Updating the Latest 2014-2015 MLB Free Agency Rumors, Speculation

Matthew SmithCorrespondent IIISeptember 5, 2014

Updating the Latest 2014-2015 MLB Free Agency Rumors, Speculation

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    Jon Lester stands among the top players set to become available when free agency begins.
    Jon Lester stands among the top players set to become available when free agency begins.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Before we know it, MLB free agency will be upon us. In fact, the rumors and speculation have been in full swing for some time.

    What about the latest news, though?

    What has been said in the past week regarding some of the bigger names set to cash in on large paydays or switch teams?

    To be clear, we will not be covering all of the top targets set to hit free agency, nor will the main speculation come from ideas posited earlier in the season. Older rumors and speculation may be used as supporting information but will not be central to the premise.

    The names presented here have all been discussed since last Friday by prominent writers from around the country. That way we can keep the conversation driven by credibility. 

    Here are some updates on the latest MLB free-agency rumors and speculation.

The Chicago White Sox Are One of Many Teams Looking at Victor Martinez

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Considering he is set to hit free agency at the end of the season, Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez is having the best season of his career at the perfect time.

    In 482 at-bats going into action Thursday, he’s put together a .332/.401/.564 slash line with 28 home runs, 90 RBI, 28 doubles and 58 walks. He’s been terrific.

    And thanks to that production, he will have no shortage of suitors this offseason. In fact, the speculation has already begun.

    Bruce Levine from 670 The Score in Chicago, for example, has already reported that the Chicago White Sox are going to be players this offseason in the “derby” to secure his services. No doubt, it would be a bold move for general manager Rick Hahn.

    As CBS Sports’ Dayn Perry noted, “it's left to question whether the White Sox can contend in 2015 (this would be a contender's type of move, to be sure), but there's something to be said for plucking a frontline bat from one of the teams ahead of you in the standings.”

    The White Sox aren’t alone in their alleged pursuit, starting with his current club.

    Dan Jenkins from 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit noted (via CBS Detroit), one of Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski’s “top priorities" will be keeping Martinez in his uniform. That makes obvious sense since Martinez is a force in the middle of the lineup.

    Unfortunately, there may not be enough money to go around. Consider: Dombrowski also has to deal with the impending free agency of both Max Scherzer and Torii Hunter as well as having to fill holes in the outfield, bullpen and at shortstop.

    And then there is this nugget from Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi: “Five AL teams — Cleveland, New York, Oakland, Kansas City, and Seattle — have had a collective OPS below .700 at the DH position this year.”

    It is going to be a crowded field this winter. The speculation here will reach a crescendo in no time once Martinez is officially granted free agency.

Brandon McCarthy's Time with the New York Yankees May Last a Bit Longer

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Going into action on Thursday, Brandon McCarthy was 5-4 with a 2.80 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 1.197 WHIP and a 5.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 10 starts with the New York Yankees. He has exceeded expectations in every way since his acquisition from the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

    Does that mean he will be retained?

    To be sure, there will be other names—bigger names—that general manager Brian Cashman will pursue this winter. Guys like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields will certainly draw the interest of the GM, but keeping McCarthy isn’t out of the question, according to the New York Daily News’ Mark Feinsand.

    It doesn’t hurt that the Yankees are getting an idea of what McCarthy brings to the table—or that he now senses what it means to wear their uniform—heading into free agency.

    “You kind of take away that veil of secrecy that exists on both sides,” he said, via Feinsand. “We’re all familiar with one another, so it becomes, ‘Does this make sense on both sides?’ It takes away some of the scary aspects of free agency.”

    The Yankees aren’t the only option, of course.

    SportsDayDFW’s Rick Gosselin said during an on-line chat (transcript) that the Texas Rangers need “at least two pitchers in free agency.” Specifically, those guys are going to have to slide into the spots directly behind Yu Darvish. Now McCarthy isn’t a No. 2, but he would certainly fill the need in the middle of the rotation.   

    Another club that may need pitching help is the Detroit Tigers. Of course, that depends on what happens with Scherzer, Lester and Shields, but McCarthy would be a cost-effective option should they end up missing out on the other three.

