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December 14, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Friday, December 14

by Daniel Rathman

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The Royals got James Shields, the Dodgers got Zack Greinke, and then, for a while, everything was quiet. It turns out, that was the calm before Thursday’s storm, which brought Josh Hamilton to Anaheim, sent Ryan Dempster to Boston, and cast the spotlight on Anibal Sanchez. Today’s Roundup includes a look at the implications of yesterday’s moves and some late-night intrigue surrounding another free-agent starter.

With Hamilton gone, the Rangers move on to Plan E
Speaking with reporters in the wake of Hamilton’s five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels admitted that the “60-something homers” that the outfielder and Mike Napoli produced last year are “not something you can snap your fingers and get back.” Many reporters, including CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, tweeted during the course of the evening that Daniels, after failing to secure several of his highest-priority targets, is scrambling to find ways to improve on his 2012 roster. But, for all of the handwringing in the air last night, the sky is not falling in Arlington just yet.

Greinke, Hamilton, Shields, and—barring a surprising change-of-heart from Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers, who acquired his shortstop, Didi Gregorius, earlier this week—Justin Upton are gone. Those were Plans A, B, C, and D for Daniels, whose search for lineup and pitching staff reinforcements has thus far yielded only a set-up man, former Royals closer Joakim Soria. As Jeff Passan wrote in his column, right now, the Angels are the gunslingers and the Rangers are the seraphs. But spring training is still two months away, and even with his top four plans foiled, Daniels does not lack for options.

Whatever money the Rangers allocated for Greinke and Hamilton remains in the coffers, a fact that led one rival executive to tell FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, “They could do [Nick] Swisher, [A.J.] Pierzynski, and [Adam] LaRoche.” That trio would hardly represent a significant downgrade from Hamilton, Geovany Soto, and Michael Young. Hamilton (3.9 WARP) barely out-produced Swisher (3.7 WARP) in 2012; Young (-1.5 WARP) was one of the worst regulars in the league; and both LaRoche and Pierzynski, who enjoyed career years last season, would benefit from one of the league’s friendliest parks for left-handed hitters, mitigating the effects of a reversion to their baselines.

Daniels also still has a stockpile of near-ready prospects at his disposal—including Mike Olt, Martin Perez, and Jurickson Profar—some of which could have gone to the Rays for Shields, but each of which could now be used to bring in a different controllable starting pitcher to complement the aforementioned free-agent haul. This new, perfect-world scenario is unlikely, and if the past two weeks are any guide, the gun-shy Rangers may continue to find themselves behind the 8 ball. But the most salient point is that while Texas now has four fewer options, virtually all of its big-budget competitors are wrapping up their winter spending.

And, in the event that plans E and F go the way of A through D, Daniels has already laid-out two possible contingencies. One, as reported by ESPN Dallas’ Richard Durrett, would involve shifting lefty reliever Robbie Ross into the rotation, leaving most of the available funds to be used toward LaRoche, Pierzynski, and/or Swisher. The other, as has been bandied about since the Winter Meetings and was reiterated yesterday by FOX Sports Southwest’s Anthony Andro, would entail putting Ian Kinsler at first base and installing Profar at the keystone, in turn freeing up Olt or Mitch Moreland to become trade bait for a starter.

The takeaway here: No team has squandered as many options over the past few weeks as the Rangers, but no team had as many options as the Rangers did to begin with. That, according to Heyman’s sources, Daniels and Nolan Ryan “don't seem as enthused by what’s left” merely confirms that plans A-D are gone. It does not mean, however, that they won’t ultimately field a roster capable of matching or exceeding their 93-win output from 2012.

Need an outfielder? Call the Angels
While the Rangers mull over whom to add, the Angels can now focus on trimming down their position-player surplus, and perhaps on upgrading their rotation in the process. Albert Pujols and Mike Trout are firmly entrenched, and Vernon Wells’ contract would be nearly impossible to flip, so the names that could be on the trading block are Peter Bourjos, Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo, and—digging into the pipeline—C.J. Cron.

ESPN’s Buster Olney heard that general managers phoning Jerry Dipoto with interest in Trumbo have hit a dead end, though he tweeted that just as the Hamilton developments were unfolding, so it’s unclear if inquiries about the 26-year-old remain a nonstarter even with the $125 million man in tow. On the other hand, Olney believes that “there will be lots of trade interest” in Bourjos, beginning with the Mets, who ceded Andres Torres back to the Giants on Thursday and need a center fielder with Bourjos’ outstanding range to cover the wide gaps at Citi Field. If he receives a call from Sandy Alderson, Dipoto would most likely pursue a swap for R.A. Dickey, who—as Will Woods wrote in yesterday’s Roundup—is not happy with the Mets’ reluctance to bump their extension offers.

