Fact or Fiction on All of MLB's Hottest Free-Agency, Trade Rumors

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2014

Fact or Fiction on All of MLB's Hottest Free-Agency, Trade Rumors

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    Which team will capture the top remaining prize on the free-agent market in Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka?
    Which team will capture the top remaining prize on the free-agent market in Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka?Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

    The time for action is dwindling before MLB teams conclude the waiting and begin spring training. 

    Although most of the marquee free agents have picked new homes, quite a few big-time players are still waiting for an employer to come knocking on their door. The trade rumor mill might have slowed down considerably, but the availability of a couple top-notch starting pitchers has become a popular talking point this winter.

    Of course, rumors always run rampant on the hot stove. The media is overcrowded with people eagerly trying to transmit their voice amid a sea of shouting. (I hear this Gould kid is just the worst.) So when do you know whom and what to believe?

    Well, you don't. The best you can do is logically examine the details and decipher the results which makes the most sense. Assuming those in power agree on those assessments is no lock, but one can hope.

    Let's analyze some of the baseball rumors gaining steam. Some discussion heard from the grapevine is spot on, but other whispers deserve a closer look.

    All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs

    Contract information obtained from Cot's Baseball Contracts

Jeff Samardzija Staying Put?

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    Jeff Samardzija has surfaced frequently in trade rumors.
    Jeff Samardzija has surfaced frequently in trade rumors.Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    Rumor: The Chicago Cubs will not trade Jeff Samardzija before Opening Day.

    The Chicago Cubs have spent the offseason watching attentively from Wrigley Field's archaic bleachers. They're tied to just $54.5 million in payroll before settling arbitration hearings, but general manager Theo Epstein is content to fortify his army of enticing prospects instead of going broke for a quick fix.

    Unless the Cubs trade for David Price, watch all of their young chips immediately morph into big league superstars and convince the Los Angeles Angels that Mike Trout is expendable, they need more time before building a contender. By the time they're ready to roll, Samardzija will get a chance to test the free-agent waters.

    Their top pitcher's closing window of affordability, along with his underwhelming performance by traditional measures, have incited trade talks around the hurler. While CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney reported that the two sides "remain far apart on a long-term deal," he also said the team plans to keep Samardzija, at least for part of the 2014 campaign:

    At this point, a major-league source said the Cubs are planning to hold onto Jeff Samardzija until closer to the July 31 trade deadline, hoping to change the supply-and-demand dynamics.

    Restless Cubs fans will likely point to his 4.34 ERA from last season and wonder why the Cubs showed any support for an average pitcher who will turn 29 before Opening Day. But Epstein, one of baseball's brightest minds, undoubtedly is aware of the righty's 3.77 FIP and his sterling strikeout rates. 

    They're also right to think that Samardzija would fetch more on the trading block during the midst of a pennant push than during the dog days of the offseason. Parting with valuable prospects will feel foolish for teams that could instead pursue Matt Garza, Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez in free agency.

    Those options aren't available in July, which gives the Cubs the upper hand. They also should exude patience in hopes of his surface numbers lining up with his peripherals, which would at least raise his trade value.

    Verdict: Fact

Homer Bailey on the Move?

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    Fresh off a breakthrough season, Homer Bailey can set himself up for a lucrative raise next offseason.
    Fresh off a breakthrough season, Homer Bailey can set himself up for a lucrative raise next offseason.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Rumor: The Cincinnati Reds will trade Homer Bailey before he hits free agency this year.

    Coming on the tails of his breakout 2013 season, Bailey's future with the Cincinnati Reds has already festered into a big story.

    Bailey is set to enter free agency after the 2014 season. If this year if anything like his last one, he'll draw a hefty contract on the open market. In 209 innings pitched in 2013, Bailey posted a 3.49 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and a career-high 199 strikeouts.

    Early in December, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported some murmurs around the organization about the team potentially trading him if the two sides could not agree to an extension. Rosenthal more recently wrote that three different sources told him that Bailey wanted out of Cincinnati, which Bailey adamantly denied.

    Only Bailey and those close to him truly know his thoughts about Cincinnati. Sure, Bailey could have given Rosenthal a politically correct answer to avoid creating a distraction, but who are we to speculate about his level of happiness?

