Predicting MLB Signings, Trades That Will Still Happen Before Opening Day

Jason Martinez@@mlbdepthchartsContributor IFebruary 27, 2014

Predicting MLB Signings, Trades That Will Still Happen Before Opening Day

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    The top three players still available on the free-agent market—Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana—all have draft-pick compensation tied to them that would go away after the June draft. Waiting until then could help each player's value, which is why their respective agents have no problem floating that possibility as a legitimate option. 

    Even if they were to wait until after Opening Day to sign, they'd be more attractive options because they would no longer be eligible to receive a qualifying offer after the season if they happened to sign a one-year deal. By turning down their respective team's qualifying offer this offseason, whichever team ended up signing them would have to forfeit a draft pick. 

    As a result, several teams have shied away. 

    There's a reason why a top free agent signing after the season begins would be unprecedented, though. There are obvious fits now. Those could become more apparent as we approach the start of the season. Other fits could materialize because of an injury or a player who isn't living up to the expectations of the organization.

    It's also very likely that generous offers have already been made and some could still be on the table. While players normally trust their agents, who are looking to get their client the best payday possible, they could make the safe decision by taking the best offer and getting back to work. Sitting on the sidelines without a job on Opening Day can't be easy for a competitive athlete.

    All three will sign prior to the start of the regular season, in my opinion, and in plenty of time to get into game shape. I've predicted their destinations, along with two trades that I believe will go down before the end of March.

Ervin Santana Signs with the Indians

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    Jon Heyman of CBS Sports is reporting that Ervin Santana isn't dropping his asking price of four years and $50 million. But compared to what he was seeking earlier in the offseason—Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that Santana was hoping to land a five-year, $100 million deal back in November—it's chump change. 

    And considering that the 31-year-old Santana might be a better pitcher than Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, who both received four-year, $50 million deals this offseason—not to mention more durable than Garza and more reliable than Jimenez—it's a surprise that a team that has seemingly been desperate for starting pitching and come up empty-handed thus far isn't working hard to get a deal done.

    The Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays would fit the bill, although it's a team that has been relatively quiet on the hot stove that will end up with Santana. 

    After losing Jimenez, the Cleveland Indians are counting on a bevy of young pitchers without much big league experience to fill out their rotation after ace Justin Masterson. Two veterans in camp on minor league deals, Aaron Harang and Shaun Marcum, could help carry the load.

    Instead, they'll avoid taking the big risk of falling back in the AL Central after a 92-win season and sign Jimenez to what could be a bargain four-year, $52 million deal. 

    The resulting Indians rotation would look like this ... 

    1. Justin Masterson
    2. Ervin Santana
    3. Corey Kluber
    4. Zach McAllister
    5. Danny Santana

Stephen Drew Signs with the Yankees

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    For at least 2014, it's beginning to look like Stephen Drew could be at a position other than shortstop.

    Teams in need of a shortstop are limited to the New York Mets, who seem content to go with Ruben Tejada over signing Drew to a big-money deal while forfeiting a draft pick. The Boston Red Sox, though they wouldn't need to give up a draft pick to re-sign Drew, have even less of a need with rookie Xander Bogaerts ready to make an impact in the majors. 

    All signs point to the New York Yankees, who have the oft-injured Brian Roberts penciled in as the starting second baseman, the inexperienced Kelly Johnson at third base, and Derek Jeter set to return at shortstop for one last season after he missed most of 2013 with an ankle injury. 

    By giving Drew a multi-year deal, they'd be able to move him around the infield in the first year and assure him of the starting shortstop job in 2015 with Jeter retiring.

    They've invested too much money to improve the ballclub to head into the season with the current infield options. As Bob Klapisch of The Record points out, this could be the most vulnerable group of Yankees infielders in years.

    Drew will get three years and $33 million to be a starting second or third baseman in 2014 and Jeter's successor in 2015 and beyond. 

    Here is what the projected Yankees lineup could look like with Drew:

    1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
    2. Derek Jeter, SS
    3. Carlos Beltran, RF
    4. Mark Teixeira, 1B
    5. Brian McCann, C
    6. Alfonso Soriano, DH
    7. Stephen Drew, 3B
    8. Brett Gardner, LF
    9. Brian Roberts/Kelly Johnson, 2B

Jeff Samardzija Traded to Blue Jays

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    More than any other team in the league, the Toronto Blue Jays were connected with seemingly every starting pitcher on the free-agent and trade markets in offseason rumors. Surprisingly, they have not been successful in landing one—unless a minor league deal with Tomo Ohka and claiming Liam Hendriks off the waiver wire qualify. 

