- The Phillies met with agent Scott Boras on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings, where they discussed clients Bryce Harper and Zach Britton, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports. Even after agreeing to sign fellow outfielder Andrew McCutchen on Tuesday, the Phillies continue to have interest in Harper, Salisbury writes. Meanwhile, the Phillies have been “very aggressive” in their pursuit of Britton as they attempt to strengthen their bullpen, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets.
7:41pm: Both Happ and former teammate Lance Lynn are “engaged with” the Astros, Yankees, Reds, Rangers and Blue Jays, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com tweets. Happ’s also continuing to draw the attention of the Phillies, while Lynn has received interest from the White Sox, according to Feinsand.
9:53am: It has seemed for the past few days that veteran lefty J.A. Happ could be the next domino to fall in the starting pitching market, and there are signs this morning that talks are advancing. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that Happ’s market is “heating up,” while Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports on Twitter that Happ is sitting on multiple two-year offers.
The key question remains whether Happ will secure a guaranteed third season. Passan says that he has yet to receive such an offer. Happ’s representatives have “indicated he’ll sign with the first” team that meets that asking price, however, so it seems possible that something could come together swiftly.
Entering the offseason, MLBTR predicted that Happ would indeed secure that third season in a new deal, riding his solid recent track record to a $48MM guarantee. There certainly seems to be sufficient interest to support such an outcome, though organizations are understandably hesitant to commit to Happ through his age-38 campaign.
To this point, the Phillies, Braves, Yankees, Brewers, Reds, Angels, Astros, Twins, Blue Jays, and White Sox have all been connected to Happ. It’s certainly not impossible to imagine a few other organizations with possible interest as well, though at present it’s tough to gauge the likeliest landing spots.
- Speaking of the White Sox, they’re among the teams that will meet with superstar Manny Machado, per Jon Heyman of Fancred. The Yankees and Phillies, two other unsurprising suitors, will also sit down with the 26-year-old infielder, Heyman adds. In total, Machado will visit four clubs in the coming days, Buster Olney of ESPN hears.
6:20pm: McCutchen’s option for 2022 is worth $15MM and comes with a $3MM buyout, Heyman tweets.
McCutchen will reportedly receive a three-year, $50MM contract that includes an option for a fourth season. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philly (via Twitter), who first broke the news that the sides were in serious talks, reported the years, with Jon Heyman of Fancred reporting the guarantee and option year (Twitter links).
This contract lands above MLBTR’s predicted value for McCutchen, but falls right in line with our expectations of a three-year, $45MM pact. We had ranked Cutch just behind fellow open-market vets A.J. Pollock and Michael Brantley, each of whom remains unsigned at this stage.
For the Phillies, this is a stage-setting move that fills one need and creates quite a few new opportunities. The organization previously dealt for Jean Segura, meaning GM Matt Klentak has now slotted in new corner outfield and shortstop pieces — without moving on top free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. That’s not to say that pursuit of one of those players is out of the question at this point, but the Phils are certainly also now positioned to look elsewhere if they so desire. Certainly, there’s also an argument to be made that these splashes only make it more reasonable for the club to go big on another free agent.
There are innumerable possibilities, still, for the Phils. The team could conceivably deal just about any of its preexisting outfielders. Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, Dylan Cozens, and Roman Quinn would all hold some degree of appeal elsewhere. Surely some of those players will remain, but the Philadelphia organization will likely seek to rearrange some other pieces to make further moves possible. In addition to several still-youthful position players, top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez has evidently been talked about in trade chatter, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link).
What’s clear, though, is that McCutchen will step into the Philadelphia lineup on most days in 2019. He certainly represents a quality addition, even if he’s no longer the superstar that he was when he was playing with the cross-state Pirates.
Since wrapping up a forgettable 2016 campaign, McCutchen has turned in consecutive solid seasons with the bat. In 1,332 plate appearances over the past two season, he’s slashing a combined .267/.366/.455 with 48 long balls. McCutchen did lag in the power department in 2018, with a year-over-year isolated slugging drop from .207 to .169, but made up for it with a 13.9% walk rate that’s just shy of his career peak.
