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Confident Mets GM: 'We're the favorites' in East

Van Wagenen downplays likelihood of signing OF Pollock after adding Ramos
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- Few familiar with Brodie Van Wagenen's work over the first six weeks of the offseason would guess that he is done adding, moving, shaking as he looks to transform the Mets back into contenders. But even if Van Wagenen is finished adding major pieces to the Mets' roster, he feels they are in prime position to contend.

"Internally," Van Wagenen said on SNY after completing a two-year deal for catcher Wilson Ramos, "we would argue that we're the favorites in the division right now."

NEW YORK -- Few familiar with Brodie Van Wagenen's work over the first six weeks of the offseason would guess that he is done adding, moving, shaking as he looks to transform the Mets back into contenders. But even if Van Wagenen is finished adding major pieces to the Mets' roster, he feels they are in prime position to contend.

"Internally," Van Wagenen said on SNY after completing a two-year deal for catcher Wilson Ramos, "we would argue that we're the favorites in the division right now."

Tweet from @SteveGelbs: Big statement from @GMBVW just now: ���Internally, we would argue that were the favorites in the division right now.��� pic.twitter.com/QQTgWn04cI

There's little doubt the Mets are a vastly different team from the one that finished 77-85 last season. Since taking over as general manager, Van Wagenen has added a quartet of All-Stars in Ramos, second baseman Robinson Cano, closer Edwin Diaz and setup man Jeurys Familia. Even before signing Ramos and Familia, the Mets' analytics team projected the club to finish with close to 90 wins. Those two additions theoretically take the Mets higher.

Familia thrilled to be back in NY, pair with Diaz

Video: IT on Mets' addition of Ramos, busy offseason

"We've done a lot of what we set out to do this offseason," Van Wagenen said. "We shored up the bullpen with two premium arms. We added two middle-of-the-order bats, which was key to us in terms of executing our run-production goals. And now we've added a catcher that can upgrade that position. If we looked out and mapped this out on Nov. 1 that we would be in this stage right now heading into Opening Day, we would all be very, very happy."

In Ramos, the Mets acquired a catcher to upgrade over, and perhaps replace, incumbent starter Travis d'Arnaud. A two-time All-Star, Ramos returned from knee surgery last year to slug 15 homers in 111 games, becoming one of just four backstops to post at least an .800 OPS over 200-plus plate appearances.

Ramos declares clean bill of health for 2019

Video: Mets finalize two-year deal with catcher Wilson Ramos

The other three to do it -- J.T. Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal and Francisco Cervelli -- were all available on the free-agent or trade markets. The Mets chose Ramos over Grandal after meeting the former in person at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas and checking in with some of Van Wagenen's former clients who had played alongside Ramos with the Nationals.

"We talked about what I can do to help this rotation, this team," Ramos said. "We didn't talk about my offense. They told me they already know I can hit."

A more difficult decision was choosing Ramos over Realmuto, the top overall catcher available. The Mets went down that road "as far as it would go," according to Van Wagenen, but in the end balked at Miami's reported request for one of Amed Rosario, Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto or Noah Syndergaard. Rather than see how the market continued to develop, the Mets exercised their leverage by acquiring Ramos.

Video: Ramos discusses getting healthy for Mets in 2019

Now the question becomes what they do next. Coming into the offseason, the Mets' stated goals were to shore up the bullpen, improve at catcher and acquire a right-handed hitting bat -- presumably an outfielder -- for the middle of their lineup. With the first two goals accomplished, Van Wagenen was asked Tuesday about the latter -- and particularly about A.J. Pollock, widely considered the best right-handed-hitting outfielder on the free-agent market.

Rather than express interest in Pollock, however, Van Wagenen said that Ramos fills the team's need for a middle-of-the-order, right-handed bat, and that he hopes Yoenis Cespedes will return from heel surgery to be "another impact right-handed bat for us." Similarly, after signing Familia, Van Wagenen downplayed the notion that the Mets might pursue Andrew Miller or Zach Britton, the top left-handed relievers available on the free-agent market. But he did indicate the Mets could trade one of their incumbent catchers, d'Arnaud or Kevin Plawecki, which would clear a budget line from their payroll.

With roughly eight weeks remaining until the start of Spring Training, the Mets have around $150 million in commitments, similar to how they started last season. Yet that total includes the full salaries of Cespedes, who is likely to be sidelined until after the All-Star break, and David Wright, whose career is finished. The Mets are recouping much of their salaries through insurance, and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon has said he will reinvest some of that money into the payroll. How much remains to be seen.

It could be the determining factor in whether the Mets seriously pursue Pollock, or someone else. It could be the determining factor in whether the Mets really do rank among the NL East's best. Van Wagenen has said frequently that he wants to eliminate "ifs" on his roster. Time will tell how far he and Wilpon are willing to go in that pursuit.

"The beauty of that … is that we still have a lot of time to play and be creative, and still have some real money to spent to potentially add onto it," Van Wagenen said. "We're not done."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets

Hoskins offers to pitch Phillies to free agents

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Rhys Hoskins is the face of the Phillies, even with a few notable offseason acquisitions over the past few weeks.

Only somebody like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado could knock him from that perch.

PHILADELPHIA -- Rhys Hoskins is the face of the Phillies, even with a few notable offseason acquisitions over the past few weeks.

Only somebody like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado could knock him from that perch.

But Hoskins is happy to oblige as the Phillies pursue Harper, Machado and other free agents in the coming weeks and months. Hoskins said after Andrew McCutchen's introductory press conference on Tuesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park that he will help the Phillies make their pitch to players interested in Philadelphia.

McCutchen thrilled to be with Phillies

"I've talked to guys, yeah," Hoskins said. "But nothing too extensive. Just trying to offer a helping hand if I can, give a player's perspective of what this organization is, what the city is, too. I think a big thing is the families of some of these guys, right, just having a resource for them. If they want to speak to me they can, if they want to speak to my fiancée they can. So just kind of having that perspective available to guys I think is helpful. And I look forward to hopefully having more conversations with guys in the future."

Video: McCutchen talks hitting at Citizen's Bank Park

Hoskins' agent is Scott Boras. Harper's agent is Boras. Yes, Hoskins has spoken with Harper.

"Again, it's just more of me offering any look at to what this city is like, what the organization is like, what the clubhouse is like, what [manager Gabe Kapler] is like," Hoskins said. "It's not me offering information to him. If he wants it, and I've expressed this to him, that I am here for a chat if he wants it and it'd help."

Hoskins would not say if Harper or Machado would be a better fit in Philadelphia. Why would he? Either would be a massive upgrade for a team that hopes to win at least 10 more games last season after finishing 80-82.

"Both are really good at what they do," Hoskins said.

Tweet from @rhyshoskins: Just stoked I get to go to battle with @TheCUTCH22!!! Welcome to Philly!! pic.twitter.com/eRHri5joZ9

Hoskins has already been affected by this offseason's moves. When the Phillies traded Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford to the Mariners for shortstop Jean Segura and relief pitchers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos, it returned him to first base after playing last season in left field. McCutchen could take Hoskins' place in left.

More moves are expected. The Phillies could sign a left-handed reliever at some point. Zach Britton is a Boras client, too.

"If we are done making moves, I think we've made some pretty good moves," Hoskins said. "We're better as a baseball team. And that's very, very exciting for us players, I think."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Philadelphia Phillies, Rhys Hoskins

Rumors: Yankees, Harper, Realmuto, Pollock

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

Could Beltran help Yanks recruit Machado?
Dec. 18: With the Manny Machado recruitment tour scheduled for New York on Wednesday, are the Yankees preparing to pull out all the stops to entice the superstar infielder toward a future in pinstripes?

The latest news is that former Yankees player Carlos Beltran -- whose agent during his playing days was Dan Lozano, currenly Machado's rep -- is expected to join the team as a special advisor to general manager Brian Cashman, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reports, citing a source.

Tweet from @Feinsand: According to a source, Carlos Beltran is expected to join the Yankees as a special advisor to GM Brian Cashman. Beltran was repped by Dan Lozano of MVP Sports Group, who also reps Manny Machado. Will be interesting to see if Beltran is part of the Machado recruiting process.

Whether Beltran -- who was in the running last year to be Yankees manager before Aaron Boone was hired -- would be part of the recruiting process for the Yankees as they pitch Machado on coming to the Bronx remains to be seen. But hey, if nothing else, it's fun to speculate as the Machado buzz ratchets up this week.

Tweet from @Joelsherman1: For those who love a good conspiracy theory, #Yankees hired Beltran, who had the same agent (Dan Lozano) as Machado, day b4 they are to meet with Machado. Does that top #Whitesox acquiring his brother-in-law (Alonso) 2 days b4 their meeting? #Intrigue

Could Hoskins help bring Harper to Philly?
Dec. 18: Rhys Hoskins already is beloved in Philadelphia for being a young face of the Phillies franchise as the promising and productive slugger who burst onto the scene in 2017 then followed that up with a strong sophomore season this past year.

If fans in the City of Brotherly Love didn't have enough love for Hoskins already, well, they should be excited to hear he's doing his part to help bring talent to Philly -- perhaps including superstar free agent Bryce Harper, with whom Hoskins has spoken about the team, the city and more, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reports.

"Hoskins' agent is Scott Boras," Zolecki writes. "Harper's agent is Boras. Yes, Hoskins has spoken with Harper."

