The Nationals, Astros, Red Sox, Rangers and Braves are at the forefront of the Chris Sale market, reports FanRag’s Jon Heyman in his latest notes column. However, an exec with one of those clubs that spoke to Heyman still said he’s not sure that Sale is moved at all due to the exorbitant nature of the White Sox’ asking price. The Nationals, for instance, have been asked for Trea Turner as part of the package but have balked at the idea, Heyman notes, with one Washington source calling the budding star “too valuable” to part with. It’s similarly difficult to envision a player like Alex Bregman or Dansby Swanson being moved for Sale as well. The White Sox do like Dodgers prospect Cody Bellinger, writes Heyman, but L.A. has yet to show a significant inclination to pursue Sale, he adds. (And, from my vantage point, the Dodgers would need to add quite a bit more than Bellinger to a Sale package anyhow.)
- FanRag’s Jon Heyman tweets that Rangers prospect Joey Gallo is now represented by agent Scott Boras. Gallo has yet to establish himself in the Majors and has continued to post alarming strikeout totals to go along with his enormous power, but it should also be stressed that he he also only just turned 23 in mid-November. Gallo has received 80 grades on his power in scouting reports in recent years but will need to improve his contact skills to better tap into that ability, as he whiffed in nearly 35 percent of his plate appearances last year in Triple-A. Still, given his youth, there’s time for some improvement in that area, as even in his second tour through Triple-A this past year, he was more than four years younger than his average opponent. Third base no longer looks like a potential long-term home for Gallo in Texas due to the two-year extension signed by fellow Boras client Adrian Beltre, but the slugger could land across the diamond at first base and also see some time at DH in the next couple of years.
3:22pm: Pittsburgh is “actively shopping” McCutchen and “pursuing specific teams” it believes match up, per Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In addition to the Nats and Rangers, the Pirates have spoken with the Mariners about a deal, per the report.
The Bucs “are looking primarily for prospects” in return for their long-time star. In the meantime, the team is also checking in with other teams on possible outfield trade targets, per Nesbitt’s colleague Bill Brink (via Twitter).
1:06pm: Andrew McCutchen’s name has been in the rumor circuit quite a bit this winter, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that “of all the big names available in trade, McCutchen might be the most likely to go.” Similarly, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reports that the odds of McCutchen returning to the Pirates in 2017 are “dwindling,” adding that the Bucs don’t have an ownership mandate to move McCutchen but nonetheless appear intent on doing so (Twitter links).
Pittsburgh is continuing to explore trade scenarios involving McCutchen, Rosenthal writes, and the Nationals remain interested after being unable to work out a deal to acquire McCutchen this past July. The Rangers, according to Rosenthal’s column, are another potential landing spot. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News expounds on numerous reasons that the Rangers profile as a poor fit for McCutchen — they’d like better defense in center, can’t part with an MLB asset like Rougned Odor or Nomar Mazara and lack the upper-level pitching talent the Bucs may covet — though the Pirates are also chatting with other clubs, Rosenthal notes.
McCutchen’s 2016 performance fell considerably shy of his sky-high standards on both sides of the ball, as he batted a pedestrian .256/.336/.430 and posted a -28 rating in Defensive Runs Saved and -18.7 in Ultimate Zone Rating. While the Pirates reportedly feel that McCutchen was positioned too shallow in 2016, thus accounting for some of the defensive downturn, Grant points out that both DRS and UZR have been down on the former NL MVP’s glovework for the past three seasons. Complicating matters for the Pirates, Rosenthal continues, is the fact that McCutchen has both publicly and privately expressed that he doesn’t want to move off of his natural position. The 30-year-old told MLB.com’s Adam Berry at season’s end that he “[doesn’t] see [himself] needing to move.”
McCutchen is entering the final guaranteed year of a six-year, $51.5MM contract extension that he signed prior to the 2012 season and is owed a $14MM salary next year. His contract also contains a $14.5MM club option that comes with a reasonable $1MM buyout. From that vantage point, McCutchen is eminently affordable (from a financial perspective) for nearly any team in Major League Baseball. For a player that batted .313/.404/.523 while averaging 25 homers and 19 steals per season from 2013-15, that’s certainly an appealing price tag, even if he’s coming off a down season.
