- The Astros are mulling adding two hitters and are “open” to trading outfielder Josh Reddick, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (subscription required). However, the likelihood is that the Astros will only acquire one hitter, per Rosenthal, who adds that they haven’t had much luck trying to move Reddick this offseason. Not only is the 33-year-old Reddick coming off an unspectacular season in which he hit .242/.318/.400 (99 wRC+) with 1.1 fWAR in 487 plate appearances, but he’s due $26MM through 2020.
- Meanwhile, despite potentially losing Tony Sipp in free agency, the division-rival Astros aren’t likely to shop at the top of the market for left-handed relievers, per Jake Kaplan of The Athletic (subscription required). Rather, the Astros seem “comfortable” with a pair of in-house southpaws – Framber Valdez and Cionel Perez – as well as a cast of righty relievers who are capable of getting lefty hitters out. It’s not clear whether Brad Peacock will remain among that group of righties in 2019, though, as Kaplan relays that he’ll enter spring training as a starter. Peacock made 21 starts two years ago, but that number plummeted to one in 2018, when he came out of the Astros’ bullpen 60 times.
7:41pm: Both Happ and former teammate Lance Lynn are “engaged with” the Astros, Yankees, Reds, Rangers and Blue Jays, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com tweets. Happ’s also continuing to draw the attention of the Phillies, while Lynn has received interest from the White Sox, according to Feinsand.
9:53am: It has seemed for the past few days that veteran lefty J.A. Happ could be the next domino to fall in the starting pitching market, and there are signs this morning that talks are advancing. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that Happ’s market is “heating up,” while Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports on Twitter that Happ is sitting on multiple two-year offers.
The key question remains whether Happ will secure a guaranteed third season. Passan says that he has yet to receive such an offer. Happ’s representatives have “indicated he’ll sign with the first” team that meets that asking price, however, so it seems possible that something could come together swiftly.
Entering the offseason, MLBTR predicted that Happ would indeed secure that third season in a new deal, riding his solid recent track record to a $48MM guarantee. There certainly seems to be sufficient interest to support such an outcome, though organizations are understandably hesitant to commit to Happ through his age-38 campaign.
To this point, the Phillies, Braves, Yankees, Brewers, Reds, Angels, Astros, Twins, Blue Jays, and White Sox have all been connected to Happ. It’s certainly not impossible to imagine a few other organizations with possible interest as well, though at present it’s tough to gauge the likeliest landing spots.
The focus of the corner outfield market remains on Bryce Harper, of course, but there are a few other significant players available. Regarding Harper, there’s not much in the way of news, though Joel Sherman of the New York Post looks at how he could conceivably end up falling to the Dodgers, who are said to be pursuing high-end assets. Here, though, we’ll focus in on the next-best assets on the market.
The Phillies are “showing significant interest” in Andrew McCutchen, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philly, representing a new connection for the former superstar. Cutch is nowhere near the player he once was, but that easy characterization can tend to obscure how good he still is.
Meanwhile, the Astros are said to be in on another top corner piece. Per Jon Morosi of MLB.com, via Twitter, the Houston organization has interest in Michael Brantley. That’s a bit of a surprising match, if only because the team is still paying top dollar to another veteran lefty corner outfielder in Josh Reddick, but perhaps Brantley could also spend some time at first base to increase his versatility.
Earlier in the offseason, both McCutchen and Brantley were connected to the ’Stros — though mostly as part of a group of significant free agents. The Houston plans have remained hard to figure to this point, with the team’s intentions regarding top prospect Kyle Tucker potentially weighing in their assessment of new acquisition targets.
MLBTR predicted that both McCutchen and Brantley would secure three-year, $45MM pacts. There’s no real clarity as of yet as to whether the market will support those or greater values.
