The Mets will interview former Rangers and Brewers GM Doug Melvin about their open general manager’s position sometime in the next week or two, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Melvin, who has been a senior advisor for Milwaukee since being moved out of the GM role in August 2015, was first linked to the Mets by Fancred’s Jon Heyman back in August. With Mets owner Fred Wilpon reportedly looking to hire a seasoned executive with a scouting background, Melvin’s 30 years of front office experience would certainly seem to make him a solid candidate, though COO Jeff Wilpon is seemingly more keen on a more analytical mind in New York’s baseball ops department. Up to a dozen “serious candidates” are reportedly under consideration for the Mets’ GM job, however, so Melvin still faces tough competition.
- There are anywhere from 10 to 12 “serious candidates” for the Mets’ general manager opening, Jon Heyman of Fancred tweets, adding that Kim Ng may be among the names. If the Mets hire Ng, Major League Baseball’s senior vice president for baseball operations, she’d become the first woman to hold a GM job in professional sports. Ng comes with plenty of front office experience and has drawn GM interest in the past, most recently from the Diamondbacks in 2016.
Rhys Hoskins’ move from first base to left field in 2018 didn’t exactly prove to be smooth, as the young slugger turned in one of the worst statistical seasons of any outfielder in baseball (-24 Defensive Runs Saved, -19 Outs Above Average, -11.3 Ultimate Zone Rating). Hoskins has already spoken about a desire to continue to improve, though he did admit when asked by Matt Breen of Philly.com that he’d prefer to be back at first base in an ideal world. Hoskins emphasized that he’s told both GM Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler that he’ll play wherever he’s asked but spoke about the comfort level he feels at first base as opposed to in the outfield.
In his season-end press conference, Klentak acknowledged that moving Hoskins back to first base is “something we’ve thought a lot about,” Breen writes, though clearly there are numerous moving parts in that scenario. The Phils experimented with Carlos Santana at third base in September, though he comes with his own defensive shortcomings there, and that shift would render Maikel Franco without a spot. Expected offseason pursuits of marquee free agents Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado also figure to factor into the calculus. Though there are dozens of roads the Phils could take to get there, Klentak stressed that “there is no question” that the team needs to improve its defense.
More from the division…
- With the offseason upon the Phillies, the focus in Philadelphia will shift from Kapler to Klentak, writes Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It’ll be a pivotal winter for Klentak’s future in the organization, he notes, as there’ll be pressure to generate more success with this offseason’s group of free agents than there was with last year’s crop. Klentak himself spoke about the performance of last year’s group of free agents, noting that Jake Arrieta, Carlos Santana, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter were fairly productive on the whole — especially relative to other free-agent signings throughout the league. Without improvement, Brookover, adds, the GM could find himself on the hot seat. It’s an interesting example of the importance of sequencing over the course of a given season; in a vacuum, a 14-win improvement for the Phillies looks like a clear victory. And had the team started poorly or even found a more evenly paced route to an 80-82 finish, the narrative would likely be different. Instead, their late collapse adds sizable pressure to improve even when the year-over-year win total has already generally trended in the right direction.
- Braves assistant general manager Perry Minasian is of interest to the Mets as they continue to compile a list of GM candidates, reports Mike Puma of the New York Post, though there are not yet any firm indications that the Mets have asked permission to interview him. Puma adds that former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is a “strong possibility” to receive an interview, as has previously been suggested, though the timing remains unclear. Initial interviews will be conducted by assistant GM John Ricco and COO Jeff Wilpon, Puma notes, with Fred Wilpon unlikely to be heavily involved in the process until finalists have been selected.
