- Recent agreements by the Blue Jays (Jose Bautista) and Phillies (Michael Saunders) have caused the Mets’ potential trade options for right fielder Jay Bruce to dwindle, writes Mike Puma of the New York Post. (I’d also note the Orioles’ acquisition of Seth Smith in that list of deterrents to a Bruce swap.) The Giants and Rangers could be the only two remaining plausible landing spots for Bruce, Puma continues, noting that each team has had previous interest in Bruce. However, according to Puma, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has not yet shown a willingness to absorb any of Bruce’s $13MM salary in a trade, which only further exacerbates the difficulty of trading him in a market flooded with cheaper corner options. Puma speculates that the Mets may be forced to open the season with Bruce on the roster and look to move him early in the regular season, as they did with Ike Davis back in 2014.
TODAY: Hwang turned down an offer from the KBO’s Lotte Giants, Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency reports (hat tip to MyKBO.net’s Dan Kurtz). Yoon-won Lee, the Giants’ general manager, said his club extended “a sizeable offer” to Hwang, but the infielder seems intent on testing himself in North America, even if it means earning less money. To this end, Hwang is reportedly open to signing a split contract rather than a straight big league deal.
TUESDAY: The market continues to develop for Korean third baseman Jae-gyun Hwang, according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press (links to Twitter). He’s most interested at this point in securing an opportunity that comes with a 40-man roster spot, per the report.
Hwang, a 29-year-old free agent, was said recently to have drawn some attention from the Giants. The Brewers and Tigers are also among the team’s with some level of interest, according to Berardino. While the Twins have “checked in” on him, it seems there’s no present fit.
It could be, of course, that Hwang may still need to wait for other moves to shake out before he’s presented with a clear shot at the majors. A return to Korea can’t be ruled out, of course; indeed, a KBO club has made a four-year offer. While that will surely hold appeal, it seems Hwang is still hoping for a chance to play at the game’s highest level.
For San Francisco, the possibility of adding another corner outfielder or third baseman may make the team hesitant to commit. The Brewers already plugged in Travis Shaw at the hot corner, though presumably the right-handed-hitting Hwang could provide a complement (with both perhaps also factoring in at first base). As for the A.L. Central rivals in Detroit and Minnesota, third base appears to be set in both cases. But perhaps there’s some window for Hwang if he’s deemed capable of spending some time at second and one of those teams deal their incumbent options. Alternatively, perhaps, he could factor in the corner outfield.
It has been a tough market for third basemen, with Luis Valbuena and Trevor Plouffe among the players still looking for a job. There’s also a variety of veteran utility types with experience on the left side of the infield — including Aaron Hill, Kelly Johnson, and Stephen Drew — who have yet to sign.
Beyond the enticement of the unknown, Hwang has some possible advantages over some of those options. He won’t turn 30 until July and is coming off of a career year in the KBO. Finally combining both power and contact in a single season, Hwang popped 27 long balls with just 64 strikeouts over 522 plate appearances. He also swiped 24 bags, though he was cut down on ten other attempts.
- Reliever George Kontos gets $1.75MM from the Giants, Heyman tweets. He had projected at $1.7MM.
- Infielder Eduardo Nunez will receive $4.2MM from the Giants, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). San Francisco has also reached agreement with lefty Will Smith, per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). He’ll receive $2.5MM, just over his $2.3MM projection, Heyman tweets.
The Giants and third baseman Conor Gillaspie have agreed to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports (via Twitter). San Francisco’s latest postseason hero will make $1.4MM with the team in 2017, per Heyman. That figure checks in quite a bit north of his $900K projection.
Gillaspie, 29, returned to the Giants, the team that originally drafted him, on a minor league deal last February. He’d spent the bulk of the past three seasons with the White Sox, logging significant playing time as the team’s primary third baseman. He sputtered in 2015, however, and was ultimately designated for assignment before being traded to the Angels in exchange for cash. The Halos cut Gillaspie loose following that 2015 season, in which he posted a disheartening .228/.269/.359 batting line.