"Again, it's just more of me offering any look as to what this city is like, what the organization is like, what the clubhouse is like, what [manager Gabe Kapler] is like," Hoskins said. "It's not me offering information to him. If he wants it, and I've expressed this to him, that I am here for a chat if he wants it and it'd help."

Having a young star like Hoskins serve as something of a pitch person for the Phillies potentially could be quite helpful, whether he's possibly persuading superstars like Harper or Manny Machado -- who is due to visit Philly on Thursday -- or other players on the open market who could help improve the club.

The Phillies already have added shortstop Jean Segura via trade and signed veteran outfielder Andrew McCutchen. What's next for Hoskins and Co.

Houston remains in Realmuto mix
Dec. 18: As the Astros finalize their reported signing of free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley, they may not be done adding to their already fearsome lineup. MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reports that Houston is "back in the mix" for a potential trade with the Marlins for star catcher J.T. Realmuto, with discussions centering around Kyle Tucker -- the Astros' top prospect per MLB Pipeline.

Tweet from @JoeFrisaro: The #Astros are back in the mix for #Marlins J.T. Realmuto. Top prospect Kyle Tucker remains a target for a potential deal. The #Padres also have interest, along with #Dodgers #Rays and more. Hard to say if there is a frontrunner at this point. Multiple teams involved.

Miami has been steadfast about receiving the best prospect package possible before it parts ways with Realmuto, who is seen by many as the game's best all-around backstop. Realmuto and his agent have stated several times that he will not sign an extension with the Marlins, but Miami doesn't have to trade him this offseason since he's under team control through 2020.

Still, the catcher has generated huge interest on the Hot Stove, and Tucker probably represents one of the best marquee prospects that Miami could build a trade around. Tucker, the fifth overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, is regarded for his mix of contact and power from the left side and projects as a corner outfielder in the eyes of evaluators. The Tampa, Fla., native slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals across 100 Triple-A games in 2018, but hit only .141 in his first 28 games of Major League action with the Astros from July through September. 

The Astros' signing of catcher Robinson Chirinos earlier this offseason does not preclude them from going after Realmuto, but they are far from the only team in the mix for the All-Star backstop. The Padres boast perhaps the game's best farm system that could help them complete a deal, while the Dodgers' substantial depth makes them a significant player as well.

Why Mets may be out on Pollock
Dec. 18: The Mets have had a busy offseason so far under new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, shoring up their bullpen with Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia, adding veteran star second baseman Robinson Cano and, most recently, bringing in catcher Wilson Ramos. Although Van Wagenen likely will do more to address the roster, he did indicate that one big-name free agent may no longer be in play for the Mets.

Van Wagenen hinted that A.J. Pollock -- widely seen as the second-best outfielder on the open market after Bryce Harper, especially with Michael Brantley nearing a deal with the Astros -- "may not be realistic" as an option for the Mets anymore, according to MLB.com's Anthony DiComo.

Tweet from @AnthonyDiComo: Brodie Van Wagenen hinted that A.J. Pollock may not be realistic for the Mets anymore. He responded to a Pollock question by saying Wilson Ramos fills the team's need for a middle-of-the-order right-handed bat, and that the club is still hopeful Yoenis Cespedes can help as well.

One of the Mets' priorities this winter was adding a righty hitter capable of providing middle-of-the-lineup production, and the club has done that with the signing of Ramos, who has hit .298/.343/.483 with a 120 OPS+ the past three seasons. Plus, there's hope righty slugger Yoenis Cespedes -- who missed most of 2018 with chronic heel issues that required surgery -- could return as an impact bat at some point in '19.

What this means is that Pollock, who the Mets liked for his ability to play center field and provide pop from the right side, looks to have one fewer potential landing spot as he looks to secure a multi-year, big-money contract.

Is Grandal a fit for Cubs?
Dec. 18: The Cubs are working toward a two-year, $5 million agreement with infielder Daniel Descalso. Does that team-friendly deal give them room to pull in a bigger free agent behind the plate? Granted, the club already has Willson Contreras at catcher, but could Yasmani Grandal be a possibility?

In a word: Unlikely.

"The only way I'd envision the Cubs getting into the free-agent bidding for Grandal is if they moved Contreras in a trade, and that's not something I'd expect Chicago to do," MLB.com's Jordan Bastian writes in addressing Grandal. "Now, the front office has said they'd need to get "creative" to add a contract of any significance this offseason. Trading Contreras would definitely fit that description, especially if the Cubs could package him with a larger contract to free up payroll."

Contreras did take a step back last year in just about every facet after a breakout 2017, but he's still only 26 years old and remains under club control through the '22 season. The Cubs would have to be overwhelmed to unload him, especially considering they would be selling somewhat low. As Bastian breaks down the backstop's defensive performance, Contreras clearly has room for improvement.

"Last season, Contreras had a minus-17.8 Framing Runs (MLB low) per Baseball Prospectus, while Grandal ranked first at 15.7," Bastian points out. "Overall, Contreras was deemed to be minus-15.4 in Fielding Runs, while Grandal ranked second at 17.7. Contreras did rate well in Blocking Runs (fifth at 1.9) and Throwing Runs (eighth at 0.4), so it was really the representation side of things that cost him and the Cubs."

In short, it doesn't seem likely the Cubs would be a fit for Grandal, but Chicago would benefit from his defensive skill set, particularly his elite pitch representation (or framing) -- something the club no doubt will want Contreras to focus on heading into '19.

Movement continues in 2B market
Dec. 18: Second base is one of the more well-stocked positions in free agency this offseason, and it seems to be starting to roll at last.

Ian Kinsler and the Padres agreed to a two-year, $8 million deal (with a team option for 2021) last week. He's expected to provide some stability and depth in the infield, while San Diego allows youngsters Fernando Tatis and Jr. Luis Urias -- MLB Pipeline's Nos. 2 and 27 overall prospects, respectively -- to break into the bigs at a comfortable pace.

Tweet from @AJCassavell: Friars view Kinsler as a veteran option who can play multiple spots. If and when Tatis arrives this season, it seems like Urias at 2B, Tatis at SS and Kinsler at 3B is the likeliest option.

Meanwhile, the Cubs secured their own veteran at the position in Daniel Descalso -- a versatile infielder who saw most of his action at the keystone with the D-backs the past two years and is coming off a career campaign in 2018 -- on a similarly team-friendly two-year, $5 million deal (also with an option for '21).

Earlier this month, the Twins landed Jonathan Schoop on a one-year pact, hoping he can bounce back and handle second base in Minnesota next season.

A number of quality starting players at the position remain on the open market, including Jed Lowrie, DJ LeMahieu, Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier and Asdrubal Cabrera. Oh, and there's uber-versatile Marwin Gonzalez in the mix, too. With action happening here, it's possible some of the bigger names soon will look to lock in their own deals to avoid falling behind in a plentiful market where the supply appears to outweigh the demand.

Phils reportedly met with Boras about Bryce last week
Dec. 18: While Manny Machado is making headlines for his visits with the White Sox (Monday), Yankees (Wednesday) and Phillies (Thursday) -- plus a potential mystery team or two -- it's been curiously quiet on the Bryce Harper front.

The hope was that some headway would be made last week at the Winter Meetings, especially since they were held in Harper's hometown of Las Vegas. Alas, not much Harper news happened in the wake of the baseball world's mass exodus -- but contrary to the slogan, apparently not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reports Tuesday that Harper's agent, Scott Boras, indeed did meet with the Phillies at both the General Manager and the Winter Meetings, specifically to discuss the star slugger.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Phillies met with agent scott boras regarding bryce harper at gm and winter meetings, and manny machado will travel to meet with Phillies Thursday. they and chisox are the 2 teams known to be interested in both mega stars. though the chances of 1 team signing both seems remote.

The Phillies have been linked to Harper, as well as Machado, all offseason long, so this shouldn't be a surprise. The timing of this news, however, is intriguing with the club set to host Machado on Thursday. That means by the end of this week, the Phillies will have met with both Machado himself and Harper's agent, perhaps putting them in position to make a determination of which star free agent they prefer.

Giants, Pirates are interested in Tulo
Dec. 18: Released by the Blue Jays last week, Troy Tulowitzki is making a point to show big league executives he's healthy and ready to return to relevance as a contributor for some team's middle infield. To that end, the five-time All-Star shortstop, who has battled numerous injuries in recent seasons, is holding an open workout Tuesday.

Giants head honchos are in attendance, including new president of baseball ops Farhan Zaidi and manager Bruce Bochy, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

Tweet from @JeffPassan: Of all the teams at free agent SS Troy Tulowitzki's open workout today, the San Francisco Giants have the most impressive presence, league sources tell Yahoo Sports. Among the attendees for the Giants: New president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Bruce Bochy.

San Francisco might be a good fit for Tulowitzki, who hails from California and went to Long Beach State.

The Pirates also are keeping tabs on Tulo after longtime shortstop Jordy Mercer signed with the Tigers earlier this month. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was Tulowitzki's first Major League skipper while with the Rockies, and the two were in Colorado together for nine seasons.

Tulowitzki, 34, missed all of last season after having surgery to remove bone spurs in both feet. Ankle injuries limited him to 66 games in 2017, when which he hit .249/.300/.378 with seven homers. The prior season, his first full campaign with Toronto after being traded by Colorado, he hit .254/.318/.443 with 24 homers and registered 3.4 wins above replacement in 131 games.

