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Rays agree to deal with Morton, per source

MLB.com @RichardJustice

LAS VEGAS -- Free-agent right-hander Charlie Morton is closing in on a deal with the Rays, according to multiple people familiar with the negotiations. An official announcement could come as early as Wednesday.

Morton, 35, is one of the crown jewels of this offseason's free-agent class after two seasons with the Astros in which he made 55 starts with a 3.36 ERA and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

LAS VEGAS -- Free-agent right-hander Charlie Morton is closing in on a deal with the Rays, according to multiple people familiar with the negotiations. An official announcement could come as early as Wednesday.

Morton, 35, is one of the crown jewels of this offseason's free-agent class after two seasons with the Astros in which he made 55 starts with a 3.36 ERA and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

That 3.36 ERA is 10th lowest among American League starters in that time span. Morton's .220 opponents' batting average is seventh. He struck out 364, tied with James Paxton for eighth among AL starters.

Morton's potential deal comes during an offseason in which the Rays, with a payroll of only around $32 million, have aggressively cast a wide net to acquire both pitching and a middle-of-the-order hitter.

Morton would join 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and right-hander Tyler Glasnow as traditional starters for the Rays, with the "opener strategy" employed in the other two spots.

Video: Cash discusses increasing use of openers in baseball

But with Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon expected back from Tommy John surgery around midseason, the Rays would have an assortment of options.

Morton had one of the more remarkable career rebirths during his two seasons with the Astros. After injuries limited him to just four starts with the Phillies in 2016, he wasn't even sure if he'd be offered a Major League contract.

However, the Astros saw a possible future ace in Morton, believing that refining his pitch usage along with some mechanical tweaks would turn him around.

Morton did just that, with a fastball that averaged almost 96 mph in 2018 and by throwing a career-high 29.3 percent curveballs. During the '17 postseason, he became the first pitcher in history to win both Game 7 of the AL Championship Series and the World Series.

Video: WS2017 Gm7: Morton goes four innings, earns the win

Morton started Game 7 of the ALCS and pitched five shutout innings for the win against the Yankees. In Game 7 of the World Series, he entered the game in the sixth inning and allowed one earned run in four innings to finish up the Astros' first Series win. 

Morton was a critical piece in helping the Astros win the World Series and did so not just with his great stuff but with a cerebral approach that meshed perfectly with Houston's utilization of data. He would contribute in other ways, too, particularly in priding himself on being a great teammate, part of the clubhouse glue essential to championship teams.

"Everything that's happened in my career, I've learned to appreciate it," Morton said in an interview this past summer. "I've learned to accept failure for what it is. Had I not won, had I not come to the Astros, I still would be extremely grateful for every opportunity that I've had. But I'll cherish that part of it for the rest of my life."

That postseason success made up for a lot of seasons when surgeries -- to both hips, his right elbow, a left hamstring that tore completely off the bone -- made Morton wonder if he'd ever be able to do the things he believed he was capable of doing. The hamstring injury limited him in 2016, and he entered free agency unsure of what the interest would be.

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

Charlie Morton

Boras: Don't count out Nats, Yanks for Bryce

MLB.com

After a seven-season tenure with the Nationals that included a National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, an NL MVP Award in 2015 and six All-Star nods, Bryce Harper is now a free agent for the first time.

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

After a seven-season tenure with the Nationals that included a National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, an NL MVP Award in 2015 and six All-Star nods, Bryce Harper is now a free agent for the first time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phils still in for Machado, Harper after Segura deal

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

Video: Zolecki joins High Heat to discuss Segura trade

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

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

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

Realmuto watch: Reds, Mets, Braves in mix

MLB.com

The Marlins are reportedly shopping J.T. Realmuto, who is arguably MLB's best catcher at a time when productive all-around backstops are in short supply.

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

The Marlins are reportedly shopping J.T. Realmuto, who is arguably MLB's best catcher at a time when productive all-around backstops are in short supply.

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

Reds enter mix for Realmuto; Braves, Mets involved, too
Dec. 12: The Reds have jumped into the J.T. Realmuto sweepstakes, according to Craig Mish of SiriusXM, though Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald has heard Cincinnati has been interested in the catcher for "a while."

Tweet from @CraigMish: Sources indicate the Cincinnati Reds have jumped into the Realmuto talks. Could be moving up into the candidates to acquire him.

