- The Yankees “pushed hard” to acquire infield prospect Yu Chang from the Indians when the two teams were discussing the Andrew Miller trade in the summer of 2016, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. Chang has made steady progress since, with MLB.com currently ranking him as the sixth-best prospect in the Tribe’s system following a .256/.330/.411 performance over 518 PA at Triple-A last season. It isn’t known if New York still has Chang on its radar, though with the Yankees recently showing interest in trading for one of Cleveland’s top starters, Chang could become a target again if the two clubs expand talks into a multi-player trade. Pluto also notes that other teams have called the Indians about Chang in trade discussions.
The Diamondbacks are “aggressively shopping” righty Zack Greinke, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). With $95.5MM of salary still due over the next three years, he’s an expensive option. But the deal is at least cabined in length, and the Snakes have a good shot at getting out from under most of it. (Alternatively, the club might be able to pay down a larger portion and recoup some talent in a swap — or go in the other direction and include additional talent to make the whole contract go away.) It’s still largely unclear how things will shake out, but the fact that the Arizona organization is looking for a taker certainly makes a trade seem quite plausible.
Here’s the latest chatter on the rest of the market:
- It is a testament to veteran backstop Kurt Suzuki that he has been re-signed, re-acquired, or extended by three of the four organizations he has played for. One of those, the Athletics, could have designs on a third stint. Per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, there has already been some discussion between the Oakland club and the 35-year-old free agent. Suzuki has never been more productive at the plate than he was over the past two years with the Braves, when he turned in a cumulative .276/.341/.485 slash with 31 home runs in 697 plate appearances. Slusser also notes that reliever Shawn Kelley remains a possibility to return, with four other teams also inquiring about securing his services.
- Nathan Eovaldi’s health is a major factor in his free agency. Though he’s only 28 years of age, the righty has undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries and required another elbow procedure before making it back to the mound in 2018. Of course, the results were quite promising, and he has now also received a strong endorsement from his surgeon today, as Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston reports. Dr. Christopher Ahmad says that, after conducting an extensive examination, he “would consider [Eovaldi] in the same category of somebody who has a healthy arm.” While any signing team will want to take a look for itself, it’s obviously quite a notable opinion to receive at the outset of free agency.
- The Reds would surely love to land Eovaldi or another higher-end arm, though it’s still questionable whether they’ll dabble in that end of the market. What is clear, president of baseball operations Dick Williams said in a radio interview, is that the club hopes to find a pair of new pitchers — likely starters (via Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer). Getting the right arms won’t just mean waiting to see what shakes loose at a cheap price, says Williams. Rather, the club intends “to be in front of these agents and these other teams talking more aggressively.” Sure enough, Jon Heyman of Fancred says the Reds have engaged with the Mariners (James Paxton), Indians (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco), and Yankees (Sonny Gray). With the Cinci org said to be hesitant to move its best assets, getting the desired arms could mean exploring some creative trades. That said, Williams shot down recent chatter surrounding purported Padres interest in star Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez. “Just to sort of nip that in the bud, I’ll tell you that rumor is unfounded,” said Williams.
- It’s also clear that the Nationals are on the lookout for starters, though here also it’s hard to know just where the team may focus. As I discussed recently in setting forth the team’s outlook for the 2018-19 offseason, there are an abundance of possibilities at this point. Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post provides some insight into the club’s thinking while ticking through the options. She notes that the Nats “think highly” of free agent Dallas Keuchel — the match we predicted when we broke down our Top 50 Free Agents. That’s not to say, of course, that he’s a uniquely clear fit in D.C. As Janes explains, the organization still seems likely to canvass the market, though it seems reasonable to anticipate that it’ll come away with at least one significant new hurler.