McCutchen won’t be an option in center for the Phils, though his long experience there could come in handy at times. After a solid debut season in right field last year, he’ll be an upgrade defensively for a club that received atrocious glovework in the outfield last year from Rhys Hoskins, who is moving back to first base. If there’s one area that McCutchen slid most notably, though, it was in the baserunning department. Once a standout, he graded at a putrid -5.0 BsR in 2018. Of course, he also still swiped 14 bags, so perhaps that broader performance is more a blip than an indicator of a significant loss of athleticism.
The focus of the corner outfield market remains on Bryce Harper, of course, but there are a few other significant players available. Regarding Harper, there’s not much in the way of news, though Joel Sherman of the New York Post looks at how he could conceivably end up falling to the Dodgers, who are said to be pursuing high-end assets. Here, though, we’ll focus in on the next-best assets on the market.
The Phillies are “showing significant interest” in Andrew McCutchen, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philly, representing a new connection for the former superstar. Cutch is nowhere near the player he once was, but that easy characterization can tend to obscure how good he still is.
Meanwhile, the Astros are said to be in on another top corner piece. Per Jon Morosi of MLB.com, via Twitter, the Houston organization has interest in Michael Brantley. That’s a bit of a surprising match, if only because the team is still paying top dollar to another veteran lefty corner outfielder in Josh Reddick, but perhaps Brantley could also spend some time at first base to increase his versatility.
Earlier in the offseason, both McCutchen and Brantley were connected to the ’Stros — though mostly as part of a group of significant free agents. The Houston plans have remained hard to figure to this point, with the team’s intentions regarding top prospect Kyle Tucker potentially weighing in their assessment of new acquisition targets.
MLBTR predicted that both McCutchen and Brantley would secure three-year, $45MM pacts. There’s no real clarity as of yet as to whether the market will support those or greater values.
- Like pretty much every Phillie not named Aaron Nola or Rhys Hoskins, Cesar Hernandez has been mentioned as a potential trade chip this offseason. The Phillies, however, aren’t looking to deal Hernandez since they feel the second baseman will rebound in 2019 with better health, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports (Twitter link). Hernandez spent much of the second half playing through a broken foot, which certainly contributed to his drop in production after posting above-average numbers in 2016-17. With Hernandez seemingly remaining at the keystone, Scott Kingery will remain as a super-utility player.
- The Phillies have kept up an “ongoing dialogue” with free agent southpaw J.A. Happ “over the last several days,” The Athletic’s Jayson Stark tweets. Philadelphia isn’t the only NL East team in on the veteran lefty, as Fancred Sports’ Jon Heyman describes the Braves as an “under the radar” contender for Happ’s services. Atlanta still seems to be in the running as Happ’s market is beginning to narrow. Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos has already acquired Happ once before, trading for the pitcher in 2012 when Anthopoulos was the Blue Jays’ general manager.
- Three other teams were finalists for Nathan Eovaldi before the right-hander re-signed with the Red Sox, Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston tweets. The Angels were one of the finalists, and Eovaldi himself implied that the Astros were another, saying that he strongly considered pitching in his hometown of Houston. It isn’t known who the fourth finalist was, though the Phillies also had interest in Eovaldi, but as a closer, reports The Athletic’s Jayson Stark (Twitter link). Eovaldi’s desire to remain as a starting pitcher closed the door on that opportunity, however.
Superstar free agent Manny Machado will not meet with teams in Las Vegas, it seems, preferring instead to visit suitors at their home parks, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). That would seem to suggest that his market won’t take off over the week to come, though surely there’ll be relevant developments. If Machado is indeed plotting a course of courtship that will take place over the coming weeks, then perhaps there’s more room for earlier developments in other segments of the infield market …
- Behind the dish, the Marlins’ asking price on J.T. Realmuto may be creeping back down to more realistic levels, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets. The organization has long been said to be asking for an enormous return in exchange for two seasons of the game’s best backstop, which truthfully isn’t an unreasonable starting point. Still, as Sherman notes, the club will ultimately likely be forced to take what the offer will give. For the Mets, pursuit of Realmuto is still seen “as a long shot,” Sherman adds on Twitter. And the Phillies are presently focused on other pursuits, per Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Twitter), such that they haven’t engaged with their division rivals in Miami regarding Realmuto in a few weeks’ time.
