Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos said yesterday that he’s interested in acquiring a middle-of-the-order bat, as David O’Brien of The Athletic reports (subscription link). That could be a third baseman or outfielder, per the club’s top baseball operations decisionmaker.
The top preference for the Atlanta organization would surely still be a new deal with third baseman Josh Donaldson. But the Braves may decide not to keep pace withbidding that seems to be going to four years.
It always seemed quite possible, probable even, that Donaldson would move on to another team after making good on the one-year deal he signed last winter. What’s most interesting about the latest update is the fact that the team is not limiting itself to finding impact at the hot corner.
“Ideally,” says Anthopolous, the desired offensive output would come from a player that suits up at third. But it “can come in the form of an outfielder, as well,” he said.The primary goal is to get a big bat to replace the outgoing production that Donaldson delivered.“I can’t guarantee we’ll be able to accomplish that, but I’d like to add a middle-of-the-order bat if we can,” says Anthopoulos.
In terms of open-market corner outfield possibilities, there are quite a few younger players, though none to Donaldson’s standard.Where one draws the line in deeming a player a “middle of the order bat” is obviously a subjective matter. The Braves could go after Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna, Yasiel Puig, or Avisail Garcia. Or, the club might consider lefty swinging veterans Corey Dickerson and Kole Calhoun. Two conceivable options — Tommy Pham and Hunter Renfroe — were already traded for one another. There are some other possible candidates that may be available via trade, though the remaining market has yet to gain much clarity.
What of Johan Camargo and Austin Riley? We’ve often heard indications of confidence in that pair of younger players. But that doesn’t seem to be the vibe around the organization. “[P]rivately it’s not believed [the Braves] consider either a good or perhaps even acceptable option” for the hot corner in 2020, O’Brien writes.
That adds to the intrigue surrounding the possibility of the team landing a corner outfield bat. Perhaps the club would then also need to pick up another option at the hot corner. Having already re-signed Nick Markakis to go with young star Ronald Acuna Jr., adding another outfielder would also likely increase the possibility of a trade involving Ender Inciarte. The Braves are also said to be interested in adding aglove-first, shortstop-capable utility piece, meaning the team is still shopping for at least two and possibly three position players.
DECEMBER 10:The Blue Jays have explored the possibility of a reunion with Happ, Andy Martino of SNY.tv reports (Twitterlinks). The Brewers are said to be among the National League clubs with some level of interest.
DECEMBER 9:Twelve months ago, the Yankees made veteran left-hander J.A. Happ one of their key offseason signings. After a solid 2018 divided between the Blue Jays and Yankees, New York re-upped Happ to a two-year, $34MM contract. Now, the club is “actively” seeking a taker on the trade market for the 37-year-old Happ, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports.
The fact that the Yankees want to get out of the Happ deal isn’t particularly surprising, considering he’s slated to count $17MM against the luxury tax next season. If the Yankees succeed in signing right-hander Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 free agent on the board and someone who has a shot at a $300MM-plus contract, moving some portion of Happ’s money could help them avoid the highest level of the luxury tax ($248MM). As things stand, it seems probable they’ll blow past the first level of $208MM and likely surpass the second penalty of $228MM, Sherman notes.
In moving Happ, the Yankees would obviously be selling low. While Happ has long been a quality starter in the majors, things didn’t go well last season. Even though Happ did close on a good note during the final month of the regular campaign, he still ended the year with a subpar 4.91 ERA/5.22 FIP and 7.81 K/9 against 2.73 BB/9 over 161 1/3 innings. Going forward, Happ’s contract includes a $17MM vesting option for 2021 if he totals 165 innings or 27 starts next year. With those factors in mind, the Yankees don’t figure to have an easy time finding someone to take Happ off their hands.
The Angels have joined the mix for star free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). Just how involved the club isn’t known, but Heyman says the Halos have at least “expressed interest.”
Yesterday’s blockbuster Stephen Strasburg deal may have shaken things up for his former teammate. That deal seemingly makes a D.C. return less likely for Rendon. It also removed a major fallback possibility for the Angels as they attempt to lure Gerrit Cole to Anaheim.
Whether this Halos-Rendon connection relates to the Strasburg move isn’t known. But it does open another possible door for an organization that is desperate to capitalize on the rare opportunity it has to win with the game’s greatest player and a host of other players with sky-high ceilings.
It’s yet more good news for Rendon, who has no shortage of viable landing spots even if his former team doesn’t pursue him with quite as much zeal. Rendonappears to be the apple of the Rangers’ eye and has also been targeted by the Dodgers and Phillies.
