A week removed from baseball, MLB‘s offseason rumor mill has quickly reached full throttle with trade and free-agent chatter.

Friday foreboded a messy free-agency period when a record 20 players received qualifying offers, meaning teams must cough up a first-round draft pick to sign someone who declines the one-year, $15.8 million deal. One of those guys already has a potential suitor after his red-hot October.

Trades don’t usually develop until winter meetings, but the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays wasted little time reaching a six-player deal. Logan Morrison, Brad Miller and Danny Farquhar were sent to Tampa, while Nathan Karns, Boog Powell and C.J. Riefenhauser went to Seattle. The quick transaction could open the floodgates to more swift maneuvering.

Let’s circle the league for early offseason rumblings on the trade and free-agent fronts.


Nationals Plan to Keep Papelbon, Storen

No team fell shorter of expectations than the Washington Nationals. The preseason favorites to win it all and a virtual lock to capture the National League East, they instead missed the playoffs altogether.

A disastrous season turned even uglier when midseason acquisition Jonathan Papelbon attacked Bryce Harper—who did his part with a season deserving of MVP honors—for not running out a lazy pop fly.  

The sensible thing to do is cut ties with the guy choking teammates, but Papelbon’s younger peer instead helped calm the waters. According to the Washington Post‘s Thomas Boswell, Harper “reached out to Jonathan Papelbon to make sure their relationship as teammates is functional next season.” Not only is the hostile closer staying put, but sources within the organization told Boswell that the team also intends on keeping Drew Storen.

“In a related note, Nats people also say the team’s current plan is to have both Papelbon and Drew Storen in the back end of their bullpen again next year, with the expectation that they will work out a way to ‘play nice together,'” Boswell wrote.

Storen dazzled as Washington’s ninth-inning man, posting a 1.64 ERA into Aug. 1. Whether a coincidence or frustration over his switch to a setup role behind Papelbon, he then surrendered 16 runs—14 earned—over the final two months. He ended his season by punching a locker and breaking his thumb

The Philadelphia Phillies struggled to find a taker on the 34-year-old Papelbon due to a 2016 vesting option. Washington bit and guaranteed an $11 million option, as noted by Cot’s Baseball Contracts, which Papelbon agreed to reduce from $13 million. 

If moving an expensive reliever isn’t hard enough, moving an expensive reliever and temperamental bully who chokes superstar teammates should prove impossible. Pitching in the eighth inning is no different than pitching in the ninth inning, so the Nationals will hope Storen reverts into a lights-out setup man.


Veterans on the Trade Block

Teams hoping Washington would part with a high-end reliever can pursue another veteran reportedly available, while any team needing a left-handed bat also has a feasible target, as ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted:

One of baseball’s most reliable late-inning arms, Joaquin Benoit posted a 2.34 ERA and 0.90 WHIP for the San Diego Padres in 2015. Over the past three seasons, he has notched a 1.86 ERA and 200 strikeouts through 186.2 innings

The Padres recently exercised the 38-year-old’s $7.5-million option for 2016, a fair but steep price for a reliever, while also rostering All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. Benoit’s lowest strikeout percentage since 2008, as noted by FanGraphs, also creates cause for concern.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers are shopping Adam Lind a year after acquiring him from the Toronto Blue Jays. The first baseman lived up to expectations, hitting .277/.360/.460 with 20 long balls. Milwaukee, however, crumbled to a 68-94 finish, creating low expectations for 2016.

During the season, Milwaukee began the rebuilding cycle by dealing Carlos Gomez and Gerardo Parra. Lind will return for an affordable $8 million, but the solid slugger isn’t leading the club back into contention, especially not in the loaded National League Central. 

Rather than waste steady gains from the 32-year-old, the Brewers will search for younger talent they can control beyond 2016. An affordable hitter who crushes right-handed pitchers, Lind should attract interest across the league.


Rockies Eyeing Daniel Murphy

After belting seven postseason home runs, Daniel Murphy earned a qualifying offer from the New York Mets. The National League champions have made no efforts to woo the second baseman, whose comments after the World Series indicated the end of a run.

“I’ve enjoyed my time here,” Murphy said after losing to the Kansas City Royals, via MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo. “I really have enjoyed my time. This organization has been great to me. I love the guys. I can’t sing their praises enough. I feel blessed to have been a Met.”

Due to Murphy’s postseason success, he’s an unlikely candidate to accept the qualifying offer. According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, one team is already interested in his services, if he’s willing to change positions:

Teams probably discuss a lot of kooky things which never see the light of day. Would Ben Zobrist be willing to play every position every game? What if we signed Bartolo Colon as a pinch hitter to increase team morale? A conversation doesn’t always lead to action.

Yet Murphy—a third baseman by trade who moved to steer clear of David Wright—has showcased uneven defense throughout his career. FanGraphs has discredited him for minus-42 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at second since 2011, but he looked decent fielding at first while briefly replacing an injured Lucas Duda in 2015. 

Coors Field is perceived as a homer haven, but it produced more hits of any kind than any other stadium, as measured by ESPN.com’s park factors. A career .288 hitter is likely to hit comfortably over .300 there, and even if his October power surge was an outlier, he could easily hit 20 homers with the Rockies.

The Rockies would have to concede a compensatory draft pick to the Mets, but perhaps they’ll want to return the favor after New York bizarrely poached Michael Cuddyer away from Colorado last year. 

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