Phillies: Harper or Machado not necessary for success
Dec. 17: The Phillies have long been connected with both of the premier free agents on this offseason's market, 26-year-old superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said Monday that while managing partner John Middleton said last month that the club might be "a little bit stupid" in how it spends money this winter, an acquisition of either isn't a prerequisite for success in 2019.

"You can have a very successful offseason and not include either one of those [players]," said MacPhail. "That may or may not be the case. But the way that it was portrayed put John in an awkward spot."

After competing for a National East division title for most of last season, only to fade fast down the stretch, Philadelphia has been rumored to be ready to make a big splash or two this offseason. It's even been suggested that the Phillies could land both Harper and Machado. Machado has ties to the Phillies through the front office, as MacPhail was the Orioles' general manager while Machado was in Baltimore. 

Former MLB general manager Jim Duquette, an analyst for MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM, said he thinks the Phillies are still by far the frontrunners to land Machado.

"I would be surprised if he ends up with the White Sox. I think the Phillies will be the team," Duquette said. "The owners continue to talk about how much they're going to spend money. And they love him in the front office. I think they're the most motivated, they need him at third base, all of those things combined. ... I feel stronger today than I did before the offseason even started, that he's going to be a Phillie."

Machado is scheduled to meet with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday, a day after he visits the Yankees in New York. He met with the White Sox in Chicago on Monday.

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: .@Jim_Duquette: More than ever, the #Phillies look like the frontrunner for Manny Machado. pic.twitter.com/r6pL7KiykK

Report: Astros 'closing in on' deal with Brantley
Dec. 17: The Astros may be on the verge of adding an impact bat to their lineup.

A source confirmed to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi that outfielder Michael Brantley, a 2018 All-Star with the Cleveland Indians, was nearing a two-year contract with Houston. The development was first reported by MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: #Astros closing in on free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley, sources tell The Athletic. Rival executives expect deal to be in two-year, $32M range.

Rosenthal reports that the deal is expected to be for two years and around $32 million.

While he's not in the same tier as fellow free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the 31-year-old Brantley is one of the more productive players on the open market. He's coming off a season in which he played 143 games -- his most since 2014 -- and slashed .304/.364/.468. Known for strong contact skills, Brantley would be an ideal fit as a left-handed bat in a righty heavy Astros lineup.

Tweet from @JeffPassan: Brantley's versatility and bat-to-ball ability greatly appealed to the Astros, who have a team full of those types. The plan is for him to rotate among left field, first base and DH. Top of the lineup is Springer, Brantley, Altuve, Bregman in almost any order, with Correa, too.

Tweet from @darenw: Michael Brantley swung at 1008 pitches last season and only missed 111 times. His 11% whiff rate was 3rd lowest in @mlb. Alex Bregman was 7th lowest. https://t.co/469CiJXhZ0

Will Houston swing a deal for Realmuto next?
Dec. 17: With free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley reportedly agreeing to a two-year, $32 million contract with the Astros on Monday, could Houston now turn its focus to landing the most coveted catcher on the trade market, J.T. Realmuto?

Jim Bowden, a former MLB general manager and current analyst for MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM, thinks the next logical move for the Astros could be to trade their No. 1 prospect -- and No. 5 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline -- Kyle Tucker to Miami for Realmuto. 

"Is that the next play?" Bowden asks. "And now you have Realmuto and Brantley in the lineup. And then you sign Nelson Cruz as DH? ... Kyle Tucker's not ready, or he'd be in left field. I wonder if they're going to ship him to Miami to get Realmuto, especially since the Mets signed Wilson Ramos. So they're not in on Realmuto, and the Astros are now the best fit for Miami. ... If I'm an Astros fan, my heart is pitter-pattering right now."

Houston signed catcher Robinson Chirinos earlier this month, but he's a part-time player. The Astros have also been rumored as serious suitors for Cruz, who has continued to be one of the game's best sluggers even at age 38. 

Tucker, 21, was Houston's first-round Draft selection in 2015, No. 5 overall out of Tampa's H.B. Plant High School. He was called up briefly last season and made his Major League debut, but hit just .141/.236/.203 over 28 games. At Triple-A Fresno, he hit .332/.400/.590 with 24 home runs and 20 steals in 100 games. 

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: .@astros have a reported deal with former #Indians outfielder Michael Brantley. What's next? @JimBowdenGM says go for @JTRealmuto #Astros pic.twitter.com/o8BtxnfbkE

Dodgers are in on Harper, but at what price?
Dec. 17: Despite having a deep, fully loaded outfield, the Dodgers have been lurking around the edges of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, according to multiple reports. But how serious are they about snagging the superstar slugger, really?

"The Dodgers are widely rumored to be in on Harper, but the reality, according to Major League sources, is that they do not want him on a long-term, record-setting contract," MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal writes (subscription required) in a story for The Athletic. "A short-term deal with a high average salary and opt-outs might hold more appeal, but such an agreement likely would create luxury-tax issues for the Dodgers in 2019, and the team already has too many outfielders."

Translation: The Dodgers would like to land Harper, but more on their terms than on his (and those of agent Scott Boras). And even still, there have been reports that the front office is trying to stay under the luxury-tax threshold for the foreseeable future, meaning going after Harper might require a trade to unload some higher-salaried players. That's likely part of why Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood, among others, have been mentioned as chips.

• Wood among three pitchers who are "buy-low" trade candidates

What, exactly, a "short-term deal with a high average salary and opt-outs" for Harper could look like is difficult to say, but one imagines Harper and Boras would only even consider such a proposition if the AAV were at least $35 million to $40 million -- allowing Harper to hold the record for largest per-season salary.

A contract that calls for opt-outs on Harper's end makes sense -- and might even be likely -- given that trend for big-money pacts over the past few years (think: Clayton Kershaw, Jason Heyward, David Price), as well as the fact that Harper would be young enough to re-enter the open market in his late 20s, thus giving him a second shot at securing a massive payday if he so chooses.

Machado tour swings through South Side
Dec. 17: The Machado sweepstakes could heat up this week as he tours the country to meet with potential suitors. Reports are that Machado will meet with the Yankees on Wednesday in New York and with the Phillies on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park, but first came a visit to the South Side of Chicago on Monday, when he met with the White Sox.

Want a peek at Machado arriving at Guaranteed Rate Field on Monday? NBC Sports Chicago has footage.

The White Sox were not as close to a World Series title as the Yankees and Phillies in 2018, but they have been viewed at various times this offseason as a club willing to extend a considerable financial offer toward either Machado or Bryce Harper. Those expectations were tempered slightly, however, when ESPN's Buster Olney reported Saturday (subscription required) that Chicago is unlikely to offer a contract that would surpass Giancarlo Stanton's record $325 million deal from 2014. Both Machado and Harper are expected to ask for more than that total, and so the White Sox might need to wait and see if their asking prices go down at all in the coming weeks or months.

Chicago traded for Machado's brother-in-law, first baseman Yonder Alonso, last week in a move that fueled speculation toward its pursuit of Machado, but White Sox general manager Rick Hahn downplayed the transaction as strictly a "baseball deal."

Alonso spoke with Chicago media via conference call from his Miami home. He was excited about the prospect of playing on the same club as his brother-in-law.

"We are definitely very close," Alonso said of Machado. "We live two blocks away from each other in Miami. It will be very, very nice to also be neighbors on the South Side.

"I know he's very excited for me, his whole family is very excited for me, and we feel like it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I definitely want him to be my neighbor, I'll tell you that. I want him to be by my side. But again, I know he is going to do his thing and make his own decision."

The White Sox lost 100 games in 2018, but their opportunity could be coming soon in the American League Central with the Indians' window for contention perhaps starting to close.

Video: Alonso talks about his desire to play with Machado

With Brantley off the board, what's next for Pollock?
Dec. 17: With the reported agreement on a two-year deal between the Astros and Michael Brantley, another outfielder is off the market. What does that mean for free-agent center fielder A.J. Pollock?

MLB.com's Mark Feinsand notes that Pollock has been pretty much flying under the radar so far this offseason, even though he presents a potential All-Star player with the ability to produce at the plate while excelling in the outfield. Of course, as Feinsand points out, Pollock has missed more than 300 games over the past five seasons, and also comes with Draft pick compensation attached because he rejected a qualifying offer from the D-backs.

Still, as the outfield market thins, with Andrew McCutchen joining the Phillies, that should, in theory, help Pollock. The Mets have been rumored as serious candidates to sign Pollock in a continuation of what has been a busy offseason. Other clubs that Feinsand suggests would be fits include the Phillies -- even with McCutchen in the fold -- Braves, Dodgers, Reds and Indians. Cleveland, in particular, is in need of outfielders after losing Brantley and potentially Lonnie Chisenhall to free agency.

Why a Realmuto trade could happen soon (maybe)
Dec. 17: At this point, not an offseason day goes by without at least some mention of a J.T. Realmuto trade rumor. So here goes.

After the Marlins reportedly spent the Winter Meetings last week narrowing down the list of likely suitors and in the wake of the Mets -- one of said suitors, and arguably the most aggressive at the time -- instead signing Wilson Ramos to be their backstop, will the All-Star Marlins catcher be moved any time soon?

"This will be a telling week, because the Marlins are engaged in talks with six to eight teams, including the Dodgers and Rays," MLB.com's Joe Frisaro writes. "The Mets are no longer in the mix after reaching an agreement with catcher Wilson Ramos. The Reds, Padres, Braves, Brewers and perhaps the Yankees and Angels could also be in the picture."

