- On Wednesday, the White Sox shipped ace lefty Chris Sale to the Red Sox in exchange for a heralded foursome of prospects. That swap, and its build-up, dominated the headlines at the Winter Meetings. Boston president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski discussed the process that led to the move in an excellent interview with Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. He not only provided an interesting account of the information gathering and processing that goes on at the Winter Meetings, as teams jockey for position and look to arrange fits on trades and signings, but went into the details on the pursuit of Sale. The sides built off of their prior “preliminary conversations,” and honed in on an agreement late Tuesday night as the sides began to line up on the complementary pieces that would go to Chicago along with the two headlining prospects (Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech). Momentum seemingly began to build as early as Friday, before the meetings kicked off, as Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com explains. It was at that point that White Sox GM Rick Hahn notified Dombrowski that he’d be willing to consider a different sort of return — presumably, top minor leaguers rather than young MLB assets — than had been discussed over the summer. The Nationals and Astros also dangled significant pieces; Hahn notes that “there were similar-type players being offered from other clubs,” leading to “a level of excitement in that room as we debated which was the best path for us.”
- Before pulling the trigger on Eaton, the Nationals at least checked in with the Rockies on center fielder Charlie Blackmon, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). While that obviously won’t be a match at this point, and the Cardinals no longer appear to be a possible suitor after signing Dexter Fowler, it remains to be seen whether Colorado will look hard at a deal involving one of its best players. The team made a notable free-agent splash by adding Ian Desmond, with reports suggesting that he’ll spend time at first base, but it still seems to make sense for the organization to consider addressing other needs — most notably, in the pitching staff — by exploring deals for Blackmon or one of its other left-handed-hitting outfielders. (Last we heard, a trade remains a real possibility; while the team is said to be holding some extension talks with Carlos Gonzalez, those reportedly haven’t progressed, so he too remains a plausible candidate.)
While the Cardinals have already made two significant additions via free agency, they could consider a third, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis is expected to consider free agents Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo, both of whom exited the Winter Meetings without a contract. Either of those players would presumably factor at first base for the Cards, if they are ultimately pursued. Though the team has said it intends to utilize Matt Carpenter there, he could theoretically shift back to third base if one of those big bats were to be added. (Matt Adams also remains on hand, though the organization already has signaled that it will not use him as a regular option at first with Carpenter’s position change.) Of course, both Encarnacion and Trumbo are somewhat questionable targets for a National League team, since both could well need to shift to a pure DH role at some point in the coming years. Unsurprisingly, then, it seems the Cardinals’ interest may be limited to a scenario where Encarnacion or Trumbo is forced to consider a shorter-term pact, ESPN.com’s Mark Saxon notes on Twitter.
- The most recent Cardinals’ signing was a five-year arrangement with center fielder Dexter Fowler. It’s a sensible deal from the team’s perspective, Keith Law of ESPN.com opines (Insider link). Fowler’s high-OBP bat is a perfect fit for the lineup, Law writes, and he steps right in at a position of obvious need. While Law argues that Fowler came at a solid value, even with a $82.5MM guarantee, the Cards surely would’ve preferred to spend less. But that became nearly impossible when Ian Desmond signed with the Rockies and Adam Eaton went to the Nationals via trade, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag notes on Twitter. St. Louis had been pursuing Desmond along with Fowler, and its hand was forced somewhat by those other moves.
- St. Louis seems inclined to continue focusing on the free-agent market rather than pursuing major trades, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch writes. GM John Mozeliak explains that the organization remains loath to part with talented young righty Alex Reyes. After him, he suggests, “maybe we just didn’t have that next tier [of prospects] that was good enough to compete with some of the names being bantered about.” This prospect “gap,” as Mozeliak terms it, would have forced the team either to sacrifice Reyes or a number of other youngsters to find significant upgrades via trade. “The problem you start to run into there is then quantity, and how much are you willing to part with if you’re not willing to move Reyes?” Mozeliak explained. “And that can be a pretty big hit from a volume standpoint. We finally got this system up to where we have some confidence in it. And to move four or five players from there, that would be hard to do.”
1:24pm: The Nationals tried to expand the Eaton deal to include Robertson, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets. The White Sox turned them down, however, so the two sides will discuss a Robertson deal as a separate proposition.
11:05am: Here’s the latest on the Nationals’ hunt for a closer, with details trickling in from various reporters, including MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. A new entry to the list of possible closers the Nationals are considering: David Robertson, who Zuckerman says the Nats have discussed with the White Sox. The White Sox are by now very familiar with the Nationals’ farm system after the Adam Eaton deal and the Chris Sale negotiations, so one might think the two sides could piece together a deal if there are additional prospects the White Sox like. At last check, though, the White Sox planned to wait to see where Kenley Jansen landed before striking a deal.
As with the Cubs’ deal for Wade Davis, trading for Robertson (who has two years and $25MM left on his contract) could be a way for the Nationals to avoid paying the exorbitant prices top closers like Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon have received on the open market, and that Jansen will likely receive. Robertson is, however, coming off a modestly disappointing season in which he posted a 3.47 ERA and a healthy 10.8 K/9, but with 4.6 BB/9. Robertson can block trades to five teams, but according to Cot’s Contracts, the Nationals are not among them.
As previously noted, the Nats did bid on Jansen, and they met with Jansen’s representatives this week. They join the Marlins and Dodgers in pursuit of the star closer. They’ve also talked with the Rays about a deal for Alex Colome. The 27-year-old Colome just had a brilliant 1.91 ERA, 11.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 season while saving 37 games for Tampa Bay. Acquiring Colome would likely require a steeper prospect price than acquiring Robertson, however, due to his low cost and four years of control remaining.
- The conventional wisdom was that the Nationals paid too heavily for Adam Eaton this week, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post writes. One key to the trade from the Nationals’ perspective, though, is that the organization had changed its mind about Lucas Giolito, with one team official telling Svrluga, “He’s not going to be what I thought he was going to be.” Also, Eaton (who is controllable for the next five years) offered the Nationals a long-term outfield solution that Andrew McCutchen wouldn’t have — McCutchen would have been eligible for free agency after the 2018 season, at the same time as Bryce Harper, and the Nats would have been forced to address two outfield positions at once.
THURSDAY, 12:39pm: If the Marlins don’t land Jansen, they could turn to another free agent, Neftali Feliz, according to MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro (on Twitter). The 28-year-old Feliz is coming off a good year with the Pirates (3.52 ERA, 10.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9) and has closing experience. He should also be considerably cheaper than Jansen.
7:50am: Rival executives don’t expect the Dodgers to match the Marlins’ offer, per Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times (Twitter link).
7:15am: The Nationals are now “making a push” for Jansen, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (Twitter links). However, the Nats are “uncomfortable” with the financial commitment it would take to land him, tweets Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. The club has previously used deferrals as a way to help sign big-money players like Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but that’s unlikely to work this time, per Rosenthal.
WEDNESDAY: The Marlins have made an offer of five years and more than $80MM to free agent closer Kenley Jansen, Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan tweets. The Marlins were reportedly the runners-up to acquire Aroldis Chapman, who agreed to a five-year, $86MM deal with the Yankees late tonight. Now, with Chapman off the table, it appears they’re trying to lure Jansen with a similarly huge offer. Barring an unforeseen turn of events, Jansen seems likely to pick the Marlins (where he’d be reunited with former manager Don Mattingly and teammates Dee Gordon and A.J. Ellis) or re-sign with the Dodgers.
Jansen doesn’t have Chapman’s spectacular velocity, but he’s a dominating reliever in his own right — he’s coming off a season in which he posted a 1.83 ERA, 13.6 K/9 and an incredibly low 1.4 BB/9 in 68 2/3 innings with the Dodgers. He’s had a much quieter career than Chapman has, but there’s no arguing his tremendous career numbers, including a 2.20 ERA, 13.9 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9.
Still, it’s somewhat surprising to hear that he’s received at least one contract offer similar to Chapman’s deal, which broke the previous record for a relief pitcher contract by $24MM. The recent offers he, Chapman and Mark Melancon have received have been stratospheric, reflecting a trend throughout the industry of increasing salaries for dominant relievers.
It’s also somewhat odd that the Marlins (who won just 79 games last season and recently lost former ace Jose Fernandez under tragic circumstances) are ready to make such an enormous investment in a closer, even a great one. Jansen, who rejected a qualifying offer from the Dodgers, would also cost the Marlins their top 2017 draft pick, No. 13 overall.
