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How Ramos' deal impacts Realmuto's market

Marlins lose leverage in trade talks with Mets off board
MLB.com @jonmorosi

As the Winter Meetings closed last week in Las Vegas, a trade of Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto seemed near, with the Mets perhaps the most likely candidate to acquire him.

Now we know Realmuto won't become a Met, after a source confirmed the club reached agreement on a two-year, $19 million contract with free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos.

As the Winter Meetings closed last week in Las Vegas, a trade of Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto seemed near, with the Mets perhaps the most likely candidate to acquire him.

Now we know Realmuto won't become a Met, after a source confirmed the club reached agreement on a two-year, $19 million contract with free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos.

Hot Stove news, rumors

Thus, the focus shifts to a question that has persisted for weeks: Will the Marlins or Dodgers blink first in their stalemate over Realmuto?

Sources say the teams were in contact during the Winter Meetings, but that the Dodgers were balking at the inclusion of at least one key player on whom the Marlins were insisting.

The Ramos signing isn't an encouraging development for the Marlins, who have lost the leverage of a large-market, intensely interested suitor. The Dodgers have less incentive to increase their most recent trade offer for Realmuto, especially when free-agent alternatives are available in Yasmani Grandal and Martin Maldonado.

Video: Mets reportedly sign Ramos to a 2-year deal

The Dodgers remain open to bringing back Grandal on a one-year contract, one source said Sunday evening, after he rejected a one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer last month. Based on the fact that Ramos' average annual value was roughly half of that amount, it's unclear if the Dodgers still value one season of Grandal at $17.9 million.

According to MLBPipeline.com, two of the Dodgers' top five prospects -- No. 2 Keibert Ruiz and No. 5 Will Smith -- are catchers. As a result, the Dodgers are interested predominantly in short-term acquisitions at the position, so as not to block the progress of Ruiz and/or Smith. Realmuto, who is under control through 2020, matches that description. 

The Dodgers likely would consider moving Ruiz or Smith and right-hander Dustin May, their No. 3 prospect, in a trade for Realmuto. Thus far, however, the Marlins have been asking for substantially more in return.

The Brewers met with Ramos at the Winter Meetings, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com, and continue to show interest in starting catchers. Thus, Milwaukee is a possible destination for Realmuto via trade, or for Grandal or Maldonado in free agency.

Video: Hill talks about J.T. Realmuto, his potential value

One consideration in the Realmuto-to-Milwaukee scenario: Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill and Brewers general manager David Stearns are comfortable dealing with one another, as evidenced by the trade for eventual 2018 National League MVP Award winner Christian Yelich. That deal occurred on Jan. 25, 2018, an indication that both sides are comfortable with waiting well into the New Year.

The Angels also talked with Ramos' representatives before he signed with the Mets and have shown interest in Grandal, one source confirmed Sunday. The Angels have only two catchers on their 40-man roster, Jose Briceno and Kevan Smith, and neither is proven as a starter in the Majors.

The Padres also have been linked to Realmuto this offseason, but they could begin 2019 with a tandem of Austin Hedges and prospect Francisco Mejia. Meanwhile, after reaching the agreement with Ramos, the Mets now could move Travis d'Arnaud via trade. d'Arnaud played only four games in 2018 before undergoing season-ending Tommy John elbow surgery.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.

Wilson Ramos, J.T. Realmuto

Machado to visit Yankees, Phillies this week

MLB.com

Manny Machado has been one of the game's best players since debuting in 2012, and he is set to cash in as a first-time free agent this offseason.

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

Manny Machado has been one of the game's best players since debuting in 2012, and he is set to cash in as a first-time free agent this offseason.

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

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

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.

Could a club coming off a losing season be the one to land Machado?
Dec. 16: The White Sox have been in the Machado sweepstakes since last offseason, when they intriguingly attempted to trade for him when most of their other moves indicated they were still attempting to stock up their farm system. They again tried to acquire him ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline in July. And now they're among a handful of teams trying to sign him in free agency, where it will cost the club only dollars and not prospects. 

But it will take a lot of dollars to land Machado. 

Machado has been rumored to be in the market for among the richest contracts in baseball history, perhaps in excess of $200 million (if not more). It's also believed that he wants to sign with a contender, which further limits the pool of potential suitors. However, in an interesting piece for MLB.com, analyst Mike Petriello points out that, while winning is probably important to Machado (and Bryce Harper, for that matter), the underlying factor will be dollars. 

What type of team typically gives out a mega-deal?

"The thinking goes, Harper and Machado want to win," Petriello writes. "Harper has never won a playoff series. Machado hadn't before joining the Dodgers late in 2018. They won't go to a team that didn't win.

"Perhaps. But is that really true? Think about all the variables that go into a decision this momentous. Sure, winning is important. So are location, fit with the organization, ballpark, teammates, coaches and so on. But in the end, we all know the most important factor here is money. They're going to go where they can get the largest contract, and they've earned the right to do so."

Petriello adds that nearly 40 percent of all contracts in excess of $100 million have been given out by clubs that were coming off a sub-.500 season. It's logic backed by the hope that a prized talent can help springboard a club by making an immediate impact. 

The Phillies, who are also as in on Machado as any club, finished 80-82 last year and would fit into Petriello's criteria.

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 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.

"The interest of the White Sox is more measured and modest than frenzied, and within more conventional financial bounds," Olney wrote Saturday for ESPN+ (subscription required).

That might not be enough for either player to choose the White Sox, especially with the team unlikely to be a serious contender in 2019 -- even with a big free-agent splash.

As MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal wrote for The Athletic (subscription required) last week, "the prevailing assumption in the industry is that [agent] Scott Boras wants to set new benchmarks with Harper's free-agent deal, whether in total guaranteed salary, average annual value or -- preferably -- both." One would assume Machado's agent, Dan Lozano, wants to do the same, or at least come close.

Rosenthal also recently broke down why signing Harper or Machado would be out of character for White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, even for a contract that doesn't set records. As Rosenthal noted, the biggest contract in team history is the six-year, $68 million deal Jose Abreu signed in October 2013.

Would Machado return to 3B if price is right?
Dec. 13: Manny Machado spent the past year making it abundantly clear that he prefers playing shortstop. It's why he moved last offseason from third base, where he played the vast majority of the first six seasons in the Major Leagues, to short -- his natural position, the one at which he was drafted back in 2010.

But now that he's a free agent and various teams courting him have different needs on the left side of their infields, would Machado consider moving back to the hot corner? Is it a matter of finding the right fit? The right team? The most amount of money?

"Manny's mindset is to be a shortstop," Machado's longtime coach and baseball mentor Bobby Dickerson told Scott Lauber of Philly.com. "He really wants to play short. But I do think for the correct team in the correct situation and the right contract, all those things, he'd be willing to play third. I don't know this, but I believe it."

After emerging as one of the elite defensive third basemen in the sport early in his career, Machado's performance at short came into question at times in 2018, particularly before he was traded to the Dodgers from the Orioles.

That could mean certain suitors might be wary of how he'd handle the position going forward, especially as the 26-year-old heads toward his late 20s and into his 30s. Given their current rosters, it's possible the Phillies, Yankees and White Sox -- the three known clubs with which Machado is expected to meet, among other mystery teams -- would prefer to deploy him at third.

Asked specifically about whether he thinks Machado would play third base for the Phillies in the wake of their recent acquisition of shortstop Jean Segura, Dickerson offered: "I think if the contract is right, he would. It may have to go an extra five million, or more, or whatever to get him out of [shortstop]. But if the contract is right, I think he would go to third."

