MLB Trade Rumors  02/22/2020 03:29:19 

Of the six teams that finished in first place in their divisions in 2018, three (the Red Sox, Indians and Brewers) failed to defend their crowns last season. Two (the Red Sox and Indians) didn’t even make the playoffs, so ruling your division one year doesn’t mean you’ll end up in the postseason the next. Last season, the Yankees, Astros and Twins finished atop their divisions in the American League, while the Braves, Dodgers and Cardinals were the top seeds in the NL. Among those six, who’s the most vulnerable going into the new season? Let’s review the offseasons they’ve had…


  • Astros: If you’ve paid any attention to baseball in the past several weeks, you know this offseason has been a catastrophe for the Astros. They got rid of general manager Jeff Luhnow and skipper A.J. Hinch as a result of a sign-stealing scandal that has rocked baseball, replacing them with James Click and Dusty Baker. The Astros are still loaded with talent, but they lost the great Gerrit Cole even before their sign-stealing shenanigans came to light. Now, there’s plenty of skepticism they’ll put together a fourth straight 100-win season after such a horrendous winter – one in which they were very quiet in free agency. What’s more, they’re stuck in a division with a legit challenger in Oakland and two improving clubs in the Angels and Rangers.
  • Yankees: New York took Cole from Houston, which has been the Wile E. Coyote to the Yankees’ Road Runner in recent postseasons. The Yankees looked as if they’d have a tremendous rotation with Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka as their top four, but health woes are already haunting the club yet again after an injury-riddled 2019. Severino, who barely pitched last season, is now facing a very worrisome situation with his forearm; meanwhile, Paxton will sit out until at least May or June as a result of back surgery. The Yankees are still laden with talent, and they remain capable of pulverizing the opposition with their offense, but some of the shine has come off since the Cole signing because of the Severino and Paxton situations. Fortunately for the Yankees, there may only be one team capable of standing up to them in the AL East – the Rays.
  • Twins: It was quite a winter for the Twins, who bolstered their rotation with the additions of Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. They also retained Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. Perhaps more importantly, they signed third baseman Josh Donaldson for four years and $92MM – the largest contract they’ve ever given out in free agency. So, a team that hit an all-time record 307 home runs in 2019 seems as if it’ll put a similarly scary offense on the field this year. The Twins could face more resistance in their division from the White Sox, who had an aggressive winter, though the Indians haven’t really bettered themselves. The Tigers have, but they’ll still struggle to win many games, while the Royals also figure to wind up among the game’s worst teams.

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  • Dodgers: What do you get the team that won 106 games last season? How about Mookie Betts, who’s on the short list of the greatest players in the game? With Betts in tow, the Dodgers will enter 2020 as the overwhelming favorites to win their division for the eighth year in a row, but an improved Arizona club should at least offer a decent challenge. The Padres have also worked to get better since last season ended, but they don’t appear to be any match for the stacked Dodgers, while the Rockies and Giants look to be way behind.
  • Braves: Atlanta’s down Donaldson, but it was rather active in adding free agents. The team plucked the likes of Marcell Ozuna, Will Smith, Cole Hamels, Travis d’Arnaud and Chris Martin off the open market. Hamels is dealing with shoulder problems, however, and it’s unclear when he’ll be able to pitch in 2020. Regardless, the Braves still have quite a bit of premier talent (Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Mike Soroka spring to mind), so it’s easy to envision them winning a third consecutive division title. At the same time, the reigning world champion Nationals, the Mets and Phillies are realistic contenders for the NL East championship.
  • Cardinals: Aside from the Reds, a 75-win outfit a year ago, it wasn’t really a busy offseason for any NL Central team. That includes the Cardinals, whose biggest addition was Korean left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim (and they lost their No. 1 free agent, the aforementioned Ozuna). They’re now set to open 2020 without one of their best starters in Miles Mikolas, who just received a platelet-rich plasma injection. The good news for St. Louis is that there’s no apparent juggernaut in its division, as the Cubs and Brewers have either stayed roughly the same or gotten worse since last year ended.

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At first glance, the Athletics didn’t really do much of note this winter. The club retained southpaw Jake Diekman and picked up infielders Tony Kemp and … picked up a club option over Yusmeiro Petit and … umm …. signed Ryan Goins to a minor-league deal.

Viewed through another lens, though, the notoriously low-budget A’s had a blockbuster, all-in offseason.Which lens is that? The one through which Red Sox owner John Henry views the game of baseball.