- Before acquiring Adam Eaton, the Nationals spoke to the Reds about a trade involving center fielder Billy Hamilton, ESPN’s Jayson Stark writes. The Nats came away feeling, though, that the Reds are in no rush to make a deal. As we noted yesterday, the Reds believe Hamilton hasn’t peaked yet and would have a hard time replacing his defense. For the Nats, a Hamilton trade surely wouldn’t have been the blockbuster deal the Eaton one was — Hamilton’s speed obviously is spectacular, but his struggles to hit surely would have limited his value. He also has only three years of control remaining, compared to Eaton’s five.
Before the Nationals acquired Adam Eaton from the White Sox, the Pirates nearly traded Andrew McCutchen to Washington for Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning and a third player, Jon Heyman of FanRag writes (Twitter links). The Pirates now expect to keep McCutchen, who will be at PirateFest in Pittsburgh Saturday. They will also move McCutchen from center field to a corner outfield spot.
Giolito and Dunning, of course, formed two-thirds of the White Sox’ return for Eaton, with another pitcher, Reynaldo Lopez, also heading Chicago’s way. The possibility of the Pirates dealing McCutchen to the Nationals had loomed for the past several weeks, although it became clear yesterday that the Nationals would not trade top outfield prospect Victor Robles for McCutchen or anyone else who wasn’t Chris Sale, who the Nats had just lost out on. It’s unclear whether Robles’ absence from the deal was the reason the McCutchen trade never happened, however.
8:34pm: The Astros did, in fact, talk to the White Sox about Quintana, but have found the White Sox’ price to be too steep, Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle writes. Kaplan notes that it’s unclear whether the Astros would have to give up Bregman to get Quintana, but notes that he doesn’t want to part with players who could help the Astros next season. “We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done,” says GM Jeff Luhnow.
The Braves also asked about Quintana and thought the White Sox’ price was too high, writes David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The problem seems to be that the Braves don’t feel Quintana is as valuable as Sale was, even though Quintana is controllable for an extra year. “We don’t have needs in starting pitching,” says GM John Coppolella. “Do we want a No. 1 starter, is Chris Sale a No. 1 starter? Yes. Do we want Jose Quintana? I don’t think Jose Quintana is Chris Sale.”
8:51am: A day after trading Chris Sale to the Red Sox, the White Sox are now “in serious talks” with multiple teams about their other star left-hander Jose Quintana, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports (Twitter link). The Astros and Nationals are two of the clubs involved in discussions.
The Astros were rumored to have interest in Sale, but Houston’s refusal to include Alex Bregman in any trade likely removed them from the bidding, given how Chicago was looking for only elite prospects for Sale (like maybe the game’s best prospect in Yoan Moncada). The White Sox undoubtedly want quite a bit for Quintana as well, though their demands could be closer to the Astros’ comfort zone.
Houston has heavily bolstered its lineup this offseason with the additions of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick, though Charlie Morton has been the only new face brought into a rotation that fell short of expectations in 2016. The Astros have been creatively both shopping starters (Mike Fiers and Collin McHugh) while also looking at upgrades; in particular, Houston has often been linked to the Rays’ pitchers in trade talks, even dating back to last summer’s trade deadline.
The Nationals’ interest in Quintana is a bit harder to gauge. While Nightengale and FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman have both reported that the Nats were in on Quintana, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes have reported that Washington was only specifically interested in Sale, not in any other starting pitchers. While the Nationals have a very good rotation already, Quintana (and his team-friendly contract that is extendable through 2020) could still be an upgrade. Stephen Strasburg can opt out of his deal after the 2019 season, Gio Gonzalez is only controllable via a club option through 2018 and the Nats might simply see Quintana as a more proven commodity than youngster Joe Ross. In fact, a controllable young starter like Ross would be a potential fit for a Quintana trade package.
While often overshadowed by Sale in Chicago, Quintana has rather quietly been a very durable and effective pitcher over his five years with the White Sox. Quintana has a 3.41 ERA, 3.20 K/BB rate, 7.4 K/9 over 951 career innings, and over the last four seasons, he has generated 18.2 fWAR and averaged 204 innings per year. An early-career extension has made Quintana even more of a valuable commodity, as he is owed just $14.35MM through 2018, plus $10.5MM club options for both 2019 and 2020 (with $1MM buyouts in each year).
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo addressed his club’s acquisition of Adam Eaton from the White Sox, which cost a trio of quality pitching prospects. Eaton, who just turned 28, is controllable for five years at the reasonable rate of $38.4MM (the last two seasons via option). Here are a few highlights from the press conference:
Rizzo emphasized the importance of the flexibility that Eaton brings to the organization. Whether or not it opens the team to spend more money to add in other areas remains to be seen, but that certainly appears to be one possibility. The team’s “decisions aren’t made in a vacuum,” noted Rizzo. Eaton, he said, “gives us flexibility both positionally [and] flexibility payroll-wise,” which “puts us in position to do a lot of things.”
