Many top free agents still available after Meetings
Choo, Cruz, Drew, Jimenez and Garza among those searching for new contracts
Even before the baseball world descended on the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for the annual Winter Meetings, many of the top free agents had closed on lucrative contracts with new teams, including Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Jhonny Peralta.
Having all the general managers and most of the agents under one roof didn't really move the market, though. And when the executives and representatives checked out and headed for the airport Thursday, there will still several big names still wondering where they'd be playing in 2014. And Ruben Amaro Jr. has an opinion of why.
"I'm not surprised that those quote-unquote 'big names' are out there, because the big names, for us, are probably more names than they are talent," the Phillies general manager said. "I would imagine that with the prices that are out there and what some of the players are seeking, I don't think it matches up with the level of talent. That's my particular take on it."
Teams searching for position players can still look at Nelson Cruz, Shin-Soo Choo and Stephen Drew. Clubs trying to add pitching -- and isn't everybody always looking to do that? -- have Ubaldo Jimenez, A.J. Burnett, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Bronson Arroyo to choose from.
And then there's star Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. While it appears that Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball will shortly announce an agreement on a revised posting system that would clear the way for the 25-year-old who went 24-0 with a 1.27 earned run average in the regular season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, his team has not decided whether or not to post him.
Braves general manager Frank Wren expects the Hot Stove to start heating up again soon.
"I'm probably most surprised at the flurry we had [the week before the Winter Meetings], how quickly that all came together," he said. "If you look at this offseason, Thanksgiving was really late, so we have a really short span between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"It was kind of a surprise that [so many deals] happened before we got [to the Winter Meetings]. And now, at least in our case, a lot of discussions are kind of going silent. And I think that may just be because we're all waiting to get back and regroup. I think there will probably be a flurry again next week before the holidays."
On the hitting side, one thing that may be holding back offers for Choo, Cruz and Drew -- beyond money and term -- is that all were made qualifying offers. They declined what would have been a one-year, $14.1 million deal, which means that a team signing them would have to give up a draft choice.
Among the pitchers, signing Jimenez or Santana would require giving up a draft choice, while adding Garza, Burnett or Arroyo would not.
Cruz is older, considered below-average defensively and served a 50-game suspension at the end of last season after being connected to Biogenesis. But there are believed to be at least three teams with strong interest: the Orioles, Rangers and Yankees. Texas would obviously not lose a draft choice since the slugger played there last season.
The Rangers are also reportedly interested in Choo. Agent Scott Boras, speaking at the Winter Meetings, said he couldn't predict a timetable for when his client might sign or where he might end up.
"I don't think anybody can put a timeframe on these negotiations," Boras said. "I think Choo has gone to the meetings, met with the teams -- very methodical, very patient. [He's] an in-depth thinker. Certainly, the information he's getting is something he's looking at and is talking about it with the wife. I don't think there's any need on his part to make a rapid decision. The fact of the matter is, this market is a little bit further along for him than players you see sign later in January."
Drew is also a Boras client. And, again, the agent indicated that he doesn't feel compelled to rush.
"Because we have to look at the totality of what's available to [Drew]. And some of the offers and positions teams are taking are somewhat contingent on another move. And so, to have a full slate of what's available to him is not yet something that's ripe," Boras explained.
And that's probably similar to the situation most of the better remaining free agents find themselves in at the moment.
Teams can also delay, hoping that as the offseason progresses the price for unsigned players might come down.
Even though not that much happened during the Winter Meetings, and even though there are still several recognizable names left on the market, one thing seems certain.
"Someone's going to pay, I'm sure, and someone's going to get the players," Amaro predicted. "We're just not targeting those because we don't think that's the right bang for the buck."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.