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Lee Smith, Baines earn election to Hall of Fame

Premier closer (478 saves), six-time All-Star (2,866 hits) get call via Today's Game ballot
MLB.com

Lee Smith and Harold Baines are headed to Cooperstown.

The Today's Game Era Committee -- a 16-member Hall of Fame Board-appointed electorate -- voted Baines and Smith into the National Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2019 on Sunday at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. Results were revealed live on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com.

Lee Smith and Harold Baines are headed to Cooperstown.

The Today's Game Era Committee -- a 16-member Hall of Fame Board-appointed electorate -- voted Baines and Smith into the National Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2019 on Sunday at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. Results were revealed live on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com.

Smith was a unanimous selection, while Baines met the 75 percent threshold by being named on 12 of the 16 ballots.

Complete Hall of Fame coverage

Smith and Baines will be inducted at Cooperstown on July 21, along with any electees from the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot, with results to be announced on Jan. 22.

Smith, 61, retired after the 1997 season with more saves than any player before him. His 478 saves still rank third all-time behind Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. A seven-time All-Star and three-time Rolaids Relief Man Award winner, Smith led his league in saves four times, including a career-best 47 in 1991, and had 30-plus saves in 10 of his 18 seasons with the Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Reds and Expos.

Video: MLB Tonight on Lee Smith entering the Hall of Fame

Baines, 59, played 22 years in the Majors, from 1980 to 2001, with the bulk of his career coming with the White Sox, who drafted him No. 1 overall in 1977. The six-time All-Star amassed 2,866 hits, 384 home runs and 1,628 RBIs and finished in the top 10 of American League MVP voting twice.

Lou Piniella (11 votes, 68.8 percent) was the next closest candidate; Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel and George Steinbrenner each received fewer than five votes.

Video: MLB Tonight on Baines entering the Hall of Fame

The Today's Game Era Committee is one of four Eras Committees -- along with Modern Baseball, Golden Days and Early Baseball -- that provide an avenue outside voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America for Hall of Fame consideration to managers, umpires and executives, as well as players retired for more than 15 seasons. Specifically, the Today's Game Committee encompasses candidates who made the most indelible contributions to baseball from 1988 to the present.

The Today's Game ballot, along with Modern Baseball, is considered twice over every five-year period. The last electees from the Today's Game ballot were John Schuerholz, the architect of the '90s Braves, and Bud Selig, the former MLB Commissioner and Brewers owner, in 2016. Last year, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were elected to the Hall of Fame via the Modern Baseball Era Committee.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

Here's what to expect from Winter Meetings

MLB.com @feinsand

The baseball world will gather in Las Vegas this week for the annual Winter Meetings, and like anybody else that heads to Sin City, all 30 clubs will hope to head home Thursday with more than they had when they showed up.

There will be plenty of talk during the four-day event, from trade discussions to free-agent negotiations, concluding Thursday morning with the Rule 5 Draft.

The baseball world will gather in Las Vegas this week for the annual Winter Meetings, and like anybody else that heads to Sin City, all 30 clubs will hope to head home Thursday with more than they had when they showed up.

There will be plenty of talk during the four-day event, from trade discussions to free-agent negotiations, concluding Thursday morning with the Rule 5 Draft.

What are the biggest stories to watch this week? Here's a primer of 10 stories that should dominate the headlines:

Manny and Bryce
For the past few years, we've all known that the 2018-19 offseason would be defined by the free agency of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. The two superstars are entering their age-26 seasons, a rarity for free agents of their caliber.

Which one will be the first to sign? Which teams will make the financial commitment necessary to secure their services? How much will each player get? For our purposes here, will either player make his decision during this week's Winter Meetings?

Harper is from Las Vegas, so it would be a storybook ending to his free-agent journey for the announcement to come there. But his agent is Scott Boras (more on him in a bit), who has a tendency to drag out negotiations in order to extract every possible dollar from the market.

The market for both players seems relatively limited in terms of the number of teams that can shell out $300 million or more on one player, though as long as there's more than one in the mix for each of them -- which there appears to be -- then a bidding war could make things interesting.

Video: Tom Verducci previews the Winter Meetings

Aces for sale?
We've seen our share of big trades already this winter, with players such as Paul Goldschmidt, James Paxton, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jean Segura, Carlos Santana, Mike Zunino and Yan Gomes changing teams.

But several big-time arms have been rumored to be on the trade block, presenting several juicy scenarios as clubs try to bolster the top of their respective starting rotations.

The Mets are reportedly open to trading Noah Syndergaard, while the Indians have been fielding offers for both Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. The Giants might be open to moving Madison Bumgarner, a fan favorite in San Francisco who is coming off a pair of injury-shortened seasons.

Video: Will the Indians trade a pitcher at Winter Meetings?

Acquiring one of these arms won't be cheap, though with two of the top starters already signed off the free-agent market (Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi), a team in search of a front-line starter might be forced to turn to the trade market.

Will the Phillies get stupid?
Only a few weeks ago, Phillies owner John Middleton told USA Today that his team was prepared to spend big this winter, "and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it."

They showed some restraint when it came to Corbin, declining to offer a sixth year to the left-hander. Corbin ended up getting six years and $140 million from the National League East-rival Nationals, though it's quite possible Philadelphia could counter by signing Harper, who has been the face of the Washington franchise.

Machado also remains in the Phillies' sights, as most industry insiders believe Philadelphia will sign one of the two premier free agents. Is that where general manager Matt Klentak's plans would end, or might that only be the beginning? The Phillies are most certainly a team to watch in Vegas.

Video: Zolecki breaks down Phillies' interest in J.A. Happ

Are the Yankees going to be big spenders?
The Yankees have spent several years trying to get their payroll beneath the competitive balance tax threshold, which they finally did in 2018. Now that their tax rate has been reset, will the Bronx Bombers go back to their roots and spend big in free agency?

Corbin was their top pitching target, so with him and Eovaldi both off the market, New York could turn to J.A. Happ to fill the final spot in its rotation. Shoud Happ go elsewhere -- the Phillies and Blue Jays are also said to be in the mix -- the Yankees could make a run at Dallas Keuchel or make a smaller move by signing Lance Lynn, though they might also pivot back to the trade market.

While pitching remains GM Brian Cashman's priority -- the Yankees are also looking for a relief arm or two -- there's a growing belief that they could wind up as serious players for Machado. With Didi Gregorius out for several months following Tommy John surgery (and heading for free agency next winter), Machado could fill that void at shortstop in a major way.

Video: Hoch on potential free-agent targets for Yankees

Reds: In search of pitching
The Nationals, Red Sox and Yankees have already bolstered their respective rotations, though New York isn't done yet. To nobody's surprise, the Phillies and Astros continue to seek pitching upgrades as well, though they might face competition from an unlikely suitor: the Reds.

Cincinnati has posted five consecutive losing seasons, finishing each of the past four with at least 94 losses. The Reds have let it be known that they plan to be aggressive on the pitching market this winter, with Keuchel among their top targets. Other free agents such as Happ and Yusei Kikuchi could also be in play for the Reds, who have also been linked to center fielder A.J. Pollock.

Video: Reds could target Jones, Kluber in offseason

Keystone market
No position is as deep as second base on this year's free-agent market, with Daniel Murphy, DJ LeMahieu, Jed Lowrie, Brian Dozier, Logan Forsythe, and Ian Kinsler all seeking new contracts.

Of course, with that many second basemen on the market, most of their former teams are now seeking help at the position, setting up a big game of musical chairs. Who will land where when the music stops?

Will Realmuto stay or will he go?
Since the Marlins traded Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon before the 2018 season, the lingering question has been if -- or more likely, when -- catcher J.T. Realmuto will be the next player shipped out of Miami.

Realmuto has drawn interest from roughly half of MLB teams, according to various reports, but the Marlins aren't going to trade him unless they get the type of package they're insisting upon. The Mets are the most recent team to be identified as a serious suitor for the All-Star catcher.

Realmuto's agent has made it clear that his client won't be signing an extension with Miami and wants to be traded, but it remains to be seen whether that will happen this week, this offseason or even this year.

Video: Hill on looking to improve Marlins at Winter Meetings

The Boras effect
Last offseason, a number of Boras' free-agent clients didn't sign until February or March. Those included notable names such as Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland, who represented five of the top players on the 2017-18 market.

Boras' roster of free agents this winter is just as loaded, starting with Harper and Keuchel. Zach Britton, Marwin Gonzalez, Moustakas and Matt Harvey are also represented by the veteran agent, leading some to speculate that the group of players might not sign anytime soon.

One Boras client who most certainly will sign before too long is Kikuchi, the Japanese left-hander who must agree to a deal with a big league club by Jan. 2 if he wants to make the move to the Majors.

Closing time
Second base might be the deepest position on the free-agent market this winter, but the relief-pitching options are even more plentiful. Jesse Chavez and Trevor Rosenthal have already signed with the Rangers and Nationals, respectively, but no less than 10 notable relievers remain available.

