The Arizona Diamondbacks kick off spring training on Thursday -- just one day away -- as the first team to have pitchers and catchers report. Spring training starts tomorrow. The rest of baseball will also see their players reporting in the next few days.
It's finally time for teams to prepare for the upcoming season. And yet, there are still five key free agents this offseason that have yet to find a new home. It's not that these players are bad. In fact, all of them are almost certainly starting-caliber and at least one had been eyeing a nine-figure contract. The problem is these five players all turned down qualifying offers and will require a signing team to forfeit a draft pick. With high salary expectations and teams valuing their draft picks more than ever, all five of the following men are still searching for a new deal:
After a nice year with the Royals, Santana entered the offseason drawing comparisons between himself and Zack Greinke while believing he could earn a deal worth around $112 million. At the time, many people thought it was outlandish that Santana thought he was worth that much. Then massive deals came in for guys like Robinson Cano and Masahiro Tanaka and, well, Santana's demands still looked foolish.
Now, Santana's reportedly come down to possibly being willing to sign a three year deal as his price has been dropping rapidly. After Tanaka was signed there was a belief that several of the top free agent pitchers would also find deals. So far, only Matt Garza has found a new home. And Garza's four-year, $50 million deal certainly won't do Santana many favors as he looks for a big deal. Garza, while more fragile over recent years, has posted better career stats and did not require the forfeiture of a draft pick.
After their offseason acquisitions, the Royals do not appear likely to re-sign Santana. The Diamondbacks and Blue Jays have both been actively looking for rotation help and likely remain the favorites to land Santana. The Rockies have also had a mild interest, but for a lesser price.
Jimenez is in basically the same situation as Santana. His 2013 team (in this case the Indians) do not appear likely to re-sign him, and he has yet to find a match that offers a contract Jimenez would be comfortable with. In addition, the same teams pursuing Santana are also interested in Jimenez. The Diamondbacks and Blue Jays are also favorites for him, with Toronto expecting to sign one of the two. The Orioles are also in play as they hope to bring in a proven innings-eater.
Jimenez may now be looking at a three-year deal worth around $39 million in free agency which, all in all, could end up being a steal for a team. The issue with Jimenez is that he could just as easily be a bust as a boon. Over his first year-and-a-half in Cleveland he was dreadful, maintaining an ERA above 5.00. Something clicked again in 2013, however, and he notched a 2.61 ERA over his final 28 starts of the season while striking out 179 batters over 166 innings.
Any team that signs Jimenez will be taking a risk. It appears clubs are waiting for the price to drop to a level where they feel comfortable taking that chance.
The Mariners are interested. They've been interested all offseason, it seems like, or connected by people who thought they seemed like a likely destination. Recent reports suggest the Mariners may be willing to offer a multi-year deal to Cruz, though he will almost certainly get less than the four-year, $75 million contract for which he originally was looking.
Other than Seattle, however, there hasn't been a lot of solid news of other teams being interested in the former Rangers slugger. Four to five teams are reportedly in the running for him, but none of those teams were names specifically. The Orioles previously were interested and may still be monitoring the situation, but have signed Delmon Young to help fill their need at designated hitter.
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Fun with Photos
Drew has really been in a holding pattern for much of the offseason. In a similar way to Cruz, he has had the same few teams oft-mentioned as potential destinations, but with those teams all wanting him to reduce contract demands. The Mets have seemingly had a new connection to him every week and may have offered a contract, but have maintained that they see themselves as 'long shots' to acquire Drew.
The other New York team, the Yankees, have also been linked to Drew. New York's infield is in a sorry state with the oft-injured and aged Brian Roberts at second, the aged and coming-off-a-major-injury Derek Jeter at shortstop and Kelly Johnson at third. Drew has shown a willingness to play other positions, which could help him fit in very well with the Yankees. He could also return to Boston, who have reportedly made him an offer. The Red Sox may not be offering the most lucrative deal considering they have Xander Bogaerts ready to take over at shortstop, though. The Twins and Athletics have also been eyeing Drew.
Drew hit for a 777 OPS in 2013, fourth-best among shortstops with at least 500 plate appearances. He would be an improvement for many teams but so far nobody has made the leap.
The forgotten man in the free agent class of 2014. While the four above players have all received a decent amount of interest this offseason, it seems like nobody has much cared to look extensively into Morales. Even a team like the Milwaukee Brewers, who have been desperate for a first baseman and proved a willingness to give up a pick for the right player last year with Kyle Lohse, have instead opted to sign Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay rather than bring in Morales.
While the Mariners -- whom Morales played for in 2013 -- have shown some interest in having him come back, they do not have an obvious need, especially if they do indeed sign Nelson Cruz. With players like Justin Smoak, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison and Jesus Montero, the team already has a glut of corner outfield/first base/designated hitters. At this point, unless something comes out of nowhere Morales might have to wait and sign following the June draft, when a team will no longer be required to forfeit a pick.