After trading away homegrown superstar Mookie Betts,Henry conveyedhis cherished memories of Stan The Man for brownie points with the Boston fanbase. Saying his young heart would’ve shattered had childhood hero Stan Musial “ever been traded — for any reason,” the now-grown Henry … well, gave some reasons why Betts was sent west by one of the richest teams in sports.

It wasn’t about getting under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, Henry says. Rather, it’s just the sort of thing that is foisted upon MLB teams — even those “consistently among the highest-spending clubs in baseball” — by the collective bargaining agreement (a deal those same teams negotiated to their general advantage).

The Red Sox, per Henry, were forced to “make hard judgments about competing for the future as well as the present.” Their hands were tied by the fact that, “In today’s game there is a cost to losing a great player to free agency — one that cannot nearly be made up by the draft pick given.” Ultimately, Henry said of the organization’s leadership: “we could not sit on our hands and lose [Betts] next offseason without getting value in return to help us on our path forward.”

There are many ways to approach and discuss these comments. For our purposes here, we’re not even going to consider what they mean for the Red Sox or the game of baseball. There’s no need to call for pitchforks; that statement has already had its day in the news cycle anyway. The Boston club certainly has spent and put a winner on the field of late. And Henry at least fessed up to the fact that the team simply decided to punt near-term performance for future value, even if he didn’t want to acknowledge the rather obvious financial component of that calculus.

What’s most interesting to me about the comments is that … holy smokes, the Oakland Athletics really believe! If Henry is to be taken at his word, then the A’s are making one heckuva roll of the dice by keeping, rather than trading, their own pending free agent star: shortstop Marcus Semien.

True, Semien almost assuredly isn’t as good as Betts, but the former actually contributed a full fWAR more than the latter in 2019. Semien is only earning $13MM, just under half the $27MM Betts will receive. But it’s a much bigger portion of the Oakland payroll than Betts was to the Boston budget. (That’s true just based upon simple math, but that tends to undersell the impact. The A’s have to consider every dollar spent over league minimum, while the Red Sox have far greater operating leeway to shoehorn in cost-efficient but more-than-minimum players.)

What of the odds of success in 2020, which is obviously a huge component of this decision? The Red Sox are well behind the Yankees on paper. But the A’s are chasing an uber-talented Astros team that remains mighty even without its crack signals operations unit. Both of these teams are unlikely to take their division, but each is a solid Wild Card contender. Fangraphs’ postseason odds aren’t gospel and obviously must be taken only as a guide to true roster capability (as they are intended) … but wait, how does this make sense? The Red Sox, sans Betts, project at about a coin flip of making the postseason. That tops the A’s, even with Semien! You might quibble with the projections and point to the upside on the Oakland roster. But don’t the Red Sox still have Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers?

So, even as the Red Sox determined they couldn’t “sit on [their] hands and lose” Betts without adequate compensation after the coming season, the Athletics decided to keep Semien in roughly analogous circumstances. Well, analogous from a roster talent and postseason odds perspective. The low-budget A’s are the sort of team that’s typically forced to take its Betts-type players off the table on the rationale set forth by Henry, even if it stings, in order to preserve a long-term flow of talent and keep up with deeper-pocketed rivals. Instead, they’re letting their version of Betts ride.

It’s quite the juxtaposition.Perhaps the A’s still have designs on a Semien extension, but it’s far from inevitable and we haven’t heard indication that a deal is particularly likely. And if one is to be struck, it’ll require convincing him to forego free agency … which will assuredly require the kind of price that makes the A’s squirm (even if they can now finally see a new ballpark on the horizon). A mid-summer trade fall-back is available but isn’t exactly plan A. All things considered, in relative terms, the situation is quite similar to that which would’ve faced the Red Sox on Betts.

Look, I don’t really have a Take here. I’m not here to call the Oakland front office reckless or label Henry’s explanation feckless. My point is only this: given those two teams’ divergent approaches, doesn’t Henry’s statement suggest that one or the other is true?

It has been exactly one year since the biggest signing in the history of the San Diego franchise became official. The team stunningly pulled in former Orioles and Dodgers third baseman/shortstop Manny Machado on a 10-year, $300MM contract. The deal easily trumped the Padres’ previous record contract – the eight-year, $144MM pact they awarded first baseman Eric Hosmer in February 2018.

Along with outfielder Bryce Harper, Machado entered last winter’s free-agent market as one of the most ballyhooed free agents of all-time. The two made for rare in-their-prime superstars to get to that stage, but it took quite some time for either to find landing spots. Unlike this offseason, free agency moved at a glacial pace then, leaving Machado and Harper without teams until almost March. However, both ultimately inked two of the richest contracts free agency has seen (Harper’s $330MM guarantee still stands as the largest ever awarded on the open market).

