The Rangers talked to the Pirates about acquiring right-hander Gerrit Cole, but those discussions didn’t go anywhere, TR Sullivan of MLB.com reports (Twitter link). Given that the Rangers are in need of starters even after signing Doug Fister and Mike Minor, the possibility of them turning back to old friend and top free agent Yu Darvish has come up. General manager Jon Daniels revealed Monday that the Rangers and Darvish still have a strong relationship even after they traded him away last July, Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram tweets. For his part, Darvish is interested in a reunion, agent Joel Wolfe told Wilson and other reporters (Twitter link). The potential of Texas deploying a six-man rotation doesn’t necessarily appeal to Darvish, though, despite the fact that he spoke in favor of that setup on multiple occasions in the past. “He’s one of those guys that would rather pitch on short rest than long rest,” Wolfe said.
The latest free agent rumors…
- Contrary to a report from Sunday, the Rockies haven’t had any discussions about signing first baseman Logan Morrison, per Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post (Twitter link).
- Reliever Tommy Hunter has emerged as a “prime target” for the Mets in their search for bullpen help, according to Marc Carig of Newsday (on Twitter). The 31-year-old right-hander was quietly excellent over 58 2/3 innings with the Rays in 2017, recording a 2.61 ERA and putting up 9.82 K/9 against 2.15 BB/9.
- Count the Diamondbacks among those interested in reliever Brandon Kintzler, tweets ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, who expects the former Twins closer to land a two-year deal. Kintzler suggested last month that his wife is rooting for him to sign with Arizona. The Twins continue to monitor him, and they’ve also checked in on almost every other available pitcher, chief baseball officer Derek Falvey revealed (Twitter link via Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com).
- Brewers GM David Stearns said Monday that he’s likely to “cross paths” at the Winter Meetings with the agents for second baseman Neil Walker and reliever Anthony Swarzak, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets. Walker and Swarzak ended last season with the Brewers after coming over in trades and performed quite well during their short stints in Milwaukee.
- Although the Orioles badly need starters, they’re not inclined to dole out long deals. GM Dan Duquette suggested to Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun and other reporters Monday that four- to five-year pacts for pitchers generally don’t work out well (Twitter link). On the other hand, Duquette hasn’t closed the door on re-signing righty Chris Tillman, who figures to be an affordable, short-term pickup after enduring a dreadful 2017 (Twitter link via Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com).
- As is the case with Baltimore, the Tigers are in the market for a starter who won’t require a long commitment, GM Al Avila informed reporters (via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com, on Twitter). Detroit is open to reeling in another starter on a one-year deal to join the just-signed Mike Fiers.
- The Blue Jays are engaging with multiple starters and relievers, GM Ross Atkins told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet and other reporters Monday. They “will most likely add an infielder,” too, and are looking at outfielders, Atkins said (Twitter link).
- The Rangers are considering signing catcher Rene Rivera, per Jon Heyman of FanRag (Twitter link). The righty-hitting Rivera, who was with the Mets and Cubs last year, batted .252/.305/.431 in 237 plate appearances. Behind the plate, he caught an excellent 38 percent of would-be base stealers (10 percent above the league average) and, as has been the case for most of his career, held his own as a framer.
- Right-hander Jesse Chavez appears likely to sign this week, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes tweets. The 34-year-old Chavez spent last season with the Angels and posted an ugly 5.35 ERA across 138 innings and 38 appearances (21 starts), though he did log acceptable strikeout and walk rates (7.76 K/9, 2.93 BB/9).
5:00pm: A Brach-Harvey swap is unlikely to occur, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweets.
3:28pm: The Rangers aren’t willing to trade Profar for a year of control, Grant tweets.
2:59pm: The Orioles are also discussing Harvey with the Mets, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). The possible structure isn’t at all clear at this point.
Heyman, meanwhile, throws some doubt on the entire idea of Texas and New York linking up in a follow-up tweet. Profar’s control rights may be too valuable for Harvey from the Rangers’ perspective, he suggests. The Rangers were also looking into other Mets pitchers, Marc Carig of Newsday tweets.
2:50pm: The Rangers and Mets have engaged in some discussions on a possible deal that would involve Texas infielder Jurickson Profar and New York righty Matt Harvey. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News first broached the possibility while Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweeted that the sides have engaged in some chatter.