Craig Kimbrel is clearly the No. 1 option, and he's looking for a contract commensurate with that stature, likely something in the $75 million-$90 million range. Other potential closer options include Andrew Miller, David Robertson, Britton, Joakim Soria, Cody Allen, Kelvin Herrera and Jeurys Familia. Adam Ottavino and Joe Kelly are also expected to garner significant interest.

The relief market moved faster than any other last winter. Will this year see the same rush of relievers signing once the first domino falls?

Will Greinke be the next D-back to go?
The D-backs traded Goldschmidt to the Cardinals on Wednesday, dealing the face of the franchise to St. Louis for three players and a Competitive Balance Round B selection in next year's Draft.

Video: Hazen on why D-backs decided to trade Goldschmidt

There had been plenty of speculation that Arizona would try to attach Zack Greinke's contract (he's owed $104.5 million over the next three years) to Goldschmidt in any trade, though that turned out not to be the case. It's difficult to imagine that GM Mike Hazen won't continue to try to find a new home for the 35-year-old, right-handed Greinke, who has thrown 410 innings with a 3.20 ERA over the past two seasons.

Any potential deal could be complicated by Greinke's partial no-trade clause, which, according to MLB.com's Steve Gilbert, allows him to block a trade to the Reds, Yankeees, A's, Padres, Giants, Orioles, Red Sox, Rockies, Tigers, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Angels, Dodgers, Twins and Phillies. That leaves plenty of suitors, of course, with the Astros, Braves and Brewers chief among them.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

Rumors: Machado, Bauer, Kluber, Thor, Realmuto

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 reportedly unwilling to offer Machado $300 million
With a need at shortstop, the typically deep-pocketed Yankees have been linked to Manny Machado all offseason. The club may not, however, be willing to spend what it takes to sign him.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported Sunday that the Yankees plan to meet with Machado, but won't offer him the $300 million contract he's been rumored to seek. Bryce Harper, whom Heyman says the Yankees will meet with, too, is also reportedly seeking a deal in excess of $300 million. It's not yet clear if any clubs are willing to meet that number for either player.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Yankees like Manny Machado and will meet with Machado but source says they will not pay $300M for Machado. Phillies, Chisox and mystery teams(?) seen as main competitors. 
New York is among the few teams with the financial means to sign Machado to a long-term deal, and it has an immediate need at shortstop, where Didi Gregorius will miss much of next season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Heyman lists the Phillies, White Sox and potential mystery clubs as the Yankees' primary competitors for Machado.

As for Harper, Heyman says the club is questioning his fit in a crowded outfield that already features Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. And even after trading for James Paxton, the Yankees are still looking to add to their rotation, which has been said to be their priority over pursuing Harper or Machado.

Rosenthal: Indians will trade Kluber or Bauer
Dec. 9: After the Indians signed Carlos Carrasco to a three-year contract extension this past week, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported that the club was "increasingly motivated" to move either Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber.

MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal spoke more definitively on the Tribe's plans Saturday, reporting that Cleveland will trade one of the two hurlers this offseason, though it's unclear which one is more likely to be dealt.

Tweet from @MLBONFOX: The @Indians are going to trade one of their veteran starting pitchers, but @Ken_Rosenthal says no one knows which it'll be. Who will they trade: Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber? pic.twitter.com/UW6sCl9IxO

Bauer and Kluber are arguably more attractive than any of the remaining starters on the free-agent market. Bauer is two years away from free agency, while Kluber is signed for $17 million in 2019 with club options for 2020 ($17.5 million, $1 million buyout) and 2021 ($18 million, $1 million buyout). To put the value of Kluber's deal in perspective, the Red Sox just signed Nathan Eovaldi for roughly $17 million per year over four years.

The possibility of the Indians packaging Jason Kipnis or Edwin Encarnacion with Kluber or Bauer has been mentioned as a way for Cleveland to shed another inflated contract, but Rosenthal doesn't think that's likely.

Kipnis is signed for $14.7 million in 2019 with a $16.5 million club option ($2.5 million buyout) for 2020, while Encarnacion is owed $21.7 million in 2019 with a $20 million club option ($5 million buyout) for 2020. Per Rosenthal, the Indians are not only looking to decrease payroll, but also acquire young assets, and attaching Kipnis or Encarnacion would lessen the return for one of their aces.

Is Syndergaard still on the trade block?
Dec. 9: Although Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen downplayed the possibility of a Noah Syndergaard trade after the club's big move to acquire Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, he left the door open by saying New York could consider dealing the 26-year-old under "very special circumstances."

According to Buster Olney in Sunday's column for ESPN+ (subscription required), other teams think the Mets "absolutely would trade the right-hander for the right offer."

Syndergaard is three years away from free agency, so the Mets have little to no urgency to trade him this offseason, especially with their eyes on contending in 2019. But with a strong rotation, New York may consider dealing him if it allows the club to address weaknesses elsewhere on the roster.

Olney names the Astros as a potential suitor for Syndergaard based on an industry theory that Houston is more locked into the trade market than many realize. The Astros were connected to Nathan Eovaldi before he re-signed with the Red Sox, but Olney reports that the club "never really engaged on the right-hander."

Mets' pursuit of Realmuto could shape rest of offseason
Dec. 9: The Mets are one of the primary contenders for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, and Mike Puma of the New York Post detailed how the pursuit of the 27-year-old backstop could define the rest of the club's offseason.

"If [general manager Brodie] Van Wagenen can get Realmuto, it would allow the Mets to think bigger in filling their bullpen and outfield needs," Puma wrote Saturday.

Realmuto is two years away from free agency, and he's projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn just $6.1 million via arbitration for the 2019 season.

With Realmuto accounting for a marginal portion of their payroll, the Mets would be able to pursue an outfielder such as A.J. Pollock and a reliever such as Andrew Miller.

According to Puma, New York is also expected to inquire about the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, who could take over at one of the corner outfield spots if the Mets include Michael Conforto and/or Brandon Nimmo in a package for Realmuto.

But if they can't get Realmuto and need to turn to a free-agent catcher such as Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos, the Mets would have far less money to address their other needs.

Of the two backstops, New York is seemingly more likely to pursue Grandal, as industry sources recently indicated to Puma that the club is hesitant to sign Ramos, given his defensive shortcomings and injury history. Martin Maldonado is a more cost-effective free-agent option, but he doesn't bring much to the table on offense.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported Thursday in an article for Fancred Sports that at least 14 teams have shown interest in Realmuto, and former MLB general manager Jim Bowden of The Athletic followed up Friday with a tweet listing the Mets, Padres, Braves and Rays as the main suitors for Realmuto, citing multiple sources. Bowden added that the Dodgers, Rockies, Brewers, Astros and White Sox are also in on the catcher, but aren't chasing him as aggressively as the first batch of teams.

Tweet from @JimBowdenGM: Sources: Still ���in" on J.T.Realmuto: NYM, PHI, SD, ATL, TB���.not as aggressive but ���in��� are LA, COL, Milw, Hous, CWS

Although New York's already thin farm system lost touted prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn to the Mariners in the Robinson Cano-Edwin Diaz deal, the Marlins like Nimmo, Conforto and Amed Rosario. However, Heyman has heard the Mets don't want to trade Rosario at all and are not interested in a deal that includes a Nimmo-Conforto combination.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Not sure what the Marlins precise trade request is from Mets for Realmuto. But heard Mets do not want to do Conforto-Nimmo combo, and they don���t want to trade Rosario at all.

Video: Mets interested in Pollock, Realmuto rumors

Is Morton the best remaining starter on the free-agent market?
Dec. 9: With Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi signed, Dallas Keuchel and J.A. Happ are expected to draw increased attention during the Winter Meetings. But what about Charlie Morton? MLB.com's Andrew Simon makes the case that the right-hander is the best remaining starter on the free-agent market.

First and foremost, teams won't need to hand out a lengthy contract or surrender a Draft pick to sign Morton, which means the long-term consequences would be minimal.

Simon points to Morton's excellent velocity and high curveball spin rate as two more reasons why teams should be targeting the right-hander. Morton averaged 96.1 mph on four-seam fastballs and 95.1 mph on sinkers in 2018, with both of those numbers ranking in the top 10 among starters. Meanwhile, Morton threw his curveball almost 30 percent of the time and held hitters to a .135 average with the pitch.

Morton's repertoire enabled him to post a 28.9 percent strikeout rate this past season, which ranked 13th out of 116 pitchers with at least 120 innings.

And the 35-year-old has proven to be incredibly difficult to square up, yielding a barrel on just 5.2 percent of batted balls over 2017-18. That tied Morton for the 13th-lowest rate during that span (min. 750 batted balls).

Add it all up and Morton tied for 19th in xwOBA (.282) among those who faced at least 600 batters during 2018, slightly behind Corbin at .281.