    At this point, they're likely content to see what they have in the spring and ultimately decide they have enough pitching. Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek are healthy after missing extended periods of time with Tommy John surgery, and there's always a chance that Ricky Romero could turn things around.

    Prospects Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin could also show that they're ready to contribute. 

    But it's far more likely that the Jays will come to the conclusion that they don't have enough pitching to compete in a tough AL East and make a move to acquire Jeff Samardzija, who hasn't made progress in extension talks with the Chicago Cubs, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.

    In what appears to be one last rebuilding year for the Cubs, who have had a quiet offseason following a 96-loss campaign, they'll deal the 29-year-old and his last two seasons of team control in a straight-up swap for Aaron Sanchez, who Baseball Prospectus ranked as Toronto's second-best prospect and the 31st-best prospect in the game.

    It's a high price to pay for two years of Samardzija, but the Jays have a lot of money invested in a team that is the favorite to finish dead last in the division for a second consecutive season. 

    Here's the projected Blue Jays rotation with Samardzija:

    1. R.A. Dickey
    2. Jeff Samardzija
    3. Mark Buehrle
    4. Brandon Morrow
    5. J.A. Happ/Marcus Stroman

Kendrys Morales Re-Signs with Mariners

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    The Baltimore Orioles appeared to be the most logical fit for either Nelson Cruz or Kendrys Morales as their regular designated hitter. So not only does Cruz's one-year, $8 million deal with the O's mean that Morales has one less option, it almost certainly ensures that he cost himself a whole lot of money by declining the Seattle Mariners' qualifying offer of $14.1 million. 

    Finding another viable option for Morales, who isn't considered to be a great defender at first base, is difficult. Staying with the Mariners, however, would at least make sense in that they wouldn't have to surrender a draft pick and don't appear to have a problem with stocking up on designated hitter types. 

    Last offseason, general manager Jack Zduriencik added Morales, Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse to a roster that already had Justin Smoak penciled in to start at first base. This offseason, he's added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, who are both coming back from injuries and likely to fit best at first base or designated hitter. Both of these moves came with Smoak still locked in as the starting first baseman. 

    It didn't matter in 2013 so maybe it won't in 2014, although Smoak could be traded to make space for the 30-year-old Morales. 

    While Morales will have lost millions by not accepting the initial qualifying offer, a two-year, $22 million deal will be a pretty good consolation prize for the switch-hitter.

    Here's a look at the Mariners' projected lineup with Morales: 

    1. Dustin Ackley, LF
    2. Kyle Seager, 3B
    3. Robinson Cano, 2B
    4. Kendrys Morales, DH
    5. Corey Hart, RF
    6. Justin Smoak/Logan Morrison, 1B
    7. Michael Saunders, CF
    8. Mike Zunino, C
    9. Brad Miller, SS

Justin Smoak Traded to Pirates

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    If my prediction of Kendrys Morales re-signing with the Mariners comes to fruition, then it's highly likely that Justin Smoak's days with the team are numbered. 

    The M's just won't give Smoak away, though. The 27-year-old has value after posting a .746 OPS with 20 homers in 130 games last season. His age and his occasional spurts of being a really good hitter also help. Most importantly, though, is that Smoak was a terrific hitter against right-handed pitching with an .839 OPS and 18 homers last season.  

    And it just so happens that the Pittsburgh Pirates are seeking a first baseman to platoon with Gaby Sanchez, who had a .987 OPS in 64 games against left-handed pitchers in 2013.  

    Acquiring the switch-hitting Smoak likely wouldn't require the Bucs to give away any of their top six prospects, although they have a wealth of minor league talent and even one of their seventh- to 10th-best prospects would be a good trade chip.

    In this case, they'll send over center fielder Harold Ramirez, who Baseball Prospectus ranks as the 10th-best prospect in the organization, and starting pitcher Jeff Locke, a 2013 All-Star who appears to be the odd man out in Pittsburgh after a rough finish to the season. 

    The M's would be able to give Locke a starting spot in a thin rotation with rookies Taijuan Walker and James Paxton in line for jobs, and Hisashi Iwakuma expected to miss at least the first few weeks of the season with a finger injury. The 19-year-old Ramirez, who is slated to play in Low-A in 2014, would instantly become one of Seattle's best prospects.

    Here's what the Pirates' projected lineup would look like with Smoak: 

    1. Starling Marte, LF
    2. Jordy Mercer, SS
    3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
    4. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
    5. Justin Smoak/Gaby Sanchez, 1B
    6. Neil Walker, 2B
    7. Russell Martin, C
    8. Jose Tabata, RF