Of those clubs, Atlanta may no longer be in play, at least not as heavily as the club appeared to be a week ago, according to MLB.com's Mark Bowman.

Frisaro also suggests that although the Marlins have continued to indicate they are prepared to retain Realmuto -- who is under club control through the 2020 season -- that seems "unlikely." That certainly stands to reason, given all of the buzz and hype surrounding not only the player but also the interested parties.

Will Astros still target Cruz?
Dec. 17: With reports that Houston is nearing a two-year deal with Michael Brantley, what does that mean for its possible pursuit of Nelson Cruz?

The prevailing thought with regard to Cruz is that his market is limited by two very key factors. One, he's pretty much a full-time designated hitter at this stage of his career, so it's almost a certainty that only American League teams would be in play. And two, he's 38, so it's more likely that contending clubs would be interested, since he could fit their window to win now.

The first reason above is why just about every Cruz-related rumor so far has linked him to teams like the Rangers, White Sox, Twins, Rays and Astros. The second reason above is why the Rays and Astros -- two teams certainly ready to contend right away in 2019 -- might make the most sense of all.

If the Brantley deal is completed, he is likely to see time in left field, first base and DH for the Astros, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. That doesn't necessarily block Houston from going after Cruz. And indeed, USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale reports the Astros are still pursuing Cruz even after the Brantley agreement.

Tyler White still looks like the Astros' leading candidate to DH. While he had an impressive late-2018 showing (.879 OPS across August and September), Cruz's power -- he has averaged over 40 homers with a 145 OPS+ the past five seasons -- would provide an upgrade to a lineup that was still good last year but took a step back after a historic '17.

Beyond that, Brantley and Cruz offer completely different offensive skill sets, with the former being a contact-oriented gap-to-gap hitter and the latter being a pure slugger. MLB.com's David Adler covered just this topic, writing: "As great as the Astros have been, two of the things their offense could use most are a prototypical masher and a reliably productive designated hitter. Or, to put it another way, one of the things the Astros' offense could most use is Cruz.

"In both 2017 and '18, the DH spot was not Houston's strength. Carlos Beltran was the team's primary DH in '17, and he posted a 77 Weighted Runs Created Plus in that role -- 100 is MLB-average production, so Beltran was 23 percent below average as a DH. This past season, Evan Gattis had the most at-bats at DH, and he had a 99 wRC+. For '19, the Astros' best current option looks like Tyler White, who was excellent in limited DH games in August and September. But White is no Cruz.

"Cruz's wRC+ in 144 games as a DH in 2018 was 134. In 155 games at DH in '17, it was 147. Combined over the two seasons, Cruz posted a 141 wRC+ at the DH position."

Tweet from @BNightengale: The #Astros still have interest in signing Nelson Cruz, too

Could Pollock fit in L.A.?
Dec. 17: When it comes to the free-agent outfield market, the Dodgers look to be in an intriguing position. On one hand, they have plenty of outfield depth on their current roster, including Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Matt Kemp, plus versatile options like Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger and Enrique Hernandez, as well as prospect Alex Verdugo. On the other hand, they could be in the mix for either Bryce Harper or A.J. Pollock, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. Let's explain.

To bring aboard either Harper or Pollock, the club clearly would have to clear a spot -- as well as some salary -- which is why there has been speculation that Puig, Pederson, Kemp and/or Verdugo might be traded. The Dodgers have been linked to the Indians (for Corey Kluber and/or Trevor Bauer) and the Marlins (for J.T. Realmuto), and presumably, if they were to complete a deal, one or more of their current outfielders would be involved.

While the Harper rumors are gaining some steam, however, it's worth wondering whether Pollock might be a better fit, given both his much lower price tag and the club's roster construction.

"For the moment, the team is committed to Cody Bellinger in center, but A.J. Pollock's ability to play that position might actually make him a better free-agent fit than Harper, provided the Dodgers indeed trade other outfielders," Rosenthal writes (subscription required) in a story for The Athletic. "Pollock has not played more than 113 games in a season since 2015, but the Dodgers -- due to their depth and versatility -- could withstand his absences more easily than most clubs. He would be the position-player version of left-hander Rich Hill, valued for bursts of excellence in limited action. And he would be considerably less expensive than Harper, likely commanding a contract in the three- or four-year range at around $15 million per season."

Landing Pollock would make Bellinger the Dodgers' primary first baseman again, potentially putting 2018 breakout slugger Max Muncy at second base -- an area of need for L.A. -- although neither player likely would play those positions exclusively.

Is it time for the Mets to address their depth?
Dec. 17: The Mets have been among the most active teams in the Majors this offseason, and have made multiple big splashes, trading with the Mariners for second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz, bringing back reliever Jeurys Familia, and on Sunday, agreeing to a two-year deal with veteran catcher Wilson Ramos. But according to MLB Network insider Joel Sherman in an article for the New York Post, it's time for New York to turn its attention to depth.

"The Mets are not getting better in a vacuum," Sherman writes. "The Braves, Nationals and Phillies finished ahead of the Mets in 2018 and also are pushing to improve for 2019. ... Deepening the roster now with one-year alternatives gives the Mets a better overall team to go for it now while not being tied to more long-term burdens if the breaks familiarly go against them and they have to sell out of this in July and think beyond 2019."

Three specific areas that Sherman argues the Mets need to bolster are the starting rotation, the outfield and catching depth. He writes that while the Mets were one of only nine teams to have five starters make at least 20 starts each last season, they can't bet on that happening again, and should target a veteran like Francisco Liriano on a short-term contract.

In the outfield, Sherman suggests that while A.J. Pollock has been linked to the club in rumors recently, he's injury-prone and hasn't hit as well away from Chase Field over the past two seasons. The club did, however, bring in veteran speedster Rajai Davis on a Minor League deal as a depth option Monday. And while the Mets landed one of the best catchers on the market in Ramos, he has been prone to injury himself.

Could Kimbrel wind up back with Boston after all? 
Dec. 17: Is there a chance Craig Kimbrel could return to the Red Sox? After signing righty Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year, $68 million contract, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said he doesn't expect to make a "big expenditure" to fill the closer's role, according to MLB.com's Ian Browne. So that would seem to rule out Kimbrel, who served as Boston's stopper the past three seasons, culminating in the 2018 World Series title ... right?

Nevertheless, ESPN's Buster Olney lays out the reasons (subscription required) why Kimbrel could find his way back to Boston, including a strong buyer's market for teams seeking relievers, the Red Sox's need for bullpen help and an apparent lack of widespread interest in Kimbrel -- partly because of his lofty asking price (a reported six-year, nine-figure deal), and partly because a number of contending clubs already have an established closer in place.

In fact, Olney draws a comparison to last offseason, when the Red Sox seemed like the best fit for slugger J.D. Martinez all along, then simply waited out the market and wound up getting him at a price that fit their terms.

"There is also this: Kimbrel knows Boston," Olney writes. "He knows the Red Sox staff. Dombrowski traded for him, manager Alex Cora trusted him implicitly, all the way the through the October shakiness. Kimbrel has history with the Red Sox that may continue, especially if the demand for his services doesn't turn out to be as widespread as his agent might have hoped."

Grandal would be a huge upgrade for Halos
Dec. 17: With Jose Briceno and Kevan Smith as the only two catchers on their 40-man roster at the moment, the Angels have a glaring need behind the plate. Between that and the club being in win-now mode with superstar Mike Trout smack in the middle of his prime and only under contract through 2020, it's not too much of a leap to see why the Halos would be interested in Yasmani Grandal, as sources confirmed to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: #Angels showing interest in free agent Yasmani Grandal, sources confirm @maria_torres3 report. @MLBNetwork @MLB

Now that Wilson Ramos has a two-year agreemen with the Mets, Grandal unquestionably is the top free agent backstop in the business -- in fact, he was considered that even before Ramos' deal. The 30-year-old Grandal, who has averaged more than 24 homers and posted a 113 OPS+ since the start of 2016, not only would bring stability to both sides of the ball for the Angels, he would massively enhance their expected production.

A few clubs remain in the market for an upgrade at catcher, including the Dodgers, Astros, Braves and A's, but few teams with hopes of contending in 2019 are in as dire shape at the position as the Halos are.

Keuchel, Reds could be a perfect fit
Dec. 17: The Reds have made their search for starting pitchers well known. They acquired veteran innings-eater Tanner Roark from the Nationals last week to address their rotation, but they're likely looking to do more to improve what has long been a weakness. What better way to do that than go after the top remaining starter on the open market: Dallas Keuchel.

The Reds already have been linked to the southpaw, and it's a match that does make a lot of sense for a number of reasons, including Keuchel's resume (2015 AL Cy Young Award winner), durability (190 2/3 IP per season since '14) and homer-suppressing, ground-ball-inducing repertoire. As far as that last element goes, MLB.com's Manny Randhawa explains why Keuchel would be a great fit for the Reds and their homer-friendly home park.

"Keuchel had the highest ground-ball rate of all qualified starting pitchers last season, at 53.7 percent, and his 58.0 percent ground-ball rate over the past three seasons is fourth among qualified starters over that span," Randhawa writes. "His career high was 66.8 percent in '17. As for quality of contact, Keuchel's barrel rate of 4.5 percent was eighth-best among pitchers that yielded at least 400 batted balls (91 pitchers) last season.

