- Thursday’s three-team deal between the Rays, Indians, and Mariners was a very notable swap for all sides, and while payroll concerns were a big factor for Seattle and Cleveland, the Rays’ role was apparently more baseball-centric, and all the more interesting given the team’s long-standing admiration for first baseman Jake Bauers. As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes, Bauers had long been seen as the Rays’ projected first baseman of the future, and the 23-year-old only just made his big league debut in 2018. New acquisition Yandy Diaz, however, adds a bit more positional flexibility as well as a right-handed bat to Tampa’s roster. “Jake’s pretty special to us and our high opinion of him doesn’t change….We like him a lot,” Rays senior VP of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said. “This was one (deal) where there was no high-fiving, just something we thought really made sense for us going forward. The Indians are getting a hell of a player. It’s going to be fun to watch his career progress.”
- In more details on the trade, Topkin reiterated that Edwin Encarnacion isn’t likely to be flipped from the Mariners to the Rays, even though Seattle would very well trade Encarnacion elsewhere before Opening Day. That fits with a report from Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who said that Encarnacion wasn’t originally a part of any talks between the Rays and Indians, who were initially planning to just swap Bauers for Diaz in a regular two-team deal. Hoynes also “would not be surprised” if the Tribe acquires a veteran bat for pinch-hitting or part-time DH duty, to get some playing time when Carlos Santana is at first base and Bauers is deployed as a corner outfielder.
- The Blue Jays are known to be looking for some veteran rotation help, though they apparently weren’t “serious bidders” for the recently-signed Charlie Morton or Lance Lynn, Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes. Morton signed a two-year, $30MM deal with the Rays that includes an option year, while Lynn reportedly got a three-year, $30MM commitment from the Rangers. It would be somewhat surprising if Toronto signed an experienced starter to such a contract, either in price or perhaps anything longer than two years, given how the Jays are in a rebuilding phase. The Blue Jays reportedly at least checked in on Lynn, though it isn’t surprising that they balked at giving him a three-year deal. Toronto’s lack of moves on the pitching front makes them a team to watch as various hurlers continue to come off the board, particularly if the team is also weighing offers for Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.
- An experienced closer is on the Rays’ wish list, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. The Rays’ saves leaders from last season – Sergio Romo and Alex Colome – are no longer on the roster, with the former currently a free agent. Romo’s one of several established closers on the market, where Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, Cody Allen and Bud Norris are also among those seeking deals.
DEC. 15: Atlanta hasn’t discussed Realmuto with the Marlins in the past five days, and the Braves don’t plan on picking up talks again, Mark Bowman of MLB.com tweets. That runs counter to a prior report suggesting the Braves are at the head of the race for Realmuto.
DEC. 13: The Marlins have made some progress in winnowing the field for backstop J.T. Realmuto, per Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald (via Twitter). Still, though, six teams remain involved, per the report: the Reds, Mets, Rays, Braves, Dodgers, and Padres.
Certainly, the Mets have been the most visibly aggressive organization to this stage. The New York club has created quite a few off-the-wall possibilities along the way, some of which involve other teams. That makes it relatively unsurprising to hear that they’ve cycled back to prior talks with the Padres regarding Noah Syndergaard in a possible three-team deal, per SNY.tv’s Andy Martino (Twitter link).
Previously, the Mets reportedly danced around possible deals along these same lines with the Yankees. Also, earlier in the winter, the Mets and Pads were unable to line up on a two-team arrangement that would have sent Syndergaard out west, with the San Diego organization unwilling to part with top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. It seems quite unlikely that Tatis is now available, so presumably other pieces from a loaded Padres farm would be utilized.
While the Mets are obviously pushing to win in the near-term, the Marlins would certainly have the ability to be a bit more patient with pre-MLB assets. For the Padres, meanwhile, Syndergaard would obviously represent a much-sought-after staff ace. Importantly, too, he’d be under team control for three seasons at an affordable rate of pay.
It’s hard to gauge the likelihood of a deal coming together between this trio of teams, though, particularly with so many other previous scenarios falling apart and other organizations still involved. Presumably, the Marlins remain emboldened to continue holding Realmuto while waiting for a rival to jump at their reportedly high asking prices.