Will Jon Lester Go Home, or Has That Ship Sailed?

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    For good reason, Oakland A’s left-hander Jon Lester is considered to be one of the top-two pitchers set to hit free agency at the end of the year.

    Numbers don’t lie.

    This season, for example, he pitched to a 2.52 ERA and a 2.62 FIP with the Boston Red Sox under the specter of a looming trade once the Red Sox fell out of contention. And since getting dealt to the A’s, he has put up a 2.66 ERA and a 2.86 FIP in seven starts.

    His performance this season comes on the heels of starting at least 31 games six seasons in a row and winning at least 15 games in five of those campaigns. He is both durable and dominant.

    Recently, there have been a couple of different suggestions regarding where he will be pitching next season. Most of them center on the belief Lester will not be in a Red Sox uniform.

    Scott Lauber from the Boston Herald, for example, wrote that while general manager Ben Cherington will make a sincere run at bringing him back into the fold, no one should “believe that a Red Sox-Lester reunion actually will happen.” There are simply too many factors in play against a return.

    Jon Heyman from CBS Sports summed up the situation best a couple of weeks ago:

    There have been a lot of nice things said by ace starter Jon Lester about the Red Sox since being traded to the Athletics, and that shouldn't be a surprise. There's no reason to think he didn't absolutely love his time in Boston, as he has said both before he left and since he has gone.

    Still, it's quite a leap from loving his stay in Boston to being likely to return there this winter as a free agent. The reality is, it's probably the opposite. The strong belief around the game is that Lester is likely to sign somewhere other than the Red Sox.

    Where he lands is anyone’s guess, but the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs figure to be involved.

    As CBS Chicago’s Bruce Levine noted some time ago, the Cubs have a few things in their favor, including the fact “Lester was drafted and developed by Chicago executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer when both were with Boston.” Levine also noted Darnell McDonald, Lester’s former teammate, was hired as a special assistant to Epstein, providing even more comfort.

    The Yankees figure to be heavily involved if for no other reason than they have a glaring need and the money to spend. Meanwhile, the Rangers would love to have an arm like Lester’s to complement Yu Darvish at the top of their rotation.

    More will be revealed, of course, but given the circumstances, it looks like the Red Sox may be going after a pitcher of a different ilk.

Is James Shields Headed to the Boston Red Sox?

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    Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

    Speaking of Jon Lester, the Boston Red Sox and alternatives in free agency, we give you Kansas City Royals right-hander James Shields.

    To that effect, Rob Bradford from WEEI cited sources when he wrote that “the team will be eyeing” Shields should their pursuit of Lester fall through.

    It is a move that would make sense too. From the Boston Herald's Scott Lauber:

    Headed for his eighth consecutive 200-inning season and his fourth straight year with a sub-3.60 ERA, Shields brings a track record of durability and consistency, if not the portfolio of a bona fide ace.

    Because he will turn 33 in December, Shields is less likely than Lester or Scherzer to get a five- or six-year deal, especially since Kansas City likely will depress his value by making a qualifying offer. The Sox have shown a willingness to overpay in annual salary in order to keep free agent contracts shorter. It’s conceivable they would give Shields $80 million over four years, which might just be enough.

    Given the lower cost it would take to acquire him (and in this case, $80 million is certainly “lower”), general manager Ben Cherington could be able to swing a deal for Max Scherzer as well. That would give the Red Sox a formidable rotation and instantly vault them into consideration for preseason favorites in the AL East.

    If early rumors and speculation are a sign of things to come (they normally aren’t), then it appears the Red Sox are at the top of the list of Shields’ suitors.

    We can’t overlook the fact, however, that the Royals may end up working out a long-term deal with Shields. If GM Dayton Moore has shown us anything recently, it is that he is sincere about winning, and the pitcher he acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays with Wade Davis is a big part of the success they have found.

Nelson Cruz May Not Be Going Anywhere

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    GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

    While anything can happen, it appears Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Nelson Cruz is going to stay with the club for the foreseeable future. That seems to be the plan, at least.

