"We'll put it to bed, publicly," Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, told reporters at the meetings. "Jeff is our Opening Day starter unless something changes."
This free-agent group, which consists of Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, has generated very little buzz this winter. That's because most executives view them as middle-of-the rotation types who have a chance to be significant overpays. Jimenez was terrific in Cleveland in 2013, but he'll need to do it again to convince some teams that he's a good bet on a three- or four-year contract. Garza has had injury concerns, and Santana has a history of being good one year and a drag on his team's ambitions the next.
That inconsistency hasn't prevented Santana from seeking a nine-figure contract. His closest career comparables on Baseball-Reference.com are Vicente Padilla and Alex Fernandez. But it hasn't stopped agent Bean Stringfellow and Santana's representatives at Proformance from distributing a binder to clubs comparing the pitcher to Zack Greinke, who signed a six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers last winter.
"The book is very impressive," said a general manager. "If you took an analyst who didn't watch baseball and he went through it, he would think, 'This guy is pretty good.' It was almost like an arbitration case. You looked at it and at the end you're like, 'This guy might be better than I thought.'"
Bronson Arroyo, Jason Hammel and Paul Maholm are among the notable pitchers in this category, and their expectations have been raised by some unexpectedly lucrative payouts for pitchers who travel in a similar realm.
Ricky Nolasco (four years and $49 million from Minnesota), Scott Feldman (three years and $30 million from Houston), Phil Hughes (three years and $24 million from the Twins) and Scott Kazmir (two years and $22 million from Oakland) all hit the mother lode, and Arroyo, Hammel & Co. are hoping to benefit from the "rising tide lifts all boats" theory. They'll discover soon enough whether price inflation applies across the board.
One baseball source said Burnett is still "wrestling" over the decision to retire or return for one more go-round at age 37. The Pirates signed Edinson Volquez to a one-year, $5 million deal Wednesday, and it remains to be seen whether that spells the end of Burnett's tenure in Pittsburgh.
The Yankees, Indians, Diamondbacks and Orioles are among multiple teams still on the lookout for starting pitching upgrades. Here are four other clubs that merit watching in the coming weeks:
• The Angels upgraded their rotation Tuesday when they acquired Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago in a three-team trade with Arizona and the White Sox. Anaheim still wants an established starter to slot in behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, and Garza looks like a nice fit because the Angels' farm system is barren and he won't require them to surrender a draft pick. The same cannot be said for Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez.