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10 Degrees: Shin-Soo Choo remains the riddle of the free-agent market

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

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It's a safe bet that agent Scott Boras still will land Shin-Soo Choo a monster deal. (AP Photo)

Superagent Scott Boras does some of his finest work in the latter stages of free agency. And in the case of Shin-Soo Choo, he faces yet another challenge in a career built on slaying them: find Choo a contract for the $140 million the New York Yankees offered him even after they signed Jacoby Ellsbury.

In the aftermath of Robinson Cano's defection to Seattle, New York presented Choo a seven-year, $140 million deal, three sources outside the Yankees' organization told Yahoo Sports. When Boras countered asking for more money – one source indicated he wanted "Ellsbury money," or $153 million over seven years – the Yankees pulled the offer and signed Carlos Beltran to a three-year, $45 million deal.

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Asked to confirm the Choo offer, Yankees officials declined comment. Their recusal from the Choo sweepstakes took one big-money team out, and sources told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday that the Texas Rangers have shifted their focus to Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, whom most officials in baseball expect to be posted by his team in Japan. Other teams may do the same in an effort to draw down Choo's price tag, though if there is a truth about Boras, it's that he usually gets his money.

Where it comes from in the case of ...

1. Shin-Soo Choo is now the big question. Sources said multiple teams are believed to have active offers out on Choo – and one of those teams is believed to be the Houston Astros, whose entire roster at one point last season was being paid less than Choo will command for 2014 and beyond.

The size of Houston's ante is unclear. The Astros do not like the idea of giving up a draft pick, especially in a year in which another Boras client, Carlos Rodon, is almost a lock to go No. 1 overall and likely to command an excessive portion of Houston's signing bonus pool. Still, an Astros outfield of Choo, Dexter Fowler and rising prospect George Springer – a Mike Cameron-floor, All-Star-ceiling center fielder – is the start of a team that with Jason Castro, Jose Altuve, Scott Feldman and a bevy of coming talent (Rodon, fellow No. 1 overall picks Carlos Correa and Mark Appel, hard throwers Jarred Cosart and Mike Foltynewicz) could be ready by 2015 to escape from the doldrums of a lost decade.

[Also: 2013 MLB Ultimate Free-Agent Tracker ]

Considering the paucity of impact free-agent position players next season – beyond Hanley Ramirez and Chase Headley, it's bunk on top of bunk – Choo's market this year should be massive, the sort reflective of a player coming off a .423 on-base season. Granted, it won't quite approach that of ...

2. Masahiro Tanaka if the 25-year-old right-hander is posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles and sets off a frenzied bidding war among all the teams craving a frontline starter without any draft-pick compensation attached. Which is pretty much every team.

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If Masahiro Tanaka is posted, many teams will be interested in acquiring his services. (AP Photo)

Tanaka's bona fides are obvious. His fastball reaches the mid-90s. Scouts believe he might have the best split-fingered fastball in the world. One executive thinks his transition to the major leagues will be easier because he pitches off his fastball instead of working backward from off-speed pitches like Yu Darvish or Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The list of teams that love Tanaka is long and begins with the Yankees and Rangers. Other teams fear the Cubs jumping in the foray. Arizona GM Kevin Towers hasn't been shy about Tanaka, though it's unlikely the Diamondbacks would juice their budget to the necessary level to sign him. All it will take is an outlay of $120 million or so – $100 million for Tanaka, $20 million for a posting fee – and he could be yours. And, once again, it's worth mentioning that unlike ...

3. Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, nobody would have to give up a draft pick for Tanaka. The draft-pick compensation rule – the giant stink bomb of the current collective bargaining agreement for players – is once again wreaking havoc on the market of two pitchers coming off superb seasons. They are the sort of pitchers whose market ought to be fertile, enough so that Santana's agents were compelled to make the case to Ken Rosenthal this offseason that the 31-year-old right-hander deserved a $100 million deal.

That's not happening, not unless desperation compels a team to completely blow away a market that this deep into free agency still remains unformed. Teams like Santana and Jimenez. They like 'em for big years or big money, just not both together. And the longer the offseason continues, the greater the specter that both might find their best option in their previous spot.

Now, there are logistical complications, of course. As was the case with St. Louis and Kyle Lohse last season, the Cardinals simply said they would prefer the draft pick and let him walk. Kansas City could use Santana, especially as insurance in case James Shields walks as a free agent next season, but their payroll is already projected to be a team-high $93 million, and Santana would either push them well over $100 million or necessitate a trade. The Indians face the same money crunch; they're unlikely to lift their payroll much beyond the $93 million mark at which it stands, either.

Eventually, both will find homes that pay them fine, just as ...

4. Matt Garza seems poised to do because he happened to have the good fortune of getting traded during the season. That eliminated the loss of a draft pick to sign him and made him an eminently more valuable player, to the point where the only thing preventing him from signing is Tanaka's will-he-or-won't-he-post shenanigans.

While it's unlikely Garza can draft into Tanaka's whirlwind and raise the cost of his services, at the very least the market for Tanaka will define itself early, and those who find it too rich will have their lead fallback guy. It's not the sexiest title, though it befits the 30-year-old who has been a model of slightly-better-than-average consistency.

