- There hasn’t been much interest in Ryan Braun this winter, which Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com attributes in part to some lingering hard feelings over how Braun’s representatives conducted themselves when he was trying to avoid a PED suspension in 2013. Perhaps a larger factor, of course, is the crowded outfield market. As one GM noted to Gammons, a team looking to add corner outfield power could prefer to sign the likes of Jose Bautista or Mark Trumbo rather than pay a hefty price in both prospects and contract by acquiring Braun from the Brewers.
TODAY: Hwang turned down an offer from the KBO’s Lotte Giants, Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency reports (hat tip to MyKBO.net’s Dan Kurtz). Yoon-won Lee, the Giants’ general manager, said his club extended “a sizeable offer” to Hwang, but the infielder seems intent on testing himself in North America, even if it means earning less money. To this end, Hwang is reportedly open to signing a split contract rather than a straight big league deal.
TUESDAY: The market continues to develop for Korean third baseman Jae-gyun Hwang, according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press (links to Twitter). He’s most interested at this point in securing an opportunity that comes with a 40-man roster spot, per the report.
Hwang, a 29-year-old free agent, was said recently to have drawn some attention from the Giants. The Brewers and Tigers are also among the team’s with some level of interest, according to Berardino. While the Twins have “checked in” on him, it seems there’s no present fit.
It could be, of course, that Hwang may still need to wait for other moves to shake out before he’s presented with a clear shot at the majors. A return to Korea can’t be ruled out, of course; indeed, a KBO club has made a four-year offer. While that will surely hold appeal, it seems Hwang is still hoping for a chance to play at the game’s highest level.
For San Francisco, the possibility of adding another corner outfielder or third baseman may make the team hesitant to commit. The Brewers already plugged in Travis Shaw at the hot corner, though presumably the right-handed-hitting Hwang could provide a complement (with both perhaps also factoring in at first base). As for the A.L. Central rivals in Detroit and Minnesota, third base appears to be set in both cases. But perhaps there’s some window for Hwang if he’s deemed capable of spending some time at second and one of those teams deal their incumbent options. Alternatively, perhaps, he could factor in the corner outfield.
It has been a tough market for third basemen, with Luis Valbuena and Trevor Plouffe among the players still looking for a job. There’s also a variety of veteran utility types with experience on the left side of the infield — including Aaron Hill, Kelly Johnson, and Stephen Drew — who have yet to sign.
Beyond the enticement of the unknown, Hwang has some possible advantages over some of those options. He won’t turn 30 until July and is coming off of a career year in the KBO. Finally combining both power and contact in a single season, Hwang popped 27 long balls with just 64 strikeouts over 522 plate appearances. He also swiped 24 bags, though he was cut down on ten other attempts.
Free agent righty Neftali Feliz is close to agreeing to a deal with the Brewers, Fan Rag’s Jon Heyman writes (Twitter links). BrewerFan.net’s Jim Goulart was first to tweet a connection between Feliz and the Brew Crew.
The 28-year-old Feliz is coming off a strong comeback season in the Pirates’ bullpen in which he posted a 3.52 ERA, 10.2 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 over 53 2/3 innings. (He missed the last month of the season due to arm discomfort, but his injury was not structural in nature, as Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets. Feliz also began the year throwing his fastball in the mid-90s and added velocity as the season went on, a promising sign for a pitcher who had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and spent several seasons thereafter trying to get back on track.
The Brewers could represent a good match for Feliz. He has 99 saves’ worth of career closing experience, and in the wake of a variety of Brewers trades of established relievers (including Jeremy Jeffress and Tyler Thornburg), he could receive the opportunity to close in Milwaukee. If he does, he could potentially receive a very lucrative contract the next time he’s a free agent. The rebuilding Brewers, meanwhile, would get the chance to dangle Feliz as a trade piece at the deadline, assuming they do fall out of the playoff race. The Brewers have reportedly been looking for relief pitching lately — GM David Stearns has said he’s exploring the possibility of adding relief help not only through big-league additions, but through minor-league signings and trades. The Dodgers had also been connected to Feliz of late.
Free-agent righty Greg Holland is arguably the highest-upside reliever left on the open market, and Jon Heyman of Fan Rag provides some notable updates on his situation. The 31-year-old is in a somewhat unusual spot as a free agent, in that he brings a sparkling track record but is also seeking to return from a long layoff due to Tommy John surgery.
Given his health situation and also the evident interest around the league, Holland seeks a two-year deal that would allow him to opt out after the first season, according to Heyman. That’s the same structure that Brian Wilson landed with the Dodgers before the 2014 season, though he had made it back to the hill late in the prior campaign.
