- Having missed out on Giancarlo Stanton, the Cardinals are now scanning the rest of the market for offensive upgrades. Jon Heyman of Fan Rag looks at the team’s possible options, including free agents Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez. He notes that several upper-echelon third basemen might hold appeal on the trade market — which will come as little surprise to those that have followed the Cards’ trade rumblings for the last several months. Of course, it’s still unclear whether the Blue Jays (Josh Donaldson), Rays (Evan Longoria), or Orioles (Manny Machado) will make their stars available.
The Blue Jays are planning to contend in 2018, though with the team facing a tough road back to the postseason, Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith looks at the broader question faced by the Jays and other clubs about deciding when a rebuild is necessary. Reaching the playoffs even once is a worthy goal, though mortgaging the future to do so won’t lead to a sustainable contender, which is what teams like the Cubs and Astros appear to be after writing off several seasons to totally remake their franchises. An even greater challenge is trying to rebuild while remaining competitive, which is what the Blue Jays seem to be trying. “I personally don’t feel that you should ever be in a rebuild mode, especially in this market and in this environment,” Jays GM Ross Atkins said. “There might be soft resets based on circumstance….But personally, I don’t buy into the strategy that we’re not going to be a good team for five and six years.”
The Blue Jays join the previously reported Mets as teams with interest in Pirates utilityman Josh Harrison, according to Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Angels would also be a logical fit for Harrison, Brink notes, though it’s unclear whether they’re actually pursuing him.
Toronto already addressed its middle infield in a notable way when it acquired Aledmys Diaz from the Cardinals on Dec. 1, but general manager Ross Atkins revealed a week later that the club was still in the market for help there and in the outfield. The Blue Jays’ interest in Harrison makes sense, then, given that he has racked up vast experience in the infield and in the grass. The 30-year-old has logged at least 110 career appearances at second base, third base and the corner outfield.
The majority of Harrison’s work both during his career and from 2016-17 came at the keystone, where the Jays have options in Diaz, who’s coming off a subpar season, and the oft-injured Devon Travis. Like those two, Harrison isn’t a sure bet to produce, having endured an up-and-down career, but he is fresh off one of his best seasons. The right-handed hitter batted a respectable .272/.339/.432 and totaled a personal-best 16 home runs across 542 plate appearances, and he added 12 stolen bases.
For Toronto, picking up Harrison would seemingly give the club a front-runner to start at second and protect against further injuries to Travis and another oft-hurt middle infielder, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who now has a capable backup behind him in Diaz. Of course, it’s unclear whether the Pirates are truly open to giving up Harrison, especially considering fellow infielder Jung Ho Kang’s iffy-at-best status for 2018. However, Adam Berry of MLB.com suggested earlier this week that Harrison may be Pittsburgh’s most logical trade chip, as the team would still have David Freese, Adam Frazier, Sean Rodriguez and Max Moroff on hand as versatile infielders even if it were to part with him. So, if the low-payroll Pirates view Harrison as a redundant piece, they could look to jettison him and his relatively lofty salary. While Harrison’s pact isn’t onerous – he’ll make $10MM in 2018 and has club options worth $10.5MM and $11.5MM over the following two seasons – he nonetheless ranks as one of the Bucs’ most expensive players.
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.
- Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins tells Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith that even after acquiring Aledmys Diaz from the Cardinals, his team is still looking at additional middle infield options (Twitter link). The outfield, too, remains a priority, and the Jays are open to adding some help at catcher, though that’s a lesser priority, Nicholson-Smith notes. While the addition of Diaz certainly gives Toronto some much-needed depth, he’s coming off a down year while shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and second baseman Devon Travis are both prone to injuries.
The Mariners have agreed to bring back right-hander Casey Lawrence on a minor league contract, per Baseball America’s Matt Eddy. He’d previously been outrighted off the 40-man roster and become a free agent. Presumably, he’ll be in Major League camp this coming spring.
The 30-year-old Lawrence proved to be an oft-used depth piece for an injury-plagued Mariners staff in 2017. After being claimed off outright waivers (out of the Blue Jays’ system) in early May, Lawrence was recalled to the Majors on four separate occasions by the Mariners through season’s end.
