All winter long, we've yearned for a match to ignite baseball's Hot Stove.
Could the solution be something as customary as Friday's exchange of salary arbitration figures?
One Major League general manager predicted Friday evening that the industry would see "a few" notable signings over the next week. That would qualify as significant news in a tepid marketplace.
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A different high-ranking club executive offered the following explanation: "The fact is, when it gets to crunch time on arbitration, it's just hard to focus on other things as closely -- for both [teams] and agents. It's more of a timing thing than a money thing."
Now, with teams less encumbered after negotiating with their arbitration-eligible players, they have the bandwidth to sign free agents in a market that has yet to yield a contract of more than three years.
Among the key storylines to watch in the coming days:
Gerrit Cole's trade outlook: Cole agreed to a $6.75 million contract for 2018, one source confirmed to MLB.com. The fact that Cole's salary is known, instead of pending an arbitration hearing, will make it easier for the Pirates to trade him. An acquiring club would have cost certainty, rather than wonder how its payroll might fluctuate based on the case's outcome.
The Astros and Yankees are among the teams that have spoken with the Pirates about Cole this offseason. For now, both remain possible landing spots. Cole has great financial appeal to the Yankees, who remain mindful of the $197 million luxury-tax threshold. It will be more difficult for the Yankees to stay under that limit if they sign free agent Yu Darvish, rather than trade for Cole.
Similarly, the Astros are believed to prefer having Cole for the next two years, before he becomes a free agent after the 2019 season, rather than commit to Darvish for as many as five years.
Darvish's insider updates: Darvish's Twitter feed has become a go-to source for Hot Stove rumblings over the past week. Darvish seemed to confirm a report from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson that the Yankees, Astros, Rangers, Cubs and Twins were pursuing him -- while adding that another team was involved. And in a tweet Friday evening, Darvish confirmed the Yankees had offered him a contract, although not for the $160 million figure that had been reported earlier in the week.
Darvish's status is closely related to that of Cole. Both are viewed as high-end starters, and it's nearly impossible to imagine one team landing both. If and when Cole is dealt, one team will vanish from the Darvish sweepstakes -- and possibly clarify Darvish's decision.
And for what it's worth, one GM told MLB.com on Friday evening that he believes Darvish will be the next major free agent to sign.
Intrigue in the desert: Believe it or not, the Darvish market could impact J.D. Martinez. Here's how.
Darvish has six suitors, according to ... himself. When he signs with a new team, five others presumably will react with disappointment. And not all of them can trade for Cole or sign Jacob Arrieta.
Enter Zack Greinke. The D-backs reportedly would consider moving Greinke, if doing so allowed them to clear enough salary to win the bidding for Martinez. Even though Greinke regained much of his value by finishing fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting last year, it's likely that few teams would be comfortable taking on all of his contract. He's owed $138.5 million over the next four seasons -- an average annual value of nearly $35 million.
While a Greinke trade may appear unwieldy, the existence of that notion could affect the thinking of Martinez and his agent, Scott Boras. The Red Sox are widely viewed as a favorite to sign Martinez and have made him a five-year offer, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale. Boston has little incentive to sweeten that proposal, unless the Red Sox believe the D-backs could credibly trade Greinke and afford Martinez.
Reliever market winds down: Late-inning relievers were the only segment of the market that produced a high volume of signings last month, and contenders still looking for closers -- specifically, the Angels and Cardinals -- could benefit from ample supply that still remains.
The Yankees may find that trading Player Page for David Robertson -- who closed for the White Sox as recently as last year -- is their best path to signing Darvish while staying under the $197 million threshold. The Rays (Alex Colome) and Reds (Raisel Iglesias) are willing to discuss their controllable closers via trade. Greg Hollandis the top available free agent among late-inning relievers, after Addison Reed reached agreement on a two-year deal with the Twins worth approximately $17 million, one source confirmed.
Translation: It will be somewhat surprising if both the Cardinals and Angels do not add at least one impact reliever apiece.
And just maybe, those moves will be part of a busy week on baseball's Hot Stove.