Do Phillies prefer Harper or Machado?
Dec. 12: 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. But if forced to choose between the two superstars of this free-agent market, does the club have a preference? MLB Network insider Joel Sherman gets the sense that it's Machado, adding that Philadelphia could look to sign the 26-year-old infielder and Michael Brantley.

Tweet from @Joelsherman1: #Phillies chose McCutchen over Brantley but if Philly signs Machado over Harper (which appears preference), it���s posssible double back to Brantley for needed LH bat. But Brantley has alternatives could move on b4 that.

MLB.com's Todd Zolecki also hears Machado is first on the team's wish list

"There are indications Philadelphia prefers [Machado] over Harper," Zolecki writes. "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."

That said, with new acquisiton Jean Segura locked in at shortstop, the Phillies will need to convince Machado to move back to third base. Philadelphia may also need to outbid the Yankees by a notable margin, as New York is believed to be Machado's preference.

 Machado to meet with Yanks, Phils, White Sox and mystery teams
Dec. 11: The biggest transaction on the second day of the Winter Meetings -- at least as of late afternoon -- was the Phillies' deal to sign Andrew McCutchen to a reported three-year, $50 million pact. How does that impact Manny Machado, specifically?

It doesn't really change much, frankly, as McCutchen is expected to handle one of the corner outfield spots in Philly, and the amount of money -- while not insignificant -- shouldn't preclude the Phillies from making any substantial offer to Machado. In short: There's still a fit on the left side of the Phillies' infield, as MLB Network insider Jon Heyman pointed out. 

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Brantley is out as a Phillies option since McCutchen deal, but door is still open for Harper (and of course Machado

So what's next for the superstar 26-year-old? Machado is slated to meet with teams most interested in him soon, and Heyman reports that three of them are the Yankees, White Sox and -- yep -- the Phillies, as well as three "mystery teams."

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Yanks, White Sox and Phillies are 3 teams that will meet with Manny Machado. The 3 alleged mystery teams remain so.

The takeaways from that? One, those three clubs are in big markets and have money to spend. Two, it's likely that nothing will happen any time soon (think: during the Winter Meetings) on the Machado front, given that he's planning to visit with a number of franchises. 

Video: After Cutch, Phils could still target Harper, Machado

Are Yankees in on Machado, out on Harper?
Dec. 10: With a need at shortstop and a crowded outfield, the Yankees may be in the mix for Manny Machado but not so much for Bryce Harper. If it's a choice between Machado and Harper, it appears New York would lean toward the former -- and might, in fact, be out on the latter, as MLB.com's Bryan Hoch noted after GM Brian Cashman said Harper isn't a fit in their loaded outfield or at first base.

Tweet from @BryanHoch: What we learned from Day 1 of the #Yankees #WinterMeetings: they are in on Manny Machado (and others), and out on Bryce Harper.

The question, then, becomes whether the typically deep-pocketed Yankees are serious enough about Machado to meet what is expected to be an asking price in the range of $300 million. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees plan to meet with Machado but won't necessarily pony up to that extent.

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 a chunk of next season recovering from Tommy John surgery. To that end, it's not a surprise that Cashman said he has spoken with Machado's agent, Dan Lozano, according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

Tweet from @Feinsand: Cashman said he has spoken with Dan Lozano, the agent for Manny Machado, multiple times. They have not spoken in Vegas. ���I���m not going to deny we���ve had a conversation or two.���

Heyman also reported that although New York is "pursuing" Machado, the club is considering other candidates to address its need in the infield, including Reds trade chip Scooter Gennett and versatile veteran free agents Marwin Gonzalez and Josh Harrison.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Yankees are pursuing Machado but they have other infield options ��� Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Harrison and possibly even Scooter Gennett to name 3

Heyman listed the Phillies, White Sox and potential mystery clubs as the Yankees' primary competitors for Machado. 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.

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.

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."

With Tim Anderson at shortstop, Machado would fit better at third base for the White Sox. But if the 26-year-old insists on playing short, it's unlikely the club will let Anderson's presence get in the way. The 25-year-old Anderson is a potentially dynamic player -- he produced 20 homers with 26 steals in 2018 -- but he has major strides to make in the plate-discipline department. Anderson has recorded 428 strikeouts with just 56 walks in 1,643 career plate appearances, contributing to a .286 on-base percentage. 

Manny Machado

Source: Mets, Ramos agree to 2-year contract

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- Unable to find a trade they liked for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, the Mets on Sunday moved on from that pursuit in decisive fashion. A source told MLB.com that the club agreed to a two-year, $19 million contract with free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos, who will form a tandem behind the plate with Travis d'Arnaud.

The Mets have not confirmed the deal, which is pending a physical.

NEW YORK -- Unable to find a trade they liked for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, the Mets on Sunday moved on from that pursuit in decisive fashion. A source told MLB.com that the club agreed to a two-year, $19 million contract with free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos, who will form a tandem behind the plate with Travis d'Arnaud.

The Mets have not confirmed the deal, which is pending a physical.

Ramos has been one of baseball's top offensive catchers for much of this decade, batting .273 with a .758 OPS and an average of 14 home runs per year since 2011. Last season was one of Ramos' best, batting .306 with 15 homers and an .845 OPS in 111 games for the Rays and Phillies. Ramos is also regarded as an excellent pitch framer.

Injuries have been his most prominent issue, including a torn right knee ligament that limited him to 25 games in 2012, and that required another surgery after the 2016 season. But Ramos stayed mostly healthy last season and, in New York, the Mets do not need him to play every day. Ramos can split time with d'Arnaud, another oft-injured catcher who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but is expected to be ready for Opening Day. The Mets will also have to make a decision on Kevin Plawecki, who is arbitration-eligible and out of Minor League options.

Video: PHI@ATL: Ramos laces a go-ahead 2-run double to left

Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said earlier this offseason that other teams have expressed interest in acquiring one of the Mets' catchers via trade, making that a possible avenue to clear roster space.

However the playing time shakes out, the Mets appear set at catcher after spending much of December in pursuit of Realmuto. One of the best backstops in baseball, Realmuto has been coveted by more than a half-dozen teams, but the Mets balked at the reported asking price of young, controllable Major League talent -- Amed Rosario, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo or even Noah Syndergaard.

At the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas last week, Van Wagenen met with Ramos in person. Then he struck a deal with the 31-year-old, setting the market for catchers just as Van Wagenen did for relievers with his three-year, $30-million offer to Jeurys Familia. In doing so, Van Wagenen appears to have called off his pursuits of Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal and Martin Maldonado, who were also available on the free-agent market.

Now, in mid-December, Van Wagenen has already completed much of what he set out to do this winter. In Ramos, the Mets added to their catching depth with a two-time All-Star. In Familia and Edwin Diaz, the team added two core pieces to a bullpen that ranked 28th in ERA last season.

Also on the Mets' wish list is a right-handed-hitting outfielder -- they have checked into A.J. Pollock and Adam Jones, among others -- and a lefty reliever. Van Wagenen said the Mets are unlikely to pursue top free agents Andrew Miller or Zach Britton to fill the latter hole, likely settling on lower-priced targets.

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

New York Mets, Wilson Ramos

Rumors: Realmuto, Machado, Thor, Grandal

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

With another catcher off the board, how does it affect Realmuto's market?
Dec. 16: With the Mets reportedly agreeing to a two-year deal with free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos on Sunday, there's one fewer catcher on the market this offseason, as well as one fewer team looking for a backstop. How does that affect the trade market for the much-coveted J.T. Realmuto? 