In Holland’s case, there’s perhaps greater uncertainty, but also greater upside. He took a step back in his most recent action, in 2015, but that may well have been due to the elbow issues that led to his surgery. Over the prior four campaigns, Holland was one of the game’s very best relievers, as he compiled 256 1/3 innings of 1.86 ERA pitching with 12.6 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9.
There’s interest in Holland’s proposed two-year arrangement, per the report. Among the teams still pursuing him are the Dodgers, Nationals, Rockies, Brewers, Reds, and Rays. While the Cubs showed prior interest, it’s not clear whether they are still in. And the Royals have also indicated a desire to bring back their former closer, though it seems that the team’s payroll situation may not allow for a competitive bid.
That group of organizations would presumably offer Holland a variety of possible roles. The Nationals, Rockies, Brewers, Reds, and Royals (if they’re involved) could all promise him first dibs on closing roles, while the Dodgers and perhaps the Cubs are more likely to view the veteran as a setup man. Tampa Bay, perhaps, might be most interested in the event that it strikes a deal for incumbent closer Alex Colome. Whether and to what extent the chance to take hold of the ninth is an important factor in Holland’s decisionmaking is not immediately clear.
- The Brewers are still looking for relief pitching, GM David Stearns tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, exploring trade opportunities and both major league or minor league signings. When asked if Milwaukee was favoring trades over signings (or vice versa), Stearns said “I don’t know that we have a firm preference. We have to explore all avenues.” Stearns also noted that the Brewers are “active on a number of fronts” in regards to adding position players, though he also felt generally comfortable with the team’s pre-existing mix of everyday players and relievers.
- The Brewers have signed first baseman Cody Decker to a minor league deal, tweets Tommy Stokke of FanRag. The pact doesn’t include an invitation to big league camp, per Adam McCalvy of MLB.com (Twitter link). Decker announced (via Twitter) that he’ll move to catcher, where he has seen action in 23 games during parts of eight minor league seasons. The 29-year-old has slashed an impressive .255/.333/.501 in 1,498 Triple-A plate appearances, though he has only logged eight PAs in the majors (with San Diego in 2015).
The market has finally seen some movement, both via trades and free-agent signings, in recent days, and there’s plenty more to come with Spring Training just six weeks away. Here’s the latest chatter on various potential player movements, all via Jon Morosi of MLB Network (all links below are to his Twitter feed).
- Though Jason Hammel has seemingly had trouble finding active pursuers, the Rangers are now in the mix for the righty. That’s certainly promising news for Hammel, who may no longer be under consideration for the Mariners now that they’ve added Yovani Gallardo. Of course, Seattle also just parted with Nate Karns, and GM Jerry Dipoto says he’s still amenable to bolstering his staff (via Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune, on Twitter). As for Texas, the level of interest remains unclear, though it’s certainly plausible to imagine the team deciding that Hammel would be a worthwile bet to provide some solid innings. The biggest question, perhaps, is whether they’ll instead land Tyson Ross first.
- As the White Sox continue to discuss trade arrangements involving Jose Quintana, the Astros remain one of the rival organizations most fervently in pursuit. That’s hardly surprising, as Houston has long been said to be engaged on the talented lefty. Certainly, it still seems there’s sufficient momentum towards a deal for something to get done, though it remains to be seen whether the ’Stros or another club will come up with the best offer.
- The Giants are not actively pursuing Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. And though the Dodgers still remain a possible match with Milwaukee, the Los Angeles organization is currently still focused on trying to work out a trade for second baseman Brian Dozier. It’s not known whether the Dodgers would embark upon a pursuit of Braun if they’re able to add Dozier. While they obviously play different positions, Dozier would accomplish the goal of adding right-handed pop while occupying a position of greater need for L.A., which has a rather lengthy list of potential outfielders.
- Meanwhile, the Dodgers are on the hunt for a righty set-up man. One possibility, per Morosi, is live-armed 28-year-old Neftali Feliz, who is arguably the best-remaining relief pitcher. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently took a look at Feliz’s free-agent case.
- While the Reds just announced a deal with righty Drew Storen, they are still in the market for relievers, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Also seeking pen arms are the Brewers and Athletics, per the report. MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon adds that Cincinnati is additionally looking at the market for a veteran starter as well as some catching depth, so there may yet be some more additions on the horizon.