Tweet from @clarkspencer: Reds have been in on Realmuto for ���a while��� I���m told. Not like they suddenly became interested. At least a half-dozen teams still in play, perhaps diminishing chance a deal gets done here in Vegas. https://t.co/y1Fck0VG55

Per Mish, catcher Tucker Barnhart and outfield prospect Taylor Trammell (Cincinnati's No. 2 prospect, No. 17 overall, per MLB Pipeline) are among the names that could highlight a potential package from the Reds. But MLB Network insider Jon Heyman has heard the Reds are refusing to include No. 1 prospect Nick Senzel (No. 6 overall).

Tweet from @CraigMish: Sources indicate the names possibly in a potential deal would be hilighted by top prospect Taylor Trammell and a catcher. Possibly Barnhart.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Reds and Marlins continue to engage on Realmuto, though Cincy has so far held the line and not agreed to include Nick Senzel

MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reports that the Braves and Mets remain involved as well.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: J.T. Realmuto trade is possible in the coming days. #Reds, #Mets, #Braves among the teams involved as of this morning. @MLBNetwork @MLB

Realmuto represents a significant upgrade over Barnhart, especially on the offseason end. Barnhart makes sense for Miami, though, as he is just a couple months older than the 27-year-old Realmuto and is signed for the next three years for a base salary of only $9.75 million. Barnhart also has a $7.5 million team option with a $500,000 buyout for 2022. Realmuto, meanwhile, can become a free agent in two years, and his agent has indicated the catcher won't be signing an extension with the Marlins.

Mets' pursuit of Realmuto may be fizzling, but NY not completely out
Dec. 12: The Mets have been the most aggressive suitor for catcher J.T. Realmuto during the Winter Meetings, but their talks with the Marlins may be stalling.

According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the club hasn't made progress in Realmuto discussions over the last 24 hours and may look at alternatives. One possibility could be signing Martin Maldonado, with whom the club met Tuesday, and putting more resources into the bullpen. The Mets have also met with Wilson Ramos, per Heyman, and Andy Martino of SNY reported Tuesday that Yasmani Grandal is still in play for New York if the club is unable to acquire Realmuto. That said, signing Ramos or Grandal would leave the Mets with less money to add a reliever and an outfielder.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Mets are to lose a bit of confidence in realmuto talks, and are starting to think about the value of acquiring a defensive catcher ��� they met on Maldonado Tuesday ��� and bulking up the bullpen instead.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Mets haven���t given up on Realmuto but haven���t made progress on that front last 24 hours and are looking into alternative plans at the moment. Preference at catcher is to get a strong defender.

The Marlins covet Amed Rosario, as well as outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto, but the Mets have been hesitant to part with those players.

Granted, all this doesn't mean the club is out of the running. According to MLB Network insider Joel Sherman, the Mets still view Realmuto as a possibility for them.

Tweet from @Joelsherman1: #Mets feel Realmuto is still a possibility for them. This is what I SENSE: Syndergaard off table. #Marlins want Conforto. NYM perhaps willing to mull Rosario/Nimmo/Peterson. Miami has multiple suitors so price will be big.

Realmuto, 27, has been one of the most talked-about trade candidates in recent days, with a potential three-team deal featuring the Marlins and both New York teams drawing significant buzz on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings before petering out. In the discussed trade, Realmuto would have gone to the Mets, with Noah Syndergaard joining the Yankees and prospects presumably heading to the Marlins.

Per Sherman, the Marlins also tried to float the idea that the Yanks were independently trying to acquire Realmuto, but Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the club is pursuing no primary catchers and confirmed that Gary Sanchez is the team's starting backstop.

Tweet from @Joelsherman1: #Marlins have tried to create perception that #Yankees are independently in to try to obtain Realmuto. Cashman said they are pursuing ���no��� primary catchers. Sanchez is the starter, he said.

J.A. Happ, Yanks said to be near 3-year deal

MLB.com @BryanHoch

LAS VEGAS -- J.A. Happ delivered exactly what the Yankees needed when he arrived in a midsummer trade this past season, and a source told MLB.com on Wednesday that the club is nearing the finish line on a three-year agreement to keep the left-hander in pinstripes.

Widely viewed as one of the top remaining free-agent hurlers, the 36-year-old Happ fielded interest from the Astros, Blue Jays, Phillies, Rangers and Reds in recent weeks. Happ was believed to have several two-year offers in hand, while waiting for a club to push to a third year.

