It's coming down the 11th hour for MLB free agents before the start of spring training, as pitchers and catchers are set to report in about 10 days and exhibition games slated to begin in about three weeks.
Maybe the drawn-out bidding war for Masahiro Tanaka is to blame, but there are still a handful of marquee free agents available on the open market. Pitchers like Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are without a team, while Kendrys Morales might be having second thoughts about turning down the one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer extended to him by the Seattle Mariners earlier this offseason.
Meanwhile, the hot stove has featured recent rumors on the following trio of players that could have big impacts for teams in 2014.
Bronson Arroyo, RHP
It's taken a while, but the market for reliable veteran Bronson Arroyo appears to be taking shape. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that the Arizona Diamondbacks have emerged as front-runners to sign the eccentric right-hander, while the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles are also in the mix:
This jives with the information in a column written by The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo earlier this week. As Cafardo detailed, the length of the deal might be hold up in negotiations for Arroyo, who turns 37 later this month:
The Diamondbacks are the latest team to kick the tires on Arroyo, as I tweeted late Friday. What’s holding things up, according to a major league source, is the vesting option and/or third year he’s been asking for. It appears a straight two-year deal might be beneficial in getting it done.
It's understandable that teams don't want to offer a three-year commitment to someone of Arroyo's age. No club will likely go for that vesting option or third season he's looking for, but Arroyo is still in line to receive a nice payday if he gets a two-year deal. For comparison's sake, 38-year-old Tim Hudson signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the San Francisco Giants this winter despite coming off of a serious ankle injury.
Arroyo has been one of baseball's most durable pitchers over the past decade, averaging 33 starts and 207 innings pitched since 2004. He's also been remarkably consistent the past two seasons, posting a combined 26-22 record with the following stat line: 3.76 ERA, 105 ERA+, 1.18 WHIP, 5.6 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9.
He would be a valuable innings-eater and veteran presence for the D-Backs, who shipped away top pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs in a trade to obtain slugger Mark Trumbo earlier this offseason.
In December, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times floated a rumor that left many scratching their heads. He reported hearing that slugging outfielder Nelson Cruz turned down a five-year, $75 million offer from the Mariners, a scenario that didn't make sense for both sides.
Either the market for Cruz has softened significantly or the rumor mill was going haywire at the winter meetings, per a recent report by Jon Heyman at CBS Sports. Heyman writes that the M's are still in contact with Cruz about a smaller deal, while also linking the team to closer Fernando Rodney:
There's a belief Seattle is amenable to a multiyear deal for Cruz, perhaps two years, with maybe an option or possibly even a guaranteed third year. There's been a lot of speculation about Cruz and the Mariners throughout the offseason, but the suggestion now is that things have gotten a bit more serious within the past few days.
The Mariners also have interest in Rodney, who could bolster a bullpen in need of a veteran presence. Rodney has been said to be seeking $15-million over two years. It isn't known whether Seattle could swing deals for both players.
Once the club signed Robinson Cano to his big 10-year, $240 million deal this offseason, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported the team might be short on cash.
According to Heyman, the ownership is now willing to open up the checkbook to get some much-needed help for Cano in the lineup. Cano's signing and other moves like adding injury concerns Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, while losing Raul Ibanez and possibly Morales, don't make the Mariners look like a better team in 2014. That's where a proven slugger like Cruz would help their cause.
Likewise, Rodney would give the team an upgrade over last year's closer combo of Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar.
The M's are in a position where they could be spurred to go the extra mile now while Cano is in his prime along with starters Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
Stephen Drew, SS
Since the start of the offseason, the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets have been viewed as the top two candidates to secure Stephen Drew's services in 2014.
Now it appears that the Red Sox have the inside track to retain the shortstop, per Ken Davidoff and Mike Puma of the New York Daily News:
Davidoff and Puma cited Mets team executives who said it was a "long shot" that their club signed Drew this offseason, but that didn't stop the player's agent, Scott Boras, from doing some posturing for his client:
Boras is believed to be seeking a deal of at least three years for Drew, whose only known suitors are the Red Sox and Mets, with the start of spring training about 10 days away.
'It’s very clear the Mets have interest in Stephen Drew,' Boras told The Post.
The Red Sox reportedly have extended a two-year offer to Drew, but with no guarantee he would be their starting shortstop. That could provide an opening for the Mets, who are in position to offer Drew their starting job.
Shortstops with bat skills like Drew are coveted in today's game, but his injury problems in recent years appear to have hurt his market value this winter.
Ultimately, Drew's best option might be to return to the reigning champion Red Sox, where he would likely edge out Xander Bogaerts as the starting shortstop and be playing for a better team. For Boston, it would likely mean another valuable short-term veteran signing by general manager Ben Cherington.