Top Hot Stove Storylines Entering 2014

An impressive flurry of activity before the Winter Meetings left some feeling that there would be little left to tackle before the 2014 season kicks off. And yet, while just seven of MLBTR's top fifty free agents were still available last time this year, fully twice that number remains this time around. Meanwhile, by this point in the 2013 offseason, David Wright and Evan Longoria had already entered huge new extensions. So far this year, however, only Hunter Pence's deal has approached those in magnitude, and he was set to hit the free agent market anyway.

All of which is to say that there is plenty of time left for major decisions before the start of the 2014 season. Here are a few of the most impactful situations to watch as we enter the new year:

Free Agency

Perhaps the biggest reason for the hold up in the current free agent market, of course, is the Masahiro Tanaka posting. With only a $20MM surcharge required for whatever team wins the bidding war, Tanaka is a virtual free agent. Given his open market status, young age, high-end billing, and complete lack of a MLB track record, his courtship will be fascinating and impactful

Tanaka's situation is not just interesting in its own right, however. Most of the top free agent starters remain available: chief among them, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana. If they continue to wait and see where Tanaka lands, there could be an unprecedented rush for arms right on the precipice of Spring Training. Or, perhaps, one or more will break ranks earlier as the Tanaka market begins to clarify.

There are, of course, multiple other important players still available to the highest bidder. The markets for Stephen Drew, Nelson Cruz, and Kendrys Morales — constrained by the draft pick compensation they are tied to — will be interesting to track and could have a big impact on future qualifying offer situations. And A.J. Burnett could still bring big impact on a short-term commitment to the Pirates or, potentially, another destination. Finally, some club could well be in line to add a big arm to the back of its pen at a reasonable rate, with both Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney still available.


Between January 1 and Opening Day of last year, long-term extensions were signed by Elvis Andrus, Justin Verlander, Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, and Adam Wainwright. Right now, there are several major potential extension targets whose situations seem ripe for resolution. 

To begin, baseball has several high-end arms entering their final year of team control. First amongst them, of course, is Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, who could ultimately land one of (if not the) biggest contracts in MLB history. But he is not alone: Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and Homer Bailey were all amongst the game's most valuable starters last year.

One team, in particular, faces an intricate set of decisions on its many viable externsion candidates: the Braves. First baseman Freddie Freeman; shortstop Andrelton Simmons; outfielders Jason Heyward and Justin Upton; closer Craig Kimbrel; and starters like Kris MedlenMike Minor, and Julio Teheran. While each player comes with different service time and other considerations, there are arguments to be made for them all. Whether, when, and how Atlanta GM Frank Wren pursues extensions promises to have major long-term implications for the organization, especially given its budget constraints.

More pressing, perhaps, is the situation in Baltimore. The Orioles have two key younger players — Chris Davis and Matt Wieters — entering their second-to-last year of team control. As MLBTR's Mark Polishuk explains, the O's will face a challenging test in determining whether to make a serious run at either or both of the two Boras clients. If an extension is not in the cards, and Baltimore cannot stay in the thick of things in 2014, there is certainly a possibility that a trade could instead be in the works.

And then there is the most fascinating extension case of all: unprecedented superstar Mike Trout of the Angels. $400MM has been floated as a starting point for valuing a huge new deal for baseball's best player, who is still just 22 years of age. If Los Angeles wants to get any kind of break on the price, it may need to set negotiations in serious motion before Trout hits a big arbitration payday (and secures his financial future) after this season. Since the club can delay the luxury tax implications of an extension by waiting to put pen to paper until after Opening Day, look for things to heat up as the season draws nearer.


Some obvious trade candidates — like Ike Davis of the Mets — have been actively involved in trade talks of late. But after a series of big swaps in advance of and during the Winter Meetings, things have been much more quiet since with respect to some of baseball's biggest targets.

The most likely star to be traded, it would seem, is Rays ace David Price. While his market has been slow to develop, one must wonder whether some team will eventually decide to make a significant offer to bring him on board. With the aforementioned Scherzer, Lester, and Bailey all seemingly unlikely to be dealt at this point, and a free agent market filled with less appealing arms, Tampa still has plenty of leverage — particularly since the club could always hold onto Price if its demands aren't met.

Otherwise, it is not clear that any top-end talent is truly available by trade. Though plenty of speculation has visited Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins appear prepared to keep him in right field for at least one more year. In fact, as time goes on, it could well be that the chatter will begin to shift back towards whether the Fish can and will try to ink Stanton to an extension.


The resolution of Alex Rodriguez's grievance hearing is still an important element of the overall market, given its impact on the Yankees' luxury cap and overall payroll situation. Even if keeping under the cap will now be a significant challenge, particularly if the Yanks sign Tanaka, New York can still save big dollars if the suspension is upheld.

