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5 teams that could surprise us in '18

MLB.com @RichardJustice

At least 25 of 30 major league teams will see a reasonable path to the postseason by the time Opening Day rolls around. So offseason optimism isn't just for the Astros and Yankees.

This is the best example of baseball's new landscape, one in which 21 of 30 teams have played at least one postseason series the past five seasons and only five clubs made the playoffs in both 2016 and '17.

At least 25 of 30 major league teams will see a reasonable path to the postseason by the time Opening Day rolls around. So offseason optimism isn't just for the Astros and Yankees.

This is the best example of baseball's new landscape, one in which 21 of 30 teams have played at least one postseason series the past five seasons and only five clubs made the playoffs in both 2016 and '17.

What's intriguing about '18 is the large number of teams that have re-tooled their rosters around young players. Young players do not come with timetables (or guarantees), so these clubs can improve rapidly.

Hot Stove Tracker

We saw that in a dramatic way in '17 as the Twins improved by 26 games, the D-backs by 24 and the Rockies by 12 on their big jumps back into the postseason.

Figuring out who the surprise teams of '18 will be is the difficult part. But there are plenty of serious candidates.

Here's a look at five who appear to have a legitimate chance to jump into contention. To be helpful -- because what are we at MLB.com if not helpful -- I'm including a modest proposal for an additional upgrade. In addition to having a promising core of young talent, none of these clubs currently have any onerous long-term salary commitments, which could allow them to make some sneaky upgrades in this slow-moving free-agent market.

Braves
72-90 in 2017

There's so much talent on the Major League roster and in the Minor League pipeline that a huge turnaround is inevitable. Whether that happens in 2018 or '19 is the question. Progress this season could depend on three factors: the timetable for 20-year-old outfielder Ronald Acuna, a franchise-changing player; the development of infielders Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies; and the emergence of all that young pitching in the Minors. Hiring Alex Anthopoulos to run baseball operations was a brilliant move. In short, this is a great time to be a Braves fan.

Video: Anthopoulos on Acuna possibly playing in 2018

Modest proposal: Sign free-agent third baseman Todd Frazier. He would bring production at the position and he would also provide a role model for the young guys as they try to figure things out. And if they want to make a bit more of a splash, Mike Moustakas is still out there to fill their void at third.

Phillies
66-96 in 2017

There could still be growing pains, but the pieces are in place: Not just Odubel Herrera in center and newly signed Carlos Santana at first, but also Rhys Hoskins in left, Nick Williams in right, Jorge Alfaro behind the plate and J.P. Crawford and Cesar Hernandez in the middle infield. Also intriguing is a rotation in which eight young arms -- six of them 25 or under -- will compete for five spots.

Video: Cesar Hernandez the No. 10 second baseman right now

Modest proposal: The Santana deal showed that this team could be players in free agency both this winter and beyond, as Santana and Herrera are the only two players signed to long-term deals. With that in mind, this team should go sign a veteran starter. If Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn aren't in their price range, there are still options out there. For instance, Chris Tillman almost surely would take a one-year deal for a chance to reprove himself.

Athletics
75-87 in 2017

Now it's about starting pitching and how quickly prospects like lefty A.J. Puk get to the Majors, and if lefty Sean Manaea and righty Kendall Graveman take the next step forward. Offensively, once third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson joined Khris Davis in the lineup, the A's took off, tying for the Major League lead in home runs (109) after the All-Star break. Stephen Piscotty -- the only player on this roster locked up beyond 2020 -- will start in right field with a chance to jumpstart his career.

Video: A's possible starting rotation heading into 2018

Modest proposal: Potentially affordable options to upgrade the rotation are still available, including Andrew Cashner, Tillman, Jason Vargas and Jaime Garcia. Any of them -- or some combination -- would provide some rotation certainty.

White Sox
67-95 in 2017

No team is more interesting than this one thanks to GM Rick Hahn's organizational rebuild around kids. With kids come uncertainty. But kids also bring hope. The White Sox could have two 24-year-olds (Carson Fulmer and Reynaldo Lopez) and a 23-year-old (Lucas Giolito) in their rotation, with flamethrower Michael Kopech -- the third-ranked right-handed pitching prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, waiting in the wings. And then there is Yoan Moncada at second (age 22), Tim Anderson at short (age 24), and prospects like Eloy Jimenez on the verge. The young guys got valuable experience last season, and that learning process will continue in 2018. How quickly they settle in and show off their talent is the unknown. But it'll happen at some point.

Video: Kopech seems poised to make big league impact in 2018

Modest proposal: Wellington Castillo is the only player with a guaranteed deal beyond this year, so this is a club that could dip into the free-agent pool at any time. For now, they could sign lefty reliever Tony Watson to improve the bullpen and give manager Rick Renteria a quality option late in games.

Padres
71-91 in 2017

This is the summer the young players who were thrown into the mix could take a nice step forward. That list includes center field Manuel Margot (age 23), catcher Austin Hedges (age 25), right fielder Hunter Renfroe (age 26) and righties Dinelson Lamet (age 25) and Luis Perdomo (age 24). GM A.J. Preller has added veteran arms Chris Young and Tyson Ross to compete for jobs in the rotation. Some of the talented starters at Double-A should push for jobs by midseason, and at that point improvement could come quickly.

Video: Green, Richard, Jankowski ready to start 2018 season

Modest proposal: They have been linked to Eric Hosmer all winter, but there are plenty of other smaller moves they could make to upgrade this roster. For example, they can go for another veteran starting pitcher hoping for a bounce-back type of season. Tillman, Francisco Liriano and Trevor Cahill would all make sense.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

 

Trout sports dog mask to support Eagles

It's no secret that Mike Trout's love for the Eagles mirrors his adoration for the game of baseball … and the weather. When he shows up to cheer on his favorite football team, he is sometimes gifted with the game ball - compliments of tight end Zach Ertz. And on Sunday, Trout drew inspiration from another Eagles player.

Prior to the Eagles-Vikings NFC Championship game on Sunday evening, Trout was at Lincoln Financial Field … wearing a dog mask:

Crew in on Yu? Righty's tweet stirs intrigue

MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MILWAUKEE -- Have the Brewers jumped into the fray for top free-agent starter Yu Darvish? The pitcher himself ensured his nearly two million Twitter followers were pondering that question on Sunday night.

Darvish used a single, vague emoji -- the thinking face -- while sharing via tweet a Japanese-language news item saying the Brewers had submitted a formal offer for the 31-year-old right-hander. The original report cited "multiple insider sources," according to a translation, and said Milwaukee was one of six teams engaged.

MILWAUKEE -- Have the Brewers jumped into the fray for top free-agent starter Yu Darvish? The pitcher himself ensured his nearly two million Twitter followers were pondering that question on Sunday night.

Darvish used a single, vague emoji -- the thinking face -- while sharing via tweet a Japanese-language news item saying the Brewers had submitted a formal offer for the 31-year-old right-hander. The original report cited "multiple insider sources," according to a translation, and said Milwaukee was one of six teams engaged.

A separate translation was required for Darvish's emoji. Was this just teasing, or is there really something to ponder? He did not elaborate -- either by standard language or additional emoji.

A source also confirmed the offer to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. The Brewers did not comment on the reports. General manager David Stearns, whose policy is to never comment on in-progress trade talks or free-agent negotiations, did not respond Sunday night when made aware of Darvish's tweet.

Tweet from @faridyu: 🤔 https://t.co/OG6biIPZMI

It was not the first time Darvish has made playful use of Twitter to tease fans about his hunt for a new team, but it was the first time the Brewers were involved. On paper, the sides are a fit, even though Milwaukee is the smallest market of Darvish's potential suitors. Stearns made clear from the start of the offseason that starting pitching was his top priority, and that the Brewers have payroll flexibility even after adding Jhoulys Chacin on a two-year deal and Yovani Gallardo on an incentive-rich one-year flier via free agency.

