Predicting 4 Pre-Opening Day Moves That Will Shake Up the League
In most years, the free-agent market would be barren in early February. Roster upgrades would be difficult to find, leaving general managers scouring for low-risk, high-reward options to augment their respective rosters.
This year is different.
With pitchers and catchers reporting over the next week, an abundance of talent is still available on the free-agent market. Sure, the Masahiro Tanakas and Robinson Canos of the world are long gone. That doesn't mean difference-making players aren't available.
Between now and March 31—or March 22 and 23 in the case of the Dodgers and Diamondbacks—moves will be made before the season begins.
The following five teams will all fill holes, add impact players and change their respective outlooks for the 2014 season.
Ubaldo Jimenez Signs with Blue Jays
In 2013, the Toronto Blue Jays were one of baseball's biggest disappointments. After major preseason expectations, the team finished in last place in the American League East.
While many reasons were cited—chemistry, injuries, the AL East gauntlet—one stood out as the true reason for losing: Toronto's starting rotation was awful.
How bad? Among all rotations in baseball, only the Minnesota Twins (5.26) posted a higher ERA than the 4.81 mark by Blue Jays starters last season.
If the Blue Jays are going to turn it around in 2014, names like Esmil Rogers, Chien-Ming Wang, Ramon Ortiz and Aaron Laffey can't be allowed to make 31 combined starts.
Before the season begins, the Blue Jays must add an impact arm. For a team with the potential for excellence, they'll sign the starter on the market with the same profile: Ubaldo Jimenez.
Much like Toronto, Jimenez's performance can fluctuate between excellent and poor. When he's good (2010, 2013), a top-of-the-rotation arm is present. When he's bad (2011, 2012), few pitchers can be more confounding.
Toronto has potential in 2014. With Jimenez, they'll add a starter that can put them into contention.
Ervin Santana Signs with Diamondbacks
When the winter began, Ervin Santana was hoping to become one of highest-paid pitchers in the history of baseball. As ridiculous as it sounds, it would have been true had his demand for a contract in excess of $100 million come to fruition, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
Of course, it didn't. For a pitcher with three separate campaigns with an ERA over 5.00, Santana overplayed his hand. That's a big part of the reason he's still on the market with less than two months before the season starts.
While Santana was overplaying his hand, the Arizona Diamondbacks have been desperately trying to spend big money this winter. After failing to land both Shin-Soo Choo and Masahiro Tanaka, the Diamondbacks should have money to spend.
If you combine Arizona's eagerness to make a splash with its very young rotation, a fit emerges for Ervin Santana to land with the Diamondbacks.
Stephen Drew Signs with Mets
A Google search for "Stephen Drew Mets" yields about 386,000 results. Considering that Drew has never played an inning for the Queens, N.Y., club, there's likely something more to this picture.
For now, it's a slew of posturing. From New York's glaring need for a starting-caliber shortstop—incumbent starter Ruben Tejada posted a minus-0.9 bWAR in 2013—to WFAN's Mike Francesa reporting an offer has been made, to Scott Boras asking for an opt-out clause, per Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, the rumors are dizzying.
When the dust settles, both sides will come to an agreement. Why? In this case, the player and team are a perfect fit.
The Mets could be on the verge of surpassing the .500 mark for the first time since 2008 but need to upgrade their roster to become a winning team. After adding Bartolo Colon, Curtis Granderson and Chris Young this winter, the Mets could play decent baseball for the first time in Sandy Alderson's regime.
Drew hasn't drawn enough interest to counteract the first-round pick attached to his free-agent plight. Unless the Red Sox come crawling back to him soon—something that seems unlikely with Xander Bogaerts ready to emerge—the Mets represent a landing spot.
A.J. Burnett, Kendrys Morales Sign with Orioles
This isn't a joke, Orioles fans.
After a frustrating offseason, Baltimore will finally augment a roster that has won 178 games over the last two seasons.
Adding A.J. Burnett would boost a rotation that needs an impact arm to join Chris Tillman. Signing Kendrys Morales to be the designated hitter would solve one of the few holes in a lineup that mashed a league-leading 212 home runs last season.
By signing both, the Orioles will change the conversation in the AL East. Few will reverse course to anoint Baltimore a 95-win team, but adding a power-hitting designated hitter and best free-agent starter on the market could take this team from the 81-win range to contention.
For a franchise with a payroll currently under $80 million, it's fair to be skeptical. However, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette recently told Grantland's Jonah Keri that their offseason work isn't quite finished.
Per Keri's piece: "Duquette also said he’d be willing to sacrifice a draft pick for the right player, meaning Nelson Cruz or Kendrys Morales could be a match if the Orioles seek DH help. Duquette added that he expects the team’s payroll to top $100 million by Opening Day."
By that math, Baltimore has around $20 million to spend on talent after agreeing to a $7.7 million salary for Matt Wieters, per Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun.
Brace for the unexpected, Baltimore. The Orioles are about to show a commitment to winning.