The Astros began last season with a team-record $182MM payroll, the fifth-highest mark in the league, but after falling short of their bid to repeat as World Series champs, there’s a possibility that payroll could rise even higher by the start of 2019, according to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. They won’t extend beyond the luxury tax mark, but Owner Jim Crane is giving the green light to inch closer to the $206MM tax line should the right deals come along via trades or free agency. The Astros long-term financial ledger is fairly clear with only Jose Altuve signed beyond 2020, and yet, by this time next winter, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock will be free agents, George Springer and Lance McCullers Jr. will be in their final year of arbitration, and young studs Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman should earn significant pay hikes in their second and first seasons of arb eligibility, respectively. Still, Houston appears staunch in their unwillingness to deal top prospect Forrest Whitley, and the offseason additions made thus far have been measured – infielder Aledmys Diaz is pre-arb and catcher Robinson Chirinos signed for one-year, $5.75MM. Expect GM Jeff Luhnow to continue to spend judiciously, as there does not appear to be a knee-jerk spending spree on the horizon, though the possibility for increased spending is there. Now, some other payroll notes from the 2016 pennant winners…
- Rumors have not stopped swirling around the Cleveland Indians since the offseason began, but as evidenced by Carlos Carrasco’s journey from the trade block to signing a below-market extension, anything remains possible in Cleveland. In fact, there’s no set number for the team’s 2019 payroll, per Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal, as the team’s focus remains fixed on finding a balance between staying competitive with the American League’s upper echelon and maintaining a sustainable talent base beyond 2020. Cleveland’s payroll has risen to historic (for them) levels during this current competitive stretch, and there remains the mandate to shed payroll for 2019, but the priority, by far, is to add controllable assets for the future. While getting younger is an obvious side effect of increased controllability, youth is in-and-of-itself not the goal for ownership. Where the payroll for 2019 ends up is a flexible line, so long as the goal of adding controllable assets is achieved. This falls in line with current thinking that the Indians are less likely to attach one of their bulkier short-term contracts to Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, as either pitcher on their own will net a far more controllable collection of assets. With movement on the free agent and trade markets relatively slow league-wide, the Indians have the prerogative of patience at the moment, but as major signings start to trickle in, it will be interested to track the level of urgency in Cleveland regarding these trade talks. That said, pitchers like Kluber and Bauer will never cease to attract interested trade partners, but the window for moving a package like the rumored Edwin Encarnacion/Yandy Diaz deal may have a smaller, or at least, shifting window of availability.
- The Cubs continue to target late-inning bullpen additions, a backup catcher and potentially a middle infielder, writes Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Any trades involving current players, such as Ben Zobrist, who is in the last year of his deal, or noted trade target Kyle Schwarber would have to improve the Cubs from an on-field standpoint, as despite their fiscal restraints, they do not appear motivated to move someone like Zobrist simply for the salary relief.
- That said, the Cubs have a fairly specific wish list this winter after the departures of David Ross (after 2016) and Jon Jay (after 2017) led to a perceived leadership void in the Cubs clubhouse, per ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. One solution may be to have Ross himself, still employed as a special assistant, spend more time around the team this season, but the Cubs front office remains on the lookout for a vocal veteran who can bring some accountability to the Chicago locker room. GM Jed Hoyer dubbed their lack of leadership in 2018 as a “miscalculation,” as they assumed certain issues would resolve themselves because so much of the Chicago core had been together for so long. It’s an interesting area of need for the Cubs considering they have no shortage of veterans who, to the outside eye, might step into that leadership void. Presumably, veterans like Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo, Cole Hamels, Jason Heyward, Pedro Strop and Zobrist provide varying degrees of leadership, and the more youthful Javier Baez and Willson Contreras also seem capable of galvanizing the team at times, but the ability to take someone to task is indeed a rare trait, it seems, and one that Hoyer suggests is more likely to come from a reserve than a marquee player.
- Three other teams were finalists for Nathan Eovaldi before the right-hander re-signed with the Red Sox, Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston tweets. The Angels were one of the finalists, and Eovaldi himself implied that the Astros were another, saying that he strongly considered pitching in his hometown of Houston. It isn’t known who the fourth finalist was, though the Phillies also had interest in Eovaldi, but as a closer, reports The Athletic’s Jayson Stark (Twitter link). Eovaldi’s desire to remain as a starting pitcher closed the door on that opportunity, however.
Here’s the latest from Houston…
- It doesn’t appear as if the Astros will make a push for Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan reports (subscription required). Such teams as the Phillies, Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Rangers, Mariners, and Padres have been linked to Kikuchi’s services, though there has been speculation that the teams on the west coast may have a bit of an advantage due to geography.
- Also from Kaplan’s piece, he details the Astros’ most notable needs heading into the Winter Meetings, namely another starting pitcher and another bat, preferably a left-handed hitter for lineup-balance purposes. (Though GM Jeff Luhnow has said of his hitter search, “We’re not going to be wed to it having to be a lefty or a righty or having it be a specific position.“) Listing a few speculative names who could be potential fits for the Astros, Kaplan opines that Robbie Ray, Michael Brantley, Jose Martinez, Daniel Murphy, or Nelson Cruz could all be possible trade or free agent targets.
- The Astros have been in touch with the White Sox about Jose Abreu, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports. Abreu has been on Houston’s radar before, including at last year’s trade deadline. Latest reports suggest that the Sox may not part with Abreu in the offseason (if at all) since they’d be selling low in the wake of a somewhat disappointing season for the first baseman. Abreu hit .265/.325/.473 with 22 homers over 553 PA for Chicago in 2018, a marked dropoff from the .883 OPS he posted over his first four Major League seasons.
