Fact or Fiction on All of MLB's Hottest Free-Agency, Trade Rumors
Major League Baseball is officially here.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks have opened up their respective spring training camps early in preparation for their season-opening series on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia. The rest of the league is set to follow suit with pitchers and catchers reporting the coming days throughout Arizona and Florida.
Still, there are a handful of quality free agents on the market looking for work. Now that the season is so close, things are sure to pick up in the coming days, so here's a look at the latest batch of MLB rumors complete with fact or fiction predictions.
RHP A.J. Burnett Returns to Pirates
If the Pittsburgh Pirates want to make sure 2013 wasn't just a flash in the pan, re-signing A.J. Burnett would certainly help.
Following a solid campaign when he went 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA, 107 ERA+, 1.22 WHIP and 209 strikeouts in 191 innings of work, Burnett mulled retirement. But the 37-year-old recently decided to return for 2014, per Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com, and he's developed a market of suitors.
Burnett and the Pirates have expressed mutual interest after last year's magical season that ended with the city's first MLB playoff run since 1992, and Pittsburgh has long been viewed as the favorite to retain the veteran righty.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported on Monday night that Burnett is "in discussions with multiple clubs," while citing the Philadelphia Phillies as a suitor, via Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Earlier this week, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports also labeled the Washington Nationals as a player in the bidding for Burnett, citing league sources.
It's clear that the market is shaping up around Burnett's request to stay on the east coast near his family in Maryland. And while Burnett's best chance to win would be with a stacked rotation in Washington, I don't see the Nationals spending more money on the rotation to add an expensive fifth starter when they've already inked free-agent Doug Fister to a one-year, $7.2 million deal for 2014 after acquiring him via trade from the Detroit Tigers.
In the end, it makes most sense for Burnett to remain in Pittsburgh, where he has been a major part of the resurgent franchise in the past couple of seasons while reviving his career.
RHP Ervin Santana Signs with Blue Jays
It appears that discussions for free-agent righty Ervin Santana are beginning to heat up in the 11th hour before league-wide spring training starts.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports got the ball rolling Sunday on the latest round of Santana rumors, citing sources who said the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles have been in contact with his agents at Proformance Baseball.
On Monday, Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors offered an update on the situation, relaying a source who said Santana's negotiations with three or four clubs are "still in diapers." After setting an absurd asking price of five years, $112 million at the outset of the offseason, Santana's negotiating team needs to take baby steps.
Now that Santana's asking price sounds like its coming back down to earth, it seems like the type of situation that Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been waiting for all winter, per Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca.
When giving his Santana update, Rosenthal noted that the Blue Jays' No. 9 and No. 11 overall picks are protected and that the team would only have to give up its No. 49 pick to sign Santana after he turned down a qualifying offer from the Kansas City Royals.
Since the beginning of the offseason the Blue Jays have been expected to add to their rotation, and the signs point to them adding Santana in the near future.
1B Kendrys Morales Signs with Pirates
After turning down a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Seattle Mariners to start the offseason, it's been relatively quiet on the Kendrys Morales rumor front.
But the Pittsburgh Pirates have emerged as a suitor to acquire the switch-hitting Morales, per a recent report from Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe.
Morales fits what the Pirates need, a first baseman/middle of the order hitter. There’s mutual interest, but while the Pirates would love him on the right contract, they may also pursue a first baseman via trade. There are a few possible candidates, including the Mets’ Ike Davis, Toronto’s Adam Lind, Texas’s Mitch Moreland, and even Seattle’s Justin Smoak and Boston’s Daniel Nava and Mike Carp.
Since Morales turned down the qualifying offer from the Mariners, the Pirates would have to forfeit the No. 25 overall selection in June's draft—a high price to pay for a player with a limited ceiling.
Morales deserves credit for being consistent the past two seasons since missing more than a year due to a freak leg injury he suffered in 2010. He bats well against righties and lefties, but playing in the National League without a designated hitter role severely limits his value.