Dodgers could heavily influence outfield market
Dec. 9: The outfield market has been stagnant so far this offseason, but the Dodgers could have a hand in getting it moving during the Winter Meetings. According to ESPN's Buster Olney, Los Angeles has several outfielders available for trade, including Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Matt Kemp, and may also be engaged on free agents such as Bryce Harper and A.J. Pollock.

Tweet from @Buster_ESPN: Dodgers appear to be in the middle of the outfield market, both in trades (Kemp? Puig? Pederson) and free agents (Harper? Pollock?)

While this isn't the first time the Dodgers have been linked to Harper, it's still unclear if the club plans to make an aggressive play for the superstar free agent. The contract that Harper is expected to command would be out of character for the Andrew Friedman-led Dodgers front office, which has consistently maintained a high payroll but hasn't handed out more than $93 million to any one player.

Two sources initially told Yahoo Sports that Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson was part of a group of representatives from the franchise that met with Harper in Las Vegas, the outfielder's hometown and the site of the Winter Meetings, though Johnson later insisted that no such meeting took place.

The Dodgers have notable depth in the outfield, with Puig, Pederson and Kemp joining Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, Alex Verdugo and Andrew Toles as potential options for 2019. Signing Harper (or Pollock) would almost certainly lead to one or more trades involving some of those players, as Bill Plunkett pointed out in an article for the Orange County Register on Sunday.

MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported in late November that the Dodgers were trying to acquire Indians ace Corey Kluber for a package centered around Puig and potentially Alex Wood, but MLB Network insider Jon Heyman noted in his latest "Inside Baseball" column for Fancred Sports that such an offer isn't going to be enough.

Per Heyman, multiple teams have asked about Bellinger, but rivals say the Dodgers are "hesitant" to include him in any trade. The Indians are likely one of those teams, and the Marlins may be another, as Los Angeles has discussed a deal for Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Boras' handbook compares Harper to LeBron James
Dec. 9: Agent Scott Boras is known for compiling expansive free-agent handbooks extolling his clients' achievements and qualities, and his book on Bryce Harper sounds like a doozy.

According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the document Boras has been giving to Harper suitors is 118 pages and features comparisons both predictable and provocative, an example of the latter being LeBron James.

"My goal in this thing is to let teams know what they're getting," Boras said. "That's why we brought in the LeBron comparisons. A lot of people don't know what he's done by the age of 25, and how that compares to what LeBron James did at 25. You get a very clear path on how hard it is to achieve a standard of excellence in an arena where you're both No. 1 picks, both rookies of year, both MVPs, and set a standard that no one can meet.

"The way to articulate this in true business form is look at the Nats' franchise. It was worth $480 to $500 million before he got there, and now it's worth more than $2 billion. TV ratings have tripled.

"Every GM in baseball wants him because he fills a need, but the owners are pursuing Bryce Harper because they know he can also make them a billion dollars over a period of years."

Per Nightengale, teams haven't made formal bids to Harper yet, nor is Boras making specific contract demands.

"The only thing we know for sure," one GM said, "is that he's looking for more than 10 years and $300 million."

Of course, 10 years and $300 million is what the Nationals reportedly offered at the end of the regular season, and Harper rejected it, prompting Nats owner Mark Lerner to indicate that he didn't think Harper would be back in a candid interview with 106.7 The Fan on Friday.

"Well, when we met with them and we gave them the offer, we told them, 'This is the best we can do.' We went right to the finish line very quickly,' Lerner said. "And we said, 'If this is of interest to you, please come back to us and we'll see whether we can finish it up.' But we just couldn't afford to put more than that in and still be able to put a team together that had a chance to win the NL East or go farther than that."

Added Lerner: "If he comes back [to the negotiating table], it's a strong possibility that we won't be able to make it work. But I really don't expect him to come back at this point. I think they've decided to move on. There's just too much money out there that he'd be leaving on the table. That's just not Boras' MO to leave money on the table."

Harper and Machado negotiations could drag beyond Winter Meetings
Dec. 9: Those hoping the free-agent odysseys of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will reach their respective conclusions during the Winter Meetings may be disappointed.

According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), the history between agents Scott Boras and Dan Lozano could be a major factor in negotiations stretching well beyond this week.

Boras, who represents Harper, used to rep Machado as well before losing him to Lozano in 2011 -- the same year Alex Rodriguez, another former Boras client, joined Lozano. As a result, Boras may have extra motivation to get Harper the bigger deal between this offseason's top two free agents.

"The prevailing assumption in the industry is that Boras wants to set new benchmarks with Harper's free-agent deal, whether in total guaranteed salary, average annual value or -- preferably -- both," Rosenthal writes. "Therefore, he will want Machado to sign first, securing the negotiating equivalent of 'last licks,' in which he would step to the plate knowing the number to beat. Boras' track record also indicates he would be willing to go to extra innings, moving at his own pace, stretching talks into January, if necessary."

But as Rosenthal points out, Machado isn't necessarily going to sign quickly. While Lozano isn't the same type of showman as Boras, outdueling his counterpart has to at least be on his mind in some capacity, and Machado is reportedly receiving interest from at least six teams, including the Yankees, Phillies and White Sox.

Meanwhile, Rosenthal notes that some rival agents and club executives think the market for Harper will be limited, given the bar Boras is believed to be setting. "It's Philly bidding against Philly," one agent said of the Harper sweepstakes.

Unless price drops, Twins unlikely to be in on Cruz
Dec. 9: The Twins looked like a good fit for free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz earlier this offseason, but C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop may wind up being their most noteworthy acquisitions, according to La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The club prefers to rotate multiple players at the designated hitter spot in 2019, so it isn't going to aggressively pursue Cruz. Neal notes that Minnesota could still pull off a surprise by signing the 38-year-old, but only if the price is right.

Granted, there's a chance a lukewarm market could cause Cruz's asking price to drop. Cruz being a full-time DH already rules out half of MLB, and only a few American League contenders are believed to be considering him.

Astros' targets could include Happ, McCutchen
Dec. 8: While the core of the team that won the World Series in 2017 and made the ALCS this past season is still largely in place, the Astros do have some needs to address, namely in the rotation and left field.

The Astros' starting staff was arguably the best in baseball this past season, but Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton are now free agents, and Lance McCullers Jr. will miss all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery.

Houston has the top of the rotation covered with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, and can fill slots four and five with a combination of Collin McHugh, Josh James, Brad Peacock and No. 2 prospect Forrest Whitley (No. 8 overall, per MLB Pipeline). But as MLB.com's Brian McTaggart notes, the club needs someone to bridge the gap between those groups.

McTaggart points to free-agent lefty J.A. Happ as someone who can fill that void, which makes sense, as Happ can do a solid Keuchel impression at a fraction of the cost. Over the past four seasons, Happ has recorded a 121 ERA+ and a 3.78 FIP over 120 appearances (119 starts), while Keuchel has posted a 118 ERA+ with a 3.51 FIP over 116 starts in that same span.

Left field was a problem area for the Astros in 2018, as Houston left fielders combined for a .702 OPS, and Marwin Gonzalez, the club's most-used player at that position, is now a free agent as well.

The Astros could give the left-field job to top prospect Kyle Tucker (No. 5 overall), even though he recorded a .439 OPS over 72 plate appearances in the Majors during 2018. But if Houston opts to go the veteran route, McTaggart names Andrew McCutchen as a potential target.

Video: Astros look to add mid-rotation pitcher, plus OF help

White Sox selling Harper and Machado on a bright future
Dec. 8: The White Sox are willing to break the bank to land Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but it may take more than cash to get one of those players to sign on the dotted line. Chicago also offers one of the biggest media markets in sports, but even that might not be enough.

As a 10-season postseason drought hangs over the franchise, the White Sox will need to sell Harper and Machado on the idea that World Series championship contention is right around the corner as their talent-rich farm system -- led by top prospect Eloy Jimenez (No. 3 overall, per MLB Pipeline) -- continues to bear fruit.

Granted, adding Harper or Machado might not make the White Sox instant contenders, even in the underwhelming American League Central.

The club has major needs on the pitching staff, especially with No. 2 prospect Michael Kopech (No. 19 overall) set to miss all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery, and it's unclear when No. 3 prospect Dylan Cease (No. 25 overall) and No. 6 prospect Dane Dunning (No. 59 overall) will be ready to contribute to the Major League rotation.

But general manager Rick Hahn thinks other players are clued-in enough to understand what the White Sox are building toward.

"You have to understand these guys are professionals, and they understand deep nuances about each individual franchise," Hahn said, according to MLB.com's Scott Merkin. "From a macro standpoint, the idea of potentially being part of a winner in Chicago has very broad appeal.

"From a nuanced standpoint, the chance to be part of the White Sox organization based upon what our future looks like, futures that these players are familiar with and understand having either seen personally some of these young players play or video or talked to other players about them, it's something that they buy into."

