Lowdown: Rumors Rumbling

Nick Doran
Dave Shovein takes a look at all of the free agent and trade rumblings to watch at this week's MLB Winter Meetings

Winter Meetings Storylines

Dave Shovein takes a look at all of the free agent and trade rumblings to watch at this week's MLB Winter Meetings

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Bryce Harper Mega-Millions, Manny Machado Powerball

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Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are the two biggest free agents of the offseason and both are expected to break the bank with record contracts. Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports the Nationals offered outfielder Bryce Harper a long-term contract on the last day of the season. The terms were not disclosed and Harper did not accept the offer, but it "included no opt-outs, and was less than the $400 million some have speculated Harper could receive." Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the Cardinals have money to spend this winter and are "sending signals they are out to be a player" in the free agent market this winter. They are going to explore the market for Harper to "see how they fit." They are also expected to pursue Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson, with third base being more of a position of need for them than outfield. Donaldson in particular seems like a good fit, largely because the former MVP is coming off an injury-plagued season and might be persuaded to accept a short-term "pillow" contract that could enable him to prove his health and re-establish his status as an elite player before hitting free agency again next year. Steve Phillips reports the Yankees "will not be in on Harper" this winter. The Yankees currently seem set in the outfield with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and the recently re-signed Brett Gardner already in the fold. They are expected to make Manny Machado their top offseason target as they need a replacement or upgrade for shortstop Didi Gregorius, who will miss the first half of the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com reports the White Sox are entering the sweepstakes for both Harper and Machado, and the Phillies are expected to pursue both as well. With this many suitors already courting the two superstars, experts are predicting contracts as long as 13 or 14 years with dollar amounts approaching $400 million. Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million deal is the current recordholder and both Harper and Machado are younger and better all-around players than Stanton was when he got his deal with the Marlins.

Reds Flashing Green

The Cincinnati Reds are increasing their payroll to record levels for next season and speculation has begun regarding how they will spend their cash. Their most obvious area of need is starting pitching. The Reds' pitching staff gave up a major league record 248 home runs in 2017 and another 228 this year (second to the Orioles' 234 HR allowed). Their 4.65 ERA this year was the second-worst in the National League, beating only the Marlins. The ace of their starting staff is the electric but inconsistent Luis Castillo, and behind him there are a bunch of maybe's and hope-so's. The Reds lured prized pitching coach Derek Johnson away from the Brewers, and to make that happen they probably promised him they would bring in some talented arms for him to work with. Johnson was Sonny Gray's pitching coach in college at Vanderbilt -- and it just so happens Gray has been put on the trading block by the Yankees. Jon Heyman of Fancred reports the Reds will consider top free agent starters like Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel and try to re-sign free agent Matt Harvey, whom they acquired via trade in early May. The Reds have also been linked to J.A. Happ, Derek Holland and Wade Miley among others. The Reds' rotation has been so bad for so long that they have to change their philosophy. When they started their rebuild by trading Johnny Cueto in 2015 they kicked off a strategy of stockpiling top pitching prospects. They acquired Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed in the Cueto deal and added them to the likes of Robert Stephenson, Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano, Amir Garrett, Keury Mella, Rookie Davis, Keyvius Sampson, Tony Cingrani and others. It was an impressive group of talent but unfortunately very few of them stayed healthy and developed into good major league starting pitchers. Castillo and DeSclafani are the only two projected to be in next year's starting rotation. Iglesias and Lorenzen moved to the bullpen and have become excellent relievers. Perhaps the new pitching coach can salvage some of the flamed-out arms (along with top prospects Hunter Greene and Tony Santillan), but look for the Reds to make a splash in the free agent pitching market for the first time in decades.

They are much better off in the hitting department, with good young players like Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, Jose Peraza, Nick Senzel and Jonathan India to build around. Superstar first baseman Joey Votto had a down year by some measures but still managed to lead the National League in on-base percentage. They will also try to sign second baseman Scooter Gennett to a contract extension.