LAS VEGAS -- J.A. Happ delivered exactly what the Yankees needed when he arrived in a midsummer trade this past season, and a source told MLB.com on Wednesday that the club is nearing the finish line on a three-year agreement to keep the left-hander in pinstripes.

Widely viewed as one of the top remaining free-agent hurlers, the 36-year-old Happ fielded interest from the Astros, Blue Jays, Phillies, Rangers and Reds in recent weeks. Happ was believed to have several two-year offers in hand, while waiting for a club to push to a third year.

"Happ is aware of our comfort level," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said earlier this week. "I know what he's trying to accomplish. We'll see if we all match up."

Video: Hoch breaks down Happ, Yanks reportedly reuniting

Happ was excellent down the stretch after the Yankees acquired him in a trade with the Blue Jays on July 26, swapping infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney to Toronto.

He went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 regular-season starts, winning his first five starts for the Yankees and delivering a pair of solid efforts against the Red Sox, though he had a rocky postseason outing at Fenway Park in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

Following the season, Happ said that he hoped to return to New York.

By retaining Happ, the Yankees would have achieved their stated objective of adding two premium starting pitchers this offseason. New York acquired James Paxton from the Mariners in November, adding the left-hander to a rotation that also projects to feature Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia.

Overall in 2018, Happ went 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 31 starts for Toronto and New York, setting career highs in strikeouts (193), K/9.0 IP ratio (9.78) and strikeout rate (26.3 percent). He held opponents to a .225 batting average and earned the first All-Star nod of his 12-year career.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007.

New York Yankees, J.A. Happ

Here's why the White Sox should sign Harper

MLB.com @williamfleitch

Last night, MLB Network's Ken Rosenthal did one of the most exciting things Ken Rosenthal can do: He filled up an entire fanbase with hope. For The Athletic (subscription required), Rosenthal threw some kindling on the lightly simmering Bryce Harper sweepstakes fire by writing, "The White Sox have the resources to sign Bryce Harper. Now, will they break character and go for it?"

For a team that lost 100 games last season and hasn't made the playoffs since the year their most famous fan was elected President, this is the sort of item that makes ones ears prick upward.

Last night, MLB Network's Ken Rosenthal did one of the most exciting things Ken Rosenthal can do: He filled up an entire fanbase with hope. For The Athletic (subscription required), Rosenthal threw some kindling on the lightly simmering Bryce Harper sweepstakes fire by writing, "The White Sox have the resources to sign Bryce Harper. Now, will they break character and go for it?"

For a team that lost 100 games last season and hasn't made the playoffs since the year their most famous fan was elected President, this is the sort of item that makes ones ears prick upward.

Rosenthal isn't entirely sold, arguing that while the White Sox have the payroll flexibility to go after Harper, such a move would be out of character for a franchise that has never handed out a contract exceeding $100 million. But it is potentially a perfect fit, and not just because a player of Harper's quality is a perfect fit for any team. If you're the White Sox, you've got to be looking around at the rest of the American League Central and thinking, "If not us, who? If not now, when?" If you were to make a bet on one team over the next five years in this division ... wouldn't it have to be the White Sox?

After all, look at the rest of the division:

Kansas City. The Royals lost more games than the White Sox did last year, are in the bottom half of most prospect ranking lists and are clearly taking long-term view on getting back to contention. You don't have to worry about the Royals for a while.
Detroit. In his baseball newsletter this week, writer Joe Sheehan argued that the Tigers, by September, "could be a year closer to being relevant." In other words, there is still some work to do.
Minnesota. The Twins took a huge step back after their Wild Card season and are still assessing what, in fact, they are right now. Steamer projections have them as a .500 team, and they dropped a lot of payroll from last year's roster. Still, there hasn't been much of a sense they're going to spend big this year, and some of their prospects have not panned out to be nearly what they'd hoped.
Cleveland. Clearly still the favorite, but the fact that the Indians are talking about trading Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer -- two of the best pitchers in baseball -- speaks to their current state of flux. They seem likely to take a step back, and it's not like they were particularly dominant last year.

