The Braves don’t seem to have interest in bringing Brandon Phillips back to his hometown team, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Twitter link). Phillips spent the first five months of the 2017 season with the Braves, hitting .291/.329/.423 over 499 PA before his production fell off after an August 31 deal to the Angels. Atlanta is known to be looking for veteran stop-gap options at third base until prospect Austin Riley is ready, and Phillips already moved to the hot corner last season to accommodate Ozzie Albies’ promotion to the big leagues. There hasn’t been any hot stove buzz about Phillips this winter, as the 36-year-old looks to catch on for his 17th MLB season.
Though a few of the Braves’ relief targets have signed elsewhere, GM Alex Anthopoulos has an interesting contingency plan. An article by David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reveals that Atlanta is apparently willing to utilize some of their young upside starters as relievers early on in their careers, if the team can’t add the type of bullpen arms they’re looking for through free agency. “We’ve explored it. A long time ago, starters would break in as relievers,” Anthopoulos says. “It’s something that’s come up internally in our conversations. It’s not something we’re planning on doing right now, but at least it’s been discussed, in light of the market for relievers and the price points right now.” Anthopoulos also notes that the relief market has been “continually strong the last two or three years.” The piece also details the GM’s thoughts on calling up Ronald Acuna. It’s great insight for Braves fans.
Some other items from across the NL East…
- Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes that the Braves could seek short-term rotation help this offseason in order to “satisfy their desire to add experience to their inexperienced rotation.” While there might be a desire in the future to “strike a big deal for a legit ace,” Anthopoulos hints that he’d like to take some of the workload off their younger arms. Bowman mentions Wade Miley as one example of a pitcher who could be had on a one-year contract.
- While the Mets have been linked to Jay Bruce, Anthony DiComo of MLB.com reports (via Twitter) that the club doesn’t appear to be “warm” on any player in the outfield or first base market. Rather, they seem to be focused on second base as their top priority. One notable Mets target at that position already came off the market when the Angels acquired Ian Kinsler from the Tigers. The second base market does have other options, and the Mets have been linked to of Jason Kipnis of the Indians recently.
- Though it’s not clear what position Nationals outfielder Victor Robles will play in 2018, GM Mike Rizzo says he’ll be an everyday player (via Pete Kerzel of MASNsports.com). Rizzo further specifies that if there isn’t a spot for him in the Majors, the Nats’ top prospect will begin the season at Triple-A. It would seem as though the latter is the most likely scenario, considering Washington has Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor ticketed for the outfield grass. On the other hand, perhaps Taylor could end up in a part-time role.
- Before the Nationals agreed to terms with Brandon Kintzler on a two-year contract, the team was exploring the possibility of bringing back Matt Albers on a two-year deal, according to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post (Twitter link). Ultimately, nothing ended up coming together. Albers was fantastic for Washington last season; the righty posted a sterling 1.62 ERA and 0.85 WHIP. He struck out 9.30 batters per nine innings against just 2.51 walks.
Looking to improve an already enviable rotation, the Nationals have Rays right-handers Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi on their radar, Jon Heyman of FanRag reports (via Twitter). Either would cost far less in terms of salary than free agent Jake Arrieta will, and Heyman notes that the Nats are unsure if they’d be able to afford Arrieta. Heyman also points to Diamondbacks righty Zack Greinke as a possibility for the Nats; however, he’s not exactly cheap, with $138.5MM coming his way through 2021.
More on the trade front:
- The Tigers “will only entertain lopsided offers” for righty Michael Fulmer, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter link). A trade involving the highly coveted 24-year-old doesn’t look likely, then.
- The Blue Jays are interested in Reds outfielders Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall, per reports from Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet (via Twitter) and Jays Journal. The Braves also have interest in the 29-year-old Duvall, tweets Heyman. Duvall, a 30-home run hitter in each of the previous two seasons, is controllable for the next four years. He won’t be arbitration eligible until next winter.
- The Giants’ own interest in Hamilton continues, but Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets that the chatter with the Reds has “faded significantly” of late. Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer adds on Twitter that the Giants are the most serious suitors for Hamilton, but they’re “at a bit of a standoff” with the Reds. San Francisco still has interest in free agent Jay Bruce, per Rosenthal, and Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that Bruce is the top name on San Francisco’s “wish list.” Still, the club has not made him an offer to this point.
