Unexpected Moves That Could Shake Up 2013-2014 MLB Offseason

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2013

Unexpected Moves That Could Shake Up 2013-2014 MLB Offseason

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    Every MLB team has an idea of how they think their offseason will play out, or at least how they would like it to, but rarely do things go according to plan during the MLB offseason.

    Whether it's a surprise player hitting the trade market and changing the market for other players at his position, a free-agent signing with an unexpected suitor, a player opting against re-signing when he's expected to and hitting the open market or something else altogether, there is no shortage of reasons an offseason can be altered.

    So here is a look at a few unexpected moves that could shake up the 2013-2014 MLB offseason.

A.J. Burnett Retires/Leaves Pittsburgh

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    It's been an impressive career resurgence for A.J. Burnett over the past two seasons in Pittsburgh, as he joined the Pirates prior to the 2012 season in what was nothing more than a cost-cutting move by the Yankees. 

    After signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal with New York heading into the 2009 season, the right-hander went just 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in his first three years with the team, including 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA over 32 starts in 2011.

    The Yankees paid $20 million of the $33 million remaining on his deal and shipped him to the Pirates for a pair of low-level prospects. Since joining the Bucs, he's completely turned things around. After winning 16 games with a 3.51 ERA in 2012, he was 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA and NL-best 9.8 K/9 this past year.

    The 36-year-old is at least considering the idea of retirement, and he made it known during the regular season that he would likely either re-sign with Pittsburgh or hang it up, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

    “I enjoy it here, and I enjoy these guys,” Burnett said. “If I was to keep playing, I wouldn't want it to be anywhere else but Pittsburgh."

    The Pirates opted not to extend a $14.1 million qualifying offer to him and will likely need him to sign for less than that if he is going to return.

    For a small-market Pirates team looking to also add an impact bat at first base, losing Burnett would throw a wrench in their offseason plans. And for the rest of the league, Burnett would represent one of the better arms on the market if he decides to spend 2014 somewhere other than Pittsburgh or his couch at home.

Mike Napoli Does Not Re-Sign with Boston

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    After initially agreeing to a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox last offseason, Mike Napoli wound up settling for a one-year, $5 million deal after failing his physical due to a hip condition. He ended up making $13 million with incentives, but all things considered, he was still a bargain for Boston.

    The 32-year-old was slotted in as the everyday first baseman, and he finished second on the team in home runs (23) and RBI (92) and was a key member of the team's worst-to-first run to a World Series title in 2013.

    Now a free agent again, Napoli will likely sign something close to or perhaps even beyond that original three-year deal this time around, and according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, it won't necessarily be with the Red Sox.

    "Mike Napoli's return to Boston is far from a certainty. Source says he wants to shop around after receiving a multi-year offer from Red Sox," Passan tweeted. 

    There are other first-base options on the market, including Kendrys Morales, Justin Morneau, Lyle Overbay and Paul Konerko, but the team would no doubt prefer Napoli over all of those guys.

    It is expected to be a busy offseason for the Red Sox, but if they lose Napoli and are forced to also fill a hole at first base, it could change the way they approach the winter.

Masahiro Tanaka Is Not Posted

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    There is no Zack Greinke on the free-agent market this offseason, but there are some quality arms, with the trio of Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza all likely headed for big paydays as the cream of the crop.

    However, that doesn't mean there aren't front-line arms available this offseason, and while David Price and Max Scherzer are both impact options on the trade market, perhaps the most intriguing possibility out there this winter is Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka.

    The 25-year-old right-hander went an incredible 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 212 innings of work for the Rakuten Golden Eagles this past season and is undoubtedly the top arm in the NPB right now.

    While he doesn't have the same dynamic stuff that Yu Darvish does, he is still expected to be a front-line starter in the MLB. Given the weak pitching market, he could wind up getting more money than the $51.7 million posting fee and subsequent six-year, $56 million deal the Rangers gave Darvish, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.

    Because of the money as well as other incentives in bidding for Tanaka – he does not cost teams a draft pick, like a free agent who receives a qualifying offer, nor would the posting fee count against MLB's luxury tax, a deterrent for a team such as the Yankees trying to reach a $189 million payroll – sources said no matter what the system, they expect the winning bid on Tanaka to well exceed the record $51.7 million the Texas Rangers spent for Yu Darvish.

    All signs point to Tanaka heading to the States this offseason, but to this point, he has not officially been posted by Rakuten. It seems unlikely, but if for whatever reason that idea falls through and he winds up staying in Japan another year, that could significantly alter a number of teams' offseason plans.

Dodgers Trade Matt Kemp

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    This year's crop of free-agent outfielders is deep, with Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo both potentially headed for $100 million-plus deals, and Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz, Curtis Granderson and Marlon Byrd rounding out a talented group.

    However, the biggest name out of all the outfielders who could be available on the market is a guy who's signed through the 2019 season and owed a whopping $130 million. That would be Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp.

    With a logjam of outfield talent in Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers are looking to move one of those three veterans (not Puig) this offseason, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

    "The Dodgers, according to major-league sources, are listening on Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, telling prospective suitors, 'If you’re interested in one of them, make us an offer.'"

    While the 2013 season was a down year for Kemp, as he hit just .270/.328/.395 and was limited to just 73 games, it's not long ago that he was considered by many to be the best all-around player in the game.

    Still only 29, there's no reason to think he can't return to his 2011 form when he hit .324/.399/.586 with 39 home runs and 40 steals.

    If the Dodgers are serious about moving Kemp and he does wind up being dealt, that could certainly have a ripple effect on the rest of the outfield market this offseason.

Robinson Cano Signs Early, Somewhere Other Than New York

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    The top player in this year's free-agent market is undoubtedly second baseman Robinson Cano, and despite the fact that he is testing the market, it's fair to say the majority of pundits still expect Cano to be back in a Yankees uniform next season.

    However, as Buster Olney of ESPN pointed out back in September, it's likely going to be all about who's willing to offer up the most money to the 31-year-old.

    The ESPN article notes that "people familiar with Cano's thinking have a sense that he will take the biggest offer he receives this winter, regardless of whether it comes from the Yankees or another team."

    It's hard to imagine the Yankees not outbidding everyone else, especially after ESPN reported that they are gearing up for a potential $300 million spending spree this offseason.
    What if someone else swoops in early and makes Cano an offer he can't refuse, though? Where would that leave the Yankees?

    The ESPN report points to the team targeting Cano, Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka and either Brian McCann or Carlos Beltran. What if the Yankees don't have to give Cano something like an eight-year, $200 million deal, though?

    They could conceivably sign all three of those other guys, add Omar Infante as a replacement for Cano and go after another starter like Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza or Ervin Santana while still spending less than the $300 million they anticipated.