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Cubs planning conservative approach

The Cubs missed out on one of the top-tier free agents – catcher Russell Martin, who signed a five-year, $82 million contract with the Blue Jays — on Monday, and they’re prepared for that process to repeat itself with other players, as well.

While many people – fans and media included – are pinning high hopes on the Cubs to make a big splash this winter, the inter-organizational thinking is quite a bit more conservative. The Cubs will certainly do their due diligence at the top of the starting pitching market, for example (they were reportedly meeting with Jon Lester on Tuesday), but, according to a Major League source, they are generally leery of the top-of-the-market prices and more inclined to abstain.

The Cubs do plan to make meaningful additions (a reunion with Jason Hammel, for instance, remains possible), but they know that their young position players are going to need time to develop at the big-league level, particularly in a division as deep as the NL Central (a division that became even more difficult Monday, when the Cardinals acquired Jason Heyward). They also know that next winter’s free-agent pitching class (which could include David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and old friend Jeff Samardzija, among others) could be even deeper than this year’s, so there could be value to patience.

 –Anthony Castrovince

Report: Tigers’ interest in Melky “very, very real”

The Tigers need to bring in at least one outfielder — especially with the loss of Andy Dirks on waivers — and the highly sought-after Melky Cabrera appears to be on their radar.

Greg Brady, from CJCL AM-590 in Toronto, tweeted that the Tigers would consider moving J.D. Martinez to right field, keeping Rajai Davis in center and signing Cabrera to play left field. That would also assume the Tigers do not re-sign Torii Hunter, who is a free agent but has also said he’s contemplating retirement.

Cabrera turned down the Blue Jays’ one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer in hopes of landing a long-term deal.

– Joey Nowak

Reports: Red Sox have serious interest in Sandoval

It has reportedly come down to a two-team race for Pablo Sandoval, with the Giant and Red Sox most squarely in the mix to land the free agent third baseman.

Sandoval has spent his entire career in San Francisco, and the Giants have made it clear since winning the World Series that bringing him back is a priority (they made him a qualifying offer, which he rejected).

But the Red Sox have also emerged as a strong candidate to get Sandoval, who could play third base and transition into the designated hitter role in Boston if/when David Ortiz retires.

According to FOXSports.com‘s Ken Rosenthal, the White Sox and Blue Jays have also had “limited” interest in Sandoval. He also says the Sox are weighing other options.

– Joey Nowak

Reports: Robertson rejects Yanks’ QO

With the 5 p.m. ET deadline rapidly approaching, there have been multiple reports that Yankees reliever David Robertson has turned down New York’s one-year, $15.3-million qualifying offer.

Robertson, along with Francisco Liriano and Michael Cuddyer (who just signed a two-year deal with the Mets), were considered the most likely to accept their teams’ deal. No player has ever done so.

YES Network‘s Jack Curry first reported the news. Curry says the Yankees and Robertson will continue to work toward a more long-term deal.

–  Joey Nowak

Mets sign Cuddyer to 2-year deal

Just ahead of the 5 p.m. ET deadline for free agents to make a decision on their qualifying offer, Michael Cuddyer rejected the Rockies’ and agreed to a two-year deal with the Mets.

Cuddyer had been considered one of the 12 players who received an offer that could accept it. He would have been the first since the system began two years ago.

Now the Rockies will receive a compensation pick in the 2015 Draft and the Mets will lose the 15th pick in the Draft. New York will also lose the draft bonus money associated with the slot.

“Michael is a tremendous addition to the middle of our lineup,” Mets GM Sandy Alderson said in a statement. “He is a proven offensive threat who also brings versatility in the field with the ability to play multiple positions.”

Cuddyer won the NL batting title in 2013 with the Rockies after hitting a career-best .331 in 130 games. He played just 49 games last year because of a left shoulder strain and left hamstring strain, but still hit .332 with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs.

– Joey Nowak

Royals: Out on Shields, in on Santana and outfielders?

If the Royals lose out on James Shields — which is expected to be the case — there’s a possibility they could turn to a different former starter to help fill the void in the rotation.