- It’s up in the air whether the Marlins will trade center fielder Christian Yelich. Either way, the Phillies will continue to monitor his availability, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia relays. Meanwhile, they’ve “been aggressive” in shopping shortstop Freddy Galvis, according to Salisbury, who adds (via Twitter) that the Angels “really liked” second baseman Cesar Hernandez before they acquired Ian Kinsler. The Halos didn’t want to meet the Phillies’ asking price for Hernandez, however.
- The Red Sox asked about Marcell Ozuna before the Cardinals acquired him, but they did not have the sort of pitching assets the Marlins were for, Dombrowski told reporters including the Globe’s Peter Abraham (Twitter link.) The Indians also inquired about Ozuna, Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com writes.
- In addition to Chase Headley, the Padres are dangling infielder Yangervis Solarte in chatter with rival organizations, Heyman reports on Twitter. Solarte, 30, is controllable for the next three years at affordable costs (a guaranteed $4MM in 2018 and then club options totaling $13.5MM for 2019-20).
- The Blue Jays were another team with interest in Kinsler before Wednesday’s trade, Nicholson-Smith tweets. Toronto was on Kinsler’s 10-team no-trade list, so it’s unclear how open he’d have been to going there.
There’s plenty of interest in the Marlins outfield even now that it no longer features Giancarlo Stanton. We have heard lots of chatter surrounding Marcell Ozuna already, and there’s yet more intriguing news now emerging on him and teammate Christian Yelich.
The Cardinals are emerging as the favorites from a six to eight team field to land Ozuna, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (Twitter link). Word emerged earlier today that the Cards have interest in sending multiple, controllable outfielders in order to acquire one premium asset, though it’s not yet clear that’s what’s under contemplation. The teams are surely already quite familiar with one another’s feelings on prospects after negotiating over Stanton. And Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who has long noted the Cards’ interest in Ozuna and Yelich, reported earlier today that the sides might also line up on reliever Brad Ziegler.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are also among ten or so teams that have inquired on Yelich, per MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro (via Twitter), reflecting longstanding interest that has been covered in recent weeks. The Braves and Diamondbacks are also in that grouping, he notes. Both of those teams make for interesting potential trade partners; in both cases, the interest is likely driven more by their views on Yelich than need, per se.
Clearly, there’s an interesting interplay here between the markets of these two productive teammates. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post notes on Twitter, Yelich is considered the more desirable asset given his lengthy, team-friendly contract. His report suggests the Fish would prefer to make a deal for Ozuna first, as the organization has given indications it would like to try to find a way to retain Yelich. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out given the multi-faceted considerations at play.
While he only has two years of control remaining and will play at a projected $10.9MM in 2018, Ozuna is fresh off of a monster 2017 season in which he blasted 37 home runs and slashed .312/.376/.548 over 679 plate appearances. That handily outpaced Yelich, whose own .282/.369/.439 batting line represented a step back from an outstanding 2016 season. Still, many around the game are enamored of Yelich’s bat as well as his overall game, so he’s plainly the more valuable trade piece in light of the fact that he can be controlled through 2022. (His contract promises just $44.5MM, including a buyout on a $15MM club option for that ’22 campaign.)
The Padres could play a major role in the market over the next few days, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports writes on Twitter. Indeed, the organization has already made one interesting move today. San Diego is looking around for a controllable shortstop and could conceivably match up with the Cubs, Passan suggests. (From an outside perspective, it seems ace reliever Brad Hand would be the most likely Padres piece to pique Chicago’s interest, but that’s just speculation.) Also, the team’s interest in free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer is seemingly increasingly serious. Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweets that the Friars are “strongly in [the] mix” for Hosmer, while Passan says the sides have gained “traction” in discussions.
Here’s more from the position-player side of the market:
- At this point, at least, the Braves are not engaged on the market for third baseman Mike Moustakas, according to Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio (via Twitter). Atlanta does have interest in improving at the hot corner, but it seems that new GM Alex Anthopoulos is not all that intrigued by the powerful but OBP-challenged Moustakas. Of course, there’s still time for the market to develop.