High-level meetings are taking place. Offers are coming in. All indications are that the Gerrit Cole bidding is at a full sprint, spurred in part by the stunningly lucrative deal reached between the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg. That record-setting $245MM contractups the ante for teams interested inthe younger and higher-octane Cole. The $300MM threshold once seemed a pie-in-the-sky number. No more.
With the expectation that Cole will take the best offer made, every team in baseball is theoretically in play. But it seems the market has already largely developed. The Angels and Yankees are widely cited as the two most active pursuers. The Dodgers’ stance isn’t quite clear. The Phillies and Rangers are reportedly still circling. Perhaps it’s still possible there’s a mystery bidder.
Where do you think Cole will end up?
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We’re closing in on the one-year anniversary of these memorable words from Twins GM Thad Levine: The best moves are made not when youre trying to open the window to contend, but when the window is wide open.Were very eagerly waiting for this window to be opened, and when it is, we plan on striking.
Last season, the Minnesota roster shattered the pane with 101 wins. A roster that front office characterized as possessing anunusual abundance of variance and volatility came up aces. Now, Levine and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey have no real choice but to believe in the talent on hand and take on the mentality of a clear contender. There are several areas to consider for improvement, but as MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained at the outset of the offseason, the rotation was the prime area of focus.
So, how to understand the club’s early maneuvering?Falvey and Levine opened the offseason by bringing back two preexisting players at much higher prices than they had played for in the prior two seasons. The added cost is understandable in each instance, as both pitchers boosted their value with quality seasons. Jake Odorizzi doesn’t seem likely to vastly outperform the $17.8MM he’s now promised after accepting the qualifying offer — he’ll be hard-pressed to replicate his excellent results from 2019 — but it’s an appealing contract for the team since it comes without any future obligations. And just-re-inked hurler Michael Pineda seemed like a plausible candidate to be pursued at a higher rate of pay, so his two-year, $20MM contract seems at worst to be a market-value move that comes with real upside.
The front office is pleased with these re-acquisitions, as it should be, but the rotation remains incomplete. “I do think we’ve stabilized the team and that was essential,” Levine explains to Dan Hayes of The Athletic (subscription link). “Now, we still have the ability to impact it significantly. But, first steps first, was to stabilize.”
Odorizzi and Pinedahelped the Twins to a magical 2019 regular season and can undoubtedly be a big part of driving another winner. Doubling down on last year’s unit is mostly a fine strategy. But that roster variability that the Twins’ upper management cited this time last year? It cuts both ways. Mitch Garver might turn into a pumpkin. Nelson Cruz could show his age. Odorizzi and Pineda are hardly assured of repeating their ’19 efforts. Injuries and performance backslides are always possible. With the Indians facing uncertainty, the White Sox trying to figure out precisely how to vault into contention, and the remainder of the AL Central firmly in the rebuilding camp, now isn’t the time for the Twins to play it safe.
Retaining Odorizzi and Pineda was the prelude — but to what? Levine says that the team is “aspirational of getting the best players we can get.” He also suggested patience in making that happen. “What we’ve seen the last couple of years is that this process has skewed later and later each year,” says Levine of free agency. “Maybe we’re seeing it rebound a little bit this offseason and we’re going to be attentive to that. But we’re having a lot of meetings now to put ourselves in the best position to proceed.”
Just how it’ll all shake out remains to be seen. The Twins aren’t in the market for Gerrit Cole but do have eyes on the next tier of available arms.Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu have long been known to be targets.Fellow southpaw starter Dallas Keuchel is also of interest, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link).
Hayes also emphasizes the possibility of trades, even noting that the front office hasn’t ruled out dealing from among its very best prospects. Trouble is, the trade market isn’t exactly laden with obviously available, high-end hurlers. Robbie Ray is probably the best rental arm that could be had; otherwise, Chris Archer may be the next-best single-season target that seems to be available. Matthew Boyd and Caleb Smith are among the controllable pitchers that ought to be open for bids. It is difficult to imagine deals coming together with the Rockies (Jon Gray, German Marquez), Mets (Noah Syndergaard), or Red Sox (Eduardo Rodriguez, David Price), but the Twins have surely inquired. Unfortunately, some of the most intriguing wild-card targets (Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger) play for the division-rival Indians.
