- ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Indians aren’t operating under the same capacity that they did last offseason when they surprised everyone by signing Edwin Encarnacion (Twitter links). Cleveland is looking at lower-profile first base options to replace Carlos Santana, with Crasnick listing the likes of Lucas Duda, Matt Adams, Logan Morrison and Yonder Alonso as possibilities rather than Eric Hosmer. (Speculatively, I’d imagine that even Morrison and Alonso could be beyond Cleveland’s comfort zone.) Dealing Jason Kipnis and the remaining $30.5MM on his contract (2018-19) would open up some additional funds for the team to reallocate to a first baseman or additional bullpen help, Crasnick notes.
Signing Mitch Moreland doesn’t take the Red Sox out of the market for hitting, president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski told reporters including Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. And adding another stick wouldn’t necessarily mean trading away from the current roster to create space, the club’s top baseball decisionmaker added. But it surely does not seem that Boston will sign another first baseman; rather, a DH/corner outfield bat seems the likeliest possibility.
- Boston’s decision seems to take it out of the market for Eric Hosmer, which has raised some eyebrows in Royals country. As Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star writes, there are still many barriers remaining to a return to Kansas City for Hosmer, including the possibility that agent Scott Boras will find a way to bring some new suitors into the picture. But keeping Hosmer in Royals blue for the future now seems more plausible than might have been expected when the organization began giving indication it would rebuild. Of course, even if that comes to pass, the general rebuilding plan will remain, the Star’s Rustin Dodd notes on Twitter.
- The Cardinals appear to be showing more interest in veteran Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson than in Manny Machado of the Orioles, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Nightengale posits that the club may believe it’s better situated to pursue a long-term deal with Donaldson — who’s much older than Machado, though both will hit the open market at the same time — which would increase his appeal. Of course, it’s important to bear in mind there’s still no real indication that Toronto will move Donaldson and the St. Louis front office has suggested recently that it’s not all that keen on giving up significant assets for a rental.
- While there has been some chatter recently connecting the Mets to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post says that possibility is not as likely as it has come to seem. Especially with Carlos Santana moving on, says Davidoff, the Indians are not particularly inclined to part with Kipnis’s contract for a marginal return. New York is trying to thread the needle in finding an upgrade at the position, with the organization concerned with giving up too much in salary or prospect value to make a deal. As the Post’s Joel Sherman writes, the Mets’ lack of top-end, marketable pre-MLB talent has posed an under-appreciated barrier to its winter activity.
- The Mets, of course, are also eyeing the addition of another option at the first base position. New York had some interest in Moreland, per the above-cited Cafardo piece. And as James Wagner of the New York Times tweets, the Mets intend at least to take a look at the newest entrant onto the open market: Adrian Gonzalez. The veteran will be looking to bounce back after a rough, injury-plagued 2017 season, though he could conceivably bring some upside at a very appealing price.
The latest from Citi Field…
- The Mets have been linked to a possible reunion with Jay Bruce all offseason, and a Mets source tells Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News that the free agent is looking for a four-year contract. This represents a shift in Bruce’s asking price, as he and his representatives began the offseason in search of a five-year pact worth $80-$90MM and reportedly were still sticking to that demand at the start of December. Of course, starting with a high number is a common tactic in any negotiation, so it isn’t surprising that Bruce has limited his demand, particularly since the free agent market as a whole has yet to truly kick into gear. Even four years may be too long for the Mets’ liking — while Bruce would be a valuable contributor at first base or in a corner outfield spot, New York has Michael Conforto (once he recovers from shoulder surgery) and rookie Dominic Smith slated for those spots over the long term. The Rockies, Blue Jays, and Mariners have also been linked to Bruce at various points over the winter, though Seattle’s acquisitions of Ryon Healy and Dee Gordon may have lessened their desire for Bruce’s services.
- A source “expressed skepticism” to Newsday’s Marc Carig (Twitter links) that the Mets and Indians would be able to work out a deal involving second baseman Jason Kipnis. New York has been connected to a wide array of players as it tries to address its hole at the keystone, though with other trade avenues seemingly closing up, it was looking like Kipnis could be the Mets’ top option. With the Mets also apparently open to taking on salary instead of moving prospects in trades, Kipnis seemed like an even clearer target; one rival executive described Kipnis as one of “the most attainable” second basemen left on the market given that the Tribe seems eager to get his $30.5MM in remaining salary off their books.
The Indians have agreed to a minor league contract with veteran outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (on Twitter). Upton has already passed his physical, tweets USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, adding that the deal comes with a $1.5MM base salary in the Majors. Upton is represented by Reynolds Sports Management.
Upton, 33, scarcely played in 2017 after being released by the Blue Jays at the end of Spring Training. He latched on with the Giants on a minor league deal shortly thereafter but quickly suffered a torn ligament in his thumb that required surgical repair. Upton returned to action in August but requested and received his release that month.
Overall, Upton appeared in just 12 Triple-A games last season, hitting .244/.306/.333 in a minuscule sample of 49 plate appearances. Though his five-year, $72.25MM contract was a notorious misstep for the Braves, Upton did show some signs of life in the late stages of that deal after he’d been passed off onto the Padres. In 602 plate appearances with San Diego fro 2015-16, Upton slashed a respectable .257/.313/.435 (103 OPS+) with 21 homers and 29 stolen bases. His production cratered again following a trade to the Blue Jays, however (.196/.261/.318 in 165 PAs to close out the 2016 campaign).
The Indians will obviously hope that Upton can more closely approximate the level of output he demonstrated as a member of the Padres. The signing bears a strong resemblance to Cleveland’s minor league deal with Austin Jackson last offseason, and Upton could head to Spring Training and vie for a similar role to the one Jackson held in 2017 (though the addition of Upton likely doesn’t preclude the possibility of a reunion with Jackson himself).
- In a full story from Carig, he reports that the Mets are more willing to take on salary than give up significant prospects in trades. This could lead them to Jason Kipnis, who both Carig and Puma cite as potentially the Mets’ top second base target. The Indians owe Kipnis $28MM over the next two season, plus a $16.5MM club option for 2020 that carries a $2.5MM buyout. Also from Carig, he reports that the Mets don’t seem to have much interest in another second baseman, the Athletics’ Jed Lowrie.
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.
Armstrong, 27, worked to a 4.38 ERA with 7.3 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in his 24 2/3 MLB innings in the 2017 season. That said, he has averaged around 94 mph with his fastball in the majors and has a lifetime 11.3% swinging-strike rate in 43 1/3 total innings at the game’s highest level.
There’s a broader minor-league sample to consider as well. Armstrong posted better numbers in 2017 at Triple-A, where he racked up 11.1 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9 over 29 1/3 frames of 3.07 ERA ball. And he had set down 152 batters on strikes in 98 2/3 innings at Triple-A across two prior campaigns.
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.
If the Indians can’t re-sign Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison is on the team’s list of fallback options, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports (via Twitter). Morrison is coming off a career year and would require a solid multi-year commitment, though he would come with a lower price tag than the most established Santana. The Angels and Red Sox were rumored to have interest in Morrison earlier this winter.
Ogando, 34, pitched mostly from the rotation in a 2017 stint with the KBO’s Hanwha Eagles. Over 110 innings, he posted a 3.93 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in the notoriously hitter-friendly Korean league.
Between 2014 and 2016, Ogando had worked exclusively as a reliever. He managed a 3.94 earned run average in his 32-inning run with the Braves in 2016, averaging nearly 95 mph on his fastball, but also oversaw an ugly 29:23 K/BB ratio before being cut loose by Atlanta.