We're three weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, give or take a couple of days for various teams. Masahiro Tanaka finally signed on Wednesday, inking a seven-year deal with the Yankees. The glacial pace in which it took Tanaka to sign really slowed up any potential movement of other free agents – the last major league free agent signing prior to Tanaka was Jesse Crain with the Astros three weeks ago.
But there is still work to be done on the free agent market. Of our preseason top 30 free agents, nine still need homes for the 2014 – including three members of our top ten. So as the Spring is approaching, I figured it would be a good time to revisit those remaining nine free agents and attempt to predict where they'll land.
Ubaldo Jimenez. I initially pegged Jimenez's suitors as the Indians, Blue Jays, Orioles, Yankees, Brewers, Padres, and Rangers. Of that list, you can go ahead and count out only the Yankees and Padres – I'd make a case that the all of the other teams could still be in play for Jimenez. But Jimenez's market hasn't really been vibrant this offseason, thanks in large part to the draft pick compensation tied to the former Indian. The Indians and Blue Jays are both still heavily involved with Jimenez, and I think he'll end up with one of those two teams. I think Jimenez will end up returning to Cleveland, simply because they wouldn't need to forfeit a pick to sign him, while they would with Ervin Santana. Jimenez is also more durable than fellow free agent in limbo Matt Garza, another guy that has been tied to the club.
Ervin Santana. Santana's market hasn't materialized at all this offseason. I pegged his suitors as the Royals, Blue Jays, Yankees, and Padres, and it's looking like only Toronto would still be looking at Santana. However, the Orioles and Twins both reportedly showed interest in Santana, and while Minnesota seems like a long shot, Baltimore could make a play for him to bolster their rotation. I think he'll end up with the Blue Jays heading into the spring, and this has all the makings of the Kyle Lohse situation from last year – one player tied so much to a team that they eventually just throw up their hands and bite the bullet.
Stephen Drew. The saga of Stephen Drew is depressing. After a couple of lost seasons, he goes out and puts together an awesome 2013, setting himself as the prime shortstop on the free agent market…and gets a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, which he proceeds to decline. Now, no one wants him – even teams with needs at shortstop. I tabbed his list of potential employers as just the Mets, Cardinals, and Red Sox, but the Cardinals are obviously out after signing Jhonny Peralta. Boston seems content to go into the year starting Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts on the left side, leaving Drew to sign with the Mets – and get a contract lower than anyone expected. New York's first round pick is protected, so while they'll lose a later pick, they're not going to run into a situation like they did last winter with Michael Bourn, in which they liked a player but not enough to forfeit their first round pick.
Matt Garza. Garza is a tough one to peg, because while he's a very good pitcher, there are several red flags with him, from his erratic track record to his injury history to a spotty resume off the field. I thought Garza would draw interest from the Rangers, Yankees, Blue Jays, Angels, and Padres, and the Rangers, Blue Jays, and Angels all still could be in play. But really, the Angels and Garza seem to be destined for each other. The lack of compensation attached to him is a bonus, especially for an organization like Anaheim that has a middling farm system and can't afford to lose any more high draft picks. This is another signing that seems to be written in the stars.
UPDATE: I was wrong. Four years, $50 million from the Brewers.
A.J. Burnett. I think retirement is in the cards for Burnett. When a guy is on the fence for this long about playing or retiring, he should hang up the spikes. But if Burnett does decide to come back, it won't be with Pittsburgh, who gave Edinson Volquez $5 million to take his spot in the rotation. And really, the only other team Burnett was open to joining was the Orioles. Baltimore or bust or Mr. Burnett, but a comfortable life without baseball seems to be in his immediate future.
UPDATE: One year, $16 million from the Phillies in a mild shocker following Ruben Amaro's comments earlier this winter.
Nelson Cruz. This is a mess. I have no idea where Cruz will end up. It won't be with the Phillies, who signed Marlon Byrd early in the winter. It probably won't be with the Rangers, who signed Shin-Soo Choo in December and haven't shown much of an interest in bringing him back. I doubt it will be with the Orioles, who seem content to go cheap with minor league deals to fill their DH position. I think Seattle is still the best possible landing spot for Cruz, simply because they still need an outfield bat (even after adding Logan Morrison and Corey Hart, who are outfielders only in Jack Zduriencik's dreams). But if Seattle is content with what they're bringing to the dance (and I'm not sure they're better than the fourth-best team in the AL West at this point), Cruz will end up somewhere else – and I'm honestly flummoxed as to where that will be.
Bronson Arroyo. The Arroyo market isn't really too hot. Of his projected suitors (Reds, Blue Jays, Twins, Royals, Mariners), Toronto is the only one I could see still inquiring about Arroyo. But other teams have jumped into the hunt for the veteran, including the Orioles and Dodgers. Baltimore seems like a solid bet for Arroyo, especially if A.J. Burnett retires, but I don't really see much of a pairing between Arroyo and Los Angeles. Aside from those two clubs, the Yankees and Phillies could also have interest in Arroyo as a back-end option, though I'm not sure the rumors linking him to Philadelphia will result in much of anything. I'd feel comfortable linking Arroyo to one of the three AL East teams, with Baltimore as the prohibitive favorite.
UPDATE: Two years and $23.5 million from the Diamondbacks, for whatever reason.
Kendrys Morales. Morales is like a limited version of Nelson Cruz – old, rough fielder, tied to draft pick compensation. A return to Seattle doesn't seem to be in the cards after the Corey Hart and Logan Morrison acquisitions, and Baltimore is also looking like it's out of the question. Calling the market for Morales "frigid" is an understatement. I'm stumped as to where he'll end up – nearly every AL team with a possible use for him either would need to trade their current limited DH or isn't a club too keen on giving up a draft choice. Morales' free agency could last well into the spring.
Grant Balfour. Balfour had a deal with the Orioles, but they backed out due to concerns over his medicals. Balfour will get another deal somewhere, Of late, Balfour has been strongly tied to the Nationals as a replacement for Rafael Soriano in 2015, and a super set-up man in 2014. The Yankees also showed some interest in Balfour, but with Mike Rizzo involved, I'd expect Washington to land the former A's closer.
UPDATE: This one is a shocker. Two years and $12 million for Balfour from the Rays.