The Twins aren’t the only organization playing this high-stakes game at the moment. Intense and widespread demand explains why the Phillies spent big to land Zack Wheeler — beating the Twins and others to do so — while the Nationals went to such heights to retain Stephen Strasburg. If and when the Twins finally put the wraps on a major transaction to haul in a top-shelf starter, it’ll likely sting the wallet or the farm. But with that metaphorical window now wide open, it’s incumbent upon the organization to dedicate real resources to taking advantage.
The Cubs havereportedly been in fervent pursuitof trade possibilities, exploring deals involving much of their roster — includingKris Bryant. There are some wrinkles to structuring a deal for the superstar third baseman, as well as some new market developments of note.In particular, the Nationals have approached the Cubs to discuss Bryant, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com.
The Cubs are still awaiting resolution on aservice-time grievance filed by Bryantand his representatives, despite the fact that a hearing was held in late October. Speaking toThe Athletics Sahadev Sharmaand other reporters at the Winter Meetings, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said he felt the ruling is not going to be more than a couple weeks away, though he admitted some frustration that the matter has yet to be decided.
That said, Epstein stated the team is operating with what our understanding of what the likely outcome will be and moving forward that way, which would hint that the Cubs are confident that Bryant will remain under team control through the 2021 season. A ruling in the other direction, which would grant Bryant free agency after the 2020 season, would certainly count as a surprise, and one with a major impact on Chicagos future roster maneuverings.
Needless to say, the length of Bryants remaining service time would have a giant impact on what the Wrigleyville side would receive back in a trade, though the third base market joins the delayed grievance ruling as the biggest factors in any trade plans the Cubs might have for Bryant. Sharma notes that the Cubs are figuring that teams who miss out onAnthony RendonorJosh Donaldsoncould come calling about Bryant, which would leave Chicago discussing Bryant with at least three of such teams as the Dodgers, Braves, Rangers, Phillies, and Nationals. Of that group, the Cubs would most likely be interested in the prospect-deep Atlanta or Los Angeles farm systems. Sharma also wonders if Chicago could also shop Bryant to the Padres (another club with a stacked farm system) as an outfielder, since San Diego is set at the corner infield spots withManny MachadoandEric Hosmer.
In terms of specific potential landing spots, it seems we’re mostly dealing with informed speculation and hypotheticals. But we’re also beginning to see indications of actual trade talks. The Nationals’ reported expression of interest is certainly intriguing, though it may be difficult for the D.C. organization to structure a deal. The club isnot ruling outa return fromRendon and has alsoshown interest in Donaldson. But adding another monster deal to bring back Rendon would be tough to do. And Donaldson is said to beheading for a fourth guaranteed yearwith widespread interest. Under the circumstances, the Nats are surely not the only team to have made contact regarding Bryant. Jon Heyman of MLB Network noted yesterdayon Twitterthat the Braves and Phillies “could be a fit,” though it’s not clear whether that suggestive phrasing was indicative of dialogue between the organizations.
Now that Stephen Strasburg has been re-signed to an expectations-shattering $245MM contract, it doesn’t seem like the Nationals could manage another mega-deal to bring back Anthony Rendon…or could they? Both Nats GM Mike Rizzo and agent Scott Boras (who represents both Rendon and Strasburg) told MASNsports.com’s Mark Zuckerman and other reporters that the third baseman could still potentially return to Washington, despite owner Mark Lerner’s recent comments about his club not being able to afford both free agents. “Well, when you look at those comments, and then you look at the structure of this particular deal and the structure of deals weve had getting up to where we are right now, I think that Mark realizes that theres ways to fit players in,” Rizzo said, in reference to the deferral-heavy nature of both Strasburg’s contract and several other major Nats contracts in recent years.
Boras also spoke of how Strasburg “directed me to negotiate and create a value, a fair-market value for him, but also a structure that allowed the team to continue at a championship level.” Naturally, it wouldn’t be good business for Boras to create any impression that a wealthy suitor had dropped out of the running for Rendon, though the fact that he has had such a long history of negotiating deals with the Nationals perhaps gives his comments some added weight. “I think when you go to do these contracts — in fairness to Mark and everyone else — is you really dont know what can be done inside a contract to create opportunities so that aspects of the team can be looked at a little differently than was even anticipated,” Boras said.
More rumblings from around the NL East…
- Not that a World Series-winning manager should necessarily be worried about job security, but Dave Martinez tells NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas that he isn’t concerned about entering the final guaranteed year of his contract. The Nationals hold a club option on Martinez for the 2021 season, though just making through 2020 would make Martinez (somewhat incredibly) the first person to manage three full seasons for the Nats since the club moved from Montreal prior to the 2005 season. Martinez didn’t give any indication of extension talks, though even with the Nationals’ unusual history of managerial hirings and firings, it looks like stability might have finally come to the dugout.