    In fact, “Cruz said his agent and the Orioles had talks” after the All-Star game regarding a new contract and “reiterated” his preference is to stay in Baltimore, per MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli. He also added he would like to have something complete before the end of the current campaign.

    Now as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman noted, “Orioles GM Dan Duquette declined to say” if working out an extension before the end of the season was in process, “citing his preference to keep any possible negotiations in-house,” but the writing is on the wall.

    And make no mistake: There is a sense of urgency here.

    See, if a deal can’t be reached, there will no doubt be a qualifying offer extended to Cruz by the Orioles. That is something he would certainly turn down. And after the way he’s performed this season, it is doubtful that surrendering the draft pick it will take to sign him will preclude a team in need of a slugger from making him an offer.

    In other words, it is in Duquette’s best interest to lock Cruz up before free agency is granted. If he doesn’t, the risk of losing him is quite high.

    That said, the fit between Cruz and the Orioles is fantastic. It would be a surprise if a deal wasn't finalized before other teams had an opportunity to extend a contract that is not in line with what Duquette is willing to spend.

Is Hanley Ramirez Headed to the American League?

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Dodgers are in a tricky spot with shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

    On one hand, he has one of the best bats at shortstop in a time when those are hard to come by, making him very important to manager Don Mattingly’s lineup. On the other, concerns in almost every other area abound, putting his future with the franchise in doubt.

    To that end, Peter Gammons recently wrote:

    But at this point there seems to be considerable doubt about whether or not the Dodgers will get into any longterm deal with the 30-year old. They worry about whether or not he can stay at short; his range isn’t what it used to be, his defensive runs saved numbers put him in the bottom 20% of regular shortstops, and his time at third base with the Marlins was not a big success. There are concerns about his durability; he has played 120 games once in four years.

    So, barring a big finish and post-season performance, it may be that Hanley moves on, either to a team willing to play him at third, or an American League club where he could occasionally DH.

    Let's operate under the belief Ramirez has at least one more season at shortstop before moving to designated hitter and occasionally getting some time in at third base. As Gammons mentioned, that puts him firmly into the AL as far as destinations are concerned. 

    Take the Detroit Tigers as an example. They rank last in the AL at shortstop in hits (104), batting average (.215), OPS (.576) and total bases (141), per splits at ESPN.com. And they may lose designated hitter Victor Martinez this offseason to free agency.

    The Seattle Mariners are another team in need of help at both spots. Per those same splits, their shortstops rank 11th in OPS (.655) and 13th in total bases (163). And the collection of players who’ve appeared as the DH have been worse, posting a .190/.264/.288 slash line over 480 at-bats, according to Baseball-Reference.

    Either way, Gammon’s premise is a sound one. It’s looking like Ramirez is on his way out of Los Angeles. Expect for there to be much more on the topic over the coming weeks and going into the offseason.

Is Max Scherzer's Time with the Detroit Tigers Over?

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    PAUL BEATY/Associated Press

    While there haven’t necessarily been any new rumors on where Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer may end up after becoming a free agent this offseason, there was a statement made on where he will not end up.

    From MLives’s Chris Iott:

    I don't think the trade for David Price changed the Tigers' chances of retaining Max Scherzer. But that's because I thought they had little chance to retain Scherzer in the first place. Before the season started, I assumed this would be his last season in Detroit. Nothing changed at the trade deadline. I don't expect anything to change after the season ends. It seems to me that Scherzer will sign elsewhere.

    The suitors for Scherzer’s services likely remain the same as it is with the other big-name starters, meaning the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are at the front of the pack.

    To be sure, there are more teams in need of a starter with his pedigree, but those four likely have the most to offer from both a financial standpoint and with regards to the number of years they are able to offer.

    That said, he is going to want to step up his efforts down the stretch. In his last three starts, Scherzer has a 23 percent line-drive rate and has given up 12 earned runs in 18.2 innings pitched en route to a 5.79 ERA, per Baseball-Reference. Those numbers are alarming.

    It is going to be interesting to see how he fares the rest of the season as it will impact his momentum going into contract negotiations this winter.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all traditional, team and historical statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are accurate as of game time Thursday, Sept. 4. Transaction, injury and game information are courtesy of MLB.com.

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