- The Royals went into the offseason hoping to re-sign maybe one of Eric Hosmer (their top choice), Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas, though the Kansas City Star’s Rustin Dodd wonders if the team could re-assess its plans given the unexpectedly slow free agent market. All three players are still available as the calendar turns to January, and in the cases of Hosmer and Moustakas, they seem to be running short on viable landing spots. Re-signing any of those free agents, however, would cost the Royals compensation draft picks, which are valuable assets for a team that is looking at a rebuild. Dodd notes that K.C. was able to re-sign Alex Gordon when his free agent market proved to be quieter than expected, though given how Gordon has struggled over the last two years, the Royals probably aren’t thrilled with that comp.
- There isn’t much action in Alcides Escobar’s market, leading MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan to write that the Royals could consider re-signing the shortstop as veteran depth behind Raul Mondesi. The Padres were the only team known to be interested in Escobar this offseason, and they’re now seemingly out of the shortstop market after acquiring Freddy Galvis. It would’ve been a tall order for Escobar to find a starting gig anywhere given his lack of offensive production, and if he did go anywhere as a backup, a familiar locale like Kansas City makes as much sense as any other destination.
- Also from Flanagan’s mailbag piece, the Royals have some uncertainty whether or not Luke Hochevar will continue his career. Hochevar missed all of 2017 after recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, and he also missed the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery. Royals GM Dayton Moore said during the Winter Meetings that he hadn’t recently spoken to Hochevar about a possible reunion, though Flanagan wrote that the Royals would have interest in bringing him back. Hochevar just turned 34 last September and posted excellent numbers as a reliever in his last three active seasons.
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 Royals have released southpaw Onelki Garcia so that he can pursue an opportunity in Japan, according to MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan (via Twitter). Further details are not known at this time. Garcia, 28, made it back to the majors in 2017 for the first time since his brief debut in 2013, though he was knocked around in six frames. In his 85 1/3 upper-minors frames on the year with Kansas City, Garcia pitched to a 4.75 ERA with 7.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9.
The Phillies have been aggressively shopping for controllable pitching this winter, as the team has “inquired on just about every young starter that could be traded this winter,” Matt Gelb and Matt Breen of Philly.com report. This list of targets include their previously-reported interest in Chris Archer, and the Phillies also checked in with the Blue Jays about Marcus Stroman and the Royals about Danny Duffy.
It’s clear that Philadelphia is looking to take its rebuild to the next level, after signing Carlos Santana and even adding veteran relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek on multi-year contracts. The rotation remains a major need for the club — Aaron Nola is the only member of a young projected starting five that looks like a solid bet for 2018. It has been expected that the Phillies would try to land at least one veteran innings-eater this winter, though they’re apparently also setting their sights higher for a pitcher that could contribute when the team returns to contention.
Of the two new names mentioned in the Phillies’ search, Stroman is by far the less likely to be available. The Jays are planning to contend in 2018, and moving Stroman would be an even bigger indicator of a total rebuild than even a trade of Josh Donaldson, given that Donaldson is only under contract for one more season. Stroman, by contrast, still has three years of arbitration eligibility remaining. MLBTR projects him to earn $7.2MM this winter through the arb process, and while Stroman’s price tag will continue to grow through his arbitration years, Toronto will happily shoulder that cost if Stroman keeps producing as he did in 2017. Stroman posted a 3.09 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 2.65 K/BB rate and a league-best 62.1% grounder rate over 201 innings, cracking the 200-inning threshold for the second consecutive season.
Duffy, on the other hand, has already drawn a lot of trade attention this winter, with the Cubs, Yankees, and Orioles reportedly among the teams interested. The Royals seem to be on the verge of a rebuild given all of their expected free agent losses, though they aren’t yet “aggressively shopping” Duffy’s services. It was just 11 months ago that K.C. locked Duffy up on a five-year, $65MM extension with the hope that he would be one of the cornerstone pieces of the next era of Royals baseball, though it remains to be seen just how extensive a rebuild the Royals may have in mind. If the team hopes to reload over a year or two, Duffy will still be an asset for when Kansas City aims to once again open a contention window.
