out. And when he doesn't pan out, they all just forget and go on to the next guy who's not proven, and pay him.

    Meanwhile, they forget about guys like me, who have done the job for the last eight or 10 years, and treat them like they've never done anything in this game. That's hard, man.

    I don't even have an offer to turn down, so I might still be sitting here on March 1. I have no idea.

    It's hard to imagine that Arroyo will go much longer without a new deal.

    Having already added Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to bolster what has been one of baseball's worst starting rotations over the past few seasons, the Twins need another reliable, veteran starter if they have any hope of contending for a playoff spot in 2014.

    Wolfson reported that Minnesota had issue with the number of years that Arroyo was seeking, not the dollar amount of a potential deal. But Arroyo would be a perfect fit—and the Twins can't afford to miss out on adding another quality arm.

    Minnesota GM Terry Ryan will begrudgingly give Arroyo the third year that he seeks to get a deal done.

     

    Projected Deal: Signs a three-year, $27 million deal with Minnesota

RHP A.J. Burnett

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The hottest name on the free-agent market, A.J. Burnett has whittled down his list of potential landing spots to three, and all are relatively close to his home in Monkton, Md.

    According to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, the Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates are on the 37-year-old's list. While Burnett is a fit with all of them, they have limited room left in their budgets.

    But unlike some of the other high-profile free-agent starters available, Burnett's price tag doesn't include the loss of a draft pick. That, coupled with the fact that he's seeking a short-term deal, will result in the veteran landing with the club that needs him the most.

     

    Projected Deal: Signs a one-year, $15 million deal with Baltimore that includes a mutual option for 2015

     

OF Nelson Cruz

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Outfielders with declining defensive skills and a PED cloud hanging over their head typically don't command much attention on the open market. But teams are willing to look past those facts when the player has legitimate right-handed power, which is a commodity that's always in demand.

    Sources tell the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo that “there could be up to four or five teams who could take the plunge (on Cruz) in the end," with the Seattle Mariners among his known pursuers.

    While the Mariners already have a handful of mediocre defensive outfielders that are best used as designated hitters—specifically newcomers Corey Hart and Logan Morrison—Seattle needs another bat to pair with Robinson Cano in the middle of its lineup.

    Sure, Cruz has mediocre career numbers at Safeco Field—a career .238/.299/.442 slash line with 19 extra-base hits (eight home runs) and 18 RBI over 187 plate appearances—but he's the one player available that can give Cano some protection in the lineup.

     

    Projected Deal: Signs a three-year, $36 million deal with Seattle

SS Stephen Drew

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    It's not often when Scott Boras doesn't get the deal he wants for his clients, but in the case of free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, the über-agent simply doesn't have the kind of leverage he needs to land a mega-deal.

    Despite his attempts to re-brand Drew as a super-utility player, originally reported by Peter Gammons, the eight-year veteran has never played anywhere besides shortstop. While he might prove to be a quality second baseman, for example, is there a team that's really willing to make the kind of investment it's going to take to find out?

    That's doubtful, and it's why the Boston Red Sox, Drew's former team, remain the most likely landing spot for him. While prospect Xander Bogaerts is set to be the team's shortstop, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman says that Boston prefers to play him at third base, which would allow Drew to stick at short.

    Ultimately, both sides will realize that a reunion is in both of their best interests, and Drew will wind up staying with the club that he won his first World Series with last year.

     

    Projected Deal: Re-signs with Boston for three years, $36 million

RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    While his pure stuff may be better than any of the other free-agent starters still on the market, Ubaldo Jimenez is also the riskiest option among the four "big-time" starters available.

    Despite a phenomenal showing for Cleveland in 2013,one that saw him pitch to a 2.61 ERA and 1.30 WHIP from April 29 through the end of the regular seasonJimenez's inconsistent performance over the course of his career has made teams question whether signing him to a multi-year deal is a wise move.

    Jimenez is believed to have dropped his asking price into the three-year, $39 million range, but, as a general manager told CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, even that may be too much of a risk for a team to take, especially when that price tag comes along with the loss of a first-round draft pick.

    Jimenez's old team, the Cleveland Indians, have already lost Scott Kazmir from last year's rotation and wouldn't lose that draft pick if they re-signed him. While Jimenez would prefer a multi-year deal, his best move at this point is to come back to the Tribe on a one-year deal.

    It's the best of both worlds for Jimenez: He gets to pitch for a contender and puts himself in the best situation to succeed, proving that his 2013 numbers weren't a fluke and re-establishing his value on the free-agent market next winter in the process.

     

    Projected Deal: Re-signs with Cleveland for one-year, $13 million

1B/DH Kendrys Morales

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    There's a theory out there, as one GM told ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required), that if Kendrys Morales wants to earn more than the $14.1 million qualifying offer he turned down from Seattle, he will have to wait until after the June draft to get that deal, when teams wouldn't have to surrender a draft pick to sign him.

    Landing a higher annual salary is certainly something that any player would want, but sitting out nearly half of the regular season simply isn't a viable option for someone still in the prime years of his career.

    While many teams believe Morales is a full-time designated hitter, the 30-year-old switch-hitter isn't the defensive liability at first base that many believe he is, something that FanGraphs' advanced metrics prove.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates can't afford to lose the momentum that the organization picked up in 2013 when they became "America's Team," ending a 20-year playoff drought, and they can't start 2014 with their current crop of first basemen.

    Signing Morales would not only give the team an upgrade at the position, but his bat would fit nicely in the middle of its lineup, taking some pressure off of Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez as the Pirates' primary sources of run production.

     

    Projected Deal: Signs a two-year, $20 million deal with Pittsburgh

RHP Fernando Rodney

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Four teams, including the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets, are believed to have significant interest in signing the best reliever still on the market, Fernando Rodney, according to a tweet from Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown.

    One of those unknown teams may be the New York Yankees, opines the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, and signing the 36-year-old closer makes a ton of sense for the Bronx Bombers, who have already thrown the idea of a budget and getting under the $189 million luxury tax out the window this winter.

    While there's no replacing Mariano Rivera, the Yankees plan on sliding David Robertson, one of the premier setup men in the game, into their vacant closer's spot. While Robertson may be able to rise to the occasion, the team's bullpen will be weaker without him in the eighth inning.

    A deal between Rodney and the Yankees makes sense for both sides. The Yankees get an established closer to take over for Rivera, allowing them to keep Robertson where he belongs, in the eighth inning. Rodney gets the multi-year deal he wants and gets to keep pitching for a contender.

     

    Projected Deal: Signs a two-year, $10 million deal with the New York Yankees

RHP Ervin Santana

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    Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

    Of all the teams that have been linked to Ervin Santana this winter, Toronto stands out above the rest as a perfect landing spot for the 31-year-old. The Blue Jays desperately need to add an experienced innings-eating to their rotation, preferably one that isn't closing in on his 40th birthday.

    While Santana's career numbers at Rogers Centre aren't great—a 4.15 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over eight starts—he's eclipsed the 200-inning plateau in three of the past four seasons, pitching to a 3.87 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.

    Santana is believed to still be seeking a five-year deal, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, though he notes that "a good four-year deal could do the trick." While signing Santana will cost a team a draft pick, both of Toronto's first-round picks are protected.

    Surrendering a second-round pick to land the frontline starting pitcher that the team needs won't stand in the way of GM Alex Anthopoulos getting a deal done, and Santana will take his talents north of the border.

     

    Projected Deal: Signs a four-year, $48 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays

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