The Braves are another team that has apparently bowed out of the Realmuto sweepstakes, sources told MLB.com's Mark Bowman on Saturday. Based on past reports, that narrows the field to the Reds, Rays, Dodgers and Padres. All four clubs have very strong farm systems, and with the Marlins rebuilding, could make enticing offers for the 27-year-old All-Star.

The Dodgers are looking for a catcher to replace free agent Yasmani Grandal, and with Ramos no longer an option, it may prompt the front office to intensify its bid for Realmuto, who was the best-hitting catcher in the Majors last season. Meanwhile, the Padres have been rumored to be in the mix for several prominent players, and after signing Eric Hosmer to a big contract last offseason, San Diego may be thinking to significantly upgrade its big league club as farm talent nears the Majors.

The Rays were the biggest surprise of last season, finishing with 90 victories despite having one true starting pitcher and having traded away several key players prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. They may be looking to build on that success by adding another young talent behind the plate. And the Reds have been rumored to be in on several impact free agents as well, meaning Cincinnati appears serious about competing in the very near future.

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. 

Now that the Mets have found their catcher, how does that affect the market for Grandal?
Dec. 16: The Mets were rumored to be a serious suitor for free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal, but New York struck a two-year deal with Wilson Ramos on Sunday. What does that mean for Grandal?

The two premier catchers remaining on the market this offseason are Grandal and Marlins All-Star backstop J.T. Realmuto, who is on the trade block. The clubs that are still reportedly looking for an upgrade behind the plate include the Reds, Rays, Brewers, Dodgers, Padres, Angels, Astros and White Sox.

According to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, Los Angeles is open to the idea of bringing Grandal back on a one-year deal, though it may not be for as much as the $17.9 million qualifying offer the Dodgers extended him following the end of the World Series.

But the Dodgers are also reportedly serious players for Realmuto, as are several of the teams noted above. That may mean that until Realmuto is moved, Grandal may be in a holding pattern.

Grandal, who turned 30 last month, had his best offensive season in 2018, slashing .241/.349/.466 with 24 home runs in 140 games. Though he struggled defensively during the postseason, he is known as a very good defensive catcher.

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 the 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.

Nationals may be narrowing second base options
Dec. 15: As they continue to search for their next second baseman, the Nationals may not pursue the top end of the market, according to the Washinton Post. Though they have spoken with DJ LeMahieu's representatives, according to the report they will likely seek less expensive options to fill the role, such as Brian Dozier, Josh Harrison or Jed Lowrie.

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.

Phillies eyeing Minor -- but for what role?
Dec. 15: The Phillies are pursuing a trade for Rangers left-hander Mike Minor, two sources told Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer, but it's unclear where they would use him. Philadelphia is targeting starters and relievers, and Minor happens to be someone with recent experience in both roles.

Minor was a starter with the Braves over the first five seasons of his career, but after missing all of 2015 and 2016 with left shoulder problems, he signed with the Royals and became a full-time reliever in 2017.

The southpaw was excellent pitching out of the bullpen, recording a 2.55 ERA with a 1.02 WHIP and a 10.2 K/9 mark. He averaged 94.7 mph with his four-seam fastball, and yielded an outstanding .249 xwOBA with the pitch, per Statcast™.

Despite that success, Texas used Minor as a starter for the entirety of 2018 after signing him last offseason. Minor finished the season with a 4.18 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP and a 7.6 K/9, averaging 92.8 mph with his four-seamer and allowing a .372 xwOBA with the pitch.

Lauber notes that if the Phils are looking at Minor as a reliever, it could indicate the club is "cooling" on left-handed relievers Andrew Miller and Zach Britton. That said, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported Friday that the Phillies have continued to target Miller while engaging with Texas about a deal for Minor.

Tweet from @JeffPassan: As the Phillies pursue pitching, they���ve engaged with the Rangers about left-handed Mike Minor and continued to target left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, league sources tell Yahoo Sports. Minor could start or relieve, and Miller is one of the best relievers left on FA market.

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.

Astros eyeing Brantley, Cruz
Dec. 15: The rotation arguably remains the Astros' biggest area of need, but the club is reportedly looking into offensive upgrades as well. According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), Houston is talking to free agents Michael Brantley and Nelson Cruz and may try to sign both of them.

Check out the most recent Brantley news here and the latest Cruz rumors here.

Brewers considering Lowrie, Murphy
Dec. 15: Although the Brewers' top prospect, second baseman Keston Hiura (No. 30 overall, per MLB Pipeline), may soon be ready to make an impact in the Majors, Milwaukee is showing interest in both Daniel Murphy and Jed Lowrie, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required).

Get the latest on Lowrie here.

Giants getting lots of calls on Smith, other relievers
Dec. 15: The Giants insist they are looking to be competitive in 2019, but if the right offer comes along to improve in other areas, some of their relievers could be on the move this offseason. According to NBC Sports Bay Area, the pitcher garnering the most interest is left-hander Will Smith, who had a stellar season in '18, posting a 2.55 ERA and a 34 percent strikeout rate in 58 appearances. The 29-year-old proved durable and very effective after missing the '17 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. 

With the reliever market picking up steam at the Winter Meetings, including a thee-year, $30 million contract for Jeurys Familia with the Mets, and a three-year, $25 million deal for Joe Kelly to join the Dodgers, clubs may be more inclined to scour the trade market for less expensive bullpen help. That could benefit the Giants, who have several voids to fill on their roster. Other cost-efficient Giants relievers who have been inquired about are Tony Watson and Sam Dyson.

Sources told NBC Bay Area that the Giants are positioning Smith as a cheaper alternative to left-handers Zach Britton and Andrew Miller, a pair of free agents that will likely cash in with big contracts this offseason.

Pirates have 'big interest' in Galvis
Dec. 15: Multiple clubs have shown interest in free-agent utility infielder Freddy Galvis, and the Pirates have joined that group according to the New York Post. Pittsburgh lost shortstop Jordy Mercer to the Tigers via free agency. 

Galvis, 29, has a career slash line of .246/.290/.374 over seven Major League seasons, six with the Phillies and one with the Padres. He's a strong defensive infielder who has only missed four games in the past three seasons, and could plug holes for teams like the Pirates or Yankees. New York has also shown interest in Galvis as a potential fall-back option if Manny Machado doesn't land in the Bronx.

Would Phillies splurge on Kimbrel?
Dec. 14: 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.

Nats 'leery' of signing Keuchel long term
Dec. 14: After shelling out $140 million and committing six years to Patrick Corbin, the Nationals have some apprehension about dishing out another long-term deal in the starting pitching market -- specifically for Dallas Keuchel, according to Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports

Keuchel is believed to be seeking a deal in the four- to six-year range, and many analysts predict he will get it. The Nats likely won't be willing to commit that length to the left-hander, per Zuckerman. 

Washington was one of just two clubs last year (with the Red Sox) to exceed the Competitive Balance Tax. Should it again exceed that mark, set for $206 million in 2019, the penalty will rise to the maximum of 50 percent. The club already has committed $525 million to its top three starters -- Corbin, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg -- over separate deals. 

Though they could feature arguably the best 1-2-3 punch in the Majors, the Nats' fourth and fifth starter spots are uncertain, particularly after they traded Tanner Roark to the Reds on Wednesday. The Nats have been linked to Keuchel this offseason, more so before they signed Corbin, but there might be more affordable avenues for them to continue to upgrade the back end of their rotation.