- Staying in the division, it’s worth looking back at a post we missed at the time. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported recently that the Phillies are quite likely to deal away third baseman Maikel Franco. Indeed, it seems there’s a reasonable match already under contemplation with the Padres. Of course as noted above, the Friars clearly are interested in looking around the rest of the market before pulling the trigger on a deal for Franco. The Phils are also said to be willing to discuss Cesar Hernandez, though he seems much less likely to be shipped out. It’ll be interesting to see how everything will unfold in Philadelphia, as the team is known to be chasing some of the biggest names on the market but also has some less consequential moves that it could contemplate pulling off first.
The Indians announced Wednesday that they’ve acquired outfielder Jordan Luplow and infielder Max Moroff from the Pirates in exchange for utility man Erik Gonzalez and minor league right-handers Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza. The Pirates, too, have issued a press release announcing the move.
In Luplow, Cleveland adds an outfield option to a perilously thin mix. The 2014 third-rounder has yet to find success in the big leagues, but he’s raked to the tune of a .300/.378/.479 slash with 15 homers and 11 steals in 539 Triple-A plate appearances across the past two seasons. Luplow won’t turn 26 until next September, so there’s still plenty of time for him to carry that Triple-A productivity over to the big league level.
From a defensive standpoint, Luplow has played all three positions in the Majors, albeit just 14 innings in center, and drawn generally positive reviews. In 382 2/3 innings of outfield work as a Major Leaguer, he’s posted +4 Defensive Runs Saved, a 3.1 Ultimate Zone Rating and an even mark in Statcast’s Outs Above Average. Luplow still has a minor league option remaining, so he can be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers if he doesn’t crack the roster out of Spring Training next year.
Moroff, also 25, has had similar struggles to this point in his young Major League career, hitting .193/.293/.331 in a tiny sample of 209 plate appearances. Like Luplow, he’s fared better in Triple-A, where he’s a .233/.363/.399 hitter in 1045 plate appearances. He joins the Indians with more than 2700 minor league innings at second base, 1900-plus innings at shortstop and 601 innings at the Triple-A level.
In Gonzalez, the Pirates will acquire a versatile infield option who’s had more big league success than Moroff to this point, though he’s yet to truly thrive at the plate. Gonzalez hit .265/.301/.375 in 143 PAs this past season and is a career .267/.306/.406 hitter in Triple-A. He’s out of minor league options, so he’ll jump right into the mix for playing time with the Pirates in 2019 — a sentiment that was emphasized by general manager Neal Huntington in a press release announcing today’s trade.
“Erik Gonzalez is an athletic middle infielder who plays solid defense and has the potential to be a productive hitter at the major league level,” said Huntington. “He gives us another quality option to play shortstop or in the middle of our infield this year and into the future.”
Thomas, 19, spent this past season pitching for the Indians’ Rookie-level affiliate in Arizona, though he pitched just 19 2/3 innings in total. Overall, he’s totaled 58 professional innings since signing out of the Bahamas as a 16-year-old, and he’s posted a 5.28 ERA with a 61-to-43 K/BB ratio in that time. The bottom-line results are rough, but Thomas did land 30th on MLB.com’s ranking of the Indians’ prospects, with Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo writing that the projectable righty should add velocity to what is already a 92-95 mph fastball. He also draws praise for his athleticism and a potentially above-average curve, but he’s still several years away from being anywhere near big league ready. Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen was a bit more bullish, ranking him 26th in what he tweets is a “very deep” Cleveland system.
Mendoza is also 19 and also spent the most recent season pitching for the Indians’ Rookie affiliate in the Arizona League. He worked to a 4.58 ERA in 37 1/3 innings with 37 strikeouts against 20 walks. Longenhagen tweets that Mendoza is another “projection arm,” crediting him for two above-average secondary offerings and an 87-90 mph heater that figures to tick upwards as his 6’5″ frame fills out.
The swap also opens a spot on the Pirates’ 40-man roster, as they’re dealing two big leaguers for Gonzalez and a pair of right-handers who are years from needing 40-man protection. The trade, then, gives them a potential upgrade in terms of utility infielder while also giving the front office some additional flexibility in advance of next Tuesday’s deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft.
- Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti appeared on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM today and briefly touched on the recent suggestions that his club would entertain the possibility of dealing a veteran such as Corey Kluber (Twitter link, with audio). Antonetti downplayed the possibility and emphasized that Cleveland is in a good spot in the sense that the roster is rife with players whom other teams covet — Kluber included. While that basic fact leads to many discussions, Antonetti said on multiple occasions that he feels the Indians are in a “good spot” heading into 2019 and didn’t give any real inkling that there’s pressure to reduce payroll. That said, it’s worth pushing back a bit to note that Cleveland projects to a record $145.5MM payroll next season despite a clear dearth of established outfield options and a questionable bullpen mix, among other needs. Finding a taker for some or all of the remaining $17.5MM on Jason Kipnis’ contract would go a long way toward alleviating some of those financial constraints, but the club will surely consider other avenues as well.
- “There is nearly a zero chance Michael Brantley will return to the” Indians in 2019, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes. A reunion between the two sides seemed pretty unlikely, as Brantley’s strong 2018 season has put him in line for a lucrative free agent contract. This made him an imperfect fit to return to the Tribe’s outfield, as Cleveland may be exploring ways to cut some veterans from the payroll while still looking to contend again next season.
With the GM Meetings now wrapped up, the stage is set for the offseason action to get underway. Of course, we’re still waiting for some significant dominoes to fall … and everyone involved is no doubt curious to see how this year’s market will develop after the 2017-18 dud. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports cites some warning signs on spending levels; readers interested in the higher-level picture will want to give his reasoning a look.
While we wait for some hard data points to be set down, the just-completed meetings left quite a few rumors. We’ve covered many over the past several days; here are a few more worthy of note:
- Though the Yankees seem unsettled at first base, Jon Heyman of Fancred reports that they haven’t reached out to the Diamondbacks on slugger Paul Goldschmidt. The potential rental slugger, one of the game’s steadiest offensive producers, is reportedly on the trading block. While the Yankees got stunning production from Luke Voit over a brief stretch late last year, and still have Greg Bird on hand, it wouldn’t be surprising if they sought to add a bigger piece.
- Unsurprisingly, the Bronx organization seems fixated first on pitching. Beyond its free agent targets, the club is looking into the biggest possible names on the trade market. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets that the Yanks have opened a line of communication with the Mariners on James Paxton. And the New York delegation to the GM Meetings met with their peers from the Indians, per Jon Heyman of Fancred (via Twitter), with Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco both covered in conversation. It obviously isn’t at all surprising to hear that the Yankees have checked in on these distinguished hurlers, but it’s nevertheless a notable bit of information as the market continues to develop.
- There are quite a few possibilities for the Padres, writes Dennis Lin of The Athletic (subscription link), as the organization is feeling a need to show some real strides in the win-loss department. We’ve heard chatter recently about the desire for a young starter and the series of potential trade pieces, but Lin’s most interesting notes seem to focus on the left side of the infield. Manny Machado is not seen internally as a realistic target, with Freddy Galvis still under consideration at short. If the team really wants to push things forward, though, Galvis or another veteran may only warm the seat up for top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. At third, Josh Donaldson does not appear to be the first name on the club’s list of targets. Rather, says Lin, the current plan is to seek a new third baseman via trade.
- So, where have the Padres set their sights for a third baseman? There aren’t many obviously available options that would figure to represent everyday pieces. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported recently, though, that the Pads are interested in pursuing Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who recently posted a big campaign on the heels of what now looks to be quite a team-friendly extension. Given the Cincinnati organization’s inclination to begin pushing toward contention, that seems like a tough deal to swing for Padres GM A.J. Preller.
