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These epic homers left players in awe

MLB.com @castrovince

If not for Willians Astudillo, we'd be totally lost right now.

When he went down on one knee for a wonderful walk-off winner in winter ball recently -- watching it fly as he leaned on his bat and then erupting into an unwritten-rule-shattering celebration on the basepaths -- he temporarily soothed our souls.

If not for Willians Astudillo, we'd be totally lost right now.

When he went down on one knee for a wonderful walk-off winner in winter ball recently -- watching it fly as he leaned on his bat and then erupting into an unwritten-rule-shattering celebration on the basepaths -- he temporarily soothed our souls.

But Astudillo's heroics only underscored the fact that we really miss home runs. Our collective dinger dependence is necessarily but depressingly accompanied by winter withdrawal. It's January, it's cold, it's boring and we've got it bad.

Fortunately, we have a bone to toss you. Toward the end of the 2018 regular season, MLB.com asked a whole bunch of players from a whole bunch of teams, "What's your favorite home run you ever saw, in person or on TV?"

We weren't looking for any statistically meaningful results with this survey, just some worthwhile memories. So, because there aren't any live homers to watch right now, let's run through our 10 favorite answers, with accompanying video to help bide the time between taters.

1. Giancarlo Stanton departs Dodger Stadium (May 12, 2015)

If you want to sum up Stanton's Marlins tenure in just a few words, this will do: He hit a ball out of the building, and the Marlins lost, 11-1.

Still, for those who were in the park that night, the final score is an afterthought.

"I'll never forget when Stanton hit the ball out of the stadium off [Mike] Bolsinger," Dodgers utilityman Enrique Hernandez said.

"I got a pretty good view of that one," reigning NL MVP (and then-Stanton teammate) Christian Yelich added. "I think I was on deck or in the hole, and you're on the first-base side at Dodger Stadium. He hit it into the parking lot. Someone was parking their car and got a souvenir."

The ball hit the back of the canopy in the left-field pavilion before bouncing out of the stadium. It was measured by Statcast™ as a 475-foot shot.

"I'm sorry, Bolsinger," Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen said. "I love you, but I'll never forget that one."

2. Rajai Davis' walk-off grand slam (June 30, 2014)

A few players we surveyed selected homers of their own. That's totally fine. We don't deny anybody their inalienable right to crow (and if we could hit a home run in the big leagues, we'd probably do the same).

But this was the one self-selection that stood out, because you might remember that Davis hit a pretty epic home run in the World Series a few years back.

So for him to select this as his favorite homer is saying something.

"There was this walk-off grand slam I saw one time in Detroit," he said. "Some guy came up, down three runs [to the A's], and hit a walk-off grand slam."

Video: Must C Clutch: Davis blasts a walk-off grand slam

Davis is one of only 30 players (most recently the Cubs' David Bote this past season) to hit a walk-off grand slam that erased a three-run deficit. In case you weren't aware, there's a name for it.

"The ultimate grand slam!" Davis said proudly.

3. Dee Gordon's homer after Jose Fernandez's death (Sept. 26, 2016)

Just a day after the tragic boat accident that took the life of Fernandez and two other men, the Marlins reported to work at Marlins Park. They all wore Fernandez's No. 16 and drew his number in the dirt around the pitcher's mound and hugged the members of the opposing Mets. Then they tried to go about the business of playing a ballgame with heavy hearts.

Amid that incredibly emotional backdrop, Marlins leadoff man Dee Gordon, who had not gone deep all season, did an incredibly touching thing in the bottom of the first.

Video: Must C Courage: Emotional Dee Gordon hits leadoff HR

"That was really cool," Angels starter Andrew Heaney said. "That was more of an emotionally cool thing. That was very memorable."

4. Kendrys Morales homers in a seventh straight game (Aug. 26, 2018)

Only three players in history have hit a home run in eight straight games -- Ken Griffey Jr. (1993), Don Mattingly (1987) and Dale Long (1956).

Morales came up just short in his bid to join that short list, but his streak of seven games, punctuated by this two-run homer against the Phillies, set a Blue Jays franchise record and was the longest in 12 years.

Video: Morales homers in 7 straight games for 8 total HRs

"Four, five, six, seven," teammate Kevin Pillar said. "When he started doing that, you've never seen anything like that before. You're lucky enough to get hits in six or seven straight games, let alone hit a homer in seven straight."

5. Barry Bonds off Eric Gagne (April 16, 2004)

Take it away, Trevor Bauer

"It's the greatest at-bat in all of baseball history, in my opinion," Bauer said. "Bonds had just won the MVP, Gagne had just won the Cy Young. They had an agreement at the All-Star Game before that, if they faced each other in a situation where Bonds couldn't beat Gagne [for the win], Gagne would throw him all fastballs. He limited himself to one off-speed pitch, and that would be his [junk] curveball.

"You can see in the video clip, Bonds walks to the plate and kind of looks at Gagne and kind of touches his hat. Then it's 99 inside strike, 99 inside ball, 99 foul ball like straight back. Then it goes 1-2 backdoor curveball that was probably a strike and called a ball. Then it's 100 up and in ball, 100 up and in and Bonds hits it like 600 feet into [McCovey] Cove but foul. Then Gagne goes 100 in, and Bonds hits it like 450 to dead center."

Video: LAD@SF: Bonds wins epic showdown with dominant Gagne

(For the record, the pitch sequence provided here by Bauer wasn't 100 percent accurate, but it was pretty close. And that's impressive, considering it was given purely from memory in response to a question asked on the spot.)

"It's exactly what baseball should be," Bauer continued. "Bonds knew what was coming, Gagne knew what was coming: 'I'm going to beat you with my best stuff.' It was great. Bonds got his home run, Gagne still got his save, everybody's happy. I ask people all the time in the offseason, 'What do you want to hit? I'll throw it to you and beat you with it.' If I pitched in the All-Star Game this year, I was going to signal to hitters every pitch that was coming. But it didn't happen."

6. Juan Uribe, Game 4 in the 2013 National League Division Series (Oct. 7, 2013)

The Braves had a 3-2 lead and were six outs away from evening up the best-of-five set at two wins apiece. But Yasiel Puig led off the home half of the eighth with a double off David Carpenter. Uribe came to the plate looking to get a bunt down to advance Puig to third. He fouled off both attempts.

Scrapping the bunt idea, Uribe smacked Carpenter's 2-2 offering into the Dodgers' bullpen in left field to give the Dodgers the go-ahead.

Video: Must C Clutch: Uribe's go-ahead shot ignites crowd

"He couldn't get the bunt down, and then hit a homer," said then-Dodger and current Marlins infielder Miguel Rojas. "I was in the dugout, and it was unbelievable."

7. Manny Ramirez's 500th homer (May 31, 2008)

You might not expect the guy who watched this one fly over his head in right-center field to choose it as his favorite homer, but even Adam Jones had to admit this was cool.

Video: BOS@BAL: Manny Ramirez hits his 500th career home run

"Obviously, it was against us, and it sucked," said Jones, whose Orioles were trailing 4-3 when Manny hit the solo shot in the seventh. "But me being 22 and Manny being in his Hall of Fame [worthy] career at that point, I remember seeing the ball hit and knew it was out. I looked at him, and he was standing in the batter's box. I see him do his shoulder roll. I was thinking, 'This is awesome.'"

8. Matt Holliday's final homer with the Cardinals (Sept. 30, 2016)

Speaking of players admiring big moments by the opposition, there was this one from the tail end of the 2016 season. The Pirates were the visitors at Busch Stadium when the Cardinals announced before the game that they would not be picking up Holliday's option for the 2017 season.

A linchpin of the St. Louis lineup for nearly a decade, including the 2011 World Series run, Holliday was beloved but his body was battered. The Cards activated him from the DL for that final weekend series, and then-manager Mike Matheny announced he hoped to get Holliday one final at-bat.

That at-bat arrived that very night, in the seventh inning. And Holliday's ensuing opposite-field shot sparked emotion in both dugouts.

Video: Must C Curtains: Holliday crushes pinch-hit home run

"For me," said Pirates starter Jameson Taillon, "being so fresh at the big league level and understanding what he meant to that franchise… I know it's September baseball, and we gave up the home run to them, but that was one of those moments where we were all standing on the bench clapping for him. He's crying up there at the plate, then he hits a home run. That's like fairytale, storybook, really cool stuff."

9. Mookie Betts' grand slam (July 12, 2018)

Another not-so-oldie but goodie. Betts' MVP season had many great moments, but this might have been the coolest. The Red Sox were trailing the Blue Jays, 2-1, in the fourth, with the bases loaded. J.A. Happ was on the hill for the Blue Jays, and he and Betts engaged in an arduous and highly entertaining battle. Ten pitches in, the count was 2-2. Betts fouled off a 95 mph fastball. Happ threw a two-seamer in the dirt for ball three. The count was full.

"It's time to party," NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley said on air.

