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Ottavino said to have 3-year deal with Yankees

MLB.com @BryanHoch

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

The Yankees added another major piece to their vaunted bullpen Thursday, agreeing to a three-year, $27 million contract with the 33-year-old Ottavino, sources confirmed to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi and Mark Feinsand. The club hasn't confirmed the deal.

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

The Yankees added another major piece to their vaunted bullpen Thursday, agreeing to a three-year, $27 million contract with the 33-year-old Ottavino, sources confirmed to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi and Mark Feinsand. The club hasn't confirmed the deal.

Ottavino, who grew up in Brooklyn and restored his stock after a disappointing 2017 season by working out in a vacant Harlem strip mall, will join Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green and fellow free-agent signee Zach Britton to form what could be one of the top relief corps in the Majors.

Latest Hot Stove rumors

Having refined his mechanics with the help of high-tech equipment in what had previously been a shoe store -- his father-in-law, a real-estate developer, loaned him the space in exchange for a Nolan Arenado signed bat -- Ottavino enjoyed a breakout season in 2018 for the Rockies. In 77 2/3 innings, Ottavino posted a 2.43 ERA with a 0.99 WHIP, six saves and 112 strikeouts.

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

Video: Ottavino confident he could strike out Ruth

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

Hot Stove Tracker

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

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

The Yanks have had a busy offseason, re-signing Britton, CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ while adding James Paxton, Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu, who also played for Colorado in 2018.

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

New York Yankees, Adam Ottavino

2 years from free agency, Trout already in rumors

Angels star under contract through 2020, but creating league-wide buzz
MLB.com @williamfleitch

It was inevitable. With everyone waiting on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to sign -- not to mention the roster machinations teams are doing in preparation of next offseason's hot stove (namely free-agent-to-be Paul Goldschmidt being traded) -- we were invariably going to end up discussing what might be baseball's biggest story over the next 20 months: The looming free agency of Mike Trout, which is set to happen after the 2020 season.

Trout's name was floated Tuesday when MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, while discussing the Phillies' ongoing pursuit of Harper or Machado, noted that the Phillies are already looking two years down the road to make a play for Trout when he hits the market:

It was inevitable. With everyone waiting on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to sign -- not to mention the roster machinations teams are doing in preparation of next offseason's hot stove (namely free-agent-to-be Paul Goldschmidt being traded) -- we were invariably going to end up discussing what might be baseball's biggest story over the next 20 months: The looming free agency of Mike Trout, which is set to happen after the 2020 season.

Trout's name was floated Tuesday when MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, while discussing the Phillies' ongoing pursuit of Harper or Machado, noted that the Phillies are already looking two years down the road to make a play for Trout when he hits the market:

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

It is a surprise only that it took this long for Trout to get dragged into this. In case you've forgotten, Trout -- baseball's greatest player, and somehow still only 27 years old -- has only two years left on the six-year, $144.5 million extension he signed in March 2014. Suffice it to say, the Angels have gotten their money's worth on that contract: Trout has produced 44.4 WAR in the five seasons since he signed the deal, which is more than a number of Hall of Famers produced in their entire careers. But not a single one of those seasons has ended with a postseason victory. That Trout still hasn't won a postseason game (the Angels were swept in the '14 American League Division Series by the Royals, his only playoff appearance) is a little bit sad for all of us.

And, well, the Angels don't look any closer to a playoff spot than they have been the past few seasons. They were below .500 in 2018, 17 games behind the A's for the second AL Wild Card slot, and when you consider that Shohei Ohtani won't pitch in 2019 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery -- and could be limited as a hitter -- you have to squint to see them having a path to make it in '19. The Angels have a chance to reach the postseason by virtue of being a team that's actually going to floor it, but there are holes in that roster, as '18 proved. Even with the head start having Trout gives them, making the playoffs this season is an uphill climb.

So, then: What happens if the Angels are nine games or so out of a playoff spot at the Trade Deadline, like they were in 2018? If they're as far away from an extension as they seem to be, don't they have to explore trading Trout? After all, we've seen how even some of baseball's biggest stars fail to bring back much in trade when they only have one year left on their deal, like Trout would if the Angels waited until after the Deadline to deal him. The Cardinals got Goldschmidt, one of the best hitters in the game, for right-hander Luke Weaver and catcher Carson Kelly, two promising young players but not clear difference-makers.

Trout would bring back more than that, but not dramatically so, and certainly not enough to serve as a foundation for a rebuild, the way the White Sox did with their trades of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, each of whom had multiple years left on their deals.

The Angels don't appear to be making headway on an extension. The Halos aren't a top-tier contender. And Trout's value on the market essentially falls off a cliff after the 2019 Trade Deadline, because at that point you are only getting him for one potential postseason push as opposed to two. These three factors could combine to make it downright irresponsible for the Angels not to consider a Trout trade.

Video: Mike Trout comes in second for 2018 AL MVP vote

And, uh, I suspect there would be some interest.

As Heyman notes, the fact that the best player in baseball could quite possibly be on the market in the next six months -- and will definitely be on the market in the next 20 -- is surely something teams are keeping in mind when they make plans for 2019 and beyond. So what happens if Trout hits the trade market in July?

The usual suspects would be involved, you'd think: The Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs ... the big boys. But the fun of having Trout on the trade market is that as long as you can take on Trout's short-term salary -- he'll make $66.5 million combined in 2019 and '20, an absolute steal -- you can have Mike Trout (Mike Trout!) on your team without having to give him the biggest contract in the history of the sport. (Remember, Trout will be only 29 when he hits the market. Yikes.) So if you have a deep, talent-rich farm system and you're in contention next July, you get to play. That opens up the bidding outside the biggest spenders.

Imagine if, say, the White Sox are still hanging around the Indians in July. We know they have the prospects, because it wasn't long ago they traded for them. What if the Padres, with their trove of prospects, decide it's time to make the big move A.J. Preller is clearly itching to be a part of? The Cardinals have a gaggle of disposable young pitchers that the Angels could build around for the next half-decade; if they don't get right field resolved by July, would they jump in? Houston? Philadelphia? Maybe even Tampa Bay decides they can pay for Trout as long as it's only a year and a half. Sky's the limit!

Video: Mike Trout wins his sixth career Silver Slugger Award

The most intriguing candidate, though, would probably be Atlanta, a team with top-shelf starting-pitching depth and one that will likely find itself in a dogfight in its division this year. That franchise might be hesitant to spend on a long-term Trout but would surely leap at a pennant-chase Trout. And the Braves have the obvious outfield need. He'd look sharp in a Braves uniform, one thinks. And can you imagine Trout and Ronald Acuna Jr. in the same outfield? Is that even legal?

One wrinkle, of course, is that Trout has full no-trade protection, so it's possible he could block a deal. But it's hard to see a scenario in which Trout doesn't want to go play for a contender, at least for a year and a half.