The contract and rate was obviously important, but Rizzo emphasized that Eaton himself was the driving consideration. Rizzo spoke glowingly of Eaton’s all-around game, explaining that he has a grinder’s approach, good contact skills, “sneaky pop,” and situational awareness at the plate. It helps, too, that Eaton is palatable against lefties, as Rizzo noted, though he fares much better in the on-base department (.359 career OBP) than with power (.352 slugging). All told, said Rizzo, “we think the arrow offensively is going up.”
Washington further believes that Eaton “also makes us better in the clubhouse” and “gives us a little edge and excitement at the ballpark,” in Rizzo’s words. And Eaton also rates as a quality defender, in the team’s estimation. “In the short term he’s certainly capable of playing center field very well,” said Rizzo. “And he’s an outstanding corner outfielder.” The strong-armed performer could, at least in theory, end up moving to a corner after the 2017 season, when Jayson Werth will hit the open market.
All told, the decision wasn’t quite as difficult internally as it might have seemed. “It was one of the few times in the draft room, in the war room where the analytical information matched up with the scouting eye, and it was a decision in the room that was very easy for us to make, to determine that this was the player, at this time, with that skillset, with the control, where at that price was the right guy for us to do it,” said Rizzo.
The veteran executive went on to note, interestingly, that Eaton also “gave [the Nationals] the most value for the players we were giving up.” Sacrificing Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning surely hurt, but that quote seemingly hints that the Nationals had identified certain hurlers as expendable. He emphasized that the team “traded from a position of depth,” using its arms to “fill a hole in our lineup” while still maintaining “the depth that we have in the major league rotation.”
In that regard, said Rizzo, “this deal was built around asset allocation.” Calling it a “win-win” arrangement, he characterized the White Sox’ side of the swap as a package of “good, potential upside players.” In return for parting with that still-to-be-developed talent, the Nats’ GM says they “got ourselves a good, young, skillful player that we control at below-market values for five seasons.”
Though Rizzo was disinclined to say whether the move meant that Trea Turner would take over for Danny Espinosa at short, that seems to be the only logical conclusion at the moment. Barring a surprise move involving Werth, he and Bryce Harper are expected to man the corners, and the remainder of the infield is otherwise spoken for, making for a rather clear, regular alignment in which Eaton plays center and Turner handles short. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that D.C. will deal Espinosa. He’s still a quality defender with a powerful (albeit strikeout-prone) switch-hitting bat, and still seemingly fits on the roster unless there’s a desire to re-allocate his payroll.
There’s been plenty of talk about Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen over the past 24 hours. At least four teams (the Yankees, Marlins, Dodgers and Nationals) appear to be in the mix for top-tier closers, and the Yankees have reportedly made offers to both (though Chapman is their top target). There’s also been word of a $92MM offer to Chapman (via USA Today’s Bob Nightengale), as noted in yesterday’s roundup of rumors surrounding the market’s top two closers. We’ll keep track of the latest on this pair today as they move toward setting records for relievers…
- “Everyone is waiting on Chapman” to make a decision, a source tells ESPN’s Jayson Stark. The idea is that Chapman’s deal will set the market for Jansen. One of the teams pursuing Chapman expects him to sign somewhere within 24 hours, although Stark cautions that the exact timetable for Chapman’s signing isn’t known. Both the Yankees and Marlins have made five-year offers to Chapman, Stark writes.
- After acquiring Adam Eaton, the Nationals would like their next move to be a Chapman acquisition, Nightengale tweets. The Nationals, of course, are short a closer after the departure of Mark Melancon to San Francisco.
- There’s an “increasing sense” among teams in the market for top-tier closers that both Jansen and Chapman are nearing a decision, reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (on Twitter).
- Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald tweets that Marlins manager Don Mattingly has reached out to Jansen to gauge his level of interest in coming to Miami. He’s also done the same with veteran backstop A.J. Ellis, in whom the Marlins are said to have interest. Mattingly managed both Jansen and Ellis with the Dodgers, which could influence their decision process to some extent. Nightengale tweets that Jansen told Mattingly he is definitely open to the possibility of pitching in Miami.