To set the stage for the remainder of the offseason, we’ll take a look at the most pressing remaining needs of every team in baseball over the coming week or so, division by division. (Hat tip to MLBTR commenter mike156 for the idea.) We often discuss things through the lens of an organization’s trajectory; thus, a rebuilding team might “need” to move some salary, while a contender might “need” an expensive starter. But with camp in sight, every club is making final calls on who’ll compete for big league jobs in the season to come (while also pursuing broader opportunities), so the focus here is on specific positions on the MLB roster. Fortunately, the task of roster analysis is made much easier by the MLB depth charts available at RosterResource.com. Each team listed below is linked to its respective depth chart, so you can take a look for yourself.
- Negotiate with Jake Arrieta. The Cubs appear set to try to negotiate a deal with their star righty this month after the two sides swap arbitration figures. As MLBTR’s Jeff Todd noted this week, it’s hard to assess the Cubs’ chances of extending Arrieta, or what kind of money he should ultimately get after a good, but still disappointing, 2016 season. Negotiations between the Cubs and Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, will be an important story line in Wrigleyville over the next few weeks. And even if there’s no extension, expect to see at least a couple interesting Arrieta-related headlines — he’s projected to make $16.8MM through arbitration in 2017, so even arriving at a one-year salary will be a relatively high-stakes endeavor.
- Keep an eye out for starting pitching help. The Cubs’ roster is extraordinarily talented and deep, so much of what we’ve heard about the team since their swap of Jorge Soler for Wade Davis and their signing of Koji Uehara has pertained to potential role players. One name who’s repeatedly come up has been that of Tyson Ross, who (as MLBTR’s Steve Adams pointed out in a recent chat) would be an interesting fit with the Cubs in that the team’s depth would give him the luxury of taking his time returning from shoulder injury, then providing rotation help once fully healthy. In any case, the Cubs could still perhaps use a bit more starting pitching, although options like Rob Zastryzny, Aaron Brooks and Jake Buchanan do give them a variety of palatable spot starters.
- Consider adding a bit more left-handed relief. The Cubs have a heavily right-handed bullpen (with veteran Brian Duensing, waiver claim David Rollins, Rule 5 pick Caleb Smith and Jack Leathersich topping their current list of lefty relief options), so they could consider adding a lefty as a late-offseason move. They’ve been connected to Justin Wilson of the Tigers, and they could also make a move to bump lefty Mike Montgomery from the rotation back to the bullpen. Of course, the idea that lefty relief is a serious need for the Cubs is already nit-picking — they do already have a sufficient quantity of lefties, and their excellent group of righty relievers somewhat mitigates the need for southpaws, particularly since newcomer Uehara is very tough on lefty batters.
- Add pitching help. The Reds haven’t signed a single player to a big-league deal to this point in the offseason, which isn’t necessarily surprising — as a rebuilding club, they shouldn’t feel an urgent need to make short-term upgrades, and they might get better deals on helpful players later in the winter anyway. Last week, MLBTR’s Steve Adams and Jeff Todd looked at big-league free agent pitchers the Reds could pursue, focusing in large part on the Reds’ open closer role, which could provide an opportunity both for interested free agents (who might be able to establish or reestablish themselves as closers in Cincinnati) and for the team (which might be able to deal relievers they sign this winter at next year’s deadline).
- Find opportunities for young players. The Reds’ projected 25-man roster still includes a variety of veterans. The team hasn’t been able to strike deals this offseason, though, in part because those veterans either have no-trade protection or aren’t in high demand. For 2017, that leaves them in somewhat of an awkward position, particularly in their middle infield, where they have prospects Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera ready for playing time and veterans Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart blocking them. Phillips, of course, is one of those veterans with a no-trade clause. The Reds might not make any moves before the start of the season to deal with their middle-infield issue, but they’ll have to deal with it one way or another, perhaps by getting creative with various infielders’ playing time. Peraza could also occasionally play center field.
- Acquire more catching depth. The Reds have identified catching depth as an area of need — Devin Mesoraco has struggled to stay healthy in the past two seasons, and the team doesn’t have enough help behind Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart. Rule 5 pick Stuart Turner is another possibility, but he has a limited offensive track record and has never played above Double-A.
- Add power. Assessing what the Brewers perceive their needs to be at this point is difficult, since they’ve been relatively quiet since the Winter Meetings and they don’t figure to contend in 2017. One area where they might have an opportunity, though, is in adding power to their lineup. First base is mostly open for them after they non-tendered Chris Carter, and their string of veteran trades leaves them with what should be plenty of money available to add a bat. The team did sign Eric Thames for a relatively substantial $16MM guarantee earlier in the offseason, and Thames currently tops their depth chart at first. Thames, though, can also play outfield, and the team’s relative uncertainty in the corners (where they have trade candidate Ryan Braun and the interesting but still unproven Domingo Santana) could clear space for Thames to move around. Meanwhile, the glut of power bats remaining on the free agent market (including Carter and many others) could give the Brewers an opportunity to add someone who could potentially contribute in 2017 and possibly fetch a prospect in a trade next summer.