- Free agent second baseman Neil Walker is still looking for a four-year deal, according to Heyman (via Twitter). That seems like a lofty ask, though, for a 32-year-old player on a market full of possibilities at second. Walker has been a steady producer, to be sure, and finished with a strong .267/.409/.433 run with the Brewers, but with so many other options out there it seems more likely he’ll end up settling for a two or three-year guarantee.
- The Mets have some interest in free agent Mike Napoli, per the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Indeed, the club’s new skipper, Mickey Callaway, has reached out to Napoli to discuss the possibility. (The two share a connection from the Indians.) Presumably, Napoli would share time with Dominic Smith at first base, with the organization arranging a natural platoon pairing and then allowing things to play out based upon performance.
- As the Cardinals continue to seek ways to upgrade after missing on Giancarlo Stanton, they have been scanning the market for alternatives. The team’s preference, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes, is to “turn two of their excess outfielders into one newcomer.” That would seemingly represent a fairly clean way to improve the roster, though of course it will likely also require a rather particular trade partner. It is not difficult to imagine such a team also wishing to receive a sweetener in exchange for giving up a premium asset for volume. There are plenty more details and quotes from the Cards front office in the post.
- The Diamondbacks have been contacted by other organizations about the availability of their middle infielders, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). Arizona certainly has quite some volume of MLB-level options up the middle, though it’s also not entirely clear at this point just which players (if any) have firmly secured places in the club’s long-term plans. It’s possible that market demand could help dictate the decisonmaking process, too, as the organization seeks ways to navigate a tricky payroll situation. Though none of the team’s top middle infielders are very costly, that very feature might allow the D-Backs to bring back equally affordable pieces that meet needs or perhaps structure a package deal to shed other salary. Chris Owings ($3.8MM arb projection) has only two years of control left, while Nick Ahmed ($1.1MM) has three and Daniel Descalso will hit the open market after earning $2MM in 2018. Ketel Marte and Brandon Drury are still shy of arbitration.
New Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos spoke to reporters (including MLB.com’s Mark Bowman and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien) about his team’s offseason shopping list, which includes a third baseman, bullpen help, and a controllable starting pitcher. The “backdrop of everything” with the Braves’ plans, Anthopoulos stressed, is an improved defense. “If we can improve in just one area defensively, we’re going to make 12 or 13 guys on that [pitching staff] a lot better,” the GM said. As Bowman points out, this would seem to hint that Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis could be moved, as both outfielders posted subpar fielding numbers last season. It may still be a while before we see one of Anthopoulos’ signature major trades, however, as he said he is still familiarizing himself with Atlanta’s baseball operations department after only a few weeks on the job. While he wouldn’t rule out some notable moves, “I would say my thought for Year 1 would be a more cautious approach,” Anthopoulos said. He also believed that the Braves’ payroll would likely remain around the $130MM mark.
- With the Braves looking for third base help, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro believes they could at least be open to a trade for the Marlins’ Martin Prado. One would think Miami would have to eat a big chunk of the $28.5MM owed to Prado through 2019 to make any trade involving the veteran work, as Prado was limited to just 37 games last season due to hamstring injuries and knee surgery. The well-respected Prado would be a good leader within a young Atlanta clubhouse, however, and Prado has a long relationship with the Braves after spending his first 10 pro seasons in the organization.
Rays right-hander Chris Archer is drawing widespread interest early in the Winter Meetings, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. The Braves, Brewers, Twins, Cardinals and Cubs are some of the teams eyeing Archer, according to Topkin.
Given that Archer’s one of the most valuable trade chips in the game, his popularity around the majors isn’t a surprise. He’d surely bring back a significant haul in a deal, thereby helping the Rays improve an already strong farm system, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be among the veterans the payroll-cutting club parts with this offseason. If the long-struggling Rays opt for a rebuild, which they may have to strongly consider in the wake of the division-rival Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, it could indeed bring about the end of the 29-year-old Archer’s tenure in Tampa Bay.
Archer has been with the Rays since they acquired him from the Cubs – who, as mentioned, seem to want him back – in a 2011 trade centering on righty Matt Garza. He turned into a front-line starter in 2013, his first full major league season, and has pitched to a 3.63 ERA/3.46 FIP combination with 9.72 K/9 against 2.94 BB/9 in 967 career innings. Archer’s a workhorse, too, having made no fewer than 32 starts four years in a row.