The Brewers also have some need, with top starter Jimmy Nelson at the very beginning of a throwing program following surgery in September for a right shoulder injury. At the moment, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and Chacin appear good bets for the Opening Day rotation, with left-hander Brent Suter and right-handers Gallardo, Junior Guerra, Brandon Woodruff and Aaron Wilkerson among the other candidates while Nelson finishes his comeback.

Darvish has a 3.42 ERA in 131 Major League starts over five seasons, and is coming off a 3.86 ERA in 31 regular-season starts for the Rangers and Dodgers in 2017. After solid starts in each of the first two rounds of the postseason for the Dodgers, Darvish struggled through two abbreviated starts in the World Series and was charged with nine runs (eight earned) on nine hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings.

Among the theories to emerge in the wake of those outings was that Darvish may have been tipping pitches, as reported by MLB Network insider Tom Verducci.

The Brewers have also been linked to the other top starting pitchers on this year's free-agent market, including Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. All remained unsigned as of Sunday night.

Darvish's Tweet tease came about two hours after ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported "some buzz" about the Brewers nearing a trade, but there was no indication from the club on Sunday night that anything was imminent on that front.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

 

Milwaukee Brewers, Yu Darvish

Applying Rock Hall standards to Baseball Hall

What if Cooperstown inductees were decided in a similar manner?
MLB.com @castrovince

The Baseball Writers' Association of America will announce the 2018 Hall of Fame class at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday on MLB Network, and this is shaping up to be an inordinately large class.

Chipper Jones is a no-doubt selection, Jim Thome is likely to join him as a first-ballot entrant and Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman need only a modest bump from their 2017 vote totals to get in this time. There also appears to be a swell of support for Edgar Martinez in his penultimate year on the ballot. And of course, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell are already going in via the vote of the Modern Era committee.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America will announce the 2018 Hall of Fame class at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday on MLB Network, and this is shaping up to be an inordinately large class.

Chipper Jones is a no-doubt selection, Jim Thome is likely to join him as a first-ballot entrant and Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman need only a modest bump from their 2017 vote totals to get in this time. There also appears to be a swell of support for Edgar Martinez in his penultimate year on the ballot. And of course, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell are already going in via the vote of the Modern Era committee.

Some people get antsy about large Hall classes. There are those who fear the Hall is becoming too watered down, despite ample evidence that Baseball Hall standards have, in fact, gotten stricter in recent decades.

Tweet from @JamesSmyth621: Updated @DCameronFG's Hall of Famers by birth decade chart from a few years ago. The HOF standards have been getting stricter. pic.twitter.com/5qjtD3VU1a

So if you're still concerned about the growing size and scope of the Baseball Hall, let this native Clevelander assure you: It could be a heck of a lot worse.

Here in my hometown, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame operates in a manner that, if applied to the national pastime, would give the purists heart palpitations.

Just for fun, here are some examples of how the Baseball Hall would be drastically different if it followed the patterns of the Rock Hall.

It would pay homage to one-hit wonders

The Rock Hall has honored acts that demonstrated little, if any, staying power.

Aside from "Runaway," Del Shannon's signature contribution to rock and roll was being referenced by Tom Petty in "Runnin' Down a Dream" (for singing "Runaway," of course). If you can name a Percy Sledge song other than "When a Man Loves a Woman," you are very clearly related to Sledge (or you just think that "he can do no wrong").

Imagine inducting Mark Fidrych for going 19-9 in 1976. Or "Super" Joe Charboneau for his unrepeatable rookie year in '80 (his plaque could depict him opening a beer bottle with his eye socket). Bob Hamelin could get in not just for his out-of-nowhere '94, but for being the subject of the best/worst baseball card in history. Scooter Gennett could get in for a single game -- that outrageous evening of June 6, 2017. And in the spirit of brilliant-but-brief band outputs, we could even celebrate teams that achieved unexpected greatness, only to immediately disband (I'm looking at you, 1997 Florida Marlins).

Actually, I suppose you could argue Bill Mazeroski is already sort of a one-hit wonder, at least by Baseball Hall standards.

Video: Must C Classic: Mazeroski hits walk-off, wins title

It would induct people who didn't technically play baseball

From the beginning, the process of inducting people into the Rock Hall met the unavoidable issue presented by the phrase "rock and roll," which can be as narrow or as wide a label as you'd like it to be. Clearly, the Rock Hall went on the wide side, inducing soul stars like Sam Cooke, pop icons like the Supremes (Motown already had its own museum), blues acts like B.B. King and country crossovers like the Everly Brothers.

Nobody paid much mind to any of that, but things began to get really complicated when '70s and '80s pop, disco and rap acts like the Bee Gees, Madonna and Run D.M.C. got in. Now, we're at a point where nobody really knows what the Rock Hall is or seeks to represent, other than, simply, "musicians we really like."

Imagine baseball going with a similarly loose definition of itself.

You could technically get Michael Jordan in there for his short Minor League stint, because, after all, he was, without question, one of the greatest athletes to play baseball. You could induct great cricketers like Sir Don Bradman and Imran Khan, because cricket is in the same genus of bat-and-ball sports. Jennie Finch and other superior softball players would also have a place in the Hall.

It wouldn't be so USA-centric

Let's be clear that the Rock Hall is definitely guilty of leaning more toward American acts, as the snubbed likes of Kate Bush, Thin Lizzy or The Smiths can attest. But unlike the Baseball Hall, it doesn't ignore activity that takes place off American (and yes, Toronto and Montreal) soil. Ichiro has had a clear Hall of Fame career since coming to the Major Leagues, but it would be really interesting to see what the vote totals would look like for Hideki Matsui if his 332 home runs in Nippon Professional Baseball were taken into account in his Hall case.

Then again, it is explicitly named the National Baseball Hall of Fame, so Cooperstown is off the hook here.

Video: Hot Stove: Evaluating Matsui's candidacy for HOF

It would celebrate sidemen

As a Bruce Springsteen apologist, I understand his decision not to exploit his sway and demand the E Street Band go into the Rock Hall with him in 1999. But it's still disheartening to know Clarence Clemons did not live to see the band's 2014 induction.

Anyway, at least there was an avenue for entry for the E Streeters. No such luck this year for Lou Whitaker, whose absence at a time when Trammell is entering the Hall just feels odd. Omar Vizquel might have a complicated Hall case on his own, but his double-play partnership with Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar for three years in Cleveland was one of the best we've ever seen, so that would earn him extra credit. Furthermore, David Ortiz is not allowed in without Manny Ramirez, Edgar would already be in alongside Ken Griffey Jr., etc.

(By the way, this is an even more fun conversation in the NBA, where the rule would be that any player inducted from the 1990s would have to go in with his NBA Jam partner, where applicable.)

It would salute scouts

The Rock Hall honors people like Ralph Bass, who played a major role in bringing black music into the mainstream, and John Hammond, who launched Bob Dylan, Springsteen and many others.

The Baseball Hall would do right to give some of the great talent evaluators their long-overdue Cooperstown call. The likes of George Genovese, Moose Stubing, Mike Arbuckle, Mel Didier and a host of similarly effective evaluators deserve ceremony rather than anonymity.

It would honor equipment makers

Pretty simple. If we apply the principles that put Leo Fender, sire of the Stratocaster, in the Rock Hall, then Bud Hillerich, creator of the Louisville Slugger, goes in the Baseball Hall. Wood you believe that?

It would feature more Starr-gazing

You can be inducted into the Rock Hall multiple times, which is kind of cool. Eric Clapton is in the Rock Hall three times -- with the Yardbirds, with Cream and as a solo act -- and I would say each of those is justified.