Gillaspie had a brief stint with the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate in 2016 but quickly made his way to the big league roster, seeing his contract selected in late April. He’d go on to appear in 101 games for the Giants, primarily in a bench role, hitting .262/.307/.440 in 205 trips to the plate. Gillaspie went on to cement himself in Giants lore by crushing a three-run homer against Mets closer Jeurys Familia, which broke a scoreless tie in what had been a masterful pitching duel between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard for much of the night. He turned in a valiant 4-for-4 effort in the roller-coaster game that proved to be the Giants’ final contest of the season — a 6-5 loss to the Cubs in Game 4 of the NLDS.
The Giants will be able to control Gillaspie through the 2018 season if they wish, as the Hendricks Sports client enters the 2017 campaign with just over four full seasons of big league service time under his belt. Gillaspie figures to enter the season in a reserve role, with Eduardo Nunez lined up to be the team’s primary third baseman.
- The specifics of Mark Melancon’s $20MM signing bonus with the Giants were broken down by FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman (Twitter link) earlier this week. The closer received $6MM on December 30 and will get another $6MM payment on January 15. The remaining $8MM will be deferred until after Melancon’s four-year deal is up; he will be paid $1MM every January 15 from 2021 through 2028.
The market has finally seen some movement, both via trades and free-agent signings, in recent days, and there’s plenty more to come with Spring Training just six weeks away. Here’s the latest chatter on various potential player movements, all via Jon Morosi of MLB Network (all links below are to his Twitter feed).
- Though Jason Hammel has seemingly had trouble finding active pursuers, the Rangers are now in the mix for the righty. That’s certainly promising news for Hammel, who may no longer be under consideration for the Mariners now that they’ve added Yovani Gallardo. Of course, Seattle also just parted with Nate Karns, and GM Jerry Dipoto says he’s still amenable to bolstering his staff (via Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune, on Twitter). As for Texas, the level of interest remains unclear, though it’s certainly plausible to imagine the team deciding that Hammel would be a worthwile bet to provide some solid innings. The biggest question, perhaps, is whether they’ll instead land Tyson Ross first.
- As the White Sox continue to discuss trade arrangements involving Jose Quintana, the Astros remain one of the rival organizations most fervently in pursuit. That’s hardly surprising, as Houston has long been said to be engaged on the talented lefty. Certainly, it still seems there’s sufficient momentum towards a deal for something to get done, though it remains to be seen whether the ’Stros or another club will come up with the best offer.
- The Giants are not actively pursuing Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. And though the Dodgers still remain a possible match with Milwaukee, the Los Angeles organization is currently still focused on trying to work out a trade for second baseman Brian Dozier. It’s not known whether the Dodgers would embark upon a pursuit of Braun if they’re able to add Dozier. While they obviously play different positions, Dozier would accomplish the goal of adding right-handed pop while occupying a position of greater need for L.A., which has a rather lengthy list of potential outfielders.
- Meanwhile, the Dodgers are on the hunt for a righty set-up man. One possibility, per Morosi, is live-armed 28-year-old Neftali Feliz, who is arguably the best-remaining relief pitcher. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently took a look at Feliz’s free-agent case.
The Giants are “showing continued interest” in infielder Jae-gyun Hwang, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network (via Twitter). Hwang, 29, is a free agent who would not require any posting arrangement to acquire.
The Korean star has spent much of his career with a different Giants organization — the KBO’s Lotte Giants. He held a showcase in the fall in hopes of landing an opportunity with a major league club.
Hwang is likely to factor as a third baseman, meaning that he’ll be competing with open-market options such as Luis Valbuena and Trevor Plouffe. Also potentially a factor is Todd Frazier of the White Sox, who’s available via trade. While Justin Turner’s signing may have been expected to clear the way for some more action at the hot corner, the market has largely been quiet since.