If a longer rebuild is necessary, the $60MM remaining on Duffy’s contract makes him a logical trade chip. The Phillies certainly have the open payroll space to accommodate his salary; Santana, Neshek, Hunter, and Odubel Herrera are the only players beyond the 2018 season. Philadelphia has widely been expected to target the top stars of next year’s free agent class, though the team has gotten a jump-start on that plan now by landing Santana. Given the Phillies’ payroll flexibility, they could try to land their desired pitching help by offering to take another big and/or undesirable contract off the the other team’s hands with little prospect capital going back in return. (In the Royals’ case, for instance, the Phillies could offer to take on Ian Kennedy’s deal in order to land Duffy.)
The Brewers, searching for starters, relievers and a second baseman, spoke with the Royals about their available players at the Winter Meetings, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported earlier this week (on Twitter). It’s unclear whether those discussions actually led anywhere, however. Speculatively, considering the Brewers’ needs, talks could have involved anyone from a group consisting of Royals starters Danny Duffy and Jason Hammel, relievers Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria and Scott Alexander, and second baseman Whit Merrifield. All six of those players have been part of the rumor mill this month.
- It’s unclear how many “untouchable” players the Orioles have, but second baseman Jonathan Schoop, outfielder Trey Mancini and reliever Mychal Givens are among them, an executive from outside the organization told Kubatko at the Winter Meetings. The lone player of those three who’s not under control for the long haul is Schoop, who has two arbitration-eligible years remaining. The Orioles will attempt to extend him sometime soon, Kubatko suggests. Mancini is controllable for the next half-decade, including two pre-arb campaigns, while Givens is under wraps for four more seasons (he’ll be eligible for arbitration in a year).
- While talking Manny Machado with the Cardinals, the Orioles showed interest in a trio of right-handers – Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Hicks – as well as catcher Carson Kelly, Kubatko relays. In acquiring Weaver and Flaherty, the Orioles would accomplish their goal of getting two major league-ready starters for their top player. Of course, it’s questionable whether the Cardinals would even part with one (let alone both) for a single year of Machado. Weaver held his own across 60 1/3 innings last season for the Cards, who may not be in position to lose another starter with free agent Lance Lynn likely set to depart, while Flaherty ranks as MLB.com’s 48th-best prospect.
- The Orioles are reportedly trying to acquire Royals left-hander Danny Duffy, but Kubatko throws cold water on the possibility. Baltimore is indeed interested in Duffy, but it’s unlikely a deal with Kansas City will come together, in part because the Royals aren’t “aggressively shopping” the soon-to-be 29-year-old, Kubatko hears.
- Although the Orioles are seeking a left-handed hitter, they don’t seem to have interest in free agent Jon Jay, per Kubatko. That differs from previous offseasons when Jay was on the O’s radar, he notes. Conversely, Baltimore could consider Preston Tucker, whom the Astros designated for assignment Friday.
- The Royals officially announced the minor league signings of both Broadway and third baseman/outfielder Cody Asche via their official Twitter feed. Asche has a .234/.293/.376 slash line over 1349 career PA from 2013-17, as he has yet to break out after years as a well-regarded prospect in the Phillies’ system. Asche spent 2017 with the White Sox, where he posted a big .887 OPS over 347 Triple-A plate appearances and also appeared in 19 games with the big league club.
- The Royals signed right-hander Mike Broadway to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invitation, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports (via Twitter). Originally a fourth-round pick for the Braves in the 2005 draft, Broadway reached the big leagues a decade later, posting a 6.75 ERA over 22 2/3 relief innings for the Giants in 2015-16. The righty spent last season in the Nationals and Rays farm systems.