But Ringo Starr -- in addition to being in the Hall of Fame as a Beatle, of course -- is also in the Hall of Fame as … Ringo Starr. As a matter of fact, Starr is the only person in a Hall of Fame band who has been inducted via the Rock Hall's Award for Musical Excellence, which seeks to honor "musicians, producers and others who have spent their careers out of the spotlight working with major artists on various parts of their recording and live careers." (It's not terribly dissimilar from the Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.)

At the time of Starr's 2015 induction, it had been 41 years since he had put out a record that reached certified gold status, but this was the Hall's way of sneaking him in so that each member of the Fab Four also had his post-Beatles portfolio saluted.

(Contrary to what your signature song says, perhaps it does come easy for you, Ringo.)

The most obvious means by which this could apply to baseball is with Hall of Fame players who go on to have managerial careers. There's not a great deal of success to speak of in this area. Frank Robinson has the historical significance of being the game's first black manager, which ought to count for something, and Paul Molitor took the Twins to the American League Wild Card Game last year, which is a start.

It would give fans their say

Whereas the Baseball Hall's foremost guardians are the 400-some writers who have maintained membership in the BBWAA for at least 10 years, the Rock Hall involves more than 900 historians, music-industry members and artists, including every living inductee. And since 2012, the Rock Hall has also given a modicum of power to the fans, with the top five vote-getters in a public poll forming one ballot weighted the same as the rest of the submitted ballots.

This year, Bon Jovi ran away with the fan vote, demonstrating the drawbacks of democracy. But look, a Hall of Fame is about "fame," right? And fame is defined as "the condition of being known or talked about by many people." So why shouldn't the public have some say in the matter? If nothing else, it would be interesting to see how the fan vote on controversial figures like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens compares to the baseball writer vote.

But hopefully Bon Jovi wouldn't get any Baseball Hall votes here just because the band did the 2009 postseason ad.

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

 

Get ready for 50 of the greatest bat flips of all time

Ah yes, the bat flip. Throughout baseball's glorious history, we have witnessed some truly epic tosses of the lumber.

MLB Network will air "The Top 50 Bat Flips of All Time" on Sunday, at 10 pm E.T., and Cespedes Family BBQ will be live-tweeting it.

To get you ready for such an incredible event, we rounded up some of our favorite bat flips of all time.

MLB Buzz: Mets consider reunion with Colon

MLB.com

The Hot Stove is open for business. As the top free agents begin to ink new deals and clubs begin to make the moves they think will vault them into contention or put them over the top, MLB.com will have you covered with all the latest buzz right here.

Hot Stove Tracker

The Hot Stove is open for business. As the top free agents begin to ink new deals and clubs begin to make the moves they think will vault them into contention or put them over the top, MLB.com will have you covered with all the latest buzz right here.

Hot Stove Tracker

Mets interested in reunion with Colon
At 44 years young, Bartolo Colon is still angling for one more year in the Majors, and the right-hander may already have one suitor. The Mets are interested in a potential reunion with Colon, according to former Twins teammate Ervin Santana, who discussed Colon in an interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Colon was a fan favorite with the Mets from 2014-16, a span in which the veteran went 44-34 with a 3.90 ERA and 3.79 FIP. The reunion could make sense for both sides, as the pitcher figures to carry a low price tag and has a specific goal to reach before retirement.

Colon has reportedly been striving to play another season in an effort to pass Dennis Martinez as the Majors' all-time winningest Latin American pitcher. With 240 wins, Colon is just five victories behind Martinez's record. Colon already holds the record for Dominican-born pitchers, having passed Pedro Martinez in 2016.

Working against Colon's goal is the fact that he posted a career-worst 6.48 ERA last season with the Braves and Twins. Colon did manage to add seven more wins -- along with 14 losses -- to his career total last season, but he will likely have to improve on last year's performance if he wants an opportunity to reach his goal.

Koji eyeing one-year deal
Koji Uehara may still have one more season in him. The 43-year-old free-agent reliever said that he wants to play one more year before retiring -- assuming he gets a Major League contract offer.

Uehara talked about his future at a baseball clinic in Fukushima, Japan, as first reported by Kyodo News.

One key stipulation for Uehara is that he would not be interested in signing a Minor League contract with a team. The veteran right-hander said that he's been talking with teams but hasn't received an offer, so retirement remains an option.

Despite his age, Uehara was very serviceable last year with the Cubs. He held a 3.98 ERA with 50 strikeouts and 12 walks over 43 innings. Uehara also held a 1.16 WHIP, which, while still impressive, broke a streak of seven straight seasons with a sub-1.00 mark.

If Uehara plays in 2018, it will be his 10th Major League season after spending 10 years with the Yomiuri Giants in Nippon Professional Baseball. However, Uehara hasn't completely shut the door on playing beyond then.

"If I get a major league contract, and I do put up good numbers, then I'll think about another year," Uehara said, "but right now I'm focused on just this one year."

Orioles may be a fit for Dyson
The Orioles are looking for a left-handed hitter to play right field and back up center fielder Adam Jones, and Jarrod Dyson remains a possibility, according to Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports.

The speedy Dyson, who has stolen 204 bases in 661 career games, could be ideal for Baltimore, which has placed last in the Majors in stolen bases each of the last four seasons. Dyson was limited to 111 games with the Mariners in 2017, spending time on the disabled list in August with a right groin strain before undergoing season-ending hernia surgery in September. If his health checks out and he's ready by Spring Training, the O's may be interested in platooning Dyson for his defense and speed.

Dyson, 33, hasn't played more than 120 games in a season throughout his eight-year career. Dyson slashed .251/.324/.350 with 13 doubles, three triples, 30 RBIs, five home runs and 28 stolen bases in 35 attempts last season.

Red Sox's offer to Martinez reportedly $125 million
The Red Sox's much-discussed interest in free-agent slugger J.D. Martinez reached a new level on Friday with a report from the Boston Herald that the club has made Martinez an offer of five years and approximately $125 million. The club hasn't confirmed the report.

It had been reported recently that the Red Sox had extended an offer to Martinez of five years and about $100 million.

Martinez's agent, Scott Boras, told MLB Network insider Jon Heyman that the reports of the first offer, which was said to be less than what Martinez was seeking, were "not accurate." Heyman reported last week that Martinez is looking for a six-year deal valued at $30 million per year. Boston has been seen as the favorite to land Martinez.

Heyman reported last week that Martinez is willing to hold out until Spring Training for a contract that he believes meets his market value, which indicates other clubs are also involved in negotiations. Martinez was a catalyst for the D-backs last year in helping them reach the postseason for the first time since 2011, and Arizona is reportedly still interested in bringing him back, per Heyman.

Martinez hit 29 homers with 65 RBIs in just 62 games for the D-backs after being acquired on July 18, trailing only National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton in each category during that span. Martinez hit 45 homers during the 2017 season, despite playing in just 119 games. He became the first player in MLB history with that many home runs in so few games.

If the Red Sox do indeed sign Martinez, that would create a dilemma in the outfield. Martinez would reportedly prefer to play outfield, but Boston already has Gold Glove Award winner Mookie Betts, along with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi. That means Martinez would likely be the club's designated hitter, which in turn may give Arizona an edge, in addition to the fact that the club recently hired Martinez's personal hitting coach.

Twins have interest in Miley
The Twins have been connected to several starting pitchers on the free-agent market this offseason, and left-hander Wade Miley is also on that list, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN in Minneapolis.

According to Wolfson's report, the Twins "are maintaining regular dialogue" with Miley's agent, in addition to agents for Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb and Chris Tillman, among others.

Video: BAL@TB: Miley fans Longoria to end the 1st

Miley, 31, posted a 5.61 ERA with 5.3 walks per nine innings in 32 starts for the Orioles last season. He hasn't posted an ERA below 4.34 since 2013 with the D-backs. He was an All-Star and runner-up in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2012, finishing with a 3.33 ERA in 32 appearances (29 starts) for Arizona.

