The bulk of the quality free agents this offseason are currently unsigned. This isn't new news. It's been painfully slow for the most part. Once some of the top names start to move, the market should set itself and then the lesser names remaining start to move.
On the pitching side, that means the focus remains on Yu Darvish. Once Darvish signs, it's likely that the markets for Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn heat up, and then on down the line. I'm leaving Jake Arrieta separate here because he's a Scott Boras client and seems a totally different discussion.
So what's the buzz on Darvish?
We know the Brewers are dead serious about winning next season and they had a big day last Thursday in trading for Christian Yelich and signing Lorenzo Cain. The payroll appears set to be around $90 million, so would they be able to go all the way up to $110M-$120M for Darvish?
Mark Attanasio says that after adding Yelich and Cain, there is still room in the payroll to add one of the big free agent pitchers. So, we’ll see.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) January 28, 2018
Music to the ears of Brewers fans everywhere, that tweet.
There's more, coming Tuesday early evening. FanRag Sports reports that the Brewers are "strongly" in on Darvish and that they've been "one of the most aggressive" teams in going after the tall right-hander.
Los Angeles Dodgers
In answering fan questions, Dodgers beat writer Andy McCullough on Monday said the following:
My understanding is that Yu Darvish has made clear he would like to return to the Dodgers, and part of the delay in his free agency is related to waiting to see if the team can move some of the money.
This might include trading Matt Kemp's contract (good luck) or moving someone else like Yasmani Grandal. That's because the Dodgers are up against the luxury tax and would like to stay under it. Along those lines, we have this:
Farhan Zaidi on possibility of #Dodgers re-signing Yu Darvish: "There would be some hurdles for us to add any significant contracts at this point."— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) January 28, 2018
LAD does not want to push any closer to luxury tax threshold than they already are. So there would have to be offseting moves
Simply, unless we see a trade or series of trades where the Dodgers shed salary, it seems unlikely Darvish returns.
From the same day McCullough reported that Darvish wanted to return to the Dodgers, we get the following from Rangers beat writer T.R. Sullivan:
It seems obvious -- reading all the signs -- that Darvish wants to return to the Rangers. The problem is the Rangers keep saying that it is "unlikely" that they'll be active at the top of the free-agent pitching market.
We'll just move past the fact that we have reports on Darvish's preferred landing spot actually being two separate places.
The latter sentiment lines up with the reporting on the matter throughout the offseason, which is that the Rangers won't really be involved here. Darvish did have dinner with Rangers general manager Jon Daniels earlier this offseason, but the two went out of their way to say it was a social matter, not business.
Though far from overwhelming, things line up here to make the Cubs the favorites. A report last week from The Athletic has the Cubs "setting their sights" on Darvish as their top offseason target right now. We've been hearing similar things for weeks and the Cubs are a huge-market team sitting more than $30 million below the luxury tax threshold for next season at present.
Consistent with what we've been hearing all offseason about the Twins and their interest here, all signs point to them remaining heavily involved. Per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, though: "The Twins aren't believed interested in a deal beyond five years, and there is a belief they wouldn't beat the Cubs all things being equal."
The latest was from last week on.
#Phillies checking in with Darvish and most of high-profile free agents, sources tell The Athletic. Idea is to assess respective markets to see if deal makes sense. Unlikely Phils would be high bidder, but if player fell into their range - preferably short-term - they might jump.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 24, 2018
New York Yankees
Several weeks back, the rumors started to circulate that the Yankees could get involved if the price was reasonable (nydailynews.com) or if they shed payroll. They have the same luxury tax concerns that the Dodgers do.
For the past week and a half or so, however, it's been really quiet regarding the Yankees and Darvish connections.
For the time being, it appears the best bet is the Cubs, with the Twins being a fallback and the Brewers being a sneaky hot wild card in this mix, poised to pounce and "steal" Darvish from the Cubs. If the Dodgers or Yankees make salary-shedding trades before Darvish signs, though, the game changes.
As it's been the past 23,598 weeks (OK, it only seems that way), the situation is fluid.