Josh Willingham deal likely to start chain reaction

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The outfield market could start unfolding quickly now with the news that Josh Willingham is about to become a Minnesota Twin.

– Michael Cuddyer, who had been the Twins’ preference, appears likely to join the Rockies. Minnesota offered their veteran the three-year deal he desired, but it seems that last season’s experience was bad enough to give him doubts about re-signing. Cuddyer will probably put up better numbers than Willingham next year, but that will be all about the ballparks: Minnesota is getting the superior hitter out of this deal.

– The Rockies are also in on Carlos Beltran, but they’ve been much more aggressive in their pursuit of Cuddyer. Beltran has slipped through the cracks, even though he offers a much better glove than either Cuddyer or Willingham and greater offensive upside as well. Of course, the issue there is his history of knee problems. He’ll still probably get a higher annual salary than Cuddyer or Willingham, but he may have to choose between a one-year deal with a contender or a two-year deal from a lesser team. St. Louis, Boston, Texas and Detroit are candidates to get involved.

– Only once that trio is off the board will names like Cody Ross and Ryan Ludwick start to become attractive. The A’s and Mariners will rifle through the bargain bin looking for a starting outfielder. The Red Sox might as well.

– Of course, there is still one prize out there in the form of Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. Complicating things there is that he’s not yet officially a free agent and eligible to sign. Detroit and Miami look like the early favorites to land the 26-year-old, who would slide right into a major league outfield in either center or right.

David Price’s season debut could be pushed back to May

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David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.

Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:

[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.

The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.

Yadier Molina will not enter contract negotiations during the 2017 season

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina is still open to extension talks during the last week of spring training. Once Opening Day rolls around, however, Molina has preemptively nixed any contract negotiations until the end of the 2017 season, when he’s scheduled to hit free agency.

Molina wants to stay with the Cardinals, or so he’s telling reporters, but he’s also “not afraid” to test the free agent market this fall should a deal fail to materialize. Via Goold:

I would love to stay, but at the same time I’m not afraid to go to free agency. I’ve still got many years in the tank. Believe me. I feel great. I feel like a 20-year-old kid. I’m not afraid to go to free agency.

The 34-year-old backstop is entering his final year under contract, though Goold points out that he has a $15 million option for 2018 that he can choose to decline in the event that it’s exercised by the team. He’s reportedly searching for a figure closer to those made by other top catchers like Buster Posey and Russell Martin.

The 2017 season will mark Molina’s 14th year in the Cardinals’ organization, building on a career that has spanned seven All-Star campaigns, nine postseason runs and two World Series championships in St. Louis. He batted .307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and a .787 OPS for the club in 2016.