The Twins have been pursuing frontline starters to add to a rotation that features Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, but the interest in Miley is in keeping with chief baseball officer Derek Falvey's comments that the club is also looking for "value adds."

Miley could fit the bill if he continues being as durable as he's been in his career, and proves that the career-high walk rate, which doubled from the prior season, was an outlier.

Yankees, Rangers, Marlins favorites for Cuban prospect Martinez
Twenty-one-year-old Cuban outfield prospect Julio Pablo Martinez is still waiting to be cleared by Major League Baseball to sign, but three teams have emerged as favorites to sign him if and when he becomes eligible.

The Marlins, Rangers and Yankees have separated themselves as favorites to sign Martinez, who is among the top young players from Cuba, sources tell MLB.com and as was first reported by Baseball America. Because of his age, Martinez will be subject to international bonus pool rules.

Martinez's talent is on par with a first-round Draft pick and that he would likely be ready for a Class A Advanced or Double-A assignment. At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, the left-handed hitter has a promising combination of speed, power and athleticism that should allow him to stick in center field.

Martinez slashed .333/.469/.498 with six home runs and 24 stolen bases last season in the Cuban Serie Nacional while walking 52 times compared to 30 strikeouts. He also competed in the Canadian-American Association in 2017 and posted a .297/.345/.449 line with seven home runs and 20 stolen bases.

Martinez is likely to be cleared by Major League Baseball before the current signing period ends on June 15, but depending on which team he chooses, he could opt to sign in either the 2017-18 or 2018-19 period.

Because the Marlins and Yankees -- both of whom have held private workouts for him this week in Florida -- have limited bonus pool space left, Martinez would likely wait until July 2 to sign with either team. The Rangers, however, have significant international money left after failing to sign Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani and would likely choose to sign him in the current period.

Nunez works out for Red Sox
Free-agent utility infielder Eduardo Nunez recently worked out for the Red Sox in the Dominican Republic, according to the Boston Herald. Nunez spent part of last season with Boston, slashing .321/.353/.539 with eight home runs in 38 games following a trade from the Giants.

Nunez injured his right knee on Sept. 9, and though he tried twice to return -- once in the American League Division Series against the Astros -- he ended up aggravating the injury. According to the Herald report, doctors have declared the knee fully healthy, and Nunez's market is gaining steam, as he has been in contact with at least eight clubs.

If the Red Sox were to sign Nunez, they'd likely play him at second base to start the season, with veteran Dustin Pedroia recovering from knee surgery.

Per MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the Mets are also showing serious interest in signing Nunez, particularly with their own need at second base.

Reynolds wants to return to Rockies on Major League deal
Free-agent first baseman Mark Reynolds would like to return to the Rockies, but not on a Minor League deal like he signed prior to the 2017 season, according to the Denver Post.

The 34-year-old Reynolds slashed .267/.352/.487 with 30 home runs in 148 games for Colorado in 2017, providing a lift when Ian Desmond, whom the club signed to a five-year, $70 million contract to play first base, was injured to open the season.

Despite slumping in the second half (.762 OPS with 11 homers), Reynolds produced a 105 OPS+ overall, his best since 2012. He did have stark home-road splits, however, slashing .294/.393/.584 at Coors Field, and .242/.311/.392 away from Denver.

When the Rockies signed Reynolds to a Minor League deal last February, he was coming off an injury-shortened season in which he posted an .806 OPS with 14 homers in 118 games for Colorado.

"I think I proved last year that I can produce and help a team," Reynolds told the Post. "I am looking to sign a Major League deal. ... Things are different this year."

The Rockies could use a first baseman, with Ryan McMahon waiting in the wings. Signing Reynolds could open the possibility of a platoon between him and McMahon, especially given that the 148 games Reynolds played in last season were his most since 2011.

Video: LAD@COL: Reynolds reaches 30 homers with two-run shot

Marlins want Acuna in a Yelich deal with Braves
Christian Yelich's name has been in the trade rumor mill for much of the offseason, and the buzz has picked up again after the center fielder's agent said Tuesday that Yelich hopes to be traded before Spring Training starts. According to MLB Network insider Peter Gammons, any deal would have to bring a "huge return" for Miami.

Citing conversations with teams that have called the Marlins about Yelich, Gammons said Wednesday on MLB Tonight that the Marlins won't move the 26-year-old unless they get back "star-level talent." As one example, Gammons said Miami has told the Braves that uber-prospect Ronald Acuna would have to be included in any trade for Yelich.

"The Marlins told the Braves, 'Look, we'll do a three- or four- or five-for-one, but Ronald Acuna has to be in it or we don't go even to the second player,'" Gammons said on MLB Network.

Acuna is one of baseball's very top prospects. He currently ranks as MLB's No. 6 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and could move up even further on that list in the upcoming 2018 rankings. The 20-year-old outfielder seems likely to be promoted to the big league club early next season.

Gammons said Acuna is a player the Braves won't trade, and the fact that the Marlins would tell the Braves that he would have to be the minimum headliner of any Yelich deal indicates that they're "shooting very high."

Following Miami's trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon to the Yankees, Cardinals and Mariners, respectively, Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto have been floated as the next players the team could potentially move as part of its rebuilding effort.

Gammons also mentioned Realmuto in the segment, saying that other teams' general managers think the Marlins might wait to trade Realmuto closer to the 2018 Trade Deadline.

Video: Gammons on Marlins asking for Acuna in Yelich deal

Castellanos on the trade block?
While the Tigers were ultimately able to avoid an arbitration hearing with Nicholas Castellanos, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports that Detroit remains open to trading the rising slugger, citing multiple clubs that have engaged in discussions with the Tigers this offseason.

Video: Castrovince, Justice on Tigers, Castellanos' options

Castellanos, 25, agreed to a one-year, $6.05 million contract with the Tigers on Friday. Detroit's first-round Draft choice from 2010 is about to embark on his first full season in right field, but Fenech reports that the Tigers' uncertainty about his defensive ability could still lead to a trade before Opening Day. Castellanos has primarily manned third base during his first four full seasons in the Motor City, but he has rated below average in terms of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in each of those campaigns. He played 21 games in right last season.

Castellanos' prowess at the plate is much less in doubt. He broke out for a career-high 26 home runs and 101 RBIs for the Tigers in 2017 while recording a league-adjusted 110 OPS+ (where 100 is average) and pacing the American League with 10 triples. He was even more productive in some respects in '16, finishing with a 120 OPS+ over 110 games. While Castellanos will be eligible for arbitration again next winter, he will not test the free-agent market until 2020. That means Castellanos, for the moment, represents a controllable, relatively cheap hitter coming into his own -- regardless of his defensive ability.

Tigers general manager Al Avila revealed at the Winter Meetings that the team approached Castellanos about a contract extension toward the end of last season, but that no progress has been made.

If Pirates aren't contending, J-Hay wants to be dealt
A day after Andrew McCutchen was traded to San Francisco, Josh Harrison effectively asked to be traded "if indeed the team does not expect to contend this year or next" in a statement released Tuesday to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. Harrison, 30, is under contract for $10.25 million this year, with club options for 2019 ($10.5 million) and '20 ($11.5 million). More >

Giants still looking for OF upgrades
Fresh off acquiring Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates on Monday, the Giants are trying to add even more talent to their outfield, with the former National League Most Valuable Player being told that he'll play a corner spot with the team this season, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.

San Francisco's main desire is to upgrade defensively in center field, and sources tell ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that the Giants rank Jarrod Dyson as their most coveted option behind Lorenzo Cain. The club is also interested in Jon Jay and Cameron Maybin, according to Crasnick, but values Dyson's "speed, defensive metrics and stolen-base ability."

