Fact or Fiction on All of Spring Training's Hottest Free-Agency, Trade Rumors
As play heats up in Arizona and Florida, the start of the regular season moves closer to reality for baseball fans. Yet, despite the calendar inching toward spring, winter isn't over for some teams.
Offseason activity still exists, especially within free agent circles impacted by draft compensation, lingering trade activity and teams looking to find the missing piece to a complete 25-man roster.
Although we're finally to the point where play on the field overshadows the rumor mill, the hot stove isn't totally cool just yet. For more than a handful of teams, upgrades are still available for the right price.
Over the next four weeks, the rumor mill will churn out narratives, stories and juicy tidbits for fans to devour before the real games arrive. Of those, only some will have real meaning. The others will simply be noise.
The following is an attempt to separate fact from fiction during the busy, frantic days of spring training.
Ruben Tejada Will Be the Mets Opening Day Shortstop: Fact
Ruben Tejada has done very little to earn the starting shortstop position for the New York Mets. In fact, over the course of four years and 1,216 at-bats in the majors, the 24-year-old owns a career OPS+ of just 80.
Since 2010, only four shortstops—Yuniesky Betancourt, Alcides Escobar, Clint Barmes and Brendan Ryan—have profiled as worse offensive players.
Despite that distinction, the Mets don't seem willing to move on from Tejada this spring. With a dearth of big-league caliber shortstops behind him in the organization, it would seem logical for the team to seek a trade or look to the open market.
While names like Seattle's Nick Franklin or free agent Stephen Drew have been brought up in conjunction with the team, Joel Sherman of the New York Post senses that the team won't fill its shortstop hole until the middle of the season.
Per Sherman's column: "Right now, the belief is that come March 31 at Citi Field, against the Nationals, Tejada will be the shortstop."
Unless the Mets have a drastic change of thinking over the next few weeks, Tejada will garner a chance to revitalize his career come April.
Impact Free Agents Could Sit out Until June: Fact
When Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez agreed to join the Baltimore Orioles, it seemed as if the veil had been lifted for free agents with draft-pick compensation attached to their offseason plight.
Yet, weeks later, three potential impact players—Stephen Drew, Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales—all remain available on the open market.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, they may stay on the open market until after the annual June draft. When the draft concludes, no team would be required to surrender a first-round pick to procure their services.
As crazy as that may sound, it's a plausible scenario for one or more of these players. If a team doesn't relent on contract demands or accept the loss of a draft pick by April, there's little merit to rushing into a team-friendly deal within the first few weeks of the season.
By now, the players are losing leverage on a daily basis.
In June—when injuries set in, young players falter and division and wild-card races heat up—the pendulum will swing back to the players and agents. Leverage, in the form of a more reasonable contract offer, could become a reality.
Drew, Santana and Morales all should be on rosters by March 31. But that doesn't mean they will be.
Seattle Can't Afford to Pay for Roster Help: Fiction
Robinson Cano, Seattle's $240 million second baseman, caused a stir when suggesting to CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman that his new team could use some reinforcements in the lineup and rotation.
After spending significant money on Cano and free-agent reliever Fernando Rodney, it would be easy to assume that the Mariners are tapped out of payroll flexibility. That notion, reiterated to Heyman by team sources, is likely a negotiating ploy, aimed at players left on the open market.
While Cano is certainly facing the reality of playing away from the endless pockets of the Yankees, his new team isn't bereft of capital.
Last April, Forbes reported a $2 billion agreement between the Mariners and DirecTV. Clearly, a good chunk of that impending capital went to securing the services of Cano for the next 10 seasons.
Yet, a quick look at Seattle's current payroll suggests that there is still money to spend. After committing at least $84 million to players' salaries in 2012 and 2013, the Mariners have just $73.9 million guaranteed to their current team.
Despite the lucrative, long-term deals allotted for Cano and Felix Hernandez, the Mariners are simply bluffing when suggesting that the team can't add payroll this spring.
Carp, Davis Could Land in Pittsburgh: Fact
The Pittsburgh Pirates—months removed from a winning season and National League postseason berth—have a young, ascending nucleus. From the potential Marte-McCutchen-Polanco outfield alignment to Pedro Alvarez's power at third base, the team is set for years in key positions.
As of now, first base isn't one of those.
With Opening Day on the horizon, the Pirates are slated to use 30-year-old Gaby Sánchez as the starting first baseman.
On the surface, it's not an awful decision. Over the course of a six-year career, Sánchez has posted a 105 OPS+, good for about five percent better than league average.
Of course, in order to maximize what Sánchez does best—smash left-handed pitching—the Pirates could use a platoon partner for their right-handed hitting incumbent. During Sánchez's career, he's hit lefties to the tune of an .895 OPS.
Over the next few weeks, keep an eye on two left-handed hitting first basemen that could be had for the right price: Mike Carp and Ike Davis.
Carp, a 27-year-old jack-of-all-trades for the Boston Red Sox, is a man without a position on the defending champs. Blocked at first base by Mike Napoli and designated hitter by David Ortiz, it's hard to concoct a scenario where Carp would play in 100-plus games.
According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, the Pirates are keeping tabs on his availability. Last year, Carp posted a .904 OPS against right-handed pitching.
Although Ike Davis didn't enjoy close to that kind of success in 2013, he's hit 55 home runs against right-handed pitching since debuting in 2010. That number exceeds the respective outputs from Hanley Ramirez, Freddie Freeman or Justin Morneau.
If Davis comes up short in a competition with Lucas Duda, expect his name to re-surface on the trade block in New York.
When broached about the subject of acquiring a first baseman by ESPN's Jayson Stark, Pirates general manager Neil Huntington wasn't shy about doing anything necessary to win.
"It’s just that now, our bar has been set a little bit higher, as to 'How do we make the club better?' And 'How do we make the club better at the right situation for us?' … If there's something that makes us better, and makes sense for us, we'll still look to do that," Huntington said.
Johan Santana Could Be a Reliever in Baltimore: Fiction
Johan Santana is officially a member of the Baltimore Orioles. After days of speculation, the news was confirmed by Roch Kubatko of MASN.
The rumor of Santana landing in Baltimore has come to fruition, but another one has popped up since he arrived.
According to Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com, the Orioles view Santana—one of the most dominant starting pitchers in baseball history—as a potential left-handed reliever.
On the surface, the idea isn't ridiculous. Santana, rehabbing from serious shoulder issues, could work his way back to relevance as a long reliever or swing man out of the pen. Yet, when considering how much money the team paid him to simply come to camp, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, it's hard to envision a scenario where they tinker with his rehab in order to convert him to the bullpen.
If Santana signed in Baltimore for a league-minimum contract, any role would be possible. For $3 million, he's much more likely to be given every opportunity possible to make it back to the majors as a starting pitcher.
Agree? Disagree? Which rumor is most likely to come to fruition?
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