- Continue evaluating Braun’s market. The Brewers and Dodgers reportedly discussed a deal last summer that would have sent Braun to Los Angeles for a package that included Yasiel Puig, but Braun’s market has been relatively quiet this winter. Now, the same market conditions mentioned in the previous bullet might have an impact on Braun’s market. There have also been whispers that Braun’s large contract and PED history might be problems as well. Regardless, with much of the Brewers’ previous core already having departed, there’s little reason for the Brewers not to investigate potential trades involving Braun.
- Create competition. The Brewers likely won’t be competitive in 2017, but they’ve already acquired a fair amount of interesting talent in their rebuild, and they have plenty of flexibility heading into the near future. With that in mind, they’ve added a number of marginal players this offseason, including catcher Jett Bandy, infielder Eric Sogard, and pitchers Tommy Milone, Ryan Webb and Andy Oliver. The moves that landed those players weren’t glamorous, but they’ll help give the Brewers depth they’ll need to get through 162 games, while also limiting the possibility of disaster should players further up the depth chart struggle.
- Consider continuing to add starting pitching. The Pirates made a big move to steady a wobbly rotation when they re-signed Ivan Nova late last month. Still, the team could use a bit more pitching help, as it currently figures to be heavily reliant on youngsters behind Gerrit Cole and Nova. The Pirates have been connected to White Sox star Jose Quintana, who certainly would be a big step forward. Beyond that, GM Neal Huntington has been outwardly noncommittal about the possibility of further additions, noting that he is open to bringing in more pitching but adding that “we like the group as is,” via Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Balance the bullpen. With the recent addition of Daniel Hudson to a group that already included Tony Watson, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Antonio Bastardo, A.J. Schugel, Jared Hughes and others, the Pirates have what appears to be a decent group of relievers. That group, however, is heavily left-handed, with Watson, Rivero, Bastardo, Wade LeBlanc and Rule 5 pick Tyler Webb all pitching from the left side. Watson’s name has come up in trade rumors this offseason, and either he or Bastardo look like reasonable candidates to be dealt, partially to get value from them but also partially to clear space for more right-handed relief help.
- Figure out whether Andrew McCutchen stays or goes. Following the collapse of trade negotiations with the Nationals, Huntington said the Pirates were likely to keep their star center fielder. Rumblings surrounding McCutchen have continued, albeit in more muted form, over the past several weeks, however. There’s also the question of what position he’ll play in 2017, as there have been various reports about the likelihood that the Pirates will move him to a corner after he posted poor defensive numbers in center in 2016.
- Figure out who’s on second. The latest Cardinals-related rumors have connected them to Twins second baseman Brian Dozier. While Dozier would undoubtedly help almost any team, though, most indications have been that the Cardinals’ interest in striking a deal with Minnesota isn’t particularly strong. Cardinals brass have also strongly praised Kolten Wong, who is signed through 2020 with an option for 2021 and who currently appears unlikely to be traded elsewhere.
- Consider extending Carlos Martinez. As of October, both Martinez and the Cardinals reportedly had interest in extension, and as Jeff noted last week, deal discussions could happen in the coming weeks as the two sides discuss Martinez’s pending arbitration case. The 25-year-old’s youth, blistering fastball and strong performances the last two seasons figure to make him a player well worth keeping, if the right deal can be found.
- Consider adding another outfielder. The Cardinals have a perfectly good starting outfield of Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty. But as Viva El Birdos’ Ben Markham recently pointed out, the team’s fourth outfielder, Tommy Pham, has struggled to stay healthy, and the team doesn’t have great depth beyond that. As Markham notes, Brandon Moss is probably the best outfielder available who could conceivably sign as a backup, and Moss is a lefty hitter who could complement righties Grichuk and Piscotty in the corners.
- Speaking of competition, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy breaks down the Brewers’ upcoming closer battle, listing right-handers Corey Knebel, Carlos Torres and Jacob Barnes as internal options to pitch in the ninth inning. As McCalvy notes, the Brewers have seen Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith and Tyler Thornburg — all traded in the past six months — emerge as late-inning arms that were acquired by means other than lucrative free-agent deals. The Brewers have been in contact with the representatives for seasoned free-agent closers, but there’s no guarantee they’ll sign any of the remaining available options (e.g. Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Greg Holland).