And then, of course, the intrigue after a theoretical trade -- when he does become a free agent -- will match and even likely surpass the current Machado-Harper sweepstakes. This is, after all, the best player in the sport, and one of the best in baseball history, available in his prime. The Phillies are now reportedly eying Trout's potential availability. They're surely not the first, and they're definitely not the last. Trout's pending free agency is going to dominate every baseball conversation over the next 20 months. Might as well start it now. Strap in.

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Mike Trout

No-doubt Hall of Famers you'll see play this season

MLB.com @mike_petriello

We have an extremely hot take to offer: One day, Mike Trout is going to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

In his seven full seasons, he's finished either first or second in the Most Valuable Player Award voting six times, with 2017's fourth place somehow representing a "down year." While he hasn't quite reached the 10-season minimum for eligibility yet, at 27 years old he's accomplished enough that if he were to enter Cooperstown today, he'd already have outproduced many other Hall of Famers. He's that good. You're watching a legend in the prime of his career.

We have an extremely hot take to offer: One day, Mike Trout is going to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

In his seven full seasons, he's finished either first or second in the Most Valuable Player Award voting six times, with 2017's fourth place somehow representing a "down year." While he hasn't quite reached the 10-season minimum for eligibility yet, at 27 years old he's accomplished enough that if he were to enter Cooperstown today, he'd already have outproduced many other Hall of Famers. He's that good. You're watching a legend in the prime of his career.

That much shouldn't be controversial. But who else? How many other all-time greats will you be seeing on the field in 2019? It's a complicated question. As it it weren't hard enough to try to forecast whether today's current stars will get there, you never know which cup of coffee from an unheralded prospect turns out to be the beginning of something great. (For example: 2018 inductee Jim Thome was a 13th-round pick who received 104 generally unimpressive plate appearances in 1991. At the time, who thought they were seeing a future legend? Maybe that's, let's say, Cristian Pache this year.) 

When we've done this in recent years (2018, 2017, 2016), we've identified that an average season has approximately 31 Hall of Famers playing in it, so that's the number we'll try to hit here. We'll break it into tiers, and we'll show FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement, just to give some rough context to a player's career. (The average Hall of Famer has put up between 50 WAR to 70 WAR, and legends like Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds topped 160 WAR.) We'll also use the "JAWS" system to compare players to other Hall of Famers.

We're bidding farewell to one no-doubt Hall of Famer in Adrian Beltre, who retired in November after 21 seasons and should gain easy entrance to Cooperstown. It's not quite so clear if Joe Mauer and Chase Utley will make it, but they'll have cases to make now that they're officially retired, as will David Wright, who probably falls short due to the injuries that sidelined his career.

Here's the potential greats that you'll want to keep an eye out for in 2019.

The no-doubt slam dunks

Video: DET@PIT: Miggy has a four-hit game in Pittsburgh

1. Albert Pujols (88 WAR)
2. Miguel Cabrera (71 WAR)
3. Mike Trout (65 WAR)
4. Justin Verlander (64 WAR)
5. Clayton Kershaw (62 WAR)
6. Ichiro Suzuki (58 WAR)*
7. Max Scherzer (52 WAR) 

Last year, Pujols was on this list showing 89 WAR, which tells you a little about how the back end of his career in Anaheim is going, but it doesn't matter. There's nothing he can do to change his status as an inner-circle all-time great. The same goes for Cabrera, despite his injury-plagued 2018, and it says a lot about how wonderful Kershaw has been that we're talking about his decline after a year in which he had a 2.73 ERA. We know Trout doesn't have 10 years yet. It doesn't matter.

We're elevating Scherzer here because he's got three Cy Young Awards (and three other top-five finishes). Nine other pitchers have won three Cy Youngs; seven are in Cooperstown, one will clearly be there when he's eligible (Kershaw), and one has well-known reasons for lagging in the ballot (Roger Clemens). At 34, Scherzer is still at the top of his game, and he'll get there, easily. Verlander's outstanding Houston rebound strongly enhances his case after what appeared to be the beginning of the end late in his Detroit tenure, and he's also won a rare pitching Most Valuable Player Award.

*Wait, Ichiro? Didn't he retire after playing in only 15 games in 2018? He sure did. But when the Mariners and A's open the 2019 season with two games in Tokyo on March 20 and 21, he's reportedly going to be a part of the active roster. It might just be a pinch-hitting appearance or two; he might not play any games in North America. But technically, he'll be an active player in the 2019 Major League season. He counts.

The 30-and-over players with strong cases

Video: Verlander takes second place for AL Cy Young Award

8. CC Sabathia (68 WAR)
9. Zack Greinke (57 WAR)
10. Robinson Cano (57 WAR)
11. Joey Votto (56 WAR)
12. Andrew McCutchen (49 WAR)
13. Buster Posey (39 WAR)
14. Yadier Molina (38 WAR)
15. Paul Goldschmidt (37 WAR)
16. Craig Kimbrel (19 WAR)
17. Aroldis Chapman (18 WAR)
18. Kenley Jansen (17 WAR)

Not all of these guys get in, but several will, especially as voters of the future are more likely to appreciate the skills of someone like Votto than those in years gone by. Molina's case is probably not fully represented using WAR; while he's not the slam dunk first-ballot guy Cardinals fans would have you believe, it's more likely than not he gains enshrinement.

It's very possible that Cano torpedoed his candidacy with his 80-game suspension in 2018, but given how Bonds and Clemens have increased their share of the ballot in recent years, we can't say for certain what things will look like in 10 years or so when he's eligible. Voters change, and so do opinions. 

We've dropped some players who previously appeared on this list, because they've stalled out or been injured as they've aged, like Felix Hernandez, Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, and Troy Tulowitzki. Pedroia (and Ian Kinsler), for example, ranks below the average Hall of Fame second baseman, and his best days seem behind him.

Chapman, Kimbrel and Jansen are interesting cases. Relievers rarely pile up high WAR totals, but they've each been part of the holy trinity of star closers for more than a half-decade now. As the game embraces bullpens more and more, and closers like Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith get inducted, it seems more and more likely these three will get in.

We didn't include current stars like Jacob deGrom, Corey Kluber, J.D. Martinez, Justin Turner and Josh Donaldson, because they reached elite levels relatively late in their 20s and may not have enough time to compile the counting stats. Don't lose sight of them entirely, however.

Under-30 players on the right path

Video: Betts reacts to winning American League MVP Award

19. Chris Sale (42 WAR)
20. Giancarlo Stanton (39 WAR)
21. Jose Altuve (32 WAR)
22. Mookie Betts (31 WAR)
23. Bryce Harper (31 WAR)
24. Freddie Freeman (31 WAR)
25. Manny Machado (30 WAR)
26. Nolan Arenado (26 WAR)
27. Anthony Rizzo (26 WAR)
28. Anthony Rendon (26 WAR)
29. Francisco Lindor (23 WAR)
30. Kris Bryant (23 WAR) 
31. Jose Ramirez (21 WAR)

So here's the problem we're running into here, which maybe you've already noticed. This is a group of incredibly talented young players, including five MVP winners (Harper 2015, Bryant 2016, Stanton 2017, Altuve 2017, Betts 2018) and two players in Machado and Harper who are on a path that's more "historic" than merely "impressive."