The problem, however, is that it might be difficult to coerce teams into trading top-tier talent in exchange for the right to buy low on a once-MVP-caliber player. If there’s a concern among any interested team that McCutchen’s 2016 season was the beginning of a genuine decline at the plate and they feel he also needs to move to a corner spot, then parting with top-ranked minor league talent is a tall order. And that does seem to be the Pirates’ intent, as Rosenthal reported earlier this month that the Pirates asked the Nationals for outfield prospect Victor Robles — one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball — in their July talks regarding McCutchen. That’s exactly who Pittsburgh is currently targeting, Rosenthal reports (Twitter links), with the team also seeking additional pieces (possibly including an upper-level pitching prospect) in a package.
If the Pirates do find a trade partner for McCutchen, it’d free them to move Starling Marte to center field, thereby upgrading the team’s defense. That’d create a hole in left field, but the Bucs could of course pursue an affordable stopgap to top prospect Austin Meadows, who could be ready to break into the Majors next summer. There’s no shortage of teams looking for help in the outfield, as the Orioles, Blue Jays, Giants, Dodgers, Phillies and Mariners are among the teams that could theoretically use an upgrade (in addition to the aforementioned Nationals and Rangers). Moving to acquire a player that might not be keen on shifting to a corner spot (where some of those teams would have to play him), though, just adds another layer of complexity in addition to agreeing on a price point for a player on whom the Pirates certainly would like to avoid selling low.
There are four teams heavily pursuing free-agent lefty Rich Hill, according to ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden. The Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, and Astros are all said to be chasing down a pitcher who is arguably the best available on this year’s market. Also joining pursuit are the Red Sox and Orioles, per the report, though it seems their interest is less robust.
We’ve heard plenty of chatter about the possibility of the Yankees making a move on Hill, and the Dodgers likewise have long been said to have interest in a reunion. The AL West-rival Rangers and Astros, though, have not been tied as closely — in part, perhaps, since both have already signed starters — though MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes listed both as plausible suitors in his top-fifty free agent list. Meanwhile, the two AL East teams mentioned seemingly have fully stocked rotations, though surely both could stand to upgrade in the right situation.
Hill is coming off of an outstanding age-36 season. While he was limited to 110 1/3 innings, owing to a blister, the veteran southpaw recorded a sensational 2.12 ERA with 10.5 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. While there was justifiable skepticism last winter, following Hill’s four excellent, late-season starts in the prior campaign, he now seems worth pursuing as a possible top-of-the-rotation arm.
There’s plenty of reason to tamper contract expectations, of course. Even if one accepts that Hill can continue to mow down opposing hitters, he’s not young and comes with a long history of injuries. And it’s certainly possible that he’s in line for some regression in the earned-run department after limiting opposing hitters to just 0.33 home runs per nine innings a season ago.
Though he essentially uses just two pitches, Hill has baffled the opposition with a heater that barely averages 90 mph and a breaking ball that he can manipulate at will. And the recent results aren’t just a batted-ball-fortune fluke; he was credited with a 2.39 FIP, 3.36 xFIP, and 3.29 SIERA in 2016. With no other true impact starters available on the open market, and despite the obvious questions, MLBTR predicts that he’ll command a $50MM guarantee over three seasons.
- The Astros and Rangers still look like the class of the AL West, in Rosenthal’s opinion, though both teams still have clear needs — Houston needs to add another starting pitcher, while Texas has holes to fill in its everyday roster due to several free agents.
- Andrew Cashner is an improvement over the departing Derek Holland in the Rangers’ rotation, Kevin Sherrington of SportsDayDFW.com opines. Cashner, who the Rangers recently signed to a one-year/$10MM deal, has much better velocity, and the loss of zip on Holland’s fastball makes him vulnerable. Also, as MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan previously noted, Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail believes he can “fix” Cashner.
- Executives with interested teams are beginning to get the sense that Carlos Beltran’s market is coming down to the Yankees, Astros and Red Sox, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The Rangers, too, could be “lurking” in the background and contemplating a more earnest attempt to retain him, although WEEI’s Rob Braford reported that Texas wasn’t in the running as of last week. Though he turns 40 next April, Beltran obviously enjoyed a strong 2016 season split between the Yankees and Rangers. The Yankees and Red Sox have the clearest paths to playing time for him, from my vantage point, as the Astros also have Evan Gattis on a guaranteed $5.2MM salary to spend a considerable amount of time at DH. However, if the Astros are comfortable deploying Gattis more sparingly or giving Beltran some time in the outfield, the fit could still work. And, of course, it’s never bad to have significant significant depth options.