Are the Mets closing in on their next catcher? What about center field?
Dec. 14: The Mets are "very serious" about free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal as their next backstop, according to SNY's Andy Martino, who also notes New York's catching situation may be "moving closer to resolution." Grandal is the best defensive catcher on the market, his struggles behind the plate during the postseason notwithstanding.

Grandal, 30, had his best offensive season to date in 2018, hitting .241/.349/.466 with 24 homers in 140 games for the Dodgers. While the Mets have also been rumored to be among several clubs in pursuit of Marlins trade candidate J.T. Realmuto, the situation appears to remain fluid.

Tweet from @martinonyc: Mets catching situation moving closer to resolution (not sayin tonight, but they���re working hard on it.)I keep hearing from different people that they���re very serious about Yasmani Grandal

The Mets are also continuing a serious pursuit of an upgrade in center field, and free agent A.J. Pollock remains their top choice according to Martino. Pollock, 31, slashed .257/.316/.484 with 21 homers in 113 games for the D-backs last season, though prior to being injured in mid-May, he was hitting .293/.349/.620 with 11 homers in 40 games. He has also proved to be a strong defensive center fielder.

Tweet from @martinonyc: Mets still serious about A.J. Pollock as they weigh catching options

New York has already been very active this offseason, acquiring second baseman Robinson Cano from the Mariners and signing free-agent reliever Jeurys Familia to a three-year deal that reunites him with his former team.

Why Brantley to Braves still makes a lot of sense
Dec. 14: The Braves made the first big free-agent splash of the offseason by signing Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million contract last month, but they've been pretty quiet since then. Will that change?

MLB.com's Richard Justice lists Atlanta as one of his seven teams most likely to make the next big move. In a lot of divisions in baseball, landing Donaldson and catcher Brian McCann in short order, as the Braves did, would be enough for a reigning division champ. But as Justice writes: "In the National League East arms race, it's not enough. So GM Alex Anthopoulos is still thinking big in his pursuit of a corner outfielder, a top-of-the-rotation starter and possibly a reliever."

It's possible the Braves could make a play for Dallas Keuchel to fit near the top of their rotation or sign Zach Britton to fortify the back of their bullpen. But Justice also mentions Michael Brantley, who has been linked aplenty to Atlanta this offseason, as a name for them to consider for corner outfield -- and out of those three players, he might provide the best bang for the buck.

As the top name left on the open market among starters, it's expected Keuchel will score a four- or five-year deal worth upward of $15 million to $20 million per season, which likely would be out of the Braves' price range. Britton will come cheaper than that, but perhaps Atlanta would prefer to spend a similar amount on an everyday outfielder, especially after the division-rival Phillies just added one of their own in Andrew McCutchen.

After all, someone has to replace free agent Nick Markakis' offense and veteran presence. Brantley -- with his elite contact ability and penchant for compiling good at-bats -- could prove valuable for Atlanta, which boasted a potent, yet often impatient, young lineup in 2018.

2B market is starting to move
Dec. 14: Second base is one of the more well-stocked positions in free agency this offseason, but it seems to be starting to roll at long last.

Ian Kinsler and the Padres agreed to a two-year, $8 million deal (with a team option for 2021) on Friday afternoon, sources told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi. 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 and Cardinals are pursuing another veteran 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 -- according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal and USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: #Cubs in strong pursuit of free-agent infielder Daniel Descalso, sources tell The Athletic.

Tweet from @BNightengale: Daniel Descalso indeed the #Cubs first choice as a super utility player but they just don���t know whether they can afford him in their budget with Descalso also on #Stlcards radar. https://t.co/xRhm6FXK78

This comes on the heels of the Twins recently landing Jonathan Schoop as a bounceback candidate to handle second base in Minnesota.

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. With action starting to happen 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.

Cubs in touch with Tulo
Dec. 14: The Cubs are among the teams that have at least made contact with Troy Tulowitzki's camp after the veteran shortstop was released by the Blue Jays on Tuesday, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman. Heyman also reports Chicago will send a scout to one of Tulowitzki's workouts.

Tulowitzki has been plagued by injuries throughout his 12-year Major League career. The five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner has missed most of the last six seasons with a variety of ailments, most recently heel injuries on both feet that required surgery and caused him to miss the entire 2018 season.

Tulowitzki hit .299/.371/.513 (123 OPS+) with 188 home runs in 1,048 games for the Rockies before being traded to Toronto in '15. He appeared in 131 games for the Blue Jays in '16, slashing .254/.318/.443 with 24 homers. The following season, he was limited to 66 games, hitting .249/.300/.378 with seven homers.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Cubs are one of the teams that has at least been in contact with Tulo, and they will send a scout to a workout. There are others though, so they aren���t necessarily the favorite. His agent told @susanslusser there are 6 teams and they will narrow field soon.

Fiers, Sanchez drawing interest from multiple teams
Dec. 14: Free-agent right-hander Mike Fiers is drawing interest from several teams, including the Reds, Giants, Nationals and Rangers, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi. Morosi adds that fellow free agent Anibal Sanchez is also of interest to some of the same clubs, including the Reds and Nationals. The Braves, the veteran right-hander's most recent team, are also in the mix.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Sources: Free agent Mike Fiers drawing interest from multiple clubs, including the Reds, Giants, Nationals and Rangers. Fiers, 33, is coming off a year in which he posted his best full-season ERA as a starter (3.56). @MLB @MLBNetwork

Fiers, 33, posted a 3.56 ERA with the Tigers and A's in 2018, although his FIP was significantly higher, at 4.75. Sanchez, who will be entering his age-35 season, had a strong '18 campaign following three rough seasons to end his tenure in Detroit. While he posted a 5.67 ERA for the Tigers from '15-'17, his ERA in his first year with Atlanta was 2.83 over 25 appearances (24 starts).

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Free agent Anibal Sanchez's marketplace has some overlap with that of Fiers. The Braves (Sanchez's most recent team), Reds and Nationals have shown interest in Sanchez, sources say. @MLB @MLBNetwork

Giants interested in trading for Pillar
Dec. 14: The Giants have had several questions to answer about how they will approach the 2019 season under new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, including whether San Francisco will trade star left-hander Madison Bumgarner this offseason. Another question mark is center field. According to NBC Bay Area, the club may look to Toronto for the answer in a trade for Kevin Pillar.

While San Francisco hopes 25-year-old Steven Duggar is the long-term answer in center, Zaidi reportedly would like a right-handed bat to platoon at the position with the left-handed hitting Duggar. Another potential advantage with a Pillar pickup would be the ability to play two center fielders in the massive AT&T Park outfield at the same time, with Pillar in center and Duggar in right.

Pillar, who turns 30 in January, has always been a defense-first player, hitting .261/.298/.398 with 55 homers in six seasons with the Blue Jays. Duggar appeared in 41 games as a rookie in '18, slashing .255/.303/.390.

Nelson Cruz is an ideal fit for this lineup

MLB.com @_dadler

Nelson Cruz, for all his power, might not have the sheer number of possible free-agent landing spots available as his younger peers, like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, or his more versatile ones, like Marwin Gonzalez. But with the right team, the Boomstick could make all the difference.

That team is out there. But which one is it?

Nelson Cruz, for all his power, might not have the sheer number of possible free-agent landing spots available as his younger peers, like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, or his more versatile ones, like Marwin Gonzalez. But with the right team, the Boomstick could make all the difference.

That team is out there. But which one is it?