"A byproduct of Keuchel's penchant for ground balls and weak contact is the low rate at which he's surrendered home runs in what has been a prodigious era for sluggers. In '18, his home runs per nine innings rate was 0.79, ninth-best among qualified starters. And in the season prior it was 0.93. Out of all balls hit in the air off Keuchel last season, just 18.5 percent were hard-hit according to Statcast™, 10th-lowest among pitchers that induced at least 400 batted balls (91 pitchers) in '18."

Another factor to consider? The current Reds rotation is expected to feature Roark, Luis Castillo, Anthony DeSclafani and Tyler Mahle, so a lefty like Keuchel would provide a different look and some variety.

Nationals have been 'active' in 2B market
Dec. 17: As they continue to search for their next second baseman, the Nationals may not pursue the top end of the market, according to the Washington Post. Though the club has spoken with DJ LeMahieu's representatives, Washington may seek less expensive options to fill the role, such as Brian Dozier, Josh Harrison or Jed Lowrie.

Which player(s) the team is targeting at the position might be fluid, but it's pretty clear the Nats "have been active" in the second-base market, MLB.com's Jamal Collier writes.

LeMahieu won a batting title with the Rockies in 2016, and in eight Major League seasons, has a .298/.350/.406 slash line (92 OPS+). He's an excellent defender at second, having won three Gold Glove Awards. While he could command a fairly large contract at age 30, Dozier, Harrison and Lowrie could all be strong temporary solutions. 

Dozier, 31, struggled last season after posting a 130 OPS+ with 76 homers over the two prior years. In '18, he hit .215/.305/.391 with 21 home runs in 151 games between the Twins and Dodgers. Harrison, 31, is a two-time All-Star but since a breakout season in '14, his OPS+ is 92. He brings defensive versatility, though, which could be a plus. Lowrie is the oldest of the group, at 34. But his last two seasons have been the best of his career; from '17-18, he hit .272/.356/.448.

Do the Yankees 'have to get a deal done' with Machado?
Dec. 16: The Yankees will be without shortstop Didi Gregorius for the first half of the 2019 season. As New York has worked to upgrade its starting rotation this offseason, Jim Memolo of MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM asks whether the Bronx Bombers need to be more urgent about signing Manny Machado.

"If you're the Yankees, and you don't sign Machado, and even if you sign someone like [Troy Tulowitzki] as a stopgap, you are not as good a lineup as you were last year," Memolo argues. "Troy Tulowitzki and some of the other names mentioned are not as good offensively or defensively as Didi Gregorius. So you tell me about that 'fully operational Death Star,' and I tell you that your lineup today, December 16, is not as good as it was last year."

Machado is expected to land a long-term contract in the neighborhood of $300 million this offseason. Along with Bryce Harper, the 26-year-old Machado is the most coveted free agent on the market. A four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner, he hit .297/.367/.538 with 37 home runs and 14 steals between the Orioles and Dodgers last season.

As the Yankees work to put together a roster that can match the defending World Series champion Red Sox in the American League East, New York will be looking for any edge possible heading into the '19 season.

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: .@jimmemolo thinks the #Yankees have to get a deal done with Manny Machado.#DeathStar pic.twitter.com/UYiyqPkYLa

Thor takes to Instagram amid trade rumors
Dec. 16: Noah Syndergaard has been the subject of trade rumors recently, particularly with his name reportedly coming up in discussions between the Mets and several other clubs, including the Yankees and Marlins. But the hard-throwing right-hander has taken to social media to convey his thoughts on the matter.

On Sunday, Syndergaard posted the following message on his Instagram account: "My Team, Our Colors, New York's Future."

 Instagram from @nsyndergaard: My Team, Our Colors, New York's Future

Syndergaard, 26, has been among the game's elite starting pitchers since making his Major League debut in 2015. In 25 starts last season, he posted a 3.03 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP. With the Mets reportedly agreeing to a two-year deal with free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos on Sunday, along with the return New York would be seeking in a potential Syndergaard trade, it looks more and more like he will remain in Queens.

Under new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, the Mets have had a busy offseason so far, acquiring second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz from the Mariners, and bringing back reliever Jeurys Familia on a three-year deal during the Winter Meetings. 

Machado to meet with Yanks on Wednesday, Phils on Thursday
Dec. 16: Manny Machado will formally meet with the Yankees on Wednesday in New York, according to George A. King III of the New York Post. And he'll meet with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday, reports NBC Sports' Jim Salisbury

Tweet from @GeorgeAKingIII: Manny Machado and Yankees have meeting scheduled for Wednesday in New York

Regardless of ownership's apprehensions of Machado's work ethic and perceived character concerns, all signs have pointed to the Yankees at least exploring the possibility of adding the star shortstop this offseason. They were reportedly interested in him last winter, tried to acquire him ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline in July and now have a need at the position with Didi Gregorius slated to miss a chunk of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
  
Last month, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner called Machado's now-infamous "Johnny Hustle" comments "troubling" and said he was hoping to conduct a sit-down meeting with Machado to glean clarification on his remarks. Andy Martino of SNY.tv reported after the postseason that the club was "lukewarm" on Machado given his postseason antics, though that approach appears to have altered.

The Phillies have also been long rumored to be interested in signing not only Machado, but perhaps also the other marquee free agent this offseason, Bryce Harper. With young talent on the roster and enough payroll room to spend big this winter, Philadelphia is looking to shake up what is shaping up to be a very competitive NL East in 2019.
 
The Machado market, like most players' this offseason, has been slow to develop. Machado has been rumored to be in the market for one of the richest contracts in baseball history, potentially in the neighborhood of $300 million. The Yankees and Phillies are among only a small handful of clubs with the financial bandwidth to offer such a deal. Gregorius will be back at some time in 2019, but he will become a free agent at season's end, which could create a long-term spot for Machado. 

Video: Would the Yankees prefer Harper or Machado?

While teams continue to woo Machado, it's also worth considering this process from his point of view, too. Does Machado have a preference for where he winds up?

"Manny Machado's first choice is the New York Yankees," CBS Sports Network analyst and former big league general manager Jim Bowden said Wednesday evening. "So if the Yankees come to the table ... and are willing to compete financially for his services, they will be the team that gets Manny Machado."

Tweet from @CBSSportsNet: ���Manny Machado���s first choice is the New York Yankees.���If the Yankees are willing to meet Machado���s price tag, @JimBowdenGM tells @AdamSchein he will be wearing pinstripes. #T2S pic.twitter.com/rLwUfByWj5

The Yankees certainly have the resources to go after Machado, who is expected to score a contract that could rival that of Harper's this offseason. The question, then, might be how badly Cashman and the rest of the club's front office and ownership want Machado.

After recent trades, Indians now less likely to move Kluber, Bauer
Dec. 15: The Indians have been expected to trade either Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer at some point this offseason, but the club's recent moves make that less likely.

According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Cleveland won't be as motivated by financial concerns after trading Yan Gomes, Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso. The Tribe trimmed roughly $18 million from its 2019 payroll through those deals.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: After trading Edwin, Yonder and Gomes, word is Indians won���t be as ���motivated��� by financial concerns now. Translation: Kluber and Bauer more likely to stay.

Looking to cut costs, Cleveland entered this offseason with a willingness to listen to offers for many of its top players, including Kluber, Bauer and Carlos Carrasco.

After the Indians signed Carrasco to a three-year contract extension, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported that the club was "increasingly motivated" to move either Kluber or Bauer, and trade talks for Kluber picked up steam during the Winter Meetings, per a report from MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.

If the Indians don't move Kluber or Bauer in the coming weeks, they have the option of revisiting trade discussions down the road. Kluber has club options for $17.5 million in 2019 and $18 million for 2020, while Bauer is two years away from free agency.

Would Harper take less money to play for Yankees?
Dec. 15: Bryce Harper grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle, and in fact has said he wears No. 34 because the digits add up to Mantle's No. 7. Now that he's one of the top two free agents on the market, expected to command a long-term deal in the neighborhood of $300 million to $400 million, would he take less over a shorter period of time to join the Yankees?

MLB Network Radio's Jeff Joyce and Jim Memolo discussed the notion Saturday, with Joyce suggesting Harper could sign a short deal and then "prove himself" in New York before inking a longer-term deal to stay in the Bronx. 

Though he's coming off a down year at the plate by his lofty standards, Harper still drew an MLB-high 130 walks and launched 34 home runs. He's a six-time All-Star, the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year and '15 Most Valuable Player. And he's only 26 years old.

"How bad does he really want to be a Yankee?" Joyce asked. "Does that overweigh getting the biggest contract of all-time? Does he go to his agent and say, 'Just get me there. Just get me to the Yankees. Doesn't have to be $300 million. I'll take a shorter deal ... If he really wants to be a Yankee that bad, can't you see them trying to find a way to get that done?"

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: Will Bryce Harper join the Imperial March? @JeffJoyce19 and @jimmemolo lay out the path. #Yankees pic.twitter.com/oFJvAZZ927

Alonso is headed to the White Sox. Is Machado next?
Dec. 15: The White Sox have officially acquired first baseman Yonder Alonso from the Indians in exchange for Minor League outfielder Alex Call.

Alonso, 31, hit .250/.317/.421 with 23 home runs in 145 games for the Tribe last season, on the heels of an All-Star campaign split between the A's and Mariners, in which he slugged .501 with 28 homers in 142 games. He has an $8 million salary for 2019, and a $9 million club option for '20, with a $1 million buyout.