Nats owner expects Harper to move on, but is a reunion still in play?
Dec. 8: After Bryce Harper rejected a reported 10-year, $300 million offer from the Nationals at the end of the regular season and Washington subsequently signed Patrick Corbin for $140 million over six years, there's been much speculation about the club's plans for Harper.

Principal owner Mark Lerner shed some light on the Nationals' thought process Friday in an interview with Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan.

"Well, when we met with them and we gave them the offer, we told them, 'This is the best we can do.' We went right to the finish line very quickly,' Lerner said. "And we said, 'If this is of interest to you, please come back to us and we'll see whether we can finish it up.' But we just couldn't afford to put more than that in and still be able to put a team together that had a chance to win the NL East or go farther than that."

Added Lerner: "If he comes back [to the negotiating table], it's a strong possibility that we won't be able to make it work. But I really don't expect him to come back at this point. I think they've decided to move on. There's just too much money out there that he'd be leaving on the table. That's just not [agent Scott] Boras' MO to leave money on the table."

Lerner indicated that the Nationals are comfortable with their current outfield, which consists of Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, Victor Robles and Michael A. Taylor.

"We feel very strongly we're in good shape," Lerner said. "It'll be a young, pretty incredible outfield defensively, and certainly with the bat it's going to be special."

But ESPN's Buster Olney still isn't counting out a Harper-Nats reunion.

"Before anyone completely slams the door shut, it's worth remembering: Stuff happens," Olney wrote in his latest column for ESPN+ (subscription required). "Negotiations take many twists and turns, and if there is one lasting tether between any organization and a particular agent right now, it's between Harper's representative, Scott Boras, and the Nationals."

As Olney points out, Boras has a long history of negotiating with Washington, as he has represented past and present Nationals such as Harper, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon, among others.

Olney compares Harper to another Boras client, Bernie Williams, who seemed prepared to leave the Yankees in free agency after the 1998 season, only to re-sign with New York when owner George Steinbrenner agreed to increase his offer from $60 million to $87.5 million. That was enough to get Williams to return, even though he had an offer for slightly more money ($91 million) from the rival Red Sox.

At least three teams besides Phils, Yanks and White Sox to meet with Machado
Dec. 8: While the full market for Manny Machado has yet to come into focus, it appears the Phillies, Yankees and White Sox aren't the only teams that are eyeing the 26-year-old infielder.

A rival executive told MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal that at least three teams besides the aforementioned clubs plan to rendezvous with Machado's agent, Dan Lozano, at the Winter Meetings. What's unclear is who those three teams are, and whether Machado will be present for those meetings.

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: It���s not just the #Phillies, #WhiteSox and #Yankees that have interest in Manny Machado. One rival executive hears at least three other teams are in the mix and will meet with Machado���s agent, Dan Lozano, at the winter meetings.

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has expressed interest in meeting with Machado "face to face" to ask him about his now-infamous comments on hustling, which drew widespread criticism after they were featured in a story by Rosenthal for The Athletic (subscription required) in October.

"Obviously I'm not going to change, I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle,' and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That's just not my personality, that's not my cup of tea, that's not who I am," Machado told Rosenthal.

Presumably, other potential suitors are also interested in a sit-down with Machado to allow him to explain himself in person, even though the four-time All-Star already addressed his comments in an exclusive interview with MLB.com's Mark Feinsand last month.

"When I was asked that question, I was definitely on the defensive, and I was wrong to answer it the way that I did, because looking back, it doesn't come across how I meant it," Machado said. "For me, I was trying to talk about how I'm not the guy who is eye wash. There's a difference between fake hustle for show and being someone who tries hard to win. I've always been the guy who does whatever he can to win for his team.

"But I know how I said it and how that came across, and it's something I take responsibility for. I look forward to talking with each GM and owner that we meet with about that, or any other questions they have."

Should Yankees set their sights higher than Happ?
Dec. 8: The Yankees reportedly plan to target free-agent starter J.A. Happ after missing out on Patrick Corbin, but Chris Carelli of sny.tv argues the club should set its sights higher. Specifically, Carelli thinks New York needs to trade for a frontline starter such as Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer of the Indians.

"Entering the season with a middling rotation basically puts the Yankees at a disadvantage when measured against the Red Sox and Astros," Carelli writes.

Carelli may have a point. While a rotation of Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Happ and CC Sabathia looks solid on paper, Boston and Houston would arguably still have the edge in a short postseason series.

Happ was terrific in the regular season after joining the Yankees in a trade last July, but he faltered in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park, allowing five runs over two innings in a loss to the Red Sox.

Granted, Kluber has had his share of postseason hiccups lately, but he is a proven ace with two AL Cy Young Awards under his belt. And Bauer was on pace to be a Cy Young Award finalist this past season before suffering a stress fracture when he took a line drive off his right leg in August. Entering his age-36 season, Happ is best viewed as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter.

Cleveland will likely be busy fielding offers for Kluber and Bauer during the Winter Meetings, as the club is said to be "increasingly motivated" to move one of them after signing Carlos Carrasco to an extension.

Tweet from @JeffPassan: On the heels of Carlos Carrasco's three-year, $37.5M extension, Cleveland is increasingly motivated to move Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber, sources tell Yahoo Sports. Plenty of options on the trade market, which is extremely active as Patrick Corbin has signed with the Nationals.

Potential fits for Keuchel include Phillies, Braves
Dec. 8: The Red Sox worked fast to reunite with Nathan Eovaldi, landing the righty with a four-year deal only two days after the Nationals gave a reported $140 million over six years to lefty Patrick Corbin. Those two represented arguably the top free-agent starting pitchers this offseason.

Does that make Dallas Keuchel -- a reliable, durable, in-his prime southpaw -- the clear No. 1 name among starters on the open market?

The 30-year-old does have an impressive resume, starting with his 2015 AL Cy Young Award. Keuchel also sports a 3.28 ERA over his past five seasons, which is 16th best in baseball over that span (minimum 500 innings pitched). His 950 1/3 frames since '14 also represent the 13th most in MLB.

While Keuchel's repertoire isn't overwhelming -- he's more of a command pitcher who relies on his sinker to get grounders and keep the ball in the park -- his age, performance and experience, including a 3.31 ERA over 51 2/3 postseason innings in his career, suggest he's now ranked No. 1 in the free-agent market for starters.

There's a difference, however, between being considered the top name and being the top target. Other intriguing names in the mix include fellow vets J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton, who have pitched extremely well the past couple of seasons and -- here's the key factor -- should cost less in terms of dollars and years than Keuchel. Same goes for Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi, who was posted by the Seibu Lions earlier this week and is considered an intriguing arm with mid-rotation potential.

In his latest "Inside Baseball" column for Fancred Sports, Heyman looked at some other potential fits for the 30-year-old left-hander, including the Braves and the Phillies.

Per Heyman, Atlanta would like to add a lefty to the top of its rotation to pair with right-hander Mike Foltynewicz. And Philadelphia is eyeing Keuchel after missing out on Corbin, whom the club offered a five-year deal for more than $100 million.

One team that doesn't seem to be in on Keuchel? The Yankees, which doesn't make much sense to Heyman.

"It's unclear why the Yankees haven't been linked to Keuchel, even after losing out on Corbin," Heyman writes. "Keuchel seems to like the big stage and word is he likes the idea of playing in a big city."

The Blue Jays also have been connected to Keuchel, though Heyman thinks the southpaw is out of Toronto's price range at this point. And while Heyman recently reported that the Reds were "all over" Keuchel, MLB.com's Mark Sheldon got the feeling from talking to people in the organization that the club's interest in the lefty was overblown.

Marlins in no rush with Realmuto decision

Star catcher could be on the move by end of Winter Meetings, but Miami showing no urgency
MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

LAS VEGAS -- At the Winter Meetings last year, the Marlins made a couple of big moves, finalizing their mega-money deal that sent Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees before trading Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals.

Those blockbuster deals were part of a sweeping roster overhaul that ultimately netted more than 30 players for the Marlins' system, including 15 that currently are on the organization's Top 30 Prospects list, according to MLB Pipeline.

LAS VEGAS -- At the Winter Meetings last year, the Marlins made a couple of big moves, finalizing their mega-money deal that sent Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees before trading Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals.

Those blockbuster deals were part of a sweeping roster overhaul that ultimately netted more than 30 players for the Marlins' system, including 15 that currently are on the organization's Top 30 Prospects list, according to MLB Pipeline.

The Marlins are anticipating to be far less active at the 2018 Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in Las Vegas. But they have at least one marquee player who could be on the move before the Meetings conclude on Thursday. Whether All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto is traded or not is expected to be decided over the course of the week.

Miami is open to dealing its best player, if a deal makes sense. But the club also notes it has no urgency to make a trade.

Marlins' 2018 Winter Meetings preview

"As it pertains to J.T., he's on our club," Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "We control him for two more years, and that's really all that needs to be said from our standpoint."