- Yoenis Cespedes is hoping to return to the field in 2020, and Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen told reporters (including MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo) that the outfielder has begun throwing and running programs. A series of leg injuries forced Cespedes to miss the entire 2019 season, and limited him to just 119 games in 2017-18. Naturally, Van Wagenen was cautious about the possibility of a comeback for the outfielder, saying “We have to be smart and not assume anything from anyone and try to create talent on our roster and try to create impact. If hes at his best, hes a high-impact performer. Well have to see how that plays out.”
- In other news from Van Wagenen’s media briefing, he said finding depth for both the rotation or bullpen is a main focus for the Mets. The club may also look at adding a backup infielder and backup catcher. The latter could spell some trouble for current backup catcher Tomas Nido, who was one of the game’s better defensive catchers in 2019 but hasn’t shown any hitting prowess during his three MLB seasons (albeit over only 244 career plate appearances).
- The Marlins have hired Billy Hatcher as the team’s new first base coach, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. Hatcher brings 21 years of coaching experience to Miami, after long stints with both the Rays (1998-2005) and Reds (2006-18). Trey Hillman will move from first base coach across the diamond to coach third base next season, to accommodate Hatcher. In other Marlins staff news, assistant hitting coach Eric Duncan has been promoted to hitting coach.
The Blue Jays are weighing a pair of familiar names for their first base/DH vacancy, as Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith (Twitter link) reports that Edwin Encarnacion and Justin Smoak are “getting consideration” from the club. The Jays also continue to be “intrigued” by Japanese free agent Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, though it “certainly doesn’t seem like they’re close on anything” with the slugger.
A fractured right wrist and a strained oblique limited Encarnacion to only 109 games and 486 plate appearances in 2019, his lowest totals in either category since the 2010 season. When Encarnacion was healthy, however, he still wielded a formidable bat, hitting .244/.344/.531 with 34 homers for the Mariners and Yankees. Encarnacion turns 37 in January and would likely be used mostly as a DH in Toronto, owing to both his age, the Rogers Centre’s artificial surface, and the Jays’ desire to see what they have in first baseman Rowdy Tellez.
With a market likely limited to American League teams and a relative lack of DH openings among those teams, Encarnacion could likely be had on a one-year deal, which is surely attractive to a rebuilding Jays team. Bringing Encarnacion back would also undoubtedly be well-received by Toronto’s fans, as Encarnacion was a very popular figure while hitting 239 homers (the third-highest total in club history) for the Jays from 2009-16.
Smoak was another fan favorite for his five solid seasons with the Jays, most notably his 38-homer outburst in 2017. Despite being perhaps the unluckiest hitter in baseball in 2019, Smoak still managed a slightly above-average (101 wRC+ and OPS+) offensive showing of .208/.342/.406 with 22 homers over 500 PA. We haven’t heard much news on the 33-year-old Smoak this winter, though there was some indication after the season that the Blue Jays were thinking about a potential reunion as they weighed their first base options.
What could hurt both Encarnacion and Smoak, however, is that they are only first basemen, whereas GM Ross Atkins has a stated preference for first base “alternatives that are more flexible, can play other positions as well.” Tsutsugo has an advantage in this regard, as he has primarily played outfield for the last several seasons for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars while also having some first base and third base experience in his past. While Tsutsugo isn’t considered to be particularly adept defensively at any position, the Blue Jays might not mind since he’d be slated for a good chunk of DH time anyway.
The 28-year-old Tsutsugo has an impressive .285/.382/.528 slash line and 205 home runs over exactly 4000 PA during his 10 seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League teams have until December 19 to negotiate a contract with Tsutsugo, and clubs will then have to pay an additional posting fee (as determined by the size of the contract) to the BayStars under the MLB/NPB posting system.
Let’s take a look at the latest from around the NL Central…
- “Frankly, at this point, we don’t think too much about that,” Brewers GM David Stearns told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Twitter video link), MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, and other reporters when asked what pitchers are currently penciled into the starting rotation. As usual, the Brew Crew will be flexible as possible in deciding which pitchers start games and how many innings they’ll accumulate, with Stearns citing Brandon Woodruff, Eric Lauer, Adrian Houser, Freddy Peralta, and Corbin Burnes as hurlers with starting experience. Peralta and Burnes will indeed still get consideration for starting jobs, Stearns said, though both struggled in the role last season. This isn’t to say that rotation additions couldn’t still be made, and relief help could also come later in the offseason, Stearns said. Milwaukee had interest in re-signing both free agent Jordan Lyles and the non-tendered Junior Guerra before the two pitchers respectively signed with the Rangers and Diamondbacks.