The Giants, after bringing in McCutchen via a trade with the Pirates, do not have the space under the luxury-tax threshold to sign Cain at his projected salary, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi. Morosi reported that the club is looking to add a "defense-first player" in center field "who will be less expensive than Cain."

Dyson, Jay and Maybin will certainly all be less expensive than the former Royals center fielder, and Dyson led that group with seven Outs Above Average last season, according to Statcast™. Maybin was at plus-2 two while Jay was minus-3.

Dyson, 33, has stolen at least 25 bases in each of the past six seasons and would be a big boost to a Giants club that ranked 20th in the Majors with 76 steals last year. Jay has 51 steals in eight Major League seasons, but his .738 career on-base-plus-slugging percentage bests Dyson's .677 total.

Maybin owns a career .693 OPS and stole 33 bases during his time split between the Astros and Angels last season.

Brewers remain interested in Arrieta, Moustakas
The Brewers "continue to be in" on free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta and third baseman Mike Moustakas, according to Jim Bowden of SiriusXM.

The Brewers have been known to be seeking starting pitching in free agency, and Arrieta would certainly be a boost to Milwaukee's rotation, especially with Jimmy Nelson's 2018 status unclear. Nelson, who underwent surgery on his right shoulder in September, went 12-6 with a team-best 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 175 1/3 innings last season.

It was reported earlier in January that the Cubs and Cardinals were the two clubs most interested in Arrieta's services, but the Brewers' desire to sign the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner could create a potential bidding war between the NL Central rivals.

Arrieta, 31, went 64-29 with a 2.67 ERA in 119 starts for the Cubs over the past four seasons.

According to Bowden, the Brewers' interest in Moustakas comes with the idea that the club "could trade Travis Shaw" to the Yankees, Braves or Mets.

Milwaukee does not necessarily have a need at third base with the incumbent Shaw being younger and cheaper than Moustakas. The 27-year-old Shaw, under team control through 2022, also excelled for the Brewers last season, batting .273/.349/.513 with 31 home runs and 101 RBIs in 144 games.

 

Making sense of unsigned free agents

Salary structure could be shifting away from big deals for aging players
MLB.com @JPosnanski

For years now, it has been clear to many people around the game that baseball is in the midst of a salary bubble … and eventually that bubble is probably going to burst. That might be what we're seeing now with the collection of very good ballplayers -- J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Yu Darvish, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Arrieta, Mike Moustakas, etc. -- still looking for their club even as Spring Training looms barely a month away.

To be fair, this also might be something else. It might just be a perfect storm. There are a lot of things happening. The biggest spending teams all seem eager to get under the luxury-tax threshold. The best players in this year's market (particularly Hosmer and Martinez) do not seem a great fit for many teams. Next year's free-agent class (led by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado) will be one of the best in baseball history.

For years now, it has been clear to many people around the game that baseball is in the midst of a salary bubble … and eventually that bubble is probably going to burst. That might be what we're seeing now with the collection of very good ballplayers -- J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Yu Darvish, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Arrieta, Mike Moustakas, etc. -- still looking for their club even as Spring Training looms barely a month away.

To be fair, this also might be something else. It might just be a perfect storm. There are a lot of things happening. The biggest spending teams all seem eager to get under the luxury-tax threshold. The best players in this year's market (particularly Hosmer and Martinez) do not seem a great fit for many teams. Next year's free-agent class (led by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado) will be one of the best in baseball history.

But look at this: Best as I can tell, there are at least eight 30-something players out there who are still owed more than $100 million by their teams:

1. Miguel Cabrera (34 years old)

Six years, $184 million left in deal, plus vesting option

2. David Price (32 years old)

Five years, $157 million left in deal, can opt out after this year

3. Joey Votto (34 years old)

Six years, $150 million left in deal, plus $7 million buyout

4. Max Scherzer (33 years old)

Four years, $148 million left in deal, much of it deferred

5. Robinson Cano (35 years old)

Six years, $144 million left in deal

6. Zack Greinke (34 years old)

Four years, $138 million left in deal

7. Chris Davis (31 years old)

Five years, $115 million left in deal

8. Albert Pujols (38 years old)

Four years, $114 million left in deal, plus $10 million personal services contract

There are still some excellent players on this list -- Scherzer won the National League Cy Young Award last year, Votto was an MVP candidate -- but there are some contracts in there that clubs might regret. Four more years for Pujols, who had an 81 OPS+ last year. Six more years for Cabrera, who was seventy points below his career average last year. Five more years for Davis, who slugged .423 last season at age 31, two years after hitting 47 homers and getting that deal.

Even the contracts that look good now are likely to look worse next year, and even worse the year after that. That, sadly, is how aging works. If you were a general manager, would you give out any of those contracts? Maybe the Scherzer one.

People around the game have known for a while now that the aging curve of baseball players crests and begins to fall much earlier than most people believe. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was quite common for people to say that baseball players hit their peak at 32.

We know now that not only is 32 well into the decline phase of most baseball players, it is actually past the end of many careers. Just look at this year's Hall of Fame ballot: Orlando Hudson had his last productive season at 31; Johan Santana was done at 31; Andruw Jones was done at 30. There is some thinking now that many players actually crest more in the first three or four years of their time in the big leagues.

That thinking cuts hard against the salary structure as we have long known it. For decades, teams have paid top dollar for the decline seasons of the best players. Maybe a handful of those contracts worked out. Most were destructive. I only listed the $100 million contracts above. But the Yankees owe 34-year-old Jacoby Ellsbury $68 million for the next three years and they are reportedly struggling to trade him. The Royals owe 34-year-old Alex Gordon $40 million for the next two years, plus a buyout. The Cubs owe Jon Lester $75 million, plus a conditional buyout, for the next three years, and they are hoping that at age 34 he can bounce back from a rough season.

What does it mean this year? We are probably seeing it play out. Martinez is coming off a crazy year; he hit 29 home runs in just 62 games for Arizona. Even if that was a fluke, well, what team in baseball couldn't use that sort of bat? Thing is, Martinez is 30 years old. He might age better than his comps listed on Baseball-Reference, such as Jason Bay (last good year at 30), Geoff Jenkins (last good year at 30) and Kevin Mitchell (last good year at 32, but inconsistent the two years before that). A team would have to make a bet. And teams are less likely to make a big bet. Instead of a seven-year deal, it's a four- or five-year one. Instead of $27 million a year, it might be $20 million. And so on.

Video: MLB Tonight talks J.D. Martinez's free agency

Arrieta is 31. Some pitchers age well. Some don't. His Baseball-Reference comps don't inspire much confidence, either. Pete Vuckovich was basically done at 29. Tim Belcher had a bunch of uninspiring seasons before having one renaissance year at 34. Arrieta does famously keep himself in great shape, so that could make him a better bet.

Our own Mike Petriello has been hammering home the point again and again that at almost 32, Cain is the type of player who ages well. Cain was really good in 2017 and it is surprising that more teams -- particularly teams in desperate need of a center fielder -- aren't going harder after him. Maybe they are and it just hasn't been made public yet.

Video: Flanagan on players possibly returning due to market

Point is, for a long time we have seen the outline of the bubble. A friend of mine likes to call this "the future we already know." We all know that sooner or later teams will stop giving out six- and seven- and 10-year contracts that carry players into their late 30s and early 40s because it almost never makes sense. Players looking for big paydays after several excellent years will find that the payoff isn't as big as they hoped.

Maybe it happens this year. Maybe not. Scott Boras and other agents might still have a surprise or two left this offseason, and maybe Hosmer and Martinez and others will manage to sign gigantic long-term deals. But time runs out on the old way of doing business. The bubble is bursting.

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.

