Although the winter meetings allowed numerous MLB teams to cross some names off their holiday shopping lists, plenty of big gifts still await.  Even with superstars like Jon Lester and Pablo Sandoval signing with new teams, the league has yet to see a resulting domino effect, and other top-tier players have yet to find new (or old) teams.

Many free agents are still up in the air.  Plenty of season-changing talent, especially among starting pitchers, still exists for title-hungry teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and others to sweep up.  

Even though the pace of signings has slowed to a crawl, that does not mean the rumor mill is not constantly spinning.  Using information derived from The Boston Globe‘s Nick Cafardo in his invaluable “Sunday Notebook” series, let’s look at recent updates on some of the biggest available names and speculate where their ultimate destinations may be.


Giants and Sox in on Shields?

With Lester off the market, James Shields has established himself as one of the biggest names available, as the small-market Kansas City Royals are unlikely to retain the ace who spurred their surprising World Series run.  Cafardo suggests that a few big-market teams are still interested in Shields:

The final Shields numbers are expected to be close to the five years and $110 million remaining (if the option is picked up) on the Cole Hamels deal, according to one major league source who was privy to Shields’s demands. The Giants and Red Sox are in the picture, and the Yankees may be another suitor.

That would be well below the six-year, $155 million pact Lester inked with the Chicago Cubs, but one also commensurate with Shields’ level of performance.  Though Shields has eclipsed the 200-innings mark in a remarkable eight consecutive seasons, he has never checked in as more than a 4.5 WAR player, and his 2015 Steamer projection, via FanGraphs, projects him as a 3.0 WAR player.

Those numbers still make Shields a very valuable player, equivalent to Brandon McCarthy and Nathan Eovaldi last season.  But it spells more of a No. 3 starter rather than the ace that his contract demands would imply, and as Shields approaches his age-33 season, it is a given that the contract will sour in the end.

Of course, signing a big free-agent pitcher is about the present, not the albatross the contract will eventually become.  In that instance, the Giants look like a slightly better fit for Shields than the Red Sox, who already have innings-eaters but no top-of-the-rotation anchor.  San Francisco already has Madison Bumgarner, and when adding Shields to a rotation that includes Matt Cain, Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson, the Giants would trot out an extremely durable and consistent group that will almost surely produce above-average numbers.


Scherzer Staying Put?

Whereas Shields is in demand on the open market, the picture is murkier on Scherzer.  His $200 million asking price has thinned out the market and created a holding pattern.  Given that Scherzer is a Scott Boras client, it’s not difficult to envision this process dragging out.

However, unlike with Lester or Shields, no team has established clear interest in the Detroit Tigers ace.  ESPN’s Jim Bowden (subscription required) recently pegged the Tigers as 2-to-1 favorites to retain Scherzer, and Cafardo’s sources have echoed that sentiment:

The more you ask baseball executives about where Scherzer will end up, the more the answers come back Detroit. The Tigers know and like Scherzer, and the feeling is they need him after trading Rick Porcello to the Red Sox, and obtaining Alfredo Simon from the Reds and Shane Greene from the Yankees. The Tigers’ rotation is missing a significant pitcher (you can’t call Justin Verlander that anymore, and David Price may not re-sign). 

The Tigers have been unafraid to shell out huge long-term dollars to keep their own stars, as evidenced by the Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander deals.  Moreover, Detroit’s once-formidable rotation has collapsed amid Verlander’s decline, the trades of Doug Fister and Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez’s injury history.  Scherzer produced over 2.0 more WAR and pitched nearly 15 innings more than the second-best Tigers starter last year, effectively carrying a staggering Detroit pitching staff down the stretch.

Quite simply, the Tigers probably need Scherzer more than any other deep-pocketed contender, even the Yankees.  Until someone really gets serious about Scherzer, he’s Detroit’s free agent to lose.


Buzz on Asdrubal

Given the scarcity of well-rounded middle infielders, Asdrubal Cabrera would ostensibly be a very valuable commodity on the open market.  However, Cafardo reports that Cabrera has needed to market himself to teams, and the 29-year-old may end up taking a one-year deal:

There’s a lot of dialogue with teams, according to agent Alan Nero, but nothing has come together yet. Cabrera is willing to move to second base, which would be beneficial to him. There’s been speculation concerning the Yankees with Prado gone. Cabrera could take a one-year deal somewhere and reestablish himself.

It’s a puzzling development given that both Sports Illustrated and CBS ranked Cabrera among their 15 best free agents at the start of the offseason.  He’s unlikely to come close to ever repeating his 2011 power breakout, when he swatted 25 home runs and produced a career-high 3.6 WAR and 16.3 added runs on offense.  And Cabrera has also always had a negative glove, which will likely necessitate a move from of shortstop as he ages.

But he already possesses the versatility to handle second, as he demonstrated during his stint with the Washington Nationals last season, and his regular-season numbers make him an above-average bat.  The average slash line of major league shortstops last year was .251/.306/.363, almost exactly in line with Cabrera’s .251/.316/.397 career average.

Considering that playoff contenders were trotting out the likes of Jean Segura and Elvis Andrus last year, Cabrera seems like a nice replacement for most teams.  The Yankees or Phillies, both of whom lost franchise icons at shortstop this offseason, could represent future suitors for the ex-Cleveland Indian.


*All stats via Fangraphs.  

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