Betts launched the next pitch onto Lansdowne Street for the game-changing grand slam in what turned out to be Boston's 10th straight win at the time. It was the first grand slam in an at-bat of 13 pitches or more since Gary Scott hit one on April 20, 1992.

Video: Must C Crushed: Betts concludes 13-pitch AB with slam

"It was 13 pitches, and [Betts] never shows emotion," teammate David Price said. "You never see a guy hit a grand slam on a 13-pitch at-bat. I had only seen him show emotion once before on a homer -- and that was last year, when he hit the go-ahead homer in the ninth at Milwaukee."

10. The Bartolo Colon homer (May 7, 2016)

Relievers Will Smith and Jerry Blevins both selected this one. Neither added any color commentary to his choice. Neither needed to. The Bartolo homer -- an ancestor, of sorts, for the Astudillo homer in the realm of entertaining pokes by portly people -- is plenty colorful on its own.

And if you think we would waste another opportunity to watch it, well, you just don't know us very well.

Video: Must C Classic: Colon launches first career home run

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Trevor Bauer, Mookie Betts, Bartolo Colon, Rajai Davis, Dee Gordon, Matt Holliday, Kendrys Morales, Giancarlo Stanton

Angels reportedly agree with closer Allen

MLB.com @RhettBollinger

ANAHEIM -- The Angels have found their closer for the 2019 season, as they agreed to terms with right-hander Cody Allen late Thursday night, according to multiple reports.

The Angels, though, have not confirmed the agreement, as it is pending a physical, according to a report from MLB Network's Ken Rosenthal.

ANAHEIM -- The Angels have found their closer for the 2019 season, as they agreed to terms with right-hander Cody Allen late Thursday night, according to multiple reports.

The Angels, though, have not confirmed the agreement, as it is pending a physical, according to a report from MLB Network's Ken Rosenthal.

Allen, 30, has extensive experience as a closer, serving in that capacity with the Indians from 2014-18 and racking up 147 saves for an average of 29 per year. He has a strong career ERA of 2.98 in 440 2/3 innings, but is coming off a down year, as he posted a 4.70 ERA in 70 appearances with Cleveland in 2018, including a career-high five blown saves.

Allen struck out 80 and walked 33 in 67 innings but served up 11 homers. He saw his fastball velocity dip from an average of 94.3 mph in '17, when he had a 2.94 ERA, to 93.5 mph last year, per baseballsavant.com.

Allen's worst ERA before last season was 3.72 as a rookie in '12 -- and he never had an ERA above 3.00 in any of his other five seasons -- so the Angels will be hoping for a bounce-back year. He still has good stuff, as evidenced by his strikeout rate, but will need to limit homers.

With Allen expected to serve as closer, it means the Angels will move Ty Buttrey, Hansel Robles, Luis Garcia and Justin Anderson to setup roles. Other relievers in the mix include John Curtiss, Williams Jerez, Taylor Cole, Noe Ramirez, plus Keynan Middleton when he returns from Tommy John surgery mid-season.

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels, Cody Allen

Rumors: Gray, Kimbrel, Trout, Harper, Machado

The latest MLB free agent and trade rumors for Hot Stove season
MLB.com

It's Hot Stove season, and MLB.com is keeping track of all the latest free agent and trade rumors right here.

Free agents, by position
Free agents, by team

It's Hot Stove season, and MLB.com is keeping track of all the latest free agent and trade rumors right here.

Free agents, by position
Free agents, by team

Yankees working hard to move Sonny Gray
Jan. 17: When the offseason began, it sounded like a foregone conclusion that the Yankees were going to trade Sonny Gray. It's taken some time, but this looks to be general manager Brian Cashman's focus at the moment, especially now that New York's bullpen reconstruction is in shape with Adam Ottavino coming aboard, according to multiple reports.

The Yankees are "working hard now on a trade" for Gray, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, who says that the Reds, Giants, Brewers, A's, Padres, Braves and Mariners all are among the teams that could be involved in discussions.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Yankees are working hard now on a trade for Sonny Gray. Appears to be getting more serious. Teams involved have included: reds, giants, brewers, a���s, padres, braves, mariners.

Heyman follows up to report that the Yanks "are indeed close" to swapping the starting pitcher, and some clubs also are inquiring about relievers Tommy Kahnle and Jonathan Holder.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Yankees are indeed close to trading Sonny Gray. Teams are also asking about Tommy Kahnle and Jonathan Holder.

The Giants, in particular, are a new name in the mix for Gray, according to Heyman, who cites new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi's familiarity with the right-hander from their time together with the A's several years ago as a potential factor.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: #SFGiants interesting new entrant in Sonny sweepstakes. It does make sense; Giants prez Farhan Zaidi, who knows Sonny from A���s days, is said to be fan. It appears some other linked teams ��� A���s, Brewers, Braves, M���s, Pads, Reds ��� don���t appear to be at forefront of talks at moment

Part of the reason the Yankees had been hesitant to go all-in on moving Gray over the past month or so is because CC Sabathia -- who they re-signed for one year -- underwent an angioplasty in December. The veteran lefty, however, has been cleared to begin workouts and resume baseball activities.

With that no longer a concern and the bullpen fully stocked, Cashman clearly is turning his attention back toward trading Gray. And it sounds like something could happen sooner than later.

Kimbrel's top suitors now have one fewer big-name alternative
Jan. 17: And then there was one. Craig Kimbrel is now far and away the best and biggest name left on the free-agent reliever market.

Adam Ottavino, who is coming off a career campaign that vaulted him toward the top of the available late-inning arms this offseason, has agreed to a three-year, $27 million deal with the Yankees, according to multiple reports.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Source: Adam Ottavino has 3-year, $27 million deal with #Yankees. Credit to @Ken_Rosenthal @ByRobertMurray @JonHeyman and @JeffPassan for earlier reporting. @MLBNetwork @MLB

What does this mean for Kimbrel? Mostly good things. For one, it's typically beneficial to be the clear top player at your position still on the board. This increases demand, and because the Yankees were never in on Kimbrel, it doesn't impact the supply -- that is, the teams that could use or have been connected to the seven-time All-Star closer this winter.

As for the clubs that do fit that criteria? The Red Sox, Braves and Phillies all have been linked to Kimbrel, and obviously, none of them landed Ottavino as an alternative to bolster their bullpens. Of that trio, the most heat has been surrounding Boston of late, simply because the reigning World Series winner's bullpen is lacking with Kimbrel out of the picture after being their closer the past three years. Not to mention, setup reliever Joe Kelly inked with the Dodgers this offseason.

The question, though, is whether the Red Sox will ante up to bring back Kimbrel, who reportedly has been seeking a long-term, big-money deal in the range of five years and $80 million. By all indications from president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, Boston is not looking to spend anything close to that range for someone to handle the ninth inning. But would the Red Sox feel pressure to try to re-sign Kimbrel -- perhaps at a high average annual value over, say, three seasons? -- now that the AL East-rival Yankees have stockpiled arguably baseball's best bullpen?

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: #Yankees bullpen:ChapmanBetancesBrittonOttavinoGreenHolderKahnle#RedSox bullpenBrasierBarnesHembreeWrightThornburg?Poyner?Workman?Brewer?

The Braves fall in a similar category in that they have a need for Kimbrel but don't seem willing to spend what the righty reliever is hoping to get. That said, a return to Atlanta, with whom the 30-year-old spent his first five big league seasons, would make the reigning NL East champs better -- and be a fun narrative.

As for the Phillies, they have the financial resources to splurge this offseason, and that could include Kimbrel. In recent days, reports have speculated that Philadelphia would like to land one of free-agent superstars Bryce Harper or Manny Machado -- who are considered the club's priorities at the moment -- and then go after another big name or two, including lefty Dallas Keuchel to shore up the rotation and/or Kimbrel to solidify a bullpen that already has added David Robertson.

Video: Ottavino reportedly signs with the Yankees

Trout and Harper? Trout and Machado? Phils are thinking big
Jan. 17: Would you rather have Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, or Trout and Manny Machado? The Phillies see the potential to create a once-in-a-lifetime pairing, and that might be shaping their plans this offseason.

A source with knowledge of those plans has told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci that while the Phillies could afford both Harper and Machado, they'd actually like to sign just one. Why? So they can still make a run at Trout if he hits free agency after the 2020 season.

Either Harper or Machado, Verducci writes, "would invigorate what for years has been a sleeping giant among Major League franchises." And just imagine if that player were paired with Trout.

But with one eye on Trout and the future, who will Philadelphia focus on out of the two current superstar free agents? That could go either way.

"In one dream scenario," Verducci writes, "the Phillies would field an all-MVP outfield in 2021: Trout, Harper and Andrew McCutchen."

But he also suggests that they might actually slightly prefer Machado -- "if only because club officials met much earlier with Machado than they did with Harper."

Harper and Trout might make a dream outfield, but Trout in the outfield and Machado in the infield would be a dream duo, too.