Alonso is also the brother-in-law of free-agent superstar Manny Machado, who is reportedly scheduled to meet with the White Sox in a matter of days. Chicago has been rumored to be interested in adding Machado to a club that will soon see top talent from the farm system coming into the big leagues. Adding his brother-in-law to the roster may enhance the organization's chances at landing one of the premier talents in the game. More >

White Sox not planning to trade Abreu
Dec. 15: The White Sox just acquired a new first baseman, but that doesn't mean they are looking to move their old one.

While the club officially acquired Yonder Alonso from the Indians on Saturday, USA Today's Bob Nightengale reports that the club has "no intention" of dealing Jose Abreu.

Tweet from @BNightengale: Jose Abreu is staying in Chicago. The #Whitesox have no intention trading him

Abreu, 31, can become a free agent a year from now, and the White Sox are likely at least a year away from contending, even if they make a big splash in free agency. Trading Abreu makes sense on paper, but the team seems to value his clubhouse presence perhaps as much as his on-field contributions.

Abreu and Alonso will likely rotate between first base and designated hitter, leaving Daniel Palka with an uncertain role. The 27-year-old flashed strong power as a rookie (27 homers in 449 plate appearances), but he struck out 34.1 percent of the time and logged -11 Defensive Runs Saved. The White Sox may look to limit Palka's playing time in the outfield, whether they acquire Bryce Harper or not. Harper is one of Chicago's top targets, along with Manny Machado.

Keuchel may sign late in offseason
Dec. 15: Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi are off the market, and Charlie Morton and J.A. Happ have reportedly agreed to deals as well, which means Dallas Keuchel is clearly the biggest name remaining among free-agent starters. But the left-hander may not be finding his next team anytime soon.

According to Dennis Lin of The Athletic, Keuchel isn't expected to sign until late in the offseason. Lin reports that the Padres are interested in the southpaw, but his asking price is prohibitive for San Diego. The same likely goes for many other teams.

Tweet from @dennistlin: The Padres have interest in Dallas Keuchel, according to sources, though the asking price is currently prohibitive (likely so for most teams). Keuchel, a Scott Boras client and the top free-agent starter left, isn���t expected to sign until late in the offseason.

Keuchel could be this offseason's version of Jake Arrieta, who entered free agency after the 2017 campaign and didn't sign until March 2018, when he landed with the Phillies on a three-year deal for $75 million -- well below what he was reportedly seeking initially.

The similarities between the two pitchers are striking. Both are Scott Boras clients who won Cy Young Awards in 2015 but showed some signs of decline before hitting the free-agent market. Arrieta rejected a qualifying offer from the Cubs, so Philadelphia had to forfeit a Draft pick to sign him. Teams will need to do the same to add Keuchel, who rejected a qualifying offer from the Astros in November.

Video: MLB Tonight on the Padres' interest in Keuchel

Mets have talked Castellanos with the Tigers
Dec. 15: While it was reported Friday that the Mets are still serious about acquiring free-agent center fielder A.J. Pollock, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports New York has had discussions with the Tigers about right fielder Nicholas Castellanos.

Castellanos, 26, is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility and MLB Trade Rumors projects he will make $11.3 million in 2019. He had his best offensive season in '18, slashing .298/.354/.500 with 23 homers in 157 games for Detroit. He is not a particularly good defensive outfielder, but he can also play third base.

Tweet from @anthonyfenech: The Tigers have talked with the Mets about Castellanos, I���m told. The asking price is high, among other words and phrases, according to multiple teams who have spoken with them.

White Sox reportedly have spending limits for Harper, Machado
Dec. 15: The White Sox like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado and are hoping to make one of them the centerpiece of their roster as they emerge from a rebuilding period, but it remains to be seen if the club will actually be among the top bidders for the two superstars. A source tells ESPN's Buster Olney that Chicago is unwilling to make a record-setting offer to either player.

Read the latest Harper rumors here and the latest on Machado here.

Braves out on Realmuto?
Dec. 15: The Braves haven't been in contact with the Marlins about potentially acquiring catcher J.T. Realmuto in the past five days, and Atlanta doesn't plan on picking those discussions back up, a source told MLB.com's Mark Bowman.

Realmuto was the Majors' best-hitting catcher in 2018, slashing .277/.340/.484 with 21 home runs in 125 games for Miami. Several teams, including the Reds, Mets, Rays, Dodgers and Padres have been rumored to be interested in acquiring the 27-year-old All-Star this offseason.

The Braves pursued Realmuto last offseason, before this year's Trade Deadline and at the beginning of this offseason. But when Miami wanted Ozzie Albies and made it clear at least one high-value MLB-experienced asset would also be needed in return, Atlanta signed veteran Brian McCann to a one-year, $2 million deal.

Read the latest Realmuto rumors here.

Tweet from @mlbbowman: Source: The Braves have not had any discussions regarding J.T. Realmuto within the past five days and they do not plan to have any further talks with the Marlins regarding the All-Star catcher.

Would Phillies splurge on Kimbrel?
Dec. 15: The Phillies have money to spend. We know this. Heck, their owner himself even said they might be a little "stupid" about it. That has led to most people in and around the baseball world expecting said money to go toward a pursuit of Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado. But could those funds make the Phillies a match for someone else instead?

Like, say, Craig Kimbrel?

In an all-encompassing look at where the market stands after the Winter Meetings, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand lists the Phillies as his "potential fit" for Kimbrel.

"The star closer is reportedly seeking a six-year deal worth more than $100 million, which would blow away the previous record of five years and $86 million signed by Aroldis Chapman two years ago," Feinsand writes. "Several executives cast doubt that Kimbrel will be able to score that type of contract, though he could get five years and upwards of $75 million. The Red Sox have been viewed as having moved on from their closer, but they remain a potential landing spot along with the Braves, Phillies and Cardinals."

Given Kimbrel's unprecendented asking price and the Phillies' financial resources -- not to mention, their need for a proven veteran presence to solidify the back end of a promising but very young bullpen -- maybe the two sides make sense as a match. Plus, with all the money the Phillies could spend this winter, it's not as if approaching nine figures for one of the sport's best closers would preclude them from still signing Harper or Machado.

Cubs agree to two-year deal with Descalso

Infielder's contract includes club option for 2021
MLB.com @MLBastian

The Cubs' search for depth up the middle has led them to veteran utility man Daniel Descalso.

On Tuesday, the Cubs announced that they signed Descalso to a two-year contract that includes a team option for the 2021 season. Descalso checks off a number of boxes for Chicago -- including offering additional depth at second base while the team navigates through an April without shortstop Addison Russell.

The Cubs' search for depth up the middle has led them to veteran utility man Daniel Descalso.

On Tuesday, the Cubs announced that they signed Descalso to a two-year contract that includes a team option for the 2021 season. Descalso checks off a number of boxes for Chicago -- including offering additional depth at second base while the team navigates through an April without shortstop Addison Russell.

Descalso will earn $1.5 million in 2019, followed by a $2.5 million salary in '20. The third-year option is valued at $3.5 million, but the Cubs also have a $1 million buyout, making the contract worth $5 million guaranteed.

Russell will be ineligible for activation from the restricted list until May 3 due to finishing a 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. While Russell is out of the picture, the Cubs plan on having Javier Baez handle shortstop duties, leaving a vacancy at second base for the first month of next season.

Descalso adds to an internal group of alternatives that includes Ben Zobrist, David Bote and Ian Happ. The left-handed-hitting veteran has spent parts of nine years in the Majors with the Cardinals, Rockies and D-backs. Last year, Descalso split his time in Arizona between second base (52 games), third base (37), first (11) and the outfield (five).

Video: Bastian discusses Descalso signing with the Cubs

Over his career, Descalso has appeared in 179 games at shortstop, but he has only logged one game at the position in the past two years.

Descalso has hit .240 with a .694 OPS in his career with relatively even splits against righties (.694 OPS) and lefties (.696 OPS), but he fared better against left-handers (.889 OPS and 134 wRC+ in 74 plate appearances) than right-handers (.767 OPS and 107 wRC+ in 349 PAs) last season. Overall in 2018, Descalso hit .238 with a career-high 13 homers to go along with 57 RBIs, a .789 OPS and a 111 wRC+ in 138 games.

The big change last year with Descalso was his improvement in getting pitches into the air. The 32-year-old produced a 46.3 percent flyball rate, which was up from 36.9 percent for his career. Along the same lines, his homer-to-fly ball ratio was 11.4 percent, compared to 6.9 for his career. Descalso also saw a rise in walk rate (15.1 percent in '18 vs. 10.4 in his career) and hard-hit rate (43.1 percent in 2018 vs. 29.7 percent in his career) last season.

After the Cubs traded Tommy La Stella to the Angels last month, the club was in the market for a lefty-hitting complement to the current crop of infielders. Descalso fits that mold, as well as giving Chicago a hitter with a more advanced style of offense. Descalso's improved air-ball approach could aid a lineup that had the highest ground-ball rate (47.8 percent) over the final two months last season.

Per Statcast™, Descalso also saw his launch angle jump to 19.1 degrees in 2018 -- up from 12.8 degrees in '17. That contributed to an increased average exit velocity (89 mph in '18 vs. 87 mph in '17) and a dramatic spike in Barrel rate (10.2 percent in '18 vs. 5.1 percent in '17).

Beyond infield depth, the Cubs have made it known that they are also hoping to inject some more veteran leadership into the clubhouse for 2019. It is worth noting then that Descalso has won a World Series (in 2011 with the Cardinals) and has 48 career postseason games in the big leagues under his belt.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs, Daniel Descalso

Astros back in conversation for Realmuto

MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

MIAMI -- While one potential landing spot came off the board for J.T. Realmuto, at least one serious postseason contender has resurfaced.

