Pitchers and catchers report in a few weeks, but there are still some big stories simmering on the MLB Hot Stove as we get closer and closer to the start of the 2011 regular season.
There are still some high-profile free agents, such as Vladimir Guerrero to name just one, out there looking for work. As spring training approaches, the time to find a new team is dwindling for some of the key guys left on the open market, so I'll cover all the possibilities for unsigned players expected to latch on somewhere they can make an impact in 2011.
The possibilities also remain that a trade or two may go down before teams head to Florida or Arizona to get ready for the 162-game marathon ahead. Rumors emerged about Seattle Mariners speedster Chone Figgins getting dealt this week, so I'll be sure to cover any potential trades that are floating around the baseball rumor mill.
Even though it's still two weeks away, the Hot Stove still has some embers burning, all of which I'll try to cover so that you're fully up to speed on what's going on in Major League Baseball here at the end of January.
Soon-to-be 36-year-old outfielder/designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero is still looking for a job and was linked with the Baltimore Orioles earlier this week, as Baltimore targeted the veteran slugger to hold down the designated hitter duties in their lineup. The two sides are said to be apart on the all-important dollars, though, which has led to some cooling of the rumor.
The viable suitors for Guerrero have virtually vanished as we approach Opening Day, and Baltimore is one situation where he would be guaranteed to get ample at bats as a full-time DH. But Baltimore is said to have offered Guerrero somewhere between $4 and $5 million for one year, and much of that is tied to incentives.
Guerrero's camp claims to have an offer on the table for $8 million over one year, meaning that's the range he's looking for the Orioles to head into. But according to ESPN's Buster Olney, Baltimore is reluctant to budge off their initial offer, meaning it's a take it or leave it situation for Vlad at this point.
It seems like a waiting game, and considering there are very few teams still with both the money to spend and the roster spot to hand over to a full-time DH, Baltimore looks to be doing the right thing waiting out Guerrero.
Chone Figgins signed a big contract with the Seattle Mariners after enjoying a very strong 2009 campaign, but in 2010 Figgins flopped in the Pacific Northwest. His numbers dropped across the board, and he failed to transition to second base, leaving him looking like a very poor investment for a cellar-dwelling Seattle team.
This week, rumors emerged that the Oakland Athletics were pursuing a trade for Figgins, apparently dangling their own third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff in the deal. It would be a move towards saving money going forward for Seattle, as Figgins is owed at least $26 million over the next three years, with a vesting option for a fourth season hinging on the number of plate appearances he makes in 2013.
Today, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal said that the two teams originally discussed this trade a month ago, and it ultimately went nowhere. Rosenthal claims that the talks are now totally dormant, as they never progressed due to differences between the teams on the amount of money Seattle would pay towards what's owed to Figgins on his contract.
It's possible this gets revisited later down the line, but for now it appears as though Figgins will have a second chapter in Seattle. For what it's worth Figgins himself came out and said he wanted to be in Seattle and win in Seattle, although that may take a while given the current state of the Mariners.
Catcher Mike Napoli was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays for all of three days, as he's now on the way to the Texas Rangers after they sent reliever Frank Francisco to Toronto in exchange for the power hitting right hander.
Napoli was traded to Toronto on January 21st along with outfielder Juan Rivera, as the Angels acquired center fielder Vernon Wells and his enormous contract (along with a measly $5 million in cash). Apparently Toronto didn't have much of an interest in keeping Napoli and adding him to an already impressive cache of catchers, hence their flipping him to Texas for former closer Francisco.
In Texas, Napoli will be relegated to bench duty, apparently set to start at first base against left-handed starting pitchers and occasionally starting at designated hitter when Michael Young isn't in the lineup as a DH.
Napoli will also slide into the third catcher role behind Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Treanor. It's no guarantee he'll get steady at bats, but he's in a hitter friendly ballpark and in a stacked lineup, so Napoli should be a good source of power if he gets an extended run in the lineup.
With his arbitration hearing looming, Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto avoided arbitration and instead signed on for three additional guaranteed years with the Reds, meaning he's sure to earn at least $27 million through 2014.
Not bad for a 24-year-old starter still looking to establish himself as a consistent force in the majors. For the Reds, it's a smart move as long as Cueto holds up physically, as they've sewed up his first year of free agency, while also putting a team option for $10 million (or an $800,000 buyout) in place for his second year of free agency.
If Cueto is healthy and still performing at a decent rate by 2014, that will be considerable savings compared to what he might have earned on an open-market, free-agent contract.
This is yet another example of a smaller market team locking up one of their prized young pitchers on a team-friendly contract that avoids early departure via free agency, and it's a good sign of the Reds' desire to remain contenders over the next number of years.
Superstar first baseman Albert Pujols is entering the final year of his contract, and the St. Louis Cardinals have been trying to find a way to get a contract done before the season begins, so they can keep their franchise player and avoid any messy free agent negotiations.
The two sides have yet to be able to come together on an extension, but according to an ESPN report, Pujols would not approve any trade, were the Cardinals to strike a deal with another team for Pujols' services.
Pujols has the right to veto any trade and it's assumed he would do so; although the better question is, why would St. Louis trade by far their best player? They have been adamant of their desire to lock up Pujols long-term, and this report just further confirms that there are only two options for both sides: Pujols signs a contract extension before the season begins, or he rides out his contract year and files for free agency in the fall.
Pujols would have to be looking at the Alex Rodriguez contract signed after the 2007 season as a benchmark for his negotiations, so it will be interesting to see if St. Louis will pony up the necessary cash to lock up the game's best pure hitter.
