- Free-agent right-hander Lance Lynn is among Plan B starting options for the Yankees, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported this week. Per Feinsand, New York was “engaged with” Lynn even before another of its potential free-agent possibilities, Nathan Eovaldi, re-signed with Boston. The Yankees and Lynn are already familiar with each other, as the Bombers acquired the 31-year-old from the Twins last July and benefited from his presence down the stretch. Lynn totaled 54 1/3 innings of 4.14 ERA/2.17 FIP pitching with superb strikeout and walk rates (10.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9) as a member of the Yankees, but that came after he underwhelmed as a Twin. Thanks in part to his unimpressive Minnesota stint, Lynn’s projected to collect a much less expensive contract than Eovaldi and former Yankee target/newly minted National Patrick Corbin have received this offseason.
- The Padres and Brewers are among the teams still in contact with the Yankees about a potential Sonny Gray swap, per Jon Morosi of MLB.com (Twitter links). Both organizations have been tied to various starting pitching options, though the Padres are a particularly curious fit, given their focus on the 2020 season and Gray’s status as a one-year rental. However, as Morosi’s colleague, AJ Cassavell, explains in greater detail, San Diego’s interest has some logic to it. Gray’s stock is down, and a resurgence in San Diego (like many arms before him) could allow him to either be traded for a greater price next July or position him to receive a qualifying offer next offseason. Even if the acquisition doesn’t pan out, he wouldn’t put a huge dent into a deep San Diego farm system. As for the Brewers, they’ve already got a deep collection of right-handed starters, but perhaps they view Gray as a premium rebound candidate and/or feel that acquiring him could allow them to deal from the back end of their current collection of rotation candidates.
9:12pm: The Yankees are “hesitant” to pursue a reunion with Eovaldi if his market pushes to four years, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
7:55pm: Neither the Yankees nor the Phillies were willing to go to a sixth year for lefty Patrick Corbin, per reports from Billy Witz of the New York Times and Jon Heyman of Fancred (Twitter links), and they’re now left to seek out alternatives following Corbin’s reported six-year, $140MM agreement with the Nationals.
For the Yankees, that means shifting their focus to a pair of familiar faces in Nathan Eovaldi and J.A. Happ, Jon Morosi of MLB.com tweets. Witz suggests that the Yankees will also continue looking into Keuchel and further explore the trade market.
Meanwhile, it seems that the Phillies will be giving the Yankees some competition in some of those efforts. MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports that Happ will now become a primary focus for the Phils, while Fancred’s Jon Heyman tweets that Philadelphia “will consider” Dallas Keuchel. The Phillies are aiming to add one starter to the rotation, Heyman continues, with a left-hander in particular being a preference.
Keuchel, Eovaldi and Happ are the consensus top starters remaining on the market, with the possible exception of Japanese southpaw Yusei Kikuchi, who was posted by the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball yesterday. Of the bunch, Keuchel is subject to draft-pick compensation for a new team after rejecting a one-year, $17.9MM qualifying offer from the Astros. Both Happ and Eovaldi would’ve been candidates for qualifying offers had they not been traded midseason, thus rendering them ineligible to receive one.
Soon to turn 31, Keuchel has been a workhorse in the Houston rotation over the past five seasons, pitching to a collective 3.28 ERA with 7.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 and a whopping 60 percent ground-ball rate that leads all qualified Major League starting pitchers in that time. Keuchel, a two-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner, hasn’t been as dominant since winning the 2015 AL Cy Young Award, but he led the AL in starts last season and has turned in a sub-4.00 ERA in four of the past five seasons.
Eovaldi, 29 in February, returned from Tommy John surgery with a flourish in 2018, raising his free-agent stock more than perhaps any starting pitcher other than the aforementioned Corbin. He’s been most prominently connected to his hometown Astros and the Red Sox as of late — neither of whom figure to be thrilled with the concept of the Yankees making an increased push to sign the flamethrowing righty.
