- As far as free agent right-handers go, the Cubs have shown more interest this offseason in adding Yu Darvish than re-signing Jake Arrieta. Regardless, the club doesn’t appear likely to engage in “a steep bidding war” for either, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. And while the 31-year-old Darvish may land the bigger contract this winter, Wittenmyer argues that the decorated Arrieta – who’s five months older – could end up as the better bet.
- Right-hander Anthony Bass announced (on Twitter) that he’s latched on with the Cubs. Assuming it’s a minor league pact — the Cubs themselves have yet to announce the signing — he’ll head to Spring Training and vie for a job in the ’pen. Bass was hit hard in 5 2/3 frames with the Rangers last year — his first MLB action since 2015 after spending the 2016 campaign pitching in Japan. Bass had a 4.14 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 75 1/3 Triple-A innings with Texas last year and has experience both as a starter and a reliever.
With no sufficient bid emerging, the Orioles are now indicating to interested organizations that star third baseman Manny Machado “is staying put,” according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (Twitter links). That could yet change if a big new offer comes in the door, but it seems that Baltimore will no longer actively shop the pending free agent.
On the one hand, then, this news isn’t that impactful. The club had indicated it was nearing the quitting point on active trade talks after prior reports made clear that the team would move on to other plans if its needs weren’t met. Teams that want to land the youthful star know they need to come with a significant package of talent to get something done. Baltimore has expressed a need to get back two quality, controllable starters to make a deal, and Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com’s report from this morning suggests the asking price remains the same.
On the other, it’s an important moment for the O’s offseason strategy. With Zach Britton’s Achilles injury also seemingly taking the club’s best relievers (Britton and Brad Brach) out of trade consideration, it seems the organization will largely maintain its existing core and go out looking to add starters in other ways. With at least two rotation pieces still on the wish list, and no interest in chasing the market for the best-available arms, the Orioles front office will need to work hard to find value.
That said, the rotation market has not moved much at all to this point, so there are plenty of options still out there. Whether or not the slow free agent action will lead to any particular number of bargains remains to be seen, but executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette is certainly no stranger to waiting out late opportunities.
Barring a big change in the interest levels from other teams, Machado will evidently play out his original control rights in Baltimore before reaching free agency after the 2018 season. The sides will still need to work out a final-season salary — MLBTR projects a hefty $17.3MM arbitration pay-out — but there’s little reason to think at this point that an extension will realistically be considered.
Still, it’s wise not to rule things out so long as there’s still work to be done in the winter. An extension or trade would surprise at this point, but both are hypothetically just as plausible as ever.
Interestingly, should trade talks get moving again, Kubatko notes that the Cubs and Orioles discussed a variety of notable names. While there’s no reason to think all three Chicago players would have been included in the same deal, Addison Russell, Albert Almora, and Mike Montgomery all came up in chatter.
We’ll cover the day’s minor moves in this post:
- The Cubs have re-signed catcher Taylor Davis, MLBTR has learned. The 28-year-old was non-tendered after a season in which he received his first MLB call-up, staying long enough to pick up his first few base knocks but not to put down a meaningful track record. Davis strode to the Triple-A plate 406 times in 2017, producing a .297/.357/.429 batting line with six home runs. Notably, he continued to exhibit strong plate discipline and contact ability, striking out just 45 times while drawing 37 walks.
- Indians have agreed to a deal with right-hander Lisalverto Bonilla, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). The 27-year-old struggled badly in his ten MLB appearances last year with the Reds, working to a 8.10 ERA with 6.9 K/9 and 5.4 BB/9 while serving up eight long balls in 36 2/3 innings. He did generate a useful 11.8% swinging-strike rate, though, and has typically drawn a fair number of grounders in the minors.
- The Nationals reached a minor-league pact with righty Chris Smith, MLBTR’s Steve Adams tweets. He gets an invitation to participate on the majors side of camp next spring. Smith, 29, got a brief taste of the majors last year with the Blue Jays, showing a 93.9 mph average four-seamer. He spent most of the year at Triple-A, where he worked to a 5.40 ERA with 6.3 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9, but Smith has recorded much higher strikeout rates in the upper minors in the past.
- Lefty Hunter Cervenka was outrighted to Triple-A by the Marlins after clearing waivers. He had been removed from the 40-man roster recently as the organization continues to tweak its mix of MLB assets. Cervenka spent most of 2017 at the Triple-A level, where he pitched to a 4.58 ERA with 8.9 K/9 and 5.9 BB/9. That hefty walk rate has long been a problem for Cervenka, who’ll soon turn 28.
- The Tigers announced a series of minors signings today. Lefty Will Lamb, infielder Ronny Rodriguez, and outfielders Jason Krizan and Kenny Wilson are all joining the Detroit organization, with Krizan and Rodriguez also taking spring invites. Lamb, 27, has struggled to a 6.06 ERA in 120 1/3 career Triple-A frames, but owns a 2.28 ERA in 90 2/3 innings at the penultimate level of the minors. The 25-year-old Rodriguez brings some infield versatility and pop to the table; he hit .291/.324/.454 with 17 home runs in 483 plate appearances last year at the Indians’ top affiliate. Krizan, 28, will return for his eighth year in the Detroit system; in 2017, he hit .281/.351/.417 in 480 upper-minors plate appearances. Wilson, who’ll soon turn 28 as well, is a speed-and-defense type who has not yet hit enough to earn his way into the big leagues.
- Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago tweets that both the Cubs and the White Sox are still involved in conversations with the Orioles regarding Machado. The Cubs are stacked with infield options, though none of their shortstop options come with a track record as impressive as that of Machado. The White Sox, meanwhile, reportedly declined to include their top-ranked prospects in their initial offer to the Orioles. It doesn’t seem prudent for the rebuilding South Siders to mortgage much of their future to acquire one year of Machado when they’re not expected to contend for the division in 2018.
It’s obvious now that the Cubs have more than a passing interest in free agent righty Yu Darvish, who the team’s top brass met with today in Texas. As Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic writes, it seems the growing likelihood of a match is the result more of market development than the pre-winter intentions of the Chicago organization.
The connection is real, then, but its consummation is hardly a fait accompli. It’s a good time to stop and take the temperature of the MLBTR readership on the subject with a poll.
It doesn’t take much explanation to establish the fit. Darvish is the top free agent starter, in MLBTR’s collective estimation. While the Cubs have added Tyler Chatwood to a staff that’s fronted by Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and Jose Quintana, the club would like to add another high-quality arm to push Mike Montgomery into the bullpen (or out via trade). The club seems to have payroll space left to work with.
In one view, then, it’s simple: of course the Cubs should pursue Darvish. That said, if it’s circumstances driving the interest — say, Darvish’s interest levels and the still-lofty asking price of other top free agents like Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb — then we have to bear in mind all the more that price will matter. It’s not as if the rest of the market will sit back and allow the Cubs to swoop in and make a deal; a few other teams, at least, have been cited as having ongoing interest.
So, rather than a simple yes/no question, I thought it’d be more interesting to see the circumstances under which folks believe a match would be sensible here for the Cubs. Darvish makes any team better, but perhaps you think he’s not as good as other options or that the team should prioritize other areas altogether. Or, maybe you think the expected contract price (something approaching or even exceeding Lester’s contract) is just too steep, but that Darvish would be a great add if he can be acquired for something below that rate. (Poll link for app users.)
MONDAY: While the Cubs are evidently still looking at a number of rotation options, the interest in Darvish appears to be serious. Top Chicago execs Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are meeting with Darvish and his reps in Texas, according to Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com (Twitter link) and Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter).
An in-person chat hardly suggests a deal is inevitable or even likely. But it’s a definite step beyond internal discussions or swapping texts with an agent. At the same time, to this point all indications have been that the Cubs are looking for the right price among a field of possibilities, with trade options and other free agents also in play.
SATURDAY: The Cubs have been very active on the pitching market this winter, and now they’re looking at the top free agent arm available. The club has interest in right-hander Yu Darvish, Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago reports. He’d be the fifth pitcher the Cubs have signed this offseason, joining two starters (Tyler Chatwood and Drew Smyly) and a pair of relievers (Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek).
As MLBTR’s No. 1-ranked free agent (notably, Tim Dierkes & Co. forecast Darvish to the Cubs entering the offseason), the 31-year-old would require a far bigger commitment than anyone else Chicago has added in recent weeks. For a lofty price, Darvish would provide the back-to-back National League Central champions with a replacement for fellow free agent Jake Arrieta at the front of their rotation, filling out a starting quintet that would also include Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Jon Lester and Chatwood. It’s worth noting that Smyly might not pitch at all in 2018, having undergone Tommy John surgery last year, while Mike Montgomery would likely slot in as a reliever (to his chagrin, it seems).
Darvish, who debuted with the Rangers in 2012 and underwent a Tommy John procedure two years later, has pitched to a 3.42 ERA/3.30 FIP combination and logged 11.04 K/9 against 3.32 BB/9 across 832 1/3 major league innings. He ended last year with the Dodgers, who acquired him at the trade deadline, and mostly performed well. Darvish even earned one of the Dodgers’ four wins over the Cubs in a five-game National League Championship Series, tossing 6 1/3 frames of one-run, six-hit ball and notching seven strikeouts against one walk in Game 3. While Darvish struggled mightily in two World Series losses to Houston, including in Game 7, it’s up in the air whether that will tamp down his earning power to any noticeable extent (if at all).
Because Darvish was part of a midseason trade, he was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer after the conclusion of the campaign. Consequently, the team that signs him won’t have to surrender draft-pick compensation in the process. That’s not the case with fellow free agent righty Alex Cobb, who rejected a QO from the Rays and whom the Cubs were aggressively courting last weekend. But it seems the Cubs cooled on Cobb during this week’s Winter Meetings, where they found his asking price “prohibitive,” Levine reports.