- The 2019 season will have a different feel for the Marlins than the 2018 season, writes Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. Namely, while the Fish were content to let some players develop at the big league level this past season, there will be more expectations for immediate results next season. Rule 5 picks Elieser Hernandez and Brett Graves will likely spend more time in the minors now that they can be optioned, he notes, while players who struggle (as Lewis Brinson did in the Majors this past season) might be sent back down for more seasoning as the team strives to improve its results. “Obviously, we did some things this year where it wasn’t necessary you had to produce to be here,” said manager Don Mattingly. “But moving forward I have the sense that’s going to change. If you don’t produce, it’s not going to be a year where we’ll let you keep developing. At some point, you’re going to have to produce.”
With Yoenis Cespedes set to miss some portion of next season as he recovers from two heel surgeries, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon admitted on Sunday that the team will have to plan as if he won’t play in 2019 (via Tim Healey of Newsday). “You probably do have to plan that way, given the fact that it’s uncertain,” Wilpon said of Cespedes, who will enter the penultimate season of a four-year, $110MM contract in 2019. Fortunately for the Mets, it appears they have at least two starting-caliber corner outfielders on hand in 2018 breakout star Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto, and their presences should make Cespedes’ absence less noticeable for however much time he misses next year.
- The re-signing of Cespedes in 2016 has been the Mets’ biggest free-agent splash in recent years, but Wilpon suggested that hasn’t been because of an unwillingness to spend on the team’s part; rather, it was outgoing general manager Sandy Alderson recommendation that the club avoid high-priced free agents, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Mets fans don’t seem to buy it, though, as the responses to Puma’s tweet indicate.
Speaking with reporters on Sunday, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon revealed that he and assistant general manager John Ricco will lead the initial round of interviews to find the team’s next GM (via Mike Puma of the New York Post). While the job still technically belongs to Sandy Alderson, it seems the leave of absence he took in June to battle cancer essentially ended his reign atop the team’s baseball department. Indeed, the Mets have known since June that they’d need a new GM, Tim Healey of Newsday was among those to tweet. None of Ricco or fellow assistants Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi are candidates to succeed Alderson, Wilpon said (via Puma), though he hopes those three return. Whether that happens will be up to the team’s next baseball chief, however.
The Mets would like to hire a new general manager in time for the GM meetings in November, but that’s not a necessity, per Wilpon. He also revealed that the team will consider a president/GM or executive VP/GM power structure, James Wagner of the New York Times reports. On the role Alderson’s replacement will have in building the team, Wilpon said, “They will know that their final recommendation will go through me, but it’s not something where I am in the mix of picking the players.”
- It’s possible the Mets’ coaching staff will also see changes heading into next season. First-year manager Mickey Callaway said he expects his whole staff to return in 2019 (per Healey), but he may not be even be safe. Callaway’s fate “will depend on the new GM’s thoughts,” Wagner tweets. Wilpon did praise Callaway & Co. on Sunday, saying (via Healey): “Mickey and the staff did a nice job not letting anybody quit and keeping them moving forward, which was certainly something that could have happened. We saw it with other teams in our division, where they had a great first half and fell apart.” While crediting his own team’s coaches, Wilpon jabbed at the NL East rival Phillies, who collapsed in the second half of the season.
- Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will undergo the second of two scheduled heel surgeries on Oct. 23, Tim Britton of The Athletic was among those to tweet. Cespedes expects to resume baseball activities roughly four months later, but he still won’t be able to run, Britton adds. The soon-to-be 33-year-old underwent his first heel surgery in late July, which ended his season and could keep him out for a sizable portion of 2019.
- Meanwhile, one of Cespedes’ teammates – infielder Jose Reyes – told reporters that Sunday’s game will be his last with the Mets, Wagner relays. The 35-year-old Reyes, a Met from 2003-11 and again since 2016, has managed a meager .583 OPS in 250 plate appearances this season. Reyes hasn’t decided on whether he’ll try to play again in 2019, but considering his output this year, he may not generate any interest as a free agent.
