Most of the East Coast is bracing for a big winter storm this weekend, but baseball will soon be making its triumphant return. Although Spring Training is now under a month away, there’s still a significant amount of MLB players in search of a new home.
As of Friday morning, the entire Hot Stove world is anxiously awaiting where outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will land and whether or not he’ll sign for something less than a $100 million guarantee. The headlines he’s generating makes it easy to forget how many more solid major leaguers are still looking for jobs:
Heck, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports got so restless that he brought the Montreal Expos back from the dead and gave them a pretty darn good roster for the upcoming season, solely with unsigned free agents.
If only bringing back the Expos was that easy, right?
Most teams are finished with the heavy lifting of their offseason plans, but still having so many options on the market can tempt some to stray from the path. Here are seven teams that have seen their eyes begin to wander while contemplating the opportunities still available:
Unless you live under a rock, you know the Dbacks are going all in to win right now. One would imagine they’d make a short-term upgrade over either Nick Ahmed or Chris Owings in the middle infield to help them do so. Pursuing free-agent second baseman Howie Kendrick makes sense, but general manager Dave Stewart said rather definitively that Arizona wouldn’t give up another draft pick after surrendering a first rounder for Greinke.
If Kendrick signed elsewhere already, Stewart and Co. wouldn’t have to think about it anymore, but his consistent bat is still dangling out in the open market, teasing Arizona. Now, they’re reportedly trying to trade a second baseman, which one would assume is potentially clearing space for Kendrick.
For a “win-now” team, Kendrick fits in nicely. However, he could dampen the long-term development of Owings and further cloud the payroll. Until he finds a home that’s not in Arizona, the Dbacks will continue to be tempted, though.
This is a time of transition for the Braves, attempting a quick rebuild before their new ballpark opens. That’s why they’ve traded a number of impact big leaguers and are open to trading anyone not named Freddie Freeman.
However, Cespedes hanging around for so long had them intrigued as to whether they could take him off the market on their own terms.
Don’t get me wrong – after what he did with the New York Mets, every team would love to have Cespedes, but not for the price he’s looking for. Atlanta was probably never a serious suitor, but with each passing day he goes unsigned, there’s always the possibility of his asking price eventually dropping.
That could unexpectedly bring new teams into play. Even ones totally committed to rebuilding like Atlanta. Thankfully, they’ve resisted temptation and have stayed the course.
New York Yankees
Once the 2016 and 2017 seasons come to an end, New York will have an incredible amount of money coming off the books. Until then, general manager Brian Cashman has worked the trade market to stay competitive and get a younger roster for the long-term.
The last time the Yankees didn’t want to make a big free-agent splash, they caved and committed $150-plus million to Jacoby Ellsbury. So far this winter, they’ve stayed on task, but once again, Cespedes remaining available for so long gives teams more time to (over) think.
When asked about Cespedes this week, Hal Steinbrenner said the following (quote via Newsday):
“I’m comfortable where payroll is right now, but we’re always looking to improve the club. You never know with us. We’ve surprised people in the past.”
Is he just trolling people because he can? Probably, but this is the Yankees we’re talking about. They could’ve done this and it wouldn’t be totally ridiculous.
If they did come out of nowhere and sign Cespedes, they could then theoretically flip an incumbent outfielder – like Brett Gardner – to improve their starting pitching depth in the trade market.
It doesn’t make sense because they’d be overpaying another veteran slugger on (eventually) the downside of their career. They’ve already got plenty of those and are trying to avoid more of them. If the free agent market moved like it has in the past, this wouldn’t have even been a thought.
Since Cespedes has hung around for so long, they can’t help but think about the possibility. It would really ruin what Cashman and his group accomplished this winter, though.
Tampa Bay Rays
Quick, when I say “Tampa Bay Rays”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I can’t hear you, but I doubt you said “acquiring top free agents.” However, the market is playing into their favor.
No, they’re not interested in Cespedes, but Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times recently said the current market could help the Rays consider guys like Justin Upton (before he signed), Pedro Alvarez, Desmond and Steve Pearce, who they just agreed with on a one-year deal.
We normally only hear the Rays mentioned during the winter if they’re shopping young talent or picking out of the free-agent scrap heap. They’re still shopping their young pitching – because, why not – but a slow-moving market has them investigating options they previously thought weren’t feasible.
The Nats made a strong, yet unsuccessful push for Jason Heyward earlier this winter. With an outfield configuration of Jayson Werth, Michael A. Taylor and Bryce Harper, they acquired Ben Revere to make some last-minute tweaks.
Not really, though.
They were interested in Upton, but were unsuccessful in trying to nab him on a short-term deal. So, they have moved on to Cespedes and are pushing hard to acquire him, although it sounds as if he prefers to stay with the Mets.
They appear to be the only team (publicly) willing to offer him a deal close to the terms he desires. Again, if the free agent market moved like it normally has in the past, Washington would’ve been forced to be content with Revere in center, but they don’t have to be yet.
San Diego Padres
General manager A.J. Preller was the darling of last winter, making bold moves for players like Upton, Matt Kemp, James Shields, Derek Norris and some others – while also building up payroll to uncomfortable levels.
It would’ve been worth it if they won, but they didn’t, and they didn’t really come close. Preller took on a different role this winter, trading away Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit for prospects, while also giving Yonder Alonso a ticket out of town and trying to unload Shields, which was unsuccessful.
They were one of the few teams in need of a shortstop, so they did their due diligence on Desmond before opting to give a one-year deal to Alexei Ramirez. For a team with major payroll questions in wake of last year’s moves, this was the right thing to do.
However, before the Cespedes sweepstakes seemingly turned into a two-horse race, they were reportedly “monitoring” the situation because they could justify some room in the payroll. Thankfully, Preller wasn’t let loose to do his thing, but chances are he was hoping to get unleashed.
Teams spend a lot of time, effort and resources forming an offseason plan back in October and November. But when the free agent market is slow moving and presents so many opportunities late in the winter, it’s hard to stay on course, for better or for worse.
With Spring Training coming rather quickly, there’s still plenty of Hot Stove action to take place before pitchers and catchers report. Who will stay committed to their plan and who will veer of the tracks for a perceived opportunity? We’ll soon find out.
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