- While the Cubs “are kicking the tires of every free-agent starter” as they look for a top-of-the-rotation arm, they’re unwilling to meet any of their asking prices as of now, Bob Nightengale of USA Today relays (Twitter link). Of the best starters available – Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn – the latter is the only one who hasn’t drawn reported interest from the Cubs this offseason. Although, one could infer from Nightengale’s tweet that the Cubs have at least given the longtime Cardinal some consideration.
- Speaking of the Cubs’ pitching search, they were in the thick of the Shohei Ohtani derby earlier this month before he signed with the Angels. Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks told Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago that he was involved in the team’s recruiting pitch to Ohtani. The Cubs had Hendricks join them in their Los Angeles meeting with Ohtani because his low-key demeanor is similar to the Japanese superstar’s, per Levine. “It was very humbling and pretty cool to be invited,” Hendricks said. “It was great to be in the room and see the process. He is such a great talent, and it was enjoyable to see what type of guy he is — very down to earth and a humble guy. Even with the language barrier, Theo let me know what his personality was like. He was all baseball all of the time. We have some similarities, so it was fun to go there and talk baseball with him.”
Dec. 16: The Cubs have announced the signing. Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports that the two-year deal is worth $13MM. Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish adds that the deal includes up to $1MM in performance escalators based on appearances.
Dec. 14: The Cubs have agreed to terms with righty Steve Cishek, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). Once he passes a physical, the Jet Sports Management client is expected to receive a two-year deal worth somewhere in the range of $12MM to $14MM, per ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter).
Cishek, 31, has had a few ups and downs at times in recent years and has played with four organizations in the past three seasons. For the most part, though, he has continued to function as a quality setup option.
In the 2017 campaign, Cishek opened with the Mariners and ended up moving to the Rays via mid-season trade. With an excellent push down the stretch in Tampa Bay, he ended the season with 44 2/3 innings of 2.01 ERA ball and 8.3 K/9 with 2.8 BB/9. As usual, Cishek was tough to square up; he permitted just 26 base hits and three total home runs on the season.
Those results came despite a notable velocity drop from Cishek, who delivered his two-seam fastball at less than 91 mph for the first time in his career. His slider came in eight ticks slower than it did in his debut season, continuing a trend, though it also gained horizontal movement.
The sidearming Cishek will offer a different look out of a re-worked Cubs pen. He joins Brandon Morrow as multi-year free agent additions for Chicago thus far. It still seems likely the organization will look for additional pieces over the coming weeks.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
According to Bruce Levine of CBS Sports Chicago, the Cubs and Indians have “had trade talk conversations,” and right-hander Danny Salazar’s name has come up. The Indians are reportedly asking for left-handed hitting in exchange. Levine adds that there is “nothing close at this time.”
That the Indians are willing to entertain trade scenarios involving Salazar is a bit unexpected, but makes some sense considering the depth of the team’s rotation and the 2017 emergence of Mike Clevinger as a solid starter. With Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer also in the fold, the Indians are one of very few MLB teams who have an abundance of viable major league starters.
Perhaps the bigger surprise is that the Indians are asking for lefty hitters in exchange. Based on a quick glance at the Tribe’s roster, one might guess that the Tribe would want players who hit from the right side of the plate. Their projected Opening Day lineup for 2018 (via Roster Resource) includes six players capable of hitting left-handed (switch-hitters Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez among them), while their righty options beyond Edwin Encarnacion haven’t proven themselves to be above-average hitters. If the Indians are indeed looking for a left-handed hitter, perhaps it’s an indication that trade talks for Jason Kipnis are in the more advanced stages, though that’s purely my own speculation.
It’s unclear whether the talks for Salazar came before or after the recent signing of Drew Smyly, who carries both similar upside and similar injury risk. If they came (or continued) after the Smyly signing, one might wonder whether the Cubs intend to use one of Salazar or Smyly as a bullpen arm; four rotation spots would already seem to be filled by Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and the newly-signed Tyler Chatwood. Of course, Chicago might simply be taking a page out of the 2017 Dodgers’ book; L.A. patched together a rotation of oft-injured, high-upside starters who bounced between the rotation and the DL over the course of the season.
As for Salazar, he carries tremendous upside. The right-handed fireballer has been known to hit the high nineties on the radar gun, even touching 100 on some occasions throughout his career. He mixes in a split change which ESPN’s Mark Simon once rated as the best pitch in MLB. Salazar also routinely carries one of the best strikeout rates in baseball, and though his career 3.82 ERA doesn’t jump off the page, his 3.42 career xFIP suggests he’s been quite a bit better than that number would indicate.
Consistency and health are what hold Salazar back the most. Although he’s shown flashes of utter dominance (his first five starts back from the DL this past season come to mind), he’s never proven he can sustain his success over extended stretched of the season. As for his health, the righty has only topped 140 innings once during his major league career. He’s been through Tommy John surgery in the past, and has experienced a variety of elbow and shoulder issues in recent years.
That being said, his upside is tremendous, and if Salazar is truly available, I’d expect the Indians will field a lot of calls on him. In particular, it seems likely that the clubs interested in Matt Harvey would want to reach out to Cleveland’s front office.