Archer’s now fresh off his third straight 200-inning season, in which he racked up 201 frames with an ERA (4.07) that doesn’t do justice to his performance. After all, the flamethrowing Archer finished behind only Chris Sale, Robbie Ray and the reigning Cy Young winners – Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber – in K/9 (11.15). He also walked a respectable 2.69 batters per nine and placed seventh among starters in swinging-strike rate (13.4 percent).
Archer’s track record on the mound is clearly enticing, and the fact that his contract is among the league’s most team-friendly pacts significantly adds to his value. He’s controllable for the next four years for $34MM, including club options for 2020 and ’21. If the Rays do make an earnest bid to move him, then, it’s likely to spark a bidding war.
Though baseball hasn’t publicly embraced sports science the way it has analytics, the Giants are looking towards that very field as a way to gain an advantage. A fascinating article by Ian MacMahan of The Athletic (subscription required and recommended) provides some insight into the goals of Geoff Head, San Francisco’s newly-promoted assistant director of player development. “Everybody in baseball is tired by August,” Head tells MacMahan. “But if we are a little less fatigued than our opponent, it gives us an advantage.” The field of sports science focuses heavily on factors such as hydration, nutrition, workload and sleep; experts attempt to put together a formula that will keep players performing at their optimal levels as often as possible. According to Dr. Glenn Fleisig, the main difference between sports science and analytics is that sports science focuses on the “physical and medical aspects of a player,” as opposed to gameplay-based statistics. Less than half of all MLB teams currently have a dedicated sports scientist on their staff, and heavier use of sports science data could lead to big improvements by baseball players. As MacMahan puts it, “no one hits a home run sitting in the dugout nursing lead-filled legs and a tight back.”
- Evan Woodbery of mlive.com provides some insight into the questions the Tigers face as the winter meetings commence. Most notably, Woodbery reports that there hasn’t been much buzz surrounding shortstop Jose Iglesias, who will become a free agent after the 2018 season. With no open spots on the 40-man roster, Iglesias is one player Detroit could consider moving in order to take advantage of having the first pick in baseball’s Rule 5 Draft this Thursday (As Woodbery points out, Ian Kinsler could also be on the move before then). Though Iglesias hit just .255/.288/.369 across 489 plate appearances last year, his excellent defense boosted his fWAR to 1.6. Because he’s projected to earn just $5.6MM in his final year of arbitration, there would seem to be some surplus value in his contract.
- Reliever Peter Moylan is generating some interest, specifically from the Royals and Braves (hat tip to Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston). As Drellich notes, Moylan held opposing right-handed hitters to a .161/.244/.236 batting line in 2017 (and may have also provided the Royals with some intangible value thanks to his espresso skills). The 38-year-old Moylan has typically been excellent against righties over the course of his 11-year major league career; he’s posted a 2.22 ERA against them in 280 innings with the Braves, Dodgers and Royals.
- Even after losing out on Shohei Ohtani, the Rangers may still elect to use a non-traditional rotation, Evan Grant of SportsDay writes. Texas has reportedly kept contact with Yu Darvish, who has pitched in a six-man rotation in Japan and prefers such a setup; that might be one item which could help entice him to return to Arlington. Grant mentions Cole Hamels, who is generally a stickler for routine, as someone who could present a roadblock to such a strategy. However, based on Hamels’ quotes in the piece, he’d be willing to consider it if the modification helped bring about a postseason berth. “I’d love to get to the postseason again and win a World Series. That’s what I want to do here,” said Hamels. “If we can be stronger and healthier, not as worn down, you have the advantage.”
- The Braves announced the hiring of Jason Parè as their assistant general manager, research and development. (The previously-reported hiring of Josh Tamin as the club’s director of Major League operations was also announced.) Parè spent the last two years as the Marlins’ senior director of analytics, and he previously worked with Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos in Toronto’s front office, where Parè worked as an analyst in 2014-15.
- The Braves will hire Alex Tamin as their director of major league operations, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets. Tamin was previously the Dodgers’ director of baseball operations, serving in the same front office as new Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos. While with Los Angeles, Tamin “handled rules and transactions” and was “heavily involved” in advance scouting, according to Rosenthal, who adds that he’ll perform similar tasks in Atlanta.