Editor’s Note: Across the Diamond: Hot Stove League Edition is a new weekly column that appears on Baseball News Source every Friday and details free agent and trade talk at every position.
Seemingly more than ever, Major League Baseball teams are coveting their first round draft picks. The preference to keep these selections is shaping free agent transactions this offseason.
The Los Angeles Dodgers surrendered their first round choice next summer when they signed Zack Greinke, and the Los Angeles Angels handed their opening round pick to the Texas Rangers when they inked Josh Hamilton.
Most general managers and fans alike would likely agree that a staff ace and one of the most productive sluggers in the game are worth giving up a first round spot.
Clubs are exercising caution with bringing aboard other names.
The remaining free agents who received and declined qualifying offers, and thus require the surrender of a draft pick to sign, include outfielder Michael Bourn, first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher, first baseman Adam LaRoche, right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Lohse and right-handed closer Rafael Soriano.
The Rangers are a potential destination.
Philadelphia is another possibility. Seattle is fond of the soon-to-be 30-year-old left-handed hitter, but big name free agents have shunned the Mariners, though they have money to spend.
LaRoche, who has a two-year offer in hand to return to the Washington Nationals, is seeking three years, but teams are hesitant to sacrifice a draft pick for a 33-year-old veteran who just plays one position (though he won a Gold Glove at first base in 2012).
Multiple clubs are courting the versatile Swisher, who hits from both sides of the plate and proficiently plays the corner outfield spots and first base.
Cleveland and Texas are possible landing spots. It has been rumored that the Dodgers would like to trade Andre Ethier and sign Swisher to play right field, or ship Ethier elsewhere, bring in Bourn to play center field and move Matt Kemp to a corner outfield spot.
Swisher and LaRoche are Plan B alternatives for the Red Sox if the deal with Mike Napoli is not finalized.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington appears so captivated with keeping his team’s second round pick (Boston’s first round choice, which is No. 7 overall, is protected) that his entire free agent class to date is composed of players who did not receive qualifying offers (Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and David Ross).
Now that Edwin Jackson has a new home – having signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Chicago Cubs earlier this week – Lohse is the final starting pitcher on the market who would cost a draft pick.
With Francisco Liriano (Pittsburgh), Rich Harden (Minnesota) and Tom Gorzelanny (Milwaukee) in new cities, expect starters like Joe Saunders, Shaun Marcum, Brett Myers, Carl Pavano and Jair Jurrjens to sign soon.
The free agent market this offseason was lean from the beginning, and now that most difference-making names have signed, some clubs will fill holes via trades.
Red Sox officials are high on Lavarnway, a right-handed hitter with plus power, so the switch-hitting Saltalamacchia (who clubbed 25 home runs in 2012) is the most likely of the bunch to be dealt.
Teams in need of starting pitching have shown they prefer the trade route for an innings-eater instead of signing Lohse.
Delivering highly regarded catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud and top starting pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard to the Mets for 38-year-old R.A. Dickey is questionable over the long term for Toronto, but the Blue Jays are obviously trying to win a World Series ring in 2013 as evidenced by taking on the salaries of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes as well as signing embattled outfielder Melky Cabrera.
The Angels, which have brought in Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton to fortify the back of the rotation, landed left-hander Jason Vargas from Seattle for Kendrys Morales, who was expendable with the signing of Hamilton.
The reluctance to surrender a draft pick for a free agent has especially impacted Soriano, who is the most accomplished closer on the market this offseason.
The Yankees do not appear interested in retaining him, and other clubs that could use a closer seem to believe it is not worthwhile to give up a draft choice for a reliever.
For a prime example of this philosophy, look no further than Cherington and the Red Sox.
They have been linked to Soriano since Andrew Bailey had an injury-plagued 2012 campaign, but if they are not willing to sacrifice their second round selection for a slugger like Hamilton or even LaRoche, they are highly unlikely to do that for a closer.
This is why it is no surprise that Boston is reportedly interested in acquiring Pittsburgh closer Joel Hanrahan.
The Pirates want another starting pitcher, even after signing Liriano, and media reports indicate the Red Sox could offer left-hander Franklin Morales or right-hander Alfredo Aceves. Both pitchers have spent most of their careers as relievers, but they have the versatility and the desire to find a long-term rotation spot.
Both teams would feel they are bolstering their staffs without sacrificing their future, which is the prevalent trend in the majors this offseason.