The so-called MLB hot stove has cooled down to a simmer for a while now, with nearly every elite name worth more than the national minimum wage having long since been poached off the market.

Names like Brian McCann, Robinson Cano and Shin-Soo Choo have each landed their life-altering nut. Their family’s family’s family is now set for life, and all that remains is the inevitable late-contract regression, followed by resentment, followed by a trade to a desperate franchise hoping for a spark (Hi, Yankees!).

It’s the inevitability of this stuff that makes it so fun, exhilarating and exhausting. By the time you have a chance to light your cigarette and process the first nine-figure contract, another comes crashing over you like a monsoon.

And this, of course, leads us to now. Better known as the “oh boy, I better sign now and get whatever I can” period. Or merely Tuesday as a Scott Boras client.

Being without a contract heading into mid-January typically means you’re a player with a host of question marks (Nelson Cruz), a vastly undervalued starting pitcher (Ervin Santana) or merely got a late start to the game because baseball is stupid (Masahiro Tanaka).

Either way, each of those types (minus probably Tanaka) are going to find themselves taking contracts well below their expectations. The feasting season is over. Now, all that’s left is for these players to gnaw on the gristle and meat fragments leftover by the players who were more realistic or more desired on the open market.

That being said, wondering about their future destination is still fun. Here is a look at a few players who could be signing on the bottom line in the not-too-distant future.


Yankees the Favorite, but Cubs Preparing a Massive Masahiro Tanaka Bid?

Perhaps, the only people happier to see Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension cost him the entire 2014 season than Bud Selig was Tanaka and his representatives. There is no logical way the Yankees can afford to pay Tanaka and get under the $189 million luxury tax for 2014, as Jonah Keri pointed out at Grantland

That doesn’t necessarily matter to Tanaka. What matters is that the Yankees are in the bidding, whether as a serious suitor or as a price-raiser. New York has been widely linked to the 25-year-old righty since rumors of his impending posting came about, and it’s likely that Brian Cashman still has serious interest in landing him at a certain price. Lord knows the Yankees could use some help in their rapidly declining rotation.

But the mere fact that the Yankees have a theoretical $25 extra million sitting in their back pocket has to scare the holy hell out of all other suitors. Cashman already went out and gave big contracts to Jacoby Ellsbury, McCann and Carlos Beltran this offseason, and the looming possibility of two straight October absences could make the team go all in.

According to a report in a Japanese paper (h/t Sporting News’ Justin McGuire), Tanaka will only sign with the Yankees, Angels and Dodgers, with New York being the favorite. Still, until his representation makes a move here and announces that report has veracity, it’s always best to back away. Remember, there was a point where Tanaka wasn’t even going to be posted this offseason—so let’s say the leeway isn’t the same in the way it’d be at, say, the New York Times.

And with the offers other teams are preparing, perhaps that Japanese report will also be proven wrong. A source close to the situation told CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney that the Chicago Cubs were preparing a nine-figure deal for Tanaka. That move might fly in the trajectory of the Cubs’ tear-it-down philosophy they’ve employed since Theo Epstein took over in the front office, but it’s one that could remind everyone that, hey, the Cubs still exist, everyone!

Tanaka is still young enough at 25 that he’ll be in his prime when Epstein’s young roster is preparing for a deep October run. One just has to wonder how high the dollar figure will have to be to not only get Tanaka to express patience with a rebuild, but also spurn the Los Angeles and New York markets.

With Jan. 24 quickly creeping up, this situation needs to be resolved soon.


Phillies, Yankees and Twins in on Bronson Arroyo?

Want to know how much age is playing a factor in free agency? Just ask Bronson Arroyo. The free-agent righty turns 37 in February and has been demanding a three-year deal in negotiations with teams, even at this late stage of the game. 

And the weird thing is if Arroyo were three or four years younger, he’d probably be approaching the $15-16 million over five years range. While he’s rarely spectacular in a way that engenders drools from scouts and fans, Arroyo is quietly one of the most consistent starting pitchers in baseball.

He’s made at least 29 starts for a decade straight, reaching the 32 mark in nine of those seasons. Only once during that time frame did Arroyo’s ERA go higher than five. Here are Arroyo’s WHIPs over the last five seasons: 1.27, 1.15, 1.37, 1.21, 1.15. All of that came inside the bandbox that is Great American Ballpark, so you can throw out pretty much all of your National League biases there.

Arroyo is a very solid pitcher who has adjusted to his age by slicing his walk rate, locating well and pitching to contact. If that doesn’t seem like an eight-figure talent, allow me to remind you that Phil Hughes received $24 million over three years this offseason.

Hughes is a trainwreck. Bronson Arroyo is not. But because Arroyo is close to 40 rather than 30, he’s having trouble getting a deal commiserate with his talent.

The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported a team is “coming closer” to offering Arroyo a third year, but there were numerous variables in play. The Yankees, Phillies, Twins and others have reached out, but it’s unknown from whom the third year is coming and whether it will be merely a vesting option or a guarantee.

Arroyo would probably be better off staying in the National League; most pitchers are. But if Minnesota is willing to give up three years and $8 million per season for Hughes, I’m sure their upcoming offer of eight years and “all the money” will be too much for Arroyo to pass up.


Mark Reynolds Drawing Interest From Five Teams?

My professional analysis of Mark Reynolds’ career: weird dude. Reynolds is just 30 years old, even though it feels like he’s been around longer, and he’s a player whose numbers have begun trending toward unplayable.

After belting at least 28 home runs in every season from 2008-12, Reynolds has hit a combined 44 the past two seasons. Which, of course, wouldn’t be a bad total if Reynolds had any discernible skills beyond hitting the ball over the fence. He’s an abhorrent defender at both corner infield spots, has finished with a negative wins over replacement and continues to strike out at an obscene rate.

Ball-go-booming is a worthwhile skill in today’s age, where power is declining below even pre-steroid rates. But if Reynolds is going to have a HR/FB ratio of 16.9 percent, as he did in 2013—about that of Michael Cuddyer—he suddenly becomes a far less valuable asset unless he’s being paid only the most minimum of salaries.

The market has mostly bore that out. According to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, the Yankees only offered Reynolds a minor league contract, which he unsurprisingly stuck two thumbs (note: might not have been thumbs) up and walked right out of negotiations. Proverbially, of course. The Yankees probably only sent him a contract via carrier pigeon rather than deign to face him.

But still, it seems Reynolds is not completely without suitors. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that five teams—the Nationals, Rangers, Twins, Orioles and (we can probably rule them out) Yankees—were all still in on whatever “sweepstakes” there is for Reynolds’ brand of occasional power.

A trip to Baltimore would represent something of a homecoming for Reynolds. He spent two seasons with the Orioles, highlighted by a 37 home run campaign in 2011. Texas could use Reynolds in the Nelson Cruz slot, all at a far, far cheaper rate. 

The Twins, again, seem to like everyone.

Arroyo and Reynolds, we’re here with your World Series co-MVPs in scorching hot Minneapolis! 

Has a ring to it, no?


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