Though Hwang drew no bids when he was posted last winter, he ended up turning in rather an intriguing 2016 season. He not only continued to exhibit a power boost, hitting 27 home runs for the second consecutive season, but this time did so while nearly halving his strikeout totals (from 122 to 64) and slightly increasing his walk rate. While the overall .335/.394/.570 output came in the hitter-friendly KBO, and can’t be taken at face value, Hwang’s overall profile is much more promising now than it was this time last year.
For San Francisco, Hwang could represent an interesting lottery ticket who could play a reserve role or perhaps turn into something more. The club is said to be eyeing improvements at third base and the corner outfield, while remaining hesitant to expend too many resources to do so. While Hwang’s market price will be supported by demand from his native Korea — even if there’s a relative dearth of needy MLB organizations — he figures to be available at a relatively palatable rate by major league standards.
With the new year on its way, we’re actually just six weeks or so away from the opening of Spring Training. But there’s plenty of work yet to do on the transactional side. A variety of interesting and useful free agents remain unsigned, and there are certainly some trade scenarios left to explore. Many teams have addressed needs; some, perhaps, have all but completed their offseason work. But there’s always room for improvement, and a few organizations still have significant holes to fill.
To set the stage for the remainder of the offseason, we’ll take a look at the most pressing remaining needs of every team in baseball over the coming week or so, division by division. (Hat tip to MLBTR commenter mike156 for the idea.) We often discuss things through the lens of an organization’s trajectory; thus, a rebuilding team might “need” to move some salary, while a contender might “need” an expensive starter. But with camp in sight, every club is making final calls on who’ll compete for big league jobs in the season to come (while also pursuing broader opportunities), so the focus here is on specific positions on the MLB roster. Fortunately, the task of roster analysis is made much easier by the MLB depth charts available at RosterResource.com. Each team listed below is linked to its respective depth chart, so you can take a look for yourself.
First up: the National League West. We’ll start with the reigning division champs and go in order of how these teams lined up last year. I identified three needs for each team in this particular division, though they certainly vary in importance, and future iterations could have longer or shorter lists:
- Second Base: Andrew Friedman and co. aren’t afraid to get creative, and don’t feel compelled to add big names. But the projected second base mix — which might include Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor, Austin Barnes, Micah Johnson, and Charlie Culberson — doesn’t appear to hold all that much promise. Los Angeles is rumored to be pursuing a solution, with particularly intense discussion surrounding Brian Dozier of the Twins, so the expectation remains that an outside addition will be made.
- Left Field: The in-house options are certainly more robust in the corner outfield, but that remains an area that the Dodgers could look to improve — particularly, if the team can find a true difference-maker (all the better if he hits from the right side). If Yasiel Puig remains as a semi-regular option in right, that would leave the other corner spot open to a variety of platoon scenarios, potentially involving Trayce Thompson, Scott Van Slyke, Darin Ruf, or even Hernandez or Culberson from the right side, and Andre Ethier and Andrew Toles from the left. Options? Sure, plenty. But adding an established piece to handle the bulk of the load might not only boost the lineup, but also permit L.A. to carry another of its much-loved flex players.
- Right-Handed Reliever: This isn’t a pressing need, exactly, but we’ve heard plenty of chatter about possible righty pen pieces — Joe Blanton, especially. Pedro Baez and Chris Hatcher currently rate as the top two right-handed set-up options in front of closer Kenley Jansen, so adding to that group makes quite a bit of sense.
- Third Base: San Francisco gave up a fairly significant piece to obtain Eduardo Nunez at the trade deadline last year, while shipping Matt Duffy in the trade that brought back Matt Moore. That reshuffling left Nunez as the presumptive man at the hot corner, with postseason hero Conor Gillaspie providing a platoon mate. But it’s certainly fair to argue that the organization could reap significant rewards by adding a bigger bat to play third, bumping Nunez into a super-utility role in which he could provide plenty of value.
