Impact MLB Deals That Will Still Happen Before Spring Training
Don't fall into the trap that's been laid by front offices around baseball with the current lull in hot stove league action, for the wheeling-and-dealing that we saw in December isn't quite over.
There are still a handful of high-profile players still available, both as free agents and trade chips, and more than a few teams still have significant holes that need to be filled, both in 2015 and beyond. The moves that we're about to predict would go a long way toward filling them.
Who's going where, and what are they going to get? Here's a look at how we see things shaking out.
Max Scherzer Re-Signs with the Tigers
We can cross two more potential destinations for Max Scherzer off the list, as both the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have no intention of signing the free-agent ace.
“You never say never, but we have no plans to pursue those kind of guys at this time.” Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi told The Los Angeles Times' Steve Dilbeck when asked about the likelihood of the team pursuing a trade for Philadelphia's Cole Hamels or signing Scherzer or James Shields.
San Francisco, meanwhile, was never in on Scherzer to begin with, according to ESPN's Jim Bowden, who notes that the club is currently focused on improving its offense.
Scherzer's market was already limited before Scott Boras began talking about a $200 million contract for his client. Think about how clubs could really afford him and then look at the list of those which we can reasonably eliminate from the picture, whether it be by their statements or actions this winter:
- Chicago Cubs
- Los Angeles Angels
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- New York Yankees
- San Francisco Giants
- Seattle Mariners
That leaves us with two realistic destinations: Boston and Detroit, two teams in need of rotation reinforcements.
But the Red Sox have shelled out more than $200 million to sign free agents this winter (most notably to Justin Masterson, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval) and have the pieces necessary to trade for a front-line starter.
Detroit, meanwhile, does not.
While Detroit's rotation is loaded at the top with David Price and Justin Verlander, the rest of the rotation—injury-prone Anibal Sanchez, along with the newly acquired Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon (despite his All-Star nod in 2014)—are major question marks heading into the season.
As ESPN's Buster Olney notes in his most recent insiders-only article, Scherzer's decision to turn down Detroit's $144 million extension offer last year certainly irked a number of decision-makers with the team, and it was only last month that GM Dave Dombrowski denied reports that the club was talking to Scherzer about a reunion.
But Olney goes on to make some pretty indisputable points:
...what the Tigers have not said to date is that the door on a possible return for Scherzer is slammed shut.
They know Scherzer; they know his work ethic; they understand firsthand what a great pitcher he is; and, there can be no debate about this: Their chances of winning the World Series, which has been their operational goal more acutely than for almost any other team in recent seasons, are better with the right-hander on the team. They have the need, and when owner Mike Ilitch decides to spend for a player he wants -- as with Fielder, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, among others -- deals get done.
It comes down to this: Scherzer and the Tigers need each other more than both sides would care to admit. It's going to take some compromise—Scherzer's not getting $200 million and the Tigers are going to have to beat Jon Lester's deal with the Cubs—but ultimately a deal will get done.
Yoan Moncada Signs with the Yankees
Some dismissed my projection of the New York Yankees being the overwhelming favorites to sign 19-year-old Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada last week as nothing more than ramblings by a New York-based writer, but I stand by what I wrote.
Two things factor into my thinking here.
First, the Yankees have a clear need for Moncada's talents, whether they ultimately take him to second base, third base or into the outfield. As Baseball America's Ben Badler notes in the above video, Moncada has the potential to develop into a franchise player.
Last I checked, the Yankees don't have one of those in their farm system. Slugging outfielder Aaron Judge is probably the closest thing to one as far as position players go, but he's got work to do before anyone's going to anoint him as such.
More importantly, the Yankees have never let money stand between them and a player that they truly covet. While money may not be the ultimate driving factor for Moncada, the Yankees have the ability to blow all other offers out of the water by a substantial margin. It's a point that Badler agrees with:
The Yankees have the money to beat anyone’s offer. They’re willing to invest in international talent, whether it’s unprecedented spending on Latin American amateurs or $175 million for Masahiro Tanaka. When you line up all the evidence, if the Yankees truly want Moncada, they’re going to be tough to beat.
Having already blown past their international bonus pool allotment, the Yankees will be limited in how much they can sign an international free agent for in each of the next two signing periods. For a club that has paid the MLB luxury tax every year since its inception, penalties for spending freely are nothing new.
While Moncada has yet to receive clearance from the U.S. government that would allow him to sign with a club, that's expected to come sooner rather than later.
Waiting for Moncada to officially become available certainly won't stand in the way of the team acquiring a potential superstar (and a long-term answer at second base), even if he needs at least a year of seasoning in the minor leagues before he's ready to contribute at the major league level.
Look for the Yankees to be in the $40-to-$50 million range (which would cost the club between $80 and $100 million after penalties) to bring Moncada aboard.
