- Yasiel Puig in a Giants uniform? The idea isn’t as outlandish as it sounds, as Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle notes that new Giants GM Farhan Zaidi is “is open to dealing with his old team,” the Dodgers. While it’s quite common for a new general manager to explore players from his former job, the arch-rival Giants and Dodgers have only completed three trades with each other since 1953. Perhaps for this reason, there haven’t been any whispers about the Giants targeting Puig, though there is something of a fit on paper. San Francisco is looking for corner outfielders while Los Angeles is looking to clear payroll and perhaps a spot in their outfield for a larger target, and Puig has been specifically mentioned as a potential trade chip.
- The Giants have been speculative suitors for outfielder Bryce Harper, arguably the preeminent player on the open market, but they aren’t “currently involved in discussions with most high-profile free agents,” Kerry Crowley of the Bay Area News Group writes. Rather, in an effort to maintain payroll flexibility in 2020 and beyond, the Giants seem to be focusing on free agents who are likely to collect short-term contracts.
Following last month’s non-tender of Jonathan Schoop, the Brewers’ exhaustive, months-long search for a second baseman continues with the team’s pursuit of Jed Lowrie, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Lowrie, of course, is fresh off an outstanding, 4.9 fWAR 2018 season with Oakland, itself on the back almost identical offensive campaign (119 wRC+ in ’17, 122 in ’18) the year before. MLBTR projects the 34-year-old to earn a solid 3-year, $30MM deal this offseason, though Lowrie’s camp, given his recent two-year output, will surely be fighting for more. The risk with the switch-hitter lies in his subpar performance across multiple seasons (2011, ’14, ’15, and ’16), in obvious addition to his age and former propensity for the serious injury, plus the tendency of second basemen to decline earlier than most, but there could be surplus value aplenty to be found if he continues on his current trajectory.
In other news from around the NL …
- The Nationals, another team with a hole at the keystone, offered Ian Kinsler a one-year deal before the 36-year-old signed a two-year pact with San Diego, per Rosenthal. Earlier this week, the club was said to have “checked-in” with free agent second-sacker D.J. LeMahieu, who would likely command a deal in excess length to the one offered to Kinsler, so it seems unclear as to exactly which direction the club will go in terms of filling the position. Carter Kieboom, a 21-year-old middle-infield prospect, has raked in the low levels of the minors and may just be a season and a half or so away, so perhaps the club is seeking just a one- or two-year stopgap in the interim.
- Per Alex Pavlovic of NBA Bay Area, the outfield-naked Giants are interested in Blue Jays CF Kevin Pillar. The club, who in years past has shown little interest in staking a defense-first player at the position, despite its park’s huge territory in right-center field, may be undergoing a philosophical about-face under its new, analytics-driven regime. The club, of course, is stacked with right-handed fly-ball types in the rotation, and would seem to benefit in large measure from a ball-hawking center-fielder like Pillar. The 29-year-old’s defensive metrics took a bit of a hit last season, but his peak from ’15-’17 (50 DRS) has rarely been matched in recent times. 25-year-old Steven Duggar would seem, at least in part, to fit the bill, but whether or not his bat will play – Steamer projects an 81 wRC+ for ’19 – is still an open question.
- New Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly, who this week agreed to a 3-year, $25MM with the team, explained (audio version) to WEEI’s Rob Bradford why he chose LA, noting that the team was the first to extend its offer to three years. Though the duration may come as little surprise, it is notable that it came from the Dodgers, who in recent times (Kenley Jansen excluded) have preferred their relievers to be of the under-the-radar variety.
Free agent starter Mike Fiers is being courted by multiple clubs, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter). Among those with interest are the Reds, Giants, Rangers and Nationals, none of whom should surprise given their collective desire for more pitching. Fiers, 33, had his best year as a pro in 2018, working to a 12-8 record with a 3.56 ERA across 30 starts for Detroit and Oakland. His peripherals don’t scream drastic transformation, though he did lower his walk rate to a career-low 1.94 BB/9. He also threw more sliders, a pitch he has steadily worked into his repertoire since 2015, which could signal sustainability for Fiers’ 2018 success. Park factors for Comerica Park and the Oakland Coliseum definitely worked in his favor, so it’s fair to wonder how his stuff will fare in the bandboxes of Cincinnati, Texas, and Washington, especially considering increased use of his slider corresponded with a similar decrease in sinker usage, leading to elevated launch angles and more flyballs (43.2 FB%). Fiers has been homer prone in the past, though it’s a delicate balancing act for the righty, as he has generally been more effective when keeping the ball in the air – a strategy that obviously holds more water in Oakland than it would in, say, Cincinnati.
- The opposite can be said of Anibal Sanchez, coming off a surprising comeback with the Atlanta Braves driven in part by a return to the wormburning ways of his early career. His groundball rate (45 GB%) returned to career levels after dipping below 40% for a two-year stretch that just so happened to produce career-high ERAs. Atlanta has interest in bringing the righty back for 2019, per Morosi (via Twitter), but they’re not the only club with interest. Given their similar price points, Sanchez and Fiers likely share suitors, though the Reds and Nationals have shown the most interest in Sanchez thus far. A year and a half older than Fiers, Sanchez will be 35 by Opening Day.