No fewer than 14 clubs have expressed interest in Realmuto, including National League East rivals in the Mets, Braves and Phillies. The Astros, Dodgers and Rockies also are reportedly in the mix.

Entering the Winter Meetings, nothing is considered imminent with Realmuto. The Marlins also aren't seeking to diminish any return for Realmuto by attaching a contract, like the $15 million owed to third baseman Martin Prado in 2019, to any trade proposal.

The Realmuto situation has been the hottest offseason topic for the Marlins. The 27-year-old's agent has publicly expressed that his client is not interested in signing an extension with Miami, and his preference is to be traded. Realmuto is entering his second season of arbitration, and he's eligible for free agency in 2021.

For Realmuto, the Marlins are seeking an overpay in return. They covet a top prospect and more, and in some cases, players who have already reached the big league, but have yet to reach arbitration.

Video: Hill discusses teams keeping tabs on Realmuto

With all 30 teams present at the Winter Meetings, there promises to be no shortage of speculation regarding Realmuto and other orders of business for the Marlins. Miami remains in the market to upgrade its offense and seeks first-base and corner-outfield candidates.

From an organizational standpoint, the Marlins did most of their restructuring a year ago. Realmuto is the last piece remaining from the previous core. But the Marlins have a history of being active at the Winter Meetings, and when all teams are present, the climate is right to make deals.

"The opportunity to be with all your counterparts offers an opportunity for activity," Hill said. "I think when you look at where we're at, compared to last year, we added a tremendous amount of talent to our system. We're extremely proud of the players we were able to acquire and the success that they're having in our system. That's always the goal here, to continue to add to that depth -- organizational depth -- in all areas. You can never have enough of it. We are continuing our ascent.

"Our goal is to win championships and bring a championship back to South Florida, and we're in that process. We're looking for ways to make this organization better, in the short term and the long term. That will always be the goal. We'll be open to ways to make ourselves better. We'll keep working to see if that can happen while we're there."

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

Miami Marlins

10 teams with the prospects to make big moves

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

The free-agent market is moving barely faster than a Molina brother, but the trade front has been hopping with activity. In the last three weeks, there have been four deals involving difference-making big leaguers for youngsters either featured on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list or recently graduated from it.

The Mariners have been part of three of those deals, shipping James Paxton to the Yankees for left-hander Justus Sheffield and two more prospects; Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets for a five-player package highlighted by outfielder Jarred Kelenic and right-hander Justin Dunn; and Jean Segura and a pair of relievers to the Phillies for shortstop J.P. Crawford and veteran Carlos Santana. The Cardinals also got in on the act, landing Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver and second-base prospect Andy Young.

The free-agent market is moving barely faster than a Molina brother, but the trade front has been hopping with activity. In the last three weeks, there have been four deals involving difference-making big leaguers for youngsters either featured on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list or recently graduated from it.

The Mariners have been part of three of those deals, shipping James Paxton to the Yankees for left-hander Justus Sheffield and two more prospects; Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets for a five-player package highlighted by outfielder Jarred Kelenic and right-hander Justin Dunn; and Jean Segura and a pair of relievers to the Phillies for shortstop J.P. Crawford and veteran Carlos Santana. The Cardinals also got in on the act, landing Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver and second-base prospect Andy Young.

With all 30 teams convening at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas for the Winter Meetings Sunday through Thursday, more deals could be afoot. Last year in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the Marlins divested themselves of 96 home runs worth of outfielders when they sent Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees and Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals.

Miami will be engaged in lots of trade talk again, with seemingly half the teams in baseball pursuing J.T. Realmuto. And given his history, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto probably can't go five days without swapping some players.

Which contenders could make moves? Here are 10 clubs with a realistic chance to win in 2019 and farm systems with enticing trade fodder:

Astros
Top 100 Prospects: 4
Top-rated prospect: OF Kyle Tucker (No. 5)

Right-hander Forrest Whitley (No. 7 on the Top 100), the best pitching prospect in baseball, may be untouchable but almost anyone else could be fair game. Tucker has been mentioned prominently in Realmuto discussions and righty J.B. Bukauskas reportedly would have gone to the Nationals in a deadline deal for Bryce Harper if Washington hadn't pulled out. The Astros have a deep farm system and few holes on a big league club primed to win a World Series, so they could be ready to trade.

Athletics
Top 100 Prospects: 3
Top-rated prospect: LHP Jesus Luzardo (No. 12)

The low-revenue A's may not prefer to give up young talent, but they may need to in order to plug holes in their rotation. While they won't want to part with left-handers Luzardo or A.J. Puk, they have enough depth in infield (Jorge Mateo, Sheldon Neuse, Eli White) and outfield (Kyler Murray, Austin Beck, Lazaro Armenteros, Jameson Hannah) prospects to pull off a mid-level move.

Braves
Top 100 Prospects: 10
Top-rated prospect: RHP Mike Soroka (No. 20)

No team has more Top 100 Prospects and no contender has more young arms to trade than the Braves. Their stock of precocious pitching includes right-handers Soroka, Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson and left-handers Max Fried, Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard, Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller. The emergence of Johan Camargo and the signing of Josh Donaldson could make third-base prospect Austin Riley somewhat redundant.

Brewers
Top 100 Prospects: 1
Top-rated prospect: 2B Keston Hiura (No. 30)

In the last year, the Brewers have parlayed prospects into a blockbuster for eventual National League MVP Christian Yelich as well as smaller in-season trades for six other members of their NL Championship Series roster. The system isn't as deep as it used to be and second baseman of the near future Hiura may be untouchable, but Milwaukee still has intriguing prospects such as outfielder Corey Ray, shortstop Brice Turang and right-hander Zack Brown.

Cardinals
Top 100 Prospects: 3
Top-rated prospect: RHP Alex Reyes (No. 36)

Looking to end their three-year playoff drought, their longest since 1997-99, the Cardinals barely touched their system when they dealt for Goldschmidt. They still have a slew of ready- or nearly-ready-for-the-Majors prospects they can afford to trade: right-handers Dakota Hudson and Ryan Helsley, catcher Andrew Knizner and outfielders Randy Arozarena and Justin Williams.

Dodgers
Top 100 Prospects: 4
Top-rated prospect: OF Alex Verdugo (No. 32)

After coming up short in consecutive World Series, the Dodgers are linked to several possible big moves that might catapult them to their first championship since 1988, including signing Harper as a free agent or trading for two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. They have several attractive trade pieces in their system, starting with the sweet-swinging Verdugo, who has no clear path to playing time in Los Angeles. The Dodgers also have more quality catching prospects than any organization (Keibert Ruiz, Will Smith, Diego Cartaya, Connor Wong) and plenty of live arms (starting with Dustin May and Dennis Santana).

Phillies
Top 100 Prospects: 3
Top-rated prospect: RHP Sixto Sanchez (No. 21)

Compared to a young Pedro Martinez but sidelined for much of 2018 by inflammation, Sanchez got mentioned in the talks that resulted in the Segura trade and also has been named as part of potential deals for Realmuto and Madison Bumgarner. After bursting into contention in the first four months of last season before collapsing down the stretch, the Phillies are highly motivated to bolster their big league team. If Sanchez is available in the right deal, then none of their prospects are off limits, including their last two first-rounders (third baseman Alec Bohm, outfielder Adam Haseley) plus right-hander Adonis Medina and lefty JoJo Romero.

Rays
Top 100 Prospects: 5
Top-rated prospect: SS Wander Franco (No. 14)

The Rays not only are coming off a surprising 90-win season but also have one of the game's best farm systems. Even if it's difficult to envision them parting with Franco or left-hander/first baseman Brendan McKay, they still have plenty of ammunition to pull off more trades after dealing for Mike Zunino last month. Tampa Bay has a surplus of middle-infield prospects with Lucius Fox, Brandon Lowe, Nick Solak and Vidal Brujan, not to mention plenty of pitching after adding Matthew Liberatore and Shane McClanahan via the Draft and Shane Baz in the Chris Archer trade this summer.

Rockies
Top 100 Prospects: 3
Top-rated prospect: INF Brendan Rodgers (No. 9)

The Rockies have an abundance of young infielders and not nearly enough room for Rodgers, Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson and Josh Fuentes, who are all ready now, not to mention Colton Welker, Ryan Vilade, Grant Lavigne, Tyler Nevin and Terrin Vavra, who require more development. Fuentes and Nevin impressed evaluators in the Arizona Fall League, as did outfielder Sam Hilliard and right-hander Justin Lawrence.

Yankees
Top 100 Prospects: 3
Top-rated prospect: Estevan Florial (No. 45)

The Yankees already included Sheffield in the Paxton deal and still need more pitching after losing out in the Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi sweepstakes, so it's fair to assume that any prospect is available in the right trade. The system is pitching-heavy behind Florial, and right-handers Jonathan Loaisiga, Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo and Trevor Stephan -- among others -- are extra attractive because they're close to being ready for the big leagues.

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

Will Mets make more headlines at Meetings?

