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December 6, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Thursday, December 6

by Daniel Rathman

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The Winter Meetings are winding down, but along with a slew of signings, Wednesday also brought a healthy dose of intrigue. Here’s a look at the latest developments from Nashville, as those in attendance begin packing their bags and preparing to fly home:

Royals met Wednesday night, focusing on James Shields
As my fingers were hitting the keyboard on this segment, general manager Dayton Moore and his staff were busy discussing their options for adding a long-desired frontline starting pitcher. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, Shields is “heavy on the [Royals’] mind,” yet as of late Wednesday night, Moore had made little headway in talks with the Rays.

Shields, who turns 31 two weeks from today, is a logical target for the Royals because of his durability and team-friendly contract. He has amassed at least 200 innings in each of the last six seasons—including more than 475 combined frames in 2011 and 2012—and is set to earn just $9 million next year, followed by a $12 million club option for 2014. Compared with a spending environment that just awarded $16 million over two years to Joe Blanton, that $21 million payout is chump change.

For the privilege of acquiring an underpaid workhorse, the Rays expect the Royals to open up their farm and let general manager Andrew Friedman pick his favorite crops. The number-one crop, as Jason Parks and the prospect team attested on Monday, is right fielder Wil Myers, who was once considered untouchable, but is now believed to be on the table. Bob Dutton, the Royals beat writer for The Kansas City Star, tweeted in advance of the meeting that Moore “won’t hesitate” to ship Myers to Tampa Bay for Shields. Alas, Friedman wants at least one additional piece.

Moore and company huddled in their suite last night to decide between three possible courses of action: to give in to the Rays’ demands for Shields, to explore other trade options for a starting pitcher, or to find a way to court their top free-agent target, reported by Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi to be former Tigers righty Anibal Sanchez. Besides Sanchez, the Royals have also been tied to third-tier starters such as Ryan Dempster, but they already nabbed one of those by retaining Jeremy Guthrie and have plenty of high-risk quantity to go with precious little consistent quality.

Of course, the Royals are not the only team that views Sanchez as the top consolation prize for those who cannot rival the Dodgers’ and Rangers’ coffers for Zack Greinke. Morosi tweeted on Tuesday that Sanchez is weighing “multiple five-year offers,” and if Moore is going to win the bidding, he will need to shed payroll in short order. 

Brewers, Royals need payroll space to accommodate free-agent starters
Doug Melvin can sympathize. CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler heard on Wednesday that the Brewers general manager, like his counterpart—and former Greinke trade partner—in Kansas City, is trying to free up the funds necessary to reel in a highly regarded free agent on a tight budget. Lohse and Sanchez are likely out of Milwaukee’s price range even if Melvin unloads Corey Hart’s $10 million salary, but the Brewers and Royals are competing for some of the same consolation-prize starters, including Dempster and Edwin Jackson, whose agent, Greg Genske, met with Melvin on Wednesday.

Although Moore is essentially down to one need, Melvin has other fish to fry, most notably finding a left-handed reliever in a fast-moving market. The Brewers non-tendered Manny Parra last week, dodging what would have been a $1.5-2 million arbitration bill, but in doing so created a void in a bullpen that was shaky throughout 2012. Chris Narveson is the only southpaw with major-league service time on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster, and he missed most of last season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. Miguel De Los Santos, who was plucked off waivers from the Rangers in September, spent the year in Double-A and must improve his control in order to prove worthy of a big-league assignment.

Four-way trade buzz continues despite apparent roadblocks
As Melvin sorts out those issues, “the young executives”—who, incidentally, include 51-year-old Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers—are attempting to engineer a blockbuster that could drastically alter the off-season landscape. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported on Wednesday morning that the once-dormant talks between the D’backs, Indians, Rangers, and Rays are alive and kicking. A second variation of the four-team framework, identified by ESPN’s Buster Olney, would involve the Royals, while a third possibility, per FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, would bring in the Mariners. (Don’t tell Melvin about that last one—at 60, he’s a year younger than Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik.)

Amid all of the intrigue, the gist of the situation breaks down as follows:

Team

Needs

Has

Diamondbacks

Shortstop

Outfielders (Jason Kubel, Justin Upton), pitchers (Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs)

Indians

Outfielder, pitcher

Shortstop (Asdrubal Cabrera), outfielder (Shin-Soo Choo)

Mariners

Bats, bats, and more bats

Pitching prospects (Taijuan Walker, et al)

Rangers

Outfielder, pitcher

Prospects (Mike Olt, et al), first basemen (Mitch Moreland), shortstops (Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar)

Rays

Cost-controlled bats

Pitchers (Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, et al)

Royals

Frontline pitcher

Prospects (Myers, et al), Billy Butler

As you can see in the above table, there is ample common ground between the reported parties, both in terms of needs and expendable commodities. Unfortunately, almost each permutation of the four-team structure must overcome the same impasses that have led Towers, who prefers to “deal directly,” to entertain his sprightlier fellow GMs.

Although the odds of any such blockbuster being finalized are currently slim, the situation could evolve rapidly, with a variety of possible catalysts, two of which seem especially salient. If Greinke chooses to sign with the Dodgers, then Rangers GM Jon Daniels could ramp up his pursuit of a starter and become more amenable to parting with a young shortstop, a change of heart that would pique Towers’ attention. Alternatively, if the Royals’ attempt to land Shields falls short, then Moore could feel compelled to export Butler’s $8 million 2013 salary, which in turn could motivate Zduriencik to put the wheels in motion on the version that utilizes the Mariners.

And, on top of all of its possible causes, if one of the deals is agreed upon, it could have far-reaching effects. If the Royals acquire Shields, then they would exit the free-agent pitcher market, potentially enabling the Brewers to find a starter that meets their budget. Or, if the Indians upgrade their rotation with a cost-controlled starter in exchange for Cabrera, then—after being rebuffed by Shane Victorino—they could emerge as the favorites for one of the top remaining free-agent outfielders, such as Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher.

With so many players’ fates up in the air, for now, one thing is clear: The fun is only getting started. Just ask Elvis Andrus:

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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