- Left Field: Like the Dodgers, the Giants certainly have internal possibilities to fill the void in left. If a third baseman is ultimately added, that might free Nunez to spend some time there, too. (Then again … just read this.) As things stand, the position will likely be manned by a combination of unproven (albeit fairly well-regarded) players: Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson. And Gorkys Hernandez remains available as a reserve, too, though he’ll likely supplement Denard Span in center. There are a few familiar names on hand as minor-league free agents, but in the aggregate, there’s a lot of uncertainty.
- Right-Handed Reliever: The Giants’ pen has a lot of quality arms, despite the struggles in the ninth inning in 2016, and adding Mark Melancon as the closer largely closes the books in terms of needs there. But it never hurts to build depth and create competition, and the Giants could conceivably push pitchers such as Cory Gearrin and George Kontos by adding one or two alternatives.
- First Base: While Ian Desmond is apparently penciled in at first base, it still seems to make all the sense in the world to add another player there while utilizing Desmond in the outfield. Read here for more on that situation.
- Right-Handed Reliever: While the Rox are fairly heavily invested in a variety of relievers, the pen remains questionable. That’s most apparent in the team’s lack of right-handed setup options in front of presumptive closer Adam Ottavino. Currently, Jason Motte and Chad Qualls are the only two righties who seem clearly in line for such a role, with players like Jordan Lyles, Carlos Estevez, and Miguel Castro among the other options. Given the team’s investment in Desmond, excellent position-player core, and relatively promising crop of starters, now may be the time to spend a little extra to complete the bullpen.
- Starting Pitcher: “You can never have too much pitching.” Corollary: especially if you are the Rockies. Colorado likely feels comfortable with at least four of its rotation spots, but bringing in some depth and generating camp competition seems like a worthwhile course given the history of attrition in Coors Field. Investing a bit to fill some innings while reducing pressure on the team’s younger arms could go a long way towards making the Rockies a contender — and even enhancing their mid-term outlook.
- Left-Handed Reliever: The top two southpaw options in the Arizona pen, presently, are Andrew Chafin and Steve Hathaway. While the former has a fair bit of MLB experience, he was hit hard in the majors last year. And while the latter earned his way to the bigs with a solid minor-league season, and did log 9.2 K/9 over his 14 2/3 MLB frames, he also coughed up eight earned runs in that brief debut. Bottom line: depth, at a minimum, would be desirable. The D-Backs have already shown a willingness to draw a player by offering a role, when they signed Fernando Rodney to step in as the closer, and that approach may pay dividends here as well (even if it means waiting to see what players shake loose during camp).
- Right-Handed Reliever: While the need isn’t quite as pronounced, perhaps, the right-handed side of the relief corps could also stand to be buttressed. Randall Delgado is a reliable provider of innings, but hasn’t consistently delivered results. Jake Barrett, Enrique Burgos, Silvino Bracho, and Evan Marshall are each intriguing to varying degrees, but still come with uncertainty. With plenty of veteran righties still out there, it’s a fairly easy call to keep pursuing depth.
- Bench Bat: Much of the position-player side of the roster is accounted for, but the D-Backs could stand to add some pop — or, perhaps, just a useful all-around player who can play multiple roles — to their bench. Yasmany Tomas (defense) and David Peralta (health) come with big questions; other 40-man pieces such as Jeremy Hazelbaker, Ketel Marte, and Socrates Brito have yet to prove they’re capable major leaguers; and additional potential options on hand (lefties Oswaldo Arcia and Zach Borenstein) are equally uncertain. It’s not a pressing need, perhaps, but with a market still loaded with power bats, an interesting opportunity could present itself.