28-year-old righty Jerad Eickhoff gave the Phillies a feel-good story yesterday by tying a club record during his first MLB start in 13 months, as Joe Bloss details in a piece for MLB.com. Eickhoff managed to strike out seven consecutive Braves (eight overall) before allowing a homer to Johan Camargo and a single to Ozzie Albies, prompting an early hook by manager Gabe Kapler. Though Eickhoff was only allowed to throw 54 pitches, he recorded eight of his ten outs via the strikeout and didn’t walk a batter.
It stands to reason that a strong 2019 spring performance on the part of Eickhoff could have him back in the conversation for a rotation spot next year, though he’s likely to face some stiff competition. A rotation featuring Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin has done well in 2018, and each has accumulated at least 2.0 fWAR to date. That’s to say nothing of any potential offseason rotation additions, which the Phillies could certainly afford to purchase given their massive budget and relatively low 2019 payroll commitments. Still, Eickhoff made an intriguing opening statement to support his case last night.
More off the coast of the Atlantic…
- Speaking of the Phillies and their big winter budget, Scott Lauber opens an article for Philly.com by bluntly stating that John Middleton is “ready to make it rain.” With less than $70MM in salary commitments for the 2019 season, Lauber echoes the oft-heard sentiments that Philadelphia is firmly in the mix to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado (if not both). With that in mind, he embarked on a quest to discover who a panel of experts would prefer to sign. The criteria mentioned in Lauber’s excellent journalistic endeavor operates upon a slew of criteria including pure talent, durability/longevity and organizational fit.
- Alex Speier of the Boston Globe recently wrote about how manager Alex Cora has changed the organizational culture of the Red Sox in regards to analytics. According to Speier, some front offices last year weren’t on the lookout for authority figures to serve as their club’s skippers as the were trying to identify someone who could “serve as a conduit for data-driven analysis”. Cora’s been able to do just that, as evidenced in a recent defensive shift detailed in Speier’s piece, though that’s far from the only example. “He’s kind of reformed the culture of how we’re going to integrate data into decision-making,” assistant GM Eddie Romero said of the rookie manager.
- The Mets have elected to shut down right-handers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman for the season, per a report from Anthony DiComo of MLB.com. The decision comes as a result of workload concerns, as the two relievers have combined for 181 1/3 innings on the season. Mickey Callaway offered his thoughts on the subject. “”We feel that those guys have had outstanding years,” he explained. “They both finished with a save, on a strong note. They’ve probably done more than we could have ever asked to this point. And we felt these last three games, we’re going to give these younger guys a shot to go out there and nail down the games for us. We feel this is taking care of them heading into the offseason, so they can come back and be even better next year.”
While a new breed of pitcher, one who can rack up holds, strikeouts and throw multiple innings, is beginning to emerge as an integral role on a baseball roster, becoming the “closer” is still the ultimate goal for a Major League relief pitcher. The closer gets the entrance music. The closer gets the congratulatory hug from the catcher after the third out, followed by handshakes from every teammate. Closers get paid! Most importantly, being the closer usually means that your manager trusts you above all other pitchers in that bullpen.
Give up a lead in the seventh or eighth inning and your team still has a chance to pick you up. The later in the game a players fails, the better chance that mistake will stand out to anyone watching. It will be in the headlines. Fantasy Baseball owners will want to know who is “next in line.” And for a team that has fought tooth and nail to get to the ninth inning with a lead, it can be debilitating if the last pitcher standing can’t close things out. Managers don’t have much patience for blown saves, either. There is a lot of pressure and a lot of turnover, which is why most teams won’t have the same closer in September as they did on Opening Day.
Here’s a look back at each National League team’s closer situation on Opening Day versus where they are now and where they will be as they head into the offseason. (We ran through the American League earlier this week.)
Future Outlook: The Diamondbacks opted to keep their best reliever, Bradley, in a setup role while plugging offseason acquisition Boxberger into the closer’s role. For the majority of the season, things went according to plan. That duo, along with Hirano and lefties Andrew Chafin and T.J. McFarland, were a strength on a team that led the NL West on September 1. But as the bullpen has fallen apart over the past few weeks, the team has quickly descended in the standings and fallen out of the playoff hunt.
