- The Twins will need to chase down some relief arms, too. Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports on his podcast (audio link) that the club has engaged the Padres on Brad Hand and the Rays on Alex Colome. Minnesota was previously reported to have chatted with the Reds about Raisel Iglesias, and these new names fit the same general profile as established late-inning arms with affordable remaining control. All will come with appropriately lofty price tags. Berardino also tweets that Cubs lefty Justin Wilson might represent a target for the Twins. Having struggled last year upon landing in Chicago, Wilson could conceivably become available, though that’s far from certain. Minnesota eyed the power southpaw in the past, says Berardino, though that occurred before the current front office leadership came into office.
The Cubs announced on Tuesday that they’ve named former big league outfielder Will Venable their new first base coach and hired Jim Benedict as a special assistant to the baseball operations department. The team also confirmed Brandon Hyde’s move to bench coach and the hiring Jim Hickey as its new pitching coach.
The 35-year-old Venable had recently retired and joined the club’s front office as a special assistant, but he’ll now join the team on the field and replace Hyde, who has moved from first base coach to bench coach. Venable was a strong defensive outfielder capable handling all three outfield spots at his peak, and he stole 135 bases in 166 tries (81.3 percent) in his big league career, so he’ll bring some wisdom in those areas to the Cubs’ young players.
Benedict spent the past two seasons as the Marlins’ vice president of pitching development and is renowned for the work he did in seven prior seasons with the Pirates. Benedict and Pittsburgh pitching coach Ray Searage are widely praised and credited for the Pirates’ success in reviving the careers of struggling pitchers such as A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli and Edinson Volquez, among others.
Benedict’s work in Pittsburgh was so highly regarded that in order to hire him away from the Pirates, the Marlins traded right-hander Trevor Williams to the Bucs for a considerably lesser prospect (right-hander Richard Mitchell) as a means of compensation.
The Cubs have outrighted outfielder Jacob Hannemann, per a club announcement. Chicago has made three 40-man additions as well, selecting the contracts of righties Adbert Alzolay and Oscar De La Cruz as well as infielder David Bote.
Hannemann, 26, had been claimed recently from the Mariners. He briefly debuted with Seattle — after they claimed him from the Cubs — but spent most of the year in the upper minors, batting .265/.324/.404 over 322 plate appearances at Triple-A.
According to “industry consensus,” Alex Cobb’s free agent market will come down to a battle between the Cubs and Yankees, Peter Gammons writes in his newest entry at GammonsDaily.com. Chicago’s interest in Cobb (which is apparently mutual) is already known, and such other teams as the Phillies, Orioles, and Blue Jays have also been linked to Cobb on the rumor mill, though New York would seem like something of a surprise candidate. Since Cobb is expected to land a pricey multi-year deal, it would be difficult for the Yankees to sign the right-hander and stay under the luxury tax threshold, unless the team was able to unload another big contract or two off its books. Starting pitching also doesn’t appear to be a critical need for the Yankees, as while a variety of young arms are battling for the fifth starter’s role, signing a more inexpensive veteran (or bringing back C.C. Sabathia) would seem like a likelier move than making a big splash to sign Cobb.
NOV. 18: Martinez will make $2.8MM over the next three years. His 2021 option is valued at $1.2MM, giving his contract a maximum of $4MM over four years, Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reports via Twitter.
OCT. 30: The Nationals have formally announced the signing of Martinez to a three-year deal with a team option for the 2021 season.
“We are delighted to bring Dave aboard and excited about what he will bring to our clubhouse and our dugout,” said owner Ted Lerner in a statement announcing the hire. “We have been very clear about our goals as an organization and we feel confident we’ve found the right man to help us reach them.”
GM Mike Rizzo also offered a statement on his new skipper: “I am excited to bring Dave into our family. As we went through this process it became clear the type of manager we were looking for — someone who is progressive, someone who can connect with and communicate well with our players, and someone who embraces the analytical side of the game. We came away from the process feeling like there was absolutely no one better suited — who matched up to what this organization needs right now — than Dave.”
OCT. 29, 10:16am: A contract is now in place, Janes tweets. It’s a three-year deal with an option for 2021.
10:14am: Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post confirms that Martinez is the choice, though she reports that he and the team haven’t finished negotiating a deal yet (Twitter link). Notably, the Nationals hired Baker after negotiations with Bud Black fell through. Black looked like a lock to land the job at one point, which is obviously the case with Martinez now.