For now, the stalemate continues, though there’s obviously still quite a bit of movement afoot. As Marlins president of baseball ops Michael Hill puts it to Wells Dusenbury of the Sun-Sentinel (via Twitter), “anything can gain traction at any moment.” For the Mets, meanwhile, there continue to be ongoing reports that the team has interest in quite a few other backstops, and it’s at least questionable whether it’d be sensible to prioritize Realmuto if it means losing Syndergaard.
The close of the Winter Meetings brought with it a interesting three-team trade — authored by none other than Seattle dealmaker Jerry Dipoto, who was apparently operating from a hospital bed. The Mariners have added slugger Edwin Encarnacion while sending recently acquired first baseman Carlos Santana (Encarnacion’s former teammate) to the Indians in the deal. The Rays, too, involved in this swap. They’ll pick up corner infielder Yandy Diaz and righty Cole Sulser from the Indians and send first baseman/corner outfielder Jake Bauers to the Indians
Beyond the players involved in the trade, a reported $5MM will go to the Mariners from the Rays. Seattle, meanwhile, will send a reported $6MM on to the Indians and will also acquire the Cleveland org’s competitive balance pick in next year’s draft. It’s a Round B choice that currently sits at No. 77 — though the exact order of next year’s draft will be altered slightly by the compensation and draft penalization for teams signing players who have rejected qualifying offers. Regardless, the Mariners have likely added a top 80 selection to their slate of picks next summer.
Needless to say, there are some varying considerations at play here. Cash is king with regard to the notable veteran sluggers, who are certainly the most recognizable players in this deal. Encarnacion is owed $24MM through the 2019 campaign (including a buyout on a club option), while Santana’s deal promises him $35MM through 2020 (also with an option buyout).
It’s far from clear that Encarnacion will remain in Seattle when all is said and done. To the contrary, in fact, he may well go to Tampa Bay in a separate swap, per Scott Miller of Bleacher Report (via Twitter), though Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times emphasizes there’s nothing “in place or lined up” in that regard (Twitter link). With the M’s looking to shed payroll and boost their talent reserves, they’ll surely be willing to spin off Encarnacion — to the Rays or another rival — if there’s a favorable offer. After all, the organization already acquired and dumped Santana this winter.
Both Encarnacion and Santana will be looking to recover from relative down seasons. The former, 35, slashed .246/.336/.474 with 32 home runs last year, still a productive campaign but not to his usual standards. He’s seen mostly as a DH at this stage of his career, but can still line up at first base on at least a part-time basis. The 32-year-old Santana, meanwhile, turned in a .229/.352/.414 batting line and swatted 24 long balls in 679 plate appearances with the Phillies, who signed him after out-bidding the Indians but soured on the fit this winter. He’s regarded as a solid performer at first and still draws walks at an impressive clip; in 2018, in fact, he took 110 free passes while going down 93 times on strikes.
Working out the math for Seattle, the team will end up sending out $1MM while paring $11MM in obligations, resulting in a net savings of $10MM. They’ll only have one year of Encarnacion to deal along elsewhere, but they’ll also pick up the draft selection for their trouble.
The Indians, meanwhile, will open some additional 2018 payroll space by shedding the big hit on Encarnacion. Santana will cost more ($29MM) in the aggregate, but it’s spread over multiple years. The money from the M’s is split into $2MM and $4MM payments, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer tweets. Plus, there’s the post-2020 buyout. All said, there’s now added cash hung on the 2020 and 2021 ledgers. Presumably, the club is also pleased to bring back a long-time franchise stalwart. Of course, now that Bauers is on hand along with Santana, there are now new trade possibilities here as well. First baseman Yonder Alonso, who’s owed $8MM in 2019 along with a $1MM buyout on a 2020 option, could end up on the move, though Bauers could also factor in the outfield mix and the team could utilize Alonso and Santana as a first base/DH pairing.