All told, Lawrence tossed 42 innings for the M’s, and while his 5.57 ERA wasn’t pretty, he did average 9.6 K/9 against a respectable 3.0 BB/9 mark in his 23 appearances. Home runs proved to be a significant problem for the rookie, though, as he also averaged 1.93 big flies per nine innings pitched in Seattle. Metrics like xFIP (3.87) and SIERA (3.68) reviewed Lawrence’s work far more favorably than his ERA (due largely to those K/BB numbers), but he’ll need to rein in the home runs if he’s to have any sort of chance at success in the Majors.
Rogers Communications, the Canadian telecommunications company that owns the Toronto Blue Jays, is considering a possible sale of the team, as Natalie Wong of Bloomberg writes. At this point, it seems the potential move is merely in the conceptual stage.
Rogers CFO Tony Staffieri suggests that the entity is pondering the sale in order to raise funds for other initiatives. Other significant Rogers investments are also under consideration for sale, so it seems the broader strategic considerations are driving the company more than any particular consideration tied to the ballclub.
That said, there’s little doubt that Rogers is also aware of the potential to lock in a massive gain on its initial purchase of the Jays. Back in 2000, an eighty percent stake cost just $112MM. Given that a struggling Marlins franchise just went for $1.2B, it stands to reason that Canada’s only MLB team — a marketing juggernaut with excellent attendance figures even in losing seasons and robust profitability in winning campaigns — would fetch quite a bit more.
Clearly, there’s little reason to think that any sale effort is imminent, let alone a deal itself. But it’s plenty significant that ownership has floated the idea, since that’ll surely function as an initial gauge on market interest and value.
In the meantime, it’s naturally fair to wonder how the higher-level business maneuverings might trickle down to the baseball operations. Perhaps the likeliest scenario, though, is to anticipate a continuation of the recent past. Even in the Marlins’ situation, the club waited to make major changes in the lead-up to the sale. Here, there’s good cause to think the Jays will continue their trajectory of attempting to contend while also being notably mindful of maintaining future financial flexibility and building up their farm.
The Blue Jays announced Monday that they’re re-signed righty Luis Santos to a minor league contract and invited him to Major League Spring Training.
The 26-year-old Santos (27 in February) made his Major League debut with the Jays back in September and tossed 16 2/3 innings of relief down the stretch. In that brief time, he posted a 2.70 ERA with a 16-to-4 K/BB ratio and a 33.3 percent ground-ball rate. He was also tagged for four home runs.
Santos spent most of the 2017 season as a starter for Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, working to a 4.07 ERA with 8.1 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and a 36.5 percent ground-ball rate. He totaled 108 1/3 innings in the minors over the life of 21 starts and three relief appearances before making his late-season debut. The Jays outrighted Santos off the 40-man roster a month ago, allowing to become a free agent in the process, but he’ll return for another crack at forcing his way onto the big league roster in some capacity.
11:40pm: The Angels are indeed one of the finalists, as per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (via Twitter).
10:39pm: The Angels are thought by “multiple sources” to be one of the finalists, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan tweets. The Tigers are out of the running, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.
8:59pm: The Rangers and Cubs will both meet with Ohtani, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports (Twitter link), and they’re also the only two non-West Coast teams who appear to still be alive in the candidate process. The Rangers, Grant notes, have yet to comment on their status one way or the other.
7:22pm: The Nationals won’t be receiving a meeting, the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes reports (Twitter link).
6:58pm: The Braves are out, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports (via Twitter).
6:50pm: The Padres will receive a meeting with Ohtani, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (Twitter links). The Dodgers are also thought to still be active in the Ohtani sweepstakes though Heyman doesn’t have confirmation; regardless, the Dodgers aren’t thought to be favorites to land Ohtani.
6:15pm: The Diamondbacks won’t receive a meeting, Ken Rosenthal tweets.
6:12pm: The Blue Jays, Pirates, and Brewers are all out, as respectively reported by Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi, MLB.com’s Adam Berry, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt (all Twitter links).
5:48pm: The Mets are also out, as per Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter link).