9:14am: The Nationals will hire Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez as their manager, Jon Heyman of FanRag reports. The Nats will make an official announcement after the World Series, Heyman adds.
After the firing of Dusty Baker on Oct. 20, the 53-year-old Martinez quickly emerged as the overwhelming favorite to take over in Washington, which chose him over fellow interviewee John Farrell. The Nationals also showed interest in Alex Cora, whom Boston selected as its manager, and Mets hitting coach Kevin Long. Washington received permission to interview Long, but it’s unclear whether the two actually met.
Martinez was a major league outfielder from 1986-2001 who also brings plenty of experience in the dugout. He served as manager Joe Maddon’s right-hand man in Tampa Bay (2008-14) and Chicago (2015-17), and drew managerial interest from multiple teams in recent offseasons. In fact, the Nationals nearly hired Martinez in 2013 prior to tabbing Matt Williams, who lasted two years before giving way to Baker.
Baker’s own two-year era was a resounding success during the regular season, as Washington piled up 192 wins and back-to-back National League East titles, but the club’s playoff struggles led to his ouster. The Baker-led Nationals were unable to get past Martinez’s Cubs in the National League Division Series this year, leading general manager Mike Rizzo to declare that “winning a lot of regular season games and winning divisions is not enough.”
Given the talent on hand, the Martinez-guided Nationals figure to once again end up as one of the majors’ premier teams in 2018. The Nationals’ collection of quality players surely made their managerial vacancy appealing to Martinez and others, but the job does come with drawbacks. The position doesn’t seem to feature much stability, for one, nor is Washington regarded as a franchise willing to spend much on a manager. Further, the Nationals could lose two of their best players – right fielder Bryce Harper and second baseman Daniel Murphy – to free agency in a year.
With Harper and Murphy in the fold for at least another season, the Nats will turn to a neophyte manager to win over a clubhouse that’s reportedly “upset” with Baker’s exit. Martinez has long been a well-regarded assistant, though, and both his openness to analytics and Spanish-speaking ability should serve him well in his new role.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
THURSDAY: Officially, all nine players have rejected their qualifying offers and become free agents, the MLBPA has announced (h/t Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, on Twitter).
MONDAY: All nine of the free agents that received a one-year, $17.4MM qualifying offer will reject that offer in favor of free agency, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports writes. Each of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Greg Holland and Carlos Santana will turn down that one-year opportunity in search of a multi-year pact in free agency.
In doing so, that group of nine will also subject themselves to draft-pick compensation and position their former clubs to recoup some value in next year’s amateur draft should they sign elsewhere. Last offseason’s new collective bargaining agreement altered the specifics of that compensation, tying the draft picks received and surrendered largely to the luxury tax threshold, revenue sharing and the size of the contract signed by the free agent in question.
MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes explained which draft picks each of the six teams that issued a qualifying offer would receive, should their free agents sign elsewhere, as well as which picks all 30 teams would be required to surrender if they are to sign a qualified free agent. Prior to that, MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk provided a more comprehensive and in-depth overview of the new QO system, for those that are unfamiliar or would like a refresher on the finer details.
It’s been reported for quite some time that Kansas City will make a strong effort to retain Hosmer. Heyman added over the weekend that the Royals will also push to keep Moustakas but feel that Cain is almost certain to land elsewhere on the open market. The Rockies are known to have interest in re-upping with Holland on a multi-year deal, and Heyman notes within today’s column that the Rays “understand [Cobb] is out of their reach financially” and will sign elsewhere. He also adds that Davis seems to be likelier than Arrieta to return to Chicago.
It’s unlikely that there will be any formal announcements just yet. Among the changes to the QO system under the 2017-21 CBA was that QO recipients would have 10 days, rather than seven, to determine whether to accept or reject the offer. The deadline to issue QOs was last Monday, so the recipients still technically have until this coming Thursday to formally declare their intention. But, barring a last-minute freak injury it seems that each of the nine will go the widely expected route and enter free agency in search of the most substantial contracts in their respective careers.