- It’s a little surprising not to see the Milwaukee Brewers listed as pursuers for the starters above, but a slow burn winter isn’t uncommon for the Brew Crew. They have made one notable move, sending a Competitive Balance draft pick to Texas for funky left-hander Alex Claudio. Interestingly, Claudio’s sidelong delivery may be more than an incidental quirk for the Brewers, per Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs. The Brewers now boast a relatively substantial stable of minor leaguers who rely on deception and unique throwing motions, enough of a sample to presume an organizational focus, or at least curiosity. Given the stirring ascendancy of Josh Hader, himself a non-traditional thrower, it’s interesting to see the Brewers potentially exploring a system-wide extrapolation of Hader’s success. From a player valuation standpoint, the one-for-one swap with Texas is noteworthy because of what it means about Milwaukee’s evaluation of college hurlers. The pick being sent to Texas likely lands somewhere in the 40s, where advanced college relievers are often available. Meanwhile, Claudio’s price is rising as a first-time arbitration player. One view supposes the cost-conscious Brewers must view the prospects available in that spot as less-than. The other view, of course, is that this deal is not a wholesale denunciation of the draft class, rather Milwaukee just likes Claudio and views his major league experience as present-day value for a team with legitimate pennant aspirations in 2019.
A busy day of pitching transactions included Tanner Roark being traded from the Nationals to the Reds, and free agent Lance Lynn nearing an apparent agreement with the Rangers. Those moves take two potential Giants targets off the board, as Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area reported that San Francisco had interest in its own Roark deal, while The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly noted that the Giants had interest in Lynn before his reported price tag (three years and $30MM from Texas) rose too high for their liking. The Giants are known to be exploring reinforcements for a rotation that has still has Madison Bumgarner as the ace, but a lot of inexperience and question marks in the rest of the starting five.
MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes spoke with agent Bryce Dixon about Nelson Cruz’s market yesterday at the Winter Meetings, and Tim also got an update on another Dixon client, Johnny Cueto. It isn’t yet clear when the Giants right-hander will be back on the mound in the wake of Tommy John surgery last August, though Dixon is optimistic about both a full recovery for Cueto and potentially a return late this season. Dixon’s full comments:
- The Rangers have yet to check in on Derek Holland, according to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan (via Twitter). The club is known to be on the hunt for relatively inexpensive pitching, and the Rangers have at least internally discussed the possibility of trying to lure Holland for another stint in Texas. Sullivan notes, however, that Holland’s preference would be to remain with the Giants or stay in the National League.
GM Billy Eppler reiterated the Angels’ plan to build upon the growth of their farm system in 2018, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. The plan is clear: build a Top-5 system, and then use their financial muscle to supplement (Fangraphs pegs their current farm as the 12th most valuable system in the league). The Angels aren’t out on all trade candidates, however, as Eppler makes an important distinction in stating that they haven’t traded anyone “impactful” from their farm. Deals that don’t require surrendering top prospects remain theoretically in play, though such a strategy likely won’t yield any of the sexier names being bandied about these winter meetings, such as Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer or J.T. Realmuto. Fletcher suggests Sonny Gray, Francisco Cervelli and Julio Teheran as the types of trade targets that might be within their reach. These types of targets are likely better fits for their financial outlook as well.
- Behind the leadership of President of Baseball Ops Farhan Zaidi, the San Francisco Giants will open their playbook to more modern pitching strategies next season, per Kerry Crowley of the Mercury News. A staff comprised of injury-prone veterans like Jeff Samardzija and up-and-comers potentially on innings limits (Dereck Rodriguez, Andrew Suarez) may lead manager Bruce Bochy to employ the Opener strategy or, as Zaidi puts it, “different forms of pitching staff constructions” in 2019. Bochy is a noted traditionalist in the dugout, but in lieu of finding five starters capable of pitching 200 innings, he and Zaidi will be forced to adapt by building a pitching strategy tailored to their current personnel. The Giants may still add to their stable of arms, but outfield is far-and-away the winter priority at this time, and they feel pretty good about where how the bullpen is currently constructed. That said, there has been considerably trade interest in Will Smith and Tony Watson, so the near-term outlook could change if a can’t-miss deal presents itself. Thus far, Zaidi is adhering to a patient approach in his first winter at the helm, which makes sense given the financial and talent makeup of the San Francisco roster.