 

10 reasons McGriff's HOF case is overlooked

Slugging first baseman overshadowed by many in high-offense era
MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

Travel back in time, for a moment, to the conclusion of the 1994 season. While tensions were rife amid the player strike, Braves first baseman Fred McGriff had just wrapped up another stellar campaign in which he recorded a 1.012 OPS with 34 home runs and 94 RBIs.

McGriff placed eighth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting that fall, marking his sixth top-10 finish in as many seasons. Those 34 homers gave him a career total of 262, the third most of any player since he debuted in 1986. At this moment in time, there weren't many sluggers more feared than "The Crime Dog," and McGriff seemed like a pretty sure bet to reach the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Travel back in time, for a moment, to the conclusion of the 1994 season. While tensions were rife amid the player strike, Braves first baseman Fred McGriff had just wrapped up another stellar campaign in which he recorded a 1.012 OPS with 34 home runs and 94 RBIs.

McGriff placed eighth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting that fall, marking his sixth top-10 finish in as many seasons. Those 34 homers gave him a career total of 262, the third most of any player since he debuted in 1986. At this moment in time, there weren't many sluggers more feared than "The Crime Dog," and McGriff seemed like a pretty sure bet to reach the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

What happened next was out of McGriff's control. Baseball's highest-scoring era since the 1930s was underway, unleashing a level of offense that would change the record books forever. While McGriff maintained his steady production for many more years, he wound up being somewhat left behind. Now, in his second-to-last year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame ballot, McGriff is currently tracking below 20 percent on public ballots -- far from the necessary 75 percent needed for election.

McGriff ranks among the more unfortunate Hall candidates in recent memory in terms of the timing of his career. While his resumé will likely be passed on to the Veterans Committee, it's worth remembering where McGriff stood at the time of his peak, along with how quickly his candidacy turned amid baseball's changing landscape. Below are 10 facts you should know while evaluating McGriff's case for Cooperstown.

• McGriff finished his career with 493 home runs, tied with the legendary Lou Gehrig. Two decades ago, hitting 500 home runs, or close to it, equaled near-automatic consideration for the Hall. In fact, had McGriff retired with 493 homers in 1995, he would have been tied with Gehrig for 15th-most all-time. When McGriff actually retired in 2004, he had dropped all the way down to a tie for 26th.

Video: Fred 'Crime Dog' McGriff has strong HOF case

• McGriff captured two league home-run titles in his career, and as it turns out, they marked the end of an era. After capturing the American League homer title with 36 for the Blue Jays in 1989, McGriff sealed the NL crown with 35 for the Padres in '92. No league home-run champion has hit fewer than 36 home runs since then, and, in fact, the homer kings have averaged 48.5 dingers over the quarter-century since McGriff's second crown. The introduction of performance-enhancing drugs, in parallel step with a greater offensive environment, simply changed the expectations of a home-run champ.

• McGriff became the first player in the Live Ball Era (dating back to 1920) to win a home-run crown in each league when he captured the NL title in '92. True to the theme of McGriff's career, however, Mark McGwire equaled the feat with his then-record 70-homer season for the Cardinals six years later.

• McGriff's 34 home runs during the strike-shortened 1994 campaign made him just the eighth player to knock 30-plus homers in seven consecutive seasons. The seven players who did it before McGriff were some of the most renowned sluggers in history: Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Gehrig, Ralph Kiner, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Mike Schmidt. Other inner-circle Hall of Famers like Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams never reached the 30-homer plateau with such consistency.

Meanwhile, 13 players have put up runs of seven consecutive 30-homer seasons since 1995, with Edwin Encarnacion poised to become the 14th if he hits at least 30 dingers again this year. McGriff's streak was a historic marker of consistency at the time, but it became much more commonplace after he achieved it.

Video: McGriff strings together 10 seasons of 30-plus homers

• McGriff's power traveled throughout his career. Involved in four trades, McGriff belted 30-plus homers for five different ballclubs (Blue Jays, Braves, Cubs, Rays and Padres). Gary Sheffield is the only other player with a 30-plus-homer season for five teams.

• Spending time in both circuits, McGriff averaged 35 home runs per season and compiled a .935 OPS during a seven-year stretch from 1988-94. Incredibly, McGriff placed in his league's top five in both home runs and OPS in each of those seven campaigns. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four other players can claim a run of seven straight seasons in which they finished within the top five of their league's homer and OPS lists at the same time: Gehrig, Mantle, Ruth (twice) and Schmidt.

• McGriff's 134 OPS+, which normalizes a player's OPS for the external factors (ballparks, offensive environment, etc.) around him, is tied for 61st in modern history among players with at least 7,000 plate appearances. However, 22 players -- or more than one-third of those ranked above McGriff in OPS+ -- began their careers in 1986 or later. Had McGriff retired in '86, instead of making his Major League debut, he would have been tied for 38th on the all-time OPS+ list.

• McGriff debuted in the same season as Barry Bonds, McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, three players who either failed a sanctioned test for performance-enhancing drugs, admitted to using them or were strongly linked to them during their careers. Through each player's age-30 seasons, McGriff ranked second to Bonds in that quartet in both home runs and Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement. McGriff continued to produce as he aged, totaling 231 homers and 15.9 bWAR after his age-30 season. However, those totals pale in comparison to the incredible second-half careers of Bonds (470 home runs, 88.7 bWAR), McGwire (345, 34.2) and Palmeiro (375, 35.7).

Video: TB@NYM: McGriff blasts 400th home run of his career

• Runs created is an advanced statistic created by Bill James that estimates a player's offensive contributions in terms of total runs. McGriff created 1,054 runs by this metric from 1988-97, and only Bonds (1,320) created more runs during that decade-long time span.

• Looking for postseason moments? McGriff had plenty. According to STATS, McGriff's career .912 OPS in postseason play ranks 12th highest among more than 150 players who logged at least 150 plate appearances in October. That OPS slots in above a host of recognized postseason heroes, including Mickey Mantle (.908), Reggie Jackson (.885), Willie Stargell (.871), Derek Jeter (.838) and Yogi Berra (.811).

McGriff didn't build that resumé with just one hot autumn; he slugged at least .600 in six different postseason series, including all three of the Braves' postseason matchups on their way to the 1995 World Series title. He recorded an OPS above .750 in eight different series.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

 

Sharp eye, approach bolster Nimmo's value

Mets reportedly would prefer not to trade young outfielder
MLB.com @_dadler

Brandon Nimmo has been getting his share of attention in the trade rumor mill, though the Mets have made it clear he's a player they want to keep. They reportedly didn't want to deal the 24-year-old outfielder to get Andrew McCutchen, and now they seem equally reluctant to trade Nimmo for another Pirate, Josh Harrison.

McCutchen could have filled an important need for the Mets (since addressed with the signing of Jay Bruce), and Harrison would, too, at second base. But there are good reasons for the Mets to have an attachment to Nimmo, beyond "outfield depth." Statcast™ helps illustrate the potential the former first-round pick has to be an all-around contributor.

Brandon Nimmo has been getting his share of attention in the trade rumor mill, though the Mets have made it clear he's a player they want to keep. They reportedly didn't want to deal the 24-year-old outfielder to get Andrew McCutchen, and now they seem equally reluctant to trade Nimmo for another Pirate, Josh Harrison.

McCutchen could have filled an important need for the Mets (since addressed with the signing of Jay Bruce), and Harrison would, too, at second base. But there are good reasons for the Mets to have an attachment to Nimmo, beyond "outfield depth." Statcast™ helps illustrate the potential the former first-round pick has to be an all-around contributor.

By his stat line, Nimmo performed strongly in 2017. He hit .260/.379/.418 with five homers in 215 plate appearances, good for a 117 wRC+, meaning he was 17 percent better offensively than league average. He had a high strikeout rate (27.9 percent) and maybe some batted-ball luck (.360 batting average on balls in play) -- but there are several key areas where Nimmo was particularly strong.

