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Major League Baseball’s annual hot-stove season is off to a slow start, with very little movement among the top free agents more than one month into the signing period.
It’s possible teams are waiting for two big dominoes—Shohei Ohtani signing and Giancarlo Stanton getting traded—to fall before figuring out what to do with the rest of the market.
Ohtani and Stanton are the two biggest stories this offseason and will command a lot of attention. There are a lot of other rumors bubbling under the surface that will begin to rise, especially with the winter meetings on tap starting Sunday.
Here are the top rumors for the biggest free agents, along with predictions for what the players are going to do.
Shohei Ohtani, Pitcher/Outfielder
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Ohtani has already shaken up the MLB landscape by reportedly telling 23 teams, including big-market clubs like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, he won’t be signing with them.
Per Jim Bowden of SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio, the seven teams still on Ohtani’s list are the Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.
Among those seven teams, the Rangers have the most international bonus money available ($3.535 million) to offer Ohtani. The Mariners are the only other team in that group with more than $1 million available, per Ronald Blum of the Associated Press.
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi added another wrinkle to things, reporting some MLB team executives believe Ohtani would prefer to sign with a team that doesn’t already have a Japanese star on the roster.
If that’s true, the Dodgers would be the only team out of the mix since they have Kenta Maeda.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, upon learning Ohtani wouldn’t sign with the team, gave the impression a club on the west coast has an advantage.
“I started getting a feel that wasn’t good a few days ago,” Cashman said (via Jake Seiner of the Associated Press). “I can’t change that we’re a big market and I can’t change we’re in the East.”
The Mariners would seem like a good fit because of the money they have available, past history developing Japanese players (Ichiro Suzuki, Hisashi Iwakuma) and a team that’s been on the fringes of playoff contention the past two seasons without quite making the cut.
If, as Ohtani’s agent told reporters last month, the 23-year-old is intent on pitching and hitting in MLB, the Giants could have a leg up because pitchers hit in the NL. But an AL team can also offer him the opportunity to be DH on days he doesn’t pitch.
Going through all the tea leaves with what Ohtani wants is going to cause headaches. Even Cashman’s theory about the west coast doesn’t hold up because the Cubs and Rangers are in Ohtani’s list of seven finalists.
The best guess as to where Ohtani will sign right now is the Mariners. He has until Dec. 22 to pick a team, so things can change multiple times over the next two weeks, but Seattle fans should feel confident about where their team stands right now.
Prediction: Ohtani signs with the Mariners
Wade Davis, Closer
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Things are much less chaotic for closer Wade Davis, who will likely be seeking a lucrative multiyear deal after a successful 2017 season with the Cubs.
Davis has caught the eye of another playoff team from last season, with Morosi reporting the Colorado Rockies have shown interest in the 32-year-old.
The Rockies are in the market for a closer after Greg Holland chose free agency at the end of last season, opting out his contract with the team after being named to the NL All-Star team.
Davis would go a long way toward solidifying the back of Colorado’s bullpen. He had a 2.30 ERA with 32 saves, 79 strikeouts and 39 hits allowed in 58.2 innings over 59 games with the Cubs last season.
One big question for the Rockies is if they want to spend what it would cost to sign a top-tier closer like Davis.
General manager Jeff Bridich told Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post that the Rockies are going to focus a lot of their attention this winter on the bullpen.
“I don’t know if there is a magic number [for how many relievers the Rockies could sign],” he said. “As I have said, the bullpen is a point of major attention. Whether that is a free agent or whether that is trade, we are open to multiple avenues. That means there is a possibility of multiple additions to the ‘pen.'”
Bridich also said the team anticipates starting 2018 with a payroll similar to where it ended last season ($146.7 million).
Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Rockies have $99.525 million in salary commitments on the roster for next season. That would give them roughly $47 million to spend on talent this offseason.
MLB.com’s Jim Duquette predicted Davis would sign a deal similar to the four-year, $62 million contract Mark Melancon received from the Giants last winter.
There hasn’t been much talk about the Cubs regarding a reunion with Davis, though Patrick Mooney of NBC Sports wrote last month there is a scenario in which the two parties stay together in part because the big-market teams that would throw money at a top-tier closer are already set at the position.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox aren’t going after closers. The Washington Nationals found a good thing with Sean Doolittle in the back of their bullpen, and the Arizona Diamondbacks don’t seem likely to have the necessary money to pursue Davis.
Despite not ruling out a return to the Cubs, it still seems unlikely to happen at this point. The Rockies have the need and, potentially, the necessary money available to entice Davis.
Prediction: Davis signs with the Rockies
Jay Bruce, Outfielder
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Even with the presence of more dynamic hitters on the open market this offseason, outfielder Jay Bruce is a solid second-tier bat for teams in search of left-handed power.
The issue for Bruce could be what he wants from his next contract.
Mike Puma of the New York Post reported the New York Mets were interested in bringing back the 30-year-old on a three-year deal, but he wants five years.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported last month Bruce wanted a five-year deal in the $80-90 million range.
That price tag hasn’t scared anyone away from at least showing interest, with Bob Nightengale of USA Today noting the Rockies and Mariners are among the suitors for Bruce.
Bruce’s biggest problem will be trying to convince teams he’s worth that kind of investment since he’s essentially a platoon hitter. The 30-year-old has a .824 career OPS against right-handed pitching; against left-handed pitching that number drops to .712, which includes a .291 on-base percentage.
With power numbers spiking across MLB last season, Bruce’s 36 home runs aren’t as valuable as they might have been in 2015-16. His .324 on-base percentage last season ranked 36th out of 52 outfielders who qualified for the batting title, per FanGraphs.
Since this is likely Bruce’s best chance to cash in on a long-term deal, it’s understandable he would want to ask for the biggest possible contract.
Assuming that price tag comes down as teams become weary of investing so much money in a limited hitter, Bruce will have to decide what he wants at this stage of his career.
The Mets are a team he knows well after spending one year with them, but how equipped are they to make a playoff push?
The Mariners will likely wait to see what happens with Ohtani before deciding if they want to add another player to their outfield mix.
The Rockies have the most pressing need to add a hitter like Bruce. Carlos Gonzalez is a free agent and injuries have led to him having an erratic performance over the past four seasons. His .762 OPS in 2017 was the worst of his career in a season which he’s played at least 100 games.
Playing in Colorado would help artificially inflate Bruce’s offensive numbers, and the Rockies are coming off a postseason appearance in 2017 with a strong roster returning next season.
Assuming the Rockies can wait out the market long enough, Bruce could fall into their lap on a team-friendly three-year deal.
Prediction: Bruce signs with the Rockies