- Acee also tabs the Padres as a suitor for Yankees righty Sonny Gray, who’s being openly marketed. Whether Gray would be seen as fulfilling the club’s rotation needs, or rather serving as a potential complement to a more significant addition, isn’t clear. There are other teams with interest in Gray, of course. Per MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, at least five organizations have inquired, and it wouldn’t be surprising to hear of more. Among those contemplating a move is Gray’s former employer. The Athletics evidently think their former staff ace could bounce back in Oakland, per Jon Heyman of Fancred. Of course, it remains to be seen how much the A’s will be willing to stake on a turnaround. Meanwhile, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand hears that at least five teams have inquired with the Yankees on Gray’s availability — the A’s presumably among them. Gray is projected to top $9MM in arbitration earnings this winter, but he thrived away from Yankee Stadium last season and had plenty of encouraging secondary metrics beyond his rudimentary ERA.
- We’ve heard recently that the Cardinals intend to explore the relief market, with one southpaw on the team’s priority list. Accordingly, it’s no surprise to hear that the club is among the many teams to show early interest in veteran lefty Andrew Miller, as MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweets. Miller is drawing interest after getting some good news on his knee, so there’ll be no shortage of competition. At this point, it’s entirely unclear where he’ll end up.
NOVEMBER 7: It’s “believed” that a new deal is in place, per Jon Heyman of Fancred (via Twitter), though there’s still no clear confirmation of that.
OCTOBER 17: The Indians are in discussions with general manager Mike Chernoff about a contract extension, according to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (via Twitter).
The likelihood of a deal being struck, and on what terms, isn’t yet apparent. Indeed, little is known about Chernoff’s existing contract status.
Chernoff was promoted to the GM seat just over three years ago, with Chris Antonetti ascending to become the president of baseball operations. But there was no indication at the time of the duration of his contract at that time, and it does not appear as if it has been reported in the interim.
It’s not hard to understand why the Cleveland organization remains happy with its front office mix. Since the pair of leaders were promoted, the ballclub has reeled off three-straight AL Central titles. While the team hasn’t been as successful in the postseason over the past two seasons as it was in 2016, when it nearly won the World Series, the overall results have been excellent.
While the front office has been allowed to dip into the pocketbook a bit more of late, the key drivers of the organization’s success have been a pair of superstars (Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez) and trio of outstanding starters (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer) who were wisely compiled through the draft, international market, and trades. Chernoff and Antonetti will now be tasked with building a new group of accompanying players to keep the competitive baseball going.
Whether or not the talks with Chernoff are of recent vintage isn’t known. Neither is it evident whether Antonetti is also up for a new deal. It does seem that the negotiations with Chernoff may help explain why the New Jersey native declined to take an interview with the Mets, who are looking for new front office leadership.
What role will the White Sox play in this free agent market? It’s an open question whether the club will come away with any significant players, but it also seems increasingly likely that it will be heavily involved at all levels of the market. MLBTR did not pick the South Siders to land any of the top fifty free agents, but as noted in that post, the club could pursue quite a few of the players listed. MLB.com’s Jon Morosi even names the White Sox as potential pursuers of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic points out the case for the Sox to spend (subscription link), while Jon Heyman of Fancred tweets that the club is expressing an inclination to “take a step forward now.” Meanwhile, on the other side of town, indications remain that the Cubs will not spend a big chunk of change this winter, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post is the latest to report (Twitter link).
Clearly, the White Sox are an interesting team to watch. Even if it’s arguably a bit premature for significant investments, it certainly doesn’t hurt that they play in the sport’s worst overall division. Elsewhere …
- The competition in the AL West seems to be driving the Mariners to sell. It’s unclear as yet how deep the cuts will go, but talks are already opening up. The M’s are chatting with the Rays about catcher Mike Zunino, per Rosenthal (via Twitter). With two years of control remaining, the 27-year-old backstop presents an interesting alternative to the free agent market for catchers. He’s an inconsistent but high-powered offensive performer who is generally seen as a quality defender.
- The Cardinals and incumbent Red Sox are among the suitors for veteran closer Craig Kimbrel, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com. Kimbrel is among the players who appear to be candidates to land earlier-than-usual contracts, by Morosi’s reckoning. (He mentions a few possible landing spots for others on his list, though it’s not apparent that the connections are based upon more than his analysis.)