As a result, the D-backs will head into the offseason with their closer situation somewhat up in the air. Overall, Boxberger, Bradley and Hirano have each been mostly effective and can still be counted on as valuable late-inning relievers. The D-backs will need to decide if they want add a better ninth inning option, though with numerous holes to fill as key players like A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin depart via free agency, the team could decide it has bigger needs.
Atlanta Braves | Braves Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Arodys Vizcaino
September 2018: Arodys Vizcaino
Future Outlook: Vizcaino was entrenched as the Braves’ closer to start the season, and he’s seemingly back in as the Braves prepare for their first playoff series since 2013. A.J. Minter proved to be a capable fill-in during both of Vizcaino’s disabled list stints. For a time, he even appeared to be more of a co-closer with a healthy Vizcaino on the roster, presenting a very formidable righty-lefty combination in the late innings.
With a solid group of relievers, including Minter, Jesse Biddle, Shane Carle and Dan Winkler, all under contract for next season and the chance that one or two of their enticing young prospects could help out of the ’pen, the Braves appear to be in good shape in 2019. They could be tempted, however, to bring back free agent Craig Kimbrel, who had 186 saves, four All-Star appearances and won the NL Rookie of the Year award during a five-year stint with the team from 2010-2014.
Chicago Cubs | Cubs Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Brandon Morrow
September 2018: Committee — Jesse Chavez, Jorge De La Rosa, Steve Cishek, etc.
Future Outlook: The offseason signing of Morrow came with significant risk due to his long history of injuries and a heavy postseason workload (14 appearances) with the Dodgers in 2017. And while the Cubs did their best not to overuse him—he made back-to-back appearances just six times and pitched on three consecutive days only once—his season ended in mid-July due to a bone bruise in his elbow and biceps inflammation.
Pedro Strop was up to the task as the fill-in closer—he had a 1.77 ERA and 11 saves in 13 chances after Morrow went on the disabled list—but a strained hamstring ended his regular season on September 13. He could return for the playoffs. In the meantime, the Cubs have been mixing and matching in the late innings, at times relying on journeymen like Chavez and De La Rosa as they try to hold off the Brewers in the NL Central race.
Morrow and Strop will be back in the picture in 2018—Strop’s $6.25MM club option will almost certainly be exercised—as will setup men Carl Edwards Jr. and Cishek. Finding a left-hander who can close, if necessary, might be on the team’s agenda. Zach Britton could be a target if that’s the case.
Cincinnati Reds | Reds Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Raisel Iglesias
September 2018: Raisel Iglesias
Future Outlook: Iglesias has had three consecutive good seasons out of the bullpen with 63 saves in 71 opportunities. The Reds, however, have been in last place with less than 70 wins in each of those years, making Iglesias’ contributions less significant.
If the Reds are confident that they can be a much better team in 2019, it makes perfect sense to hold on to the 28-year-old right-hander—he’s under team control through 2021—and make him available via trade only if they fall out of contention during the season. Since he’s been able to stay healthy as a relief pitcher—not to mention that there is no clear “next in line” closer in the organization—they’re be better off leaving things as they are rather than experimenting with a move back to the rotation. The ninth inning should belong to Iglesias again come Opening Day 2019.
Colorado Rockies | Rockies Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Wade Davis
September 2018: Wade Davis
Future Outlook: Despite a few rough patches along the way, the 33-year-old Davis has 42 saves for the first-place Rockies and has been on a roll when it counts the most. In his last 17 appearances, he’s 10-for-10 in save chances with 23 strikeouts in 17 innings and only one earned run allowed.