Video: Harper enters free agency after 7 seasons with Nats

Meanwhile, the White Sox have the No. 3 Minor League system in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, and it's not all stashed down in the lower levels, either. Eloy Jimenez should be called up not long into 2019, and '20 -- if not earlier -- should bring Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, Blake Rutherford, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning, who are all on the Top 100 Prospects list. (Michael Kopech should be recovered from Tommy John surgery by then as well.) The window is just about to crack open for the White Sox: They could own this division in two years.

So why not try to start now? Maybe you can't catch the Indians next year -- though we'll see what comes of Cleveland's offseason -- but you can at the very least take a big step forward and signal what you've got coming: Let your fans know that the days of 100-loss seasons are in your past. If that sounds familiar, that's what those uptown Cubs did, alerting the baseball world that they were coming, and coming fast, by signing Jon Lester before the 2015 season. They won 24 more games in '15 than they did in '14. And in 2016, they … well, you know what happened in 2016. A 24-game improvement for the White Sox would make them an 86-win team in '19. Is that an impossible dream? Let's take a look.

Here's who the White Sox have if they don't sign Harper (or Manny Machado, to whom they've also been attached):

Tim Anderson, SS
Yoan Moncada, 2B
Eloy Jimenez, LF (by May, you'd think)
Jose Abreu, 1B
Daniel Palka, DH
Yolmer Sanchez, 3B
Welington Castillo, C
Nicky Delmonico or Leury Garcia, RF
Adam Engel, CF

Carlos Rodon, SP
Ivan Nova, SP
Reynaldo Lopez, SP
Lucas Giolito, SP
Manny Banuelos, SP

Well, that doesn't look like a playoff team, not yet. But with Robert, Madrigal and Rutherford coming, not to mention catcher Zach Collins, the holes get filled quickly in 2020, and that's not even mentioning the rotation. If you added a top-tier superstar to the team, you've got a solid foundation even before all those guys come. Imagine Machado in the middle of that lineup, or Harper replacing whatever that is in right field. That's an above .500 team. That might even be an 86-win team. And that's before the kids arrive. Imagine all those prospects surrounding a Machado or Harper. The White Sox will be good without either of them. But imagine what they'd be like with them.

The Indians probably aren't going to drop to 86 wins in 2019. But considering the state of the Tigers, Royals and Twins, there are definite wins on the table to be had by the White Sox. Nova is a helpful rotation piece, and tellingly, he's a free agent at the end of the season. This is a team built for the future, but Nova is a piece who only helps right now. It's at least a cursory glance at the idea that the White Sox might want to get the ball rolling a little bit. Clearly, with the AL Central in its current state, there is a decided lack of resistance.

No one can predict what's going to happen in the future. We could all be playing baseball in rocket packs in a few years, you never know. But the White Sox find themselves in an extremely similar situation to those Cubs just a few years ago -- oodles of talent ready to take over, a fanbase desperate for a winner and all sorts of money available to spend. And considering how much better the NL Central was in 2015 -- three teams in that division made the playoffs that year, remember -- than the AL Central will be in '19, this seems precisely the time to pounce. Every team needs that kick start, that sign to their fans and the rest of baseball that they have arrived. That time for the White Sox seems to be right now.

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Chicago White Sox, Bryce Harper

Rumors: Dodgers trying to move Puig, Kemp?

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 

Feinsand: Dodgers 'actively trying' to trade Puig and/or Kemp, among others
Dec. 12: As the Dodgers explore a number of avenues to improve their roster, they are unsurprisingly looking to trade from the two areas where they have great depth: the rotation and the outfield.

Los Angeles is prepared to move starters Rich Hill and Alex Wood as well as two outfielders, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.

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

As for Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, specifically, the Dodgers are "actively trying" to move one or both of them, according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

Tweet from @Feinsand: According to a source, the Dodgers are actively trying to trade Yasiel Puig and/or Matt Kemp.

That echoes what MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal is hearing, particularly the part about Puig being discussed, and in this case with the Reds. While Rosenthal doesn't mention a possible target in the Dodgers' talks with Cincy, second baseman Scooter Gennett could be in play because of L.A.'s need at that spot.

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: #Dodgers, #Reds have talked multiple times, sources tell The Athletic. Different packages being discussed; Puig in play as well as other LAD outfielders, pitchers. Dodgers want to clear money for other pursuits. Puig projected $11.3M in arb, per @mlbtraderumors, Alex Wood $9M.