Ervin Santana, who also received a qualifying offer this month (from the Braves), may be a better fit for Kansas City, who is likely to be priced out of a deal with Shields. Santana, 31, spent one season in KC, going 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA in 2013.

He received a qualifying offer after that season and turned it down, opting for free agency and held out until March 12 before signing on with the Braves. Despite all that waiting and deliberation last season, Santana is still expected to reject Atlanta’s qualifying offer before Monday’s deadline.

Regardless of whether they land Shields or Santana (or neither) the Royals are still likely to make a play for an outfielder, with Nori Aoki becoming a free agent. He could re-sign with Kansas City, and there’s a prevailing thought that the Royals may go after veteran Torii Hunter. Jon Heyman reports that Melky Cabrera (another former Royal, who received a QO from the Blue Jays) may also be a possibility.

– Joey Nowak

Mariners in play for top free agents

The Mariners last season were just a piece or two away from being a playoff team, and they’re reportedly trying to take that next step this winter.

According to a report from FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, the M’s are “interested” in Hanley Ramirez, but Victor Martinez is their “priority.”

Both players have received qualifying offers (Ramirez from the Dodgers and Martinez from the Tigers) and are expected to decline by Monday’s deadline. The issue is that both players are likely to command deals north of $100 million and Rosenthal says Seattle may be unwilling to pay that kind of money.

Ramirez — whose days at shortstop may be numbered, regardless of where he lands — hit .283 with 13 homers and 71 RBIs for the Dodgers last year. Martinez was arguably the Tigers’ best hitter last season and would provide protection for Robinson Cano that he’s never had in the heart of the Mariners lineup.

The Mariners were 12th in the AL with a .376 slugging percentage last year, ahead of only Texas, Boston and Tampa Bay.

– Joey Nowak

Report: Liriano may accept Pirates’ QO

Since the current collective bargaining agreement went into effect three seasons ago, no free agent has accepted a qualifying offer from his previous club.

That may change this year, as Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweeted Sunday afternoon that, according to sources, Francisco Liriano is still considering a qualifying offer from Pittsburgh among his free agency options.

On Nov. 3, the Pirates extended the one-year, $15.3 million offer to two of their free agents, Liriano and catcher Russell Martin, who is expected to decline his. The deadline to accept is 5 p.m. ET Monday.

Liriano has spent the last two seasons with the Pirates, earning a total of $9 million. He was 7-10 with with a 3.38 ERA though 29 starts in 2014.

– Chad Thornburg

Report: “Optimism” in SF that Sandoval will stay

With the deadline for free agents to reject or accept qualifying offers coming on Monday, opposing teams are reportedly close to writing off third baseman Pablo Sandoval signing elsewhere.

Buster Olney wrote in his ESPN Insider column Sunday that there is “optimism” in San Francisco that Sandoval will remain, though he’s already turned down the Giants’ $15.3 million qualifying offer and is reportedly seeking a six-year deal.

MLB.com‘s Chris Haft wrote this week that whether Sandoval re-signs in San Francisco “will shape the course of the club’s offseason.”

Sandoval was set to meet with the Red Sox at the General Managers meetings but Olney writes that other teams are getting the sense that Sandoval will stay with the Giants, and have begun exploring other options on the market.

In addition to the Giants and Red Sox, the Blue Jays and White Sox have also reportedly been interested in Sandoval.

– Joey Nowak

McCarthy waiting for chips to fall

Though right-hander Brandon McCarthy should get plenty of attention this winter, the free agent is reportedly waiting for other starters around him to sign before making any moves.

CBSSports.com‘s Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees — McCarthy’s club for the second half of the season — have engaged him in contract talks, but he’s inclined to sit back and wait for other free agents such as Jon Lester, James Shields and Max Scherzer to sign first. McCarthy will be highly sought-after, but as a middle-of-the-rotation kind of starter who will fit in behind those aforementioned aces.

McCarthy, 31, has pitched for three different clubs (Oakland, Arizona, New York) in the last three seasons. After a mediocre 2013 and first half of 2014 with the D-backs, he pitched extremely well for the Yankees in the second half of last year, going 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA.

– Joey Nowak

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