They won't all get there, of course. Maybe Rendon remains perpetually underrated into retirement, or someone gets hurt or flames out at age 30. We've seen all that before -- just look at Wright, Hernandez, etc. 

No, the problem is that we just hit 31 names. We haven't included current stars like Aaron Judge, Christian Yelich, Madison Bumgarner, Andrelton Simmons, Alex Bregman, Luis Severino, Cody Bellinger, Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Corey Seager, etc., or last season's breakouts like Ronald Acuna Jr., Shohei Ohtani, Walker Buehler or Juan Soto. We haven't had a chance to note the future stars we expect to see debut in 2019 like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez or Forrest Whitley.

We didn't get to consider injury-shortened debuts from high-level talents like Michael Kopech or Victor Robles, or wonder if Max Muncy's magical breakout was the start of something historic. We haven't talked about the disappointing debut or out-of-nowhere guy you didn't notice in 2018, like hey, what if Scott Kingery really is great? What if Lewis Brinson figures out how to make contact?

There's just too many incredible talents in the game right now to list them all, which is what makes this entire exercise difficult. It's what makes it fun too, we suppose. It's so hard to predict the future. You'll never be able to know for sure which players on the field are future legends. 

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

Ricketts backs Cubs' roster, offseason approach

In radio interview, club chairman also explains Convention decision
MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts made the media rounds on Thursday morning, discussing the team's quiet winter and plenty of other topics in interviews across the Chicago radio waves. This came after word spread that the Ricketts family would not have a panel at the annual Cubs Convention this weekend.

In an interview with 670 The Score, Ricketts chuckled when asked about the team canceling ownership's usual question-and-answer session with Cubs fans at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. He insisted that there were no ulterior motives to the decision to sit out of the convention spotlight.

CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts made the media rounds on Thursday morning, discussing the team's quiet winter and plenty of other topics in interviews across the Chicago radio waves. This came after word spread that the Ricketts family would not have a panel at the annual Cubs Convention this weekend.

In an interview with 670 The Score, Ricketts chuckled when asked about the team canceling ownership's usual question-and-answer session with Cubs fans at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. He insisted that there were no ulterior motives to the decision to sit out of the convention spotlight.

"We had the lowest-rated panel last year, so the guys cut us. It's true," Ricketts said with a laugh. "I think people would rather watch the mascot play bingo than listen to the owners speak. The fact is that we had a low-rated panel. It got kind of dull over the years, because a lot of the questions were the same. It's funny to me. I saw a headline, somebody wrote like, 'Ricketts family cancels popular panel at Cubs Convention.' And the fact is we were the lowest-rated panel.

"If people want us to come back next year throughout the forums, we'd be happy to do it again. But, we just were boring people, honestly. We're happy to do it again. I like talking to people. I think I'm the most accessible owner in sports."

Here are the highlights of Ricketts' discussion on 670 The Score:

On the Cubs' offseason thus far
"First of all, we have spent this offseason. Obviously, we signed Cole Hamels and we picked up [Daniel] Descalso and I'm sure Theo [Epstein] has a few moves left in him. But, frankly, we have one of the largest budgets in all of baseball. We've put that to work. We definitely signed a lot of players over the years. We have a team that we like. We have a team that we think is going to go a long way. We have a team that won 95 games last year without a lot of help from some of the guys we picked up last offseason, and just all the different things we fought through last year -- the injuries and everyone having kind of down years and some of the off-field distractions. We like our club. We're among the very top spenders."

On a perceived lack of urgency after last season's abrupt ending
"I think what people don't see is the players and Theo and [manager Joe Maddon] have all worked throughout the offseason to talk amongst themselves -- more so than in past years -- to really focus on being prepared and coming in strong in Spring Training and getting the season off to a good start. The fact is, we look at our lineup and we say, if you look around the horn, who would you switch out? We've got a pretty good team. I think we've won, what, 97 games on average the last four years. We're still that team if we stay healthy, and we get Yu [Darvish] back, who's feeling pretty good right now. And obviously with Hamels for the whole season. We're going to be great. I think people should just judge us by what happens during the season -- not what happens during December."

On retaining Addison Russell, who will be out until May 3 while serving a suspension for violating MLB's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy
"There's no simple answer to that question. The fact is, the fact that we have decided -- after talking to a lot of experts, after talking to Addison multiple times, talking to the league -- that we'd rather support him through the process than just cut him and let him go, that doesn't mean it's in conflict with support for victims of domestic violence. The fact is that you have a decision to make as a club: What do you think is going to be best for the player and his family? In our case, after talking to, like I said, many experts, after talking to Addison many times, we thought the better thing for the players, for the player's family, was to see if we could help him get through this.

"I think that it's not an easy decision and not a decision that anyone takes lightly. It's something that every team has to decide for themselves, but I do give a lot of credit to Major League Baseball for having good protocols and policies on this. There was a process for him. He's already begun doing some of the things that the league requests and he's doing things beyond what the league requests. So, we'll see where it goes. I think he knows the gravity of the situation. I think he knows what he has to do. Let's just hope that he follows through on the promises he made to himself and the promises he made to the team."

On the Cubs' exploring their own regional TV network
"We're definitely looking at being able to talk about that more sometime in the future, but it'll be a while yet before we know exactly what we can have and can't have. I think it's already out there that we're looking to go our own direction on this, which is the right thing for the team and for the fans."

On striving for postseason sustainability
"You just have to get to the playoffs as often as possible, because once that happens, you have as good a chance as anyone. Once you get to that first Wild Card Game -- which, of course, we did last year -- you have as good a chance as anyone of still going. It comes down to who's hot, who's healthy, who gets the clutch hit. So, we have to be consistent. And I think one of the mistakes that might've been made in previous ownership is this theory that you load up and go for it one year. That doesn't work. That's fool's gold. That's a bad strategy. We take it from a different approach."

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

Chicago Cubs

These prospects could be MLB's Top 5 in 2021

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

As everyone is likely aware by now, MLB Pipeline has officially begun rankings season. There are three lists up, with the remaining Top 10 position lists coming soon:

Top 10 right-handed pitchers
Top 10 left-handed pitchers
Top 10 catchers

As everyone is likely aware by now, MLB Pipeline has officially begun rankings season. There are three lists up, with the remaining Top 10 position lists coming soon:

Top 10 right-handed pitchers
Top 10 left-handed pitchers
Top 10 catchers

While we've been putting out all of these lists, we've also been doing some historical research. Since 2011, which position do you think has compiled the highest combined Wins Above Replacement among top 10 preseason prospects? If you guessed shortstop (569.5), you'd be right. Outfielders came in second at 496.7, while right-handed pitching stands third, with 338.2 WAR.