- The Braves lost out to division rival Philadelphia in the bidding for Andrew McCutchen, though Atlanta was never a serious contender once the price rose to include a third season, per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. GM Alex Anthopoulos is perfectly content to wait until the new year before making any more additions, should that be what the market dictates. In the case of McCutchen, for instance, the Braves viewed the former Pirates outfielder as comparable to Carlos Gonzalez or Nick Markakis – corner bats that add value when secured on a shorter-term deal. They’ve vetted most outfielders available, and a bigger name like Michael Brantley is still in play for Atlanta, but the Braves aren’t eager to overpay for expediency at this stage of the winter. This mirrors the situation they faced earlier in the winter when they looked into possibly acquiring J.T. Realmuto. After feeling like the Marlins wouldn’t deal within the division, they moved on to free agent target Brian McCann. While the intra-division embargo seems to have passed, the Braves will not be reengaging the Marlins, as they secured a catching tandem they like, in McCann and Tyler Flowers, at a price they like.
- The Cardinals have shown interest in both Britton and fellow free-agent lefty Andrew Miller, but the belief is that they’re more interested in the former, per Mark Saxon of The Athletic (subscription required). St. Louis has also been connected to Giants relievers Will Smith and Tony Watson, and Saxon suggests the Cardinals may be willing to trade an outfielder – either Jose Martinez or Tyler O’Neill, but preferably the former – to San Francisco. The Cards have been “pushing” Martinez for Smith, Henry Schulman of the San Franscisco Chronicle reports.
- As for the aforementioned Giants relievers, they’re generating a “high level of interest,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told Maria Guardado of MLB.com and other reporters Tuesday. Zaidi added that “we’re going to have to feel good about the return to trade one of those guys.”
- Continuing with the Giants, Zaidi suggested Tuesday that they’ll consider free-agent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Schulman tweets. Tulowitzki would presumably back up both shortstop Brandon Crawford and second baseman Joe Panik in San Francisco. It’s worth noting that Tulowitzki’s a Bay Area native who, according to his agent, would be interested in playing there.
- The likelihood of the Giants trading ace Madison Bumgarner this offseasn is dropping, per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. It’s more probable the Giants will move Bumgarner at next summer’s trade deadline – if they’re out of contention, that is – Feinsand hears. Bumgarner, 29, is entering his last year of team control (and perhaps the final season of his storied Giants tenure), in which he’ll earn a reasonable $12MM.
The Cardinals are among the many teams pressing the Giants with interest in southpaw Will Smith, according to Mark Saxon of The Athletic (Twitter link). Another San Francisco lefty, Tony Watson, appears to be of secondary interest to the Cards, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweets. Goold notes that the St. Louis club is interested in swapping slugger Jose Martinez for a lefty reliever, though it’s fair to wonder whether he’d be of much interest to the Giants.
More on the pitching market:
- There’s at least some preliminary interest from the Reds in southpaw Wade Miley, per MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (Twitter link). Given the Cincinnati organization’s need for significant rotation help, and its recent hiring of former Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson, it’s not particularly surprising to hear of this link. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of deal the 32-year-old Miley is ultimately able to secure after an odd 2018 campaign in which he worked through injury to compile 80 2/3 innings of 2.57 ERA ball. He managed only 5.6 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 on the year, though did sport a healthy 52.8% groundball rate while allowing a stingy (but perhaps not sustainable) 0.33 homers per nine.
- Pitching appears to be a key focus of the Blue Jays this winter, with the club occupying a potentially interesting place in the market. Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports that the Toronto ballclub is considering players that’d require multi-year commitments as well as bounceback types. But GM Ross Atkins emphasizes that the club won’t be “looking for free-agent pieces with the goal of trading them,” though of course future dealmaking would always be a possibility. Meanwhile, as Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi explores, Atkins evinced an increasing openness to weighing deals for existing starters Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez in his most recent comments. While the team’s own valuation of the two talented-but-uncertain hurlers has surely not changed, Atkins suggests that rivals have shown sufficient interest that it’s worth further exploring trade scenarios. Whether any deal will come together isn’t clear, but it does seem evident that the Toronto club has gained clarity on the demand for these pitchers and that, as Davidi puts it, there’s at least a realistic path to trade outcomes.
- Yankees GM Brian Cashman indicated yesterday that his club is taking a look at Japanese southpaw Yusei Kikuchi, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports. The New York powerhouse is presently engaged on other players, via trade and free agency, but Cashman says that Kikuchi is “somebody that’s worthy of having conversations about potentially landing.” Having taken a long scouting look at Kikuchi already, the Yanks surely have a price point in mind. Cashman says the team will continue to stay “very active, but disciplined” in its pursuit of pitching.
- The Mariners are another clear possibility for Kikuchi, as TJ Cotterill of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto made clear that the club both holds the Japanese hurler in high regard, calling him a “very good” starter, and is interested in trying to work out a deal. While they are taking a step back in the near-term, the M’s feel the 27-year-old “does fit our timeline,” per Dipoto.
- It seems there’s at least some interest around the game in Orioles righty Alex Cobb, as Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports. While his early showing in Baltimore was simply brutal, Cobb did turn things around in the second half, when he held opposing hitters to a .232/.288/.377 slash and carried a 2.56 ERA in 59 2/3 innings. Of course, the $43MM still owed Cobb over the next three seasons presents quite a barrier to a deal.