- Certainly, it seems the motivation is there for the Cardinals to pursue significant players. As Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes, the St. Louis front office is looking hard at ways to improve. GM Mike Girsch says the team has a competitive roster as things stand, but wants to exit the offseason with “a division-leading roster.” The piece is full of worthwhile reading for Cards fans, particularly those interested in gaining some perspective on the team’s market positioning in relation to Harper and Machado. All told, it seems reasonable not to rule the Cards out as a possible pursuer of any free agent.
- Manny and Bryce are popular considerations for most teams, of course, even if they won’t realistically be pursued by all that many organizations. The Giants are perhaps a likelier suitor than may be evident from a passing glance, John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. While the San Francisco organization struggled last year, has quite a few big contracts on the books, and doesn’t currently have a GM in place, Shea says that this kind of ownership-driven decision could still be pursued.
- Lost in the hype for those popular young free agents is the never-ending search for pitching. While the rotation was and is a strong suit for the Phillies, that doesn’t mean they can’t improve. Indeed, as Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia writes, it could make sense for the organization to use some trade assets to add a starter — in addition, of course, to pursuing a superstar position player on the open market. Salisbury tabs southpaws Robbie Ray of the Diamondbacks and James Paxton of the Mariners as two particular names to watch.
- Likewise, as they consider their pitching options, the Yankees will look at the still-developing trade market. Per Heyman, via Twitter, the Yanks have at least some level of interest in the top arms that have newly entered the sphere of trade candidates. New York’s brass will meet with their counterparts with the Indians, who are dangling Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. The Yankees are also said to have some interest in Paxton. Those three are among the game’s better starters, so it’s hardly surprising to hear the connections.
TODAY: Also heading to Excel is outfielder A.J. Pollock, another key piece of the free agency puzzle this winter. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link), Pollock is staying with his own agent, Brian Peters, who’s also moving to Excel.
YESTERDAY: Outfielder Michael Brantley has hired Excel Sports Management to represent him in free agency, SB Nation’s Devan Fink recently reported on Twitter. He is moving to Excel from The Legacy Agency along with agent Kenny Felder and some of Felder’s other clients, including George Springer of the Astros and Lewis Brinson of the Marlins.
Of this trio, Brantley’s case is of particular note since he’s now a free agent. He recently reached the open market without having received a qualifying offer, meaning any team can sign him without surrendering draft compensation.
Brantley, 31, spent ten seasons with the Indians. The latter half of his time in Cleveland was played under an extension that included an option for the 2018 season, which the club picked up at $11MM. However, the $17.9MM QO proved too rich for the Indians, even after watching Brantley turn in a nice effort in 2018.
While he’s hardly an eye-popping power threat for a corner outfielder, Brantley is an exceptional contact hitter who is plenty valuable on offense. He finished the 2018 campaign with a .309/.364/.468 slash along with 17 home runs and a dozen steals. Brantley was a tough out, with a 9.5% strikeout rate that only just exceeded his 7.6% walk rate.
Brantley’s new reps will no doubt pitch their client as a high-quality performer with the bat who showed recently that his particular skills haven’t waned. He can also provide some value on the bases, though Brantley isn’t particularly well-regarded defensively and is also somewhat vulnerable to left-handed pitching.
The biggest questions surrounding Brantley, though, don’t involve his quality of play. Rather, they concern his ability to stay on the field. Brantley has endured a series of travails that cast some doubt on his durability, particularly given the cumulative effects. At the same time, he was healthy in 2018 and offers a hitting skillset that isn’t easy to come by. MLBTR recently named him the tenth-best free agent on the market, predicting a three-year, $45MM contract.
Find up-to-date information on player representation in MLBTR’s Agency Database.
The Indians remain in a highly competitive stance coming out of the 2018 season, particularly in an exceedingly weak overall American League Central division. After three-straight divisional titles, the organization still has one of the game’s best — and most affordable — core talent groups.