The Dodgers have also had discussions with the Cardinals about Jose Martinez, per Rosenthal, with a creative plan to potentially move Martinez to first base and have Max Muncy play second and Bellinger play center field. 

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: This one is a surprise. #Dodgers talking to #STLCards about Jose Martinez, sources tell The Athletic. LAD could play the defensively challenged Martinez at first base, with Muncy at second and Bellinger in center.

As far as other trade targets go, the Dodgers have been connected most prominently to the Indians' Corey Kluber and the Marlins' J.T. Realmuto this offseason. MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported Monday that trade talks for Kluber had "intensified," and that Cleveland is interested in the Dodgers' top prospect, outfielder Alex Verdugo.

Cody Bellinger was among the outfielders Olney mentioned as being available for trade, but a source from a rival team got the sense that the Dodgers aren't open to that idea, per MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Impression from a rival about the Dodgers: ���Any of their guys are in play except Buehler and Bellinger.��� (My add: we���ll assume Kershaw, Turner, Seager and Jansen probably aren���t going anywhere either).

The 23-year-old Bellinger took a step backward in 2018, but he is just one season removed from slashing .267/.352/.581 with 39 homers in 132 games as a rookie. While the slugger has primarily played first base during his time in the Majors, he has shown the ability to capably handle center field as well, which is a major plus for a Dodgers club that seems to value versatility as much as any team in baseball.

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

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

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

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

Ramos meets with at least three teams
Dec. 12: Free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos is in Las Vegas for the Winter Meetings and has met with the Mets, A's and Brewers, with more meetings possibly to come, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Wilson Ramos has met with the Brewers, A���s and Mets while in Las Vegas, but he���s still here so there could be more meetings

The Mets have been aggressively engaged in trade discussions with the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto, but Heyman reports that the club is losing confidence that a deal will get done. As a result, New York seems to be exploring alternatives, including Ramos, Martin Maldonado and Yasmani Grandal.

With Jonathan Lucroy hitting the open market, Oakland is in need of a starting catcher. The A's signed Chris Herrmann on Tuesday, but the 31-year-old has never held a full-time job.

Ramos' camp is said to have sensed "serious interest" from the Brewers, reports MLB.com's Adam McCalvy, though the club is working with some payroll restraints. Ramos would be an upgrade over Milwaukee's catching trio of Manny Pina, Erik Kratz and Jacob Nottingham.

Yankees close on Happ, but still interested in Syndergaard
Dec. 12: As the Yankees reportedly near an agreement with free agent J.A. Happ, the club remains interested in some of the Mets' pitchers, including Noah Syndergaard, according to Andy Martino of SNY.

The Yanks reportedly engaged in discussions with the Mets and Marlins regarding a trade that would have sent Syndergaard to the Bronx and J.T. Realmuto to Queens. Those talks seem to have stalled, but the Yankees are apparently still eyeing Syndergaard.

It's unclear if that means the Yankees are looking to sign Happ and trade for Syndergaard, or if the Mets right-hander is an alternative if their negotiations with Happ don't progress.

Mets meet with Jones in Vegas
Dec. 12: The Mets have met with free-agent outfielder Adam Jones at the Winter Meetings, according to a report from the New York Post's Mike Puma on Wednesday.

Adding an outfielder -- especially a right-handed-hitting outfielder -- is one of the Mets' chief needs this offseason. Jones is among the options they're considering, per Puma.

Tweet from @NYPost_Mets: The Mets had a meeting with Adam Jones here in Las Vegas. He is among the right-handed bat options they are considering for OF.

More of the attention in the free-agent rumor mill has been focused on A.J. Pollock, but Jones also fits the bill. The 33-year-old veteran wouldn't command as high a price tag as someone like Pollock, either.

The longtime Orioles center fielder hit .281/.313/.419 with 15 home runs and 63 RBIs in 145 games for Baltimore this year. Before a slight power dip in 2018, Jones had hit at least 20 homers in each of the previous seven seasons.

Reds, Braves, Mets in mix for Realmuto
Dec. 12: The Mets have been the most aggressive suitor for catcher J.T. Realmuto during the Winter Meetings, but their talks with the Marlins may be stalling. New York isn't completely out, however. Meanwhile, another club has jumped into the mix, as Craig Mish of SiriusXM reports that the Reds are eyeing the backstop. The Braves are involved as well, per MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi. Read the latest Realmuto trade rumors here.