According to a source, the Astros once again have had discussions with the Marlins for Realmuto. The Padres also remain in the mix, as do the Dodgers, Rays and others. The Mets are no longer in the conversation, however, as they signed free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos to a two-year deal on Tuesday.

MIAMI -- While one potential landing spot came off the board for J.T. Realmuto, at least one serious postseason contender has resurfaced.

According to a source, the Astros once again have had discussions with the Marlins for Realmuto. The Padres also remain in the mix, as do the Dodgers, Rays and others. The Mets are no longer in the conversation, however, as they signed free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos to a two-year deal on Tuesday.

At this point, it's unclear if there is a front-runner to go through with a trade because there are so many teams still involved. Each has agreed to some pieces that would be included, but nothing has advanced to finalizing stages.

Early this offseason, the Astros were one of the more frequently mentioned teams in the mix for Realmuto. They added veteran catcher Robinson Chirinos on Dec. 6, and in recent weeks, they had fallen off the Realmuto radar.

Video: What impact will Ramos deal have on Realmuto?

Houston's top prospect, outfielder Kyle Tucker, remains a target for Miami. Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 5 overall prospect, Tucker is a Tampa, Fla., native and a left-handed-hitting outfielder. Last year at Triple-A Fresno, the 21-year-old belted 24 home runs and notched 93 RBIs. He also appeared in 28 big league games for Houston in 2018.

Tucker may be expendable, however, since the Astros are in the process of finalizing a two-year contract with Indians All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley.

The Marlins are pushing to get resolution on Realmuto, and ideally, they would like something to get done before Christmas. But that isn't a firm deadline. Miami also is willing to stand pat and not force a trade if its asking price is not matched.

Realmuto is entering his second season of arbitration, and he isn't a free agent until 2021. Entering his prime, he has made a case for being the top catcher in the sport. The 27-year-old hit .277 with 21 home runs and 74 RBIs this season, and he became an All-Star for the first time.

The Marlins are looking for left-handed power to add to their lineup. Tucker, playing right field, would help fill a need, and that could allow Brian Anderson to move back to third base.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Miami Marlins, J.T. Realmuto

Cutch's son steals the show in Philly

After connecting with the Phillies on a three-year, $50 million deal, Andrew McCutchen had his introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon in the City of Brotherly Love. While the veteran outfielder and Instagram star is sure to become a fan favorite in Philly, Cutch's young son Steel stole the show during the presser.

Stats say: These 10 prospects should take off in '19

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

One great feature on MLB Pipeline is the prospect stats tool. In addition to offering helpful data on specific performances through all the basic, commonly-used stats, it's become an especially valuable resource for doing deeper dives into players' strengths and weaknesses.

Specifically, the 'Advanced search' tool allows for a highly detailed and customizable look inside specific players' performances and how they compare to others throughout both the Minors and big leagues.

One great feature on MLB Pipeline is the prospect stats tool. In addition to offering helpful data on specific performances through all the basic, commonly-used stats, it's become an especially valuable resource for doing deeper dives into players' strengths and weaknesses.

Specifically, the 'Advanced search' tool allows for a highly detailed and customizable look inside specific players' performances and how they compare to others throughout both the Minors and big leagues.

So, with the offseason now in full swing, we thought that we'd begin a new series using the aforementioned stats tool to take a deeper dive into certain players' 2018 seasons as a means of forecasting future success.

The goal in this first installment is to identify hitters who have the potential to make developmental strides in 2019. That could mean a full-blown breakout campaign for some players, while for others it could simply mean a return to form after a down year.

In the Minor Leagues, distinguishing types of contact is not a perfect science -- for example, some official scorers might label a line drive as a fly ball and vice versa. So, for the sake of consistency, we'll mostly be looking at line-drive and fly-ball rates, or a combination of the two, for this article. Pop-ups are not factored into the fly-ball rates, and please keep in mind that these numbers represent raw data and have not been properly adjusted for league and/or park factors.

Luis Carpio, 2B/SS, Mets' No. 17
Carpio's .219 average was the fifth worst among qualified hitters in the Class A Advanced Florida State League last season. He did, however, hit a career-high 12 homers and 21 doubles in the pitcher-friendly league, and there are quite a few signs that the 21-year-old is in store for more success moving forward. Specifically, Carpio had a surprisingly low .242 batting average on balls in play last season even though 52.2 percent of his contact was either a fly ball or line drive. He also struck out a reasonable 18.4 percent clip, had an equally reasonable 9.4 percent swinging-strike rate and walked 9.3 percent of the time.

Yu Chang, SS/3B, Indians' No. 6
Chang had a solid first Triple-A campaign by all standards, slashing over .256/.330/.441 over 127 games in the International League at age 22. And while he's never really hit for a high average as a .251 hitter in more than 500 Minor League games, Chang has long shown that he can drive the baseball to all fields using a combination of plus bat speed, top-hand-led barrel control and a swing that features good extension through contact. Last season, 57.6 percent of Chang's contact was a line drive or fly ball, a mark that ranked tied for second among all Top 30 prospects (with at least 300 BIP) and furthered a trend that's followed him during his rise through the Minors.

Video: Top Prospects: Yu-Cheng Chang, SS, Indians

Isan Diaz, 2B/SS, Marlins' No. 9
After joining the Marlins in the offseason blockbuster that sent Christian Yelich to Milwaukee, Diaz totaled 13 home runs, 41 extra-base hits and produced a .232/.340/.399 line over 119 games between Double-A and Triple-A. While Diaz's ability to drive the ball out of the park to all fields remains one of his strengths, his fly-ball rate has hovered around 29 percent in the past two seasons -- well below the 39.7 percent mark he posted back in 2016, when he connected on a career-high 20 home runs. The good news is that the 22-year-old's plate discipline as well as his feel for using the entire field has remained steady during his rise through the Minors, so the ingredients seemingly are there for Diaz to make strides offensively in 2019.

Jeter Downs, SS/2B, Reds' No. 7
The 2017 Competitive Balance A pick (No. 32 overall) showed a serious knack for lifting the ball in his first full season en route to 13 home runs and 23 doubles. His 33.2 percent fly ball rate was the 10th-highest among Top 30 prospects who had at least 350 BIP in 2018, and he also posted a solid line-drive rate of 17.5 percent. The fact that he has some swing and miss to his game (19.7% K%) and hits a lot of popups (16.6 percent) highlights Downs' room for growth, so improvement in those departments could very well prompt an uptick in power from the 20-year-old middle infielder.

Lucas Erceg, 3B, Brewers' No. 4
At face value, Erceg underwhelmed in his first Double-A campaign by hitting .248/.306/.382 with 13 home runs over 508 plate appearances. His strikeout and walk rates both improved, though, and he even drove the ball in the air more frequently compared to his first full season. The left-handed hitter's combined line drive-fly ball rate of 54.1 percent was 10th-best among Top 30s with at least 350 BIPs and suggests that the quality of his contact might translate well in the Majors even if the results currently aren't there, and there are some evaluators who believe Erceg will earnestly tap into his plus raw power as he learns to turn on the ball.

Video: Top Prospects: Lucas Erceg, 3B, Brewers

Santiago Espinal, IF, Blue Jays' No. 23
Toronto acquired Espinal from the Red Sox for Steve Pearce back in June, in the middle of the 24-year-old infielder's breakout campaign. He would ultimately hit .297/.356/.444 with 43 extra-base hits including 10 home runs over 124 games, finishing the year in Double-A. Espinal produced a line drive or fly ball in 44.4 percent of his 518 plate appearances in 2018, and that number was the highest among qualified Top 30 prospects. 56.7% of his BIP was either a line drive or fly ball, the second-best among Top 30 prospects with at least 350 BIP, yet his .412 average on such contact was the 10th-lowest mark. Factor in his solid strikeout and walk rates (12.9 and 7.3 percent, respectively) and the fact that he uses the entire field well, and a case can be made that Espinal is merely scratching the surface of his underrated potential.

Jake Rogers, C, Tigers' No. 12
Few hitters elevated the ball last season better than Rogers, who hit a line drive or fly ball nearly 60 percent (59.8) of the time when he put the ball in play That translated to 17 homers over 99 games in his first Double-A season, though it came at the cost of a .219 average and a career-worst 27.5 percent strikeout rate. Making more contact should result in even more over-the-fence power in future seasons for the 23-year-old, and along with his plus defense, gives him a realistic floor as an everyday big league catcher in the mold of Mike Zunino.

Video: Tigers prospect Rogers on the Arizona Fall League

Brent Rooker, 1B/OF, Twins' No. 7
Productive first baseman in the Minors are all too often overlooked, if only because so many prove to be Quad-A types or ultimately have to take a back seat to an even more productive incumbent. But a deeper dive into Rooker's 2018 campaign suggests reason to be bullish on his future. The Twins' Competitive Balance Round A pick from the 2017 Draft moved up to Double-A for his first full season and finished second in the Southern League in home runs (22) and tied for first in doubles (32). Specifically, 56.6 percent of Rooker's batted balls were line drives or fly balls -- third-best among Top 30s with at least 350 BIP -- and 14.8 percent of those were extra-base hits

Keibert Ruiz, C, Dodgers' No. 2
As MLB Pipeline's No. 39 overall prospect, Ruiz is perhaps the most notable name on this list. He proved to be a highly advanced hitter as a 19-year-old in Double-A last season, slashing .268/.328/.401 with 12 homers over 101 games. Hitting from a pronounced crouch, Ruiz is adept at using his lower half and quick bat to elevate the baseball, and nearly half (49 percent, to be exact) of his contact was either a line drive or fly ball in 2018. That bodes well for Ruiz's future success, as it's easy to envision him hitting for more average and power given his present strengths at the plate.