Happ, 36, is reported to have received interest from as many as 10 teams. Because his age suppresses the length of the contract he can reasonably be expected to land, Happ has drawn interest from clubs in all market sizes. The Brewers, Reds, Twins, Angels, Astros, Blue Jays and White Sox are among the clubs that have already been linked to Happ, to say nothing of previous connections to the Phils and Yanks — both of which now figure to increase with Corbin off the board.
2:40pm: Corbin is evidently nearing agreement, as Morosi tweets that a signing is “imminent.” He’s said to be lining up a six-year deal, though it’s not yet clear with what team.
With the Yankees only putting five years on the table, it seems they aren’t going to get the lefty, Morosi adds on Twitter.
10:55am: There’s still no marked movement on the bidding for free agent lefty Patrick Corbin, but we’re continuing to see indications that the action is building to a crescendo. With interest spiking in the top open-market hurler, Bob Nightengale of USA Today cites multiple league sources for the proposition that Corbin is expected to meet or exceed the contract value that Yu Darvish achieved last winter (Twitter link).
That level of payday is just what MLBTR predicted in ranking Corbin as the third-best free agent on this year’s market. At the time, that seemed a rather aggressive estimation of his value. More recently, though, some have wondered whether Corbin might not drive well past the Darvish deal (six years, $126MM).
How high the bidding will go remains to be seen. Indeed, it’s not yet fully clear whether Corbin will actually top Darvish, even if he can. Nightengale suggests it’s possible that Corbin might be asked to “take a discount” to end up with the Yankees, who could be looking to get the life-long fan of the Bronx Bombers to sign for less.
The precise strategy of the Yankees isn’t entirely clear; certainly, the organization could boost its bid if Corbin demands it and there’s a bigger offer on the table. Regardless, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand notes on Twitter that the Yankees are still locked in on Corbin, though he reminds that they’ve also engaged in secondary targets. That more or less mirrors what GM Brian Cashman stated on the record last night.
If Corbin currently sits atop the New York priority list, it seems the same is true of the Phillies, as Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. Indeed, some “rivals speculate” that the Phillies are the favorite, Andy Martino of SNY.tv tweets, though perhaps that can be said of most any of the team’s free agent targets this winter given its ample spending capacity and clear imperative to win. As Nightengale adds on Twitter, the Phillies seem to have made it clear to Corbin that they’ll top the rest of the market to get him.
Meanwhile, Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo offered plenty of his own indications of strong interest in Corbin, as MLB.com’s Jamal Collier was among those to report. “He’s a guy that obviously we’re interested in and would fit nicely on this team,” says Rizzo, who made clear that the club still has a somewhat traditional view of the value of rotation assets. “Starting pitching is king,” Rizzo says, leaving little doubt that the Nats are prime players for Corbin and other top arms.
TODAY: Johnson has denied any recent meetings with Harper, leading to a significantly revised Yahoo report. It’s not entirely clear from the current version of the story whether the Dodgers have or will send a contingent to meet with Harper at all.
YESTERDAY: The Dodgers have held a sit-down with free agent superstar Bryce Harper, according to a report from Tim Brown and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. It’s a must-read update on the still-developing market for one of the winter’s marquee free agents.
Of particular note, the Los Angeles behemoth has now made a notable foray into the Harper market — a possibility that was never quite clear but always tantalized. Minority owner and NBA legend Magic Johnson led a delegation to Harper’s home town of Las Vegas, suggesting at a minimum that pursuing Harper is a serious consideration for an organization that has not generally chased top free agents under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
At the outset of the offseason, we did predict that Harper would land with the Dodgers, and score a massive contract in the process. But that was anything but a high-probability prediction, as the outfielder’s market was then and remains difficult to assess in the usual manner. Harper, after all, is a rather unique commodity. Like fellow free agent Manny Machado, he’s an established star who only recently turned 26 years of age. Both players also have their blemishes, to be sure, but the talent ceilings and volume of potentially prime seasons are, in both cases, immense.
Thus it is that, as the Yahoo duo report, “upward of a dozen” organizations across the league have or likely will follow Magic in a Vegas road trip to chat with Harper. The Yankees are among them, despite a litany of reports suggesting they won’t pursue this particular opportunity, while the Phillies are an unsurprising club in the market as well.