Perhaps the Orioles’ willingness to trade Manny Machado isn’t a death sentence to their 2018 playoff aspirations. Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports reports that although Baltimore is trying to trade their third baseman by the end of the week, they’re also “strongly pursuing” Royals starter Danny Duffy. It seems they could be looking to use a Machado trade as a means of retooling their major league roster, rather than go for an altogether rebuild. It’s all conjecture at this point, but in any case, the Orioles are in desperate need of good pitching, and although the southpaw Duffy spent some time on the DL last season, he posted quality results while on the mound despite a drop in strikeout rate from previous years. For the 2017 season, Duffy had a 3.81 ERA across 24 games started. Fangraphs estimated his value at 3.4 WAR.
A couple more items out of Camden Yards…
- Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com speaks at length about the Orioles in a video. At one point, he gives his insight on the dramatic shift in the O’s mindset regarding Manny Machado. “As late as Monday night, I talked to an Orioles official who said it was probably less than zero percent that Manny Machado would be traded before Opening Day,” Connolly says in the video. “And then… bam, everything changed.” Connolly wonders if perhaps the Orioles went into the winter meetings thinking that they had a great chance of improving their starting pitching (he mentions Mike Fiers and Tyler Chatwood as possible targets), but then felt disheartened when they watched their top choices go off the board. Since the Orioles don’t have the budget to play in “the stratosphere” of Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish, they may have needed a new and bold strategy to get the pitching they’ll require to compete. One incredibly important disclaimer: Connolly admits he’s only speculating. Still, from my perspective, his logic adds up.
- Speaking of Machado, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette says he’ll consider dealing the prized third baseman even to an AL East division rival (via a piece by Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun). Encina notes that the Yankees have shown interest in acquiring Machado, and I’d add that their farm system has some talented young pitching that could help the Orioles’ rotation. Baltimore isn’t a stranger to intra-divisional trades; as Encina points out, the O’s acquired Tim Beckham from the Rays at this past year’s trade deadline. He also includes quotes wherein Duquette mentions acquiring Andrew Miller from the Red Sox and Richard Bleier from the Yankees. Of course, none of these trades compare in magnitude to a hypothetical Machado swap, but it’s interesting to learn that Duquette is leaving the door wide open to this possibility. “I think you have to look at the entire market if you’re going to accurately assess the market,” he said in a video interview with the Baltimore Sun. “And the entire market would include teams in the American League East that we compete against.”
The Royals announced that they’ve acquired right-handers Brad Keller and Burch Smith in trades with the Reds and Mets following today’s Rule 5 Draft. Kansas City will send a player to be named later or cash to both Cincinnati and New York in each trade. Keller was selected with the No. 5 pick out of the D-backs organization, while Smith was selected out of the Rays’ system.
Keller spent the entire 22 season in Double-A despite pitching most of the season at the age of 21. He made 26 starts and totaled 130 2/3 frames with a 4.68 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 and a 49.6 percent ground-ball rate. He had been considered the No. 12 prospect in the D-backs’ organization by Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com but was unprotected on at last month’s deadline to set 40-man rosters.
The Rule 5 selection could pave the way back to the Majors for Smith for the first time since 2013. Smith tossed 36 1/3 innings for the Padres as a 23-year-old that year, and though he logged an ugly 6.44 ERA, he also punched out 46 batters in that time.
Now 27 years of age, Smith has seen two seasons wiped out by Tommy John surgery and other arm troubles. But, he was healthy in 56 1/3 minor league innings as he worked his way back across three minor league levels this year — his first action on a mound since 2014. Smith posted a 2.40 ERA with 8.9 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9 before impressing with 29 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League.
Both pitchers will retain their Rule 5 status with the Royals, meaning neither can be optioned to the minors without first being exposed to waivers and then offered back to their original organizations for $50K. If either lasts the entire season on the Royals’ big league roster (with at least 90 days on the active roster and not on the DL), he’ll become their property without any restrictions in 2019.