Cruz negotiations 'progressing'
Dec. 12: Nelson Cruz's negotiations toward a free-agent contract are "progressing" on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, a source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, but a deal isn't necessarily expected to happen Wednesday.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Source: Nelson Cruz free-agent negotiations are "progressing," but a deal is not expected today. #Twins, #Rays and at least one more team are still involved in the talks. @MLB @MLBNetwork

The Rays and Twins, who have emerged as two of the chief suitors for Cruz in recent days, still are both involved in the talks, per Morosi. So is at least one other mystery team. Which team could that be? Besides Tampa Bay and Minnesota, other clubs that likely would be in on Cruz include the Astros and White Sox.

The Rays' reported two-year, $30 million contract with righty Charlie Morton shouldn't preclude the club from staying in the hunt for Cruz, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, who says the veteran slugger "fits the Rays perfectly."

Tweet from @JeffPassan: One free agent to keep an eye on: Nelson Cruz, who fits the Rays perfectly. With a lefty-heavy lineup (Kiermaier, Meadows, Wendle, Bauers) and need for power, Rays see Cruz fitting with a short-term, high-impact deal. Cruz's history of production is leading him to seek two years.

The small-market club still has some financial resources to play with this offseason, and another short-term deal -- like the one for Morton -- makes sense for Cruz, too, especially at this stage of his career and given his limited market as a full-time designated hitter. 

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

A's, Rangers talking Profar trade
Dec. 12: Faced with the prospect of losing second baseman Jed Lowrie in free agency, the A's are exploring Jurickson Profar as a trade option. MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported Wednesday that Oakland is among the clubs talking to the Rangers about a potential deal.

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: #Athletics among clubs talking to #Rangers about a trade for infielder Jurickson Profar, sources tell The Athletic. Profar could play second base for A���s if they lose Jed Lowrie in free agency. Franklin Barreto remains an internal possibility.

The 25-year-old Profar played the first full season of his career with the Rangers in 2018. He was solid at the plate, hitting .254/.335/.458 with 20 home runs and 77 RBIs in 146 games. And Profar is highly versatile defensively -- he can play any infield position, and even the outfield. Second base just happens to be where the A's would need him.

The A's don't necessarily have to go out and find an external replacement for Lowrie, though. Rosenthal notes that they could also opt for Franklin Barreto as a solution from within the organization. The 22-year-old Barreto was ranked the A's top prospect in 2017 (no longer considered a prospect). He hit .233 with five home runs in 32 games for Oakland this season.

Rockies exploring trades for first basemen
Dec. 12: Bringing in Ian Desmond and making him their starting first baseman hasn't gone the way the Rockies presumably hoped it would, with the veteran producing -1.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), per FanGraphs, over the first two seasons of a five-year, $70 million contract.

As a result, Colorado is exploring ways to upgrade that position via trade, and potential options include Carlos Santana, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu and Wil Myers, according to Jim Bowden of The Athletic.

Tweet from @JimBowdenGM: #Rockies focusing on 1B trade candidates possibly including: Santana, Encarnacion, Abreu, Myers....etc

Of those four players, Myers is seemingly the least likely target due to the exorbitant amount of money remaining on his contract, as MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reports. Myers' base salary is just $3 million for 2019, but he's owed $60 million over 2020-22.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: Rockies indeed are looking at first basemen. Santana, Abreu, Encarnacion, Myers available. All would hit a lot of homers at Coors. Myers has a lot of $ left (too much, I hear). @JimBowdenGM on the case

Comparatively, Santana is owed $34.5 million over the next two seasons, Encarnacion is owed $20 million in 2019 and has a $20 million club option with a $5 million buyout for 2020, and Abreu is projected to receive a slight raise in his final year of arbitration eligibility after making $13 million in 2018. The White Sox slugger is due to hit free agency a year from now.

The Mariners acquired Santana from the Phillies as part of the return for Jean Segura earlier this month, but the 32-year-old "likely won't play a day" for the club, The Athletic's Corey Brock wrote (subscription required) Tuesday.

Per Brock, Seattle has discussed Santana with the Rays and Indians in addition to the Rockies. The inclusion of Cleveland on that list is particularly interesting, given the club is reportedly looking to trim payroll. Santana could make sense for the Indians if the club is able to deal both Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso, who will earn $8 million in 2019 and has a $9 million club option with a $1 million buyout for 2020. The Tribe is discussing several three-team deals that include both sluggers, per Cleveland.com.

