Fact or Fiction on All of MLB's Hottest Free-Agency, Trade Rumors
It's been an odd offseason in Major League Baseball for sure, one that saw the New York Yankees spend nearly half a billion dollars, yet get outbid by the Seattle Mariners for Robinson Cano.
After watching the saga of Kyle Lohse last winter, when he didn't sign with the Milwaukee Brewers until a week before the regular season began, we can no longer say that it's surprising to see a high-profile free agent remain unsigned as Opening Day draws near.
We can, however, say that it's surprising when there are multiple, high-profile free agents still available, which is the situation that Major League Baseball finds itself in on the eve of the exhibition season getting underway.
The plethora of impact talent still available has kept the rumor mill active, and it provides us with another opportunity to play Fact or Fiction with the hottest rumors out there.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
Pittsburgh Continues to Search for a First Baseman
While Pittsburgh continues to believe that a platoon between Gaby Sanchez and Andrew Lambo could work, the Pirates remain on the hunt for a full-time answer at first base, according to Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
More than a month remains before the season starts. The Pirates, keen observers all winter of the first-base trade market, could still deal for a first baseman, either a platoon partner or a full-time option. Seattle's Justin Smoak, Toronto's Adam Lind, the Mets' Ike Davis and Texas' Mitch Moreland all have manageable contracts, and their teams have alternatives at the position.
Free agent Kendrys Morales remains available, but he would cost the Pirates their first-round draft pick because he declined a qualifying offer. Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said no free agent was off the table, meaning Morales remained a possibility, but reiterated the team's value of high draft picks.
If ever there were a player who desperately needed to escape from New York, it's Davis, who has simply worn out his welcome and, between injury and the pressure of playing in the media capital of the world, has become a shell of his former self.
Adding Davis, who is a major bounce-back candidate should he ever get away from Citi Field, would not only give the Pirates a potential long-term solution at the position, but his left-handed bat would help to balance out what is a very right-handed Pittsburgh lineup.
Free Agent Stephen Drew Will Eventually Sign with the Mets
With a gaping hole at shortstop, Stephen Drew eventually signing with the New York Mets seemed like an inevitability earlier this winter.
While the two sides have kept a running dialogue for months, the team is no closer to signing Drew now than they were at the beginning of the winter.
“I would not be surprised if we signed Drew,’’ one Mets official told The New York Post's Kevin Kernan, “but at the same time, I don’t expect it to happen.’’
The Mets clearly aren't thrilled with the idea of Ruben Tejada as their everyday shortstop, and there's no question that Drew would represent a significant upgrade. But the team has already been rebuffed by Drew, who reportedly turned down a one-year deal for roughly $9.5 million, and with the team's self-imposed financial restraints, it's hard to imagine them improving that offer significantly.
Coupled with the team's reported interest in Seattle's Nick Franklin (via ESPN New York's Adam Rubin), Drew donning a Mets uniform in 2014 seems to be less and less likely to occur.
RHP Jeff Samardzija: Cubs Ace Could Still Be Traded Before Opening Day
Will Jeff Samardzija take the ball for the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day?
It's a question that nobody, including Cubs manager Rick Renteria, is willing—or able—to answer, as Gordon Wittenmyer of The Chicago Sun-Times points out:
“So many things can happen over the course of the spring that I’m not going to lock myself into trying to divulge something that I can’t really determine will be in the end,” Renteria recently told Wittenmyer.
A non-commital response like that only adds fuel to the speculation that Samardzija could still be traded before Opening Day, something that two sources told Wittenmyer remains a strong possibility.
With two years of team control and fewer innings on his arm than your typical 28-year-old starter, he comes with fewer questions and concerns as his counterparts on the free agent market.
But it takes two teams to make a trade happen and, so far, there doesn't appear to be a GM that is willing to meet a very high asking price for Samardzija from the Cubs.
But all it takes is an untimely spring training injury to a contender's rotation to change a GM's mind. While a trade involving Samardzija before Opening Day may remain unlikely, it's certainly not impossible.
RHP Ervin Santana: Colorado Rockies Have Interest in Free Agent Starter
Shortly after news broke that Colorado's Jhoulys Chacin's shoulder was acting up and that the 26-year-old was heading for an MRI came a report from CBS Sports' Jon Heyman saying that the Rockies had "checked in" on free agent starter Ervin Santana.
MLB.com's Thomas Harding has since filed a contradictory report, citing team sources who deny that reported interest.
So what's the truth?
The truth is that, despite the fact that he's induced more ground balls than fly balls over the past few seasons, Santana is a terrible fit with Colorado.
|Season||FB %||GB %||HR/9||HR|
No matter how talented he may be, putting a fly-ball pitcher that can't help but surrender home runs on the mound at Coors Field is a recipe for disaster. Throw in the draft pick that the Rockies would have to surrender in order to sign Santana, and a deal between the two sides becomes increasingly unlikely.
Should Chacin be lost for an extended period of time, one of the team's top prospects, either Eddie Butler or Jonathan Gray, are far more intriguing—and cheaper—internal options for the Rockies to lean upon.
LHP Johan Santana: Multiple Teams Interested in Former Ace
One of the most recognizable names left on the free agent market, Johan Santana, has begun to attract a following. According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, at least three American League teams—including Santana's former club, the Minnesota Twins—have interest in the veteran free agent:
The Twins, the team for which he won the two Cy Young awards, and at least two more AL teams are monitoring Santana, who may have a showcase, depending on his progress. He has been said at different points to be ahead of schedule following his second shoulder surgery in April of last year to repair a torn shoulder capsule, but he's ruled out being ready for Opening Day at this point.
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal adds that a showcase isn't even a consideration at this point, noting that Santana will wait until he's closer to 100 percent to show off his surgically repaired arm for interested parties:
Johan Santana progressing in rehab, speaking with clubs. Showcase still possible, but only after he is closer to 100 percent.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 21, 2014
Minnesota has been linked to Santana throughout the winter, and a return to the team with which he had the most success over his 12-year career not only makes sense from a baseball standpoint—even after signing Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco, the Twins rotation needs another quality arm—but from a business standpoint as well, as Santana would certainly draw fans to Target Field.
The New York Yankees could be one of the mystery AL teams keeping tabs on Santana as well. Not only were the Bronx Bombers linked to him earlier this winter but, as The Star Tribune's Lavelle E. Neal III points out, Santana still has a home in New York from his time with the New York Mets.
Even if Santana is 70 percent of the pitcher that he once was, he'd still offer more upside than the crop of free agent starters that remain available, with the exception of Ervin Santana.
That teams would rather roll the dice on Santana instead of signing the likes of Jair Jurrjens, Jeff Karstens, Jason Marquis, Jeff Niemann, Carl Pavano, Clayton Richard or Joe Saunders is both believable and understandable.
For even if Johan is 60 or 70 percent of the pitcher that he once was, he'd still be better than the rest of his fellow free agent starters—and he could be a difference-making midseason addition to a contender's rotation.