- The Athletics have reached out to second baseman DJ LeMahieu as they continue to explore the market for second basemen, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. That’s not an indication that the Oakland org is out on Jed Lowrie, so much as the latest sign that a reunion is anything but inevitable with both parties seeing other people. LeMahieu himself likely isn’t the only alternative being considered, Slusser notes; she goes on to explore some of the other opportunities that could be pondered by the A’s brass.
- In a boon to free agents and teams with potential trade chips at second base, Royals GM Dayton Moore tells MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan (Twitter link) that he is not getting as many questions of late about Whit Merrifield. That’s not because of a lack of interest, though, so much as the fact that the Royals have “pretty much made it clear” they will hold onto the late-blooming star. Merrifield will not even be eligible for arbitration until 2020, though he’ll turn thirty before the start of the 2019 season. From an outside perspective, this seems an ideal time to market a player who’d draw wide interest given his excellent recent production, defensive flexibility, and cheap price tag. But the Kansas City org seems determined to try to build around some of its preexisting roster assets.
- The Phillies are not finding initial success at generating interest in second baseman Cesar Hernandez, according to Jayson Stark of The Athletic (Twitter link). With a robust slate of free agents at the position and a seemingly increasing list of available trade candidates, there’s some imbalance between the supply and demand. Hernandez, 28, has been a fairly steady performer, but he did fall off a bit with the bat last year and is increasingly expensive at a projected $8.9MM arb salary in his second to last run through the process.
- Rockies GM Jeff Bridich discussed his team’s long-term relationship possibilities with third baseman Nolan Arenado in an inteview on MLB Network (h/t Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post, Twitter links). Bridich says the club can afford to carry a $200MM+ promise to Arenado, citing a “responsible growth” plan for payroll. Of course, that number may only be scratching the surface of what Arenado could command in a hypothetical post-2019 free agency, so it’s far from clear just yet whether the club will be both willing and able to line up on a new deal to keep him from the open market. Otherwise, unsurprisingly, Bridich acknowledged that the Rox are interested in improving not only in the outfield but also at first base to boost a sagging offense.
So, are the Nationals really out of the picture for Bryce Harper, as owner Mark Lerner strongly suggested recently? Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post writes that he’s not yet sold that the incumbent Nats have completely bid adieu to their franchise-defining star. It’s an interesting read for fans to contemplate as Harper’s still-uncertain market continues to evolve … particularly now that president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo nudged the door back open to a return in an interview today on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (Twitter link).
Here are the latest free agent notes emanating from the Winter Meetings:
- Free agent lefty Andrew Miller is among the relievers drawing wide interest, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link). Nine teams, in fact, are knocking down the doors of Miller’s reps. It’s hardly surprising to hear that the veteran has interested about a third of the league. After all, there are indications he may be returning to full health, and he’s among the game’s best relievers when he’s at full speed.
- Right-handed reliever Joe Kelly is also among those hurlers who is getting plenty of calls, as Rob Bradford of WEEI.com writes. Kelly’s physical tools — especially, a blistering heater — have never been in doubt, and he showed some promise of turning them into sustainable productivity late in 2018 with some notable pitch usage tweaks and a strong postseason run. Entering the winter, MLBTR predicted that Kelly would match Miller with a three-year, $27MM deal.
- It’s still difficult to get a sense of the precise teams to watch on most relievers. The same is largely true, it seems, of lefty starter Dallas Keuchel. He’s the most accomplished hurler on the market, but there’s also clearly some cause for trepidation as to how he’ll age. There are also conflicting signals now as to his top suitors. Jon Heyman of Fancred (Twitter links) recently said that Keuchel topped the Braves’ “wish list,” with the Reds and Phillies the other two “primary teams” involved in his market. But MLB.com’s Mark Bowman strongly contests that characterization, tweeting that the Atlanta organization has not even “had any discussions regarding Keuchel” to this point. And Heyman now tweets that the Atlanta organization is “not currently engaged” with Keuchel. The bottom line seems to be that, even if the Braves would like to add Keuchl (or another particular hurler), they are not interested in chasing the market on any specific starter.
