MLB Offseason Primer – Free Agents and Trades to Watch

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Robinson Cano Trade Rumors

Aug 31, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano hits a RBI double against the Baltimore Orioles in the 1st inning during the game at Yankee Stadium. John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Major League Baseball offseason. Now that the Boston Red Sox have won the World Series, held their parade, and shaved their beards — at least some of them — the focus shifts to the 2014 season and trade rumors as free agents begin to find their landing spots.

Quite possibly more than any other major sports league, MLB action never stops. This season just ended, yet pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in just three months. General managers across the league have long been hard at work in preparation for next year and beyond, and the time has come to execute their plans by putting their rosters together.

This year’s free agent class is much more top-heavy than it is deep. There are a clear handful of players who will be the real prizes of the winter, followed by everyone else.

Most of the marquee free agents are offensive players. Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano is arguably the cream of that crop, and, though it will fall short of the $300 million dollars he’ll ask for, his contract will likely enter the $200 million dollar realm that only four other players in history have reached. It will also mark the first time Jay-Z and his Roc Nation Sports work out a superstar contract.

Jacoby Ellsbury headlines the list of outfielders available. As a Scott Boras client, he will be in no rush to come to an agreement, and he will be on the hunt for a contract that takes him into his late 30’s. There are many teams in need of a center fielder with money to spend, who will take the chance his injury-riddled past stays in the past.

Beyond Cano and Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran are other top-end available position players, with Mike Napoli, Curtis Granderson, Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales, and Stephen Drew among the best others available.

The pitching market is a bit tight this winter, as well. The best pitcher available may be one who isn’t even in the majors. Masahiro Tanaka is the next big starter to come to the MLB from Japan and will incite a bidding war that could eclipse that of any other international signing, even though he may not be as good as countryman Yu Darvish. At just 25, numerous teams will be willing to take a chance on the next big potential import.

Of current MLB players, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana are the best starters available. Because of the shallow nature of the pitching market this year, they could be in for decent pay days. For those teams in need of other options, secondary starters include Ricky Nolasco, A.J. Burnett, Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo, and Bartolo Colon.

Even the reliever market is lacking in star power. There are some good arms, but they all come with risks. Guys like Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Joaquin Benoit, and Edward Mujica are the headliners this year.

The added wrinkle to the free agent process is that of the player who had been issued a qualifying offer from his current team. Each organization can offer any of its free agents-to-be a one-year, $14.1 million dollar contract. If that player turns it down and ends up signing with another team, the new team sacrifices its first-round draft pick (unless it is in the top 11, in which case it would be the team’s second-round pick) and the team losing the player would receive a compensatory pick at the end of the first round.

The deadline for teams to issue qualifying offers passed on Monday afternoon and 13 players received them — four more than last year. They are Beltran, Cano, Choo, Cruz, Drew, Ellsbury, Granderson, Jimenez, Kuroda, McCann, Morales, Napoli, and Santana. For players like Beltran, Drew, and Kuroda, who are older or not superstars, it could make signing with a new team more difficult because of the price, not only in money, but in draft picks.

The potential of losing a high draft pick, coupled with the light free agent market, could, ironically, bring more excitement to the MLB offseason. That’s because it could open up the trade market.

Like they did last year with James Shields and Wade Davis, the Tampa Rays could very well move ace David Price. The Rays will soon be priced out of his services and his value will be highest now with two full years left on his contract. Meanwhile, the Tigers could also be looking to move Max Scherzer, coming off his 21-win season, the Cubs may trade Jeff Samardzija, the Red Sox might entertain offers for one of their six starters, and the Cardinals could try to acquire a bat in exchange for one of their talented young arms.

Need some offense? There will be some of that, too. The Angels need pitching and they’re dangling Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos. The Cubs could ship out Starlin Castro. And someone will surely call Miami to check in on Giancarlo Stanton.

So while it may now be the offseason, it is not the slow season. Even though there won’t be any more games on the field for a few months, the process of getting there is always eventful. And make sure to keep checking in with us at XN Sports as we’ll delve into the free agent market position-by-position in the days and weeks ahead.

Tony Consiglio is a lifelong baseball fan and has worked for television and radio stations throughout New England.
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