    Cincinnati's ability to keep Bailey, however, is fair game to ponder. The Reds, who were unable to assemble enough money to retain Shin-Soo Choo, also have to worry about re-upping Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto in the near future.

    But to trade a pitcher south of 30 years old right after he delivered on the upside potential that had accompanied him since he entered the big leagues of being a staff ace? That seems unlikely for a team that has made the postseason in three of the last four years and is letting Bronson Arroyo walk this winter.

    Unless Bailey makes it abundantly clear that he will not stay in Cincinnati past 2014, don't expect the Reds to do anything drastic.

    Verdict: Fiction

Kendrys Morales To...Any Takers?

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    Kendrys Morales can hit, but his limited ability elsewhere is making it hard for him to find an interested suitor.
    Kendrys Morales can hit, but his limited ability elsewhere is making it hard for him to find an interested suitor.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Rumor: No team is willing to spend much money on Kendrys Morales.

    "Hey guys, we've got an available power hitter in Kendrys Morales if anybody wants him. He has a .480 career slugging percentage and can blast 20-25 homers for your squad. Anyone?"

    Apparently not. According to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, "The silence on Morales is deafening."

    Agent Scott Boras attributed the lack of interest in his client to Morales' limited scope as a designated hitter, but he challenged the belief that Morales' lack of defense strips him of value:

    Agent Scott Boras was told recently that a team didn’t want to spend that much on a DH. Boras pointed to David Ortiz and the impact he’s had. “Ortiz has been at the core of three championships for the Red Sox,” said Boras. “He’s been the common denominator in the Red Sox’ success. So, don’t tell me that a DH isn’t important to a lineup. And Kendrys is also a very good first baseman.”

    Ortiz kept Father Time waiting again by hitting .309/.395/.564 with 30 homers last year, so comparing him to Morales and his .277/.336/.449 slash line isn't fair. While Ortiz is still mashing, Morales has wielded a declining slugging percentage in each of the past three seasons.

    While Morales previously played solid defense at first, his glove has waned after fracturing his leg during a walk-off home run celebration in 2010. Over the last two seasons, Morales has delivered minus-three defensive runs saved through 59 games.

    He probably wouldn't be the worst defensive first baseman around, but calling the 30-year-old a "very good first baseman" is a stretch of the imagination, to say the least.

    Teams now appreciate the importance of defense and speed, and Morales is no longer enough of a game-changer offensively to justify coughing up millions of dollars and a compensatory draft pick. He'll have to settle for a small deal to find work in 2014.

    This has all the makings of Morales following a similar path as that of Kyle Lohse last season. Some team will bite before April, but only for an affordable, one-year deal.

    Verdict: Fact

Masahiro Tanaka Sweepstakes Down to New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers?

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    Many MLB teams are interested in Tanaka, but the usual suspects are tabbed as the favorites.
    Many MLB teams are interested in Tanaka, but the usual suspects are tabbed as the favorites.Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

    Rumor: Masahiro Tanaka's decision comes down to the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers.

    If the rumors are true, the battle for Japan's Tanaka will be fought between the Evil Empire and the Death Star.

    Per The New York Times' David Waldstein, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers have emerged as front-runners to sign the 25-year-old free-agent pitcher. Waldstein added that Tanaka's wife would prefer to reside on the West Coast, which bodes well for the Dodgers.

    It's certainly possible that Tanaka lands with one of those two big spenders, but don't eliminate everyone else just yet.

    The Seattle Mariners proved they're not afraid to open up their checkbook when they outbid the Yankees for superstar Robinson Cano. Teams that shell out $240 million for one player typically are not content with winning 80 games, so the Mariners are hungry to make another splash.

    If Tanaka truly prefers the West Coast, we can't rule out the other team in Los Angeles. Although piling up the payroll even further is not the wisest move for the Angels while Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Jered Weaver soak up the club's financial resources, the franchise might be crazy enough to throw caution to the wind.

    The new proceedings also open up the competition for Tanaka, as the willingness to pay a $20 million bidding fee now replaces the capless posting fee that cost the Texas Rangers $51.7 million to negotiate with Yu Darvish.

    There's plenty of other suitors tempting Tanaka with barrels of cash that'd make Walter White blush. According to Mooney's report, the Cubs are also prepared to offer him a nine-figure salary.