- To this point, it has been hard to gauge the Angels’ stance on the market this winter. While the organization no doubt hopes to add pieces in a bid to build a winner around Mike Trout, financial restraints, rotation questions, and a challenging division pose barriers. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic writes (subscription link) that the Halos were in on both Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi before they signed elsewhere, perhaps indicating that the club will knock on some other notable doors over the coming weeks. MLBTR’s in-depth recent assessment of the Angels’ payroll situation reveals that there could be some real money to work with, though precisely how much and how it’ll be deployed remains to be seen.
All eyes will be on baseball’s two biggest free agents as the Winter Meetings begin, as both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are poised to land record-setting contracts, each likely to surpass Giancarlo Stanton’s $325MM pact. With both players vying for such a landmark deal, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required) notes that super-agents Scott Boras and Dan Lozano of the MVP Sports Group will again be squaring off, with Boras representing Harper and Lozano representing Machado. The two agents have often competed for teams’ dollars and even for clients, including Machado himself — the star infielder was originally represented by Boras before hiring Lozano in 2011. The thought is that Boras will want Machado to sign first in order to fully establish Harper’s market, and to provide a specific dollar amount to shoot for in order to land Harper the biggest contract ever. That said, one agent believes “it’s Philly bidding against Philly” in terms of the Harper market, whereas at least six teams may be in on Machado. Beyond the Phillies, White Sox, and Yankees, Rosenthal reports (via Twitter) that three more teams will meet with Lozano during the Winter Meetings about Machado, as per a rival executive.
Here’s more on the Harper and Machado sweepstakes…
- While the Yankees have interest in Machado, Fancred Sports’ Jon Heyman (Twitter link) hears from a source that the team isn’t willing to pay more than $300MM to sign him. MLBTR projected a much higher price point for Machado, predicting a $390MM contract for the infielder, even with the spectre of Machado’s “Johnny Hustle” comments and his sometimes-infamous reputation for dirty play hanging over him. These factors led Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner to recently state that he would require a face-to-face meeting with Machado before the team considered a signing. If New York isn’t going to move past $300MM, however, one would think the club is simply going to be outbid, perhaps significantly.
- In regards to Machado, Joel Sherman of the New York Post wonders if the Yankees are hesitant to dive into another hugely expensive long-term contract with a player, just a year removed from their acquisition of Stanton. The slugger’s numbers in his first season as a Yankees (38 homers and a .266/.343/.509 slash line over 705 PA) were seen as disappointing by Stanton’s standards, leaving Sherman to speculate that the Yankees could have some second thoughts about last winter’s trade with the Marlins. Perhaps more tellingly, the Yankees haven’t yet shown a willingness to go beyond their comfort zones in bids for free agents this season, as the team wasn’t willing to give either Patrick Corbin or Nathan Eovaldi an extra year in contract offers.
- Several teams have already met with Harper and his team in private meetings in at a Las Vegas hotel, and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale provides a look inside the general format of these gatherings. Front office representatives (and, sometimes, the owner) from various clubs meet with Harper, his wife Kayla, and Boras to discuss all aspects of a potential signing, first in the form of a lengthy presentation from the team, and then rounds of questions from the Harpers about everything from baseball-related matters to how a club accommodates a player’s family. The meetings have ranged from five to 10 hours in length, with Boras providing business-related details and one of his famous notebooks of statistics and personal information outlining his clients’ strong points. In Harper’s case, the notebook is 118 pages long, comparing him to all-time greats in both baseball and other sports (i.e. LeBron James) while also focusing on how acquiring Harper can improve a franchise’s overall value. “Every GM in baseball wants him because he fills a need, but the owners are pursuing Bryce Harper because they know he can also make them a billion dollars over a period of years,” Boras said. Interestingly, Boras said that one team owner has been discussing Harper without his GM’s knowledge, a new wrinkle to Boras’ known strategy of bypassing a front office to negotiate directly with ownership about his biggest clients.