When Machado became a free agent, expectations were he’d sign with a big-spending team like the Yankees, but they and others decided to go in another direction. And Machado didn’t do himself any favors when he said during the prior fall that he’s not the type of player thats going to be Johnny Hustle.’ Nevertheless, he arrived on the market as an incredibly accomplished player.

Upon getting to free agency, Machado was a 26-year-old with four All-Star nods and two Gold Gloves under his belt, and he showed he could handle both short and third with aplomb. Furthermore, from his first full season in 2013 through 2018, Machado batted .283/.337/.489 with 168 home runs, accounting for the seventh-highest fWAR among position players (28.9). For the most part, he was also rather durable in that span, twice appearing in 162 games in a season and amassing at least 150 appearances five times.

Machado’s sturdiness continued in his first season as a Padre in 2019, when he took part in 156 games. The longtime shortstop did see time there, but only because stellar youngster Fernando Tatis Jr. missed a significant amount of action thanks to injuries. The plan was (and continues to be) for Machado and Tatis to form one of the premier left sides of the infield in baseball. When healthy, there’s a case they did just that, though Machado’s first year in San Diego was arguably somewhat disappointing. Primarily a third baseman, Machado took 661 plate appearances and hit .256/.334/.462 – good for a slightly above-average 108 wRC+. That comes off as pedestrian in comparison to some of his past seasons, yet he still mashed 32 homers and recorded 3.1 fWAR.

Most teams would sign up for the type of production Machado offered in 2019 from their third basemen. However, the Padres probably wanted more bang for their buck in the first season of a $300MM contract. Perhaps the Padres will get it this season, as Machado has shown an ability in the past to bounce back from seasons that have been so-so by his standards (compare his 2017 to his 2018, for example). If he returns to elite form, it would only help the Padres in their quest to break what’s now a 13-year playoff drought.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

New Mets skipper Luis Rojas discussed his initial impressions of still-rehabbing outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at this stage of camp. As’s Anthony DiComo reports, the veteran seems to be showing a fair bit of promise as he looks to return from injury — but he also still has a ways to go.

Per Rojas — Cespedes isn’t on speaking terms with the media at the moment — the 34-year-old is participating in about three-quarters to four-fifths of the activities of his healthy teammates. It’s a “progression” that Cespedes is working through with the team’s trainers.

The big question remains whether and when the former star will be able to contribute on the MLB field. That’s still unclear. He hasn’t yet fully tested his surgically repaired heels and ankle. But there’s progress, per Rojas, who says this “was a really big week” in Cespedes’s recovery.

It remains fascinating to watch this situation unfold. Cespedes has been a dynamic player for the Mets, when available. But he missed all of 2019 after being sidelined for large chunks of the preceding two seasons. And we haven’t seen his current form after weathering those major procedures and dealing with a high-profile dispute over how they occurred that cost him a huge chunk of his remaining guaranteed money.

Age is also a consideration, as Cespedes will turn 35 in October. Then there’s the question of how he’ll fit on the Mets roster and take to what’s likely to be less than a full-time role (at least unless or until he proves worthy of more).

It remains to be seen how this’ll proceed. But it’s certain that Rojas will be answering a lot of questions on Cespedes over the coming months — particularly if the outfielder declines to revisit his media silence. Ultimately, the rookie skipper and the front office may face some tough decisions.

Star Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto expressed disappointment today — not with his earnings or with the team, but with the process — after learning he had lost his arbitration case against the ballclub. Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer was among those to collect Realmuto’s thoughts.

Realmuto says he’s “fortunate” to earn a hefty $10MM salary, but said he’s “disappointed in the system more than anything.” He had sought a $12.4MM salary, with his side arguing that he ought to be compared as much to other high-quality position players as to prior catchers.

The hope, says Realmuto, was “to advance it a little bit and do something for future catchers.” Calling the system “outdated,” he criticized the fact that “there’s a separate catchers’ market.”

Realmuto ran into some of the same problems some other players have had with breaking up the strange forms of arbitration. Just as Josh Hader failed to convince a panel that he shouldn’t be undervalued just because he didn’t have a lot of saves, Realmuto struggled to pull away from the gravitational field of prior catcher salaries.