The Rangers announced on Tuesday that they’ve claimed lefty reliever David Rollins off waivers from the Cubs. Chicago had claimed Rollins off waivers from the Mariners last week and unsuccessfully attempted to sneak him through waivers.
[Related: Updated Texas Rangers Depth Chart]
The claim by Texas is a mild surprise, as the Rangers passed on claiming Rollins last week when the lefty fell to the Cubs in waiver priority. However, the Rangers now have a clearer picture of their 40-man roster after making some determinations in advance of the Rule 5 Draft. Texas may yet attempt to sneak Rollins through waivers themselves in similar fashion, though that’s just speculation on my behalf.
The 26-year-old Rollins (27 next month) is a former Rule 5 pick himself. Seattle selected him out of the Astros organization back in 2014, and Rollins wound up receiving an 80-game PED suspension before he threw a pitch for the Mariners during the regular season. In a bizarre way, that helped the Mariners keep him in the organization, though their selection of Rollins ultimately never paid dividends anyhow. The former 24th-round pick has a 7.60 ERA in 34 innings with the Mariners across the past two seasons and has averaged 7.1 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9 with a 41.9 percent ground-ball rate. He’s been rather unlucky, as evidenced by a .379 BABIP, but even the most optimistic ERA estimator pegs him in the mid-4.00s (4.41 SIERA). Rollins does have minor league options remaining, so if he’s able to survive the offseason on Texas’ 40-man roster, the team could option him and use him as a depth piece in the ’pen next year.
Several young Rangers prospects have been investigated by Dominican police after a reported sexual assault occurred in a hazing incident a few months ago. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported on the matter recently, with Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports providing additional information today. At this time, no charges have been filed, but Passan notes that prosecutors have stated an intention to do so with regard to four players. The Rangers organization reported the matter to Major League Baseball, which placed the players on administrative leave.
- The Rangers announced a series of front office moves in the wake of the departure of former assistant GM Thad Levine. As Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News explains, the organization promoted a trio of executives to AGM posts. Mike Daly, previously the player development director, will most directly step into Levine’s shoes. Josh Boyd will take charge of professional scouting, research and development, and the team’s operations in the Pacific region. And Jayce Tingler, who was previously a uniformed coach (most recently, major league field coordinator), will take charge of player development.
MONDAY: The deal is now official, per a club announcement.
FRIDAY: The Rangers are nearing a deal with free agent righty Andrew Cashner, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). It’s expected to be for a one-year term at $10MM, per MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan (Twitter links), who says the deal appears to be done.
If a pact is completed, it would make Cashner the fourth rather significant starter to reach agreement already this winter. Charlie Morton, Bartolo Colon, and R.A. Dickey all previously agreed to short-term pacts.
Texas was one of the organizations that made the clearest sense for Cashner, as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes noted in his breakdown of the top fifty free agents — which placed Cashner 28th in earning power but predicted he’d pursue a one-year deal with hopes of rebuilding his stock for next winter. While we ultimately guessed that he’d head instead to the Pirates with an $8MM guarantee, this result certainly lands within range of expectations.
Cashner, 30, will look to get his career back on track in his native Texas. He delivers a big-time fastball and has long been seen as a premium talent. It’s important to remember, too, that he has been a quality big league starter before: over 2013-14, he worked to a 2.87 ERA in nearly 300 innings. But he hasn’t been able to sustain that, and the last two seasons have been rough.
Since the start of 2015, Cashner has compiled 316 2/3 innings with an ugly 4.72 ERA. His strikeouts did tick up to 7.9 per nine, but he has also walked 3.6 batters and surrendered more than a home run per regulation game. Things only got worse after a mid-season trade to the Marlins last year.
That being said, there are signs of hope. Cashner still induces grounders on nearly half of the balls put in play against him, and has been a victim of both high BABIPs (.330 and .315 in 2016 and 2017, respectively) and low strand rates (65.6% and 69.1%). Of course, this past year in particular, the quality of contact against him may have been more of a driving factor than poor fortune or bad defense. He generated just 12.5% soft contact in 2016 — worst in all of baseball among pitchers who logged at least 100 frames.
[RELATED: Updated Rangers Depth Chart]
It’s a calculated risk for the Rangers, who evidently felt that Cashner offered more promise than did Derek Holland. The club declined its option over the lefty, choosing to reallocate those funds to Cashner. Texas will surely hope that he’ll make good on the trust, as the organization still has a rather uncertain outlook in its rotation after top two hurlers Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. At a minimum, the team needs Cashner to soak up some of the innings departing with Colby Lewis.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Photos.