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December 7, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Friday, December 7

by Daniel Rathman

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Ben Revere rode into Philadelphia, Reed Johnson returned to Atlanta, and the Rule 5 draft happened, but other than that, Thursday brought little action. While we await the fall of the next domino, here are a few stories to watch over the weekend:

“There’s a bidding war for Jack Hannahan!”
Indeed, there is. And multiple executives told CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler that this simple fact epitomizes a loony few days in Nashville, which saw a plethora of three-year deals, amid a surprisingly quiet stay for the high-payroll Dodgers and Yankees.

The 32-year-old Hannahan, who was non-tendered by Cleveland last month after taking home $1.135 million in 2012, is not a bad player: He has been worth 3.6 WARP over the last two seasons. But essentially all of Hannahan’s value is tied up in his outstanding defense at the hot corner, which has produced 27 FRAA during that time period, compensating for his sub-par TAv (.264 in 2011, .249 in 2012).

Why is Hannahan, tied to at least three teams by FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi, so popular? In a market that doled out $12 million over three years to Jeff Keppinger, teams in need of infield help don’t have many proven alternatives left. Perhaps the most desperate general manager at the position, the Yankees’ Brian Cashman—whose team will be without Alex Rodriguez until June and lost free agent Eric Chavez to the Diamondbacks—called the spending “aggressive on every level.”

Cashman’s purse strings are so tight this offseason, with ownership eyeing a $189 payroll cap for 2014, that Wall Street Journal beat writer Dan Barbarisi heard that he was not even authorized to make offers without first seeking the Steinbrenners’ approval. The Yankees are seeking a one-year solution in a three-year environment, and after years of flexing their financial muscle, Cashman has run headlong into a market where the shoe is on the other foot. He was, at long last, reportedly able to slip one offer through…

Yankees focusing on Kevin Youkilis
…although that offer’s outcome remains uncertain. While the Reds, Twins, and White Sox duke it out over Hannahan, Cashman has shifted his attention to Youkilis, putting a $12 million paycheck for 2013 on the table, according to MLB.com beat writer Bryan Hoch. A change of scenery from Boston to Chicago breathed some life into the 33-year-old infielder’s bat, but a September slump brought his overall triple-slash line down to .236/.346/.425. Combine that with below-average glove work at third base and a negative contribution across the board for the Red Sox, and Youkilis’ 2012 comes in at 0.9 WARP. Suddenly, Hannahan doesn’t look so bad.

But the Yankees are willing to gamble on Youkilis, banking that his decline was rooted in a spate of nagging injuries that should heal long before he returns to spring training.

Youkilis spent so much time being hurt last season that he hardly remembered what it was like to feel well. And while persistent back and knee woes are worrisome for a player heading into his mid-30s, a modest rebound is within reach. To earn $12 million, all Youkilis would need to do is hold down the fort to the tune of a little more than 2.0 WARP—or, in other words, to match his 2.3 WARP campaign from 2011.

All square? Not quite: In this market, even a declining player on the wrong side of 33 can score a multi-year deal, and Youkilis’ agent, Joe Bick, is fielding calls from numerous other teams. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick threw the Mariners into the mix on Thursday, and Cleveland Plain Dealer beat writer Paul Hoynes tweeted that the Tribe is in the bidding, too. Cleveland—where Youkilis would be reunited with former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, and would return to first base, where he is a much better defender—might be the most logical fit. Of course, general manager Chris Antonetti would be hard-pressed to match the $12 million first-year salary in the Yankees’ offer with other holes left to be plugged.

If Youkilis wants to maximize his 2013 income, then New York is his likely destination. Conversely, if finding a home through at least the 2014 season is his top priority, then the bidding is wide-open, with the Indians perhaps enjoying a slight edge.

Josh Hamilton mulling over three-year proposal from Mariners
The top three remaining free agents—Hamilton, Zack Greinke, and Anibal Sanchez—are all waiting on the former Angel to choose his next home, with the Dodgers and Rangers leading the race for his services and the Halos still lurking. On Thursday, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal heard that the Dodgers are “considering pulling out” of the sweepstakes, though whether that information is legitimate or was planted as a negotiating ploy is anyone’s guess. What we do know is that Hamilton’s fate likely rests in Greinke’s hands.

Barring a lengthened leash, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels only has room for one member of the Hamilton-Greinke duo in his budget, so if the pitcher goes to Arlington, the outfielder will need a new team. And that’s where the Mariners come in—with what Rosenthal believes is a three-year offer worth $60-75 million.

Geoff Baker, a beat writer for The Seattle Times, first broke the news of general manager Jack Zduriencik’s serious involvement in the Hamilton bidding. He tweeted just after midnight on Thursday that the Mariners were “very close” to reeling in the 31-year-old Hamilton, who would immediately become Seattle’s most fearsome hitter. The only hurdle left to clear, according to Baker, would be taken care of as soon as Greinke put pen to paper on a hitch with the Rangers.

Whether the three-year contract reported by Rosenthal is the same one that Baker believes would bring Hamilton to the Emerald City is unclear. Other teams would likely be intrigued by the opportunity to add Hamilton on a short-term pact—even at the steep, $25 million annual bill—so the waters could get muddier in the wake of Greinke’s decision. For what it’s worth, Mariners President Chuck Armstrong shot down Baker’s report on Thursday, via USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, and Alex Speier of WEEI learned from Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen that Boston remains interested, if currently dormant.

All we can do, as the eye of the storm passes, is stay tuned. ESPN’s Jim Bowden assures us that the fun will resume by next week.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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