November 6th, 2013

The Stove Begins To Simmer

This is a great time of year for baseball fans. The stove begins to simmer. It isn’t quite hot yet.

We wait. We wait for the first free agent signings. We wait for the blockbuster trade.

Every fan has a vision of how that certain player will look in his/her favorite team’s uniform.

We close our eyes and see that special free agent hitting in our team’s lineup or taking the mound to pitch.

I have some general feelings about this year’s crop of free agents. I will share my thoughts in this and another edition of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD in the coming days.

First and foremost, I have the following opinions:

The New York Yankees will be at the forefront of free agent signings. I believe they realized how difficult life can be in the Bronx without marquee players. I look for them to make a considerable number of offers. But without a doubt, Brian Cashman did an outstanding job fielding a competitive team under very trying circumstances.

I believe the Toronto Blue Jays will do whatever it takes to find pitching during this off season. They have the resources and the talent available to either plunge into the free agent market or trade for pitching. The problem? If they trade hitting for pitching, they will have to go fetch more hitting. It’s a situation as old as baseball trades themselves.

I think the Texas Rangers will be in on the negotiations of every player they deem to be an improvement for their club. Not just one player, every player. Their negotiations may lead them to multiple transactions.

I do not believe the Dodgers will be as big in the free agent market as one might imagine. They may pursue a pitcher, but for the most part, they have a fairly set club if they fill their second base position in the international market as is being discussed.

I think the Red Sox like the nucleus of their club and wish to keep the team together. I don’t see them getting in any type of negotiation battle to retain Jacoby Ellsbury. I do see them wishing to keep Stephen Drew. And Mike Napoli.

I think the Cardinals will try to upgrade their shortstop position and add an outfielder. I don’t see them making a longer than two year offer to Carlos Beltran. But I do think they’d like to keep him. But even if they retain Beltran, I think they will look for an outfielder.

No team has the pitching assets of the Cardinals. However, the price to pay for any club wishing to obtain one of those assets will be steep, but fair. If they deem Stephen Drew or Jhonny Peralta a sound baseball decision that allows them to keep their pitching in tact, then perhaps they will solve their shortstop need in free agency.

I think the Seattle Mariners will make every effort to obtain Jacoby Ellsbury. If nothing else, their interest in the native of the northwest will inflate Ellsbury’s asking price.

Corey Hart presents a very interesting option as a first baseman for lots of clubs. I believe there will be more interest in Hart than people may realize. If his knees are healthy, Hart is an outstanding option. Especially for the Brewers, his current club.

Why shouldn’t Kendrys Morales test the free agent market in parks that are more hitter friendly? Texas, for example.

If they lose Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds are once again in the hunt for a leadoff hitter. Other than Ellsbury, they may have to look at the trade market for that need.

I think Robinson Cano will remain in New York with the Yankees. However, I don’t think he’ll sign for the amount he and his agent may have in mind. However, the place that would really make sense for Cano is…Detroit. What a signing that would be if he could be paired with Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez at a position of need for the Tigers. I have no access to the owner’s check book, but they may be one of few clubs with the resources. And they’ve surprised before. See Price Fielder.

This is a time for an American or Canadian born free agent player to return to his roots. His home. I think that factors in to some free agent decisions. At least regionally, if not specifically.

I hear people say there isn’t much pitching out there in the free agent market. I disagree. Any of these pitchers would be an upgrade for many, many clubs: Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, A J Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Scott Feldman, Hiroki Kuroda, Scott Kazmir, Jason Vargas, and Tim Hudson are 11 starting pitchers that will not cost the club a player or players in trade. With pitching at a premium, many clubs would like to add at least one of those arms to their rotation. And how about back end of the bullpen guys like Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Chris Perez, and Joaquin Benoit, just to name five.

I didn’t list Josh Johnson because some health issues remain, but if he proves sound, he’s another potential starter.

And that doesn’t account for any international signings. Like Japan’s Tankaka, if he posts.

The White Sox could use Curtis Granderson in their outfield. But infielders, a catcher and pitchers appear to be greater needs. And I think Granderson will likely stay with the Yankees. They need that bat for their right field porch. The acquisition of Avisail Garcia added a huge piece for the White Sox. He’ll just get better and better.

Scott Boras clients will be on the market a long time. It will require patience from teams interested, but it can also put a damper on implementing a team’s overall blueprint. I’m not sure how that waiting game for the last available dollar will play this year. I think team’s are much less willing to have protracted negotiations.

Next time I’ll delve a bit deeper into with my thoughts on more specific landing spot options for some of the “free” agents. I guess it would be just plain wrong to call them “expensive” agents, right? I’m just asking? Does sound awkward. And dumb. But oh, so true.

That’s it, I’m done.