Then, there’s Morales, who served primarily as manager Mike Scioscia’s designated hitter last season, and is defensively limited to first base. The 29-year-old switch-hitter has the lowest value of the major-league trade candidates, but even while acknowledging that, Los Angeles Times beat writer Mike DiGiovanna wrote on Thursday that Morales “is the guy I look to deal.” From the standpoint of maximizing bench depth, keeping both Bourjos and Trumbo makes sense, but if Dipoto wants the trade to yield a reliable mid-rotation starter, then Morales may not be an adequate centerpiece.

Dipoto reeled in Tommy Hanson from the Braves and signed Joe Blanton earlier this offseason, sliding the righties into the number-three and –four spots in the Halos’ rotation, behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. But the health of Hanson’s shoulder remains a question mark, and Blanton has not produced more than 1.0 WARP since 2009, leaving the staff’s depth in doubt. Garrett Richards could be a useful trade chip, and Jerome Williams is serviceable in a pinch, but either would be miscast in a mid-rotation role.

For the Angels, deciding which of the spare outfielders to export is a tradeoff between insurance for their outfield studs and support for their iffy three-through-five starters. If Dipoto emphasizes the former, as DiGiovanna suggested, then Morales is probably on his way out; if he is more concerned about the latter, as Olney and other writers believe, then Bourjos or even Trumbo could be sent packing instead.

Anibal Sanchez: Should I stay (in Detroit) or should I go (to Chicago)?
These two reports are not the same…

…But if you follow both Rosenthal and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale on Twitter, they crossed your timeline within seconds of each other. Minutes later, Nightengale wrote up the signing:

Not long after that post went up, it became inaccessible. As we soon found out, Sanchez had agreed to a five-year, $75 million proposal with the Cubs, but then, unbeknownst to Theo Epstein and company, he gave the Tigers an opportunity to match it. They did, and the saga continues.

Ten days ago, in the heat of the Winter Meetings, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi was told that Sanchez had multiple five-year offers. Presumably, at the time of Nightengale’s first tweet on the matter, the Cubs’ offer was the most attractive, and only after general manager Dave Dombrowski learned of its attractiveness did he choose to pad his own proposal. Barring another unforeseen turn, the Sanchez sweepstakes are likely down to Chicago and Detroit, though (as of this writing) it’s unclear if the bidding war rages on, or if the 28-year-old is simply choosing whether he wants to go to the Windy City or stay in the Motor City.

Handicapping the decision without further details is pointless, but Sanchez’s choice will have starkly different consequences depending on which side of the fork he takes:

  • If he goes to the Cubs, he would join fellow off-season additions Scott Baker and Scott Feldman, fronting a rotation that would suddenly rank among the deepest in the senior circuit. But even if Epstein and Jed Hoyer lose Sanchez, they would feel little urgency to chase lower-tier starters just to plug a rotation spot.
  • If he goes to the Tigers, he would play second fiddle to Justin Verlander and have a more immediate chance to contend, having just appeared in his first World Series. But if Dombrowski loses Sanchez, then the back of his rotation would consist of Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, recreating the same weakness that he addressed by obtaining Sanchez from the Marlins in July. Having also made a futile attempt to bring in Shields, he might turn his attention to the next tier of free agents, which includes Kyle Lohse or Edwin Jackson.

And that last point is significant, because it could produce a domino effect, pricing lower-budget, starter-needy teams out of the market. Which brings us to...

Update (12:12 p.m. ET): The Tigers have signed Sanchez to a five-year, $80 million deal, which—turning what I wrote around—could eventually help lower-budget teams to land a proven starter.  

Padres courting Edwin Jackson
…an upward-trending team whose “marquee signing” so far this offseason is Jason Marquis. With Cory Luebke on the mend from Tommy John surgery, the Padres’ rotation currently includes such luminaries as Tyson Ross and Eric Stults, as fans in San Diego wait for the farm system’s abundant crops to ripen and push them down the depth chart. Andrew Cashner, one of the young pitchers who had a chance to emerge as a rotation fixture, is questionable for Opening Day after injuring his thumb in a hunting accident.

Jackson—a 29-year-old with no recent history of arm injuries—appeals to the Padres as a bridge to the likes of Robert Erlin and Joseph Ross, but if the Tigers remain in the market, the same spending environment that has kept general manager Josh Byrnes on the sidelines so far may not be easing up anytime soon. The Rangers, who were apparently not among the top bidders for Sanchez, are also keeping tabs on Jackson, according to Heyman. And, adding on to his initial report, Rosenthal noted that the Padres would likely move on if the price tag for Jackson grows to $48-60 million.

With seven major-league uniforms already in his personal collection, it would be hard to blame Jackson, who earned $11 million from the Nationals in 2012, for preferring stability over annual salary this time around. Despite delivering a pair of 2.0+ WARP seasons, Jackson has never signed a long-term deal, a fact that may have played into his decision to leave Scott Boras for the Legacy Sports Agency in July. Now, Jackson’s future rests in part on Sanchez’s whims, and his market could unfold quickly once Sanchez and his agent, Gene Mato, reach a verdict. 

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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