Davis is still guaranteed $36MM over the next two seasons—he’ll also get another $14MM in 2021 if he finishes 30 games in 2020—so his mid-season struggles and continued decrease in fastball velocity (95.9 MPH in ’15; 94.9 MPH in ’16, 94.3 MPH in ’17; 93.8 MPH in ’18) are a concern. He has done enough to hold on to the closing job for 2019, but it would be a good idea to have a backup plan in place. Adam Ottavino, the team’s most valuable reliever with a 2.47 ERA, six saves and 33 holds, will be a free agent after the season. Re-signing him or replacing him with a top free agent will be difficult considering that Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw, both disappointments thus far, signed $27MM contracts last offseason. They could rely heavily on Seunghwan Oh, who recently had his $2.5MM option vest for 2019 and has been very good since being acquired from Toronto in July.
Los Angeles Dodgers | Dodgers Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Kenley Jansen
September 2018: Kenley Jansen
Future Outlook: Jansen allowed six earned runs with two blown saves and a loss in his first seven appearances of 2018. He missed 13 days in August due to an irregular heart beat that will likely require offseason surgery. Upon his return, he allowed seven earned runs with two losses and a blown save over four appearances. And yet, the 30-year-old right-hander has 37 saves and a sub-3.00 ERA for a Dodgers team that is fighting for a playoff spot as we head into the last weekend of the regular season.
Jansen’s occasional struggles on the mound and health concerns only magnified the team’s inability to replace Morrow, who was their primary setup man and bullpen workhorse last post-season. Setup relievers seem likely to be an area of focus this winter, and the Dodgers will be keeping their fingers crossed that Jansen comes back strong in what will be year three of a five-year, $80MM contract.
Miami Marlins | Marlins Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Brad Ziegler
September 2018: Co-Closers — Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley
Future Outlook: It’s not clear why the rebuilding Marlins stuck with the veteran Ziegler through a rocky two-month stint as the closer to begin the season. Even though he had just one blown save in 10 chances when he was removed from the role, he had an ERA near 8.00 and Kyle Barraclough, next in line, had a 1.48 ERA. If they had any reluctance to turn it over to Barraclough, he showed why that might’ve been the case by losing the job two months later.
After locking down all seven save chances while allowing just one hit over 12 scoreless innings in June, Barraclough fell apart in July. Over his next 13 appearances, he blew four saves and allowed 14 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings before the Marlins decided on a closer-by-committee approach in early August. Steckenrider and Conley lead the team with four and two saves, respectively, since Barraclough was removed from the closer’s role. Both pitchers have an ERA over 5.00 in the second half, however, so it’s very likely that the team will look to find a more reliable option during the offseason.
Milwaukee Brewers | Brewers Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Corey Knebel
September 2018: Committee — Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader
Future Outlook: Knebel suffered a hamstring injury during his third appearance of the season, forcing him to the disabled list for a month. By the time he returned, Hader and Jeffress had each established that they were more than capable of picking up the slack if Knebel could not return to his 2017 form. And this did prove to be the case. The 26-year-old Knebel, sharing the closer’s role with Hader and Jeffress, had a 5.08 ERA through August 31st. September has been a different story, however, as Knebel has allowed just four hits and three walks over 13 1/3 scoreless innings with 26 strikeouts. Regardless of how things go in the playoffs, the Brewers appear set with the same trio of late-inning relievers heading into 2019.
New York Mets | Mets Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Jeurys Familia
September 2018: Committee — Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Anthony Swarzak
Future Outlook: The return of Familia, who missed time in 2017 due to a 15-game suspension and a three-and-a-half month-stint on the disabled list, was supposed to help propel the Mets back into playoff contention. While things have not gone swimmingly for the Mets, Familia’s comeback has actually gone quite well. He posted a 2.88 ERA with 17 saves for the Mets, was traded to Oakland in July and should be headed for a decent payday in free agency this offseason.
The Mets, coincidentally, will likely be in the market for a closer, although it’s not known whether they or Familia would be open to a reunion. Gsellman has held his own as the primary closer, saving eight of nine games since Familia’s departure, but probably isn’t the long-term answer. Lugo has been terrific out of the ’pen, although his best role could be as a multi-inning setup man for whoever the team’s next closer will be.
