DEC. 30: Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes that after checking around with the Orioles in light of their connection to Cespedes, he doesn’t get the sense that any deal is close. Kubatko writes that a team source indicated no chance of the Orioles going near MLBTR’s projected $140MM price tag on Cespedes, and another source told Kubatko that a contract proposal hasn’t even been presented to ownership at this time. Pitching remains the Orioles’ primary focus at this time, according to Kubatko.
DEC. 29: The Orioles and White Sox are emerging as the favorites to land outfielder Yoenis Cespedes “for now,” reports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (via Twitter). According to Sanchez, the Giants and Angels are also “in the mix,” and the Rangers are monitoring the situation (though Sanchez’s implication seems to be that they’re relatively far removed from a serious pursuit).
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports linked the ChiSox to Cespedes earlier this morning while reporting that the club was actively seeking an outfield upgrade. Per Rosenthal, longtime division rival Alex Gordon is still on the Sox’ radar as well as the team searches for a superior corner option — presumably, an upgrade over Avisail Garcia. Either Garcia or Melky Cabrera would be logical candidates to lose playing time in the event of an outfield acquisition for the Sox, though the team could try to find a taker for some of Adam LaRoche’s contract and move Cabrera to DH instead. Cabrera, though, batted a solid .288/.330/.449 with 11 homers from June 1 through season’s end after initially struggling with his new team in 2015, so he’s probably still in the team’s plans. (The $29MM owed to him from 2016-17 undoubtedly plays a role in that picture as well.)
The Orioles have a clear need for additional help in the outfield corners, as Adam Jones currently projects to be flanked MLB newcomer Hyun-soo Kim and Nolan Reimold. While Kim, one of the top hitters in the Korea Baseball Organization over the past several years, could emerge as a viable everyday option, he’s untested and figures to have some form of adjustment period even if he does prove to be a quality Major Leaguer. Adding Cespedes to the mix would lessen the need for immediate production from Kim, who could perhaps be eased into MLB a bit more, as countryman Jung Ho Kang was with the Pirates in 2015.
For Baltimore, adding Cespedes would unquestionably require a franchise-record contract (though the same could be said of the White Sox), as Jones’ six-year, $85.5MM deal is the largest in club history at this time. Baltimore has made a strong effort to retain slugger Chris Davis this offseason, reportedly offering $150MM over a seven-year term. Cespedes’ ultimate price tag could approach that point, though many predictions, including MLBTR’s six-year, $140MM projection from early November, have him falling shy of that mark. An earnest pursuit of Cespedes would at the very least clash with previous reports pertaining to the Orioles, which indicated that the team was only interested in spending this type of money on Davis and would not re-allocate the funds to another top-tier free agent were Davis to ultimately sign elsewhere. While the extent of their willingness to spend may be somewhat uncertain,it seems unlikely that the Orioles would be able to sign both Cespedes and Davis. In other words, if Baltimore does indeed bring Cespedes into the fold, it would probably spell the end of Davis’ tenure with the Birds. Should that prove to be the case, the Orioles can deploy trade acquisition Mark Trumbo at first base in 2016, giving the club a wealth of right-handed pop between Cespedes, Trumbo, Jones and Manny Machado.
The Angels have long been connected to corner outfield upgrades, and GM Billy Eppler has said he believes owner Arte Moreno will approve a luxury tax penalty for the right player. The rest of the team’s moves this winter, however, would seem to indicate a strong preference to remain underneath that $189MM barrier, however, as the additions of free agents Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry as well as trade pickups Yunel Escobar and Andrelton Simmons have all been of the lower-cost variety (financially speaking).
As for the Giants, they’ve been more than willing to spend this offseason, adding both Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to their rotation after a strong pursuit of Zack Greinke came up short and giving Brandon Crawford a $75MM extension. The three players received a combined $285MM in guaranteed money from the Giants, and GM Bobby Evans recently said on MLB Network Radio that he still hopes to add a left fielder, thereby shifting Gregor Blanco into a valuable fourth outfield role. Evans emphasized the trade market in that interview, though one wouldn’t expect a GM to openly broadcast his desire to spend top dollar on a free-agent upgrade, either.