Which 'mystery teams' may be in on Harper, Machado?
Jan. 17: As the offseason drags on and Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned, the door will stay open for more teams to jump into the race, especially if there's a sense that the price to sign them may not be as high as many initially expected.

In an article for ESPN+ (subscription required) on Thursday, Buster Olney listed some of the so-called "mystery teams" that are drawing speculation from industry insiders and broke down each club's chances of signing one of this offseason's superstar free agents.

Olney is hearing the Astros, Giants and Braves being mentioned as potential suitors for Harper; the Yankees and Padres as possible contenders for Machado; and the Rangers, Twins and Cubs as three teams that could sign either player.

Olney thinks most of these clubs will continue to sit out of the proceedings, but he could see Houston entering the mix for Harper if the slugger is willing to accept a shorter-term deal with opt-outs. The Astros nearly acquired Harper before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline this past season, but the Nationals backed out. As Olney points out, the team is in win-now mode, especially with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole set to enter free agency next offseason.

"They've got the money, for sure," said one rival official.

The Astros seemingly have their starting outfield set after signing Michael Brantley, but Harper would represent a massive upgrade in right field over Josh Reddick, who recorded a .718 OPS in 2018.

Olney concedes that it might seem odd to have the Yankees as a potential mystery team for Machado, as they were one of three clubs -- along with the Phillies and White Sox -- to meet with him in December. But with Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu in the fold, New York is not aggressively pursuing Machado at this time. That could change, though, if Machado's asking price falls into a range that the Yankees are more comfortable with.

Which teams might be in on Moustakas?
Jan. 16: In his second straight offseason as a free agent, Mike Moustakas' market has been held up to some degree by the fact that Manny Machado -- the top available shortstop/third baseman -- has yet to choose a team. But that doesn't mean we can't peek at possibilities for Moustakas in the meantime.

One such option is a return to the Brewers, as MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal writes in a story for The Athletic (subscription required). Milwaukee still needs an infielder after being linked to -- but missing out on -- second basemen Brian Dozier (Nationals), Jed Lowrie (Mets) and DJ LeMahieu (Yankees). The Crew acquired Moustakas at the Trade Deadline last season, playing him at the hot corner and shifting regular third baseman Travis Shaw to second. That plan could make sense again in 2019.

The Phillies also appear to be a fit for Moustakas, but only if they miss out on Machado to solidify the left side of their infield. And the Padres have been in the market for an upgrade at third base as well, making them a candidate for Moustakas -- or perhaps for the Phillies' Maikel Franco, who likely would become trade bait if Philadelphia lands either Machado or Moustakas, as Rosenthal suggests.

In ranking the seven best remaining free agents -- other than Machado and Bryce Harper -- MLB.com's Richard Justice puts Moustakas No. 7 and agrees that the Brewers and Padres look like potential landing spots.

What would it take for Angels to keep Trout long term?
Jan. 16: Teams might be coveting Trout already -- but the Angels would prefer that he never get to free agency in 2020. 

Trout's the best player in baseball, and he's smack in the middle of his prime at age 27. He's also due to hit the open market when his current six-year, $144.5 million contract runs out. That puts the Angels at something of a crossroad over the next 18 to 24 months.

Will the Halos be able to afford extending Trout a second time, with what almost certainly would have to be a massive, record-breaking deal? Or will they ever actually consider trading their franchise face? Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic considers this in a deep dive into where things stand between the Angels and Trout (subscription required).

For an extension, the expectation would be that Trout could command more than Giancarlo Stanton's $325 million contract -- the largest in history to date. And obviously, whatever happens with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado -- the two top names on the open market this offseason -- is going to impact the cost of signing Trout beyond 2020, too.

A long-term pact takes two to tango, so to speak. "I think it just gets to having overlap," said Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who previously served as general manager of the Rays when he signed Evan Longoria to a six-year, $100 million extension in 2012. "It's the player really wanting it, the team really wanting it. Usually, when that's the case, you can find an overlap. There are just different points in time where that may not line up perfectly and then it's obviously harder."

And if there isn't overlap, maybe because Trout would prefer to test free agency two years from now rather than re-upping before then? "The Angels have said emphatically they will not trade Trout," Ardaya writes. "But what if they don't feel they can keep him?"

It's not as if the front office hasn't tried hard to build a winning team around Trout. Big money has been spent on Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, Justin Upton and others over the years -- and yet the Halos have made the postseason just once with Trout: a three-game sweep at the hands of the Royals in the 2014 ALDS.

"I could argue that the Angels have tried," said former Marlins president David Samson, who played a big role in Stanton's contract and now is an analyst for CBS Sports. "But Trout cannot guarantee the Angels a ring. He is the face of that franchise, and it is a brutal thing to think about, but if you're not going to win, then paying him that amount of money may not be the best thing for your team's chances to win. But it hurts like hell to lose a player like that."

Red Sox still waiting on Kimbrel?
Jan. 16: Spring Training gets underway in less than a month, and the World Series champion Red Sox still don't have a definite closer. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel -- who has held that role with Boston the past three seasons -- also remains available in free agency. Is this lining up to be a reunion after all? More >

D-backs add Flores, likely closing door on Pollock reunion
Jan. 16: When the D-backs traded Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals in early December, many assumed the club was starting a full rebuild, but that hasn't happened. Trade talk surrounding players such as Robbie Ray, Zack Greinke, David Peralta and Nick Ahmed has quieted, and the team is hoping to contend for a postseason berth with its current core, according to Steve Gilbert of MLB.com.

With that in mind, could the club look to re-sign A.J. Pollock if he is willing to accept a shorter-term deal? It's possible, but not likely, especially after Arizona reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with Wilmer Flores on Wednesday.

Video: Gilbert on D-backs reportedly signing Flores

Gilbert wrote last week that he thought the D-backs would either sign a center fielder or add a second baseman, allowing Ketel Marte to move to center. The Flores signing seemingly makes it possible for the Marte position switch to happen, leaving Arizona without a spot for Pollock.

Tweet from @SteveGilbertMLB: The #Dbacks would use Flores at second which would allow them to move Ketel Marte to center. https://t.co/jFKUgJbnrb

Can Nationals afford Harper and Rendon?
Jan. 16: As the baseball world speculates where free agent Bryce Harper  will land, the Phillies and the Nationals are seemingly leading the race -- and might be the only two teams in the running -- at this point.

One major advantage the Phils have is that they can likely outbid the Nats for Harper. Washington exceeded the luxury-tax threshold in each of the past two seasons and is going to be up against it again in 2019. The penalties get steeper when teams exceed the threshold in consecutive seasons, and there is also a surtax for exceeding it by $20 to $40 million. Signing Harper would likely put the Nats more than $20 million over the threshold in 2019.

The team also needs to worry about Anthony Rendon 's impending free agency next offseason. According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), Rendon and agent Scott Boras, who also represents Harper, are seeking a deal similar to Jose Altuve's.

The Astros gave Altuve a five-year, $151 million extension before the 2018 season, covering 2020-24. At the time, Altuve was already under contract for $12.5 million over 2018-19, bringing his total deal to seven years and $163.5 million.

As Rosenthal points out, signing Harper and extending Rendon would likely give the Nats a combined luxury-tax number exceeding $130 million for just five players (Harper, Rendon, Max Scherzer Stephen Strasburg Patrick Corbin ) over the next three seasons, assuming Strasburg doesn't opt out after 2019 or 2020.

However, MLB.com's Jamal Collier gets the sense that the Nationals are proceeding as if they can afford both players.

"As recently as the Winter Meetings, [general manager Mike Rizzo] said he felt like there was room for both," Collier said Tuesday on MLB Network. "And I think that when he looks at the number that Rendon just signed for in arbitration -- $18.8 million -- that's about what the Nationals think for an extension, he'll be making over that time. And the fact that they're still in on Harper while negotiating with Rendon makes me think that they think they can sign both.

"It's going to be a matter of what exact number is Harper coming back for. If that number is closer to $400 million, there's probably not room for more. … If that number is closer to 10 years, $300 million, then there's probably a scenario where the Nats can fit both of these guys in. ... But I would certainly say, the way they're operating, the way they're going about their business, they haven't ruled it out, so right now I won't rule it out either."

Video: Can Nationals sign Harper and also extend Rendon?

Four possible fits for Keuchel
Jan. 16: Dallas Keuchel  entered the offseason as one of the most accomplished starting pitchers on the free-agent market. With other big names like Patrick Corbin  (Nationals), Nathan Eovaldi  (Red Sox) and Yusei Kikuchi  (Mariners) having signed, Keuchel is unquestionably the top starter left -- and has been for some time.

Although there hasn't been a shortage of rumors surrounding the 31-year-old, it's possible his decision is being held up to some extent by seeing what happens with Bryce Harper  and Manny Machado . Their decisions could impact which clubs make a push for Keuchel -- and have the money left for a long-term contract.