- Starting Pitcher: True, the Friars already signed Jhoulys Chacin and Clayton Richard. But those two hurlers are arguably their current top starters, which isn’t optimal. There’s a reason, after all, that they were available on such modest contracts. While Luis Perdomo showed quite a bit of promise last year as a Rule 5 pick, it’s perhaps preferable to at least create a situation where he doesn’t have to work at the major league level. And the other potential rotation pieces on the 40-man — Christian Friedrich, Paul Clemens, Cesar Vargas, Zach Lee, and Walker Lockett — are hardly proven commodities. San Diego has been tied to a variety of veteran free agents, including Jake Peavy and Jered Weaver, and could also look into the trade market if an opportunity arises.
- Shortstop: Luis Sardinas may still be deserving of a shot, but he hasn’t done anything to date to show he’s capable of being an everyday option at short. The other options are wanting, too: while prospect Carlos Asuaje hit well last year at Triple-A, he hasn’t played short since 2014; Jose Rondon reached the majors at just 22 years of age, but didn’t exactly master the upper minors with the bat; 21-year-old Javier Guerra struggled last year at High-A; Jose Pirela was non-tendered and re-signed to a minor-league deal after a poor showing in 2016; and Rule 5 selection Allen Cordoba is as speculative as they come, given that he hasn’t played above the Rookie ball level.
- Closer: It isn’t strictly necessary for the Pads to add a closer, as they could utilize Brandon Maurer in that role and could welcome Carter Capps back to action at some point in 2016. But there’s little reason not to explore a market that includes several former 9th-inning men who might like a crack at another stint. Pursuing that route in 2016 with Rodney paid dividends when he was flipped over the summer, and the cost of a signing could be recouped by avoiding larger arbitration raises to existing players.
Brian Dozier’s name has been a focal point of the rumor mill for the better part of a month, but his prolonged saga may be drawing to a close, as La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the Twins have asked interested teams to make their best offers for Dozier in the coming days. According to Neal, Minnesota doesn’t want the scenario to drag on too much longer and will prepare to open the 2017 season with Dozier as the second baseman if no palatable offer surfaces.
Neal suggests that the sticking point between the Twins and the Dodgers, who have long been the clear primary suitor for Dozier, has been that Los Angeles is seeking a straight up, one-for-one swap of Dozier and top pitching prospect Jose De Leon. The Twins, meanwhile, have understandably been insistent on the inclusion of at least one more well-regarded prospect. The Dodgers “haven’t blinked,” however, according to Neal. That lines up with this week’s report from FanRag’s Jon Heyman that the Dodgers aren’t willing to include any of Cody Bellinger, Yadier Alvarez or Walker Buehler alongside De Leon in a trade to acquire Dozier.
Other teams to express interest in Dozier at some point this winter include the Giants, Cardinals, Nationals and Braves, per Neal. However, there’s been very little chatter surrounding the Giants’ interest in recent weeks, while reports out of St. Louis and out of D.C. have suggested that interest from those teams may be somewhat overstated. ESPN’s Mark Saxon reported earlier this week that while the Cardinals may have some interest, they’re not actively pursuing Dozier. More recently, he tweeted that the Cardinals’ reported interest was part of the Twins’ effort “to extract max value from the Dodgers.” Meanwhile, Chelsea Janes from the Washington Post reported this week that any inquiries made on the Nationals’ behalf haven’t been serious in nature.
Atlanta hasn’t been mentioned too often as a potential landing spot for Dozier, though there’s certainly a reasonable fit there. Jace Peterson projects as the everyday second baseman at the moment, but Dozier’s bat would represent a marked upgrade. Adding Dozier would run somewhat counter to many of the Braves’ recent maneuverings on the trade market, which have generally taken a more long-term focus, though Atlanta did send three mid-level prospects to the Cardinals to acquire Jaime Garcia. Of course, Dozier would require top-tier young talent, and there’s been no indication that the Braves are willing to deal that type of talent for shorter-term gains.
While it’s certainly possible that one of these teams steps up and makes an offer to rival the Dodgers, or that another surprise suitor emerges from the woodwork, it seems that the likeliest scenario for a Dozier trade would simply be for the Twins and Dodgers to find a common ground. Neal notes that if the Twins were going to pull the trigger on a one-for-one swap, Dozier would’ve been dealt by now, which indicates that a trade would probably require L.A. to improve its current offer.