5:38pm: Ohtani’s list is “heavy” on West Coast teams, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports, though the Cubs may still be involved. Not every west-based team is included, however, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal tweets that the A’s aren’t involved.
5:28pm: The Red Sox are also out of the running, president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski told Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. The Twins also won’t be getting a meeting with Ohtani, Heyman tweets.
5:16pm: The Giants and Mariners are among the teams that will receive meetings with Shohei Ohtani and his representatives next week, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reports (Twitter link). It isn’t known who the other finalists are in the Ohtani sweepstakes, though the Yankees are one of the teams that didn’t make the cut, as Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters (including NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty and MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch).
According to Cashman, Ohtani seems to be leaning towards West Coast teams in smaller markets. This ties to a report from FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman saying that Ohtani’s reps are informing teams that the two-way star would prefer to play in a smaller market.
The news adds another fascinating layer to the Ohtani sweepstakes, which was already one of the more intriguing free agent pursuits in recent memory. Given the seeming lack of immediate financial motive that inspired Ohtani’s move to Major League Baseball, it opened the door for every team in baseball (regardless of market or payroll size) to make a push for the 23-year-old. There had been speculation that Ohtani might look to avoid playing in a larger market, so this apparent confirmation creates a realistic possibility that he will land with a team that wouldn’t normally be considered a favorite to land such a coveted free agent.
Of course, San Francisco isn’t exactly a small market, though Ohtani wouldn’t necessarily be the center of attention on a club with such established stars as Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner (and maybe even Giancarlo Stanton in the near future). Playing for an NL team, however, would force Ohtani into a pinch-hitting or even a part-time outfield role for the at-bats he seeks in his attempt to be a two-way player in the big leagues. The Mariners do have such a DH spot available (in a timeshare with Nelson Cruz), and were considered to be a contender for Ohtani given their long history of Japanese players.
The Yankees also have had several significant Japanese players on their past and current rosters, and were widely seen as one of the major favorites for Ohtani’s services from a financial (in terms of available international bonus money) and positional (openings at DH and in the rotation) standpoint, not to mention their international fame and their young core of talent ready to make a World Series push. With Ohtani now out of the picture, the Yankees could move to signing more pitching depth — a reunion with C.C. Sabathia has been widely speculated as a possibility — or a veteran bat to serve as designated hitter, if the club doesn’t just rotate its DH days to find plate appearances for everyone on the current roster.
The Blue Jays have struck a trade to acquire shortstop Aledmys Diaz from the Cardinals, per an announcement from the Toronto organization (h/t Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca, on Twitter). Outfield prospect J.B. Woodman is heading back to St. Louis in return.
[RELATED: Updated Blue Jays Depth Chart]
This time last year, such a deal would not have seemed possible. In 2016, Diaz turned in a sparkling rookie campaign. Over 460 plate appearances, he slashed .300/.369/.510 with 17 home runs. Diaz went down on strikes just sixty times while drawing 41 walks.
Alas, he was not able to sustain that surprising outbreak in his sophomore season. Diaz limped to a .259/.290/.392 batting line in 301 trips to the plate. He was ultimately demoted to Triple-A, where he watched as Paul DeJong took off and dashed any hopes of a near-term return.
Beyond the questions at the plate, there are also some questions regarding Diaz’s defensive work, at least at short. He has drawn mixed reviews from UZR and DRS which, in the aggregate, paint him as at least a somewhat below-average defender at that challenging spot.
For the Jays, Diaz represents a possible solution to the team’s depth issues up the middle. While Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis will likely enter camp as presumptive starters, they have each struggled with significant injury issues in recent years. Diaz, then, not only adds another option but also represents a potential buy-low candidate.
In exchange, Toronto parted with its second-round pick from the 2016 draft. Woodman, a left-handed-hitting outfielder who’ll soon turn 23, had a solid debut season at the low A level but struggled upon reaching Class A in 2017. In 414 plate appearances, he slashed just .240/.320/.378 while striking out 157 times. Needless to say, his offensive game will require quite a bit of polishing, but the Cards can certainly afford to be patient with him.