Video: Keibert Ruiz on Fall League experience

Max Schrock, 2B, Cardinals' No. 11
After hitting .324 across his first three pro seasons, Schrock uncharacteristically slashed just .249/.296/.331 last year over 114 games in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. While some of Schrock's struggles can be attributed to poor luck (.260 BABIP), he did experience a dip in his line-drive rate (from 23.1 percent to 19.0) and employed a more pull-heavy approach after he had excelled at using the entire field in previous years. Beyond that, however, Schrock once again posted strong strikeout and walk rates, rarely swung and missed (4.3 percent whiff rate) and hit the ball in the air more often. So don't be surprised if the 24-year-old returns to his pre-2018 form in '19.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Royals going all-in on speed next season

Additions of Hamilton, Gore give KC several elite runners
MLB.com @AndrewSimonMLB

When the Royals surged to the World Series in 2014 and '15, a saying coined by outfielder Jarrod Dyson helped sum up the team's athletic, aggressive approach.

"That's what speed do."

When the Royals surged to the World Series in 2014 and '15, a saying coined by outfielder Jarrod Dyson helped sum up the team's athletic, aggressive approach.

"That's what speed do."

Dyson was traded before the '17 season, but speed remains in vogue in Kansas City. Tuesday's news that the Royals had reunited with pinch-running specialist Terrance Gore on a one-year deal served to highlight that fact. 

Gore's signing came a week after the Royals added one of the game's other elite speedsters, Billy Hamilton. Those two join an existing roster that already featured some good wheels, with the 2018 Royals finishing sixth in the Majors in steals (117). Gore, with a .606 career OPS in the Minors, has appeared in the Majors in each of the past five seasons. But he has received a total of only 19 plate appearances during that time, finally notching his first big league hit -- off none other than Max Scherzer -- for the Cubs on Sept. 8.

The lack of MLB playing time has prevented Gore from qualifying for the Statcast™ sprint speed leaderboard but there's no question he can run with anybody. Including the postseason, the 27-year-old is 32-for-37 (86.5 percent) in stolen-base attempts. He recorded several individual runs with a sprint speed above the elite 30 feet per second mark, including a clutch steal against the Rockies in the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field that didn't even draw a throw.

Video: NL WC: Gore displays elite speed in NL Wild Card Game

Now, for the qualified runners, there were 549 who logged at least 10 "competitive" runs in 2018. Only 59 of those (less than 11 percent) averaged at least 29 ft/sec on those plays, compared with the MLB average of 27 ft/sec.

Here are the current Royals players who fall into that top group:

Hamilton: 30.1 ft/sec (T-4th)
Only the Twins' Byron Buxton, the Phillies' Roman Quinn and the Marlins' Magneuris Sierra edged out Hamilton, who has ranked in the top 10 in four straight seasons since Statcast™ debuted. Hamilton, who was non-tendered by the Reds, leads the Majors in steals since 2014 (264) and uses his speed to great effect in center field. His 16 outs above average last season ranked fifth among MLB outfielders.

Adalberto Mondesi: 29.9 ft/sec (T-9th)
The 23-year-old switch-hitter broke out at the plate in 2018 (.276/.306/.498), flashing some serious pop to go along with his speed. Mondesi ranked fourth in the AL with 32 steals despite playing only 75 games. On Sept. 8 at Minnesota, he dragged a bunt up the first-base line and beat it out in just 3.48 seconds for MLB's third-fastest single of the season.

Video: CLE@KC: Mondesi swipes 2 bases to key rally in 10th

Whit Merrifield: 29.0 ft/sec (T-47th)
A late bloomer, Merrifield will turn 30 in January as he tries to hold off his teammates to lead the AL in steals for a third consecutive season, after swiping a total of 79 from 2017-18. Merrifield, who played five positions, also ranked seventh in the Majors last season in FanGraphs' baserunning value metric.

Brett Phillips: 29.0 ft/sec (T-47th)
Acquired from the Brewers in July in the Mike Moustakas trade, Phillips is still looking to establish himself in the big leagues but already has shown off a big arm and good wheels. Phillips has used those attributes to pile up plus-20 Defensive Runs Saved over the past two seasons, tied for 15th among MLB outfielders despite a total of just 75 games played.

Add Hunter Dozier (28.6 ft/sec), free-agent acquisition Chris Owings (28.3 ft/sec), Jorge Soler (28.3 ft/sec) and Jorge Bonifacio (28.1 ft/sec), and the Royals could conceivably put together a lineup in which catcher Salvador Perez is the only player whose 2018 sprint speed wasn't well above average. And that's with Gore waiting on the bench

So while next season's Royals will have much to prove coming off a 58-104 season, it could be a lot of fun to watch them run.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Terrance Gore, Billy Hamilton, Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Brett Phillips

Twins surprise Mauer with retirement of No. 7

Minnesota icon will be eighth member of organization to receive honor
Special to MLB.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Joe Mauer sat in a small black chair at the field house named in his honor at Cretin-Derham Hall, the high school where Mauer's athletic achievements were first noticed.

Prior to a ceremony Tuesday to celebrate Mauer's retirement from baseball, the Twins star mingled among the crowd in attendance. Mauer's high school coach, Jim O'Neill, spoke to the assembled students, as did Tony Leseman, Mauer's friend since childhood and now the school's admissions director. Leseman told Mauer it would be a simple ceremony, like the many Twins winter caravans he participated in during his playing career.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Joe Mauer sat in a small black chair at the field house named in his honor at Cretin-Derham Hall, the high school where Mauer's athletic achievements were first noticed.

Prior to a ceremony Tuesday to celebrate Mauer's retirement from baseball, the Twins star mingled among the crowd in attendance. Mauer's high school coach, Jim O'Neill, spoke to the assembled students, as did Tony Leseman, Mauer's friend since childhood and now the school's admissions director. Leseman told Mauer it would be a simple ceremony, like the many Twins winter caravans he participated in during his playing career.

Twins' all-time retired numbers

After Mauer took questions from students, Twins legends Tom Kelly, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek and Bert Blyleven entered the auditorium to surprise Mauer. Hrbek approached the podium and announced that the Twins will retire Mauer's No. 7 next summer.

"It's not every day that you have your favorite player growing up tell you you're going to go on the wall with him with the retired numbers," Mauer said. "That means a lot to me. Obviously, Bert and Tony and T.K. coming too, I'm still kind of in shock right now. Those guys helped me out so much, not only as a baseball player, but how to conduct yourself as a man and as a professional. Those guys mean a lot to me too."

In a ceremony at a to-be-determined home game next season, Mauer will become the eighth member of the Twins organization to have his number retired as either a manager or a player. He joins Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Oliva, Hrbek, Kirby Puckett, Blyleven and Kelly.

Video: Joe Mauer's first and last Major League hits

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, in a taped announcement, also proclaimed that the day would forever be known as Joe Mauer Day in the state.

In the same building he first signed with the hometown Twins as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 Draft -- and where he met his wife, Maddie -- Mauer's career had come full circle.

"I signed my contract in the old gym up there," Mauer said. "It doesn't seem that long ago, but it is 18 years. That's one of the things I wanted to say to these students. Things happen pretty fast and you want to enjoy the time that you have. And the opportunities that are in front of you, you try to take advantage of them when you can."

Mauer took advantage of every opportunity he had.

He was a three-sport star at Cretin-Derham Hall -- the Gatorade National Player of the Year in football his senior year and an All-State selection in basketball as a junior and senior. He tied a national high school baseball record with a home run in seven consecutive games. He had committed to play football at Florida State before deciding on a career in baseball.

Mauer finished last season ranking first on the Twins' all-time list in doubles (428) and times on base (3,087). He is second in Twins history in games played (1,858) and hits (2,123), and fifth in RBIs (923).

Video: DET@MIN: Mauer becomes Twins' all-time on-base leader

And now Mauer's No. 7 will be hanging inside Target Field in the community he still calls home.

"Being able to put on the Twins' uniform, being at home, like I said before, meant more to me than you'll know," Mauer said. "Now, when I take my kids to the game and see No. 7 up there, it will probably put a smile on my face every time I see it. I'm excited for that."

Mauer didn't have to wait long in retirement for his number to join him. The Twins moved swiftly to recognize the local son.

"If I were Joe, I would think, 'They might retire my number someday,'" team owner Jim Pohlad said. "But I don't know if he would have thought it would be announced today. It's a great thing."

Video: Mauer details how he wants to be remembered

Mauer is enjoying being home with his wife and three kids, the third of which was born a few days after his retirement announcement. He's also gotten back to playing basketball, joining a group that plays pickup games at Cretin-Derham Hall on Sundays.

"It's been fun to be a full-time dad and help out at home as much as I can," Mauer said. "I was saying, it kind of almost feels like a regular offseason. I know there might be some different emotions and different feelings come Spring Training, but I'm definitely in a good place and feeling good about it."

Brian Hall is a contributor to MLB.com.

Minnesota Twins, Joe Mauer