It's been a starting pitching-starved offseason for the New York Yankees, who failed to lure top free agent starter Cliff Lee to the Bronx and are still waiting to hear what Andy Pettitte decides to do in 2011 (be it pitch for them or retire).
That's left the Yankees thin at the back end of their starting rotation, and they've started to go the route of trying anything and seeing what sticks as spring training approaches. This week, the team announced that they'd reached a minor league contract with former Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon, also featuring an invitation to spring training.
Colon hasn't been an effective major league starter in a number of years, but he was pitching in the Dominican Winter League apparently to very strong results, leading to this minor league deal.
No way to know that Colon will be able to beat out either Ivan Nova or Sergio Mitre for a spot in the Yankees' rotation, or what other starters the team might look into prior to camp in Tampa.
The Yankees have also been linked to free agent starters Freddy Garcia, Justin Duchscherer and Kevin Millwood, none of whom have signed on with teams as of yet. So it's possible that another arm joins the race for a rotation spot, and there's always the chance that Pettitte decides to pitch, as well.
It's a steep drop from Cliff Lee, though, to be sure.
Two pieces of news to pass along regarding the Toronto Blue Jays' prolific slugger Jose Bautista.
First, the team has apparently not approached Bautista about a multi-year extension on the heels of his breakout 54-home run season. Toronto has shed tons of salary in the last two years, trading away the monster deals of outfielders Alex Rios and Vernon Wells. They have apparently not tried to lock down the corner outfielder Bautista, and it's unclear what his future with Toronto is.
Especially when you consider the fact that the Boston Red Sox approached Toronto with multiple trade package offers for Bautista before they secured the services of outfielder Carl Crawford, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
Toronto obviously didn't feel compelled to pull the trigger on a Bautista trade, but it's feasible that the team will look into trading the slugger this summer if they don't see a future for him on the roster long-term. Clubs are always looking for power hitters at the trading deadline, so if Bautista continues to hit for power and Toronto fails to challenge Boston, New York or Tampa at the top of the AL East or Wild Card standings, a trade seems likely.
For now, though, Bautista will look to replicate his absurd home run explosion. He's still got to hammer out his contract with Toronto for 2011, and it's looking like he'll have an arbitration hearing with the team to settle the contract terms.
After a busy offseason that saw them lock up free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth on a mega-sized contract, while also adding a number of other role players, the Washington Nationals apparently weren't ready to settle. Reports emerged early this week that Washington had engaged in some conversations with the Cleveland Indians, meant to glean the level of interest in moving starting pitcher Fausto Carmona and former All-Star outfielder Grady Sizemore.
Carmona is one of Cleveland's main remaining trade chips, a sinker ball starter who has had good success (save for a disastrous stretch between 2008 and 2009) and can give a team 200 decent innings. Sizemore has battled numerous injuries and ineffectiveness that kept him from producing at a high level these last two seasons.
He went through a serious knee surgery early in the 2010 season and only played 33 games, so it will be interesting to see how healthy and successful he is in early 2011. He's not that far removed from consistent 20-home run seasons, and is only entering this season at age 28, so he's still a viable commodity for the Indians.
The talks with the Nationals apparently went nowhere, but it will be interesting to see how both Carmona and Sizemore fare in Cleveland on a clearly rebuilding team. If both succeed early in the year, they could be hot trade targets come the summer months, and it's obvious teams are interested thanks to this report regarding the Nationals.
The Minnesota Twins struck a deal with veteran starting pitcher Carl Pavano on a two-year deal worth $16.5 million, and now they've got the luxury of having six major league starting pitchers on their projected Opening Day roster.
Minnesota now adds Pavano to staff ace Francisco Liriano, along with starters Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn. The Twins also have their first-round draft pick from 2009, starter Kyle Gibson, who is projected to potentially be major league ready by the middle of 2011.
That's a lot of starting pitching depth for a team that has other needs, specifically on offense and in the bullpen. Of course they could slot one of their starters into the bullpen, but the more aggressive and potentially advantageous route would be dealing a starter to fill other holes.
Baker dealt with arm troubles last season, but he's had the most recent success as a starter and might be the most appealing trade chip (aside from Liriano, of course, but it's doubtful he is available). Slowey and Blackburn may not get enough back for Minnesota to see it worthwhile, and Duensing has only been around for two seasons, mostly as a reliever.
Will Minnesota make a move? Perhaps if all their starters are healthy and looking for innings come midseason, the team will move one starter to fill a hole, especially since they're sure to be in the AL Central race. But before spring training, it seems very unlikely anyone leaves the Twins' rotation depth chart.
The Astros locked up their best remaining starting pitcher, signing left hander Wandy Rodriguez to a three-year contract extension. They took care of his 2011 salary, which was his final year of arbitration before he ultimately would have reached free agency.
Rodriguez just turned 32 years old, so he would have been a 33-year-old free agent if he hadn't reached the extension with the Astros. Instead, Houston buys out his first two years of free agency at the cost of $23 million, and they also have a $13 million club option in place for 2014.
Houston dealt former staff ace Roy Oswalt last summer, so Rodriguez is their rotation's anchor at this point and is being paid as such. He has consistently struck out around eight hitters per nine innings over his now six-year career, and he's posted an ERA below 4.00 in each of the last three seasons.
It's a good move for Houston, but if the team continues to struggle terribly in 2011 or 2012, they could still move Rodriguez (if healthy and performing), as his extension isn't paying him exorbitantly for his solid level of production.