    The Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez relayed a story from Sports Hochi (a Japanese outlet) listing the Yankees, Dodgers and Angels as the three remaining candidates, but Hernandez also advised to take the story "with a grain of salt."

    Money talks, and one cannot forget the magic of the "mystery team" that so often pops up when we think we figured everything out. There's still time for interested clubs to add some millions of dollars to their proposals. 

    This race is too wide open to label this as strictly a two-team contest. 

    Verdict: Fiction

Baltimore Orioles Finding a Cheap DH Platoon?

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    Although he strikes out far too often, Jack Cust is also a power hitter with a high on-base percentage.
    Although he strikes out far too often, Jack Cust is also a power hitter with a high on-base percentage.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Rumor: The Baltimore Orioles will sign Jack Cust to a minor league deal.

    A news tip that at first glance looks nonessential, perhaps even comical, might pay sizable dividends for the Baltimore Orioles.

    Looking for another hitter on the cheap, the Orioles are dumpster-diving for affordable power. That has led them to a doorstep of a wildly disappointing former No. 1 pick and a downtrodden power hitter who would have been the star of Moneyball had his tenure with the Oakland Athletics started earlier.

    On Jan. 13, MASN.com's Roch Kubatko reported that the Orioles invited Delmon Young and Jack Cust to mini-camp:

    The Orioles have invited outfielders Delmon Young and Jack Cust to their mini-camp, according to an industry source, and both players are expected to arrive Tuesday at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

    The Orioles are interested in signing Young and Cust to minor league deals with invitations to spring training, according to the source. Young is more likely to be signed than Cust, but it's possible that the Orioles extend contracts to both of them.

    Later that day, Kubatko confirmed that the Orioles decided to give Young a minor league deal before he arrived. That should not deter Baltimore from also considering Cust, as the two players could join forces as a lefty/right platoon in the designated hitter slot.

    A career .303/.341/.471 hitter against southpaws, Young could deliver decent numbers in the short end of a timeshare at DH, which would also cover up his defensive blemishes. 

    Cust has not played in the majors since 2011, but he has netted a .374 career on-base percentage in the big leagues and an .849 OPS against righties. At the minimum cost of a minor league contract, Cust could form a nice tag team with Young as Baltimore's designated hitters.

    Verdict: Fact

Yankees Not Looking to Replace Alex Rodriguez?

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    Michael Young's past success and pristine reputation in the clubhouse makes him a seemingly logical fit for the New Yok Yankees, but don't expect it to come to fruition.
    Michael Young's past success and pristine reputation in the clubhouse makes him a seemingly logical fit for the New Yok Yankees, but don't expect it to come to fruition.Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    Rumor: The Yankees will not sign Michael Young, or any other third baseman, to a major league contract.

    With the long-lasting Alex Rodriguez investigation finally resulting in a 162-game suspension, the Yankees now have $25 million shed off their payroll and a hole at third base.

    Naturally, this lends easily to speculation of the Bronx Bombers spending to fix that shortcoming, but the Yankees are reportedly not interested in compounding their mistakes.

    According to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Yankees will not offer any infielder a major league contract, which takes them out of the running for Michael Young and Stephen Drew.

    Young seems to fit the Yankees model in that he's old and way past his prime, causing the general public to overrate his value. It worked for Brian Roberts, who hasn't played 100 games in a season since 2009.

    A year after notching a .682 OPS and minus-1.6 WAR, Young improved by registering a .730 OPS and minus-0.2 WAR. Either way, New York isn't missing much by staying away from him.

    While they have interest in retaining Mark Reynolds, so do at least four other teams, per CBS Sports' Jon Heyman. One of the other organizations desperate for power will offer him a big-league contract.

    Instead, the Yankees took a low-risk gamble on Scott Sizemore, who missed the last two seasons with two separate ACL tears. If healthy, he offers decent pop and a 11.4 percent walk rate through 160 career major league games.

    Young won't do much to help the Yankees, and Drew makes little sense unless Derek Jeter decides to retire this week. Maybe they can convince the San Diego Padres to part with Chase Headley during the season, but don't expect the Yankees to bring in any more reinforcements at third base before Opening Day.

    Verdict: Fact