- Eyebrows were raised earlier this week at reports that the Brewers were open to trade offers for superstar reliever Josh Hader. While Stearns didn’t deny the report or dismiss the idea of a Hader deal, he naturally didn’t give any hint about how much desire his club actually had in moving Hader, only saying that “I think we consider him the best reliever in baseball right now.” Obviously, it would take a major offer to land Hader, who is controlled via arbitration through the 2023 season as a Super Two player.
- Since Jacob Stallings is the only catcher on the Pirates’ 40-man roster, it isn’t any shock that GM Ben Cherington told media members (including Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic) that the Bucs are looking to upgrade the catching corps “in some ways.” Biertempfel notes that Cherington was “emphasizing the plural,” meaning that Pittsburgh will look to add multiple catchers for both the big league club and the farm system.
- With so much action on the free agent market so far, “I personally feel like theres less trade activity likely to happen at the Winter Meetings than in prior years,” Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Bobby Nightengale and other reporters. “I think thats the trend and I feel like other baseball front offices…feel like its gotten to the point where with all the other stuff thats going on, its a time to continue conversations, but its really hard to push things across the finish line from a trade perspective.” The Reds have already one major free agent splash in signing Mike Moustakas and have been linked to several other big names, though while Williams “would say its entirely possible” Cincinnati makes another signing during the Meetings, “there is not one that I would say is likely to happen yet….I dont have one that is closing in on a physical or something.”
The Cardinals weren’t one of the league’s better-hitting teams in general last season, and in particular struggled against right-handed pitching. For that reason, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told reporters (including MLB.com’s Anne Rogers and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold) that “if we could find a way to get a little more lefthanded, we would be encouraged to do that. So, I think people feel that theyre a little too lefthanded [in their lineup] then it might make sense for us to be talking.” Mozeliak hinted that the Cards would prefer to add a lefty bat in a trade rather than through the free agent market, though trade talks have been “slow” to date.
To this end, Goold reports that the Cardinals have been looking to add a left-handed hitting outfielder in exchange for a package that would include at least one of their young right-handed hitting outfielders. Looking at such players on the Cards’ 40-man roster, Harrison Bader, Jose Martinez, Yairo Munoz, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena, Adolis Garcia, and Rangel Ravelo are all either full-time outfielders or at least have some outfield experience, leaving St. Louis with a wealth of possible trade chips for trades large or small.
By contrast, the Rangers are a team with a surplus of left-handed outfielders, and Goold reports that Texas and St. Louis have indeed been in talks. The Cards’ ideal acquisition would be both relatively inexpensive and capable of playing every day. The latter issue could keep the Cardinals from pursuing someone like the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, in Goold’s view, given Pederson’s struggles at hitting lefty pitching (though I would submit that the Cards would certainly seem to have enough right-handed hitting depth to find a platoon partner for Pederson in center field).
Of course, the Cardinals would get an immediate boost against right-handed pitching if their most prominent left-handed hitter returned to his old form after a disastrous 2019 season. Mozeliak revealed that Matt Carpenter has begun an offseason training program to add both weight and strength, after tests from the performance department revealed that Carpenter declined in both areas over the course of the season. “Hes one of those types of players that has a hard time holding weight,” Mozeliak said. “One of the things that weve tried to do this offseason is find a strength program that we think could work for him so he can maintain that. As the season unfolds, its something that well need to be conscious of and intentional about to try to keep that up.”
In addition to their search for lefty bats, the Cardinals are still interested in a very prominent right-handed bat in Marcell Ozuna. Mozeliak felt his club was “still in the game,” for the free agent slugger, saying “were not closing any doors. Doors may get closed, but its not our doing.” The Reds, Braves, Rangers, Diamondbacks, and White Sox have all been mentioned as interested parties in the Ozuna market, and with reports indicating that the bidding could go as high as five years, it seems hard to imagine St. Louis is willing to truly break the bank to re-sign Ozuna. Since Ozuna rejected the qualifying offer, the Cardinals will obtain an extra pick (roughly between the 75th-85th overall selections) in the 2020 draft should Ozuna sign elsewhere.