One is line-drive rate. Nimmo hit line drives on 30.8 percent of his batted balls last season, the highest of any regular Mets hitter and 25th highest of 387 MLB hitters with at least 100 balls in play. (For reference, that's one spot above Corey Seager's 30.7 percent. Jed Lowrie led MLB at 34.3 percent.) Line drives, of course, are the most favorable batted-ball type for a hitter -- since Statcast™ started tracking in 2015, MLB wOBA on line drives is .706, compared to .381 on fly balls, .228 on ground balls and .022 on popups.

Mets' highest line-drive rate, 2017
Min. 100 batted balls
1. Brandon Nimmo: 30.8%
2. T.J. Rivera: 29.7%
3. Michael Conforto: 28.2%
4. Lucas Duda: 27.9%
5. Amed Rosario: 25.9%

Another is plate discipline, where Nimmo excelled. Much of his offensive value stemmed from his 15.3-percent walk rate, which tied for 10th highest among players with 200-plus plate appearances in 2017. Nimmo had one of MLB's lowest chase rates -- he swung at just 13.3 percent of pitches Statcast™ tracked as outside the strike zone, third fewest of more than 400 hitters who got 250 or more out-of-zone pitches in '17. That ranked just ahead of the extremely disciplined Joey Votto, who had 134 walks to 84 strikeouts last year. Nimmo did in just a slice of a season what Votto does over full seasons year in and year out, but it's encouraging nonetheless.

We can actually break down Nimmo's plate discipline in even more detail. Statcast™ also groups pitches into one of three regions -- the interior of the strike zone, the edges (within one baseball's width of the borders of the zone) and the far exterior of the zone. Effectively, these are clear strikes, borderline pitches and clear balls.

The difference between Nimmo's swing rate at clear balls versus clear strikes was striking. When thrown a non-borderline ball, he offered just 5.1 percent of the time -- the lowest rate of 349 hitters who were thrown 250 or more of those pitches, and again just ahead of Votto, who was at 5.3 percent. (Votto's number is incredible in its own right; it was the lowest by any hitter in a full season since Statcast™'s introduction.) The MLB average chase rate on clear out-of-zone pitches was 18.9 percent, more than three times Nimmo's.

Lowest swing percentage on "clear balls," MLB hitters, 2017
Min. 250 non-borderline, out-of-zone pitches seen
1. Brandon Nimmo: 5.1%
2. Joey Votto: 5.3%
3. Alex Avila: 6.1%
4. Greg Garcia: 7.0%
5. Robbie Grossman: 7.5%

On the other hand, when thrown a pitch within the interior of the strike zone, Nimmo swung 71.6 percent of the time -- a 14-fold increase from "clear ball" to "clear strike." That was basically identical to the Major League average rate of 71.7 percent. Of 336 hitters who were thrown at least 250 clear strikes, Nimmo fell right around the midpoint.

Video: NYM@PHI: Nimmo smacks two-run triple to right-center

For pitches on the edges of the zone, Nimmo's approach was to take. Borderline pitches are a toss-up -- when taken, they were called balls 53.5 percent of the time and strikes 46.5 percent of the time in 2017. Nimmo took 65.3 percent of Statcast-tracked edge pitches, third most of 379 hitters who saw at least 250 borderline pitches, more even than notably patient hitters like Matt Carpenter and Joe Mauer. Nimmo's results were in line with the rest of the Majors, slightly favoring him as the hitter. Nimmo got a called ball on 54.7 percent of borderline takes, with 45.3 percent called strikes -- although he also had 36 strikeouts on borderline pitches to 14 walks.

There's one more piece to tack into the equation: Nimmo's fielding. Nimmo's outfield defense graded well, going by Statcast™'s Outs Above Average metric, which uses a plus/minus system based on the catch probabilities of the batted balls hit an outfielder's way. Nimmo was worth two Outs Above Average in 2017, ranking in the top 25 percent of qualifying outfielders -- perfectly serviceable for a third of a season of defensive playing time. He even made a couple of the highest-difficulty plays, with one 5-Star catch and one 4-Star catch.

Video: ATL@NYM: Nimmo lays out to rob Camargo of a hit

Nimmo also showed more than enough speed to handle the outfield. His average sprint speed was 28.5 feet per second, which was inside the top 15 percent of Major Leaguers, second fastest on the Mets behind Rosario's top-tier 29.7 ft/sec and much faster than the 27 ft/sec MLB average.

Highest average sprint speed, Mets players, 2017
MLB average = 27 ft/sec. 30+ ft/sec is elite
1. Amed Rosario: 29.7 ft/sec
2. Brandon Nimmo: 28.5 ft/sec
3. Juan Lagares: 28.2 ft/sec
T-4. Jose Reyes: 27.9 ft/sec
T-4. Matt Reynolds: 27.9 ft/sec

It's not to say that Nimmo will develop into a star. But he has the tools to be a valuable player for the Mets. There's justification for keeping him around.

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

 

New York Mets, Brandon Nimmo

Lindor excited about landing on R.B.I. 18 cover

Indians' rising star among the faces and ambassadors of the game
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor leaned over to examine the large poster that had just been unveiled to his left at Tribe Fest on Saturday. When Tom Hamilton, the radio voice of the Indians, asked the young shortstop what he thought of the new cover for R.B.I. Baseball 18, Lindor cracked a smile.

"I love it. I love it," Lindor said amid cheers from his audience at the Huntington Convention Center. "They made me look good in that picture. So, thank you, R.B.I. for making me look a lot better."

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor leaned over to examine the large poster that had just been unveiled to his left at Tribe Fest on Saturday. When Tom Hamilton, the radio voice of the Indians, asked the young shortstop what he thought of the new cover for R.B.I. Baseball 18, Lindor cracked a smile.

"I love it. I love it," Lindor said amid cheers from his audience at the Huntington Convention Center. "They made me look good in that picture. So, thank you, R.B.I. for making me look a lot better."

Lindor was announced as the new cover athlete for R.B.I. Baseball's latest installment at the Indians' annual fan fest, and the selection was more than fitting. Over the past three seasons, Cleveland's dynamic shortstop has quickly established himself not only as one of the faces of Major League Baseball, but as an ambassador for the game.

R.B.I. Baseball 18

When the idea of playing baseball for a living began to take hold of Lindor's childhood dreams, he did not simply want to reach the Majors. The shortstop is not shy about saying he always envisioned himself becoming one of the best players in the game, as well as an inspiration to kids.

Being on the R.B.I. 18 cover is another way for Lindor to keep extending his reach in the game.

"It's unreal. It's a dream. It's a blessing," Lindor said on Saturday. "I'm blessed to be playing this game -- and to have things like that [cover], that's a plus. I thank the Lord for everything, and I thank the Indians organization and everybody that made this posssible."

Lindor follows in the footsteps of past R.B.I. Baseball cover selections Corey Seager (2017), Mookie Betts ('16) and Anthony Rizzo ('15). The classic video game, which was relaunched by Major League Baseball in conjunction with the MLB Players' Association in '14, will be available this March for PlayStation 4, the Xbox One family of devices, Nintendo Switch, iPhone, iPad and Android-supported phones and tablets.

While Lindor said he would "take on anybody" who challenged him in R.B.I. Baseball 18, the shortstop admitted to having taken some losses on the video-game front lately back home.

"My nephew beats me all the time, so I definitely have got to get better," Lindor said with a laugh. "The first game I beat him, and I beat all my friends. It was like a group of four. Then, I don't know what happened. I went on a losing streak. I haven't won a game since. It's fun. I love whenever you can play against somebody and see what they've got. Competition, wherever it is, it's always cool."