On the Rays’ end of the swap, Bauers was long considered a top prospect but clearly wasn’t seen as a key piece for the club. Diaz will enter an ever-changing infield mix in Tampa Bay after a strong 2018 showing in which he posted .797 OPS figures at both the Triple-A (426 plate appearances) and MLB (120 plate appearances) levels. In addition to possessing some of the game’s most impressive biceps and the ability to line up at third base as well as the corner outfield, Diaz will come with six seasons of future control. Rays exec Chaim Bloom says the club likes the versatility and the upside that comes with the 27-year-old (video link on Twitter from Topkin). Sulser, 28, has yet to reach the bigs, but will presumably factor into a deep Rays relief corps after throwing 105 innings of 3.51 ERA ball with 12.3 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 at Triple-A over the past three seasons.
Jon Heyman of Fancred (Twitter links), Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (all Twitter links) and Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter links) were all at the forefront of the reporting on this news.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Cardinals have discussed Bryce Harper as part of their talks with Scott Boras about the agent’s various clients, though it remains to be seen if the Cards are truly pursuing the free agent outfielder, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. St. Louis wasn’t one of the teams that asked for a private meeting with Harper and his camp in Las Vegas, for instance. As part of a wide-ranging talk with Goold and other reporters yesterday, Boras didn’t rule any team out of the Harper sweepstakes, and made particular mention of the Cardinals’ resources. “This is about winning and it’s about a good franchise and ownership, and the reality of it is that franchise is worth billions of dollars and they’re a top-10 revenue team,” Boras said.
Here’s more on the Cardinals’ offseason pursuits…
- Jose Martinez has received a lot of trade interest from rival teams, GM Michael Girsch told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch and The Athletic’s Mark Saxon). The Cardinals have explored various possibilities for a Martinez trade, including moving him for relief pitching or even simply a prospect package. Though Martinez has hit very well in his brief career, he doesn’t have an everyday role in St. Louis now that Paul Goldschmidt is occupying first base, and Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler are in the corner outfield spots. Keeping Martinez as a backup at all positions is also less than ideal given Martinez’s poor defense. As part of a reader mailbag piece, Goold mentions that the Rays have had interest in Martinez in the past, and could be a fit again since Martinez is probably best suited for DH duties on an American League team. The right-handed hitting Martinez would be a nice complement to Tampa’s current left-handed hitting first base/DH mix of Jake Bauers and Ji-Man Choi.
- Goold covers a wide variety of Cardinals questions in his mailbag piece, and he also mentions that the team has been in touch with Francisco Pena about returning as the backup catcher. Jesus Sucre and Rene Rivera are also mentioned as names who could be comfortable with the limited playing time that comes with backing up workhorse catcher Yadier Molina. Goold cites former Oriole Caleb Joseph as one available catcher who is looking for a larger portion of playing time.
- The Cards haven’t been active on the starting pitching market, according to Goold, since the team is largely comfortable with its current rotation depth. Adding another starter can’t be totally ruled out if the right fit can be found at the right price, though the Cardinals generally seem to feel that there isn’t a clear enough upgrade available at a price point that works for them.
- In trade talks with the Diamondbacks about Paul Goldschmidt, “the Rays were willing to at least discuss” the possibility of dealing outfield prospect Jesus Sanchez, the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin writes. Preseason prospect rankings had Sanchez as a consensus top-60 minor leaguer in all of baseball, and the now-21-year-old outfielder continues to move up the Rays’ ladder, making his Double-A debut in 2018. Moving such a youngstar even from a deep farm system would’ve been a bold move for just one year of Goldschmidt’s services, yet Topkin believes it could be a sign of how seriously Tampa Bay is prepared to pursue elite talent. This could be a hint towards the Rays’ ventures towards other notable trade targets, such as perhaps Realmuto.
10:57pm: The vesting option has quite a bit of flexibility, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (Twitter links). If he’s on the DL for less than thirty days over the two guaranteed seasons, it’ll remain at $15MM. Otherwise, it could land at $10MM, $5MM, $3MM or $1MM, depending upon how many days he’s sidelined. That last figure would be realized if he is on the shelf for 200 or more days.
