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The first couple of rounds of MLB offseason moves have come and gone, which has made the market a bit clearer for the players who remain MLB free agents and the teams in need. For these top free agents remaining, they would welcome a Christmas present of a new home in the coming days. And a couple of prominent pitchers also find their names continuing to pop up in the trade market. Here is the latest on their situations.
Shin-Soo Choo – Arguably the best offensive player left on the market is the 31-year-old on-base machine. His .423 OBP last year was second in the National League, behind only Cincinnati teammate Joey Votto, and his 107 runs scored were also second in the NL. He is a career .288/.423/.462 hitter and has at least 20 stolen bases in the four of the last five seasons and 20 home runs in three of the last five. He’ll provide a reliable top-of-the-order bat for a team looking for an offensive boost. The problem is there are no teams currently making a strong push for him, mainly because he’s reaching for a Jacoby Ellsbury-level seven-year contract. The Rangers had long been considered a probable landing spot for him, but general manager Jon Daniels told reporters during the Winter Meetings that he is not expecting to make anymore big moves. The Astros, Diamondbacks, Mariners, and Reds could be possibilities, as well, but they all seem to be waiting to see if his price comes down before making any decisions. This one may drag on into 2014.
Masahiro Tanaka – The drama surrounding the fate of the Japanese phenom continues. His Rakuten Golden Eagles management has been wavering on whether they will allow him to be posted because of the decrease in posting fees between MLB and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. He wants to pitch in the U.S. next year, but the Golden Eagles are asking him to stay, even as recently as Tuesday. If the 25-year-old is eventually allowed to seek a major league deal, expect an all-out blitz by several teams in an attempt to woo him. And it’s easy to understand why. Over the last three seasons, he is a combined 53-9 — including a perfect 24-0 in 27 starts last season — with a 1.44 ERA and a miniscule .944 WHIP. The biggest issue is for scouts to determine how he will translate to MLB. Will he be closer to Yu Darvish or Daisuke Matsuzaka? Either way, he may be in line for a $100 million contract. Basically, if a MLB team has money and needs a pitcher, you can bet they’ll at least check in with Tanaka. And, with the new posting rules, it will be a very fun process to watch, assuming it will be allowed to happen.
Matt Garza – If you prefer your pitchers to be MLB-battle-tested, Garza might be your guy. The 30-year-old isn’t coming off his finest showing, when he finished out last year with the Rangers. In 13 starts, he was only 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA. That came after putting together a nice first half with the Cubs, where he strung together a couple solid years. In two-and-a-half seasons in Chicago, he was 21-18 with a 3.45 ERA and a 8.6 K/9 rate. Though he did struggle when coming back to the American League, he has shown in the past that he can hold his own in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, spending three relatively successful years in Tampa Bay. The problem for Garza right now is that, while he will most assuredly have a market, many of his likely suitors are also in on the Tanaka sweepstakes, and the import will be their priority. Once he signs, the focus can shift to Garza. The same can probably be said for Ervin Santana.
Stephen Drew – Drew is the clear-cut best shortstop available, but his market has been slow to develop, despite what agent Scott Boras wants you to believe. The Mets were supposed to be a serious contender for his services, but GM Sandy Alderson told reporters a trade for a shortstop would be more likely. The Red Sox, meanwhile, continue to look as if they are a very viable option for his return. GM Ben Cherington has said he was very happy with what Drew provided last season, when he hit .253 with 13 homers and 67 RBI, while providing a very solid glove at short. The draft-pick compensation attached to him doesn’t help his market much, either. If he has trouble finding the three-or four-year deal he is looking for, which seems to be the case as of now, he may end up back in Boston on a shorter-term contract.
David Price – The Winter Meetings did a lot to spur talk of the Price trade market. At some point within the next year, the Rays will trade their ace. It’s just a matter of when. There is certainly a market for him now, and with two years left on his contract, he can bring a lot in return. And the Rays are asking for that and then some. Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the Indians checked in on Price and that Cleveland’s Carlos Santana and Danny Salazar were merely starting points in negotiations. The Rays are logically asking for similar top youngsters from other organizations. Keep an eye on the Mariners, who have the pieces and the desire to make a bold move, over the next few weeks. The Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rangers could remain in the discussions, too.
Jeff Samardzija – The Cubs’ starter is a viable alternative to Price for teams looking to trade for a starter. While he will still cost some good prospects and will require an expensive extension, the total package required to acquire him will be less than what it will take to get Price. In 66 career starts over six seasons, he is 19-29 with a 4.32 ERA and a great 8.9 K/9 rate. The Cubs have discussed an extension with him, but haven’t gotten anywhere. He is still under two more years of team control, so there is no rush to move him. Chicago, though, will continue to listen to offers for him throughout this offseason. The Braves have been considered favorites to land the righty, though their interest has reportedly waned in the last week or so, but they could re-enter the mix soon enough. The Diamondbacks and Blue Jays have also been linked to Samardzija.
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