Like these four. More >

Ottavino is in good position amid active relief market
Jan. 16: No position has seen more action on the open market this offseason than relievers. Among the many elite late-inning arms to find deals: Andrew Miller  (Cardinals), Zach Britton  (Yankees), David Robertson  (Phillies), Jeurys Familia  (Mets) and Joakim Soria  (A's).

A number of good relief pitchers remain available, but two stand out above the rest at this point -- Craig Kimbrel  and Adam Ottavino .

In a ranking of seven of the top remaining free agents besides Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, MLB.com's Richard Justice ranks Ottavino No. 6 and writes: "Ottavino and Kimbrel are the last of the elite relievers on the market. At 33, he may not get a deal longer than two years, but after a season that included 75 appearances and a 0.991 WHIP for the Rockies, he's going to be a major catch for some team."

Which teams might be in play for Gonzalez?
Jan. 16: Marwin Gonzalez  has made a career of flying somewhat under the radar despite being a valuable player who can cut it at just about any position on the diamond. As a free agent, his market has been much the same -- quiet -- but that doesn't mean he's not highly sought-after for what he brings.

Gonzalez's versatility allows him to fit on just about any roster, and while he's one of the better free agents still available, the 29-year-old isn't likely to require a contract that would price him out of most teams' budgets, either. So which club could Gonzalez wind up with? More >

Could a three-team blockbuster involving Kluber work?
Jan. 15: MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi recently reported that the Padres have remained in contact with the Indians about ace right-hander Corey Kluber. But would the Padres insert Kluber into the rotation or try to trade him away to fill another need? And if it's the latter, could a three-team blockbuster actually work?

Dennis Lin of The Athletic reports that San Diego's interest in Kluber is primarily to flip him, because he "does not fit the Padres age-wise." Lin adds that no deal is close, and the Padres are "struggling to line up with trade partners."

Tweet from @dennistlin: In their search for a third baseman, the Padres have explored three-team trade possibilities, including one that would send Corey Kluber to Cincinnati, sources tell @Ken_Rosenthal and me. No is deal close.

Tweet from @dennistlin: San Diego���s interest in Kluber is primarily to flip him, sources say; he does not fit the Padres age-wise. Pads struggling to line up with trade partners. If they could get Kluber, they likely would want top Reds prospect Nick Senzel, whom Cincinnati does not want to move.

The Indians reportedly have made Kluber available on the trade market, but only for a very high price. San Diego has one of the very best farm systems in baseball, and certainly could make a legitimate offer for the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner.

Flipping Kluber to the Reds would send the 32-year-old (33 in April) to a club that has made it clear that upgrading the starting rotation is among its highest priorities. Cincinnati already has acquired right-hander Tanner Roark and left-hander Alex Wood in separate trades.

If infielder Nick Senzel is who the Padres would be looking for to take over at third base, the 23-year-old would appear to fit well in San Diego's rebuild, providing the organization with the No. 6 prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline.

The question, then, becomes: What do the Indians -- the team theoretically unloading Kluber -- get out of this scenario? Cleveland has a major need in the outfield and both the Padres and Reds have some depth at that position, including Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Matt Kemp and Jesse Winker, among others. But it's likely the Tribe would need more pieces -- especially young, cost-controlled players -- to part with arguably its top arm.

Tweet from @MLBNetwork: The Padres are reportedly interested in acquiring and flipping Corey Kluber for a third baseman according to @Ken_Rosenthal. #MLBNHotStove pic.twitter.com/W3OpvJWkv1

Another question is: Could another team or teams be good matches in a Kluber deal? MLB Network analysts Bill Ripken and Ron Darling discussed the notion of the Yankees getting involved, perhaps sending third baseman Miguel Andujar to the Padres to acquire Kluber should San Diego swing a trade with Cleveland. Andujar impressed at the plate in his rookie season, slashing .297/.328/.527 with 27 homers, finishing second in American League Rookie of the Year voting behind the Angels' Shohei Ohtani.

But defense was an issue at the hot corner for Andujar, and with the Yankees recently signing DJ LeMahieu, there's an abundance of infielders in the Bronx. Not only that, there's another potentially big free-agent market following next season, especially if superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado is testing the open market.

"Do they look at DJ LeMahieu on a two-year deal and say, 'OK, why don't you go over there and play third base?,'" asked Ripken. " ... I don't know if he's expendable or not, but DJ LeMahieu, I'm interested in seeing how the Yankees use him."

"I think with the glut of infielders that the Yankees have, this is a real opportunity for them to put a -- would I say No. 2, No. 1-A, No. 1 over Severino?" said Darling. "Whatever it is, you'd have two really good people at the top of that rotation." 

Tweet from @MLBNetwork: Would you move Miguel And��jar to get Corey Kluber? #MLBTonight pic.twitter.com/meilWC3k6p

Phillies' big plans involve Harper/Machado, other top FAs -- and Trout?!
Jan. 15: One of the popular theories earlier this offseason was that the Phillies had so much money available that not only were they seen as the prohibitive favorite to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but they actually could consider paying up for both free-agent superstars.

That pie-in-the-sky scenario for Phillies fans isn't happening, according to Matt Gelb of The Athletic (subscription required). But that doesn't mean Philly won't wind up with one of the premier young talents in the sport. On the contrary, it's looking like the club is seen as a favorite -- it's just a matter of which one.

Oh, and the Phillies aren't expected to stop there. That plan to be "a little bit stupid" about how they spend their money, as managing partner John Middleton said earlier in the offseason, very well might be in play.

Phillies team executives "have visions of signing Harper, [lefty starter Dallas] Keuchel and [closer Craig] Kimbrel," according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

Tweet from @BNightengale: The #Phillies, according to team executives, have visions of signing Harper,Keuchel and Kimbrel.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman is hearing something similar, acknowledging that the Phils are in "excellent position" to sign one of Harper or Machado and still take a look at "other top free agents" like Keuchel, Kimbrel and/or outfielder A.J. Pollock.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Philly is in excellent position to sign one or the other of the free agent mega stars ��� Harper or Machado. Signing both though is said to remain pretty unlikely. But after they secure 1, Phils may take a closer look at other top free agents (ie Keuchel, Kimbrel, Pollock)

And if that's not enough, Heyman also adds that the Phillies "will make a big play" for Mike Trout in two years, when the superstar Angels center fielder is due to hit the open market.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Regardless who they sign this winter, phillies will make a big play for mike trout in 2 years ��� provided he hasn���t signed an extension, of course. #LAAngels will try to extend Trout this winter, but while he likes it there, the whispers are that an extension now is unlikely.

It's one thing to spout all these names and another thing entirely for the Phillies to sign them. But at least, one club looks ready to make some big, bold moves in what has been slow offseason so far.

For the latest Harper rumors, go here. For more on Machado, head here. And this will keep you up to date on Keuchel.

Tweet from @MLBNetwork: Harper, Keuchel AND Kimbrel?!?! #MLBTonight pic.twitter.com/Pc2GLerVtl

Why Braves may be hesitant to gamble on Pollock, but Mets may not
Jan. 15: Center fielder A.J. Pollock 's market has been limited due to his lengthy injury history: Since 2016, he's only played in 237 games. Last season, he got off to a torrid start, slashing .293/.349/.620 with 11 home runs and nine steals through May 14. But that's when he fractured his thumb on a diving play, causing him to miss nearly two months. From the time he returned on July 2 through the end of the season, he hit just .236/.297/.407 with 10 homers in 73 games.

The former Gold Glove Award winner's skill set and potential are appealing, but the injury concerns surely are giving teams pause when considering him in free agency. Still, if he was amenable to a one-year deal, might the Braves fill their outfield need by signing Pollock?

The franchise still is dealing with the fallout from being hit hard for infractions on the international market and in the MLB Draft in late 2017, and Pollock is tied to Draft-pick compensation for declining the one-year qualifiying offer from the D-backs.

"The [Braves] likely would jump on [Pollock] at a dollar figure it deemed acceptable," MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal writes in a story for The Athletic (subscription required). "But the pick -- which for the Braves would be their second overall choice, likely in the mid-60s -- would be part of the acquisition cost. And the Braves, because of all the young players the penalties cost them and all those they will lose in the future, value the selection more than most clubs."

The Mets, meanwhile, might be amenable to a one-year "pillow" contract with Pollock should he accept one, reports SNY's Andy Martino. Though he's reportedly looking for a deal in the five-year, $80 million range, a one-year deal would give Pollock a chance to show his value over a full season if he can stay healthy, bolstering his free agency going into the '20 season. Another option that may be attractive to the Mets, notes Martino, is a one-year deal with an opt-out for '20. More >

Tweet from @martinonyc: Reading between lines of what I���ve heard about mets and A.J. pollock, I could see them playing for him again at this point if he wants a pillow contract or an opt out after the first year.

What kind of contract is Gonzalez seeking?
Jan. 15: Because of his recent offensive production in 2017-18 and status as a supremely versatile defender, a number of teams are interested in and good fits for Marwin Gonzalez. One thing that hasn't been made clear to this point in the offseason, however, is what type of deal the veteran free agent may be trying to land.