The Cubs’ bullpen search figures to be expansive this offseason, but Patrick Mooney of NBC Sports Chicago provides some insight into the team’s thinking. Per Mooney, while the Cubs performed their due diligence on Zach Britton at this week’s GM Meetings, they found the asking price to be too high this past summer and aren’t likely to rekindle those talks. Rather, they’ve landed on free-agent righty Brandon Morrow as one potential ninth-inning option and will also monitor the market for former White Sox/D-backs/Mets closer Addison Reed in free agency, according to Mooney.
Chicago got an up-close look at Morrow in the National League Championship Series as he made four practically unblemished appearances against them (4 2/3 innings, one hit, one walk, no runs, seven strikeouts). The resurgent Morrow, whom the Dodgers signed on a minor league contract last offseason, burst back onto the scene midway through the 2017 campaign and emerged as the Dodgers’ best non-Kenley Jansen reliever late in the year. The 33-year-old Morrow turned in a 2.06 ERA with 10.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a 45 percent ground-ball rate in 43 2/3 regular-season innings before dominating for much of the postseason.
The Dodgers rode Morrow incredibly hard in the playoffs, though, and by the end of the World Series some fatigue was clear. Morrow became just the second pitcher in MLB history to pitch in all seven games of the World Series, and he appeared in a staggering 14 of the Dodgers’ 15 postseason contests. Though he was excellent in most of those games, he was shelled for four runs without recording an out in Game 5 of the World Series — the lone game in 2017 in which he was asked to pitch on three consecutive days.
That extreme postseason workload and Morrow’s greater injury history could give some teams pause in the free-agent market, but interest in Morrow figures to be robust all the same. We pegged him for a three-year deal on our top 50 free agent list, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see half the league express some level of interest.
As for Reed, he’s been as durable as relievers come. The 28-year-old (29 next month) has never been on the disabled list in the Majors and has averaged 67 appearances and 66 innings per season over the life of his big league career. Reed has plenty of ninth-inning experience, having 15 or more games in four separate seasons.
Control was an issue for the Chicago bullpen for much of the season — their 4.25 BB/9 rate tied for second-worst among big league bullpens — and it’s one area in which Reed excels. He’s averaged just 2.3 walks per nine innings pitched in his seven-year career, and that includes an even more minuscule 1.6 BB/9 mark over the past two years. (It’s perhaps telling that the Cubs are interested in two free-agent relievers that ranked among the top of the free-agent class in terms of best control.) Reed’s age, durability and track record make him one of the more appealing arms on the market — to the point that we pegged him as one of just four relievers to secure a four-year deal on this year’s free agent market.
It stands to reason that Morrow and Reed are just two of many names that the Cubs are intrigued by in the early stages of the offseason. In addition to free agency, there will be no shortage of relievers discussed in trades this offseason. President of baseball ops Theo Epstein, however, implied to Mooney that the Cubs may not continue to operate as they have in recent years when it comes to targeting bullpen talent, stating that he has no desire to “make a it a habit” to trade players with five or six years of control (e.g. Jorge Soler, Gleyber Torres) for one-year rentals.
As major league organizations compete to bring home the shiniest new cars in Playoffville (Copyright Scott Boras), let’s check in on the latest rumored connections:
- The Pirates have at least “some interest” in old friend Neil Walker, Jon Morosi of MLB Network tweets. Morosi cites uncertainty surrounding Jung Ho Kang as driving the possibility of a reunion, though as MLB.com’s Adam Berry writes, there’s another perspective on that subject, too. GM Neal Huntington says there’s still some hope that Kang will be able to return and finish his contract. If not, though, he feels the team is in good shape in the infield without him, due in part to the acquisition of Sean Rodriguez over the summer.
- It seems there’s some mutual interest between the Cubs and righty Alex Cobb, as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. That’s not a surprising connection, given the common roots with the Rays of Cobb and several key Cubs figures. The sides have engaged in preliminary discussions, though Wittenmyer’s sources tell him that contract particulars haven’t yet been broached.
- Another starter getting a bite is Tyler Chatwood, in whom the Orioles have shown interest, per Morosi (via Twitter). That’s a connection that comes as little surprise. Baltimore is going to have to take some chances to fill out its staff, and Chatwood looks to be one of the market’s more interesting possibilities to provide value. He won’t turn 28 until December and has posted solid results outside of Coors Field, prompting MLBTR to predict a three-year deal (albeit at a relatively modest annual value). While Camden Yards and the AL East are an intimidating prospect for many pitchers, Chatwood at least has plenty of experience dealing with similar challenges.