While the Phils will save some cash this year, don’t expect Realmuto to lower his sights when it comes to working out his first multi-year contract. That’s not out of bitterness — Realmuto didn’t express any disdain for the Phillies — but the same business-oriented approach that led him to take his arb case to a hearing. The arbitration process “doesn’t change anything from my outlook,” he said.

So, how likely is a deal? Realmuto says he “can’t predict the future.” He did express an ongoing interest in holding discussions with the team but wasn’t interested in handicapping the outcome. “Whether it matches up or not, that’s to be determined,” says the two-time All-Star.

The big question remains just what price Realmuto will demand — and how far the Phillies will stretch to keep him from reaching the open market.Breen joinsJon Heyman of MLB Network (video link) in suggesting that Realmuto’s camp would like to top the catcher-record $23MM annual value achieved a decade back by Joe Mauer. And Heyman says he expects Realmuto to look for a seven-year term.

It’s frankly tough to imagine the Phillies reaching to that level to lock up Realmuto with a year to go before free agency. Even on the open market, that level of annual salary and length of term seems like a reach for a player who’ll turn 30 before opening the 2021 season. Mauer’smonster dealis outdated, it’s true, but he was at the time a perennial MVP candidate and was also still just 27 years of age. If Realmuto is earn that sort of AAV over a significant term, he may need to log a big all-around season and market his services to all thirty teams next winter.

The Braves had a better third base setup than the vast majority of major league teams a year ago. Josh Donaldson, whom they signed to a one-year, $23MM contract heading into 2019, finished as one of the most valuable players at his position. In his first (and maybe only) season in the National League, the former AL MVP hit .259/.379/.521 with 37 home runs and 4.9 fWAR in 659 plate appearances. His contributions helped the Braves to a 97-65 record and their second straight NL East title, but they’re now facing life without him as the new season nears.

Atlanta’s hope was to retain Donaldson after his productive 2019, but the club was unable to pull off the feat. The 34-year-old instead went back to the AL, where he had previously played with the Athletics, Blue Jays and Indians, on a four-year, $92MM contract with the Twins. Donaldson’s loss leaves a serious void in the Braves’ lineup, but they’re hoping to somewhat fill his offensive void with outfielder Marcell Ozuna, whom the club inked to a one-year, $18MM contract a few weeks back. But what of third base? Well, the Braves have a couple options there, though they’ll have a very hard time making anyone forget about Donaldson. Let’s explore who’s in the mix…

  • Johan Camargo: An underrated producer in 2018, the switch-hitting Camargo posted 3.3 fWAR while seeing time at both positions along the left side of the Braves’ infield. The 2019 campaign didn’t make for much of an encore, though, as Camargo batted a miserable .233/.279/.384 with seven home runs and minus-0.5 fWAR in 248 plate appearances. Perhaps it wasn’t that surprising; after all, while Camargo registered good bottom-line results from 2017-18, his Statcast numbers lagged well behind in both years. He only put up a .282 expected weighted-on base average in ’19, which didn’t fall that far behind the .304 and .310 marks he recorded in the prior two seasons.
  • Austin Riley: The 41st overall pick of the Braves in 2015, Riley earned his first major league promotion last May, at which point he was considered one of the absolute best prospects in the sport. Riley began with a flourish in the bigs, but his numbers trailed off significantly as the year progressed. The 22-year-old spent the majority of his season in left field and slashed .226/.279/.471 over 297 trips to the plate. Riley exhibited impressive power (18 homers. .245 ISO), but his strikeout and walk numbers left plenty to be desired. He fanned in 36.4 percent of plate appearances and drew free passes just 5.4 percent of the time. Both figures are going to have to improve if he’s going to turn into a viable major league regular.

The Braves continue to look like one of the most talented teams in the NL, but if Camargo and Riley fall flat this year, it could help lead to a fall in the standings. The Braves could still bolster their third base situation via trade, though, as they’ve been connected to the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant in recent months. It doesn’t appear either star will wind up on the move before the season, but perhaps Atlanta will revisit acquiring them if the team’s not happy with its production at third during the first half of the season.

Free agent righty Victor Alcantara has received an 80-game suspension, per a league announcement. He tested positive for banned perforrmance-enhancing drug stanozolol.

Alcantara, 26, had appeared in each of the past three MLB campaigns. He was cut loose by the Tigers at the end of the 2019 season and had not yet signed on with another organization.

While he gets a good number of groundballs with his 94 mph sinker and carries a decent lifetime 10.5% swinging-strike rate (about average for a starter), Alcantara hasn’t found consistent success in the majors. Through eighty total frames, he carries a 4.28 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 along with a 52.3% groundball rate.