We’ve heard plenty about the White Sox to date, of course, but the seriousness of their pursuit has been tough to gauge. According to Yahoo, the South Siders have dispatched Jim Thome and others to help woo Harper to a rebuilding situation. Other possibilities abound, with the Cubs, Padres, Astros, and Cardinals all tabbed as teams with at least speculative potential interest. (That’s all in addition to the incumbent Nats, of course.)
The report cautions that these early visits don’t necessarily signal an all-in commitment to chase the market on Harper. Certainly, it’s worth bearing in mind that the teams are still assessing their respective levels of interest. Still, it seems promising for Harper that he has drawn this much focus from nearly half the teams in baseball — particularly given that they’re all already aware that he reportedly turned down a $300MM offer to stay in DC.
There was never any doubt, of course, that he’d be heavily pursued. But there are relatively few big-spending teams with clear-cut needs in the corner outfield, making it tough to guess at interest based upon team need and even historical spending patterns. It seems, though, that there are at least quite a few teams that are willing to assign significant resources to assess whether Harper is enough of an asset, on and off the field, to warrant not only an enormous outlay but also some roster maneuvering to fit.
- Even as Eovaldi draws plenty of interest it seems the early market will be driven by Patrick Corbin, the excellent lefty who just completed a tour of several big-spending east-coast clubs. The Nationals, Yankees, and Phillies still profile as the likeliest landing spots, Jon Heyman of Fancred tweets, though he notes that other teams are still in the mix. A decision, in any event, still seems to come sooner than later. Yankees GM Brian Cashman made clear that his organization is a serious pursuer of a hurler with deep ties to the region in an interview this evening with Jack Curry of the YES Network (write-up via MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch). “We’re doing everything in our power to put ourselves in position to be a legitimate consideration,” says Cashman, who calls Corbin “a special talent.” This sort of public endorsement obviously won’t decide the matter, but it surely indicates that the Yankees are engaged in a full press.
- Veteran reliever Joakim Soria is drawing interest from at least a handful of clubs at this early stage of the free agent market, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweets. The Diamondbacks, Angels, Yankees, Braves, and Reds are all involved to some extent, per the report, representing an interesting slate of organizations. While the New York and Atlanta clubs are clearly in position to add veteran talent in a bid to repeat their postseason appearances from 2018, the other teams listed by Chavez are in somewhat less-certain positions in respect to the open market. The Los Angeles and Cincinnati ballclubs are surely interested in spending to contend, but will need to choose their targets wisely. Meanwhile, Arizona is exploring sell-side deals while also trying to achieve value with new investments. That Soria appeals to all of these teams seems to suggest that the league believes the 34-year-old has plenty left in the tank. And for good reason: he just wrapped up a campaign in which he spun 60 2/3 innings of 3.12 ERA ball, with a healthy 11.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 along with a personal-best 14.4% swinging-strike rate.
- With the Mariners on the verge of both the Cano deal and another major trade, the James Paxton deal to the Yankees almost seems like old news at this point, though that trade took place just two weeks ago. Yankees GM Brian Cashman revisited his own blockbuster deal speaking to reporters (including George A. King III of the New York Post) and noted that talks about Paxton began after Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto “said he was willing to talk about everybody but three players,” though “one of them he just moved to the Mets.” It’s safe to assume that Cashman is referring to Edwin Diaz, who is on the verge of joining Cano on the Mets. While Dipoto has been open about dealing higher-priced veterans off the Mariners’ roster, he has said that it would take quite a bit more to obtain controllable assets like Diaz, Mitch Haniger, and Marco Gonzales, so one can infer that Haniger and Gonzales may be the other two players that were reportedly off-limits at the time of Dipoto’s talks with Cashman. Of course, since Diaz has now been shipped to Citi Field, it’s fair to wonder if Haniger and Gonzales could find themselves in different uniforms by Opening Day.
- Cashman also said that recent reports about the Yankees’ interest in J.T. Realmuto were “false, completely false,” and that the team didn’t make an offer to the Marlins about the All-Star catcher. According to Fancred’s Jon Heyman, the Yankees were open to the idea of moving Gary Sanchez to Miami for Realmuto in something close to a one-for-one trade, though the Marlins wanted other significant pieces in addition to Sanchez.