All of these lists obviously elicit a ton of debate, which is a big reason why we enjoy doing the rankings. And that leads to good questions from all of you. So let's get to them, shall we?

Tweet from @puk32ellers: I know this is an incredibly difficult projection to make, but who do you think will be the top 5 prospects 2 years from now? Taking into consideration who will graduate and who will be regarded higher or lower than they are now.

We typically do a story of who will top the Top 100 a year from now right after a new list comes out, but this stretches it a bit further. The best part is that both @puk32ellers and then @Morris_8334 gave their projections. Both put Wander Franco of the Rays at the top, the only similarity. Nos. 2-5 for @puk32ellers were MacKenzie Gore (San Diego), Jarred Kelenic (Seattle), Matt Manning (Detroit) and Hunter Greene (Cincinnati). Meanwhile, @Morris_8334 rounded out his list with Alex Kirilloff (Minnesota), Royce Lewis (Minnesota), Nolan Gorman (St. Louis) and Matthew Liberatore (Tampa Bay).

Both solid lists, though I could see both Kirilloff and Lewis having graduated by 2021. I'm going to go ahead and agree with putting Franco in the No. 1 spot. And I think Gore is probably right there with him, so I'll place him at No. 2. After that, I'll be different: No. 3, Patino of the Padres; No. 4, Drew Waters of the Braves; and No. 5, Adley Rutschman, who is about to start his junior year at Oregon State and could be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 Draft.

Tweet from @josh_dop: How is Cease not the number one pitcher on the list he won minor league pitcher of the year?

I wanted to answer this one because this is a common misconception. Yes, Dylan Cease was our Pipeline Pitcher of the Year in 2018, and for good reason after a dominant season during which he reached Double-A for the first time. We're obviously very high on him, given that we have him at No. 5 on our Top 10 RHP list.

Our lists on Prospect Watch are not about current performance, however. Yes, production does become important at a certain point, and seeing Cease do well as he progressed to Double-A is a reason why he's as high as he is. But the Pitcher of the Year Award is only about performance for that year, not what he may, or may not, become in the future. That second point is exactly what the rankings are about -- what we project, based on countless conversations with the scouting industry, the players will become. With an overall 60 grade, Cease is still projected to be a frontline starter. It's just that Forrest Whitley, Casey Mize, Michael Kopech and Mitch Keller are projected to be ever so slightly better than Cease. At least for now.

Video: Top Prospects: Dylan Cease, RHP, White Sox

Tweet from @padres_faithful: How close were Luis Pati��o and Chris Paddack to being in the top 10?

I chose this one because it was a more polite version than several other tweets that had variations of "No Chris Paddack?" Braves fans, don't worry, I won't forget you. We got plenty of the "Where's Touki Toussaint/Ian Anderson?" questions as well.

Suffice it to say the right-handed pitchers list is the deepest one we have. I don't want to give anything away in terms of where these guys land on the new Top 100 (coming on Jan. 26), but you can get the idea by looking at our 2018 list. All 10 hurlers on that list were in the top 29 overall. So just because your favorite pitching prospect isn't on the list doesn't mean he isn't highly regarded.

Video: Allen, Paddack, Quantrill among key Padres prospects

Padres fans, relax. Not only are Paddack and Luis Patino not far from this top 10, but Patino was the "Keep An Eye On" subject in the RHP breakdown story and San Diego has four lefties in the top 10. How many starting-pitching prospects do you need, anyway?

As for Braves fans, it's not a prospect-ranking season without hearing full-throated complaints. We get accusations of anti-Braves bias for snubs, even though there were 10 Braves in the Top 100 at the end of 2018. Mike Soroka and Kyle Wright gives them two Top 10 RHP, and I assure you Anderson and Toussaint aren't far behind.

Tweet from @SigmrewFreudman: So our Dodgers lefties can hit LHP with the exception of Toles & Joc. Looking at the Padres farm of LHP studs coming up perhaps a reason to look deeper into acquiring Machado?

I had to include this question just because of the thoroughness of it. I also love how he's asking about going after Manny Machado to combat the Padres LHP pitching prospects on the way up, but his profile picture is of a very much left-handed-hitting Bryce Harper (.796 career OPS vs. LHP) in a Dodgers uniform. But I digress.

I can't imagine any team, even one within the same division, going after a high-priced free agent because of Minor League pitching depth. But it is important to point out that the Padres also have some quality right-handers coming soon as well. The aforementioned Paddack and Patino didn't miss our Top 10 by much, and who knows what righties like Cal Quantrill, Anderson Espinoza and even Jacob Nix can become. Maybe you should be looking for switch-hitters in Los Angeles?

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Who's the No. 1 overall catching prospect?

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

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

There's a good amount of turnover on this year's Top 10 Catching Prospects list compared to the 2018 version. That starts at the top, with a member of the 2018 Draft Class, Joey Bart, leading the way.

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

There's a good amount of turnover on this year's Top 10 Catching Prospects list compared to the 2018 version. That starts at the top, with a member of the 2018 Draft Class, Joey Bart, leading the way.

Video: Top Prospects: Joey Bart, C, Giants

Francisco Mejia, now with the Padres, continues to be a mainstay, sitting in the top two for the third straight season. Keibert Ruiz of the Dodgers, the A's Sean Murphy and Danny Jansen from the Blue Jays are the other holdovers from last year's Top 10. Graduation caused some serious turnover, with Carson Kelly, now with the D-backs, Jorge Alfaro (Phillies), Chance Sisco (Orioles) and Victor Caratini (Cubs) all moving on to larger big league contributions.

Top 10 Prospects by Position

The Top 10 (ETA)
1. Joey Bart, Giants (2021)
2. Francisco Mejia, Padres (2019)
3. Keibert Ruiz, Dodgers (2020)
4. Sean Murphy, A's (2019)
5. Danny Jansen, Blue Jays (2019)
6. Ronaldo Hernandez, Rays (2021)
7. Miguel Amaya, Cubs (2021)
8. Daulton Varsho, D-backs (2020)
9. MJ Melendez, Royals (2021)
10. Andrew Knizner, Cardinals (2019)
Complete list »

Top tools

Hit: Mejia (60)
Mejia has hit at pretty much every stop in the Minors, starting with his 50-game hitting streak and .342 average in 2016. Following his trade to the Padres last year in the Brad Hand deal, he showed what the fuss was about by hitting .328 with Triple-A El Paso en route to making his San Diego debut. His ability to swing the bat from both sides of the plate is well ahead of his defense behind it.

Video: Top Prospects: Francisco Mejia, C, Padres

Power: Bart (60)
The No. 2 overall pick in last June's Draft, Bart not only has a strong college power resume, with double-digit home runs as a sophomore and a junior, but he showed that it would translate immediately in the pro game when he hit 13 home runs in just 45 Northwest League games during his pro debut. He has the potential to hit at least 25 homers annually.

