- The Giants, Brewers and Reds were the runners-up for shortstop Didi Gregorius, per reports from Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia and C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic. The presence of his former Yankees manager Joe Girardi in Philadelphia helped influence Gregorius to take the Phillies’ one-year, $14MM offer on Tuesday. Of the other teams involved, the Giants’ inclusion is particularly interesting. They already have an expensive veteran shortstop in Brandon Crawford, who has a sterling defensive reputation. Speculatively, the Giants could have been after Gregorius with the intention of playing him at second base. They wound up acquiring a different infielder, former Angel Zack Cozart, on Tuesday.
We’ll track the chatter here …
- The Cole sweepstakes is closing in on an ending, reports Heyman, who adds it would take “a major upset” for him to sign with someone other than the Yankees, Angels or Dodgers.
- There is “serious and intense” bidding going on for Cole, who looks more and more likely to reach an agreement at the Winter Meetings, Heyman tweets. It’s “likely” the Astros and the Giants are the mystery clubs in the Cole derby, per MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, though the sources he has spoken with have cast on doubt on the hurler ending up with either team. That seemingly leaves the Yankees, Angels and Dodgers to fight it out for Cole.
- The Astros may be one of the mystery teams, per the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, who writes that they’re considering making a late charge to re-sign Cole. He was, of course, an enormously important part of the Astros’ pitching staff from 2018-19, and owner Jim Crane said last month the team would at least make an effort to keep him. Keeping Cole would likely at least push the Astros over the second level of the luxury tax ($228MM), as Sherman notes, but the reigning AL champions do have some holes in their rotation with him and Wade Miley as free agents. Perhaps a desire to keep Cole, AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke together atop the Astros’ staff will drown out any tax concerns for Crane.
- Agent Scott Boras confirmed recent reports that indicate a deal could come together quickly. He told reporters gathered for his annual media scrum that a decision may come “in the short term,” as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports (Twitter links). Boras also says there are two mystery teams involved in Cole’s market, though it’s not evident just what constitutes a mystery team from his perspective.
- Cole’s major pursuers are known (Angels, Yankees, Dodgers), along with a few lurkers (Rangers, Phillies). But there’s also a mystery team involved, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). Heyman himself casts doubt upon the legitimacy of this unidentified organization, noting that it is difficult to envision a new entrant to the market vaulting past the existing bidders. Indeed, it is quite difficult to peg a serious bidder among the remaining teams around the league. There are certainly other contenders that would love to add Cole, but in every case there’s reason to question the plausibility. That said, there have been surprises in the past and nothing can be ruled out entirely until there’s a team announcement on a signing.
- Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle notes (via Twitter) that he has been given reason to believe that the Giants would represent “a desirable destination” from Cole’s perspective. But he says he is not aware whether the team is involved and cautions that he has no reason to believe the San Francisco organization is a serious possible landing spot for the right-hander.
DEC. 10: It’s looking increasingly probable that Bumgarner will either reach or approach his $100MM-plus goal, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. “Many teams” are in the race, per Heyman, who tweets that the Twins “are thought to be” heavily in pursuit.
DEC. 9, 5:11pm: The Giants, Bumgarner’s lone team to date, are among his suitors and will meet with his representation this week, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area. “We’re involved in those discussions,” Zaidi said. “We’re planning to meet with his representatives this week and they have other meetings scheduled, too. That’s what happens when a player is a free agent, they’re going to explore all their options. Guys are looking for different things, looking for maybe a particular geography, maybe a team in a specific part of their competitive cycle.” Interestingly, although they’re not known for their spending, the division-rival Diamondbacks are also in the mix, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports. The Angels are also part of it, though whether they’re aggressive in pursuing Bumgarner could depend on if they land Gerrit Cole.
10:46am: Representatives of southpaw Madison Bumgarner have informed interested organizations that he’s looking to top nine figures over five years with his first free agent contract, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports on Twitter. Whether he’ll get there remains to be seen.