Philadelphia Phillies | Phillies Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Hector Neris
September 2018: Committee – Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Tommy Hunter, etc.
Future Outlook: Neris was 8-for-10 in save chances with three losses and an ERA over 5.00 in mid-May when manager Gabe Kapler declared that he would no longer have a set closer. It didn’t take long for rookie Seranthony Dominguez to emerge as the most significant part of the group, pitching 14 2/3 scoreless innings with only two hits allowed, no walks and 16 strikeouts to begin his MLB career. He would falter as the season progressed, though, leaving Kapler to rely more on veterans Hunter and Pat Neshek down the stretch.
Considering that Dominguez was a starting pitching prospect with no experience in the upper minors prior to the 2018 season, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think he can take a big leap forward and solidify the closer’s job for a full season. But with expectations for the Phillies likely to be in the high-to-extremely-high range, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Phillies pursue a more established free agent to close out games.
Pittsburgh Pirates | Pirates Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Felipe Vazquez
September 2018: Felipe Vazquez
Future Outlook: Vazquez signed a $22MM contract extension in the offseason and changed his name in April. By the end of May, Vazquez had an ERA near 5.00 and four blown saves. There wasn’t the normal negative buzz that surrounds most closers after blowing a save or two, though. He had only allowed an earned run in four of 24 appearances and the Pirates were playing much better than expected. He was also dealing with forearm discomfort and, of course, was one of the most dominant relief pitchers in baseball in 2017. He earned that long leash. Over his last 44 appearances, the 27-year-old lefty has a 1.77 ERA and 26 saves in 27 chances. Yep– still one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.
With three games to go, Vazquez is two appearances shy of reaching at least 70 games for the third consecutive season. He pitched both ends of a double-header twice in 2018 and pitched three consecutive days on three occasions, including two days after experiencing the forearm pain. The acquisition of Keone Kela and the emergence of Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez as reliable setup men should help ease Vazquez’s workload in 2019.
San Diego Padres | Padres Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Brad Hand
September 2018: Kirby Yates
Future Outlook: While Hand’s offseason contract extension removed any sense of urgency that the Padres had to trade him, it also made him a much more valuable trade chip. After saving 24 games and posting a 3.05 ERA with 13.2 K/9 in 41 appearances, Hand was traded to the Indians for catcher Francisco Mejia, one of the top prospects in baseball. Yates stepped into the closer’s role, although there was a decent chance that it would be a short stint with 12 days to go until the non-waiver trade deadline and several contending teams potentially interested in acquiring him. The 31-year-old stayed put, though, giving him an extended opportunity to prove himself as an MLB closer. He’s passed the test with flying colors, saving 10 games in 11 chances—he has 12 saves overall—while continuing to strike out more than 12 batters per nine innings.
The Padres, who currently have 95 losses, aren’t likely to build a legitimate playoff contender during the offseason. However, they’re far enough into their rebuild that they’ll want to go into 2019 with a team that can at least be .500. In that case, holding on to Yates would be smart, although general manager A.J. Preller will surely be willing to pull the trigger on a deal if a team meets his asking price.
San Francisco Giants | Giants Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Hunter Strickland
September 2018: Will Smith
Future Outlook: With Mark Melancon on the disabled list to begin the season, the Giants turned to Strickland as their closer. For the most part, he did a fine job, but his days as a closer swiftly came to an end, at least for the near future, on June 18th. Strickland entered the game with a two-run lead over the Marlins, an ERA just over 2.00 and 13 saves in 16 chances. After allowing three earned runs in the eventual 5-4 loss, he punched a door in frustration and fractured his hand. Upon returning in mid-August, Smith had 10 saves and a strong grasp on the closer’s gig.
Smith will likely be the front-runner to keep the job in ’19 with Melancon also firmly in the mix given his experience and his sizable contract (four years, $62MM). He’s not quite back to his pre-injury form, but Melancon has a 3.08 ERA in 40 appearances.