Run: Varsho (55)
There are some who feel Varsho is athletic enough to play second base if catching doesn't work out, and he certainly did nothing to dampen that evaluation during his first full year. Varsho stole 19 bases in 22 tries in just 80 California League games. He then went on to swipe eight more during his Arizona Fall League stint.

Video: Top Prospects: Daulton Varsho, C, D-backs

Arm: Mejia, Murphy (70)
Mejia has thrown out 33 percent of potential basestealers in his Minor League career. Last year, that was down to 28.9 percent, though he also spent less time behind the plate compared to other seasons. Murphy threw out 34.3 percent in 2018, which actually brought his career percentage down to 35.5 percent.

Video: Top Prospects: Sean Murphy, C, Athletics

Field: Murphy (65)
Murphy would be the runner-up on the All-Defense Prospect Team thanks to his all-around work behind the plate. In addition to his arm detailed above, he's agile with excellent blocking, receiving and game-calling skills. He gets very high marks for his ability to work with a pitching staff.

Superlatives

Ceiling: Melendez
The 2017 second-round pick showed off all of his skills during his first full season. He finished fifth in the South Atlantic League in home runs and slugging percentage, and he should tap into his raw power even more as he refines his approach. Behind the plate, Melendez used his plus arm to throw out nearly 42 percent of those trying to steal last season.

Video: Top Prospects: M.J. Melendez, C, Royals

Floor: Ruiz
Murphy could be a candidate if you wanted to focus solely on defense -- his glove will make him a big leaguer. But Ruiz's bat, with the ability to hit for average and power, provides a little more certainty that he'll be a big league regular at the position.

Video: Top Prospects: Keibert Ruiz, C, Dodgers

Rookie of the Year candidate: Jansen
There are several on this list ready to contribute in 2019, but Jansen appears to be the only one heading into the season as the No. 1 backstop on the depth chart. He had a solid big league debut in August and September last year to build a foundation for his first full year in the big leagues.

Video: Top Prospects: Danny Jansen, C, Blue Jays

Highest riser: Hernandez
Hernandez began 2018 as the Rays' No. 20 prospect, but was up to No. 7 by the end of the season. Now he's jumping onto this Top 10 list for the first time after a year that saw him hit 21 home runs in his full-season debut while throwing out 36 percent of runners trying to steal.

Video: Top Prospects: Ronaldo Hernandez, C, Rays

Humblest beginnings: Knizner
The Cardinals have a knack for finding late-round talent and it looks like they've done it again with Knizner, a seventh-round pick in 2016. The North Carolina State product was a third baseman until he began his catching career as a sophomore and now he's ready to be a big leaguer, thanks to a .310/.373/.460 line and a 36.2 percent caught stealing rate.

Video: Top Prospects: Andrew Knizner, C, Cardinals

Most to prove: Mejia
Yes, Mejia has hit pretty much everywhere he's been in the Minors, but he has a .583 OPS in 76 big league plate appearances, a small sample size for sure. That, combined with questions about his ability to catch full-time and showing he was worth trading for, makes the spotlight a little brighter on him in 2019.

Keep an eye on: William Contreras, Braves
The younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, William had a very strong first taste of full-season ball, earning a promotion to the Class A Advanced Florida State League at age 20. He has a solid approach at the plate with some pop (11 homers in 2018) in addition to a strong arm and solid receiving skills behind it.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Machado's agent questions recent reports

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.

Yankees dip into free-agent market again -- but not for Machado
Jan. 17: While the Yankees are believed to be out of the Manny Machado sweepstakes, a report that the White Sox had offered the infielder $175 million over seven years -- which was later disputed by Machado's agent, Dan Lozano -- led to renewed speculation that New York could re-enter the mix for the right price.

However, the Yankees' latest move makes it even more unlikely that they'll circle back to sign Machado, as they have reportedly agreed to a three-year, $27 million contract with right-handed reliever Adam Ottavino.

With Ottavino's $9 million average annual value tacked on, the Yankees project to be nearly $15 million over the luxury-tax threshold in 2019, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. New York can bump that down a bit by trading Sonny Gray and his $7.5 million salary, but signing Machado for $25 million or more annually could put New York more than $30 million over the threshold.

In that case, the Yankees would need to pay a 20 percent tax on all overages plus a 12 percent surtax for exceeding the threshold by $20 million to $40 million, per the Competitive Balance Tax rules.

Due to the steeper penalties levied against teams that exceed the threshold by more than $40 million, signing Machado may also inhibit the Yankees' ability to make major in-season additions to the roster. Teams that finish more than $40 million over the luxury-tax line are subject to a 42.5 percent surtax and will have their highest selection in the next MLB Draft moved back 10 spots, unless it falls in the top six -- in which case the second-highest selection is moved back 10 spots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phillies could eye Machado now, Trout later
Jan. 17: Imagine Mike Trout anchoring the outfield and Machado anchoring the infield. The Phillies are.

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

Either Machado or Harper, Verducci writes, "would invigorate what for years has been a sleeping giant among Major League franchises." And a pairing with Trout would be a once-in-a-generation combo.

And Verducci writes that while Trout, Harper and Andrew McCutchen would indeed be a dream outfield, "Philadelphia seems to carry a slight preference for Machado over Harper, if only because club officials met much earlier with Machado than they did with Harper."

Lozano releases statement on Machado reports
Jan. 16: Speculation about whether Manny Machado has been presented with a formal offer and for how much has become so rampant that it led to his agent, Dan Lozano, releasing a statement questioning some of the reports Wednesday afternoon.

Tweet from @Feinsand: Dan Lozano of MVP Sports Group, the agent for Manny Machado, released the following statement regarding recent reports: pic.twitter.com/MmKy9doaFz

Lozano's statement specifically mentioned multiple reports that emerged earlier Wednesday indicating the White Sox had offered Machado a seven-year deal for $175 million, well below the expected market price for the superstar infielder.

Video: After agent's statement, what is market on Machado?

Machado's early targets were topping either Alex Rodriguez's record 10-year, $275 million free-agent deal from 2007 or even Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million extension with the Marlins in '14. But the dwindling number of interested teams (Machado's current market may be down to just the Phillies and White Sox) means the demand from the club side might not be there to satisfy Machado's desire for a record deal. That said, Machado should still be able to net a larger deal than Chicago's reported offer when all is said and done.

Phils don't plan on signing both Machado and Harper
Jan. 15: Verducci's report echoes an earlier one from Matt Gelb of The Athletic, which suggests that while the Phillies won't sign both Machado and Harper, they're seen as a favorite to get one of the two -- it's just a matter of which one.

In a story detailing why the Phils feel confident in their slow-play approach with regard to Machado and Harper so far this winter, Gelb writes (subscription required): "League sources insisted the Phillies have made this much clear during negotiations: They will not sign both players."