Considering the fact that Dozier is controlled for another two seasons at a total of $15MM, the Twins don’t need to simply take the best offer that someone puts on the table. While many point to Dozier’s prodigious second half in 2016, he’s somewhat quietly been a very good player for Minnesota over the past four seasons, averaging 4.1 fWAR and 4.5 rWAR per year in that time. The Twins could well hold onto Dozier until the trade deadline, when a larger market for his services — due to injuries to and/or underperformance from second basemen around the league –could emerge. Of course, in doing so, they run the risk that Dozier has another poor start to the season, as he did in 2016, or that he incurs an injury himself.
In the wake of Edwin Encarnacion’s signing, there are now a whole lot of power hitters who could be next in line to sign. That situation provides much of the impetus behind the latest notes column from Jon Heyman of Fan Rag. You’ll want to read the whole thing to get his full take on the market, but here are a few notable items of information:
- The Athletics’ entry into the chase for Encarnacion helped push the action that led to his signing, per Heyman. Oakland proposed two separate scenarios, he notes, one of which would’ve been a straight two-year, $50MM deal and the other of which would have tacked on a third-year option in exchange for an opt-out clause. Before those offers pushed the Indians to boost their own deal, Encarnacion had been fielding many less-desirable possible arrangements. Indeed, the Blue Jays were mostly engaged with their former star on one-year possibilities most recently, Heyman notes.
- With Encarnacion now off to Cleveland, the many remaining sluggers will be looking to land with a variety of other suitors. Heyman suggests that the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Rangers are all “very likely” to add bats, while listing a number of other teams that could get involved as well. That includes the Rays, Giants, Phillies, White Sox, Angels, and Rockies, each of whom has at least some interest in the remaining market.
- Mark Trumbo is probably now the player with the highest earning capacity who has yet to sign, but his landing spot remains hard to peg. Beyond the Orioles and Rockies, Heyman says, “a couple more opportunities may have cropped up” of late.
- It seems unlikely that the Blue Jays will punt a pick to sign Jose Bautista (which they’d technically be doing, as they’d no longer be in line for the comp pick they stand to gain when he signs elsewhere), he adds, even if he’s now available on a one-year pact. Toronto does need to make some outfield additions, though, and Heyman writes that the club has kept tabs on free agents Michael Saunders and Brandon Moss, along with “many others.” The Orioles are also said to have interest in Saunders, as has been suggested previously, and Heyman suggests that the Phillies — who’d prefer to add a lefty bat — have some interest in Moss.
- Mike Napoli was said to be seeking a three-year deal earlier this winter, but this report now indicates that he’s seeking a two-year contract, which seems quite a bit more plausible. The Rangers are reportedly a “strong possibility” for Napoli, though Heyman notes the possibility of the ever-popular “mystery team” in Napoli’s market, suggesting that Napoli has at least one suitor that has yet to be linked to him publicly.
- While the Dodgers are willing to give up Jose De Leon in a trade that would net them Brian Dozier from the Twins, they’re not willing to include first base prospect Cody Bellinger or well-regarded right-handed pitching prospects Yadier Alvarez or Walker Buehler alongside De Leon. Heyman writes that some clubs feel the Dodgers are being “stingy” with their prospects and overvaluing their minor league talent, though as he points out, that approach worked to their benefit with regards to Corey Seager and Julio Urias (although none of the names listed are as well-regarded as that pair was).
- In addition to Jered Weaver, veteran right-handers Jake Peavy and Colby Lewis are on the Padres’ radar. Peavy would love the opportunity to return to San Diego, where he established himself as a star and won the 2007 National League Cy Young Award. I’ll point out that Lewis, too, has some connections to the Padres, as GM A.J. Preller was in the Rangers’ front office when Lewis returned from Japan and cemented himself as a Major League-caliber arm.