- Like Seager, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez endured a surprisingly poor season in 2018. However, Sanchez is “not for sale,” general manager Brian Cashman tells Jack Curry of the YES Network (video link). The Yankees expect to be “proven correct” that Sanchez is a franchise catcher, per Cashman, who has consistently defended the 26-year-old in recent months. So, although Sanchez has come up in trade rumors as recently as this week, it appears he’ll stay put.
- With both Robertson and Zach Britton on the open market, the Yankees have one of their ex-relievers, free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller, on their “radar,” per King. In 2014, the last time Miller was a free agent, he signed a four-year, $36MM deal with the Yankees. That proved to be a shrewd investment for the Yanks, who received brilliant production from Miller before trading him to Cleveland in a 2016 swap in which New York acquired Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield (the latter was just dealt to Seattle for high-end starter James Paxton). Miller stood out for most of his time with the Indians, including during their run to a World Series berth in 2016, but the 33-year-old is now fresh off an injury-shortened season in which his numbers fell off.
The market for star Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto seems to be reaching a fever pitch, with the Astros, Yankees, Dodgers, Mets and Giants among the latest teams to “show interest,” says Fancred’s Jon Heyman. The odds of an extension for the backstop seem infinitesimal at this juncture, with sources “suggesting” that the proposed figure was in range of the massive extension signed by Giants catcher Buster Posey prior to the start of the 2013 season. Whether or not the ask was mere posturing on the part of Realmuto, whose agent Jeff Berry seemed to make clear the 27-year-old’s intentions on a radio show in late October, is unknown, but it seems a near certainty the Oklahoma-born product will be moved at some point this offseason.
In other news from around the region . . .
- Per Heyman, the Yankees seem to be willing to include Gary Sanchez in a deal for Realmuto, but only in something approximating a straight-up swap. Sanchez, who has four remaining years of team control to Realmuto’s two, has turned off some admirers with his indifferent play behind the plate and propensity for the long slump, but is nevertheless an extremely valuable asset in today’s desiccated offensive landscape behind the dish. Indeed, Steamer actually projects the 26-year-old Sanchez to be nearly as valuable next season as the elder Realmuto (3.5 WAR, to the latter’s 3.7), pegging him for a 116 wRC+ to Realmuto’s 108. It should be noted, too, that analytical models are far more bullish on Sanchez’s much-maligned defense than the general public: DRS, after all, sees Sanchez as clearly superior to the Marlin star over the last three seasons, while Baseball Prospectus, though higher on Realmuto, mostly agrees, seeing the Dominican-born backstop as generally above-average over the same frame. The Marlins, though, seem to find the package insufficient without other “top pieces” involved, which scenario would almost surely be a non-starter for the Bombers.
- Outfielder Nick Markakis “remains a candidate” to return to Atlanta, and is a “more likely fit” than Michael Brantley, per Heyman. Markakis, a Georgia native, enjoyed a blissful ’18 renaissance in the last year of his 4 year, $44MM deal signed prior the 2015 season, slashing .297/.366/.440 in hitter-friendly SunTrust Park on the way to 2.6 fWAR, his first two-win-plus season with the Braves. Atlanta, of course, continues its search for offensive upgrades even after the inking of Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal, but doesn’t see outfielder A.J. Pollock as a likely target, according to Heyman. The 35-year-old Markakis, though, had posted five consecutive sub-.400 slugging percentage seasons before the last, and has never been a particularly nimble defender in a corner. Atlanta, at this point in the offseason, may be setting its sights a little higher in its dogged pursuit of an outfielder.
- Per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays are “considering high-end upgrades” across the diamond. Topkin lists Noah Syndergaard, Paul Goldschmidt, and Nelson Cruz, among others, as potential options, and notes that the team’s monetary resources far outshine those of past seasons. The Rays, perhaps more than any other team, are rife with young talent, with logjams up the middle and on the corners, and have considerable prospect capital with which to deal, so multiple major upgrades cannot, at this point in the offseason, be ruled out.