If you thought the Mariners were going to call it an off-season after signing second baseman Robinson Cano to a ten-year, $240 million contract, think again. They’re only just getting started. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that the Mariners could use some of their young talent, such as middle infielder Nick Franklin, to bolster the roster. Franklin, who turns 23 on March 2, got his first taste of the big leagues last season, posting a .686 OPS in 412 plate appearances. He made Baseball America’s top-100 prospects list going into the 2011 and ’13 seasons.
Rays starter David Price is the Mariners’ top priority, Heyman writes. Price is in his third year of arbitration eligibility and can become a free agent after the 2015 season. He is due for a raise over last season’s $10.1 million salary, so the small-market Rays are interested in the salary relief that trading him would bring, similar to when they sent James Shields to the Royals last off-season. However, reports indicate that the Rays would want Taijuan Walker in any deal that sends Price to the Mariners.
In the same tweet, Heyman suggests the Mariners are looking for a “big-time” outfielder, citing free agents Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, and trade targets Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Given that the Mariners only have to deal with two arbitration-eligible players, Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders, and currently have $36.5 million on the books for 2014, they still have plenty of room before matching last season’s Opening Day payroll of $84 million. It’s conceivable that they could pull the trigger on deals for both an outfielder and a top-tier starter.
Bob Klapisch of The New York Times reports that free agent starter Gerrit Cole has a seven-year, $245 million contract offer on the table from the Yankees. As Klapisch also notes, the deal would set a record for total value and average annual value for a pitcher, besting Zack Greinke‘s $34.4 million AAV and David Price‘s $217 million total.
While it is possible that Cole signs before the end of the Winter Meetings on Thursday, clients of Scott Boras have tended to sign later in the offseason, so this may be a protracted process with today’s report as a jumping-off point. Both the Yankees’ and Angels’ front offices have received clearance from ownership to break the bank to sign Cole.
Cole, 29, could not have timed having a career year any better. During the regular season, he led all of baseball with 326 strikeouts and led the American League with a 2.50 ERA while also posting a 20-5 record and walking only 48 batters across 212 1/3 innings. He performed brilliantly in the playoffs as well, holding the opposition to seven runs on 21 hits and 11 walks with 47 strikeouts over 36 2/3 innings of work as the Astros narrowly missed out on winning another championship.
Cole is entering his age-29 season, so a deal of at least seven years would take him well into his mid-30’s. Teams, especially lately, have been hesitant to commit to pitchers, but as the Nationals showed with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, sometimes it leads to a championship.
For what it’s worth, Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports says the Yankees haven’t made a formal offer to Cole yet, though the club plans to make one this week. During this time of year, both sides — front office personnel and player agents — leak details to the press to help establish leverage. What we can generally take from this is that the Yankees are hot for Cole and he’s going to get a record-setting contract from some team, even if it’s not the Yankees.