Cole Hamels Gets Traded to the Red Sox
While there's no shortage of teams with the prospects and young talent needed to swing a deal for Philadelphia's Cole Hamels, only a handful can take on the more than $100 million that he's owed over the next five years.
Boston is one of the teams that can check off both those boxes.
The Red Sox have a clear need for an ace and have been linked to Hamels for quite some time, with talk of a potential deal starting up again in mid-November after Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported that the Phillies had been doing their due diligence on a number of Boston's youngsters.
In early December, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman began to put some names to the youngsters that Philadelphia had its eye on: "Word is, the Phillies like infielder-outfielder Mookie Betts, catcher Blake Swihart, third baseman Garin Cecchini and a few others in Boston's well-stocked system."
The Phillies have finally begun to embrace the idea of rebuilding, and moving Hamels, their most valuable trade chip, would help to kick that process into high gear. By the time the club is ready to contend again, Hamels will be in his mid-30s, no longer quite as dominant as he currently is.
Boston may prefer to hang onto its young talent, but realistically, the Red Sox don't have anywhere for most of those prospects to play on a regular basis. Betts, for all his versatility, is blocked at every position.
A package built around Betts should be enough to get a deal done—and it's a deal that would benefit both clubs.
Boston gets the front-line starter that it needs to officially rejoin the land of contenders in the American League, while Philadelphia gets the injection of young talent that it desperately needs to begin ushering in a new era of Phillies baseball.
Ben Zobrist Gets Traded to San Francisco
Consistent, versatile and due a reasonable salary ($7.5 million in the last year of his deal), there's no shortage of potential landing spots for Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist. According to The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, multiple teams are in pursuit:
The super utilityman is being pursued seriously by the Giants, Nationals, Angels and Cubs. The Rays recently acquired Asdrubal Cabrera on a one-year deal, sparking further speculation that Zobrist might be on the move. The Rays are said to be asking for at least one top prospect and a mid-level one.
While that might be a high asking price for a one-year rental, Zobrist's ability to fill multiple holes makes him worth the asking price.
He'd immediately fill holes at second base in Los Angeles and Washington, where Josh Rutledge and Danny Espinosa, respectively, are currently slotted into the lineup at second base. He'd likely be entrenched in left field in Chicago and San Francisco, where youngsters Javier Baez and Joe Panik have the keystone locked down.
We can eliminate the Angels from the equation, as the club doesn't really have a deep enough farm system to trade from. A reunion with former Rays manager Joe Maddon in Chicago would make for a great story, but it's highly unlikely that the Cubs are going to deal away prospects for a one-year rental.
That leaves us with the Giants and Nationals.
Both clubs have young pitching with upside that is sure to intrigue the Rays, but Washington is faced with losing two-fifths of its rotation after the season as both Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann can become free agents. It's hard to see the Nationals moving any of their young arms for a short-term fix.
San Francisco may not be willing to include top prospect Kyle Crick, but the Giants have enough young arms with upside—a list that includes Ty Blach, Clayton Blackburn, Keury Mella and Chris Stratton—to put together a package that would entice the Rays.
James Shields Signs with the Padres
There's been plenty of speculation about where James Shields will ultimately wind up, and one theory that's beginning to pick up steam is that he'll find his way to San Diego, as ESPN's A.J. Mass discussed recently. It's an interesting enough idea to delve into.
We know that the Padres have been looking for a veteran starter to lead their rotation, having made a push to sign Hiroki Kuroda, per the San Diego Union-Tribune's Jeff Sanders, and also talking to Philadelphia about a deal for Cole Hamels that was centered on Wil Myers, first reported by Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News.
But Kuroda decided to return to Japan to end his career, and the Union-Tribune's Dennis Lim says that GM A.J. Preller isn't interested in moving Myers, a player who's been with the organization for less than a month.
But with the way Preller has operated thus far, we'd be fools to think he was done investigating ways to acquire the arm he seeks.
As for Shields, we can knock three teams off of his list of possible destinations, with the Dodgers, Giants and Boston Red Sox all opting to pass. According to Peter Gammons, Shields' fly-ball tendencies and career numbers at Fenway Park (2-9 with a 5.42 ERA) led Boston to that decision.
In Petco Park, those fly-ball tendencies become far less of an issue, even with an outfield defense that could be painful to watch at times. While Shields wouldn't have the kind of defense behind him that he did in Kansas City, he'd still have one of the game's best bullpens waiting to finish out games.
Like Scherzer, Shields is quickly finding fewer options available to him, and amazingly enough—between the bullpen, the ballpark and the chance to be supported by a potentially dangerous offense—the Padres may represent his best one.
Cafardo reported back in mid-December that Shields' asking price was in the neighborhood of five years and $110 million, right around what Cole Hamels has left on his contract. Look for San Diego to come close to matching those numbers.
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