As 2014 comes to a close, we take a look at the latest rumors surrounding the last batch of top free agents still on the market, including Max Scherzer and James Shields.
With Asdrubal Cabrera having come to terms with the Rays on Tuesday morning and Kenta Maeda and Hiroki Kuroda having both returned to the Hiroshima Carp, just six free agents remain on the market from among the top 40 listed on Ben Reiter's list of this offseason's 50 best free agents. The market has been exceptionally quiet over the holidays, but with the end of 2014 upon us, the time seems right for an update on those six, a group which still includes two of the winter's top available pitchers.
Max Scherzer, RHP
Reiter Rank: 1
The lack of heat on Scherzer this offseason has gone from unexpected to surprising to downright shocking. This is the 2013 American League Cy Young award winner, a 30-year-old stud who has struck out 492 men in 434 2/3 innings over the last two seasons, posted a 3.02 ERA (135 ERA+) and 1.07 WHIP and gone 39-8. There's not a team in baseball that wouldn't be improved by signing him, yet the only rumors concerning Scherzer continue to be purely speculative. The Yankees and Tigers must be laying in the weeds, reasons FOX Sports' J.P. Morosi, but the last word from Detroit was that the Tigers had had no conversations with Scherzer or his agent, Scott Boras.
Still, the Yankees and Tigers are two teams who have proven their willingness to hand out the sort of big money that has likely slowed Scherzer's market (he's looking to top the $155 million Jon Lester landed from the Cubs), and both have rather acute pitching needs. The Tigers traded for David Price as insurance against Scherzer's departure, but Price himself is heading into his walk year. The Yankees, meanwhile, have lost Kuroda and Brandon McCarthy to free agency this winter and have CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Ivan Nova all coming off injuries. Still, the list of teams known to be pursuing Scherzer is exactly as long as the list of teams that already have him under contract.
James Shields, RHP
Reiter Rank: 3
The Giants were said to be in hot pursuit of Shields coming out of the winter meetings, but those rumors have cooled since they re-signed Jake Peavy last week. With a projected rotation of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain (coming off surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow), Tim Hudson, and Peavy, with Yusmeiro Petit and Tim Lincecum set to battle for the fifth spot, the Giants might be better off pursuing another bat for leftfield or third base (yes, I know they traded for Casey McGehee). Shields, meanwhile, once again seems no closer to signing than Scherzer.
Nori Aoki, RF
Reiter Rank: 17
Colby Rasmus, CF
Reiter Rank: 18
In terms of youth and raw talent, Rasmus is the best free agent outfielder remaining. So, it's no surprise to find out that the Orioles, who lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to free agency earlier this offseason and have yet to replace either, are interested in the 28-year-old centerfielder, who has averaged 20 home runs a year over the last five seasons. Per MASN Sports' Roch Kubatko, the Orioles are hoping Rasmus, whose performances have been erratic and who has a reputation for being something of a problem child, would be willing to accept a one-year pillow contract at a salary similar to the $8 million Cruz made last year coming off his Biogenesis suspension.
If not, Baltimore may turn its attentions to Aoki, who will turn 33 next week. Aoki has drawn little interest elsewhere, but Seattle and Cincinnati were said to be potential landing spots for the former Royal earlier this offseason (though the Mariners' potential acquisition of Seth Smith would likely eliminate their interest).
Stephen Drew, SS
Reiter Rank: 32
With Cabrera and Jed Lowrie having landed in Tampa Bay and Houston, respectively, Drew stands alone as the top infielder remaining on the market, which could help stoke the market for his services. Per the New York Post's Joel Sherman, the Angels, Athletics, Blue Jays, Cubs, and White Sox have all shown interest in signing Drew as a second baseman and backup shortstop. The Angels, A's, Blue Jays and White Sox also all have obvious openings at second base. The Cubs are a more surprising inclusion given their glut of middle infielders, but CBS Sports' Jon Heyman confirmed their interest in Drew, who could give Javier Baez a bit more time in Triple A to work on his alarming strikeout rate.
The Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovanna reported in early December that the Angels were not interested in Drew in the immediate wake of the Howie Kendrick trade, and with Josh Rutledge, Johnny Giavotella, and Rule 5 pick Taylor Featherston joining Grant Green in their second base mix, that may still be the case. The Mets, who did have interest earlier in the month, may remain in the mix, suggesting that there's a fairly robust market for Drew, even if none of those teams is willing to offer him more than a one-year contract in the seven-digit range.
Francisco Rodriguez, RHP
Reiter Rank: 33
Believe it or not, K-Rod won't turn 33 until a week from Wednesday and is two years younger than Rafael Soriano, his rival for the title of the best remaining relief pitcher on the market, and several months younger than Casey Janssen, the other established closer still available. Coming off a season in which he saved 44 games and posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career, Rodriguez remains an intriguing late-game option.
The Blue Jays are considering Rodriguez as a replacement for Janssen, though Heyman reports Toronto would rather trade for a closer than pay free agent prices for one. The Nationals, however, are not a likely destination as they're facing a financial crunch and are more likely to trade Tyler Clippard, who is entering his walk year, than they are to spend additional money on a relief pitcher. Don't be surprised if Rodriguez returns to Milwaukee. After all, that's what he did the last three times he hit free agency.