- The Mets are among the teams with interest in free agent southpaw Mike Minor, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. We’ve heard recently about New York’s desire to pursue impact relief pitching, and Minor certainly fits that mold. Given his past history as a starter and dominance against southpaws last year, the 29-year-old would provide quite a bit of functionality.
- The Astros are showing some interest in free agent catcher Jonathan Lucroy, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). Lucroy could make for an interesting fit in Houston, though adding a backstop of that quality no doubt would represent a luxury for the team that already has most everything. Presumably, the ’Stros could plan to split time between Lucroy and fellow veteran Brian McCann, with the other spending quite a lot of time at DH (if not also some first base). Signing Lucroy could mean non-tendering Evan Gattis, though he might also be retained and also utilized in the same rotation. There are certainly some intriguing possibilities here, though Lucroy should also be pursued by others that might offer him significant time as a primary catcher.
- It seems the Rays could again be a suitor for veteran slugger Jose Bautista, per Morosi (Twitter links). Talks haven’t really progressed to this point, but that’s hardly surprising — particularly since Tampa Bay’s entire offseason approach remains largely unclear. For his part, Bautista is said to be willing to spend time at DH or the corner infield, per agent Jay Alou.
- Patrick Mooney of NBC Sports Chicago provides an interesting overview of the dynamics that will shape the Cubs’ efforts this offseason. GM Jed Hoyer tells Mooney that the team is approaching trade talks both with an open mind and with a loyalty to the players they’ve developed into the core of a winning club. That said, Hoyer stressed that the front office’s “No. 1 loyalty” is to Cubs fans and positioning the team to win another World Series. That, Hoyer says, could put the team into an unenviable position of having to consider trades of young players they value highly. “Certainly, I’d love to have an offseason where we didn’t have to do anything like that,” says Hoyer. “But in order to get better and make improvements in certain areas, we might.
- Meanwhile, Mooney looks at the team’s chances of re-signing closer Wade Davis as a free agent. Chicago viewed Aroldis Chapman purely as a rental when they acquired him in 2016 and let him walk as a free agent accordingly, Mooney writes, but they view Davis in a different light. President of baseball ops Theo Epstein says the Cubs “think the world” of Davis and will make an effort to bring back a player they feel is important both on and off the field. As Mooney points out, a number of big-market clubs already have high-priced closers, which could take some of them out of the running for Davis.
- Hoyer confirmed to reporters that right-hander John Lackey has indeed signaled that he aims to pitch once again in 2018 (Twitter link via ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers). Re-signing Lackey is “certainly” something the Cubs are going to talk about, per Hoyer. It remains to be seen how aggressively Chicago will pursue Lackey coming off a generally disappointing season in which he yielded an NL-high 36 homers. But, the Cubs stand to potentially lose both Lackey and Jake Arrieta this winter, so they’ll assuredly be in the market for multiple arms.
The Orioles are willing to listen to trade scenarios involving closer Zach Britton, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag. While prior signals were that the organization would hold on to the southpaw this winter, it seems there’s now at least some possibility of a swap coming together.
Baltimore engaged in chatter involving Britton last summer and nearly dealt him to the Astros. But talks sputtered at the last minute and he ended up remaining on hand. MLBTR projects that Britton will earn a hefty $12.2MM in arbitration.
As Heyman notes, the O’s could find it advantageous to reallocate that payroll space to a rotation that’s badly in need of attention. Plus, with Britton slated for free agency after the season, this would be an opportune time to cash him in for young talent.
Houston is not presently among the organizations engaged on Britton, per the report. But the Dodgers and Cubs have already engaged in some chatter surrounding the 29-year-old hurler.
It remains unclear just how strong the market will be for Britton. Prior to the 2017 season, he had established himself as one of the game’s most dominant relievers. But the campaign didn’t quite go as hoped, as he fell short of his own lofty standards while dealing with elbow issues.
Britton ended the year with 37 1/3 innings of 2.89 ERA ball, posting 7.0 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9 while inducing grounders on more than 70% of the balls put in play against him for the fourth-straight season. While his swinging-strike rate dropped off to 11.5% after topping out at 17.2% in 2016, Britton kept his monster sinker at over 96 mph and was obviously still able to use it to draw quite a few worm-burners.