B.S. Meter on the Top MLB Free-Agency and Trade Rumors Ahead of Winter Meetings

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IDecember 1, 2020

B.S. Meter on the Top MLB Free-Agency and Trade Rumors Ahead of Winter Meetings

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The 2020 MLB winter meetings begin next week, and the hot stove is churning out a number of rumors ahead of possibly the most consequential week of the offseason.

    Teams have already started to tip hands regarding which players they might like or choose to pursue. At the same time, others have glaring needs.

    But while buzz around players and teams can sometimes be informative, it can also be just noise.

    Just because teams "check in" on a free agent or possible trade targets does not mean a move is in the cards. It is quite common for front offices to pursue a variety of different avenues in order to determine how best to improve rosters.

    With that last point in mind, let's examine some of the top rumors ahead of the winter meetings. These rumors will be assessed in terms of whether a signing or trade makes sense, as well as if those moves are transactions teams with reported interest will actually pursue in the coming weeks.

Dodgers Could Look to Bring Nolan Arenado to LA

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Francisco Lindor is the top player most expected to be moved this winter. But while the Cleveland Indians could indeed trade their star shortstop, it might take some time before a deal is completed.

    Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado may have a shorter timeline.

    The Rockies are desperate to acquire assets. Colorado is coming off consecutive losing seasons, and it has the second-worst farm system in baseball, per Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter. Arenado, meanwhile, will want to be on a winner in the prime of his career.

    Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported the Los Angeles Dodgers have interest in trading for the California native. It is not unlike team president Andrew Friedman to pursue star players in the trade market, and with third baseman Justin Turner headed to free agency, acquiring Arenado would seem to fit a positional need.

    Buster Olney of ESPN reported the obstacles to completing an Arenado-to-Dodgers swap are "monumental." This would suggest L.A. is not intent on completing a deal. But there are reasons that acquiring Arenado makes sense beyond his excellence and Turner's impending free agency.

    Consider: The Dodgers have big money coming off the books after 2021, notably shortstop Corey Seager. They also have top infield prospects in Gavin Lux and Kody Hoese.

    Olney says L.A. could opt to re-sign Seager or go with one of the prospects as a cheaper option down the road. However, while Arenado is owed close to $200 million over the next six years, that may be only slightly more expensive than Seager could be next winter. Plus, L.A. showed it was not afraid of the financial complexities brought forth by COVID-19 when it signed Mookie Betts to a huge extension.

    There is a lot of skepticism Arenado will be dealt because of the money owed in addition to his opt-out after next year. But the Dodgers have future financial flexibility and prospects like Hoese, Keibert Ruiz and any number of pitchers who could interest Colorado. They also have the foundation in place for Arenado to buy in for the remainder of his deal.

    B.S. Meter: Friedman is turning the wheels

Rays Will Listen to Offers for Blake Snell

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Whereas the Rockies are on the precipice of a rebuild, the Tampa Bay Rays enter the offseason as the reigning American League champions.

    Nevertheless, the low-payroll Rays have been just as susceptible as others to financial losses stemming from the pandemic and might look for cost-cutting measures.

    Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported Rays general manager Erik Neander and Co. are "open to the idea" of trading 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. Feinsand noted the Rays are not "actively" shopping the left-hander, but rival executives believe trading Snell might offer Tampa Bay the best opportunity to slash payroll and get big return value.

    Indeed, dealing the 27-year-old would net the Rays a major prospect haul. Snell won the Cy Young in his age-25 season. After an injury-riddled 2019, he bounced back with a 3.24 ERA in 11 regular-season starts in 2020 before putting together an ERA of 3.03 in 29.2 postseason innings.

    Snell has legitimate strikeout stuff, and he has yet to reach the prime of his career. He is also a ferocious competitor on and off the mound, as evidenced by his reaction to being taken out of Game 6 of the World Series. Not to mention, he is owed a modest $39 million over the next three seasons.

    The Rays are limited in terms of big-money players; Snell and Kevin Kiermaier are probably foremost among guys who could be traded to cut payroll. Tampa Bay also has a wealth of young pitching in the pipeline.