Zack Wheeler just blew past the $100M mark, but MLBTR predicted he’d substantially out-earn Bumgarner. While Bumgarner has unquestionably accomplished more in his career to date, the younger Wheeler seems on the upswing. We predicted Bumgarner would land at four years and $72MM, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him approach or even reach the $100MM level if interest soars to five years.
The question facing MLB teams is whether they believe Bumgarner can sustain his excellent results despite less-than-exceptional peripheral numbers. He doesn’t throw as hard as he did in his heyday, but Bumgarner’s velocity has stabilized in the 91 to 92 mph range. He got swings and misses as often as ever in the just-completed campaign after experiencing a somewhat worrisome 2018 downturn. But Bumgarner hasn’t drawn quite as many strikeouts and hasn’t limited the long ball as successfully as he once did, leading ERA estimators to dim on his value.
Bumgarner stands as an interesting market bellwether. Teams won’t pay for his past performance; those days are over. But will they put a big dollar value on his still-significant anticipated future contributions? And will his history of stepping up in the postseason help his cause? Bumgarner is still just thirty years of age and got back to his 200-inning ways in 2019. And even the post-injury version of the lefty still hasn’t finished a season having allowed four earned runs per nine innings.
There are a variety of teams with interest, though to what level isn’t yet evident. The Twins, White Sox, and Reds have been linked clearly to Bumgarner, while the Reds, Cardinals, and Yankees have also been cited as possibilities. It’ll cost the winning bidder draft compensation to add Bumgarner, which could temper the willingness to add yet more dollars and/or years to an offer.
- The Giants have interviewed Rachel Balkovec, the Yankees’ minor league roving hitting instructor, for a spot on their major league staff, per Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic. However, it doesn’t look as if the Giants will hire Balkovec, Baggarly adds. The interview itself appears to be historic, though, as Baggarly notes it’s “believed” Balkovec is the first woman to discuss a uniformed role with a major league team.
The Giants have signed right-hander Kevin Gausman, Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic was among those to report. It’s a one-year, $9MM contract with up to $1MM in performance bonuses, the team announced. Gausman is a client of Tidal Sports Group.
If he maxes out his bonuses, Gausman will end up with almost the same payday he’d have received had the Reds retained him for 2020. They moved on from Gausman at last week’s non-tender deadline in lieu of paying him a projected $10.6MM next season. However, that doesn’t mean Gausman performed poorly as a member of the Reds, who claimed him off waivers from the Braves in August. On the contrary, the soon-to-be 29-year-old Gausman pitched well over a limited sample of 22 1/3 innings, evidenced by a 4.03 ERA with tremendous strikeout and walk rates of 11.7 and 2.0, respectively.
Of course, Gausman only became a Red because he had trouble preventing runs as a Brave. He put up an ugly 6.19 ERA across 80 innings as a starter before working almost exclusively as a reliever for the Reds. That said, the Atlanta version of Gausman did manage a respectable 4.20 FIP with a similarly solid 9.6 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. And before Gausman’s career experienced a downturn in Atlanta, he recorded several quality seasons as a starter for the Orioles, who selected him fourth overall in the 2012 draft.
Now that he’s on the fourth team of his career, Gausman will presumably return to a role as a full-time starter. The Giants – whose longtime No. 1 starter, Madison Bumgarner, remains a free agent – are sorely lacking in that department. Unless the Giants re-sign Bumgarner or add another veteran, the hard-throwing Gausman, who has averaged just under 95 mph on his fastball during his time in the majors, looks as if he’ll team with Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija as the elder statesmen of the group. At least for now, Gausman’s guarantee is the largest one president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has doled out since he joined the organization last winter.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Giants have acquired infielder Zack Cozart and shortstop prospect Will Wilson from the Angels for cash considerations, Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times reports. San Francisco will pay all of Cozart’s $12.167MM salary for 2020, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register.