The stage is set for a new year, with plenty of room to impact the outcome of the 2014 campaign. As always, MLBTR will be there every step of the way.

Full Story | 33 Comments | Categories: Uncategorized

33 Responses to Top Hot Stove Storylines Entering 2014 Leave a Reply

  1. Scott 2 years ago

    Please, Please, Please, stop misreporting the details of the new posting system.

    “With only a refundable $20MM fee required to gain entry to the bidding war, Tanaka is a virtual free agent.” — This is not right.

    The signing team pays the posting fee. There is no bidding, there is no entry. It is not a refundable post.

    The posting system is simple:

    1) A Japanese club posts a player with a set release fee. This fee cannot be changed once posted and can be up to $20MM.

    2) The player is now a free agent with a 30 day window to negotiate a contract with a MLB club.

    3) If the player signs, the signing MLB club pays the Japanese club their stated release fee.

    Thats all. No bids, no refunds, no entry.

    • FOmeOLS 2 years ago

      It’s refundable in the sense that if you’re not the successful team, you get your 20 mill back, isn’t it?

      • Tigers72 2 years ago

        Yes that is why every team should post the 20 million to negotiate even if they don’t plan on signing him.

        • Christopher A. Otto 2 years ago

          Let’s say 15 teams post the $20 million. …. Does that $300M sit in an account somewhere for 2-3 weeks and earn interest until Tanaka makes his decision? And who gets that interest? …. Or is it just the PROMISE of $20M, and only the team that wins actually has to fork it over. (In which case, there’s no refund, because no money was ever transferred.) …

          • Scott 2 years ago

            MLB clubs dont pay anything until they sign a player. Hence why the word refundable is incorrect. Only the signing team pays the posting. A posted Japanese player can talk to all 30 teams, the team that signs hims pays his former club’s posting fee.

      • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 2 years ago

        Thanks for raising the issue — you are right that I was being lazy in my account. I rephrased and also added a link (at the word “required”) to an explanation of how the new system functions.

        In essence, there is no $20MM to get back — no money is promised or exchanges hands unless he signs, in which case the signing team pays the fee. It is entirely different from the old system in that regard. It is really more of a surcharge paid upon signing.

        • Scott 2 years ago

          I appreciate it. Not trying to pick on you, its been consistent mis-coverage that has been driving me crazy.

          • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 2 years ago

            You were certainly right to point it out. Honestly, I had been operating under a misapprehension of how it would work. And it does make a difference, because the apparent fact that there are no barriers to negotiation (from the solely bureaucratic to something substantial like an escrow requirement) really makes Tanaka a pure free agent with a surcharge that would appear to function in an even more straightforward manner than the QO system.

            I think that the general confusion stemmed from the many iterations of the system that were tossed around before it was agreed upon and the changed definitions of previous terminology. But that only speaks in favor of more precision.

          • Scott 2 years ago

            Absolutely the confusion stems from all of the speculation leading up to the official system announcement.

            The distinction between having to pay $20MM up front to talk to Tanaka, which say even if 20 teams did just to join the discussion, and just “being willing to pay” which requires no actual payment, allows a completely free (with a known tax) market.

    • Teufelshunde4 2 years ago

      How is it not fair? Only unfair aspect of deal is the size of the posting fee for teams. Its really kinda smallish. 25 or 30 million would be very fair. Yet the best part of the deal is that the player has a say over where he plays.

  2. CT 2 years ago

    The Braves have some very tough decisions to make this offseason and next in terms of long term personnel. I think it’s really important to spend the money on atleast two of Freeman, Heyward, Simmons, and J Upton because of the lack of replacement position prospects in the minors. I wouldn’t worry as much about extending the pitchers unless it’s Kimbrel, seeing how the Braves have some solid pitching prospects in the minors.

    • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 2 years ago

      I missed Upton … added him to the list.

      • CT 2 years ago

        I would put more emphasis on Freeman, Heyward and SImmmons, but if they could sign JUpton that would be fine too.

        • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 2 years ago

          The mere fact that so many viable options exist is going to make it fascinating to watch, particularly if the Braves are not willing to expand payroll relative to the rest of the league.

          Even better, a similar situation is at play with the Nationals, though that organization may have a more flexible payroll.

          Just look at the talent amongst the two clubs’ arb eligibles .. how they handle extensions could shape the future of the division.

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          • CT 2 years ago

            It looks like both teams are in for some tough decisions. The Braves have multiple young guys to lock up with limited payroll flexibility, and the Nats have two guys (Harper and Strasburg) likely to command substantial contracts. It will be interesting to see who stays and who goes.

    • johansantana15 2 years ago

      You must go to Wofford?