Mets seek right-handed bat, catcher and at least one reliever
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- As if the Mets needed help making headlines this offseason, Brodie Van Wagenen is about to descend upon Las Vegas for his first Winter Meetings as a general manager. The last time Van Wagenen entered a forum like this, at the GM Meetings in early November in California, he sowed the seeds for the Robinson Cano trade that occurred one month later. There's no telling what might happen next week, when Van Wagenen inhabits the same Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino as 29 other GMs and dozens of agents.

Even after acquiring Cano and Edwin Diaz, Van Wagenen knows his team needs help. The bullpen and lineup are incomplete; to that end, Van Wagenen has spent the past few weeks overturning every stone he can to fix them. His early ideas have been both traditional and unorthodox. His methods have been both creative and aggressive.

NEW YORK -- As if the Mets needed help making headlines this offseason, Brodie Van Wagenen is about to descend upon Las Vegas for his first Winter Meetings as a general manager. The last time Van Wagenen entered a forum like this, at the GM Meetings in early November in California, he sowed the seeds for the Robinson Cano trade that occurred one month later. There's no telling what might happen next week, when Van Wagenen inhabits the same Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino as 29 other GMs and dozens of agents.

Even after acquiring Cano and Edwin Diaz, Van Wagenen knows his team needs help. The bullpen and lineup are incomplete; to that end, Van Wagenen has spent the past few weeks overturning every stone he can to fix them. His early ideas have been both traditional and unorthodox. His methods have been both creative and aggressive.

Video: Wilpon discusses Mets' 7-player trade, Van Wagenen

The Winter Meetings will give Van Wagenen a chance to showcase those qualities once again, at a time of year that typically sees the Hot Stove begin to boil. With that in mind, here's a look at what the Mets hope to accomplish Monday through Thursday in Las Vegas:

Club needs 
A right-handed bat, a catcher and at least one reliever. The Mets have an outfield vacancy after trading Jay Bruce, and they will look to fill it with a right-handed hitter -- perhaps A.J. Pollock, in whom they've already expressed interest. While J.T. Realmuto trade rumors figure to dominate the catching landscape, the Mets will look into free agent Martin Maldonado as well. As far as the bullpen goes, the Mets know their trade for Diaz wasn't enough. Ideally, the Mets will sign a top free agent to serve as Diaz's setup man -- Andrew Miller, David Robertson and Adam Ottavino are just three of the multitude they'll consider.

Hot Stove Tracker

Whom might they trade? 
If Van Wagenen's opening salvo was any indication, the answer to that is probably "anyone." Realistically, Noah Syndergaard isn't going anywhere. But if Brandon Nimmo or Amed Rosario could go in a deal for Realmuto, as has been rumored, then it's hard to see many in the organization being off-limits.

Video: Rosenthal on the Mets pushing to trade for Realmuto

Prospects to know
After trading away third- and fourth-ranked prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, the Mets have a few gems left in their system. One is top-ranked shortstop Andres Gimenez, a 20-year-old unlikely to make an impact in 2019. It's possible the Mets could look to deal him. Another is first baseman Peter Alonso, who figures to play a significant role in the big leagues next season. Keep an eye also on Nos. 26 and 28 prospects Eric Hanhold and Bobby Wahl, who debuted late this year and could become key bullpen contributors in '19.

Video: Top Prospects: Andres Gimenez, SS, Mets

Rule 5 Draft 
The Mets declined to protect any of their eligible prospects from Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, knowing they aren't at high risk of losing any important long-term pieces. It's possible they could select someone, but while they have a few vacancies on their 40-man roster, the Mets figure to fill those spots quickly with free-agent and trade acquisitions. If they can strike a deal with their insurance company that would allow them to release David Wright, who's currently occupying a 40-man spot, they'll have a bit more wiggle room.

Payroll summary 
For a hyperactive Mets front office, this is the (multi)million-dollar question. Currently, the Mets are on the hook for about $130 million, using MLB Trade Rumors' arbitration projections. They began this past season with a little more than $150 million in commitments, and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon has since said that he considers the payroll "wide open." How high could it go? The Mets are likely to at least match 2018's total. Beyond that, only Wilpon, Van Wagenen and the Mets' highest-ranking staff members know for sure.

One other factor is Wright's $15 million salary, which is included in the figure above. The Mets are recouping around 75 percent of that via insurance, and Wilpon has said they will invest at least some of it back into payroll. Exactly how much remains to be seen, though Van Wagenen has admitted the Mets would need to be extremely creative to find the budget for top free agents Bryce Harper or Manny Machado -- in other words, that's a place they're probably not going.

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

New York Mets

Here are Winter Meetings FAQs to know

MLB.com @castrovince

In most industries, meetings are a bore and chore. They consist of PowerPoints, "action items" and "check-ins," and the end result, usually, is just an agreement to "circle back" to everything at yet another meeting at a later date. Meetings are a necessary evil, a means to an end, an annoyance on your Outlook calendar.

But just as the concept of "touching base" takes on a different connotation in the baseball world than the business world, so, too, do meetings themselves. The phrase "Winter Meetings" has a titillating tenor to it. It conjures up images not of action items but actual action. We think of it as the event where the baseball world convenes and big deals get done.

In most industries, meetings are a bore and chore. They consist of PowerPoints, "action items" and "check-ins," and the end result, usually, is just an agreement to "circle back" to everything at yet another meeting at a later date. Meetings are a necessary evil, a means to an end, an annoyance on your Outlook calendar.

But just as the concept of "touching base" takes on a different connotation in the baseball world than the business world, so, too, do meetings themselves. The phrase "Winter Meetings" has a titillating tenor to it. It conjures up images not of action items but actual action. We think of it as the event where the baseball world convenes and big deals get done.

They are, in short, meetings you can actually get excited about.

With the 2018 Winter Meetings about to begin at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino on Monday, here's a primer on what this annual event is all about.

What is it?
The Winter Meetings are an industry gathering. Representatives from all 30 teams and their various affiliates attend the Winter Meetings. Executives, team staff, media, exhibitors and job seekers converge to network with peers, fill job and internship vacancies, attend workshops, discuss trends and exchange ideas. In some ways, it isn't terribly different from, say, an accountants' conference, because it features a trade show, a job fair, seminars, luncheons, etc.

A key difference is that accountants don't typically gather together in hotel suites and devise ways to trade their clients or sign them to multimillion dollar contracts.

That's why we love the Winter Meetings.

Why does it matter?
Though the ubiquity of texting and e-mailing has altered the dynamics of the Meetings as much as it has altered the fabric of our daily lives, team executives still view the Winter Meetings as a productive place to conduct offseason business.

The convergence of team decision-makers and agents in a single building -- a building many of them will not leave at all for four days -- can accelerate action. It is an efficient environment for deal-making because of the ease of face-to-face dialogue (agents will sometimes fly clients to the Meetings so they can make and listen to pitches in person) and, sometimes, the competitive spirit that kicks in when everybody gets together under one roof.

What happens?
Folks typically arrive on Sunday and depart on Thursday. Team executives usually line up meetings with other clubs and with agents throughout Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. General managers usually have a daily discussion with the local beat reporters to keep them abreast of where things stand, and each Major League manager conducts a press conference where questions about the state of the club are fielded. Reporters mill about the hotel lobby, seeking out team and agent sources, gathering information and, yes, spreading rumors.

When a deal actually gets done, the involved club or clubs hold a press conference in the media work room. If it's a free-agent deal or major trade completed in time for the player to travel to the site, it is not unusual for the player to attend the press conference. That's what happened when the Yankees unveiled Giancarlo Stanton at the 2017 Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for instance.

What are some notable deals that have gone down there?
In 1975, the always enterprising owner Bill Veeck, having just recently purchased the White Sox, set up a table at the Winter Meetings in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with a sign that read, "Open for Business." He went on to make six trades involving 22 players that week.

The Winter Meetings aren't always that lively, but plenty of big deals have gone down there over the years. In free agency, Barry Bonds (1992, Giants, $43 million), Kevin Brown ('98, Dodgers, $105 million) and Alex Rodriguez (2000, Rangers, $252 million) all set new records with contracts completed at the Winter Meetings. Brian Cashman's abrupt exit at the Bellagio in Las Vegas in '08 to fly to California to nail down a $161 million deal (at the time, a record for a pitcher) with CC Sabathia was memorable, as was Albert Pujols' mega pact with the Angels that was negotiated at the '11 Winter Meetings and completed just as everybody was packing up.

As far as trades are concerned, the Yankees' 1959 acquisition of Roger Maris, the Orioles' '65 trade for Frank Robinson, the Mets' '84 deal for Gary Carter, the '90 Padres-Blue Jays blockbuster that involved Fred McGriff, Joe Carter, Tony Fernandez and Roberto Alomar, the Tigers' franchise-altering trade for Miguel Cabrera in 2007 and the Red Sox's '16 acquisition of Chris Sale are some of the standout swaps that have taken place at the Winter Meetings.

