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November 15, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Thursday, November 15

by Daniel Rathman

In part two of yesterday’s Rumor Roundup, I pointed to a tweet from Rob Bradford of WEEI, where the Red Sox beat writer indicated that the outfield market, especially surrounding Cody Ross, would take shape only after Torii Hunter settled on his new team. Well, a day later, Hunter agreed to a two-year, $26 million hitch with the Tigers, so if Bradford’s instincts are prescient, the other pieces of the puzzle should soon begin falling into place. 

For now, though, here’s a look at three other stories that surfaced on Wednesday, all of them concerning teams in the National League East:

Cy Young winner Dickey expects to stay with Mets… maybe
The New York Times’ Tyler Kepner wrote in the lede of his story recapping Wednesday’s awards ceremony that the Mets’ R.A. Dickey is a Cy Young Award winner unlike any of the 101 who came before him. For Dickey, the honor caps a remarkable story; for the Mets, it could pose a challenge in extension negotiations with agent Bo McKinnis, who, incidentally, also represents the American League winner, David Price.

Fortunately for Mets fans fretting about Dickey—one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dismal 74-88 club—leaving town, the 38-year-old seems loyal to the organization that gave him his first-ever multi-year contract on Jan. 31, 2011. That two-year, $7.8 million pact included a no-brainer, $5 million club option for the 2013 season, which general manager Sandy Alderson exercised at the end of last month.

Under normal circumstances, most concerns about Dickey wearing a different uniform next year would have been allayed the moment Alderson locked in the option. But it’s the Mets we’re talking about here, and a since-deleted tweet from the Meadowlands Media Group’s Michael Salfino—preserved by the Amazin Avenue blog—stirred fears that owner Fred Wilpon has legitimately gone broke. If that is the case, extension talks with Dickey and third baseman David Wright may be tabled, ostensibly turning them into trade chips that could be used to further Alderson’s rebuilding process. Dickey, with a bargain-bin 2013 salary and a Cy Young Award in hand, could fetch the long-haul outfield help New York badly needs.

Not long after he was named the senior circuit’s top hurler, even Dickey seemed uncertain of his immediate future. He only offered reporters a qualified adjective—“fairly confident,” as Newsday’s Marc Carig tweeted—about whether he would don the Mets uniform next year. That statement leaves more questions than answers, making this a story to follow in the days ahead.

Gutted Marlins plan to start Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop
Meanwhile, dejected fans in Miami are looking at their New York counterparts and thinking, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” A year after the Mets lost fan-favorite shortstop Jose Reyes to the then-splurging Marlins, the now-revamping Fish shipped him up to Toronto in a deal that, among a host of other components, brought shortstops Yunel Escobar and Hechavarria to south Florida. According to Sun-Sentinel beat writer Juan C. Rodriguez, the slick-fielding rookie, not the seven-year veteran, will be given the job on Opening Day.

Hechavarria earned a 41-game stint with the Blue Jays last year, and he hit .254/.280/.365 over 137 plate appearances, an output that, unfortunately, might not be far off from his offensive ceiling. The 23-year-old will go as far as his glove takes him, but it’s his league-minimum salary that appeals to the Marlins right now. That’s because Escobar, with a $5 million paycheck due next year and club options at that same rate for the ensuing two seasons, is now the team’s highest-paid position player, and will become the top overall earner if—or, perhaps more precisely, whenRicky Nolasco ($11.5 million) is shipped off.

If Hechavarria is indeed locked in at shortstop, Escobar might slide over to second or third base, but it’s also possible that his stay in Miami will end before it begins. The dearth of free-agent shortstop options with starting experience could spark trade interest, Escobar’s character baggage and .253/.300/.344 triple-slash line notwithstanding, and owner Jeffrey Loria probably wouldn’t mind unloading his disproportionately large salary, either. Were Escobar to be sent packing, the once-prodigal Marlins could roll with Donovan Solano at the keystone and Greg Dobbs or Zack Cox at the hot corner.

B.J. Upton is Braves’ number-one priority
Back to the outfield market where, with Hunter off the board, the Braves have turned their attention to Upton, the youngest of the top-tier center fielders looking for new homes. General manager Frank Wren is likely to add multiple starters to a roster that lost Chipper Jones to retirement and Michael Bourn to free agency, and signing Upton would give him additional flexibility when considering other moves.

Martin Prado, who in 2012 played 119 of his 156 games in left field, is one of the league’s most versatile regulars, and he substituted at all four infield positions when injuries struck last season. Prado’s presence enables Wren to ponder free agents and trade options for either third base or left field, knowing that the 29-year-old, who is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, can ably handle whichever assignment proves more difficult to fill.

Center field, on the other hand, is currently a dumpster fire; neither Jose Constanza nor Jordan Schafer—who was sent to the Astros in the July 2011 Bourn deal, then claimed back off waivers two weeks ago—is a palatable everyday option for a team expected to contend. That’s why, as MLB.com beat writer Mark Bowman reported, Upton is Atlanta’s “top target.” And if Wren strongly prefers the former Ray to Bourn, Angel Pagan, and Shane Victorino, he’d better prepare to pony up. Recent reports from up north suggest that he’ll face stiff competition from Ruben Amaro and the Phillies, among other teams.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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