The idea of any notable free-agent moves happening on February 20 used to be met with laughter, but in today's era of Major League Baseball, with teams trusting young players more and not wanting to overpay middle-of-the-road talent, it's become commonplace.
So many players who can play a huge role on a playoff team, or even a championship team, are still available that there are bargains to be found all over the place.
This has been one of the most unpredictable offseasons in recent memory. Robinson Cano found big money in Seattle. The New York Yankees went on one of their patented spending sprees to catch up with Boston. Relievers got overpaid and overlooked. Quality starters found there wasn't a lot of money out there for them, or are still looking for work.
With so many things still left to be decided, we want to play a game of Fact or Fiction with the hottest rumors around the web.
After Ubaldo Jimenez came off the board, it was naturally assumed Ervin Santana wouldn't be far behind. He's the best remaining starter on the market, coming off a strong season in Kansas City (3.24 ERA, 161-51 K-BB, 211 innings) and just turned 31 years old.
One of the best fits for Santana, the Toronto Blue Jays, seemed like they were going to luck into him on a cheaper deal since the market around him never materialized like we assumed. They have a need, after losing Josh Johnson and lacking depth in the rotation, so why not?
Well, as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reported, the Blue Jays aren't going to leave their comfort zone to sign Santana, or any other pitcher, before the season starts.
Teams and agents Toronto has spoken with told ESPN.com that even as the shopping list for veteran starters has dwindled, the Blue Jays haven't shown a willingness to do what the Baltimore Orioles did to sign Ubaldo Jimenez this week -- add extra years or dollars to get a deal done.
If the Blue Jays really aren't "in" on Santana, it makes you wonder what kind of deal he is going to get. Teams have already made their big moves and set their budgets for 2014, so adding another starter for, say, $10-12 million per season doesn't seem likely.
Fact or Fiction
Sometimes a message like this is just a team playing hardball with the player, trying to get him to sign a deal that they want him to. It's a good strategy if it works, but sometimes it can backfire by giving another team a chance to swoop in.
That doesn't feel like the case here, because Santana's market has been so limited this winter. Even with the Blue Jays desperate to find another starting pitcher, if they wanted to make a move on either Santana or Jimenez, don't you think it would have happened by now?
Plus, there is nothing for the Blue Jays to lose. They have two protected picks in the draft, meaning they don't have to forfeit a selection to sign Santana. All they have to do is pay him his money.
The two great mysteries of the offseason are Ervin Santana and Stephen Drew. While there is no clear path for the former, the latter appears to have his share of suitors and just has to decide what's in his best interest.
According to Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio, there are four teams in play on Drew right now.
The Red Sox and Mets have been linked to Drew all winter. One team that makes a lot of sense, the Yankees, did have a multi-year offer on the table for Drew, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, though that doesn't appear to be the case anymore after investing nearly $500 million in other areas.
Without knowing the two other teams still in on Drew, it's hard to know what kind of bidding war there might be. He has draft compensation attached to him after turning down Boston's qualifying offer, so that has slowed down his market.
Fact or Fiction
Another big factor to consider regarding Bowden's report is Scott Boras. The uber-agent represents Drew and loves to play games with teams in order to raise the price on his players. There's nothing wrong with that strategy if it works.
The Red Sox don't seem likely for Drew anymore. Xander Bogaerts is ready for an everyday job and can play shortstop, while costing a fraction of what Drew will sign for.
The Mets do need a shortstop but aren't ready to compete for a playoff spot, so why invest multiple years and tens of millions of dollars in a player who hasn't played more than 124 games since 2010?
If it turns out the Yankees are one of the other two teams, that would make the most sense. Contrary to what New York fans will tell you, Derek Jeter isn't a good shortstop. He's cost the Yankees 121 runs with a negative-63.4 Ultimate Zone Rating since 2005, both worst among all qualified shortstops.
Jeter is going to be 40 years old in June and played just 17 games last year. Having a valuable insurance policy like Drew, who could also man third base with Alex Rodriguez being suspended, would put a cap on New York's offseason spending spree.
Fact, with a caveat that the Yankees have to be one of the two "mystery" teams. If not, fiction.
Even though you won't hear a lot about notable trades at this time of the year—teams have made most of their big moves and want to evaluate where everyone fits in—it's not out of the question that one or two might sneak in.
The Pittsburgh Pirates could be the biggest players in the trade market this spring, with Jayson Stark of ESPN.com noting the team is keeping a close eye on a few first basemen who could be pushed out of their current gig.
There doesn't seem to be much substance to rumors connecting them with free agent Kendrys Morales. But the Pirates continue to monitor Ike Davis' status in Mets camp. And when Morales and/or Nelson Cruz sign, that could result in players such as Justin Smoak or Mitch Moreland becoming available.
First base is a problem area for the Pirates. Gaby Sanchez is the incumbent and did post a solid .361 on-base percentage in 136 games last year but slugged just .402 with seven home runs.
Sanchez is also best used in a platoon role after posting a .987 OPS last year against lefties (.619 vs. righties). That opens up a number of options for the Pirates, if they can find the right situation.
Fact or Fiction
The Pirates have to make one move this offseason, especially after losing A.J. Burnett to Philadelphia. Their farm system is strong enough that they don't have to do anything drastic, but to compete in 2014, something has to be done.
Justin Smoak has always struck me as an ideal fit for Pittsburgh. He's worn out his welcome in Seattle. The Mariners have plenty of options to choose from at first base (Logan Morrison, Corey Hart, possibly Jesus Montero).
Smoak wasn't a dynamic hitter last year but did set career highs in homers (20), walks (64), on-base percentage (.334), slugging percentage (.412) and OPS (.746). He also posted an .839 OPS against righties, making him an ideal platoon partner with Sanchez.
Considering the balance of power in Major League Baseball has shifted toward pitching, a power hitter like Nelson Cruz would seem to be in hot demand.
Instead, it's been a task trying to find any teams that are interested in Cruz. Some of that may result from his 50-game suspension for being involved in the Biogenesis scandal. He's also a 33-year-old who swung and missed at a career-high 25.2 percent of off-speed pitches last season, per Brooks Baseball.
With his price lowering each day, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Orioles have an interest in Cruz.
The Orioles have Nick Markakis in right field, though his .685 OPS from 2014 isn't going to cut it as a starter much longer. Cruz isn't a good defensive player but has more offensive potential than Markakis.
Cruz could also play at DH, where the Orioles could highlight his offensive game without losing any value on defense.
Fact or Fiction
The Orioles haven't been known to spend on free agents, so it will be interesting to see how deep their affection for Cruz is, especially in light of their deal with Jimenez earlier this week.
Cruz does come with draft compensation, which likely hurts his market, though the Orioles already forfeited their first-round pick by signing Jimenez. Losing a second-round selection, while putting another dent in their allotted money, doesn't hurt as much because the talent at that point in the draft isn't likely to be a major factor in the future.
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