- Speaking of first base targets, Fancred Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link) that the Astros included pitching prospects Cionel Perez and J.B. Bukauskas in talks with the Diamondbacks about Paul Goldschmidt, before Arizona sent Goldschmidt to the Cardinals. MLB.com ranks Perez and Bukauskas 5th and 8th, respectively, in their list of the top 30 prospects in Houston’s farm system, though it could be argued that neither were in the Astros’ true upper tier of young arms. Forrest Whitley, for instance, is a consensus top-10 prospect in baseball, while MLB.com also had Josh James ahead of Perez and Bukauskas in their ranking. Bukauskas cracked the preseason top-100 prospect lists from MLB.com and Baseball America, though an injury-shortened 2018 season dimmed his ranking and recent reports suggested that the Astros may be using Bukauskas as a trade chip. Perez, a 22-year-old southpaw from Cuba, made his MLB debut last season, though between he and Bukauskas, they didn’t have the Major League readiness that St. Louis offered the D’Backs (namely Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly) for Goldschmidt. Still, the Astros’ apparent willingness to give up two controllable young arms for premium talent is an interesting hint about how far they’ll go to make a significant hitting upgrade.
- The Dodgers are also “all in” on the catcher market, as are the Astros and Mets, Olney reports. Any of those teams could find its answer with Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cervelli, for whom the Pirates are willing to consider offers, according to Olney. Cervelli is coming off an impressive 2018, but as a soon-to-be 33-year-old who’s expensive ($11.5MM), down to his last season of team control and has a startling history of concussions, the low-budget Pirates may be willing to go in another direction.
- Back to the Astros, who didn’t earnestly pursue righty Nathan Eovaldi in free agency, Olney relays. The two sides were a match on paper, Olney points out, as Eovaldi’s a Houston native and the Astros are seeking starting help. Eovaldi re-signed with the Red Sox this week on a four-year, $68MM deal, though, and the Astros continue to need a starter. There’s “one industry theory” that the Astros are more focused on upgrading via trade, which could point them to Syndergaard, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer or Zack Greinke, Olney notes.
Josh Harrison had a year to forget in 2018, leading the Pirates to buy out the veteran infielder after the season and end a relationship that began in 2009. Nevertheless, no fewer than five teams have shown interest in Harrison this offseason, according to Fancred’s Jon Heyman, who lists the Astros and Giants among clubs that have at least considered the 31-year-old. Heyman previously reported interest from the Yankees, Reds and Nationals.
Harrison’s coming off an up-and-down tenure in Pittsburgh, where he debuted in 2011 and managed to reach the 2.0 fWAR in two individual seasons. He was at his best during a 4.8-fWAR showing in 2014, which led the Pirates to award him an extension worth a guaranteed $27.3MM early in 2015.
Harrison went on to combine for an unspectacular 5.4 fWAR during the rest of his stint with the franchise. He was especially disappointing in 2018, when he totaled 0.3 fWAR and batted .250/.293/.363 (78 wRC+) with minimal power (eight home runs, .113 ISO) across 374 plate appearances. While Harrison only logged a .285 weighted on-base average in 2018, he posted an even less inspiring .275 xwOBA, per Statcast. Of course, it’s worth noting Harrison’s season began in terrible fashion when he suffered a fractured left hand – an injury that sidelined him from mid-April to mid-May and could have played a role in his drop in production.
Harrison, to his credit, is just two years removed from a 2017 campaign in which he was among the Pirates’ most valuable players. He also comes with vast experience at second and third base, two positions where he has been a plus defender for the majority of his career. But it could be difficult for Harrison to garner playing time at either position in Houston, which boasts superstars Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman at those spots and also has Aledmys Diaz and Yuli Gurriel on hand as versatile options. Like the Astros, the Giants feature established players at second and third – Joe Panik and Evan Longoria – but those two joined Harrison in struggling last season. The Giants’ new president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi, seems to be looking for infield help as a result.
The addition of Robinson Chirinos on a one-year, $5.75MM contract won’t stop the Astros from pursuing additional help behind the plate, writes Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, but president of baseball ops Jeff Luhnow did suggest that the team is comfortable moving forward with Chirinos and Max Stassi in the event that a further opportunity doesn’t come along at a palatable price. “We certainly feel good about going into the season with Stassi and Chirinos as our catchers,” said Luhnow. “We’ve got [Garrett] Stubbs in the Minor Leagues and other players as well. It doesn’t mean we won’t take advantage of the opportunity if one presents itself as a way to get better, but right now we feel comfortable with the group we have.” Houston stands out as a logical fit for Marlins star J.T. Realmuto or the Pirates’ Francisco Cervelli on the trade market, while the reps for free agents Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos have presumably reached out to the ’Stros as well. The Astros have often carried three catching options in the past, so it shouldn’t be ruled out that they’d do so in 2019.