Important Japanese Import

The Seibu Lions of Japan's Pacific League have agreed to post left-hander Yusei Kikuchi for MLB teams. The 27-year-old starting pitcher put up a 3.08 ERA and 153/45 K/BB ratio over 163 2/3 innings this past season and immediately becomes a bit of a wild card in upcoming fantasy drafts. He's not an elite player like Shohei Ohtani was last offseason, but fantasy owners will likely have to grab him early in drafts or else miss the boat. The previous success of Japanese League converts such as Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka and even Miles Mikolas will serve to amp up the hype machine for Kikuchi come draft day.

Astros Rotation Woes

Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. underwent Tommy John surgery on Tuesday and will miss the entire 2019 season. The young fireballer has been plagued by arm injuries throughout his four-year career, never having started more than 22 games in a season. He's been a key part of the Astros' elite pitching staff, compiling a 29-22 record with a 3.67 ERA in 80 starts and three relief appearances in his career. His 10.1 K/9 over the last four seasons (min. 450 IP) ranks 9th in the majors, with every pitcher in the top 20 being considered a bona fide ace. The Astros led the majors with a 3.11 ERA this season and were the only American League team in the top five. They will have to scramble this winter to make up for the loss of McCullers along with Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel who are both likely to depart in free agency. Former starters Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock could step into the rotation and make an impact in fantasy leagues.

Rebuild or Reload?

The Diamondbacks are willing to "listen on anyone", including Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke this offseason per Jon Heyman of Fancred. The team is losing outfielder A.J. Pollock and ace Patrick Corbin to free agency and franchise cornerstone Goldschmidt is entering the final year of his contract. Greinke's huge contract is becoming a burden -- he is still owed another $104.5 million over the next three years. Arizona was basically a .500 team (82-80) with their big guns and now they are looking even less likely to compete for a division title in 2019. If they are going to rebuild soon, why not do it now while they still have some valuable trade chips?

The Mariners are also discussing "a full-fledged teardown" according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. Everyone is "up for grabs" except Edwin Diaz, Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales. James Paxton and Jean Segura could bring back a king's ransom in prospects should the team want to go that route. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports the Mariners have talked to the Rays about a Mike Zunino trade. He batted just .201/.259/.410 with 20 home runs and 44 RBI in 113 games this year.

Trades and Free Agent Rumbles

The market for free agent closer Craig Kimbrel is heating up. The veteran closer received a one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Red Sox. He is believed to be looking for a three- or four-year contract with an average annual value of at least $16 million. The Cardinals, Braves, Mets and Red Sox are all believed to have interest... The Mets are considering all the top free agent relievers, including Kimbrel, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, David Robertson and Jeurys Familia according to Andy Martino of SNY.tv... Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says he wants to re-sign free agent starter J.A. Happ. The Blue Jays want him back too... Jon Paul Morosi of MLB Network reports the Dodgers are interested in free agent second baseman DJ LeMahieu. He just won another Gold Glove award but his huge home/road splits make him a major bust candidate next year. He has a career .835 OPS at Coors Field and a career .673 OPS in road games... The Astros, White Sox and Rays have expressed interest in free agent designated hitter Nelson Cruz according to Jon Heyman of Fancred. Cruz hit 37 home runs and drove in 97 RBI this year at the age of 38... Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports the Braves and Twins are interested in free agent catcher Robinson Chirinos, who produced a .757 OPS with 18 homers and 65 RBI this year... Morosi also reports that the White Sox are in on free agent starting pitchers Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ. The White Sox rotation is in disarray, with Reynaldo Lopez being the only good, healthy and reliable starter on the staff. Corbin is the top ace on the market this winter. The White Sox have been rumored to be interested in pretty much every big-name free agent player so far this offseason...

Award Finalists

The Baseball Writers Association of America posted the three finalists for each award. Winners will be announced next week.