Three main clubs have been linked to Cruz this offseason -- the Rays, Twins and Astros. All would be good fits. But one stands out as the best: Houston.

The Astros are interested, too. In a column for The Athletic on Saturday (subscription required), MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported the Astros are talking to Cruz as they look to add an impact hitter. The Rays and Twins are interested, as well. So the Astros would have competition for Cruz's services. They should make every effort to ensure they win it.

Cruz and the Astros are a perfect match. Here's why.

The Astros have the clearest window
The slugging Cruz was worth every penny to the Mariners over the last four seasons, as his 163 home runs since joining Seattle in 2015 lead the Majors. Cruz hit at least 37 homers in each of his seasons with the Mariners; he and Colorado's Nolan Arenado are the only players with 35-plus homers every year since '15.

Cruz provided remarkable power and consistency. But the 38-year-old didn't see a single playoff game during his Seattle tenure. Despite coming close twice with the Rangers earlier in his career, Cruz has yet to win a World Series. The Astros would give him a great shot.

The Astros, of course, are coming off back-to-back 100-win seasons and their World Series win in 2017. Some key players are now free agents, but their superstar core is intact. The Rays, although they surprised with 90 wins in '18, don't have that same star-studded roster. If Cruz signed with Tampa Bay, he would be the lineup's star hitter. If he signed with the Astros, he'd be a star hitter among many. Meanwhile, the Twins -- who, like the Rays, were a recent surprise success, but in '17 -- are likely the farthest away of the three from a World Series bid.

Houston's win-now ability lends itself to a Cruz signing from the team's perspective, too. Cruz's age might preclude a deal with a more up-and-coming club, which might reasonably worry that Cruz would decline by the time it was ready to seriously contend. But the Astros don't need to worry about that. They're a juggernaut already, and recent historical comparisons for Cruz suggest he can sustain his power into the immediate future, even while approaching age 40. If the Astros think Cruz is the missing piece that could help put them over the top in 2019, they should pursue him without hesitation. And that's exactly what Cruz is.

Video: OAK@SEA: Cruz powers a 3-run home run to center

Cruz is an ideal complement to the Astros lineup
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. So, reliable DH? Check. Now, for the type of hitter Cruz is and why that fits with Houston.

The Astros have a number of great hitters. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and George Springer are stars. They can all hit for power, too. But Cruz is a true slugger. His No. 1 job is to be a home run threat in the middle of the order. As great as Altuve, Bregman, Correa and Springer are, that is not their primary function within Houston's lineup.

Video: Nelson Cruz's 5th-straight 30-HR season

Altuve has slugged over .500 twice in his career (in 2016 and '17). Bregman just did it for the first time. Correa has done it twice (in '15 and '17) and Springer once (in '17). Cruz has slugged over .500 six years in a row -- and he's also hit more than 30 homers for five years in a row. Bregman ('18) and Springer ('17) are the only Astros with one 30-homer season.

Consider the type of contact Cruz makes. Statcast™ has a metric, "barrels," for batted balls hit with optimal combinations of exit velocity and launch angle. They're the most likely to be a home run, or an extra-base hit. Cruz has the second-most barrels of any MLB hitter since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015 -- his 247 trail only J.D. Martinez's 251. He's also the only hitter with at least 50 barrels in all four seasons of Statcast™ tracking.

Video: SEA@BOS: Cruz crushes 2 homers at a total of 908 feet

No Astros player has had a 50-barrel season. Springer came closest, with 49 in 2016; he and Altuve are the only ones to reach the 40-barrel mark. Cruz hits at the most dangerous level of contact quality in a way that makes him a different animal from what the Astros have right now.

Cruz would add a new dimension to an already deep Houston offense. A lineup with his name surrounded by those other four would be one of the most complete, and dangerous, in baseball.

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

Nelson Cruz

3 lefty sluggers the Yankees should target

MLB.com @mike_petriello

The Yankees are going to make moves this winter, both large and small. Sure, they'll be included in the Manny Machado/Bryce Harper rumorfest until each find homes. They'll be connected to Noah SyndergaardYusei Kikuchi and everyone else. They're the Yankees. This is how it works.

But they're going to need some depth, too. They're going to need some left-handed hitting, especially because shortstop Didi Gregorius is injured, and because Greg Bird and Jacoby Ellsbury can never be relied upon. They're going to need first-base insurance for late-season breakout star Luke Voit, they need to sort out how to cover the middle infield until Gregorius returns and they need to add pop to a bench that didn't offer much in 2018.

The Yankees are going to make moves this winter, both large and small. Sure, they'll be included in the Manny Machado/Bryce Harper rumorfest until each find homes. They'll be connected to Noah SyndergaardYusei Kikuchi and everyone else. They're the Yankees. This is how it works.

But they're going to need some depth, too. They're going to need some left-handed hitting, especially because shortstop Didi Gregorius is injured, and because Greg Bird and Jacoby Ellsbury can never be relied upon. They're going to need first-base insurance for late-season breakout star Luke Voit, they need to sort out how to cover the middle infield until Gregorius returns and they need to add pop to a bench that didn't offer much in 2018.

There are many ways they can go about this. Surely, they have ideas. We have some of our own, and it begins with this thought: What if they leaned into the quirks that their home field offers? Like, really leaned into it? You may not think of Yankee Stadium as a Coors Field-esque monster, but in one important way it is -- and it could let them make some interesting decisions this winter.

Let's start with these two premises:

1. The current Yankees lineup is very, very right-handed.
2. The short right-field porch in Yankee Stadium is really, really short.

You can probably guess where this is going, and that's that the Yankees should deal with both of those things at the same time by filling out their roster with some lefty mashers who take aim to the pull side, simultaneously helping to add depth to places it's needed.

The Yankees lineup is very right-handed right now

Let's take a spin over to FanGraphs to look at the projected 2019 playing time for each Yankees hitter, and something should stand out to you: There's a ton of righties here. When some of those righties are Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andujar, that's not necessarily a problem, but it also means that about 75 percent of the team's 2019 plate appearances are projected to go to righties or switch-hitter Aaron Hicks.

Video: AL WC: Stanton crushes a towering solo homer to left

It could be even more than that, really. More than 1,300 of those plate appearances, or about 21 percent, are slated to go to the quartet of Brett Gardner, Tyler Wade, Bird and Ellsbury, who combined to hit .219/.303/.366 in 2018. (That's all from the first three, as Ellsbury missed the entire season due to injury.) It's somewhat difficult to see this group of lefties actually getting this much opportunity, and that could leave the lineup even more tilted to the right.

You wouldn't turn down a better righty over a worse lefty just to have a lefty, obviously. Clearly, they'd be thrilled to add Machado no matter what side he bats from. But dating back to 2002, only 13 teams have had 75 percent or more of their plate appearances given to righties, and none of them played in Yankee Stadium.

The short porch in Yankee Stadium is really, really short

Other than "lineup balance," why might the Yankees want more lefties? Behold the glory of the short porch at Yankee Stadium. Taking aim at right field in the Bronx isn't quite the same as playing in Coors Field, but it might not be that far off, either.

It's not a coincidence that of Gregorius' 49 career home runs at Yankee Stadium, every one has come to the right of center field. Nor should it be surprising that in the last two seasons, when looking at number of home runs that traveled 350 feet or shorter, 28 of the 30 venues saw 18 or fewer such dingers ... while Yankee Stadium saw 40. (Houston's Minute Maid Park, with its Crawford Boxes in left, led with 42.)

