MLB Players in Worst Spots as 2016 Winter Meetings Dust Settles
Whether it was record-setting contracts for free-agent closers or blockbuster trades that involved All-Star-caliber players and big-time prospects, there was plenty for the baseball world to get its hands around at last week's winter meetings.
Every move a team made had far-reaching consequences.
Potential landing spots disappeared for some free agents, whether due to a team's going in another direction or spending the bulk of its disposable income elsewhere.
Players being dangled as trade bait were ultimately looked over by potential suitors, who signed other free agents in some cases and played their most valuable trade chips to bolster another part of their roster in others.
As a result, a slew of notable players find themselves facing an uncertain future—a position nobody wants to be in. Which players currently find themselves in the worst spots?
Jose Bautista, Free Agent
Jose Bautista drew a line in the sand back in February when it came to a new contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. As he explained to the Toronto Star's Richard Griffin, he had no intention of crossing it:
If someone is going to ask me "What would it take?" I didn't want to waste any time. I think it should be natural, organic, quick and easy. It shouldn't be pull and tug about a few dollars here and there. I didn't want to waste their time or their effort. So they can start planning ahead, and if it's not going to happen, they have plenty of time to do so. There's no negotiation. I told them what I wanted. They either meet it or it is what it is.
While Bautista denied a report from TSN's Rick Westhead that he had asked for a five-year, $150 million deal, both Griffin and FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman reported the slugger's demands were actually higher.
That line—and any leverage Bautista had—has all but disappeared 10 months later.
Peter Gammons reported the Boston Red Sox told his agent, Jay Alou, it had no room left in its budget for the veteran slugger. The Baltimore Orioles won't even consider the veteran slugger because their fans view him as a "villain," Dan Duquette, the Orioles' executive vice president, told the Baltimore Sun's Eduardo A. Encina.
It is what it is, right Jose?
With a dwindling market, Bautista may have no choice but to take whatever the Blue Jays, who Heyman reports Alou spoke with at the end of the winter meetings, decide to offer.
Jay Bruce, OF, New York Mets
With Yoenis Cespedes back in the fold, the New York Mets have nowhere for Jay Bruce to play in their crowded outfield, which includes Michael Conforto, Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares and prospect Brandon Nimmo.
Moving the 29-year-old slugger and his $13 million salary, however, wasn't as easy a task as the club might have hoped it'd be at the winter meetings.
"Outfielders, hitters, still quite a few of them out there," general manager Sandy Alderson said, per Newsday's Marc Carig. "I think clubs are still trying to sort out their priorities, cost in dollars, cost in prospects, cost in draft picks."
Some of those hitters join Bruce on this list, but we can read between the lines when it comes to Alderson's comments: Teams don't want to pay Bruce—and the Mets—to add the left-handed slugger's power to their lineup.
If the Mets were willing to package Bruce with one of their better prospects, perhaps he'd already have a new home. But Conforto, right-handed starter Robert Gsellman and shortstop Amed Rosario are all off-limits, per Carig. That only complicates matters and makes an outright salary dump a distinct possibility.
Knowing your current team doesn't want you and other teams don't value you enough to give up anything of value in a trade has to be an awful feeling for a player to deal with. Bruce finds himself in a spot nobody envies—with no resolution on the horizon.
Edwin Encarnacion, Free Agent
"Cratered," as Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan put it, is a great way to describe Edwin Encarnacion's market.
Once expected to land a multiyear deal along the lines of the four-year, $110 million pact Yoenis Cespedes got to stay with the New York Mets, Passan says Encarnacion can't even find a three-year, $60 million contract despite another MVP-caliber season.
However, there are signs things could begin to tick upward. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the St. Louis Cardinals could shift their attention to Encarnacion, while industry insiders still consider the Texas Rangers a "logical landing spot," per Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith.
The Toronto Blue Jays loom as a possibility as well, according to FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman, who notes that returning to Toronto has been Encarnacion's preference all along.
That said, a bidding war isn't about to break out for his services. Encarnacion, who turns 34 in January, will likely be faced with one of two options moving forward: Either sign a one-year deal and test free agency again next winter, or ink a two-year pact that would put him back on the market in 2018.
Neither of those options is enticing.
Gerardo Parra, 1B/OF, Colorado Rockies
Two months ago, Gerardo Parra was set to spend most of his time as the left-handed part of a platoon at first base for Colorado in 2017. But then the Rockies signed Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal to fill the position, relegating Parra to full-time bench duty.
A move back to the outfield, where Parra has spent most of his career, isn't in the cards. He doesn't hit enough to take away playing time from Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl or Carlos Gonzalez, and he's not the Gold Glove-caliber defender he once was, limiting his value as a late-inning defensive replacement.
Really, the best thing that could happen to the 29-year-old is a trade elsewhere, preferably to a team with a need in the outfield corners.
But when you take into account his fading defensive chops, mediocre offense (.253 BA, .671 OPS) and burdensome contract—he's due at least $19.5 million through 2018 ($18 million in salary and a $1.5 million buyout of a 2019 team option)—trading the eight-year veteran isn't an easy task.
Instead, Parra seems destined to ride the pine, the last place a player in the prime of his career wants to be.
Colby Rasmus, Free Agent
If defense and pitching win championships, you'd think a defensively minded, 30-year-old free-agent outfielder with some pop in his bat wouldn't have a hard time finding a new home.
That hasn't been the case for Colby Rasmus, who was a Gold Glove finalist and one of only three outfielders, along with Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier and Toronto's Kevin Pillar, to finish the 2016 season with at least 20 defensive runs saved and a UZR/150 above 20, per FanGraphs.
He's never lived up to the lofty expectations that surrounded him years ago when he was considered one of the game's best prospects by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, but Rasmus hasn't been a complete disaster at the plate, hitting .241 with a .744 OPS over parts of eight seasons in the majors.
While he's capable of playing all three outfield spots, Rasmus isn't going to command a huge deal. With a number of teams still in need of corner outfield help—Baltimore, San Francisco and Seattle among them—you'd think there'd be at least cursory interest in his services.
It's as if the rumor mill wasn't informed that Rasmus is a free agent, as there's been nary a whisper, much less speculation or an actual rumor, making the rounds in regards to his future employment.
That's perhaps the worst place a player can find himself coming out of the winter meetings: seemingly forgotten.
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