What else is announced at the Winter Meetings?
On Sunday, a National Baseball Hall of Fame Eras Committee gathers at the Winter Meetings to discuss and vote on that year's ballot, be it the Today's Game (for candidates whose greatest contributions to baseball were realized from 1988 to the present), Golden Days (for candidates whose greatest contributions to baseball were realized from '50-69), or Early Baseball (for candidates whose greatest contributions to baseball were realized prior to '50). Those candidates who appear on 75 percent of ballots cast get inducted into the Hall of Fame the following summer, alongside the Baseball Writers' Association of America selections.

This year, the Today's Game Era Committee will vote on a ballot featuring Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, Lou Piniella, Lee Smith and George Steinbrenner. The results will be announced at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday on MLB Network.

What is the Rule 5 Draft?
The Rule 5 Draft is the annual grand finale of the Winter Meetings, taking place on Thursday morning as executives prepare to depart. It is an opportunity for teams to take a chance on untapped talent and, while the players involved are little more than lottery tickets, it has uncovered some real gems over the years.

The Rule 5 Draft involves players who were left off their team's 40-man roster and were either A. signed at age 19 or older and have played in professional baseball for at least four years or B. signed at 18 or younger and have played for at least five years. A team that selects a player in the Rule 5 Draft pays $100,000 to the team from which he was selected, and the receiving team must keep the player on the Major League 25-man roster or disabled list (though the player must be active for at least 90 days) for the entirety of the following season. If the player does not remain on the roster, he must be offered back to the team from which he was selected for $50,000. All players on a team's 40-man roster are "protected" from the Rule 5 Draft, and only teams with vacancies on their 40-man at the time of the Draft can participate (in reverse order of the previous season's standings).

Roberto Clemente, Johan Santana, Dan Uggla, Josh Hamilton and Joakim Soria are the most famous examples of impact players who were acquired in the Rule 5 Draft. There are also Triple-A and Double-A phases of the Draft.

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.

Is Bryce to MLB what LeBron is to NBA?

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.

Boras' handbook compares Harper to LeBron James
Dec. 9: Agent Scott Boras is known for compiling expansive free-agent handbooks extolling his clients' achievements and qualities, and his book on Bryce Harper sounds like a doozy.

According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the document Boras has been giving to Harper suitors is 118 pages and features comparisons both predictable and provocative, an example of the latter being LeBron James.

"My goal in this thing is to let teams know what they're getting," Boras said. "That's why we brought in the LeBron comparisons. A lot of people don't know what he's done by the age of 25, and how that compares to what LeBron James did at 25. You get a very clear path on how hard it is to achieve a standard of excellence in an arena where you're both No. 1 picks, both rookies of year, both MVPs, and set a standard that no one can meet.

"The way to articulate this in true business form is look at the Nats' franchise. It was worth $480 to $500 million before he got there, and now it's worth more than $2 billion. TV ratings have tripled.

"Every GM in baseball wants him because he fills a need, but the owners are pursuing Bryce Harper because they know he can also make them a billion dollars over a period of years."

Per Nightengale, teams haven't made formal bids to Harper yet, nor is Boras making specific contract demands.

"The only thing we know for sure," one GM said, "is that he's looking for more than 10 years and $300 million."

Of course, 10 years and $300 million is what the Nationals reportedly offered at the end of the regular season, and Harper rejected it, prompting Nats owner Mark Lerner to indicate that he didn't think Harper would be back in a candid interview with 106.7 The Fan on Friday.

"Well, when we met with them and we gave them the offer, we told them, 'This is the best we can do.' We went right to the finish line very quickly,' Lerner said. "And we said, 'If this is of interest to you, please come back to us and we'll see whether we can finish it up.' But we just couldn't afford to put more than that in and still be able to put a team together that had a chance to win the NL East or go farther than that."

Added Lerner: "If he comes back [to the negotiating table], it's a strong possibility that we won't be able to make it work. But I really don't expect him to come back at this point. I think they've decided to move on. There's just too much money out there that he'd be leaving on the table. That's just not Boras' MO to leave money on the table."

Dodgers have outfield depth but could pursue Harper nonetheless
Dec. 9: The outfield market has been stagnant so far this offseason, but the Dodgers could have a hand in getting it moving during the Winter Meetings. According to ESPN's Buster Olney, Los Angeles has several outfielders available for trade, including Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Matt Kemp, and may also be engaged on free agents such as Bryce Harper and A.J. Pollock.

Tweet from @Buster_ESPN: Dodgers appear to be in the middle of the outfield market, both in trades (Kemp? Puig? Pederson) and free agents (Harper? Pollock?)

While this isn't the first time the Dodgers have been linked to Harper, it's still unclear if the club plans to make an aggressive play for the superstar free agent. The contract that Harper is expected to command would be out of character for the Andrew Friedman-led Dodgers front office, which has consistently maintained a high payroll but hasn't handed out more than $93 million to any one player.

Two sources initially told Yahoo Sports that Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson was part of a group of representatives from the franchise that met with Harper in Las Vegas, the outfielder's hometown and the site of the Winter Meetings, though Johnson later insisted that no such meeting took place.

The Dodgers have notable depth in the outfield, with Puig, Pederson and Kemp joining Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, Alex Verdugo and Andrew Toles as potential options for 2019. Signing Harper (or Pollock) would almost certainly lead to one or more trades involving some of those players, as Bill Plunkett pointed out in an article for the Orange County Register on Sunday.

Harper and Machado negotiations could drag beyond Winter Meetings
Dec. 9: Those hoping the free-agent odysseys of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will reach their respective conclusions during the Winter Meetings may be disappointed.

According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), the history between agents Scott Boras and Dan Lozano could be a major factor in negotiations stretching well beyond this week.

Boras, who represents Harper, used to rep Machado as well before losing him to Lozano in 2011 -- the same year Alex Rodriguez, another former Boras client, joined Lozano. As a result, Boras may have extra motivation to get Harper the bigger deal between this offseason's top two free agents.

"The prevailing assumption in the industry is that Boras wants to set new benchmarks with Harper's free-agent deal, whether in total guaranteed salary, average annual value or -- preferably -- both," Rosenthal writes. "Therefore, he will want Machado to sign first, securing the negotiating equivalent of 'last licks,' in which he would step to the plate knowing the number to beat. Boras' track record also indicates he would be willing to go to extra innings, moving at his own pace, stretching talks into January, if necessary."

But as Rosenthal points out, Machado isn't necessarily going to sign quickly. While Lozano isn't the same type of showman as Boras, outdueling his counterpart has to at least be on his mind in some capacity, and Machado is reportedly receiving interest from at least six teams, including the Yankees, Phillies and White Sox.

Meanwhile, Rosenthal notes that some rival agents and club executives think the market for Harper will be limited, given the bar Boras is believed to be setting. "It's Philly bidding against Philly," one agent said of the Harper sweepstakes.

Olney still not ruling out reunion between Harper and Nats
Dec. 8: Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner's candid interview with 106.7 The Fan on Friday drew widespread publicity, as Lerner acknowledged that the reported 10-year, $300 million offer Bryce Harper rejected at the end of the regular season was "the best we can do," and indicated that he didn't expect the free-agent outfielder to be back.

But ESPN's Buster Olney still isn't counting out a Harper-Nats reunion.

"Before anyone completely slams the door shut, it's worth remembering: Stuff happens," Olney wrote in his latest column for ESPN+ (subscription required). "Negotiations take many twists and turns, and if there is one lasting tether between any organization and a particular agent right now, it's between Harper's representative, Scott Boras, and the Nationals."

As Olney points out, Boras has a long history of negotiating with Washington, as he has represented past and present Nationals such as Harper, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon, among others.

Olney compares Harper to another Boras client, Bernie Williams, who seemed prepared to leave the Yankees in free agency after the 1998 season, only to re-sign with New York when owner George Steinbrenner agreed to increase his offer from $60 million to $87.5 million. That was enough to get Williams to return, even though he had an offer for slightly more money ($91 million) from the rival Red Sox.

Video: Intentional Talk: Nats moving on from Harper?

White Sox selling Harper and Machado on a bright future
Dec. 8: The White Sox are willing to break the bank to land Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but it may take more than cash to get one of those players to sign on the dotted line. Chicago also offers one of the biggest media markets in sports, but even that might not be enough.

As a 10-season postseason drought hangs over the franchise, the White Sox will need to sell Harper and Machado on the idea that World Series championship contention is right around the corner as their talent-rich farm system -- led by top prospect Eloy Jimenez (No. 3 overall, per MLB Pipeline) -- continues to bear fruit.

Granted, adding Harper or Machado might not make the White Sox instant contenders, even in the underwhelming American League Central.

The club has major needs on the pitching staff, especially with No. 2 prospect Michael Kopech (No. 19 overall) set to miss all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery, and it's unclear when No. 3 prospect Dylan Cease (No. 25 overall) and No. 6 prospect Dane Dunning (No. 59 overall) will be ready to contribute to the Major League rotation.