If it's more than that a team really wants, it can ring up Tampa Bay and ask for ...

5. David Price, Garza's former teammate with the Rays and the best pitcher available on the trade market. Despite the silence, sources said the trade market remains active, with a number of teams having

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David Price, the top pitcher available via trade, won't come cheap. (AP)

approached Tampa Bay with pitches for Price at the winter meetings but none having found the proper assortment of talent to pry away the former Cy Young winner.

Two things bear repeating. First: Tampa Bay understands that it doesn't have to deal Price. It has room in its budget for him this season. If the Rays underachieve, he can go for a copious return at the trade deadline, and if they're still among the lords of the AL East, he can find a new home next winter. Second: The Seattle Mariners can very easily get this done if they include starter Taijuan Walker, a maneuver sources said they've begun considering internally within the past week.

Throughout the industry, smart money is on a Felix Hernandez-David Price-Hisashi Iwakuma rotation next season. And as great a story as Danny Farquhar was last year, the Mariners covet a closer to the point where ...

6. Fernando Rodney makes sense even as the market for such specialists has shriveled. The other teams with unsettled ninth-inning situations (Tampa Bay, Texas, Houston, Chicago White Sox) don't seem altogether keen on lavishing closer bucks on anyone, even a guy who just a season ago set a major-league ERA record.

Them's the breaks for closers, whom teams are beginning to identify for their relative value: negligible. In almost no case does it take some sort of magical, mystical ninth-inning fairy dust to circumvent the difficult situations ... that exist in every inning.

So, closers of all ages, rage, rage against the dying of the light! And take solace in that even if it's bound to be a nomadic job, it still pays plenty well relative to its duties. Same goes for setup men, and no matter what job ...

7. Joaquin Benoit ends up with in San Diego – he could be the closer or setup guy after sources told Yahoo Sports he agreed on a deal with the Padres on Wednesday pending a physical – he'll be well compensated. Though the final terms were not immediately available, the Padres had offered a two-year deal with an option worth more than $14 million, a slightly better offer than Cleveland's straight two-year deal it considered before signing John Axford to close.

The $7 million-plus annual threshold is generally closer territory, a line firmly delineated at $5.5 million – the price Boone Logan got for three years! – and up. Benoit drew interest from the Cubs. They opted for Jose Veras. Axford went to Cleveland. San Diego already has a closer, by name, at least, in Huston Street, and its interest in Benoit didn't fade. For the Padres to tender such a commitment says as much about the growing intelligence in the reliever market – the eighth and ninth innings require the same number of outs, ya know – and its embodiment by smart teams.

Bobbing and weaving in between those waves of value separates the great teams from the pretenders. It's not something obvious like power, which gives ...

8. Nelson Cruz the sort of market he has. Texas, Cincinnati, Seattle and Baltimore all remain interested in the right-handed masher, though in some cases, he's more of a secondary or tertiary interest. Texas has to figure out its Tanaka-Choo calculus. Cincinnati also continues to dip its toe in the Choo pool. Seattle certainly could use him, though with Corey Hart and Logan Morrison coming onboard, it may not have as much room. And as much sense as he makes for Baltimore – lots – the Peter Angelos money faucet looks rusted over.

Cruz also has the draft-pick stigma attached to him, yet another case where the artificial attachment of two completely detached mechanisms – free agency and the draft – has caused a ludicrous deflation of free-agent value. Great for owners. Misery for players. Just look at what ...

9. Kendrys Morales faces going forward. The argument to sign Morales, the player, is quite strong. He

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Draft-pick compensation is hurting Kendrys Morales' free-agent value. (USA TODAY Sports)

can field at first base reasonably well. He slugged .449 despite playing home games in the cavern that is Safeco Field. He is a switch-hitting, middle-of-the-order bat. Teams need that. Take a team like Oakland, which is going all-in this year. He would make the A's even stronger favorites to win their third straight AL West title.

That said, Morales is not just Morales, the player. The first-base/DH market is oversaturated to the point that the idea of giving up a draft pick for one makes Morales a non-starter in plenty of front offices. The perception is bad enough that one GM with a strong sense of the market echoed the sentiment proffered by Peter Gammons: That Morales may be better off waiting until after the June draft to sign. Draft-pick compensation no longer would be attached to him, and teams would be far more open-minded about signing Morales.

While the GM said that's the scenario he thinks will play out, we must remember: Scott Boras is Morales' agent, too. And nobody pulls rabbits out of a hat quite like Boras. So if history repeats itself ...

10. Shin-Soo Choo will get his money somewhere, because Boras is baseball's version of a midway game: almost impossible to solve. There should be a book about how he works his angles. Take one of his truisms: great players are markets to themselves. It's not even true! Supply and demand aren't arbitrary. To extract the most value, he needs demand. His job is not only to find it but convince others that it's real.

And that will be the most fascinating part of the Choo negotiations. He can sell the OBP. The international cachet. The incredible arm. The sheer lack of frontline outfield free agents in the winter of 2014 (Colby Rasmus, Brett Gardner, Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter, Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham, Nick Markakis, Norichika Aoki and, yes, that was a cringing sound you just heard in front offices across the game).

Can he get what he had from the Yankees, though? That's the $140 million question.

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