It was never likely Alcantara would land a major league deal, but he was also an obvious candidate to get a non-roster shot. No doubt he’ll still command another opportunity, though he’ll need to serve his suspension upon joining a new team.

We haven’t heard much from veteran righty Marco Estrada since he was cut loose by the Athletics last year. At the time, he was struggling to deal with back issues that more or less took his entire 2019 season.

The 36-year-old hasn’t given up his hopes of a return to the majors. Estrada is still working to get back to full strength and overcome those back maladies,MLBTR’s Steve Adams reports on Twitter.

Estrada has already begun chatting with a few potentially interested clubs. He’s not going to be a candidate to work at full speed on Opening Day but is hopeful of being ready by the summer — perhaps as soon as June.

While health questions have dogged Estrada for some time, he had thrown plenty of innings until things got worse last year. From 2014 to 2018, Estrada averaged 167 frames of 4.27 ERA pitching annually.

Even after a tough 2018 effort, Estrada commanded a $4MM guarantee from the A’s last winter. He’s all but certain to field minor-league offers this time around, but could certainly be a worthwhile target for the right team if he shows that he’s in good form once his rehab is complete.

1:38pm:The option is priced at $7MM, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter), but that value can move significantly north. It’ll cost an extra $50K for every five games finished, beginning at his 10th and ending at his 35th. The needle moves $100K at 40, 45, and 50 games finished. And the option price jumps $200K at numbers 55, 60, and 63. That adds up to $1.2MM in total potential escalators.

9:42am: The Phillies have announced their agreement with Neris, revealing that the contract also contains a club option for the 2021 season. That it’s not a straight one-year pact perhaps explains the reason that the team broke from the file-and-trial approach. If the team ultimately declines the option, Neris would still remain under club control as an arbitration-eligible player.

7:35am: The Phillies have avoided an arbitration hearing with right-hander Hector Neris, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports (via Twitter). The last-minute settlement will guarantee Neris a $4.6MM salary for the upcoming season. Neris settled slightly below the midpoint between his own $5.2MM submission and the club’s $4.25MM counter.

Neris, 30, racked up 28 saves as the Phillies’ primary closer in 2019, pitching to a strong 2.93 ERA with averages of 11.8 strikeouts, 3.2 walks and 1.33 home runs per nine innings pitched. He appeared in 68 games and tallied 67 2/3 innings en route to an impressive rebound effort from a down year in 2018. He’ll be eligible for arbitration for a third and final time next winter before reaching free agency in the 2021-22 offseason.

The one-year arrangement represents a rarity in today’s arbitration environment. Virtually all clubs utilize a “file and trial” approach to the process — meaning that once figures are exchanged with a player, negotiations on a one-year settlement cease, leaving the two sides to determine the player’s salary in a hearing. (Multi-year deals are typically still negotiated if there’s mutual interest, however.) Astros outfielder George Springer also avoided arb on a one-year deal last month, although that agreement was seemingly negotiated directly with owner Jim Crane after he dismissed president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow.

The Phillies won an arbitration hearing over All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto yesterday, thus keeping his salary at the $10MM figure they submitted — as opposed to Realmuto’s own $12.4MM submission. With their arbitration cases now resolved, the Phillies should check in with a bottom-line payroll just north of $182.5MM and roughly $203.9MM in luxury tax commitments (per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez). That leaves them just over $4MM shy of the luxury tax barrier.

With Neris’ salary now in place, the last pending arbitration result is that of D-backs closer Archie Bradley (as reflected in MLBTR’s 2020 Arbitration Tracker).

The Mariners have claimed relieverTaylor Williams off waivers from the Brewers, per a club announcement. The Seattle org designated fellow 28-year-old righty Phillips Valdez to create roster space.

Williams, who recently lost his spot in the Milwaukee bullpen mix, seemed like a possible waiver target. While the hard-throwing righty hasn’t yet entrenched himself in a MLB relief unit, he turned in 54 innings of 2.83 ERA ball at the Triple-A level last year. He racked up 9.5 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 while carrying a strong 54.0% groundball rate.

As for Valdez, he was claimed earlier in the winter but didn’t last long in camp before losing his roster spot. If he clears waivers, he’ll presumably remain on hand as a non-roster player. Valdez debuted in the majors last year, recording 16 innings of 3.94 ERA ball, but spent most of the year as a swingman at Triple-A. He worked to a 4.92 ERA with 7.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, and a 51.6% groundball rate in 78 2/3 innings of action in the PCL.

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