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Winter beginning to frost over outfield market

Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes are two of the big names left in the free-agent market, but there hasn't been much buzz surrounding either of them. Getty Images

A longtime talent evaluator once described the holiday's effect on MLB executives, and it was as if he was talking about bears finding caves for winter hibernation.

By now (meaning right around Christmas), the evaluator said, almost all teams have filled their primary needs. Most executives have the working framework of the club they will take into next season, and so they're prepared to wait and see if something becomes available for them. But they're not as motivated, not as urgent, to scavenge as they might've been a month ago, and some are already prepared to go into spring training with the group of players they have.

This is why the high volume of outfielders still available is surprising. The theory among some agents a week ago was that once Jason Heyward signed, the dominoes in the outfield market would begin to fall.

But it's not entirely clear if that's actually the case -- that teams will emerge from their winter dens to buy heavily into one outfielder over another.

It seems that more teams are prepared to wait and see if a good outfielder will drop to them at a price they like. Which is why there are common refrains among evaluators these days.

They ask: Have you heard anything about Yoenis Cespedes?

They ask: Have you heard anything about Justin Upton? Alex Gordon?

Dexter Fowler? Denard Span? Austin Jackson? Gerardo Parra?

And they wait. If they prefer a trade rather than spending on a free agent, they could call the Reds about Jay Bruce, the Braves about Ender Inciarte or Nick Markakis or the Rockies about Carlos Gonzalez. There are many outfielders available; it's a buyer's market.

Recently, one executive went through the divisions trying to identify a prospective bidder for a certain free-agent hitter, and team by team, he eliminated possible landing spots -- an exercise a lot of evaluators do as the offseason nears the midway point.

The Cardinals missed out on Heyward and seemingly have room and dollars for an outfielder, but Heyward seems to be the one outfielder they were prepared to give a nine-figure contract. Upton could theoretically be a fit as someone who could assume Matt Holliday's place in their lineup and budget beyond 2016, but St. Louis already has right-handed-hitting outfielders in Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Holliday. Alex Gordon hits left-handed, but his outfield experience is in left field, and if he signed with the Cardinals, either he or Holliday would have to shift to right for next season. Fowler and Denard Span might be better fits because they can hit left-handed, but the price might not be right.

Span will be 32 next season, and he's coming off an injury-plagued 2015 season. Some teams are interested in Span on a one-year deal and not longer than that, but after having just completed a team-friendly long-term contract, you wouldn't blame Span if he wanted to get paid.

The Giants spent $220 million on Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, and they have some money left over for a left fielder -- but they aren't under a lot of pressure to sign one.