And while you can't blame this entirely on right field, you can't ignore that Judge has hit .322/.444/.693 at home in his career, yet only .226/.353/.440 on the road. Yankee Stadium is a great place to hit. Right field is especially a great place to aim for.

Video: WSH@NYY: Gregorius belts a solo homer to right

In fact, we can quantify that. Let's take a look at each of the 30 Major League stadiums, splitting them into left, center and right fields. That gets us 90 combinations of park and field, and we'll make it 180 when we also split them up by lefty and righty batters. Over the last two seasons, which combination has seen the largest amount of power? Unsurprisingly, it's when lefty batters take aim at right field in New York. 

Highest slugging percentage on contact to venue/field combo, by batter hand, 2017-18
.853 -- Lefty batters to RF at Yankee Stadium
.835 -- Lefty batters to RF at Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati)
.826 -- Righty batters to LF at Rogers Centre (Toronto)
.807 -- Righty batters to LF at Fenway Park (Boston)
.801 -- Righty batters to LF at Minute Maid Park (Houston)
.799 -- Righty batters to LF at Comerica Park (Detroit)

Intuitively, that group makes sense. Cincinnati has long been known as a hitter's park, and righty hitters have made careers out of slamming doubles off the Green Monster in Boston. Houston's Crawford Boxes are an inviting target, and Comerica Park is a better hitter's field than you might think, especially when you avoid the cavernous center field. (At the very bottom of the list: Righty hitters trying to go to right field at Citi Field, which makes sense, too; something weird has been going on in Queens.)

Remember, that list is showing lefty batters only, so this isn't about Judge, Stanton or Gary Sanchez. It's about Gregorius, Hicks and Boston's Andrew Benintendi. It's putting numbers to what your eyes already told you: It's very, very good to be a lefty who pulls the ball in the air to right field at Yankee Stadium. 

OK, so all that said, who qualifies, fits the Yankees roster and might be available?

To answer that first question, let's find all the lefty hitters who pulled 50 batted balls over the last two seasons -- there are 142 -- and rank them by highest slugging percentage. (We could do this in more complicated ways, like Expected Weighted On-Base Average, but simple slugging percentage is fine for our purposes right now.) Let's show the top 11 names, for no other reason than Gregorius is 11th.

Highest slugging percentage to pull field, lefty hitters, 2017-18 (min. 50 balls)
1.230 -- Eric Thames, Brewers
1.035 -- Joey Gallo, Rangers
.984 -- Max Muncy, Dodgers
.983 -- Jose Ramirez, Indians
.950 -- Matt Olson, A's
.949 -- Eduardo Escobar, Twins/D-backs
.941 -- Lucas Duda, Mets/Rays/Royals/Braves
.940 -- Scooter Gennett, Reds
.926 -- Yoan Moncada, White Sox
.924 -- Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
.922 -- Didi Gregorius, Yankees

Some of those names aren't relevant, for various reasons. Ramirez, Olson, Muncy, Gallo and Escobar, who recently signed a three-year deal with Arizona, probably aren't trade targets. Moncada and Duda probably aren't good enough to make an impact on this Yankees team. Before Stanton, Schwarber would have been an interesting fit, but the idea of asking one of them to cover Yankee Stadium's large left field every day isn't terribly appealing.

But there are two names on that list that might make a lot of sense -- plus two others who just missed who we should mention.

Video: Must C Clutch: Thames crushes walk-off 3-run home run

Eric Thames
After a stint in Korea, Thames returned to the Majors in 2017 with a 31-homer season for Milwaukee, though he couldn't quite replicate it in '18 while marred by thumb and hamstring injuries, especially as Jesus Aguilar took over with a breakout year of his own. Even in 2018, Thames was an MLB-average hitter and better than that against righties (.223/.313/.491, .804 OPS, 110 wRC+). As you can see above, he already mashes the ball when he pulls it, and he could make for a good platoon partner with Voit if New York has tired of Bird. (Daniel Murphy might fit this spot, too.) 

Scooter Gennett
If Gleyber Torres slides over to shortstop to cover for Gregorius, then the Yankees could use a second baseman, and they've reportedly talked to Cincinnati about Gennett, who has one year left on his contract. You might not have noticed it, but Gennett has transformed himself into a slugger, actually out-slugging Machado and Kris Bryant over the past two seasons. Gennett is on the list above, too, because he crushes balls to right field, and even though part of that is his home park in Cincinnati, he wouldn't lose anything by coming to Yankee Stadium, and he'd fill a need.

Plus, a bonus name. 

Daniel Descalso 
A longtime backup infielder for three National League clubs, Descalso's career numbers aren't particularly impressive. Then again, this is a new Descalso, one who rebuilt his swing and put up career highs in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and home runs, while dropping his ground-ball rate to a career-low 30 percent in 2018. His .238/.353/.436 line was about 10 percent above MLB average, and he plays multiple positions.

The Yankees should still get Harper or Machado, obviously; Those are once-in-a-generation talents. They should get one of these guys, too. Every team needs depth. This team could use that depth in the form of a lefty who can take aim at that short porch. After all, it's there. Take advantage of it.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

New York Yankees, Daniel Descalso, Scooter Gennett, Eric Thames

Could club coming off losing season land Bryce?

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.

Could a club coming off a losing season be the one to land Harper?
Dec. 16: The White Sox have been just about as actively linked to Harper as any club this offseason; a sign that they are looking to emerge from their multi-year rebuild and return to relevancy. But do they have the resources and marketability to land Harper, particularly given that they're coming off six straight losing seasons?

It's believed that Harper wants to sign among the richest contracts in history and play for a contender. That limits the free-agent pool to just a small handful of clubs. In an interesting piece for MLB.com, analyst Mike Petriello points out that, while winning is probably important to Harper (and Manny Machado, for that matter), the underlying factor in Harper's decision making will be dollars. 

What type of team typically gives out a mega-deal?

"The thinking goes, Harper and Machado want to win," Petriello writes. "Harper has never won a playoff series. Machado hadn't before joining the Dodgers late in 2018. They won't go to a team that didn't win.

"Perhaps. But is that really true? Think about all the variables that go into a decision this momentous. Sure, winning is important. So are location, fit with the organization, ballpark, teammates, coaches and so on. But in the end, we all know the most important factor here is money. They're going to go where they can get the largest contract, and they've earned the right to do so."

Video: Verducci on offseason changes, Machado and Harper

Petriello adds that nearly 40 percent of all contracts in excess of $100 million have been given out by clubs that were coming off a sub-.500 season. It's logic backed by the hope that a prized talent can help springboard a club by making an immediate impact. 

It's worth noting that the Phillies, despite sitting in first place as late as Aug. 9, finished 80-82 last year and would fit into this criteria. Their big-market budget and ambitious front office has led many to speculate that they will land Harper or Machado this winter.

Would Harper take less money to play for the 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

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.

"The interest of the White Sox is more measured and modest than frenzied, and within more conventional financial bounds," Olney wrote Saturday for ESPN+ (subscription required).

That might not be enough for either player to choose the White Sox, especially with the team unlikely to be a serious contender in 2019 -- even with a big free-agent splash.

As MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal wrote for The Athletic (subscription required) last week, "the prevailing assumption in the industry is that [agent] Scott Boras wants to set new benchmarks with Harper's free-agent deal, whether in total guaranteed salary, average annual value or -- preferably -- both." One would assume Machado's agent, Dan Lozano, wants to do the same, or at least come close.

Rosenthal also recently broke down why signing Harper or Machado would be out of character for White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who has never given out a bigger contract than the six-year, $68 million deal Jose Abreu signed in October 2013.