That jives with what MLB Network insider Jon Heyman is hearing, and Heyman also notes that Philly might have more in mind than landing Machado or Harper -- like some other high-end free agents, including lefty Dallas Keuchel, closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielder A.J. Pollock.

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

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

The Phils last week conducted a five-hour interview with Harper in his hometown of Las Vegas, sending a contingent that included owner John Middleton, general manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler. The meeting went so well that the club turned its sights more centrally on Harper, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, after spending most of the offseason with Machado as their top priority. That makes things interesting, if Gelb's report is indeed true that the club will only attempt to sign one or the other. 

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

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

White Sox have made Machado a seven-year offer, maybe longer
Jan. 14: The White Sox have made a long-term offer to Manny Machado -- that much is known. MLB.com's Scott Merkin reported late Monday afternoon that the club's offer has not increased from seven years, which downplayed a report on Sunday from ESPN's Jeff Passan that Chicago had made an eight-year offer to the star shortstop.

Tweet from @scottmerkin: White Sox seven-year offer to Manny Machado has not changed, per source.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale and the Chicago Sun-Times' Daryl Van Schouwen echoed Merkin saying that the club's offer has not increased from seven years. It's possible that the deal could be worth seven years with incentives or options that could lead to an eighth year. 

The value of the deal, according to Hector Gomez of Z101 Digital, is $250 million. Passan adds that the club may "be compelled to go even longer" to land Machado, who is reportedly seeking a deal north of the record 13-year, $325 million contract the Marlins gave slugger Giancarlo Stanton in 2014.

Tweet from @hgomez27: SOURCE: The #WhiteSox have offered Manny Machado an eight-year, US$250 million deal, #Phillies still involved.First to reported @JeffPassan.#ZDigital #ZDeportes @z101digital @ZDeportes

Machado is one of two premier free agents on this offseason's market, along with fellow 26-year-old superstar Bryce Harper. The other team that is seen as a frontrunner for Machado is the Phillies, though Philadelphia is reportedly turning its attention to Harper (per MLB.com's Todd Zolecki) after meeting with him in Las Vegas on Saturday.

The Yankees were also considered a serious suitor for Machado, but ESPN's Buster Olney reports talks with Machado are "either dormant or completely dead" following New York's acquisition of free-agent infielder DJ LeMahieu. So does that mean the White Sox are now leading the race for Machado? That may indeed be the case.

"Unless the Phillies give huge contracts to both players, which remains a possibility, that leaves the Sox and the Yankees as the two remaining teams interested in signing Machado," Paul Sullivan wrote Sunday for the Chicago Tribune.

"A 'mystery' team can emerge as they often do when agents try to ignite a bidding war, but the lack of public suitors for the 26-year-old Machado could mean he'll fall in the Sox's lap."

The White Sox are also in the hunt for Harper, but it seems likely that he will either re-sign with the Nationals or head to the Phillies.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported on Jan. 9 that Machado was believed to be seeking a contract north of Stanton's record $325 million. Per Heyman, neither Philadelphia nor Chicago is believed to be close to the $300 million mark in their offers.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Word is, Machado camp still seeking 300M plus. ChiSox, Phillies not believed to be close to that ask (though exact current offers aren���t known, and can change). Meanwhile, Yanks, believed to be preferred destination, have yet to make official offer. Still no word of mystery team.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: More specifically, Machado camp still believed seeking something ���north of Stanton.��� (325M plus). Great player, very young for a free agent (26) and doesn���t hurt to ask. Still, very hard to see him getting there (or even close) on non-deferred, true-value deal at this point.

The White Sox have tried to make themselves more appealing by adding Machado's brother-in-law Yonder Alonso and close friend Jon Jay to the mix this offseason. While money may ultimately be the prevailing factor in Machado's decision, Chicago could find itself in a situation where it is the last serious contender left standing.

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

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

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

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

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

Yankees' negotiations with Machado are 'either dormant or completely dead'
Jan. 13: After the Yankees have bolstered their infield depth with a pair of veteran former Rockies -- second baseman DJ LeMahieu and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki -- to go along with promising third baseman Miguel Andujar and second baseman Gleyber Torres, the club might have swung significant leverage in its favor in any potential negotiations with Machado. 

In a piece published on Sunday, ESPN's Buster Olney writes (subscription required) that the Yankees' negotiations with Machado are "either dormant or completely dead."

Andujar has long been a speculated trade chip given his breakout rookie campaign and his club control through the 2023 season. But his defense has been a glaring liability at times -- Andujar was worth minus-25 Defensive Runs Saved in 2018, per FanGraphs, which was by far the lowest among qualified third basemen. Machado, however, has been one of the Majors' most elite at the position, though he's made it clear that he'd ideally like to play shortstop. 

The Yankees, per Olney, believe that Andujar's work ethic could be a propellant for the 23-year-old to make significant strides defensively. If they are committed to a patient approach, the Yankees could avoid shelling out another megadeal to land Machado, even though they are among a handful of clubs with the financial bandwidth capable of doing so. 

Machado met with the Yankees in December, along with the White Sox and Phillies. It's believed that he would choose among those three clubs, though it's unclear if or what New York's offer currently is. Machado's representatives are currently telling his suitors that there is a mystery club involved, per MLB Network insider Jon Heyman

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

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

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

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

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

After signing LeMahieu, are the Yankees out on Machado?
Jan. 11: Didi Gregorius' elbow injury, which led to Tommy John surgery in October, has caused the Yankees to be more aggressive than expected on the free-agent market with regards to infielders, and they have been connected to Manny Machado for months.

But the Yanks raised some doubts about their place in the Machado sweepstakes by signing Troy Tulowitzki, and New York's latest move might just close the door entirely on the superstar infielder landing in the Big Apple.

According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, the Yankees have agreed to a two-year deal with former Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu. Per Feinsand, New York plans to use LeMahieu as a utility infielder, giving him time at second, third and first. As Feinsand points out, LeMahieu also gives the Yankees insurance against a Tulowitzki injury, as the club could plug in the 30-year-old at second base every day and move Gleyber Torres to shortstop.

Tweet from @Feinsand: The Yankees plan to use D.J. LeMahieu all around the infield (1B, 2B and 3B), per source. They view him as a versatile, everyday player who gives them options. If Troy Tulowitzki needs a day or gets hurt, they can move Gleyber Torres to SS and plug LeMahieu in at 2B.

Despite Machado's reported preference to play in New York, the Yankees were already running behind the Phillies and the White Sox in terms of interest, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, and this move further narrows the 26-year-old's chances of signing with the Yanks.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: In Manny Machado market, #Yankees have trailed #Phillies and #WhiteSox in seriousness of interest. With DJ LeMahieu nearing a 2-year deal with Yankees, Machado���s chances of going to New York have narrowed further. @MLBNetwork @MLB

Even without Gregorius, who can become a free agent after the upcoming season, the Yankees have a glut of infielders, including Torres, Tulowitzki, LeMahieu, Miguel Andujar, Greg Bird and Luke Voit.

Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM thinks the Yankees can be crossed off the list of Machado suitors.

Tweet from @MLBNetworkRadio: Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) reports #Yankees are "closing in on" a two-year deal with IF DJ LeMahieu.https://t.co/f4lPcYp6onINSTANT REACTION from @JimBowdenGM: pic.twitter.com/J2c1zVudhf

"This takes them out on Machado, it means they're done," Bowden said. "I'm going to jump to conclusions without any confirmation from the Yankees. None. No confirmation, no inside information. But I don't know why LeMahieu is going to sign this deal with the Yankees if they're going to sign Manny.

"I got the impression all along that [Yankees principal owner] Hal Steinbrenner did not want to give that kind of years and money to Machado ... and this backs it up. So that leaves Machado probably to the White Sox or Phillies at this point."

But MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal writes in an article for The Athletic, that he'll believe the Yanks are out on Machado only when the superstar dons another club's uniform.

"This is not to say the Yankees are 'in' on Machado, not after reaching agreement on Friday with free-agent second baseman DJ LeMahieu on a two-year, $24 million contract," Rosenthal writes. "But I'm guessing the Yankees will follow their usual practice. Stay in contact with Machado's agent, Dan Lozano. Wait for the market to fully form. Then decide at the end if they are willing to meet Machado's price."

Rosenthal cites many past examples in which the Yankees have seemingly come out of nowhere to snatch up marquee players via free agency or trade, including Giancarlo Stanton last offseason, Mark Teixeira prior to the 2009 season, and Johnny Damon prior to the '06 season. He also notes that the Teixeira and Damon moves were under George Steinbrenner, and since Hal Steinbrenner has been at the helm, New York has been conscious about getting under the luxury tax threshold. 

"Still, after they spent years trying to get under the luxury-tax threshold, it sure is odd the Yankees might end up exceeding the $206 million boundary for 2019," Rosenthal writes. "They currently are more than $7 million over, according to RosterResource.com -- without signing Machado, Bryce Harper or even left-hander Patrick Corbin."

Are the Yankees really out on Machado? Machado himself has reportedly expressed his preference to play in the Bronx. Perhaps New York isn't out until Machado puts pen to paper on a contract elsewhere. More >

Phillies hire Manny's mentor for coaching staff
Jan. 10: The Phillies are one of three teams seen as the favorites to sign superstar free agent Manny Machado, along with the White Sox and Yankees. And they may have just taken a step that could help them bring Machado to Philadelphia. According to MASN's Roch Kubatko, the club has hired former Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson as infield coach. Dickerson's mentorship of Machado dates back to before Machado made his MLB debut in 2012.

Tweet from @masnRoch: The #phillies have hired former #orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson as infield coach. Will be in the dugout for games. 1st member of O's 2018 staff to find job in majors.

Tweet from @masnRoch: Dickerson had interviewed for job as #phillies minor league infield coordinator but was bypassed. Ends up with job on major league staff #orioles

According to a story by Dan Connolly for The Athletic last October, Machado referred to Dickerson as "one of his most important mentors." The hiring of Dickerson by the Phillies isn't the first personnel move made by a potential Machado suitor that involves people close to the infielder. In December, the White Sox traded for Machado's brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso. And on Wednesday, Chicago reportedly agreed to terms with free-agent outfielder Jon Jay, a close friend of Machado's.

Along with Bryce Harper, Machado is one of the two premier free agents on the market this offseason. At the outset, it was thought that both could command a long-term contract of more than $300 million. Although it has been reported in recent days that Machado is seeking a contract north of Giancarlo Stanton's record $325 million deal with the Marlins in 2014, it has also been reported that no team has made an offer that high to this point.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Word is, Machado camp still seeking 300M plus. ChiSox, Phillies not believed to be close to that ask (though exact current offers aren���t known, and can change). Meanwhile, Yanks, believed to be preferred destination, have yet to make official offer. Still no word of mystery team.

Machado, 26, had his best offensive season in '18, slashing .297/.367/.538 (146 OPS+) with 37 home runs and 14 steals between the Orioles and Dodgers, helping Los Angeles reach the World Series for a second consecutive year. Phillies owner John Middleton said earlier this offseason that the organization has money to spend and might be "a little bit stupid" about it, raising expectations that Philadelphia would make a giant splash in the free-agent market. It is also rumored to be one of the frontrunners for Harper, and Phillies representatives will be meeting with Harper in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Are Phillies, White Sox ahead of Yankees in chase for Machado?
Jan. 9: For a brief period of time Wednesday, it appeared the three-team chase for Manny Machado between the Phillies, White Sox and Yankees might have been narrowed down to two -- with New York out of the picture -- based on a single report.

Tweet from @hgomez27: SOURCE: The race to sign Manny Machado is down to two teams - the #Phillies and the #WhiteSox.#ZDigital #ZDeportes @z101digital @ZDeportes

Further digging, however, has yet to support that. "The Yankees have not been informed that they are out on Machado," a source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.

"The market for Manny isn't down to two teams yet," MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reported, also citing a source.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman expressed a similar take -- that there's no word the Yankees have been told they're out of the running -- but did reiterate that New York "hasn't engaged in negotiations lately or made an official offer." What's more, there are questions about just how close the Yankees are willing to get to Machado's reported asking price, which is believed to be in the range of $325 million -- a number that's signficant for matching Giancarlo Stanton's contract, currently the biggest in baseball history.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Can���t confirm Yankees are out (there���s no word they���ve been told this at least), but as said, they haven���t engaged in negotiations lately or made an official offer. They aren���t meeting the believed 325M-plus target, or even 300. Or even coming especially close. https://t.co/pTjdkPLjSP

That lines up with what USA Today's Bob Nightengale pointed out, too, noting that the Yankees "have talked financial concepts with Machado, but have yet to make [an] official offer." It is worth highlighting, though, that Nightengale went on to say while the Yankees "have not backed out of [the] Machado sweepstakes," the White Sox and Phillies are "leading the way."

 

Tweet from @BNightengale: The #Yankees��� stance has not changed one iota in Manny Machado talks. They have talked financial concepts with Machado, but have yet to make official offer. Certainly, they have not backed out of Machado sweepstakes with #WhiteSox and #Phillies leading the way.

Manny Machado

Inbox: Are Rays still in mix for Realmuto?

Beat reporter Juan Toribio answers questions from fans
MLB.com @juanctoribio

Are the Rays still in the mix for J.T. Realmuto and/or Jose Martinez?
-- @theicchamp11 via Twitter

Even with the acquisition of outfielder Avisail Garcia, the Rays will continue to look for ways to improve, and that includes going after Realmuto, Martinez and others. The Marlins have been consistent with their asking price, and it remains to be seen whether any club will meet their demands. Tampa Bay can check off every box on Miami's asking price, which includes a young Major League player and a variety of top prospects. Realmuto is one of the best catchers -- if not the best -- in baseball and the Rays will look to acquire someone of that caliber if the offer fits their plans.