St. Louis Cardinals | Cardinals Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Committee — Dominic Leone, Tyler Lyons, Bud Norris
September 2018: Carlos Martinez
Future Outlook: The committee was supposed to be temporary while Greg Holland, who signed a one-year contract in late March, worked his way back into shape with a Minor League stint. Holland, though, was brought to the Majors before he was ready and never looked right with the Cardinals. He walked four in his St. Louis debut and never quite recovered. Norris, as he did in 2017 with the Angels, quickly separated himself from the other closer options and proved to be a steady force in the ninth inning with 28 saves and a sub-3.00 ERA through August. The 33-year-old ran out of gas, though, forcing the team to use a temporary committee in early September. Martinez, who returned from a disabled list stint to pitch out of the bullpen in late August, has emerged as the team’s primary closer as they fight for a Wild Card spot.
It’s highly unlikely that Martinez, the Cardinals’ Opening Day starter, will remain in the bullpen beyond this season. Barring any injury concerns, he’s just too good as a starting pitcher. Rookie Jordan Hicks, who has dazzled with his 100+ MPH sinking fastball, is a good bet to be the team’s closer at some point. It’s just not certain that the Cardinals will trust him enough at the beginning of the 2019 campaign, which could put them in the market for a stop-gap closer this offseason.
Washington Nationals | Nationals Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Sean Doolittle
September 2018: Sean Doolittle
Future Outlook: Doolittle was the Nationals’ closer on Opening Day, an NL All-Star selection in July, and he’s the Nationals’ closer as we enter the last weekend of the regular season. You’d figure things went pretty well for the Nats in 2018. But you’d be wrong.
A stress reaction in Doolittle’s foot forced him out of the All-Star game and out of action for a majority of the second half. When he returned in September, the Nats were out of the playoff chase. Five different relievers, including Kelvin Herrera, picked up saves while Doolittle was out. Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Shawn Kelley were all traded, and Herrera suffered a season-ending foot injury in late August.
Doolittle will be back in 2019—his $6MM club option will surely be exercised—and should jump right back into the ninth-inning role unless the Nats make a bold acquisition for another closer. In all likelihood, they’ll bring in another veteran setup man to help out a group that includes Koda Glover and Justin Miller. Greg Holland is one possibility. He has been a pleasant surprise since signing with the team in early August (0.89 ERA in 23 appearances) .
- Injured Mets outfielder Juan Lagares participated in sprinting exercises Thursday for the first time since tearing a plantar plate in his left foot back in May, writes Anthony DiComo of MLB.com. He’s aiming to play in the Dominican Winter League to help prep for the 2019 season. Lagares, considered one of the game’s premier defensive outfielders, has hit just .258/.299/.366 through a mere 961 plate appearances since signing a contract extension that guaranteed him $23MM back in April 2015. Of course, he’s totaled 29 Defensive Runs Saved in barely over 2,000 innings in that time, which speaks to his excellence with the glove. Lagares has been an oft-mentioned trade candidate in recent years, though with $9.5MM still guaranteed on that deal ($9MM 2019 salary plus a $500K buyout on a $9.5MM option for 2020), it’s tough to imagine much demand in him this offseason, barring some salary relief.
As I noted in discussing him recently as an extension candidate, Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon remains an underappreciated star despite turning in another fantastic effort in 2018. That’s largely a reflection of his own preferences, of course, so it’s fascinating to see Rendon open up a bit in a chat with Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post. He describes himself as a lover of the game who is simply “not a fan of everyone treating you different because you play a sport” and only “want[s] to be normal.” (Indeed, he only took this interview to promote the Nats’ youth academy.) That’s not to say that Rendon isn’t interested in a lengthy career, but he clearly seems more concerned with the upbringing of a young family than maximizing earnings. He emphasized, too, that he’s not interested in turning over his professional direction to agent Scott Boras. What that all means for the future isn’t yet clear — from the team’s perspective, one official calls Rendon “an enigma” — but it’s undeniably relevant. Rendon is eligible for arbitration one final time this winter.