  3. johnsilver 2 years ago

    Think Stanton is off the table for the marlins at least one more season. That team has the pitching rotation alone to compete, if all the young kids mature fast enough next season and Yelich + Ozuna give Stanton and Garrett Jones some help. The rotation should be one of the strongest in the NL East.. If they continue maturing as they did throughout the 2013 season and perform as some did after callup (Alvarez).

    It’s the perfect time for them to make a run, Phillies stumbling, Atlanata with multiple troubles, Nationals with issues and the mets as..The mets.. Loria might as well try and get as much as he can out of Stanton before attempting to trade him, maybe sign him to an extension, not unheard of since he did extend Ramirez before.

    • I think the Stanton extension possibilities died the day that the Toronto trade happened.

    • Clayton Wilson 2 years ago

      Do the Nationals and Braves really have significant issues though? A LOT would have to go wrong for both teams and a lot would have to go right for the Marlins. I just can’t see Miami reaching .500 this year.

      Unless you’re talking about 2015, which could be the case.

  4. Can we do a post with a vote for A-Rod’s suspension? I’m guessing 100 games, but it would be cool to see what other people think. Hopefully they make the decision by the end of this week or early next week.

  5. neurogame 2 years ago

    I wonder how the Angels’ refusal to give Mike Trout more than the minimum raises after each of his first two seasons will play out?

    Given the upwards trend of his value, a AAV of 35 – 40+ Million is in the realm of possibility. But how many teams can afford that? There will just be a handful of organizations who will be able to dig deep in their pockets. The Angels will be one of them but will there be a bitter taste in his mouth at how he was valued early on?

    • johansantana15 2 years ago

      If I were Trout, I would be leaning toward leaving the Angels. They are an inefficiently run organization with the worst farm system in baseball. The whole contract controversy last season would only add to that. The Angels will have a lot of money tied up in terrible, backloaded contracts (Pujols, Hamilton) over the next few years, and if they were to spend $35-40 million per year on Trout, that would severely limit their ability to field a competitive team around him, especially considering the absolute lack of good, cheap, young players in the organization and the decline in impact free agents and increase in the market value of those few impact free agents. Trout should be eyeing organizations such as the Dodgers, Red Sox, Nationals, Tigers, Cubs, Rangers, Yankees, and Astros.

      • Teufelshunde4 2 years ago

        Yanks would go bananas if Trout made it to the open market. Im in the midwest and it seems to me from reports and hearing interviews with Angels FO that there is tension there already. If im Trout at this point i go hear to year and make Angels have to toe the line every year to grt paid.

        • johansantana15 2 years ago

          That’s what I would do too. Honestly though, the only thing that is going to keep the Yankees competitive over the next decade is their ability to spend money, as they only have one impact young player (Gary Sanchez). Teams like the Dodgers and Red Sox, who have the a similar level of payroll flexibility AND very good bases of cheap, young talent seem like they would be more appealing.

      • Ryan 2 years ago

        I would bet any amount of money that the Phillies would go hard for him too. Good local story, which for some reason the Phillies front office seems to think translates into success. But its that kind of thinking and reckless spending that makes the Phillies, the Phillies.

        • johansantana15 2 years ago

          They would probably be players, but I don’t see the appeal of signing a lifetime contract with the Phillies here for Trout. If he wants to win, he should go to an organization with some other good young players and a good farm system. Philadelphia might give him the money, but they can’t match the high probability of sustained success that teams like the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Rangers can.

  6. dmm1047 2 years ago

    If there’s a $20M limit on bids for Tanaka, how is a winner determined of 2 or 3 teams bid the $20M—or is the winner the one he wants to sign with?

    • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 2 years ago

      There is no longer any bidding with the Japanese team. That team simply sets a price (in this case $20MM, the max) and then any MLB team can try to sign the player. Whichever team (if any) signs the player then pays the fee on top of what they sign him for.

      So, yes, Tanaka can sign with whatever MLB team he chooses.

  7. WazBazbo 2 years ago

    Huge if here… but IF the Angels come to the conclusion that they may well not be able to afford Trout, considering what he will most likely be able to command as a free agent, what would be the chances of them trading him with, say, a year of control left? Wonder what sort of haul that would bring?

    • CT 2 years ago

      As always with superstars, the return won’t come close to the players actual value. The problem is a team that traded for Trout would have to give up the farm, plus make him the highest paid player in baseball.

      • WazBazbo 2 years ago

        Yeah, there would be a ton of reasons why it couldn’t happen. I just wonder if the Angels lapse into a sort of desperation when/if they realize they won’t be able to sign him long term in an effort to get something for him. Who knows, maybe they’ll pony up the cash before it ever needs to be considered.

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