    However, Tampa Bay already lost Charlie Morton after declining his club option and failing to re-sign him on the open market. Tyler Glasnow regressed, and manager Kevin Cash cannot rely strictly on "openers" or heavier usage from the likes of Ryan Yarbrough to get the job done.

    The likelihood that Snell moves is probably similar to that of star Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader: They can be had, but only for an astronomical price.

    Tampa Bay is more likely to make a fringe addition or two or make other cost-cutting moves, as it did by designating Hunter Renfroe for assignment.

    B.S. Meter: Not much traction

Mariners Have Interest in Hometown Kid

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Feinsand reported the Seattle Mariners have interest in acquiring Snell, which is curious.

    On one hand, Snell was born in Seattle and is fairly affordable. He would be an interesting addition alongside Marco Gonzales, Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn in a young and potentially formidable rotation.

    That said, Snell would cost Seattle a fortune, and this is still a rebuilding club.

    The Mariners won 27 of 60 games in 2020 and made strides toward being competitive. They have the reigning AL Rookie of the Year in Kyle Lewis and a Gold Glove winner in Evan White who will both be entering their age-25 seasons. Dylan Moore and Ty France also provide some intrigue.

    But it is hard to ignore the lack of production in the lineup. Seattle ranked 11th in the AL in runs scored while ranking 14th in both homers and OPS, and the lineup is full of bats that are still developing.

    The Mariners have no shortage of prospect depth and also boast outfield talent the Rays would undoubtedly covet. But are they going to give up top assets for just three years of Snell, knowing they might not have enough offense to compete in that stretch?

    It seems like a big reach, especially for someone like GM Jerry Dipoto.

    B.S. Meter: Highly skeptical M's have legitimate interest

Nationals Looking at Kris Bryant

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    Paul Beaty/Associated Press

    The Washington Nationals lost their star third baseman when Anthony Rendon signed with the Los Angeles Angels last offseason.

    Washington might be after another star at the hot corner. Morosi reported the Nats are contemplating a trade for Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.

    The two clubs have had talks before, with the Cubs intent on acquiring pieces like Nats center fielder Victor Robles and pitching prospect Jackson Rutledge, per Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post. It is not a surprise to see Washington could return to the Bryant well.

    The Cubs are unlikely to waver from the pieces they would desire. The Nats could use an upgrade at the hot corner, considering Carter Kieboom has struggled in his brief big league career and veteran infielders Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera are no longer on the roster.

    However, Bryant is coming off a career-worst season (.644 OPS) during which he dealt with more injury issues. More notably, the 2016 National League MVP will be a free agent after 2021, and he is expected to make $18.6 million in arbitration, per Spotrac.

    The Nats are already pressed for funds. They also have needs in the bullpen and at the back end of the rotation. Bryant's past production points to his upside, but is Nationals GM Mike Rizzo willing to give up prospects while knowing the 2013 No. 2 overall pick could hit the open market next year?

    Washington could certainly be looking into a trade. But as the Cubs look to add young talent and the Nats face a budget crunch, the 2019 World Series champs may pivot to signing a veteran like Justin Turner or utility man such as Tommy La Stella.

    B.S. Meter: It's real, but unlikely to result in a deal

Talks Heating Up Between Blue Jays, George Springer

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The Toronto Blue Jays have been linked to virtually every big-name free agent this offseason.

    Toronto appears to be in the market for stars, period. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reported the Jays have interest in DJ LeMahieu and "really want" Lindor. But another name should resonate with Toronto fans.

    Davidi reported the Blue Jays have "progressed beyond just talking" with marquee center fielder George Springer, and the 31-year-old might be the ideal target.

    Toronto got outstanding production from its outfield and has budding stars in Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Tesocar Hernandez. Randal Grichuk was also productive in center field, though Springer has more upside and is better defensively.

    While Grichuk homered 12 times in 2020, he has a 27.7 percent career strikeout rate. He also posted minus-eight defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs.

    Springer is a high on-base guy who slugs more and ranked 11th in outs above average in 2019, per Baseball Savant. While the Astros center fielder experienced a slight dip in defensive production last season (one out above average), he was still superior to Grichuk, who produced minus-one outs above average.

