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Keeping up

by Matt Smith

The MLB Winter Meetings plus Twitter adds up to a cacophony of rumours to leave your head spinning.

On Tuesday evening, no sooner had tweets fluttered onto timelines about a possible trade involving Justin Upton and Cliff Lee than even more tweets reacted to it claiming that the story wasn’t true.

Such back-and-forth rumours are par for the course in these social-media-mad times and it makes for an entertaining few days, not least because the stories are always joined by a number of actual deals being made.

These are the main moves that have taken place as of early Wednesday evening U.K. time

Red Sox revamp

The Boston Red Sox have made two free agent additions to their offence. Former Texas Ranger Mike Napoli will move to Fenway Park on a three-year/$39m contract (£155k per week) that should see him spending most of his time at first base, possibly with occasional starts at catcher when needed.  Napoli’s outstanding 2011 season made his 2012 campaign seem like a let-down and he is not without his flaws as a hitter, but he’ll provide some power to the Red Sox’s lineup and fans with tickets for the Green Monster seats should keep their eyes out for flying baseballs when he’s up to bat.

Boston then took their three-year/$39m contract template and used it to acquire outfielder Shane Victorino. General Manager Ben Cherington has spoken this offseason of the unique dimensions in right field at Fenway and the attractiveness of acquiring a good fielder to man the position.

Victorino would be a decent fit out in right-field, despite not profiling as a corner outfielder when it comes to his ability to hit for power, although there are a few rumblings that current centrefielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s name has been bandied around as a potential trade chip, which could lead to Victorino moving back to his favoured position.  Ellsbury will be a free agent at the end of the 2013 season and will command a significant contract, making it possible that Boston may try to trade him now if they can receive a worthwhile return.

Tampa Bay talk

One of the big talking points coming out of the Winter Meetings so far is the continued speculation that the Tampa Bay Rays may trade from their stock of quality starting pitchers to improve their offence.  The Rays have already added to their lineup this week, firstly in signing light-hitting first baseman James Loney on a one-year/$2m contract and then agreeing a trade with the Miami Marlins for shortstop Yunel Escobar.

Escobar has only been a Marlin for a couple of weeks following his part in Miami’s blockbuster trade with Toronto.  He comes with controversy, from the ever-present whispers about his alleged lackadaisical attitude to his recent shameful homophobic slur incident, but he’s a good fielder at shortstop and his contract is excellent value, making him a very useful pick-up for the cost-conscious Rays.

What Tampa Bay haven’t done as yet is acquire a genuine impact bat and that’s where the trade rumours come in.  We’ve heard similar stories over the past two offseasons and the Rays haven’t found a potential deal to their liking. Maybe it will be different this offseason.

A-Rod, a crock

With the Red Sox and Rays both making moves, the relative inactivity of the New York Yankees so far this offseason is all the more striking. Although they have agreed deals to strengthen their pitching corps, the offence has some notable holes that need to be filled and we found out earlier this week that this includes a glaring vacancy at third base.

Beneath the hysteria of Alex Rodriguez’s postseason woes there was a common sense angle that suggested he was battling an injury. We now know that he was hobbled by a hip complaint for which he has just undergone surgery. A-Rod likely will be out until June and considering he has now had surgery on both hips, serious questions will be raised over how effective he will be on his return.

The Yankees owe Rodriguez a staggering $28m (£17.4m/ £334k per week) in 2013 plus a further $86m in basic salary over the following four years. When the Yankees signed him to a ten-year/$275m contract in December 2007 it was a typically blunt statement of the Bronx Bombers’ ability to bludgeon other teams with their chequebook. Fans of smaller-market teams (such as my Oakland A’s, whose 2012 opening day payroll for their entire 25-man roster amounted to $53m) can be forgiven their lack of sympathy for how badly the contract is working out.

Nationals near deal with Haren

Heading over to the National League, and sticking with the hip theme, the Washington Nationals have agreed in principle a one-year/$13m contract with former Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Dan Haren.  2012 was the first full season in which Haren had not pitched at least 200 innings and there is concern over the state of one of his hips.

Subject to approval from the Nationals’ medical staff, Washington intend to take a calculated gamble on Haren regaining his previous ability not just to pitch plenty of innings, but to pitch plenty of quality innings.  With talks also progressing on first baseman Adam LaRoche agreeing a deal to return to the club, the Nationals are building a formidable roster that looks strong in all departments.

Giants returning

Meanwhile the reigning World Series champions agreed deals to keep hold of two of their recent postseason heroes. Centrefielder Angel Pagan signed a four-year/$40m (£120k per week) contract whilst infielder Marco Scutaro will return on a three-year deal worth $20m (£80k per week).

Things to come

There has been little significant advances, publicly at least, in decisions being made on the two biggest free agents: Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton. They therefore remain the two players generating the most significant interest and rumours.

The smart money is on the colossal spending power of the Los Angeles Dodgers winning Greinke’s signature despite strong interest from the Angels and the Texas Rangers. The rest of the starting pitcher market will kick into gear once Greinke’s destination is decided, with free agents (Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster etc) and trade options being explored.

One of those trade options may be the 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner. It’s looking more and more likely that the New York Mets and R.A. Dickey will not be able to agree to terms on a contract extension. Dickey will be a free agent at the end of the 2013 season and unless a deal can be reached to extend his stay in Citi Field, the Mets will surely look to trade him this offseason whilst his value is at its peak.

As for Josh Hamilton, it’s possible that a surprise team (the Brewers, the Mariners etc) jumps in if no other team sets the bar ridiculously high, but there still looks to be a fair chance that he will return to Texas. Of course, if the Rangers pip the Dodgers for Greinke’s signature then their priorities will change.

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