Cozart joined the Angels as a high-priced free-agent signing two winters ago, when he inked a three-year, $38MM contract after a career campaign with the Reds. But Cozart was neither healthy nor effective as a member of the Angels, with whom he consistently struggled to perform and dealt with injuries. The 34-year-old took just 107 plate appearances in 2019, when he slashed a horrid .124/.178/.144 without a home run and missed the majority of the season with shoulder problems. Cozart’s year came to an end in mid-July when he underwent what the Angels called an “arthroscopic debridement of his left shoulder.”
Getting rid of Cozart looks like a major score for the Angels, who could use his money to further improve their chances of landing a major free agent (Gerrit Cole? Anthony Rendon?). In the Giants’ case, it’s unclear how much playing time Cozart will receive next season. They already have Evan Longoria at third base and Brandon Crawford at shortstop, after all, with youngster Mauricio Dubon possibly in line to garner the lion’s share of reps at second base.
Considering Wilson’s involvement, this may be a case of the Giants essentially buying a prospect. The 21-year-old Wilson, formerly with North Carolina State, is just months removed from joining the Angels as the 15th pick in the 2019 draft. The Angels paid $3.4MM to lock up Wilson at the time, but they’ve now deemed him expendable in an effort to get Cozart’s money off the books.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Padres and Rays already announced last week’s trade, one that saw outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Tommy Pham switch homes, but some complications have arisen since then. Specifically, even though 31-year-old Pham “effectively passed a series of physicals this weekend,” per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, there are concerns over his right elbow. The joint kept Pham out of action for some of 2019, and according to Acee, the Padres’ medical staff still hasn’t cleared him. The trade’s currently “in limbo” as a result, writes Acee. However, Padres general manager A.J. Preller suggested Monday that it should still go through. “We’re still working through some final details but hope to have some clarity on that in the next 24 hours,” Preller said. “When we made the trade, we made the trade with the players involved. I don’t expect anything to change between now and the time we move forward. But we just have to finish the process up.”
- The Dodgers have their eyes fixed on “roughly” a dozen acquisitions, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told Pedro Moura of The Athetic and other reporters Monday. What’s more, Friedman indicated the already loaded Dodgers are primarily looking at elite talent. The rotation and third base have been rumored areas of interest for the Dodgers, and both spots do feature top-tier free agents (Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson, for instance). Great free-agent relievers are harder to find, but upgrading there is a focus for the Dodgers. That’s their only “omnipresent” need area, Friedman observes (via Ken Gurnick of MLB.com). As of now, though, Friedman does expect Kenley Jansen to continue as the Dodgers’ closer in 2020. Formerly automatic, Jansen had a difficult year (by his standards) last season.
- The rotation-needy Giants expect to sign at least one starter to a major league contract, possibly before the Winter Meetings conclude, per Kerry Crowley of the Bay Area News Group. They at least appear to still be in the mix for their No. 1 free agent, Madison Bumgarner, whom they’ll sit down with during the meetings. While pitching’s a priority for the club, they don’t seem to be focused on picking up a backup catcher to take over for Stephen Vogt (now with the Diamondbacks), Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area suggests. Vogt’s replacement could be Aramis Garcia, to whom they’d like to give a chance, Pavlovic reports. They also have standout prospect Joey Bart waiting in the wings as the potential heir apparent to Buster Posey.
- Josh Bard will serve as the Dodgers’ bullpen coach next season, Gurnick tweets. Bard worked in that role from 2016-17 before leaving to join the Yankees’ staff as their bench coach. The Yankees and Bard parted ways after last season. The Dodgers’ previous bullpen coach was Mark Prior, who’s now their pitching coach.
- The San Francisco Giants are getting younger – in the dugout if not on the field. New manager Gabe Kapler is set to add another young coach to his staff. Justin Viele, 29, would join 33-year-old Donnie Ecker to form the team of hitting coaches, per Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports. Viele has been a hitting coach in the Dodgers’ minor league system, so President of Baseball Ops Farhan Zaidi is no doubt familiar with his work. Viele did play 126 games of minor league ball, including a stint as a teammate of current Giant Mike Yastrzemski.