It’s tough to know just what to make of the news at this point. We heard recently that New York will consider moving Harvey, a former ace who has been a shell of himself of late. He’s projected to earn $5.9MM in arbitration before reaching the open market at the end of the season. While the Mets still need the rotation depth and would no doubt prefer to see for themselves whether Harvey can return to form, there’s also a long and checkered history to consider along with the team’s many other roster needs — including a second baseman.
On the Rangers’ side, Profar has become a forgotten man. He did not receive a late-season call-up after an early demotion to the minors, a decision that also left the Rangers with three more seasons of arb control. That enhances Profar’s trade value, though certainly his marginal overall big league showing — a .229/.309/.329 slash over 718 plate appearances — makes it questionable whether he’ll draw a significant return. Profar has shown more in the minors, though. Indeed, he batted a strong .287/.383/.428 in his 383 trips to the plate at Triple-A in 2017, drawing 43 walks while going down on strikes just 33 times.
The assumption long has been that the Rangers would look to deal Profar this winter, as he’s out of options and does not have an obvious place on the roster. And the team certainly still needs starting pitching even after two early moves to bolster the rotation. Whether Harvey is the right risk to take, though, is anyone’s guess. He has shown that he can still bring a mid-nineties fastball, but the velo is still down against his pre- and early-post-Tommy John numbers and Harvey also showed a rising walk rate (10.9%) and plummeting swinging-strike rate (7.5%) in 2017.
Similarly, the Mets will have some questions as to whether it’s worth taking a shot on Profar. All told, it’s a trade scenario that would have been quite a bit more exciting a few years ago but which could still make some sense for both organizations. It’s certainly possible, too, that other pieces could become involved in discussions.
The Rangers have struck a two-year deal with righty Chris Martin, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). Martin will receive a $4MM guarantee with $550K in annual incentives that can be reached if he reaches unstated games-finished thresholds. Martin is represented by SSG Baseball.
Though the 6’8″ Martin did not succeed in two brief MLB chances, he has gone on to produce outstanding results in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. Over the past two seasons, he carries a 1.12 ERA with 9.3 K/9 against 1.3 BB/9 over 88 1/3 innings.
With the move, the Rangers have continued a long-established practice of bringing back pitchers that have found success in Japan after first failing to gain traction on this side of the Pacific. Another recent returnee, Tony Barnette, recently re-signed with Texas and will also factor into the current relief mix.
Martin will step into the club’s pen for the next two seasons, but will not be controllable beyond that point. His contract, Rosenthal notes, provides that the team will not be able to tender him a contract via arbitration after the 2019 campaign.
Every team in baseball is still looking for pitching, so in that regard the Rangers and Orioles don’t stand out. But these two organizations are similarly situated in some regards; notably, each came into the offseason with rosters that appear to be capable but not certain of contention along with clear needs for significant improvement in their starting rotations.
For Texas, the Winter Meetings offer an opportunity and a challenge to chart a course that won’t involve Shohei Ohtani. While the pursuit of the two-way Japanese star is over, the team is still considering some novel approaches to its rotation usage. As Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes, that might involve a six or even four-man rotation setup, depending in no small part upon the team’s eventual moves. Of course, Mike Minor and Doug Fister were already brought aboard, but that doesn’t mean the club is done adding.
Notably, the Rangers aren’t just looking at budget arms. According to Grant, the club has not only checked in on quality veterans like Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, but has “maintained some contact” with former star Yu Darvish and hasn’t yet ruled out a surprise reunion. While he was dealt away at the trade deadline after the sides failed to line up on an extension, Darvish’s roots in Texas obviously trace back to his initial entry to the majors. Grant cautions that the team isn’t planning to lead the charge after Darvish or another top hurler, but it’s notable nonetheless that there seems to be serious consideration.
It’s less pressing in some regards, but the Rangers will also be looking to improve their relief corps. Late-inning pieces, in particular, would clearly be on the wish list. One player to keep an eye on, per MLB.com’s TR Sullivan (via Twitter), is righty Brandon Kintzler. Of course, he has also been linked to quite a few other organizations. The sinkerballer has obviously boosted his stock quite a bit with a hefty groundball rate and steady work in high-leverage situations over the past two seasons. Japanese reliever Kazuhisa Makita could also represent a potential target for Texas, Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News writes.
The situation is somewhat different for the Orioles, whose need for rotation pieces is even greater than that of the Rangers. With multiple pieces needed and relatively little available payroll space, Baltimore isn’t going to dabble at the top of the market, Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com writes. That’s essentially the same conclusion reached by Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, who says the Orioles “really like” Cobb but don’t expect to be able to afford him.