    Springer would give the Blue Jays a legitimate table-setter and run-producer at the top of the lineup while significantly improving the team's defense. Although he is 31, he has not shown signs of slowing down and would fit right in with the rest of Toronto's talented position players.

    The challenge is that Grichuk is under contract through 2023. The Blue Jays would probably prefer to trade him but would need to find a team to take on his $28 million over the next three seasons.

    Toronto also has arguably more pressing needs in the rotation and the bullpen, though the market for starting pitchers is weak.

    In any case, Toronto's interest in nabbing an impact outfielder, whether it be Springer or former Astros teammate Michael Brantley, seems very real, and Springer is the best fit for the roster.

    B.S. Meter: Blue Jays could make an aggressive offer

Reds Could Trade Sonny Gray

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Reds were buyers last winter as they looked to make a playoff push in 2020.

    Cincinnati signed Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas to bolster the lineup while also inking Shogo Akiyama to add some speed, defense and contact in center field.

    The additions did not pan out, but the Reds still made the playoffs thanks to a strong rotation that featured NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer. However, Bauer is perhaps the top free agent on the market, and Cincy might well find itself in a better position to sell this offseason.

    Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the Reds are "open" to trading right-hander Sonny Gray, who is owed $20.2 million over the next two years and has a $12 million club option in 2023.

    Trading Gray seems feasible. While Cincinnati might hope to re-sign Bauer, it is unlikely to have enough to compete with big-market clubs that will undoubtedly show interest. Plus, Gray would become one of the top commodities in a depressed market for starters.

    The 31-year-old had a 3.70 ERA in 11 starts in 2020 after posting a 2.87 ERA in 31 starts last year. Gray actually had a lower fielding independent pitching mark (3.05) than he did last season (3.42). His walk rate went up, but so did his strikeout rate. He also allowed fewer homers per nine innings.

    As Rosenthal noted, dealing Gray would detract from the Reds' strength. But Bauer could already be out the door, and Cincinnati does not have the offense to compete with the top contenders. The Reds also have a middling farm system and could use young assets.

    The Reds probably will not move Gray unless they feel they can get proper value. Cincy could get some enticing offers given his production, affordability and club control as well as the shortage of impact pitchers available.

    If Bauer moves on, talks involving Gray could heat up.

    B.S. Meter: The stove is burning

Will Rangers Be Spenders?

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    Toru Takahashi/Associated Press

    The Texas Rangers should not profile as a team ready to spend big this offseason. If anything, the Rangers figure to sell top trade chips like Lance Lynn and Joey Gallo.

    Plus, Texas has the 24th-ranked farm system in baseball, per Reuter. The Rangers appear to be a ways away from contending.

    At the same time, the organization just opened a brand-new stadium and needs new and exciting talent. Perhaps GM Jon Daniels will thread the needle, maximizing value on some guys while spending in other areas.

    Although the Rangers will have a hard time attracting top free agents, T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reported Texas is showing legitimate interest in Korea Baseball Organization star Kim Ha-seong.

    The 25-year-old infielder hit .306 with 30 homers while stealing 23 bases for the Kiwoom Heroes in 2020. Kim's blend of power, speed and defensive versatility should make him a popular target in free agency. He certainly would be a fit in Texas.

    Rangers mainstay Elvis Andrus still holds down the shortstop spot, but he is only under contract through 2022 with a vesting option in 2023. Moreover, Texas has been looking for an upgrade over second baseman Rougned Odor, whom they "aggressively" shopped at the deadline, per Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

    But a number of things are going against the Rangers' reported interest in Kim. For one, more competitive teams could pursue the Korean star, including the Blue Jays and possibly the San Francisco Giants, per Morosi.

    Two, Daniels has not had great luck with free agents. Texas seemed to have a clear need at the hot corner last year, but the Rangers missed on the hometown boy in Rendon as well as Josh Donaldson.

    This could be muted interest more than anything else. The Rangers can punt this year and spend big on next year's star-studded class of shortstops.

    B.S. Meter: Would be surprising to see Texas spend aggressively

Red Sox Like J.A. Happ's Fenway Splits

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The Boston Red Sox enter the offseason with a need for starting pitching.