Part of the reason for that is Gonzalez is not among the very top tier of players available on the open market, so there's been less speculation surrounding him. Another reason is there are fewer past free agents to compare him to because of what he brings to the table on defense.

There is one similar name that could provide a glimpse at what Gonzalez is seeking, though. More >

Phillies' 'dream' outfield: Harper, Trout, Cutch

MLB.com

After a seven-season tenure with the Nationals that included a National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, an NL MVP Award in 2015 and six All-Star nods, Bryce Harper is now a free agent for the first time.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the outfielder.

After a seven-season tenure with the Nationals that included a National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, an NL MVP Award in 2015 and six All-Star nods, Bryce Harper is now a free agent for the first time.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the outfielder.

Phillies' 'dream' outfield: Harper, Trout, Cutch
Jan. 17: The Phillies are thinking big. "Harper and Mike Trout in the same outfield" big.

According to a report from Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci -- citing a source with knowledge of Philadelphia's offseason plans -- while the Phillies have enough money to sign both Harper and Manny Machado, they'd actually like to sign just one. Why? So they can make a run at Trout, too, if he hits free agency after the 2020 season.

"In one dream scenario," Verducci writes, "the Phillies would field an all-MVP outfield in 2021: Trout, Harper and Andrew McCutchen."

Trout and Harper might be the two most talented players of their generation, and the "Trout vs. Harper?" question was one of the biggest debates in the baseball world as the two ascended to superstardom. Putting them together on one roster really would be a dream for any team.

Assessing which 'mystery teams' may actually be in on Harper and/or Machado
Jan. 17: As the offseason drags on and Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned, the door will stay open for more teams to jump into the race, especially if there's a sense that the price to sign them may not be as high as many initially expected.

In an article for ESPN+ (subscription required) on Thursday, Buster Olney listed some of the so-called "mystery teams" that are drawing speculation from industry insiders and broke down each club's chances of signing one of this offseason's superstar free agents.

Olney is hearing the Astros, Giants and Braves being mentioned as potential suitors for Harper; the Yankees and Padres as possible contenders for Machado; and the Rangers, Twins and Cubs as three teams that could sign either player.

Olney thinks most of these clubs will continue to sit out of the proceedings, but he could see Houston entering the mix for Harper if the slugger is willing to accept a shorter-term deal with opt-outs. The Astros nearly acquired Harper before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline this past season, but the Nationals backed out. As Olney points out, the team is in win-now mode, especially with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole set to enter free agency next offseason.

"They've got the money, for sure," said one rival official.

The Astros seemingly have their starting outfield set after signing Michael Brantley, but Harper would represent a massive upgrade in right field over Josh Reddick, who recorded a .718 OPS in 2018.

Olney concedes that it might seem odd to have the Yankees as a potential mystery team for Machado, as they were one of three clubs -- along with the Phillies and White Sox -- to meet with him in December. But with Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu in the fold, New York is not aggressively pursuing Machado at this time. That could change, though, if Machado's asking price falls into a range that the Yankees are more comfortable with.

Three teams reportedly are in on Harper -- but several more could swoop in
Jan. 16: There have been plenty of rumors and all kinds of buzz surrounding free-agent superstar Bryce Harper since the start of the offseason more than two-and-a-half months ago. The latest news is especially interesting because it appears to narrow down the field of interested teams to three primary suitors -- at least, for now.

The Phillies, Nationals and White Sox, all of whom have been connected to Harper in numerous reports, are "the only three teams known to be in" on the slugging outfielder, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: phillies, nats and chisox are the only 3 teams known to be in on bryce harper. but fwiw, word is, several teams are said to be waiting in the wings. the word "waiting" suggests this may yet take awhile.

Several teams, however, "are said to be waiting in the wings," Heyman continues, meaning that a) more clubs likely are (or could be) in the mix at various levels of interest and engagement, and b) the Harper sweepstakes may not be nearing a conclusion any time soon.

With pitchers and catchers due to report in less than a month, is it possible negotiations for Harper could push close to -- or even into -- the start of Spring Training?

Phillies choosing between Harper and Machado; do they have a preference?
Jan. 16: One of the popular theories earlier this offseason was that the Phillies had so much money available that not only were they seen as the prohibitive favorite to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but they actually could consider paying up for both free-agent superstars.

That pie-in-the-sky scenario for Phillies fans isn't happening, according to Matt Gelb of The Athletic (subscription required). But that doesn't mean Philly won't wind up with one of the premier young talents in the sport. On the contrary, it's looking like the club is seen as a favorite -- it's just a matter of which one they choose to sign.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman notes that while Machado seemed to be the Phillies' top choice at one point, the club may now be leaning toward Harper, to whom the club is expected to make an offer soon, if it hasn't already.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Philly is in excellent position to sign one or the other of the free agent mega stars ��� Harper or Machado. Signing both though is said to remain pretty unlikely. But after they secure 1, Phils may take a closer look at other top free agents (ie Keuchel, Kimbrel, Pollock)

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Felt like Machado was Phils��� top choice at one time. Now it seems like it���s even or maybe a lean toward Harper. That 4/5 hour, 2 video meeting in Las Vegas sounds like it went great for Harper and the Phillies, who are expected to make offer to him soon, if they haven���t by now.

The Phillies sent a group of their decision-makers -- including managing partner John Middleton, president Andy MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler -- to meet with Harper in his hometown of Las Vegas over the weekend. The visit went rather well, as MLB.com's Todd Zolecki writes.

Heyman points to the Phillies' previous acquisition of shortstop Jean Segura, Harper's star power and the desire to one-up the rival Nationals -- who are believed to be in on the outfielder, but not Machado -- as reasons why the club could prefer Harper over Machado. Heyman also hears that Harper and Kapler "really hit it off," as both have similarly intense personalities.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Phillies could still go either way on the 2 FA mega stars. But here���s why they may be leaning Harper now: 1) acquisition of ss Segura 2) Harper cachet, success at philly 3) great meeting w/Harper 4) competition for Harper comes from nl east rival nats, who beat phils for Corbin

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Word is, Harper and Kapler really hit it off during the Las Vegas meeting, which could be another factor in Phillies��� thinking. Easy to see that: both quite intense

Back in late December, the Phillies hosted Machado at Citizens Bank Park, too, making them one of two teams -- the White Sox are the other -- known to have had face-to-face sit-downs with both stars this offseason. That could give them an advantage over some of the other suitors who have been linked to one player or the other, a list that potentially includes the Nationals, the Yankees and the Dodgers.

And yet, the waiting game continues for the Phillies, who don't seem to mind seeing how this plays out, because of the fact that either Harper or Machado could be a great fit for them -- and their financial fortitude to perhaps present the largest offers to either player.

"There is risk in dragging out this dance," Gelb writes, "but multiple league sources indicated the Phillies' risk of losing out on both stars is mitigated by the apparent lack of interested teams throughout Major League Baseball and the club's financial wherewithal."

Can Nationals afford Harper and Rendon?
Jan. 16: As the baseball world speculates where free agent Bryce Harper will land, the Phillies and the Nationals are seemingly leading the race -- and might be the only two teams in the running -- at this point.

One major advantage the Phils have is that they can likely outbid the Nats for Harper. Washington exceeded the luxury-tax threshold in each of the past two seasons and is going to be up against it again in 2019. The penalties get steeper when teams exceed the threshold in consecutive seasons, and there is also a surtax for exceeding it by $20 to $40 million. Signing Harper would likely put the Nats more than $20 million over the threshold in 2019.

The team also needs to worry about Anthony Rendon's impending free agency next offseason. According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), Rendon and agent Scott Boras, who also represents Harper, are seeking a deal similar to Jose Altuve's.

The Astros gave Altuve a five-year, $151 million extension before the 2018 season, covering 2020-24. At the time, Altuve was already under contract for $12.5 million over 2018-19, bringing his total deal to seven years and $163.5 million.

As Rosenthal points out, signing Harper and extending Rendon would likely give the Nats a combined luxury-tax number exceeding $130 million for just five players (Harper, Rendon, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin) over the next three seasons, assuming Strasburg doesn't opt out after 2019 or 2020.

However, MLB.com's Jamal Collier gets the sense that the Nationals are proceeding as if they can afford both players.

"As recently as the Winter Meetings, [general manager Mike Rizzo] said he felt like there was room for both," Collier said Tuesday on MLB Network. "And I think that when he looks at the number that Rendon just signed for in arbitration -- $18.8 million -- that's about what the Nationals think for an extension, he'll be making over that time. And the fact that they're still in on Harper while negotiating with Rendon makes me think that they think they can sign both.

"It's going to be a matter of what exact number is Harper coming back for. If that number is closer to $400 million, there's probably not room for more. … If that number is closer to 10 years, $300 million, then there's probably a scenario where the Nats can fit both of these guys in. ... But I would certainly say, the way they're operating, the way they're going about their business, they haven't ruled it out, so right now I won't rule it out either."