The 'Updated Harper Destination Power Rankings'
Dec. 13: If you were hoping there'd be some resolution to the Bryce Harper sweepstakes by the end of the Winter Meetings -- you know, since they were held in his hometown of Las Vegas this year -- well, sorry to disappoint.

While the superstar outfielder isn't going to be signing before all the managers and front-office executives depart, that doesn't mean no headway was made on the Harper front. Plus, the baseball world still will be plenty focused on Harper -- as well as his chief competitor for a record-setting contract, Manny Machado -- as we hurtle toward the holiday season.

That in mind, here are the latest "Harper Destination Power Rankings," courtesy of MLB.com's Will Leitch.

The Phillies remain atop the list because they "seem absolutely committed to get one of the two superstars on the market," Leitch writes.

The next two teams? That would be the Dodgers and Yankees, neither of whom has much space in their loaded outfields -- at least, not at the moment. But given the resources, spending power and World-Series-title-or-bust goal, both franchises simply cannot be ruled out.

If there's one dark horse in the chase for Harper, it's the White Sox, who Leitch ranks fourth, stating they "might be the most perfect fit in all of baseball for Harper. Their cascades of young talent will be reaching the Majors in the next few years, right as Harper is in his prime. He'll be surrounded by hyper-talented, cost-controlled stars for the next five or six years, in a division that the White Sox could rule well into the next decade."

So ... what's it gonna be, Bryce?

Who is the front-runner for Harper?
Dec. 12: The Phillies? The Yankees? The Nationals? The Cubs? The Dodgers? All of those teams -- and a few more -- have been linked to Bryce Harper so far this offseason. But which club appears to be in the lead to land the superstar slugger in free agency?

"The front-runner right now, believe it or not, is the Chicago White Sox," CBS Sports Network analyst and former MLB general manager Jim Bowden said Wednesday. "They're the team with the checkbook open. They're being very aggressive."

Tweet from @CBSSportsNet: ���The front runner right now, believe it or not, is the Chicago White Sox.���@JimBowdenGM tells @AdamSchein that it���s the White Sox who are in the lead for Bryce Harper's services. #T2S pic.twitter.com/XoXndaF0F2

With the Winter Meetings being held in Harper's hometown of Las Vegas, the White Sox met with Harper at some point, according to Bowden, who reported that the club stressed the strength of its promising farm system. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez, right-handers Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning, as well as infielder Nick Madrigal -- the club's top pick in the 2018 Draft -- are among the big-name, high-upside prospects who have reached the Major Leagues or should arrive soon.

Will the White Sox pull off a surprise splurge on Harper with a record-setting contract to push the franchise from rebuilding mode toward contention mode in an AL Central division that could be up for grabs as soon as 2020?

Video: Scott Boras discusses the market for Bryce Harper

Boras not ruling out Yankees, Nats as suitors for Harper
Dec. 12: Yankees general manager Brian Cashman all but ruled out the club as a suitor for free agent Bryce Harper earlier this week, saying that there's "no spot" for the 26-year-old in New York's crowded outfield and that using him at first base "isn't an option," according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

And yet, Harper's agent, Scott Boras, isn't ready to say the club is out of the running.

"I've never heard the Yankees say that," Boras said at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday when asked about the team being out on Harper. "It might be that they say things to [the media]. I don't know. I wasn't there.

"As far as the Yankees … you're talking about star players. I go back to Mark Teixeira. The Yankees are very adept; they're smart. If they're going to do something, I think they can earnestly tell you that right now they're not doing it, and have every intention of doing something else when it's best for them to do it. When the nurse walks into the room with the thermometer, the issue is not what the thermometer says that day; the issue is, what's the health of the patient when they're ready to leave the hospital? They're not ready to leave the hospital yet."

Whether it's a smokescreen or not, it benefits Boras for other teams to think the deep-pocketed Yankees are interested in Harper. It's also possible that Cashman's comments were the true smokescreen, as Boras suggested.

The Yankees seem to have a deep outfield, but Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier played a combined 15 games for the club in 2018 due to injuries, while Brett Gardner experienced a steep decline at the plate (86 OPS+). Aaron Hicks has been productive for New York over the past two years, but he has never played more than 137 games in a season and can become a free agent in a year. And with Giancarlo Stanton's injury history, it would be risky for New York to play him in the field every day. That leaves Aaron Judge as the only "sure thing" among the team's outfielders.

Boras also addressed the Nationals, whose principal owner, Mark Lerner, recently acknowledged that he doesn't expect Harper to be back, only for the club's general manager, Mike Rizzo, to say Washington hasn't "closed the door" on a reunion.

"I've talked to Nationals ownership a great deal," Boras said, per MLB.com's Jordan Bastian. "I have a very clear understanding, as does Bryce, of their position. We've always had a great relationship and we'll continue to have a great relationship. I think when they say the door is open, I would certainly pay attention to what they're saying."

Phils get McCutchen -- but they're not out on Harper
Dec. 11: The Phillies' first key free-agent acquisition of the Winter Meetings wasn't for Harper. It was for another outfielder -- Andrew McCutchen -- whom they landed Tuesday on a three-year deal. But Philadelphia wants to be a major player in free agency this offseason, so adding McCutchen doesn't take the club out of the running for Harper.

Per MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, the Phillies are still involved in both the Harper and Manny Machado sweepstakes.

Tweet from @ToddZolecki: Told the McCutchen deal does not remove the #Phillies from Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sweepstakes. Phils might not feel as pressured to spend stupid money to get them, however. Remains to be seen.

That echoes an earlier report from MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal that McCutchen's signing wouldn't preclude Philadelphia from adding another outfielder. That outfielder could be Harper; it could be someone else (say, Michael Brantley).

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: Both @MattGelb and I are hearing same from multiple sources. Told addition of McCutchen would NOT preclude #Phillies from signing another outfielder, whether it���s Harper or someone else. https://t.co/ToylyfCwL7

If it seems like going after Harper on top of McCutchen might make the Phillies outfield too crowded, don't worry. Rosenthal also suggests that getting McCutchen could lead Philadelphia to move one of its younger outfielders in a trade.

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: Agreement with McCutchen opens up #Phillies to possibility of trading a younger OFer. Sixto Sanchez, the #Phils��� top pitching prospect, also has been involved in numerous trade discussions, sources say.

On the other hand, signing McCutchen could also be a sign that the Phillies are focusing more on Machado over Harper, as far as marquee free-agent targets. NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury noted that possibility.

What would it take for Harper to land in LA?
Dec. 11: As agent Scott Boras continues to sell Bryce Harper as a player who can make a LeBron James-like impact, both on and off the field, could the 26-year-old outfielder follow in the NBA superstar's footsteps and head to Los Angeles?

It's certainly not out of the question, though it remains unclear if the Dodgers plan to make an aggressive play for the free agent. The contract that Harper is expected to command would be out of character for the Andrew Friedman-led Dodgers front office, which hasn't handed out more than $93 million to any one player despite consistently maintaining a high payroll.

As MLB Network insider Joel Sherman noted in a column for the New York Post on Tuesday, Los Angeles is hesitant to tie up a large portion of its future payroll, which could reduce its flexibility as the retooling Giants and D-backs become serious contenders in the National League West again within the next few years.

But Sherman still envisions a scenario in which Harper lands with the Dodgers.

