Baseball is finally back with players preparing for the season, but a whole host of teams still have plenty of work to do.
A number of quality free agents remain available for squads hoping to improve before Opening Day in April. For those who can't find the right fit on the open market, there are also plenty of trade possibilities across the league.
Here are the latest rumors to watch out for heading into spring training.
Rangers Looking for Outfielders
Josh Hamilton has spent much of his career on the disabled list, and it seems like it will be a challenge to avoid it yet again. He had offseason knee surgery and is now feeling discomfort, as he told T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com.
"It was good for about two-and-a-half weeks," Hamilton said of his knee. "But it has started to creep back a little bit, so we'll see how it responds to being active every day."
If he is forced to miss time, the Texas Rangers need to be ready with some alternatives in the outfield. As JP Morosi of Fox Sports reported, they are keeping tabs on potential options:
Although sources say the Rangers aren't close to adding a full-time left fielder, they're nonetheless keeping tabs on the trade market for New York Mets outfielder Alejandro De Aza, as well as maintaining contact with free agents David Murphy and Will Venable, both of whom have prior experience with the team.
Alejandro De Aza might be the most intriguing option after just signing with the New York Mets this offseason. It's certainly rare for a player to sign with a new team before being immediately traded, and if it does happen before June 15, that player has to agree to the move. With that said, the situation is not usual.
The Mets surprisingly re-signed Yoenis Cespedes late in the offseason, resulting in a logjam in the outfield. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that De Aza "almost certainly would consent to a deal if he was projected to receive minimal playing time with New York, damaging his future value."
This type of deal would actually work out for all parties while giving the Rangers some insurance.
Mets Need Bullpen Help
While the Mets might have too many players in the outfield, they still need some help in the bullpen. When Jenrry Mejia received a lifetime ban for a third failed drug test, it exacerbated a lack of pitching depth.
Although Mejia was expected to miss time because of his prior ban, the former closer could have made a valuable contribution toward the end of the year if all had gone to plan. That will no longer be the case, and the team is now forced to look for more options.
Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported the team is currently searching for bullpen help:
Jon Heyman @JonHeyman
mets still have eyes open for bullpen help, not a surprise in wake of mejia craziness2016-2-16 19:08:58
ESPN.com's Adam Rubin added that a trade is more likely than a free-agent signing at this stage:
Adam Rubin @AdamRubinMedia
Sandy Alderson says #Mets don't plan to give any more MLB contracts, and if need relief help, trade at end of spring training most likely.2016-2-17 16:11:25
Outside of Jeurys Familia at closer, there are few trustworthy options for New York to use late in games this season. Last year's setup man, Tyler Clippard, left in free agency, and the rest of the unit lacks too much big-game experience. Considering the team already has one of the top rotations in baseball, however, any upgrades could make this squad difficult to score against.
James Shields on the Move?
Before the start of last season, James Shields signed a four-year deal with a fifth-year team option. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he only made $10 million last season, but that will jump to $21 million for each of the next three years.
The problem is his play does not live up to this salary.
Shields reached 200 innings for the ninth straight year, although his ERA+ of 93 implied he was actually below average on the mound. His walks were way up (81), and he wasn't able to take advantage of spending his home games in a great pitcher's park.
To make matters worse, ESPN's Jim Bowden told Darren Smith of Mighty 1090AM that it's unlikely Shields uses his chance to opt out of his current deal:
Darren Smith @DSmithShow
What would it take for James Shields to opt out of his contract? @JimBowden_ESPN says "a miracle". Interview here: https://t.co/bNUdEDGFiS2016-2-17 04:54:42
On the plus side for the San Diego Padres, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe believes they could deal the ace at the trade deadline:
The feeling among a few executives is that Shields could become a trade deadline option. The Padres weren’t able to move him this offseason because teams were scared by the number of home runs he allows, even at spacious Petco Park. But Shields, who pitched 200 innings for the ninth straight year, was by no means a disaster, and if he starts well, his experience will be attractive to contenders.
A move could happen even before that with the Baltimore Orioles inquiring about both Shields and Andrew Cashner, according to Roch Kubatko of MASN. He explained the holdup was second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who is unavailable for trades.
The good news for the Padres is there is some interest that could potentially get them out of this contract.
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