The article is essential reading for fans of the Nationals — or of other teams who wonder whether they might one day hope to cheer for the 28-year-old. In other chatter from the game’s eastern divisions …
- Speaking of hypothetical extension candidates, there aren’t many more prominent targets than Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who just wrapped up a season for the ages. Andy Martino of SNY.tv examines the situation, noting that the club will first need to resolve its front office before deciding how to proceed. Certainly, it still seems possible that a new contract or a trade could make sense, though it’s also conceivable that the Mets will simply work out an arbitration price. As for deGrom, Martino writes that he “wants to both win and be paid fair market value.” Of course, determining a market price is an interesting proposition, especially since we haven’t seen a pitcher of this quality in quite this contractual situation (two remaining control years) ink an extension in some time. Those interested in considering some recent major contracts can click here to find a list of starters who have signed extensions of $75MM or more in guaranteed money.
- The Rays obviously saw something to like in infielder Joey Wendle when they acquired him over the winter, but as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes, even they were surprised by his breakout showing in 2018. Senior VP Chaim Bloom explains that Wendle has been “even better than we expected” in most areas — in particular, at the plate — such that “the whole thing has been more than we could have asked for.” That seems fair to say, given that Wendle was acquired for a song and has been among the game’s best rookie performers (as we recently discussed here). It’s an interesting piece on a notable player that includes some quotes from some of Wendle’s former teammates in the A’s organization.
- In other Rays news, also via Topkin, principal owner Stuart Sternberg gave a bit of an update on the team’s stadium-building plans. The initial announcement, of course, wasn’t quite like the definitive ones we’ve seen from some other clubs in recent years. Presenting a vision was presumably aimed at the key aspect of the project that needs to be determined: funding. Sternberg says the club anticipates paying “well north” of a $150MM figure he has previously suggested. But the park project is estimated at $892MM, so there’s a gulf still to be bridged. In addition to working with municipalities, Sternberg says “corporate support is going to be paramount to all of this and that is still a work in progress as well.” The hope seemingly remains to resolve a direction by the end of the calendar year.
There still isn’t much clarity in the Mets’ still-nascent search for new front office leadership. But there are some interesting names being talked about as factoring in still-unknown ways. Joel Sherman of the New York Post recently argued that the club should be willing to spurn convention, even posing the possibility of some agents being considered. Evidently that’s not out of the question, as Andy Martino of SNY.tv hears that the club has at least considered the possibility of hiring from the ranks of prominent player reps. It seems the club is still in the brainstorming phase of the effort. Internal possibilities, however, don’t seem likely, per Martino. Indeed, assistant GM John Ricco said yesterday that he doesn’t consider himself a candidate, as Tim Healey of Newsday tweets.
- Even as he prepares to wrap up his playing career with the Mets, David Wright seems to be looking forward to a future in a front office capacity. As Martino reports, Wright has made clear he isn’t interested in working as a member of the field staff or as a TV commentator, but does believe he could “provide value” in an advisory capacity to the New York brass next season. Martino argues that it’s an easy call for the organization to utilize Wright in some manner. It’ll be interesting to see what the future may hold.
- One potential candidate for front office leadership positions is Cubs exec Jason McLeod. As Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times explores, the availability of some large-market jobs could conceivably pique McLeod’s interest in leaving a place he’s obviously comfortable. In addition to the Mets opening, the Giants are looking for new baseball ops leadership — a situation we touched upon earlier today.
- In other international scouting news, Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs has tweeted a few recent moves. Frankie Thon has bounced from the Angels to the Mariners, taking over as international scouting director in Seattle. Likewise, the Mets will lose their international scouting director Chris Becerra, who is expected to take a job with the Red Sox.