New Giants manager Gabe Kapler has made an important addition to his staff. Reds assistant hitting coach Donnie Ecker will take over as San Francisco’s hitting coach, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune was among those to report. It’ll be a homecoming for Ecker, who Gonzales notes hails from the Bay Area.
Just 33 years old, Ecker’s a former professional infielder whom the Rangers selected in the 22nd round of the 2007 draft. Ecker didn’t get past the Single-A level with the Rangers, and he spent the final couple years of his career on the independent circuit, but he has carved a niche for himself as a coach since he last played in 2010.
Ecker’s an ex-high school and college coach who also worked for the Cardinals before the Reds hired him prior to 2018. They made Ecker their director of hitting before last season, and now he’ll try to help turn around a San Francisco offense that ranked among the majors’ worst in ’19. Ecker will replace prior hitting coach Alonzo Powell, who accepted a coaching position in Japan last month.
Along with Ecker, the Giants are adding Jim D’Aloia to the organization, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweets. D’Aloia, who had been the Mets’ pro scouting director, will work in a scouting capacity with the Giants, per Puma. He was a major opponent of the Mets’ decision to include stud outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic in their trade for then-Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz last winter, Puma notes. That reflects well on D’Aloia, as that trade has been disastrous for the Mets thus far.
TODAY, 1:58pm: The Cardinals could also have interest in Bumgarner, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand writes.
WEDNESDAY, 7:52pm: The Reds are indeed among the teams with ongoing interest in Bumgarner, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Cincinnati has been aggressive thus far and has also been linked to free-agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna, further backing reports that they’re willing to sign players who rejected a qualifying offer.
5:35pm: USA Today’s Bob Nightengale suggests otherwise regarding the White Sox, writing that they’ve been zeroed in on Wheeler and have yet to even enter into negotiations with Bumgarner’s camp.
2:45pm: Zack Wheeler is off the board on a reported five-year, $118MM agreement with the Phillies, and it sounds like a decision from fellow free agent Madison Bumgarner might not be far behind. Even before word of Wheeler’s agreement broke, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand tweeted that some within the industry also expect Bumgarner to sign before the Winter Meetings begin next week.
At this point, the Twins and White Sox are among the “heaviest” suitors for the longtime Giants lefty, tweets Andy Martino of SNY, who adds that the Yankees are involved “to some degree.” Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets that even after the Braves signed Cole Hamels to a one-year, $18MM deal earlier today, they’re still not completely out of the Bumgarner bidding. And ESPN’s Buster Olney somewhat speculatively links the Reds, who also pursued but missed out on Wheeler, to the Bumgarner market as well (Twitter link). Other clubs are surely involved as well.
It seems unlikely that the bidding for Bumgarner will escalate to the same heights as the Wheeler market, although USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted earlier that the Braves jumped on Hamels in part due to concerns that Bumgarner’s price could approach $100MM.
Regardless of where he lands, there’s little doubt that Bumgarner is among the best arms on the market this winter. He’s not the clear-cut ace that he was earlier in his career when he was busy establishing himself as a postseason legend, but the 30-year-old Bumgarner still posted a 3.90 ERA and a matching FIP through 207 2/3 innings this past season. His average fastball velocity (91.4 mph) and strikeout rate (8.8 K/9, 24.1 percent) are both down a bit from peak levels, but Bumgarner still displayed impeccable command (1.9 BB/9) this past season and topped 30 starts for the first time since his injuring his shoulder in 2017’s dirt-bike debacle.
Bumgarner has made 55 starts across the past two seasons, pitching to a 3.66 ERA (110 ERA+, 3.94 FIP) while averaging 8.3 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings pitched. He rejected a qualifying offer from the Giants, meaning he’ll require some draft and possibly international bonus forfeitures (with exact compensation dependent on which team ultimately signs him). At this point, there’s little indication that the incumbent Giants are a serious player for Bumgarner, but they’re in position to recoup a compensatory pick between Competitive Balance Round B and Round 3 of next year’s draft (as they did when Will Smith signed with the Braves).