With the annual general managers' summit in Orlando gone and the looming specter of Thanksgiving staring Major League Baseball in the face, it's about that time for someone to turn on the hot stove by making a major move.
Though there have been a few notable signings on the free-agent market, it's fair to assume that the Robinson Canos of the world will move slowly. Free agency isn't brimming with elite talent this winter, and with MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball still haggling over a new posting deal, the fate of one major chess piece (pitcher Masahiro Tanaka) remains up in the air.
That means it'll likely be up to the trade market to get the crazy season started. Luckily, there are enough stars on the market—or allegedly on the market—to make that a good possibility. Big names like Jose Bautista, David Price, Max Scherzer and others have made the rounds, and I'm sure there are plenty of others who we have yet to hear about.
Because sifting through the rumor mill is like trying to separate wet flour, it's often hard to figure out what's real and what's fake. Sure, the Angels might be willing to trade Mike Trout (they're not) but at what cost? Ownership of the entire New York Yankees franchise and all subsidiaries? OK, maybe then we'll talk.
So it's always important to take all winter rumors with about a bucket of salt.
With that in mind, let's check in on what the speculation merry-go-round is spitting out as we embark on what should be an intriguing offseason.
Jose Bautista on the Move for Pitching Help?
The past couple of seasons haven't been kind for Blue Jays pitching. Over the past two seasons, Toronto's staff has compiled a WAR of just 19.2, ranking 25th in baseball and helping push them well beyond the reaches of contention. For perspective, the Tigers' league-best staff in that time has been worth 54.2 wins.
It sure doesn't take long to realize why the Jays found themselves in last place once you look at the numbers, does it? Couple that with just the No. 22 ranked hitting WAR, and you get the makings of a team destined to look up at (arguably) the best division in baseball.
Nonetheless, with moves that ratcheted up the payroll—along with the spotlight—last offseason, Toronto has fashioned itself a playoff contender in each of the past two seasons, only to fall short. The pressure is now firmly on the shoulders of Alex Anthopoulos, the team's wunderkind general manager, to make the moves necessary to keep the team in contention.
If recent rumors are true, it seems that Jose Bautista could be used to rectify the situation. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe noted that speculation continues to swirl that the Jays outfielder could be on the move this offseason in exchange for pitching help. A National League general manager indicated that there is some truth to the rumblings this time around, unlike a couple of years ago when speculation went nowhere.
“It’s a name we’re hearing through backchannels right now, but wouldn’t be surprised if he’s available,” the GM said.
It's not hard to see why the Jays could be interested in moving Bautista. Though he's still relatively young (33), their best offensive talent and someone who twice led the majors in home runs, Bautista has missed 114 games over the past two seasons. In 2013, he hit a respectable 28 home runs with 73 RBI but appeared in only 118 contests.
It's difficult to build a team around a player who misses more than a month every year. But there are plenty of contenders that still likely view Bautista as a cornerstone-type talent in the middle of the order, and his relatively cheap contract ($14 million for 2014 and '15 with an option for '16) creates an interesting dynamic that will play itself out this winter.
Orioles Willing to Part With Matt Wieters?
Judging the success or failure of a first-round pick is more difficult in baseball than other sports, which is what makes Matt Wieters interesting. Drafted at No. 5 overall in 2007, Wieters quickly pushed through the Orioles' farm system and is now five years deep into his MLB career.
With two All-Star appearances and as many Gold Gloves, it's impossible to call Wieters a failure. But it's also not right to call him a superstar. In his five MLB seasons, he's only had a positive offensive value once and hasn't improved as a hitter in the way the Orioles hoped. He finished 2013 with a slash line of .235/.287/.417, and it generally feels like that's who Wieters is at this point.
That's not a problem in a vacuum. Wieters' isolated slugging percentage ranked sixth among catchers with at least 400 plate appearances, and he's generally a lock to finish somewhere within the 20-25 home run range with elite defense behind the dish. There is a ton of value in those types of players, especially in an era where we're realizing that batting average isn't all it's cracked up to be.
But the question is: How much value does he present, and are the Orioles willing to pay for it?
Wieters is just a couple years away from hitting the free-agent market, and it seems like Orioles brass is already gauging other teams' interest in negotiating with Scott Boras.
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported from the general managers' meetings that Baltimore would be willing to trade Wieters for the right price:
Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun clarified the situation, noting that both J.J. Hardy and Wieters were mentioned to teams but were not aggressively being pushed out the door:
Hardy is coming off a season where he made the All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger and took home a Gold Glove—or, as it could otherwise be called, the Trifecta of Awesome. Still, he's another guy whose contract will expire soon and will need a big raise to stick around Camden Yards.
With two straight winning seasons in the books, one could wonder why the Orioles are starting to glance at their piggy bank in the first place. That is, right until one realizes that Chris Davis and many other building blocks on this roster aren't far from getting paid. The Orioles aren't going to match the open-market prices on all of their guys—they can't afford it—so it's only prudent to explore the trade waters while they still hold control.
And with Boras looming with all Wieters proceedings, it's unlikely the catcher hooks them up with a hometown discount.
Rick Porcello, Not Max Scherzer, on the Block in Detroit?
Coming into the offseason, there was some speculation that Max Scherzer's reward for a 21-win season and Cy Young award would not be a new contract, but rather a new team. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported that the Tigers were telling teams that both Scherzer and fellow starter Rick Porcello could be had in a trade.
The potential Scherzer move would likely have to be part of a blockbuster, but it felt like Detroit was selling high. Meanwhile, Porcello looked like the movable part only if the team found trade waters "tepid," as I wrote at the time.
On Thursday, in a video report for ESPN, Buster Olney updated the Tigers' situation and proclaimed the exact opposite: Scherzer is sticking around the Motor City, while Porcello will almost certainly be moved.
The process behind the decision makes sense. Detroit has a team built to win in 2014, and Scherzer is undoubtedly the more valuable commodity. He's one of the league's best power pitchers and gives new manager Brad Ausmus comfort at the top of his rotation along with Justin Verlander.
Perhaps more importantly, Scherzer seemed more concerned about staying with Detroit than any long-term contractual goals in an interview with MLB Network Radio.
"I don't want to be traded," Scherzer said (h/t ESPN). "I got a great thing going in Detroit, we have a great team. I hope they don't mess with it. I want to be a Detroit Tiger and hopefully get back to the playoffs and try to do the ultimate goal and win something for the city of Detroit."
Porcello, meanwhile, wasn't even part of the Tigers' playoff rotation and had the worst regular-season ERA among the team's starters. Once viewed as an integral part of the club's future, his spot could easily be taken by any number of cheap veterans looking for a playoff push.
Plus, there should be enough clubs desperate for starting pitching to create a market for Porcello. Still just 24 years old, he has thousands of innings left on his right arm. Though unspectacular, he's a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter who could even benefit from a change in scenery. The Tigers regularly rank among the worst defensive teams in the league, which affects a contact pitcher like Porcello more than it does the Scherzers and Verlanders of the world.
Don't be surprised if Porcello winds up thriving on a National League team.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com, unless otherwise noted.
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