Video: R.B.I. Baseball 18 reveals Lindor on the cover

Both on and off the field, Lindor has earned a reputation for his infectious enthusiasm. During Players' Weekend last August, for example, the Indians' shortstop went as far as wearing the nickname, "Mr. Smile," on the back of his jersey. Lindor describes himself as a big kid, and that has been on full display over his three seasons with the Tribe. After dynamic defensive plays or big hits, that smile quickly surfaces.

Behind the scenes, Lindor has strived since his rookie year to get involved in as much as possible -- especially if working with aspiring ballplayers is involved. He has participated in MLB Network's Play Ball series, started a charity program called, "Lindor's Smile Squad," to host children and adult athletes with disabilities at select home games, and has donated his time on numerous occasions to Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs, not only in Cleveland, but around the country.

All of that said, Lindor's off-field achievements alone did not clinch his place on the R.B.I. cover.

Lindor has developed into one of baseball's brightest young stars and one of the top shortstops in the game. The switch-hitter was the runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015, an All-Star in '16 and '17, picked up both Gold and Platinum Glove Awards in '16 and added a Silver Slugger to his trophy case in '17. Two years ago, Lindor also helped lead the Indians to the World Series.

Cleveland won its second straight American League Central crown last season, as it racked up 102 victories and set an AL record with a 22-game winning streak. Along the way, Lindor set career highs in home runs (33), doubles (44), RBIs (89), slugging percentage (.505) and OPS (.842) in 159 games. He set the single-season club records for homers by a middle infielder and extra-base hits (81) for a shortstop. For his work, Lindor finished fifth in voting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award (two spots behind teammate Jose Ramirez).

Lindor said he is excited to see what 2018 has in store for the Tribe.

"We all know we can win it," Lindor said. "We all know we've got what it takes. We've been there. We just haven't closed it. I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to being with my new teammates and my old teammates, and everybody throughout the whole season.

"It's so much fun going from Day 1 in Spring Training all the way to the last day of the season. A lot of things happen. Whether it's good things, bad things, a lot of things happen. A lot of good moments. A lot of time for me to smile, so I love it."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor

Todd Frazier and the thumbs-down Mets fan finally met and ... exchanged cheerful thumbs-downs

It was the meme that spawned a team-wide trend. When Todd Frazier hit a home run in a Yankees-Rays game hosted at Citi Field due to the effects of Hurricane Irma in Florida last September, a fan in the stands was not pleased

That fan is a lifelong Mets fan, it'd later be discovered, and his dissatisfied reaction and delightfully deadpan facial expression gave the Yankees a new method of on-field communication. The meme took off, and various members of the Yankees mimicked it on the bases for the rest of the season.

'Patient' Lewis wise beyond his years

Twins' top prospect slashed .279/.381/.407 in Minors as 18-year-old
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

MINNEAPOLIS -- As a general rule, the Twins haven't brought in Draft picks from the previous year to TwinsFest because it can be a lot for a young player to handle, but they didn't hesitate to invite last year's No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis to this weekend's annual event.

Lewis, the club's No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, handles himself like a veteran and fit right in with his older teammates while embracing his opportunity to meet Twins fans at Target Field. But when asked at what level he'd like to open the season, he gave a reminder of just how young he still is.

MINNEAPOLIS -- As a general rule, the Twins haven't brought in Draft picks from the previous year to TwinsFest because it can be a lot for a young player to handle, but they didn't hesitate to invite last year's No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis to this weekend's annual event.

Lewis, the club's No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, handles himself like a veteran and fit right in with his older teammates while embracing his opportunity to meet Twins fans at Target Field. But when asked at what level he'd like to open the season, he gave a reminder of just how young he still is.

"I'm patient," Lewis said with a smile. "I'm still only 18 and don't turn 19 until June."

Video: Royce Lewis reflects on first professional season

Lewis, though, impressively reached Class A Cedar Rapids in his first professional season and more than held his own. Lewis excelled in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .271/.390/.414 with 15 stolen bases in 36 games before a late promotion to Cedar Rapids that saw him bat .296/.363/.394 in 18 games at Cedar Rapids despite being three years younger than his average competition.

Lewis figures to open at Cedar Rapids but could find himself at Class A Advanced Fort Myers by the end of the season. His goal this offseason was to put on weight and he's done just that, adding 13 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame, as he now weighs 200 pounds and would like to get to 205.

Video: Top Prospects: Royce Lewis, SS, Twins

"I've been doing a lot of workouts and putting down any food I can, whether it's Chick-fil-A or a great homecooked meal by the family," Lewis said.

As for goals during the season, Lewis said he simply wants to get better at all facets of the game, but defense is one specific area where he'd like to improve. The Twins believe Lewis can stick at shortstop long term, but it's up to him to prove it, as it's still a new position for him because he was a third baseman until moving to shortstop as a senior in high school.

"They told me to play at short until I prove I can't," Lewis said. "I know I can always transition to center field and play at a high level."

Video: Royce Lewis' dad knew his son was big-league material

Center field remains the fallback option for Lewis, who has the elite speed to play the position. But it's clear he sees himself as a shortstop and models himself after a certain future Hall of Famer, both on and off the field.

"I'd love to be like Derek Jeter one day -- except for I just want to be Royce Lewis," Lewis said. "I'm trying to change the game and set the standard some day."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

 

Minnesota Twins

HOF class could set record for living inductees

MLB.com @Marathoner

When Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson reveals the Baseball Writers' Association of America 2018 election results Wednesday on MLB Network and MLB.com, it is expected to set a record for most living inductees over any five-year span.

The record for most living Hall of Famers elected in any five-year period is 20, from 1969-73. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell are already bound for induction on July 29 thanks to the Modern Baseball Era ballot results last month, making it 19 living electees so far from 2014-18.

When Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson reveals the Baseball Writers' Association of America 2018 election results Wednesday on MLB Network and MLB.com, it is expected to set a record for most living inductees over any five-year span.

The record for most living Hall of Famers elected in any five-year period is 20, from 1969-73. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell are already bound for induction on July 29 thanks to the Modern Baseball Era ballot results last month, making it 19 living electees so far from 2014-18.

Complete Hall of Fame coverage

Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero are all projected to join them based on the BBWAA vote, at least based on Ryan Thibodaux's ballot tracker, which lists each of the three well above 90 percent with nearly half of all ballots known. That would make it 22 living inductees.

A candidate must appear on at least 75 percent of the ballots for election.

"Hall of Fame Induction Weekend is when fans can come out to salute their heroes with the ultimate honor of being elected," Idelson said on Friday. "Earning election is difficult even in this era of many living electees. Only one percent of those to wear a Major League uniform end up with a plaque in Cooperstown.

"Cooperstown is about the history of the game, but those who create the history help bring the museum to life. Having a number of living electees, all of whom are deserving, certainly helps to embrace a wider fan base."

Video: Hoffman's case for Hall of Fame election in 2018

The only real question is how notably the record is shattered. Edgar Martinez and Trevor Hoffman continued to exceed the 75 percent mark in the latest tracking, so even 23 or 24 is feasible.

This could be the fourth time in the last five years that as many as three former players are voted in by baseball writers. Before 2014, you had to go back to 1999 to find the last time a trio was elected by writers: Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount.

The 17 living electees from 2014-17 already marked the most in any four-year period since 1972-75, two shy of the record set from 1969-72.

Here's another way to look at the stark contrast between these past five years and the five years before them: From 2009-13, there were 14 Hall inductees. Only six of those were elected by the BBWAA, half as many as from 2014-17. And of those 14 inductees, only three elected by the Veterans Committee were living at the time: executive Pat Gillick, manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey (who passed away on Jan. 13).

Video: Thome's case for Hall of Fame election in 2018

It is important to note that this five-year record would be for "living" electees, because in 2006, the Hall inducted 17 former Negro Leaguers, plus