Yankees meet with Ottavino's rep
Dec. 12: With Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Chad Green in the fold, the Yankees should have a solid bullpen in 2019, even if free agents David Robertson and Zach Britton sign elsewhere.

But the club is still engaging with some of the top relief arms on the market, including New York native Adam Ottavino. According to MLB Network insider Joel Sherman, Yanks general manager Brian Cashman met with Ottavino's representative Tuesday. While no firm offers were exchanged, Sherman considers the 33-year-old to be high on the Yankees' wish list.

Tweet from @Joelsherman1: Heard Cashman met with Adam Ottavino���s rep tonight. Still no firm offers exchanged. But clear Ottavino is high on #Yankees wish list

Ottavino is also a reported target of the rival Red Sox, as is Robertson, whom the Yankees haven't ruled out bringing back.

Britton, though, is considered unlikely to return, as he is believed to be looking for closing opportunities. Per MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the Phillies and Cardinals are among several teams pursuing the left-hander.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: #STLCards and #Phillies are among several teams pursuing Zach Britton @Ken_Rosenthal mentioned Philly earlier. And their execs all know Britton from time in Baltimore together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Giants trade Bumgarner now ... or later?
Dec. 11: It's hard to imagine longtime Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner in another uniform, isn't it? And yet, the biggest topic of conversation surrounding the club this offseason is whether -- maybe even when -- San Francisco should look to trade its ace. After all, the Giants are unlikely to contend in 2019, and the 29-year-old lefty's contract runs out after next season.

As to the question of when the Giants might be ready to move Bumgarner, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reports that it's looking "less and less likely" the club pulls the trigger this winter. While that possibility can't be ruled out, as Feinsand notes, a midseason move might make more sense.

Tweet from @Feinsand: A source said it is becoming less and less likely that the Giants will trade Madison Bumgarner this winter, though it still can't be ruled out. A midseason trade seems more likely if the Giants are not in contention, the source said.

Perhaps one reason for this approach is that the club has a new director of baseball operations in Farhan Zaidi. In addition to being busy plotting a course for the future of the franchise at the moment, Zaidi might not want to have his first major transaction involve shipping off a franchise face and three-time World Series champion.

That said, there is some risk in waiting until June or July to make Bumgarner available; he could see a further decline in his performance or suffer an injury that saps his value on the trade market. Not to mention, if Bumgarner is traded midseason, he would be ineligible for the qualifying offer and the corresponding Draft-pick compensation, which also must be factored into his value.

Among the teams that have been mentioned as interested in and/or possible fits for Bumgarner are the Braves, Phillies, Yankees, Astros and Brewers.

Reds among teams talking to Indians about Kluber, Bauer
Dec. 11: The Reds' desire to upgrade their rotation is no secret, and the Indians are expected to trade one of their aces this offseason. Could the intrastate rivals team up for a deal? Nothing is imminent, but Cincinnati is having "ongoing discussions" with Cleveland about Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Source: #Reds continue to pursue rotation options via trade, including ongoing discussions with #Indians about Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. @MLB @MLBNetwork

Morosi reported Monday, the first full day of the Winter Meetings, that trade talks regarding Kluber had "intensified," with the Dodgers among the teams involved.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Sources: Corey Kluber trade talks have intensified. #Dodgers are among the teams involved. @MLBNetwork @MLB

Cleveland is reportedly hoping to trim payroll while still remaining competitive in an underwhelming American League Central, and Los Angeles could be a perfect trade partner given the club's outfield depth. With Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall departing via free agency, the outfield is a major question mark for the Indians at this point.

Morosi reports that the Dodgers' top prospect, outfielder Alex Verdugo (No. 32 overall, per MLB Pipeline), is part of the discussions between Cleveland and Los Angeles.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Source: #Indians interested in #Dodgers OF Alex Verdugo as part of Corey Kluber trade talks. Cleveland is looking for outfield bats, and Verdugo is the Dodgers' top prospect, according to @MLBPipeline. @MLB @MLBNetwork

Morosi names the Yankees and Brewers as potential landing spots for Kluber as well, as both teams have highly ranked outfielders in their farm systems. The Reds do, too, with No. 2 prospect Taylor Trammell (No. 17 overall).