But general manager Rick Hahn thinks other players are clued-in enough to understand what the White Sox are building toward.

"You have to understand these guys are professionals, and they understand deep nuances about each individual franchise," Hahn said, according to MLB.com's Scott Merkin. "From a macro standpoint, the idea of potentially being part of a winner in Chicago has very broad appeal.

"From a nuanced standpoint, the chance to be part of the White Sox organization based upon what our future looks like, futures that these players are familiar with and understand having either seen personally some of these young players play or video or talked to other players about them, it's something that they buy into."

While Chicago is likely planning for Jimenez to take over in left field at some point next season, Harper would fit perfectly into the right-field vacancy created when the club non-tendered Avisail Garcia, and the 26-year-old would also give the White Sox a strong left-right tandem of Harper and Jose Abreu in the middle of the order.

Nats owner: Initial offer to Harper was "best we can do"
Dec. 7: After Bryce Harper rejected a reported 10-year, $300 million offer from the Nationals at the end of the regular season and Washington subsequently signed Patrick Corbin for $140 million over six years, there's been much speculation about the club's plans for Harper.

Principal owner Mark Lerner shed some light on the Nationals' thought process Friday in an interview with Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan.

"Well, when we met with them and we gave them the offer, we told them, 'This is the best we can do.' We went right to the finish line very quickly,' Lerner said. "And we said, 'If this is of interest to you, please come back to us and we'll see whether we can finish it up.' But we just couldn't afford to put more than that in and still be able to put a team together that had a chance to win the NL East or go farther than that."

Added Lerner: "If he comes back [to the negotiating table], it's a strong possibility that we won't be able to make it work. But I really don't expect him to come back at this point. I think they've decided to move on. There's just too much money out there that he'd be leaving on the table. That's just not [agent Scott] Boras' MO to leave money on the table."

Lerner indicated that the Nationals are comfortable with their current outfield, which consists of Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, Victor Robles and Michael A. Taylor.

"We feel very strongly we're in good shape," Lerner said. "It'll be a young, pretty incredible outfield defensively, and certainly with the bat it's going to be special."

Cardinals may still be in on Harper, even after trading for Goldschmidt
Dec. 7: The Cardinals addressed a major need when they traded for All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt this week, and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak made it clear at Goldschmidt's introductory press conference that he believes he has the starting lineup in place for 2019.

But according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an article for Fancred Sports, St. Louis isn't necessarily out on free-agent superstar Bryce Harper. "Three straight years missing the playoffs has made them determined to improve the team," Heyman writes.

True, the Cardinals' outfield is even more crowded with Goldschmidt in the fold, as Jose Martinez can no longer be slotted in at first base.

But St. Louis has money to spend, and it doesn't have many obvious needs remaining for 2019. If the club decides it wants to use its resources on one big-ticket player instead of spreading the wealth around, it doesn't appear as though the presence of Martinez, Dexter Fowler or Tyler O'Neill will stand in the way of a Harper pursuit.

Do Phillies prefer Harper or Machado?
Dec. 7: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado? Manny Machado or Bryce Harper? The Phillies, with all the money they have to spend this offseason, are in on one or the other -- maybe even both. While they recently traded for infielder Jean Segura from the Mariners, they even more recently missed out on splurging on lefty Patrick Corbin, so the possibility that they could land Harper and/or Machado likely only increased.

But if forced to choose between the two superstars of this free-agent market, does the club have a preference? MLB.com's Todd Zolecki weighs exactly that question. His answer?

"There are indications Philadelphia prefers [Machado] over Harper. Now, Machado is not an iconic player like Harper. He is not as accomplished a hitter as Harper. But he is one of the game's greatest talents and he also plays a premium position. It is why Machado has a career 33.8 WAR, while Harper has a career 27.4 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. If the Phils can convince Machado to play third base -- his best position -- they will have one of the best left sides of the infield in baseball for years. Oh, Machado could come at a lower price than Harper, too."

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman is hearing otherwise, though, writing Thursday for Fancred Sports that Harper "is believed to be their top target." However, a confidant of Harper thinks the outfielder is "lukewarm on Philly, as a city, anyway."

If that's the case, then perhaps Machado is the more likely option, whether the Phillies prefer Harper or not. 

Superstar or bust for Phillies?
Dec. 5: The Phillies could have used left-hander Patrick Corbin just as much as the Nationals, but now that he's reportedly agreed to a contract with Washington, Philly.com's Scott Lauber writes that Philadelphia needs to make signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado its main priority. While Phillies owner John Middleton has said that his club could be "a little stupid" in how it spends its considerable financial resources this offseason, Lauber argues that giving Corbin the sixth year he desired on his contract would have been ill-advised if it hurt the Phillies' chances for Harper or Machado. Philadelphia's starting rotation, led by Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta while also featuring improving youngsters including Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez, was one of the club's stronger areas in 2018, but its offense finished with the fewest hits in the Major Leagues. Philly's lineup is desperate for an impact bat, argues Lauber, meaning the club "can't afford to miss out" on at least one of the big two superstars atop the free-agent board.

The Nationals can't completely be ruled out of the Harper sweepstakes, and the Dodgers have sent some Harper-related signals this week, too. And the Yankees are looming, of course, with perhaps the Cubs waiting in the wings as well. It's up to the Phillies to convince either Harper or Machado to come to the City of Brotherly Love, and Lauber argues that Middleton's money is their best argument.

Could Cubs be lurking for Harper?
Dec. 4: Despite their perceived financial limitations and with many other clubs in the market for Harper, it's long seemed destined that the Cubs will make at least some push to acquire the six-time All-Star. 

Harper has been connected to the Cubs for some time. He is close friends with Kris Bryant, has a dog named Wrigley and has made various social media quips in recent years poking at his perceived allure for potentially playing on the North Side.

In an article published on Monday for The Athletic (subscription required), Patrick Mooney outlines the logistics for why Chicago will at least check in on Harper soon, particularly with the Winter Meetings beginning on Sunday in Harper's hometown of Las Vegas. 

"Knowing the personalities involved and how they operate, it wouldn't make sense for [president of baseball operations Theo] Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer to decline the opportunity to get some face time with a superstar player, or for super-agent Scott Boras to exclude a big-market team like the Cubs from the negotiations," Mooney writes. 

Epstein has made bold deals in years past when he's explicitly outlined intentions to avoid such moves. After a last-place finish in 2014, he signed Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal. He also shelled out $184 million to Jason Heyward the following offseason for a nine-year contract, and $126 million over six years to Yu Darvish last year. 

Video: Cubs may need to adjust roster to fit Bryce Harper

But the Cubs' financial framework for 2019 is much different than in years past. Mooney outlines that the Cubs already have committed roughly $160 million to 13 players next year, nearly an additional $40 million in projected arbitration raises, with a $13 million earmark for player benefits and an estimate of $5-10 million in what he describes as the "Trade Deadline fund" that the front office holds in reserve. That all puts the Cubs around $220 million in payroll, per Mooney, which is in line to exceed the Competitive Balance Tax that is set for $206 million for 2019.  

Yet despite all of the signs indicating the Cubs won't be in the market for Harper, the club doesn't seem inclined to stand pat -- especially after losing the division lead that it held nearly all season to the Brewers in Game 163 and the NL Wild Card Game against the Rockies at home.  

"Epstein's aggressive style and competitive nature also won't let him bring back essentially the same group of players and hope for different results," Mooney writes. 

Phils still in on Harper (and more) after Segura trade
Dec. 3: The Phillies' expectedly active offseason took its first significant step on Monday with the acquisition of two-time All-Star shortstop Jean Segura from the Mariners. And the trade should not affect the club's pursuit of either Harper or Manny Machado, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki writes. In fact, Segura's addition gives the Phils a tremendous amount of flexibility in how they move forward. 

Phils still in for Machado, Harper after Segura deal

Both Machado and Segura played shortstop in 2018, but each has also played a separate infield position and at a high level. Machado played most of his Major League career at third, and Segura had a highly productive season over 142 games at second in 2016 with the D-backs. If Machado refuses to play third and/or asks for too much money, the Phils could shift their sights more exclusively to Harper, per Zolecki. 

Video: Zolecki joins High Heat to discuss Segura trade

"The Phillies like Harper. They recognize he is an iconic player. They know he would be a tremendous presence in the lineup," Zolecki writes.

The Phillies, however, won't wait long into 2019 while Harper's agent, Scott Boras, negotiates what many anticipate will be the richest contract in baseball history. And if the Phils acquire Machado in the coming weeks, they can shift to more affordable outfield pieces, such as free agents Michael Brantley or A.J. Pollock, or seek an upgrade via trade. 

Again, Monday's trade helps the Phillies on the field and in the offseason market. As Zolecki put it: "Segura allows the Phillies to be more picky."