National League Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuna, Juan Soto and Walker Buehler
American League Rookie of the Year: Miguel Andujar, Shohei Ohtani and Gleyber Torres
National League Manager of the Year: Craig Counsell, Bud Black and Brian Snitker
American League Manager of the Year: Alex Cora, Bob Melvin and Kevin Cash
National League Cy Young Award: Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola
American League Cy Young Award: Blake Snell, Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber
National League MVP Award: Christian Yelich, Javier Baez and Nolan Arenado
American league MVP Award: Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez and Mike Trout

Coaching Carousel

The Reds have hired Turner Ward as their new hitting coach. Ward was the Dodgers' hitting coach the last three seasons. This is the second high-profile coach poaching for the Reds in the last few days -- they pried pitching coach Derek Johnson away from the Brewers over the weekend... The Dodgers and manager Dave Roberts are working on a four-year contract extension per Jon Heyman of Fancred... New Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen will retain manager Mickey Callaway, but Pat Roesller will not return as the Mets' hitting coach... Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi is the leading candidate to take over baseball operations for the Giants... Twins bench coach Derek Shelton will return to the same role for new manager Rocco Baldelli after finishing as the runner-up for the Twins and Rangers managing jobs... The Cubs will not discuss a contract extension with manager Joe Maddon, who is entering the final year of his current deal... Mets bench coach Gary DiSarcina will move to third base coach next season, with former Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman being considered to take over as the new bench coach... Per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias is a top candidate for the Orioles' general manager position. Other candidates are Ben Cherington, Ned Colletti, Dan Kantrovitz, Ned Rice and David Chadd... The Mariners hired Paul Davis as their new pitching coach. He served as the Cardinals director of pitching analytics this past season... White Sox manager Rick Renteria signed a contract extension, terms and length not yet disclosed. The White Sox lost 100 games this year...

National League Quick Hits: Free agent reliever Adam Ottavino is receiving interest from the Rockies and the Mets... The Cubs have not decided whether to cut ties with shortstop Addison Russell, who is serving a 40-game suspension for domestic violence. The former elite prospect has hit poorly in his four seasons and would likely be a backup infielder if the Cubs do keep him around... New Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said prospect first baseman Peter Alonso will compete for the starting job during spring training. He tied for the minor league lead with 36 home runs this year and hit a 103 MPH fastball for a home run off Nate Pearson in Saturday's Fall Stars Game... 35-year-old infielder Jose Reyes wants to play again next year after batting just .189/.260/.320 this year for the Mets... Former Mets first baseman Ike Davis announced his retirement...

American League Quick Hits: Tigers first baseman and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is expected to be ready for the start of spring training after recovering from a ruptured biceps tendon that cost him almost all of the 2018 season. He will turn 36 years old in April... The White Sox are considering a position change for young second baseman Yoan Moncada, who has struggled badly both offensively and defensively... Starting pitcher Bartolo Colon wants to play again next year at the age of 46. He had a 5.78 ERA in 24 starts and four relief appearances this season... The Tigers are looking for a free agent shortstop to replace the departed Jose Iglesias. Freddy Galvis, Adeiny Hechavarria and Jordy Mercer are mentioned as candidates by Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com... The Yankees are closing in on signing free agent left-hander CC Sabathia to a one-year, $8 million contract. The 38-year-old went 9-7 with a 3.65 ERA and owned a 140:51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 153 innings... The Yankees previously announced their intent to trade starting pitcher Sonny Gray, and general manager Brian Cashman says "a lot of teams" are interested in him... Shohei Ohtani has regained full extension in his surgically repaired elbow. He will not pitch next year but is expected to serve as the Angels' designated hitter... Reliever Andrew Miller's agent says his client is now fully healthy. He slumped to a 4.24 ERA in 37 appearances for the Indians this year... Former Twins first baseman Kennys Vargas has signed with the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan's Pacific League...

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