    Left-handers Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez are expected to return to the rotation. Nathan Eovaldi is still under contract, and Tanner Houck showed plenty of stuff in his first three MLB starts. Still, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom will assuredly add a veteran arm or two.

    Morosi reported Boston is interested in left-hander J.A. Happ, noting the 38-year-old has a 2.57 ERA in 66.2 career innings at Fenway Park.

    Happ had a strange season for the Bronx Bombers. He gave up eight earned runs and walked eight in his first two starts, lasting just seven innings total. His vesting option also made for some interesting spacing between starts.

    But Happ settled into a groove. He gave up just one run on six hits in his next two starts and then put together a strong September. The Northwestern alum finished the year with a 3.47 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.

    Happ's peripherals have not been great the last two years. He had a 5.22 FIP and 4.57 FIP, respectively, and has become more susceptible to the long ball.

    However, he still manages to induce weak contact and pound opponents into the ground with his sinker. He can get outs and be effective, something the Red Sox need at the back end of their staff.

    Although signing an aging pitcher like Happ is far from the sexiest move, it would make Boston more competitive. Given that he would likely take a cheaper one-year deal, it would also keep the books clear for the future.

    Meanwhile, signing with the Red Sox would allow Happ to stay in the AL East and pitch for a team that hopes to return to contention next year.

    B.S. Meter: Sensible for both sides

Dodgers Pursuing Lefty Bulk in Brad Hand

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    Phil Long/Associated Press

    Superstar position players are not the only type on L.A.'s radar this offseason.

    Morosi reported the Dodgers have interest in left-handed closer Brad Hand, whose $10 million club option was declined by the Cleveland Indians.

    Hand returned to form as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball this past season. In fact, he might have been the best closer in the game.

    The 30-year-old had a 2.05 ERA in 23 appearances while going a perfect 16-of-16 and leading MLB in saves. Hand's 1.37 FIP and 0.77 WHIP were both the best of his career, and he did not give up a homer in 22 innings.

    If the Dodgers choose not to pursue a superstar, they will be inclined to spend big on bullpen help. Los Angeles has a number of free-agent arms, including Blake Treinen and left-hander Jake McGee. As well, Kenley Jansen will be a free agent after 2021, and it's unclear if he is still considered the team's closer.

    Hand is going to have an enormous market. He and Liam Hendriks are probably the two best relievers available. Still, he could be a perfect bridge guy for the Dodgers as a late-game lefty who can also take Jansen's spot.

    Los Angeles could just as easily pursue Hendriks, who has better velocity and misses more bats. However, Hand is intriguing as a pitcher who can fill multiple roles.

    B.S. Meter: Easy to see the interest

Yadier Molina Has Numerous Suitors

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Catchers in the twilight of their careers are all the rage in 2020, apparently.

    St. Louis Cardinals staple Yadier Molina is reportedly drumming up interest from a large swath of contenders.

    Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported the New York Yankees and New York Mets were among the teams with interest. Molina said during a recent interview with Laura Bonnelly that the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Angels are also suitors (via Hector Gomez of Deportivo Z 101). The Cardinals are expected to try to re-sign him as well.

    For now, we can take Molina at his word. The 38-year-old is one of the most respected veterans in the game, and catching help is always at a premium. Simultaneously, it is highly unlikely all these teams have a concerted interest in signing him.

    The Mets can and should make a run at J.T. Realmuto, and the same might be said of the Angels. Meanwhile, the Padres have Austin Nola and (for now) Francisco Mejia as options, and unless the Yankees move on from Gary Sanchez, he appears to be their guy.

    Plus, Molina's skills have diminished at the plate. He can still hit for average and rarely strikes out, but he ranked below the 10th percentile in numerous advanced hitting categories, per Baseball Savant.

    Granted, the nine-time Gold Glover can still work from behind the dish. Molina threw out 45 percent of would-be base-stealers this past year, and he is a dependable framer.

    But considering he struggles to hit balls hard and adds little to negative value on the bases, he is mostly one-dimensional at this stage of his career.

    If, as Heyman reported, Molina is looking for a two-year deal, there is no way his market is that large.

    B.S. Meter: Not today, Yadi

              

    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, unless otherwise noted.