Wary of the risks of a long-term pitching contract, the O’s plan instead to look further down the pecking order of rotation pieces. As Connolly explains, though, several of those pitchers have already gone off the market with early deals. Veteran righty Andrew Cashner is perhaps the most logical remaining mid-tier target for the team, he notes, while a variety of less costly pitchers also figure to be strongly considered. Both reports suggest southpaw Jason Vargas as a plausible name to bolster the back end of the rotation, so he’s certainly a player to watch.
Though baseball hasn’t publicly embraced sports science the way it has analytics, the Giants are looking towards that very field as a way to gain an advantage. A fascinating article by Ian MacMahan of The Athletic (subscription required and recommended) provides some insight into the goals of Geoff Head, San Francisco’s newly-promoted assistant director of player development. “Everybody in baseball is tired by August,” Head tells MacMahan. “But if we are a little less fatigued than our opponent, it gives us an advantage.” The field of sports science focuses heavily on factors such as hydration, nutrition, workload and sleep; experts attempt to put together a formula that will keep players performing at their optimal levels as often as possible. According to Dr. Glenn Fleisig, the main difference between sports science and analytics is that sports science focuses on the “physical and medical aspects of a player,” as opposed to gameplay-based statistics. Less than half of all MLB teams currently have a dedicated sports scientist on their staff, and heavier use of sports science data could lead to big improvements by baseball players. As MacMahan puts it, “no one hits a home run sitting in the dugout nursing lead-filled legs and a tight back.”
- Evan Woodbery of mlive.com provides some insight into the questions the Tigers face as the winter meetings commence. Most notably, Woodbery reports that there hasn’t been much buzz surrounding shortstop Jose Iglesias, who will become a free agent after the 2018 season. With no open spots on the 40-man roster, Iglesias is one player Detroit could consider moving in order to take advantage of having the first pick in baseball’s Rule 5 Draft this Thursday (As Woodbery points out, Ian Kinsler could also be on the move before then). Though Iglesias hit just .255/.288/.369 across 489 plate appearances last year, his excellent defense boosted his fWAR to 1.6. Because he’s projected to earn just $5.6MM in his final year of arbitration, there would seem to be some surplus value in his contract.
- Reliever Peter Moylan is generating some interest, specifically from the Royals and Braves (hat tip to Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston). As Drellich notes, Moylan held opposing right-handed hitters to a .161/.244/.236 batting line in 2017 (and may have also provided the Royals with some intangible value thanks to his espresso skills). The 38-year-old Moylan has typically been excellent against righties over the course of his 11-year major league career; he’s posted a 2.22 ERA against them in 280 innings with the Braves, Dodgers and Royals.
- Even after losing out on Shohei Ohtani, the Rangers may still elect to use a non-traditional rotation, Evan Grant of SportsDay writes. Texas has reportedly kept contact with Yu Darvish, who has pitched in a six-man rotation in Japan and prefers such a setup; that might be one item which could help entice him to return to Arlington. Grant mentions Cole Hamels, who is generally a stickler for routine, as someone who could present a roadblock to such a strategy. However, based on Hamels’ quotes in the piece, he’d be willing to consider it if the modification helped bring about a postseason berth. “I’d love to get to the postseason again and win a World Series. That’s what I want to do here,” said Hamels. “If we can be stronger and healthier, not as worn down, you have the advantage.”
SUNDAY: Along with the Cubs, count the Rangers, Yankees, Blue Jays and Orioles among teams interested in Cobb, according to FanRag’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link).
SATURDAY: The Cubs added right-hander Tyler Chatwood on a three-year, $38MM guarantee this week, but another sizable investment for their rotation could be on the way. With the Winter Meetings nearing, they’re making a “strong push” to sign free agent righty Alex Cobb, Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago reports. Their hope is to reach a deal with Cobb prior to Monday, which would enable them to turn their focus elsewhere during the meetings and prevent other suitors from aggressively pursuing the 30-year-old.
Cobb going to the North Side of Chicago has frequently come up as a possibility since last season ended, in part because of his connection to multiple members of the Cubs’ coaching staff. He played under manager Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay from 2011-14 and was under the tutelage of pitching coach Jim Hickey with the Rays through last season. Hickey, whom the Cubs hired in October, has been Cobb’s sole pitching coach since he debuted in 2011. Cobb spoke glowingly of those two last month and said he’d be “very honored” to sign with the Cubs.