Are the Phillies now leading the race to sign Harper?
Jan. 14: Following a five-hour meeting with Bryce Harper in his hometown of Las Vegas on Saturday, are the Phillies now the favorites to sign the market's most coveted free agent? Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported as much on Sunday, citing three anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations. 

Nightengale adds that the Nationals, who were considered the favorites to sign Harper after a lengthy meeting over the holidays, now believe they are a "long shot." 

The Phillies are also among a handful of favorites to sign Manny Machado -- and those odds could have increased, given that the Yankees' dialogue with the coveted shortstop have become "either dormant or completely dead," according to a report on Sunday from ESPN's Buster Olney. Nightengale's report added that the Yanks have "no intention of offering [Machado] a megacontract."

Philly is expected to make a formal offer within the week, per the report. MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reported on Sunday that the club may be shifting its sights on Harper instead of Machado, to whom the club has issued a formal offer, per Zolecki.

For their meeting with Harper, the Phillies sent managing partner John Middleton, president Andy MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak, manager Gabe Kapler and assistant general manager Ned Rice to meet with Harper and his agent Scott Boras, and the club's front-office officials left the meeting feeling "optimistic" to land either Harper or Machado.

"It was really impressive to spend some time with him, get to know him better, answer his questions, and we got to ask some questions, learn about him, and I think that's a really important step in any negotiation is kind of understanding what the other party is looking for. And now we'll see where it takes us," Klentak told 6ABC in Philadelphia late Saturday night.

Until they make their offer to Harper, however, MLB.com's Jim Duquette doesn't think the Phils can be deemed the front runner.

"At least make an offer," Duquette said on MLB Network Radio. "It looks so absurd that you're actually going to try to declare that and you haven't put an offer on paper. … So until that actually happens, there's no Philly front runner for Harper.

"Just because you were the last team to meet with him does not make you the front runner," Duquette added.

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: .@Jim_Duquette: The #Phillies are not the front runner on Bryce Harper until they "Show Him The Money!"#Nationals pic.twitter.com/lMUsXgBNL9

At this point, the only team that is believed to have offered Harper a contract is the Nationals, whose latest offer was reportedly north of $300 million. As a result, Duquette thinks they are still the leading contender to sign the slugger.

In either case, MLB.com's Jamal Collier writes that Washington shouldn't be counted out.

"Harper's relationship with the organization, as well as [general manager and president of baseball operations Mike] Rizzo and the Lerner family, is strong," writes Collier. "A few front office members have wondered if eventually ownership will find a way to make it work to keep Harper in D.C. long term, even if doing so would almost certainly put the Nats over the luxury tax threshold again."

Video: MLB Tonight on Phillies, Harper meeting in Las Vegas

What potential mystery teams could be in on Harper and/or Machado?
Jan. 14: At this point, it seems clear which teams are the frontrunners for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but is it possible there are some unknown clubs in the race, waiting to pounce? The door is certainly open for that outcome, as neither player has found a deal to his liking with the current contenders. In fact, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported last week that Machado's camp was telling some people that there is indeed an unknown team involved, though Heyman couldn't confirm the validity of that rumor.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Machado camp is telling some folks there���s a mystery team in addition to Chisox, Phils. Validity is unknown.

So which clubs might be lurking as potential "mystery teams?" After extensive research into the market, MLB.com's Richard Justice named five in a column that was published Monday, putting the Giants at the top of his list.

"Since [president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi] has not traded away Madison Bumgarner, his most valuable asset, that could be a tipoff that the Giants aren't diving into any kind of rebuild," Justice writes. "What they need more than anything is an impact offensive player or two, preferably an outfielder. Signing Harper would insert the Giants back into the postseason conversation and also give the franchise a foundational piece to build on for the next decade or so."

Find out here what other teams could stun the baseball world by swooping in to sign Harper or Machado.

After meeting with Harper, Phillies optimistic
Jan. 12: Phillies executives traveled to Las Vegas to meet with superstar free agent Bryce Harper on Saturday, and according to Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer, they emerged from the meeting "optimistic" about their chances to land either Harper or fellow 26-year-old free agent Manny Machado this offseason.

In addition to the Phillies, the other clubs seen as frontrunners to land Harper on what may be an unprecedented deal are the Nationals and White Sox. Philadelphia and Chicago are also seen as the frontrunners in the chase for Machado. As Breen notes, one area in which the Phillies may be able to stand out is the sheer amount of money they can offer either superstar. Phillies owner John Middleton said earlier this offseason that the club might be "a little stupid" in how it spends its money.

So should money be the ultimate deciding factor, the Phillies may be the favorite. Philadelphia recently hired a mentor of Machado's, former Orioles third-base coach Bobby Dickerson, as infield coach. And that came after the White Sox traded for Machado's brother-in-law Yonder Alonso and signed close friend Jon Jay. 

Both Harper and Machado are reportedly looking to exceed the record contract Giancarlo Stanton received from the Marlins in 2014, which was for 13 years and $325 million. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported that the amounts on the table in Machado's case are closer to $200 million than they are to $300 million.

Meanwhile, MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM analyst and former MLB general manager Jim Bowden reported Washington made an offer well north of $300 million to Harper, after it initially offered 10 years and $300 million toward the end of the regular season. MLB.com's Mark Feinsand wrote earlier in the week that momentum appeared to be building for a Harper-Nationals reunion.

Do Phillies have another reason to meet with Harper?
Jan. 11: The Phillies are set to send a sizable contingent of their decision-makers to visit with Bryce Harper in his hometown of Las Vegas on Saturday, according to multiple reports. On the surface, the club is doing so because of legitimate interest in the free-agent superstar. There's no denying that the team and the player are a great match, as MLB.com's Richard Justice wrote Thursday.

But is there perhaps another reason -- an ulterior motive, if you will -- for this cross-country trek?

MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal presents just such a possibility in a column for The Athletic (subscription required) in which he examines how bringing back Harper -- who is seeking a deal north of Giancarlo Stanton's record $325 million contract -- would impact the Nationals' already lofty payroll.

"If the Phillies' preference is [Manny] Machado, as some in the industry believe, then the meeting from their perspective might simply be a ploy to drive up the price for the Nationals, a division rival," Rosenthal speculates. "Harper and [his agent Scott] Boras, in fact, might be proceeding with the same motivation."

Oh, wouldn't that be something? Sure, the most likely scenario is that the Phillies are meeting with Harper because they want him -- and are willing to spend some of their "stupid" money on a 26-year-old lefty slugger who would fit their lineup and rebuilt roster exceptionally well over the next decade.

But it's at least fun to consider that the Phillies could be making a show of heading to Vegas -- a city known for big, over-the-top displays -- as a way to push the rival Nats, who many now view as the favorite for Harper, to (ahem) raise the stakes on their reported 10-year, $300 million-plus offer.

Just a little showdown between a pair of clubs that expect to go head to head to win a super-competitive NL East division? Hmmm.

Ottavino to Yanks on 3-year deal, sources say

MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- Adam Ottavino recently boasted that given the opportunity, he "would strike out Babe Ruth every time." That dream showdown will not take place, but the Bambino's former team is betting on plenty of silence from the rest of the American League's bats.

The Yankees added another major piece to what promises to be a devastating bullpen on Thursday, agreeing to a three-year, $27 million contract with the 33-year-old Ottavino, sources confirmed to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi and Mark Feinsand. The club has not confirmed the deal.

NEW YORK -- Adam Ottavino recently boasted that given the opportunity, he "would strike out Babe Ruth every time." That dream showdown will not take place, but the Bambino's former team is betting on plenty of silence from the rest of the American League's bats.

The Yankees added another major piece to what promises to be a devastating bullpen on Thursday, agreeing to a three-year, $27 million contract with the 33-year-old Ottavino, sources confirmed to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi and Mark Feinsand. The club has not confirmed the deal.

Ottavino, who grew up in Brooklyn and restored his stock by working out in a vacant Harlem strip mall, projects to join Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder and fellow free-agent signee Zach Britton in what could be the Majors' most intimidating relief crew.

Latest Hot Stove rumors

Sensing that his career had reached a crossroads after pitching to a 5.06 ERA in 2017, Ottavino refined his mechanics by utilizing high-tech equipment in what had previously been a shoe store. His father-in-law, a real-estate developer, loaned him the space in exchange for a Nolan Arenado-signed bat.

Thanks in large part to the gear, Ottavino enjoyed a breakout season in 2018 for the Rockies, slicing his ERA in half to 2.43 while trimming his walk and home run rates. Ottavino posted a 0.99 WHIP, six saves and 112 strikeouts, second only to the Brewers' Josh Hader (143) among National League relievers.

Ottavino's high-velocity heat and videogame slider have given hitters fits, and while speaking on MLB.com's Statcast™ podcast in December, he opined that the greatest slugger of the 20th century would struggle against today's pitching.