The idea of putting Morales in the lineup along with reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and slugging third baseman Pedro Alvarez is enticing, but general manager Neal Huntington recently told Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he's content with the developing talent on the roster and seeing how things shake out in spring training.
My guess is Morales will have to wait until after the June draft to find a deal to his liking, when teams would no longer have to give up a high draft pick to sign him.
OF Nelson Cruz Signs with Mariners
Where there's smoke, there's fire.
With the amount of rumors connecting the Seattle Mariners and free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz this winter, it seems as if it's a matter of when and not if the slugger is going to the Pacific Northwest. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe offered the latest update on Cruz and the Mariners.
We reported last week about the Mariners’ interest in the former Rangers slugger, and that has not waned. The number of years is still the sticking point, but the Mariners believe they need another big righthanded bat to complete their team and have been willing to go where no other team has ventured throughout the offseason with Cruz — possibly two years and an option for a third. The Mariners have always had to overbid for free agents because of their location and this is a prime example.
For Seattle, it might not be an ideal situation to pay top dollar for Cruz, but the team needs to do something to help out the offense. Signing prized second baseman Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million deal won't mean much in 2014 if he doesn't get some help from his supporting cast.
After losing Raul Ibanez via free agency and with Kendrys Morales still testing the market, the team has responded by adding injury prone outfielder/first basemen-types in Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. That's probably not going to get it done.
In Cruz, they would be getting a bona fide slugger who's batted .272/.331/.511 with yearly averages of 27 HRs and 81 RBI since 2009. But at the age of 33 and coming off of a 50-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, Cruz isn't at the ideal stage of his career.
Still, he offers the Mariners the best remaining option to help solidify the offense, and I think both sides eventually come to terms here, keeping Cruz in the AL West where he's played his entire career with the Texas Rangers.
SS Stephen Drew Signs with Mets
Joining the Nelson Cruz-to-Mariners talk as one of this offseason's most talked about potential matches in free agency are shortstop Stephen Drew and the New York Mets.
It seems like this rumor has a life of its own, as pubic comments of disinterest from Mets general manager Sandy Alderson have usually been chased by unsourced comments from reporters claiming just the opposite. Marc Carig of Newsday supplied the latest look at this situation with conflicting information.
One person with knowledge of the Mets' thinking said the sides haven't been doing much talking lately and that "there has not been much dialogue at all" about Drew. But another source challenged that notion, saying the sides have engaged in "continuous discussion."
So where does that leave us?
In the same position that we've been in all winter long, presumably waiting for Drew to decide to take the starting job in New York or compete with top Boston Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts for the starting shortstop gig.
There are few hitting shortstops as good as Drew in the game and he would represent a major upgrade over last year's Mets' combo of Ruben Tejada and Omar Quintanilla. But if Drew hasn't signed yet with the Mets, I don't think he will.
At this point of the offseason, Drew likely won't receive the big multi-year deal he's seeking, so might as well go with the best team that has a chance to win in 2014 and that would be Boston. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported that 2013 Red Sox teammates have sent texts to Drew trying to bring him back to Beantown, and I suspect those pleas will play a role in his return to the clubhouse.
Dodgers Trade Away Outfielder
There hasn't been much action on the trading block in the recent stages of the 2014 MLB offseason but Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports still sees time for big deals to go down.
In a recent story, Morosi identified possible trade scenarios that could develop during spring training. Chief among them, Morosi discussed the possibility of Los Angeles dealing one of their four talented outfielders.
While ruling out Yasiel Puig as a trade chip, Morosi labeled Matt Kemp as a prime candidate to be traded if he can recover from ankle and shoulder surgeries this offseason. Andre Ethier, and to a lesser degree, Carl Crawford, have also been floated in rumors, but I think it would behoove the Dodgers to keep their quality quartet intact.
With Kemp's questionable status for opening day, the team already has an injury concern for April. Given the time that Crawford and Ethier have missed to injury in recent years, it makes sense to keep rotating the four players to keep everyone fresh.
Paying nearly $60 million to four players vying for three spots isn't an ideal situation, but the deep-pocketed Dodgers are in a unique position to handle the financial costs.