Now that MLB teams drew first blood in the offseason’s free-agency market, expect the floodgates to soon open.

The Toronto Blue Jays started the party by officially signing Kendrys Morales, a clear sign of them fearing the end of their relationship with star sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. The Houston Astros also acted early by signing Josh Reddick, as first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan. They continued to bolster their offense by acquiring catcher Brian McCann from the New York Yankees.

Two days later, the St. Louis Cardinals set the table for an expensive bullpen market by signing southpaw Brett Cecil to a four-year deal, also first reported by Passan. Upon seeing the early transaction, available closers Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon probably laughed maniacally and envisioned record-setting paydays for relief pitchers.

In the aftermath of these early moves, the American League East is particularly gearing up to land marquee free agents. Let’s take a look at the latest buzz around the league.


Bidding War for Carlos Beltran?

In a hitter-heavy free-agent crop, a slugger set to turn 40 in April is attracting the most suitors.

According to the Boston Herald‘s Evan Drellich, designated hitter Carlos Beltran has a “more robust” market than Encarnacion, who will command a larger salary after belting 42 home runs in 2016. Beltran, who has played for five teams in the past six seasons, proved he has more power to offer after hitting .295/.337/.513 with 29 long balls for the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers last season.

Drellich said the Bronx Bombers are looking to reacquire the man they dealt in July, but a bitter rival is also eyeing his services. Seen as an ideal David Ortiz replacement, one source identified Beltran to Drellich as the Boston Red Sox’s “top priority” this offseason.

Before setting up another one-on-one battle between the big-market behemoths, the Rangers and Astros are still in play. Although Reddick and McCann give Houston a crowded lineup, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal confirmed Drellich‘s claim that the Astros are not backing out of the Beltran sweepstakes:

Unfortunately for them, the McCann trade makes a Yankees reunion far more realistic. They cleared a bloated contract off the books and reopened up the designated-hitter slot. Loaded with young talent after last year’s deadline haul, a short-term upgrade would work perfectly for the Evil Empire.

The smooth-swinging switch-hitter also took a liking to Yankee Stadium, where he hit .302/.363/.598 with 14 homers in 201 plate appearances last season. Don’t be surprised if the Yankees and Beltran press the reset button and reunite for a one- or two-year contract.

Prediction: Beltran signs two-year deal with Yankees. 


Blue Jays Targeting Dexter Fowler

The Blue Jays already purchased insurance for their worst fears by bringing aboard Morales, who should slide into Encarnacion‘s DH role. An offensive specialist with a .795 OPS, however, will not maintain their lineup’s luster.

If both stars indeed sign elsewhere, Toronto won’t replicate their elite production. Knowing their power will take a major hit, the franchise is looking to instead locate a strong leadoff hitter with keen on-base abilities, per Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi:

If that’s what they want, Dexter Fowler is the perfect candidate. The center fielder, who will turn 31 before Opening Day, notched a .393 on-base percentage atop the Chicago Cubs’ batting order due to a stellar 14.3 walk percentage. Over his career, he has reached base at a .366 clip.

He would also need to move positions with defensive stalwart Kevin Pillar occupying center. The Blue Jays would certainly delight their pitching staff by instead complementing him with Adam Eaton, who accrued 22 defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs, after moving from center to right field for the Chicago White Sox.

Although Eaton’s career .357 on-base percentage fits the bill, there’s little reason to believe the White Sox would trade him. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the 27-year-old will make $18.4 million over the next three years before the team can evoke club options in both 2020 and 2021.

Fowler is the more realistic target, but he should draw major interest following a career year. Expect him to get more money from another contender, which may compel the Blue Jays to bring back Michael Saunders instead.

Predictions: Fowler signs four-year deal elsewhere; Eaton stays put.


Yankees Gear Up for Big Moves

Before setting up a Beltran press conference, the Yankees are reportedly also aiming their sights much higher.

According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Yankees are pursuing Encarnacion as well as Beltran following the McCann trade. In an MLB Network Radio interview, ESPN’s Jim Bowden expressed confidence in them attaining either Encarnacion or outfielder Yoenis Cespedes:

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman traded several key pieces last summer, but he’s now open to quickly replenishing the roster rather than patiently restocking. As he told’s Bryan Hoch, he’s willing to explore all avenues:

I’m going to be open-minded to all of it. I’m going to be open-minded to what’s available. We now will pursue bats, but we’ll see if it takes us anywhere. It could be a DH-only situation; obviously the preference always is going to be someone that can provide positional ability so you have more flexibility on your roster. We’ll see where it takes us.

Burned by splashy signings in the past, it seems strange for the Yankees to dip their feet back in the expensive free-agent pool this winter. They finally shed McCann, Beltran, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez off the payroll and got significantly younger, so why give another veteran a hefty contract two years before Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Clayton Kershaw can hit the open market?

It’s a new era in the Big Apple, so expect Cashman and Co. to stay patient and settle for Beltran. If anything, they’ll make a splash by bringing back Chapman or another premier reliever.

As the Yankees gradually build their next superteam, the Red Sox will roll the dice now by signing Encarnacion. Having lost Reddick and facing the possibility of watching Justin Turner leave as well, the Los Angeles Dodgers clear their deep pockets to pry Cespedes from the New York Mets.

Predictions: Encarnacion signs four-year deal with Red Sox; Cespedes joins Dodgers on five-year contract; Chapman goes back to Yankees for four-year deal.

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