Video: Ottavino confident he could strike out Ruth

"I had an argument with a coach in Triple-A about Babe Ruth's effectiveness in today's game," Ottavino said. "I said, 'Babe Ruth, with that swing, swinging that bat, I got him hitting .140 with eight homers.' He was like, 'Are you nuts? Babe Ruth would hit .370 with 60 homers,' and I'm like, 'I would strike Babe Ruth out every time.'

Hot Stove Tracker

"I'm not trying to disrespect him, you know, rest in peace, shout out to Babe Ruth. But it was a different game. I mean, the guy ate hot dogs and drank beer and did whatever he did. It was just a different game."

Video: Ottavino brings thoughts of '98 to Yankees bullpen

The right-hander projects to fill the bullpen spot vacated by the departure of David Robertson, who signed a two-year deal with the Phillies earlier this month.

Ottavino's arrival marks the latest event in a busy offseason that has seen the Yankees re-sign Britton, CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ while adding James Paxton, Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu, who also played for Colorado in 2018.

More movement appears to be on the horizon. While the link between the club and superstar infielder Manny Machado appears to have cooled, general manager Brian Cashman remains intent upon trading right-hander Sonny Gray prior to the Feb. 13 report date for pitchers and catchers.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Adam Ottavino

Alonso leads list of Top 10 1B prospects

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

First basemen don't usually draw a lot of acclaim as prospects, in large part because they tend to be less well-rounded players than those at other positions. When MLB Pipeline releases its new Top 100 next week, Minor League home run leader Peter Alonso will be the only first baseman who's not a two-way performer on the list.

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

First basemen don't usually draw a lot of acclaim as prospects, in large part because they tend to be less well-rounded players than those at other positions. When MLB Pipeline releases its new Top 100 next week, Minor League home run leader Peter Alonso will be the only first baseman who's not a two-way performer on the list.

However, there has been a resurgence in first-base prospects in the last couple of years. The 2017 Draft featured five first basemen in the top 35 picks, and four of them -- Brendan McKay (Rays), Nick Pratto (Royals), Evan White (Mariners) and Brent Rooker (Twins) -- rank among the 10 best in the Minors at this moment.

Last June, Triston Casas (Red Sox) and Grant Lavigne (Rockies) went before the second round and quickly claimed spots on our first base Top 10. Another Rockies farmhand, Tyler Nevin, boosted his stock by leading the Arizona Fall League in all three slash categories (.426/.535/.593).

Top 10 Prospects by Position

While first base may not be loaded with five-tool prospects, the position possesses more depth than it typically does.

The Top 10 (ETA)
1. Peter Alonso, Mets (2019)
2. Evan White, Mariners (2020)
3. Nathaniel Lowe, Rays (2019)
4. Brendan McKay, Rays (2020)
5. Brent Rooker, Twins (2019)
6. Nick Pratto, Royals (2021)
7. Triston Casas, Red Sox (2022)
8. Grant Lavigne, Rockies (2022)
9. Tyler Nevin, Rockies (2020)
10. Matt Thaiss, Angels (2019)
Complete list »

Top Tools

Best Hitter: White, Lowe, McKay, Pratto, Lavigne, Nevin, Thaiss (55)
Lowe always had good plate discipline, but he broke out in 2018 by driving more balls in the air and tightening his strike zone further. He batted .330 and ranked fifth in the Minors with a .985 OPS. Nevin opened eyes in the AFL with his pure hitting ability and mastery of the strike zone, while organization mate Lavigne did the same in his pro debut by batting .350 and topping the Rookie-level Pioneer League with a .477 on-base percentage.

Video: Top Prospects: Tyler Nevin, 1B, Rockies

Best Power: Alonso, Rooker, Casas (60)
Alonso led the Minors with 36 homers during the regular season and the Arizona Fall League with six more, not including a shot off a 103-mph Nate Pearson fastball during the Fall Stars Game. His bat speed and strength produce tremendous exit velocities and translate his impressive raw power into game production.

Video: Top Prospects: Peter Alonso, 1B, Mets

Fastest Runner: White (60)
White has a highly unusual profile for a first baseman, as he bats right-handed and throws lefty, his hitting ability stands out more than his power and he's as athletic as it gets at the position. He's a plus runner, though his quickness is more apparent in the field than on the bases.

Video: Top Prospects: Evan White, 1B, Mariners

Best Arm: McKay, Pratto, Casas (60)
Both McKay and Casas had low-90s fastballs when they pitched as amateurs, and McKay continues to deal that kind of heat as he tries to make it as a two-way player. Pratto also was a two-way star as an amateur, throwing in the upper 80s and helping the U.S. national 18-and-under team win a pair of gold medals at international events.

Video: Top Prospects: Triston Casas, 1B, Red Sox

Best Defender: White (70)
White's defense gets the same rave reviews that Cody Bellinger's did when the Dodgers slugger was rising through the Minors. It's easy to envision him winning Gold Gloves in the big leagues, but he also has the quickness and solid arm strength to fit anywhere in the outfield if needed.

Superlatives

Highest Ceiling: Pratto
Pratto has the best chance to be a plus hitter for both average and power, and he also has Gold Glove potential at first base. After a slow start in his first full pro season, he batted .322/.394/.518 in the second half in the low Class A South Atlantic League and helped Lexington win the championship.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Pratto, 1B, Royals

Highest Floor: White
White is a safe bet to hit thanks to his advanced approach and ability to barrel the ball, and he's beginning to unlock the power potential in his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame. He's also an outstanding defender and has the versatility to play all three outfield spots.

Rookie of the Year Candidate: Alonso
The Mets have crowded their infield by trading for Robinson Cano and J.D. Davis and signing Jed Lowrie, and they have plenty of candidates to play first base. None of them can match Alonso's power, however, and he has little to prove in the Minors except for upgrading his defense.

Highest Riser: Lowe
Lowe hit just seven homers in his first full pro season and ranked 13th on MLB Pipeline's Rays Top 30 Prospects list a year ago. After making adjustments to his swing, he slammed 27 homers during his coming-out party in 2018 and should push for a big league role with Tampa Bay, which lacks a surefire starter at first base or DH.

Video: Top Prospects: Nate Lowe, 1B, Rays

Humblest Beginning: Lowe
When the Rays signed Lowe for $100,000 as a 13th-rounder out of Mississippi State in 2016, it was seen as a favor to his younger brother Josh, whom they selected 13th overall in the first round of the same Draft. Two years later, Nathaniel had surpassed him as a prospect.

Most To Prove: McKay
Trying to make it as both a hitter and a pitcher is a difficult task. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 Draft, McKay lived up to his reputation as being more advanced on the mound by logging a 2.41 ERA with a 103/14 K/BB ratio in 78 1/3 innings on the mound in his first full pro season. He batted just .214/.368/.359, however, and he'll have to up his production if he wants to continue pulling double duty.

Video: Top Prospects: Brendan McKay, LHP/1B, Rays

Keep An Eye On: Luken Baker, Cardinals
Another two-way star, Baker could have gone in the top two rounds of the 2015 Draft as a pitcher out of high school if he hadn't been set on attending Texas Christian. He gave up pitching after his freshman season but has tremendous strength and leverage in his 6-foot-4, 265-pound frame, giving him huge power upside that led the Cardinals to draft him in the second round last June.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Red Sox stay confident after Yankees' moves

With core intact, Dombrowski, Cora not worried about signing proven closer
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- Another potential Red Sox closing target was taken off the free-agent market on Thursday when Adam Ottavino signed with the rival Yankees, sources confirmed to MLB.com.

With less than a month before Spring Training, this leaves the defending World Series champions with a loaded roster that lacks one thing: a proven closer.

BOSTON -- Another potential Red Sox closing target was taken off the free-agent market on Thursday when Adam Ottavino signed with the rival Yankees, sources confirmed to MLB.com.

With less than a month before Spring Training, this leaves the defending World Series champions with a loaded roster that lacks one thing: a proven closer.

While the uncertainty in the ninth inning is unsettling to fans, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager Alex Cora both expressed confidence that the team will be fine regardless of whether it acquires another reliever before the season starts.

Latest Hot Stove rumors

It seems obvious that payroll concerns have prevented the Red Sox from being aggressive, while the likes of Andrew Miller, David Robertson, Zach Britton, Kelvin Herrera and Ottavino have found new homes is payroll.

"Sometimes you have to evaluate where you're going to spend your dollars," Dombrowski said prior to Thursday night's Boston Baseball Writers Dinner. "We decided to keep back the rest of the core of the club. We like our team a great deal, and we think some of the guys internally can do the job. Can we get better? Perhaps. We'll see what takes place in that regard."

The Red Sox already have a projected payroll of close to $240 million and would like to avoid going over the luxury-tax penalty for the second straight year. That threshold this year is $246 million.

"Well, I'd love to [avoid the penalty]," Dombrowski said. "I mean, we don't have any mandate to do that, but again, it really hasn't changed. There is a reason why they call it a penalty, and the higher you go, the penalty is quite significant. Ideally we'd like to stay there, but that was really our goal last year before the season started, and we did end up going over."

