Gauging the market for hitters

It's the PED issue that complicates matters. Cruz and Jhonny Peralta both received 50-game suspensions through their involvement with the Biogenesis scandal last season. Peralta received a four-year, $53 million contract from St. Louis. The difference is, Peralta plays shortstop and Cruz plays the corner outfield.

"I think he's looking for 'Hey, I didn't have any problems' money," an American League personnel man said of Cruz. "He saw what Peralta got, and he probably thought, 'This shouldn't affect me, either.' I just think the market is different for up-the-middle players. Nelson Cruz is good, but there are more people who can do what Cruz does than what Jhonny Peralta does."

Cruz's appeal lies in his power. Since the start of the 2009 season, he's tied with Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria for 17th place among major league hitters with 135 home runs. The list of players immediately behind them: Adrian Beltre, Ryan Howard, Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto.

Shin-Soo Choo

The speculation over Choo and his expectations gets more frenzied by the day. Agent Scott Boras has always been looking for a package north of Jayson Werth's seven-year, $126 million deal with the Washington Nationals. Now there's buzz at the winter meetings that Boras wants $140 million-plus and eight years instead of seven.

The Texas Rangers have an interest in both Choo and Cruz, and they seem content to wait until they can sign one for a price they're comfortable with. As general manager Jon Daniels told reporters Wednesday, the Rangers feel no sense of "desperation or urgency" to chase a bat. They're planning to sit back and let the market come to them.

The Detroit Tigers appear to be out of the mix for Choo now that they've added Rajai Davis to their outfield alignment, but it's a mistake to discount them completely as long as Boras has a personal pipeline to owner Mike Ilitch.

Boras, meanwhile, isn't exactly downplaying Choo's magical powers with a bat.

"He's really a player I think is revered," Boras said Wednesday at the meetings. Does that sound like an agent who's lacking in confidence?

James Loney

He looks like a major beneficiary of the Mariners' recent burst of activity. Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay all need a first-base bat, and Morrison was a potential target for all three. Now he's suddenly out of the picture, and he's gone to a team that no one expected would trade for a first baseman. That leaves more negotiating options for Loney.

The Rays might have to go to three years and $20 million-plus to entice Loney to return to Tampa Bay. Although he flourished in 2013 and clearly enjoyed his time in Tampa, Loney provided little insight into his thought process in a recent phone conversation with manager Joe Maddon.

"He was very noncommittal in [our] conversation," Maddon said. "He was very nice, very cordial, very good. But I think he's in a position right now to probably go after the best contract he's ever going to get. So do I blame him? No. Do I want him back? Yes."

Ike Davis, Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland and Adam Lind

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