Are the Rays still in the mix for J.T. Realmuto and/or Jose Martinez?
-- @theicchamp11 via Twitter

Even with the acquisition of outfielder Avisail Garcia, the Rays will continue to look for ways to improve, and that includes going after Realmuto, Martinez and others. The Marlins have been consistent with their asking price, and it remains to be seen whether any club will meet their demands. Tampa Bay can check off every box on Miami's asking price, which includes a young Major League player and a variety of top prospects. Realmuto is one of the best catchers -- if not the best -- in baseball and the Rays will look to acquire someone of that caliber if the offer fits their plans.

:: Submit a question to the Rays Inbox ::

It's also worth noting that Realmuto only has two more years of control, which could play a factor in Tampa Bay's pursuit. The Rays believe they can compete in 2019 and '20, but they also don't want to trade away too many of their younger players, as their goal is to have sustained success with its young nucleus.

As for Martinez, it still remains to be seen whether St. Louis is willing to trade him. With the addition of Paul Goldschmidt, it appeared that the Cardinals were going to begin shopping Martinez, but nothing has come to fruition over the past couple of months. Martinez is under control for four more seasons, so the Cards aren't forced to make any quick decision on him.

Any chance the Rays bring back Sergio Romo? He was a great clubhouse guy and would help the bullpen.
-- @KyleSmelter via Twitter

There's always a chance, especially with how slow the reliever market has been moving along, but odds are that Romo will be playing elsewhere in 2019. Romo served as the team's primary closer over the last couple of months of the season, finishing with 25 saves, but he saw a reduced role in September as the Rays continued to evaluate some of their young pitchers.

The 35-year-old had a very good impact in the clubhouse, especially with the young relievers, but it might be in the best interest of Romo and Tampa Bay to go their separate ways.

Video: Top Prospects: Brandon Lowe, 2B, Rays

If the Rays do trade from their prospect depth for a middle-of-the-lineup bat, who would you say is the odd man out on the current roster?
-- @m_nantai via Twitter

If the Rays were to add another impact bat via trade, it would likely cost them a player or two from their current 40-man roster, plus prospects, depending on the player.

The decision of who the odd man out would be depends on who the player is and what position he is expected to play. If it's another outfielder, there's a chance that Guillermo Heredia, who still has options, starts off the season in Triple-A Durham. The same goes for Brandon Lowe, despite his ability to play second base.

If the move was for an infielder, then the decision becomes even tougher for the Rays. Tampa Bay has a lot of depth in the infield, and every player is deserving of playing in the big leagues. At the end of the day, if the Rays were to make any more additions to its roster, it'll likely be paired with another really tough roster decision. But that's a good problem to have.

What young players do you think will break out and make a name for themselves this spring, even if they don't break camp with the MLB team?
-- @z_awkwardturtle via Twitter

The Rays' farm system continues to be absolutely stacked, and there's going to be a lot of attention in the back fields when Spring Training gets going in less than a month. It's hard to pick breakout names because the Tampa Bay's Minor League Pipeline is so highly regarded, but some of the names that I will keep my eye on this spring include: outfielder Jesus Sanchez, catcher Ronaldo Hernandez, infielder Vidal Brujan, outfielder Joe McCarthy, infielder Lucius Fox, outfielder Tanner Dodson and pitchers Shane McClanahan, Brendan McKay and Curtis Taylor.

None of these players will break the 25-man roster out of camp, and there's a chance we won't see any of them until 2020, but the potential they offer is something to watch.

Hernandez projects as the catcher of the future after hitting 21 home runs in 2018. Sanchez and McCarthy were added to the 40-man roster this offseason and could make an appearance with the big league club if all goes right in the Minor Leagues, while Brujan and Fox are dynamic athletes who provide a lot of excitement.

Dodson and Taylor aren't as highly rated as the other players on the list, but Dodson, who was drafted with the 71st pick in 2018, has the potential to be another two-way player for the Rays. Taylor, who finished with a 2.37 ERA with Double-A Montgomery last season, was used as an opener four times and could be another option for the club in that role.

Video: SEA@TB: Arroyo laces a single to left, scores Smith

I was excited about the profile of Christian Arroyo when we acquired him. I understand he has had trouble staying on the field, but I hear little talk about his future. Is he still in the team's plans or has his star faded?
-- @brucecarr53 via Twitter

Yes. Arroyo is still in the team's plans, but the Rays have a couple players that are a bit more big league ready right now. The infield remains a logjam, even without considering Arroyo, and the 23-year-old still has something to prove in the Minor Leagues after suffering a plethora of injuries over the past few seasons.

The talent itself isn't in question when it comes to Arroyo, but he has dealt with multiple surgeries on his left hand, an oblique injury and even suffered a concussion while playing with Triple-A Durham last season.

Tampa Bay has a lot of options in the infield, so there's a strong chance that Arroyo begins the season in Durham, with the chance to contribute at the big league level as the season goes on.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com.

Tampa Bay Rays

Rumors: Trout, Harper, Machado, Moustakas

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

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

Free agents, by position
Free agents, by team

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

Free agents, by position
Free agents, by team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ottavino's impact on Yankees' bullpen, Kimbrel's market
Jan. 17: Adam Ottavino appears to have a found a new home -- in his native state -- and the Yankees' bullpen has added yet another elite arm. The Yankees are closing in on Ottavino, according to Robert Murray and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

Tweet from @ByRobertMurray: #Yankees closing on free-agent reliever Adam Ottavino, sources tell me and @Ken_Rosenthal. Agreement, if completed, expected to be in the three-year, $25 million range.

ESPN's Jeff Passan reports that the two sides have a deal in place for three years and $27 million, according to sources.

Tweet from @JeffPassan: Adam Ottavino's deal with the New York Yankees is for three years and $27 million, league sources tell ESPN.

The 33-year-old Ottavino was born in New York and is coming off a career campaign in which he struck out a whopping 112 batters over 77 2/3 innings with a 2.43 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He joins a Yankees bullpen that features the following hard-throwing, strikeout-heavy relievers: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green and lefty Zach Britton, who recently re-signed with New York after being acquired last year at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

One of the two high-end relievers left on the market, along with Craig Kimbrel, Ottavino reportedly also was being pursued by the Rangers and could have been a fit with the Braves, Cubs and Red Sox.

With Ottavino now off the board, Kimbrel has no clear competition as the biggest name among late-inning arms in free agency. A return to the Red Sox has been rumored, given that he served as their closer the past three seasons. Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, however, has made it known that he doesn't expect to spend big on someone to handle the ninth inning, spurring speculation that Kimbrel may have to settle for a smaller deal than he has been seeking.

But will the Red Sox's plans change now that Ottavino no longer is an option?

Video: Ottavino reportedly signs with the Yankees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: Gilbert on D-backs reportedly signing Flores

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: Can Nationals sign Harper and also extend Rendon?

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

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

Like these four. More >

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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