4:39pm: Morton will receive consecutive $15MM salaries, per Jon Heyman of Fancred (via Twitter). The deal includes assignment bonuses if Morton is traded, valued at $1MM in 2019 and $500K in 2020.
3:03pm: The Rays are in agreement on a deal with right-hander Charlie Morton, according to MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi (Twitter link). Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported earlier today that Morton and the Rays were close to a deal, and also first reported on the interest between the two sides earlier this week.
Morton, a client of Jet Sports Management, will earn $30MM over the two-year contract, as per Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan. The deal also contains an option for the 2021 season that could be worth as much as $15MM if Morton remains healthy, though could also be as low as $1MM should Morton suffer a significant injury over the course of the initial two years. MLBTR’s ranked Morton 14th on our list of the offseason’s top 50 free agents and projected Morton for a two-year, $32MM commitment, so he could greatly surpass that figure should that option year be exercised at the full amount.
Though $30MM in guaranteed money isn’t a huge sum by most free agent standards, it counts as a major splurge by the low-spending Rays, though the club was able to account for the extra expenditure after a season that saw them clear millions off the books in long-term commitments. Even better for the Rays, they were able to slash payroll while still fielding their most competitive team in years, boasting a young roster that won 90 games in 2018. That progress left Tampa willing to spend a little extra in the hopes of making a full push towards a postseason berth next season.
The 35-year-old Morton has enjoyed a late-career awakening since coming to the Astros prior to the 2017 season and employing a new pitching philosophy that focused more on strikeouts and generating more velocity. The veteran has a 3.36 ERA, 10.4 K/9, and 3.19 K/BB rate over 313 2/3 innings in a Houston uniform, a stint that has included a key role in the Astros’ 2017 World Series championship and Morton’s first career All-Star berth in 2018. The veteran has posted 6.3 fWAR over the last two years, as opposed to 7.8 fWAR over the first nine seasons with the Braves, Pirates, and Phillies.
The Astros didn’t issue a one-year qualifying offer to Morton, though they did offer the hurler a one-year contract with an option on a second year. The Rangers were another known suitor, and one would assume that several other clubs had interest in Morton given his recent success and the fact that he could be signed to a shorter-term deal. Morton had given the impression that he could retire soon and wasn’t in search of a long-term commitment, though it seems he’ll put on the spikes for at least two more seasons. Morton had also expressed an interest in either a return to Houston or joining a team located closer to his wife’s family in Delaware, so the Rays’ east coast locale might’ve been something of a factor, even if Tampa Bay and Delaware aren’t exactly in close proximity.
Morton now joins AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow as the only three conventional starters in the Rays rotation, as manager Kevin Cash has said that the team will continue to use an “opener” at least twice during every turn of the rotation. Though the Rays used openers very regularly in 2018 (even on a near-daily basis over the summer while Snell was on the DL), adding a veteran arm like Morton to cover innings provides some extra cushion for the relief corps as it prepares for another significant workload.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
With rumors flying about Marlins backstop J.T. Realmuto, it’s still hard to guess where he’ll land. Miami president of baseball operations Mike Hill says that’s a result of the robust demand for Realmuto, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets. While the Fish are working to home in on a narrower slate of suitors, per Hill, it’s hard at this point to do so. The Rays are one of the teams to have “circle[d] back” on Realmuto, per Jon Heyman of Fancred (via Twitter), which lends credence to Hill’s statement. Though the Tampa Bay organization recently added Mike Zunino behind the dish, it seems another acquisition could still be contemplated. Both players could conceivably coexist on the same roster (perhaps, but not necessarily, in a three-catcher arrangement with Michael Perez), or the Rays could in theory flip Zunino.
Rays manager Kevin Cash confirmed that his team will again use the “opener” strategy in 2019, telling Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times and other reporters that openers will “start” at least twice during every turn in the rotation. AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and right-hander Tyler Glasnow are currently projected as the only conventional full-time starters in Tampa’s rotation, and Cash also noted that some of the pitchers the Rays used as long men last season (Yonny Chirinos, Ryan Yarbrough, Wilmer Font, or Jalen Beeks) could be deployed as regular starters.