There are four scenarios left for Dombrowski. One would be to find a bargain from what is left on the free-agent market, with former Indians closer Cody Allen being perhaps the most intriguing of the affordable options.

The second would be to promote someone internally. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are the top options.

Inbox: Should Red Sox improve behind the dish?

There's always the possibility of a trade, which is how the Sox got Craig Kimbrel three years ago.

And the least likely scenario would be to bring back Kimbrel, who remains on the market and is going to come at a substantial cost.

Video: ALCS Gm2: Barnes gets Sox out of jam, earns win

"Again, there's a lot of players that are out there at this point. It could [come from within]," Dombrowski said. "But that's also one decision that we don't have to really make that decision until March 28, which is our first game."

When asked directly about Kimbrel, Dombrowski maintained the stance he has taken since the Winter Meetings.

"I wouldn't really comment on individual situations other than to say I still don't expect us to have a high expenditure in our closer situation," said Dombrowski.

If you go by the numbers from 2018, Barnes (96 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings) at least has the potential to be a strong option in the ninth inning.

Video: BOS@NYY Gm4: Brasier completes a 1-2-3 7th inning

Brasier came out of nowhere last year, but he is heavily in the team's plans this season to the point that he could compete to be the closer.

And don't forget about Tyler Thornburg. Though his first two seasons in Boston have been almost a complete loss due to injuries or recovering from them, the righty could at last be healthy enough to resume being the major weapon he was for Milwaukee in 2016. Dare to dream?

Knuckleballer Steven Wright can also be an important factor in the late innings, though it would be unorthodox but not unheard of for him to close.

"I mean, we've got some capable guys," said Cora. "We can maximize the guys that we have."

If the bullpen doesn't stack up on paper with the Yankees -- and right now it clearly doesn't -- Cora thinks the Red Sox can accentuate their other strengths.

"People get caught up obviously in what New York is doing. We knew that they were going to make moves," Cora said. "They have a great bullpen, obviously. But we have a great rotation. It balances out. Our strength is the rotation. If that's the only question mark we have, so be it."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier

This Yankees 'pen might be best ever ... by far

MLB.com @_dadler

The Yankees bullpen looks like it could be historically great. Again.

This time last winter, we were saying the exact same thing. We predicted that the 2018 Yankees could have the best bullpen ever… and they went on to post the highest Wins Above Replacement total of any relief corps in Major League history. That was following a similarly dominant season the year before -- the 2017 Yankees are third on the list.

The Yankees bullpen looks like it could be historically great. Again.

This time last winter, we were saying the exact same thing. We predicted that the 2018 Yankees could have the best bullpen ever… and they went on to post the highest Wins Above Replacement total of any relief corps in Major League history. That was following a similarly dominant season the year before -- the 2017 Yankees are third on the list.

The 2019 Yankees might be even better.

As of Thursday, when they reportedly agreed to a three-year deal with free agent Adam Ottavino, the Bronx Bombers' bullpen looks something like this: Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton, Dellin Betances, Ottavino, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, plus one or two of Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Loaisiga, Stephen Tarpley and Domingo German.

Video: Yankees' bolstered 'pen brings back memories of '98

For now, simply adding Ottavino, that group would project at 7.2 WAR, going by FanGraphs' preseason Depth Chart projections. (Ottavino is currently listed separately in the free agent section. When he's incorporated onto the Yankees roster, it could affect the projections.)

2019 projections for Yankees RP
Via FanGraphs' Depth Charts
Aroldis Chapman: 2.0 WAR (65 IP, 2.76 ERA, 13.4 K/9)
Dellin Betances: 1.8 WAR (75 IP, 2.84 ERA, 13.4 K/9)
Zach Britton: 1.1 WAR (65 IP, 3.14 ERA, 8.6 K/9)
Chad Green: 1.1 WAR (70 IP, 3.32 ERA, 11.3 K/9)
Adam Ottavino: 0.8 WAR (65 IP, 3.63 ERA, 11.4 K/9)
Jonathan Holder: 0.2 WAR (60 IP, 4.32 ERA, 8.8 K/9)
Tommy Kahnle: 0.2 WAR (50 IP, 3.93 ERA, 10.3 K/9)

That's the top total projection for any team by a wide margin, but it would come in behind the 2017 team's 9.4 WAR and the '18 team's 9.7 WAR. But projections are conservative -- and it's not hard to see the '19 Yankees exceeding theirs.

Here are five ways the 2019 edition of the Yankees bullpen could top even the last two years.

1. Ottavino outpitching David Robertson
Ottavino essentially fills the role left by the departing Robertson, who signed with the Phillies. And while Robertson gets better 2019 projections, likely due to his more consistent track record, Ottavino's '18 numbers were better across the board.

Robertson in 2018:
3.23 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 11.76 K/9, 32.2% strikeout rate

Ottavino in 2018:
2.43 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 12.98 K/9, 36.3% strikeout rate

And there's good reason to believe in his breakout, as MLB.com's Mike Petriello detailed in October. Among the 91 relievers to face 250 batters in 2018, Ottavino allowed the fourth-lowest expected wOBA -- that's Statcast™'s overall quality-of-contact metric. Robertson ranked tied for 29th.

Lowest xwOBA allowed, RP, 2018
Min. 250 PA
1. Edwin Diaz: .211
2. Josh Hader: .229
3. Blake Treinen: .230
4. Adam Ottavino: .231
5. Dellin Betances: .237
Robertson: .276 (T-29th)

2. A full season of a dominant Britton
Ottavino was the Yankees' second key free-agent relief signing this offseason. Bringing back Britton was the first.

New York only got two months and 0.1 WAR of Britton in 2018 after trading for him in late July, and he was just getting back to form from the right Achilles surgery that kept him out until mid-June. Now the Yankees have him for a whole year, and if he's at his best that could mean closer-type production for the Yanks out of a setup man.

Britton's heavy sinker, which he throws over 90 percent of the time, makes him perfectly suited to keep balls in the yard at Yankee Stadium. After he regained his velocity in July, Britton generated an 80 percent ground-ball rate with his sinker. Almost all hard contact against him stays on the ground.

Highest GB rate on 2-seamers/sinkers, 2018
July through end of season
1. Adam Cimber: 89.1 percent
2. Zach Britton: 80.0 percent
3. Joe Musgrove: 78.8 percent
4. Brad Ziegler: 78.0 percent
5. Jonny Venters: 73.6 percent

3. Chapman retaking the MLB closer throne
Maybe the most feared closer in the game when he's at his peak, Chapman has been hampered by shoulder and knee issues over the last two seasons. He only ranked 10th among relievers with 1.9 WAR in 2018, but he could easily jump into the 3 WAR range that Treinen, Diaz and Hader occupied last year (Chapman is projected for 2.0 WAR). Chapman's triple-digit heat from the left side puts that level of season well within the realm of possibility.

Most 100+ mph pitches since 2016
2016: Chapman's 1st season with Yankees
1. Aroldis Chapman: 1,078
2. Jordan Hicks: 659
3. Mauricio Cabrera: 342
4. Joe Kelly: 219
5. Noah Syndergaard: 206

And really, in addition to Chapman, Betances also has that type of elite-season potential. His 1.8 WAR in 2018 was just behind Chapman's (and it's the same as his 2019 projection), but the big right-hander has been in the 3 WAR range in the past. It's just a matter of command. Betances is often erratic, but when he locates, his fastball-breaking ball combination is near-unhittable. There's a reason he's the only reliever in MLB history with five straight 100-strikeout seasons.

4. Holder's continued emergence
One of the hallmarks of the great Yankees bullpens of the last couple of seasons is how they've had lesser-known names emerge as reliable relievers. In 2017, Green converted from a starter to a reliever and became one of New York's most lights-out bullpen arms. In '18, Holder had a breakout of his own after developing a slider as a weapon to use against right-handed hitters and a changeup to use against lefties.

Those are real changes, signs Holder could be valuable again in 2019. But the 25-year-old right-hander, who gave the Yankees 1.3 WAR in 2018 after pitching 66 innings with a 3.14 ERA in 2018, is projected for just 0.2 WAR this season. If he builds on last season, he'll top that.

5. One breakout or bounceback
Think about how valuable Kahnle was for the Yankees in 2017 after coming over with Robertson from the White Sox. He dropped off the map almost completely in '18 after dealing with shoulder issues, diminished velocity and a loss of control. But he's still just 29, and if he has any sort of bounceback in 2019 that's just an additional source of bullpen production the Yankees weren't necessarily counting on.

And what if the next Green or Holder is waiting in the system? Maybe it's someone like Loaisiga, who's ranked New York's No. 2 prospect and the No. 66 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline. If the 24-year-old right-hander can't crack a crowded Yankees starting rotation in 2019, it's easy to envision a scenario where he ends up a useful contributor out of the bullpen. The potential is certainly there.

David Adler is a reporter and researcher for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

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