While Cobb would be a risky signing, having undergone two serious procedures (thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in 2011 and Tommy John surgery in 2015) during his career, he’s still poised to land one of the richest contracts on the open market this winter. Across 700 major league innings, including a career-high 179 1/3 last season, Cobb has pitched to a 3.50 ERA with 7.33 K/9, 2.62 BB/9 and a 54 percent groundball rate. Some of his numbers took a dip in 2017 (6.42 K/9, 47.8 percent grounder rate) – his first full year back from Tommy John surgery – though his velocity looked normal and he managed a quality 3.66 ERA/4.16 FIP, also recording a career-best walk rate (2.21 per nine).
Along with guaranteeing a notable sum to Cobb, who rejected the Rays’ $17.4MM qualifying offer, the Cubs would have to surrender their second-highest draft pick in 2018 (No. 63 overall) and $500K in international bonus pool space to sign him. But that prospect clearly isn’t scaring off the Cubs, who will collect compensation if their own qualified free agents (starter Jake Arrieta and closer Wade Davis) depart. The Cubs are still interested in retaining those two, per Levine, but picking up Cobb would give them five capable starters (Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Chatwood are the others) and seemingly lessen the chances for an Arrieta re-up.
- Speaking of six-man rotations, the Rangers could be prime candidates to go that route in 2018 if they manage to bring back Yu Darvish, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News observes. The Rangers didn’t enter the offseason planning to spend big money on a single player, but Grant wonders if they’ll pivot from that strategy after failing to reel in Ohtani. As such, he proposes offering a four-year, $80MM guarantee to Darvish and including incentives and a fifth-year vesting option. While that seems light for the longtime Ranger and recent Dodger, Grant posits that both Darvish’s affinity for Texas and the prospect of going with a six-man rotation – something the hurler advocates – could help sway him toward a reunion.
- In another piece, Grant runs down a Winter Meetings to-do list for the Rangers, arguing that they should look to spend on a top-tier free agent starter (Darvish would qualify), improve their bullpen, attempt to trade Shin-Soo Choo and retain their key prospects. Regarding the bullpen, the Rangers are more inclined to target multiple affordable relievers than sign one of Wade Davis or Greg Holland, per Grant.
We’ll keep track of today’s minor moves in this post.
- The Rays have bolstered their bullpen depth by signing right-hander Cody Hall to a minor-league deal, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets. The pact includes an invitation to spring training. As Topkin notes, Hall has made major-league relief appearances with the Giants (who originally drafted him in 2011) and the Marlins. He’s only made nine MLB appearances, however, and the results weren’t good; Hall allowed ten earned runs in just 11 1/3 innings. The upside for Hall seems to lie in his strikeout ability; the 29-year-old struck out 33.1% of the batters he faced with the Giants’ Double-A affiliate last season.
- The Nationals announced that they have signed David Goforth to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training camp. The 29-year-old right-hander was a seventh-round selection of the Brewers in the 2011 draft, with whom he’d spent his entire professional career until now. Though he spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons as a starter in the minor leagues, he transitioned into a relief role in 2014 and hasn’t made a start since. Goforth averages about 96MPH on his fastball, but hasn’t been consistent with his command. He’s also struggled to keep the ball in the park at the major league level, as shown by his 1.73 HR/9. However, while the 5’10” reliever’s 5.94 ERA may seem ugly on the surface, his 3.98 xFIP and high fastball velocity paint him as someone with intriguing upside.
- The Rangers have signed former Braves prospect Yenci Pena for $675K, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. The Rangers were currently holding one of the largest international bonus pools in baseball, perhaps in part because they were attempting to lure Shohei Ohtani to Texas. However, they’ll now focus those funds elsewhere, and the 17-year-old Pena is how they chose to kick off that spending. The shortstop originally signed with the Braves out of the Dominican Republic for $1.05MM, but hit just .230/.328/.327 in his first taste of pro baseball. However, his 12.8% walk rate helped make him a roughly average offensive player in rookie ball.
- Similarly, left-hander Mike Minor didn’t accept the top offer he received in free agency. FanRag’s Jon Heyman tweeted this week that Minor had offers of $30MM total, though those offers came over the life of a four-year term. Minor took a slightly lesser $28MM guarantee over three years, giving him a much higher annual value on the deal. Notably, Minor told reporters after signing that the Rangers were the only team that was willing to give him the option to stretch out as a starter (Twitter link via Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News). Minor said he’s open to either role but wanted to at least have the opportunity to return to a rotation.