"Again, it takes dominoes falling," Sherman writes. "Manny Machado would sign with the Phillies; the Nationals, Cardinals and Yankees really would continue to have no interest in Harper; and the only substantial long-term offers would come from someplace like the White Sox. In that scenario, could Harper instead pivot to accept a four-year deal from the Dodgers for a record annual amount and, say, an opt-out after two years to get back into free agency either after his age-27 or -29 season?"

It may also take a trade or two to clear room for Harper in Los Angeles, as the Dodgers have a deep outfield. ESPN's Buster Olney reports that the club has talked to other teams about moving two players from the group of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger, though there has been no indication that those discussions are connected to Harper.

Tweet from @Buster_ESPN: Dodgers have talked to other teams about moving two outfielders among the group of Kemp, Puig, Pederson, Bellinger, and as they look to re-shape payroll, they are also are prepared to move starting pitchers Rich Hill and Alex Wood.

Can White Sox capitalize on opportunity to land Harper?
Dec. 11: The possibility of the White Sox winning the Bryce Harper sweepstakes "seemingly is growing more realistic," according to Ken Rosenthal's latest column for The Athletic on Tuesday (subscription required). But the question remains, would owner Jerry Reinsdorf be willing to break the bank?

As the Winter Meetings enter their second day, Rosenthal lays out the factors the White Sox have going for and against them. In their favor: other suitors dropping out on Harper, and financial flexibility. Not so much in their favor: the size and type of the deal Harper wants.

Two teams that could have been major players for Harper, the Yankees and Nationals, appear to have dropped out of the running, based on comments from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Nats owner Mark Lerner in the last few days. And sources have told Rosenthal that another pair of teams that looked like potential landing spots, the Cubs and Cardinals, are also not engaged in pursuit of the superstar outfielder. Teams like the Dodgers and Phillies will likely go after Harper, per Rosenthal, as well as others, but the White Sox look like they might see less competition than they could have.

Rosenthal also notes that no other team has a more favorable payroll situation to making room for Harper. The White Sox have just over $50 million committed for 2019… and just over $5 million committed for 2020. In 2021 and '22, they have just one player under contract, shortstop Tim Anderson.

So they're in prime position to make a marquee signing, especially in a wide-open American League Central. But to actually get Harper, they'd need to hand out a deal the likes of which the franchise never has before.

The White Sox's largest contract ever awarded is Jose Abreu's six-year, $68 million deal signed in 2013. Reinsdorf does not typically give free agents big contracts, and on top of that a source told Rosenthal that Reinsdorf has privately expressed doubt that his club will win the bidding war for Harper. Plus, Harper also likely wants a deal with multiple opt-outs, which would mean the White Sox risking him leaving just as they were poised to contend.

But Chicago's owner has surprised before -- Rosenthal cites his "stunning" signing of Albert Belle to a five-year, $55 million deal in November 1996 -- and now would be the perfect time to do it again.

Does Harper fit with Yankees?
Dec. 10: The Yankees continue to be mentioned as a team that could be a fit for Bryce Harper, but could the club actually fit Harper?

When asked about the superstar, Yankees GM Brian Cashman said there's "no spot" for him in New York's crowded outfield and that deploying him at first base "isn't an option," according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

Tweet from @Feinsand: Asked about Bryce Harper, Brian Cashman rattled off the names of his six outfielders and said there���s no spot. Reiterated that playing Harper at first base isn���t an option for the Yankees.

Indeed, with incumbent starters Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks, as well as returning options Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier as backups, the club is more than set in the outfield. And while the topic of Harper as a first baseman has been floated by his agent, Scott Boras, that possibility doesn't appear to interest Cashman, despite the Yankees relying on the still-unproven Luke Voit and Greg Bird at the position.

If that wasn't a forceful enough take on Harper, Cashman followed up by saying, "I'm surprised [the media is] still asking" about the team's interest, as MLB.com's Bryan Hoch relayed.

Tweet from @BryanHoch: Cashman said that at no point this winter did he talk about getting an outfielder. ���The Harper stuff, I���m surprised you���re still asking.���

Rizzo: Nats not closing door on Harper
Dec. 10: 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.

And yet, a reunion between Harper and Washington is a possibility that Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo isn't ruling out.

"We haven't closed the door on [Harper]," Rizzo said Monday on MLB Network Radio. "He's a big part of our franchise. He's near and dear to my heart personally, and professionally he's a great player."

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: Mike Rizzo: "We haven't closed the door on Bryce Harper."Plot: [Thickens]#Nationals GM at the #WinterMeetings: pic.twitter.com/I5Aq4SzQiP

The Nats have been one of the busier teams this offseason, acquiring Patrick Corbin, Trevor Rosenthal, Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes, and it's unclear if the club will still be open to giving Harper $300 million should the 26-year-old come back to the negotiating table. But with rivals such as the Phillies expected to be among the bidders for Harper, it is better for the Nats if other teams think Washington might still be in.

Harper to the Cards still a long shot
Dec. 10: The Cardinals got one elite bat in Paul Goldschmidt. Bryce Harper could push them to another level. But as exciting as a lineup anchored by Harper and Goldschmidt would be, that scenario remains unlikely, according to a report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal on Monday (subscription required).

Rosenthal cites St. Louis' roster inflexibility as a chief obstacle to signing Harper, even though the Cards might have the payroll flexibility to give the superstar outfielder the type of long-term deal he's looking for.

For one thing, the Cardinals have $49.5 million tied up in Dexter Fowler over the next three seasons, and Rosenthal calls Fowler "virtually impossible to trade" after Fowler struggled through injuries and poor performance in 2018.

Another option to make room for Harper would be to try to move Marcell Ozuna, but he'd also be difficult to trade. Ozuna just had a right shoulder procedure this offseason, and he's also likely to make a sizeable salary in his last year of arbitration before hitting free agency next offseason. Rosenthal shoots down the idea of St. Louis simply cutting ties with Ozuna and eating the money as unreasonable -- both based on how the organization typically acts and because there's a solid chance Ozuna returns healthy and hits like he did in his All-Star 2017 season, when he clubbed 37 homers for the Marlins.

There is one outfielder the Cardinals might reasonably trade: Jose Martinez. But Martinez doesn't slot in as a starter anyway, and his cheap salary could mean St. Louis keeps him around as a bat off the bench.

Rather than an all-out pursuit of Harper, Rosenthal thinks the Cardinals' priority will be to sign a top left-handed reliever like Andrew Miller or Zach Britton.

Crowded Yankees outfield may be obstacle to Harper signing
Dec. 9: The Yankees are among the rumored destinations for Bryce Harper, and while they plan to meet with the free-agent star, there may be some obstacles to any potential signing.

New York is reportedly questioning if there's a place for Harper due to their surplus of outfielders -- including Giancarlo Stanton, who's due to earn $25 million-$32 million per year through 2027 -- per MLB Network insider Jon Heyman. The Yankees are also in the mix for shortstop Manny Machado, who seems to be a more natural fit given Didi Gregorius will miss much of the 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The club is said to be prioritizing acquiring another starting pitcher, even after the James Paxton trade, and the price to acquire Harper may prove too high, as Heyman also said New York is unwilling to offer Machado the $300 million contract both he and Harper are rumored to be seeking or perhaps exceed. Harper already turned down a reported 10-year, $300 million offer to remain in Washington, D.C.

Still, the Yankees are among the few teams with the financial means to sign a marquee free agent like Harper. And with Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner publicly acknowledging he doesn't expect Harper to return to the club, the pool of teams that would conceivably add a free-agent contract the size of Harper's to their payroll has shrunk by one.

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 revealing 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.

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.

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. 

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.