Still, there are plenty of needs on the roster and seemingly less resources to utilize to fulfill them. The club has in recent years both committed salary and dealt well-regarded prospects to supplement its fantastic bunch of stars.
Given this state of affairs, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports (Twitter link), the Indians “will listen to trade offers” involving key veteran players. He specifically cites top hurlers Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, along with pricey veterans such as Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes, and Jason Kipnis, as theoretical trade chips.
Importantly, and unsurprisingly, the club’s two still-youthful, amply controllable stars — Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor — will remain off limits. There’s certainly little reason for the Indians even to contemplate moves involving those players, whose contract rights are among the most valuable in the entire sport.
The most interesting element of this report, undoubtedly, is the possibility of the Indians offering up some of their top-flight pitching talent. Kluber and Carrasco are both excellent pitchers, but they are also signed to highly appealing contracts. The former, a perennial Cy Young contender, can be controlled through 2021 for as little as $30.5MM (though his 2020 and 2021 options can rise in value based upon his Cy placement). The latter, who’s also a top-10 starter over the past three seasons, will pitch for just $9.75MM next and little more in 2020 (his option, too, can be boosted based on the voting).
There’s no specific mention of righty Trevor Bauer, who emerged to take a place alongside his more-accomplished rotation mates. He’s just as plausible a candidate to be moved from an outside perspective, though, given that he’s down to two more years of arbitration control. Bauer is the most youthful of the three, but doesn’t figure to be an extension candidate given his stated preference never to agree to a multi-year deal. Still, he’s projected to earn a bargain $11.6MM for 2019 with one more arb year to go thereafter.
Any of these three pitchers would be hotly pursued this winter, because there just aren’t many alternatives. As our recent Market Snapshot series discussed, the trade market doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of high-end pitching– at least at affordable rates of pay. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Madison Bumgarner do not appear particularly likely even to be discussed in trades. Zack Greinke is still good, but his remaining obligation of $95.5MM is more than it cost the Dodgers to retain Clayton Kershaw earlier today. Meanwhile, the free agent market has a few talented hurlers on offer, but that’ll entail long-term commitments and much greater financial risk.
For some organizations, the possibility of landing one of the Indians pitchers would be a dream scenario. Of course, there’s little question that the Cleveland organization will demand a princely sum. Given its near-term ambitions, far-away prospects likely won’t headline a deal. Instead, the Indians are sure to demand high-quality players that can step right into the lineup while also providing greater long-term value than the starters who’d be dealt. While the Indians may be willing to stake a bet on their ability to find good innings from within, at least sufficient to come out ahead of the divisional opponents, it’s hard to look past the fact that the American League features a few teams that have aggregated an awful lot of talent. Rolling the dice on other hurlers (Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Adam Plutko, Danny Salazar) could be a viable strategy, but only if the Indians can secure young players they truly believe in with a swap.
As for the other players on the Indians roster that could be moved, it seems reasonable to suppose that cost-savings would be a leading motivator. Encarnacion can still swing the bat, but he wouldn’t command his remaining obligation ($25MM, including a 2021 option buyout) on the open market. Gomes rebounded with the bat in 2018, but is earning a relatively hefty $7MM, plus $2MM in buyouts on a pair of options ($9MM and $11MM, respectively) that seem unlikely to be exercised. (Fellow backstop Roberto Perez also receives mention from Olney, though he’s much cheaper and his control runs further into the future. He also struggled notably in 2018.) No doubt the club would like to find a taker for some of the $17MM still owed Kipnis ($2.5MM of which is in a buyout), but other organizations would only stake so much on a rebound. First baseman Yonder Alonso ($8MM salary plus $1MM buyout on 2020 option) would also seem a hypothetical possibility.
All things considered, there are quite a few fascinating possibilities to consider. Elite young position-player talent and/or cost savings seem clearly to be in mind here for the Indians. It may require a bit of a tightrope walk to pull things off, but the market situation seems generally favorable to the attempt.