Tweet from @jonmorosi: If #Indians trade Corey Kluber, they would like to receive a young outfielder in the deal. So it is not a surprise that the #Dodgers (Alex Verdugo), #Yankees (Estevan Florial) and #Brewers (Corey Ray) all are potential landing spots for Kluber. @MLB @MLBNetwork

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

Per MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal's article for The Athletic (subscription required) on Monday, a rival executive who has been in contact with the Indians said Cleveland is open to trades in which it would attach Kluber or Bauer to a highly paid player such as Jason Kipnis or Edwin Encarnacion as a way to shed another inflated contract.

Could Tulo be fit for his childhood team?
Dec. 11: Troy Tulowitzki is a free agent after being released by the Blue Jays on Tuesday. He has a well-chronicled injury history, and even when healthy, he has struggled to return to the elite form he exhibited during his 10 seasons with the Rockies. Still, if Tulowitzki could be had for the right price, the veteran shortstop might offer as much upside as any shortstop on the free-agent market. 

Martin Gallegos of the San Jose Mercury News speculates that the A's could be among the most logical fits for the 34-year-old. Tulowitzki grew up in the Bay Area, rooted for the A's as a kid and the club has a positional need within its infield after Jed Lowrie departed via free agency. Most signs, as Gallegos indicated, allude that Oakland will not bring Lowrie back. And for a cost-minded club that has played on a small-market budget and consistently sought to maximize the dollar value of its players, the A's might make a lot of sense for Tulowitzki.

The five-time All-Star will receive $38 million from Toronto as part of the final two years of his contract. Given that he missed the entire 2018 season with a heel injury and was limited to just 66 games in '17 due to an ankle injury, Tulowitzki doesn't necessarily have significant leverage to warrant another multi-year, high-paying contract. Gallegos speculates that the A's could potentially sign Tulowitzki for the league minimum of $600,000.

It would certainly be a risk, but if Tulowitzki could return to some form of his old self, it could be one worth taking. 

Video: Charlie Montoyo on Tulowitzki being released

Impact of McCutchen's deal on Pollock
Dec. 11: One of the bigger names in the free-agent outfielder market has come off the table, as Andrew McCutchen lands in Philadelphia. What does that mean for A.J. Pollock, who entered the offseason as arguably the top outfielder on the open market outside of Bryce Harper?

The 31-year-old center fielder wasn't necessarily linked to the Phillies much this offseason, so it's not as if McCutchen stole a potential destination right out from under Pollock. If anything, McCutchen's deal -- reported at $50 million for three years with an option for a fourth -- should be seen as a good sign for Pollock, as USA Today's Bob Nightengale suggests.

Tweet from @BNightengale: Certainly, free-agent outfielders A.J. Pollock and Adam Jones should benefit nicely from Andrew McCutchen's 3-year, $50 million contract with the #Phillies

On one hand, Pollock doesn't have McCutchen's resume and his injury history is a concern. But on the other, Pollock, by comparison, is younger than McCutchen and as such brings a bit more of a dynamic power-speed combo at this stage of their respective careers -- not to mention, the ability to handle center field still.

In other words, it's possible the floor on offers Pollock will be considering could be about $50 million, with the likelihood for more money and almost certainly more years. Whether he's able to secure the reported five-year, $80 million deal (aka, the "Lorenzo Cain contract") that was rumored to be his asking price, however, remains to be seen.

Reds have discussed Inciarte trade
Dec. 11: The Reds cut ties with one premier defensive center fielder this offseason. Maybe they can add a new one.

Cincinnati has talked to the Braves about a trade for Ender Inciarte, a source told MLB.com's Mark Sheldon on Tuesday.

Tweet from @m_sheldon: Source -- #reds have talked to the Braves about CF Ender Inciarte. Nothing is imminent, however. Club is talking to a lot of teams/agents here .

Even if no deal is imminent, the possibility is intriguing. The Reds have an opening in the outfield after non-tendering Billy Hamilton -- and Inciarte is just as elite defensively. Plus, Inciarte's a significantly better hitter than Hamilton.

Inciarte finished with a +21 Outs Above Average rating in 2018 -- that's Statcast™'s range-based metric for outfield defense -- tied for the best of any MLB outfielder. Hamilton ranked fifth with a +16 OAA mark.

The 28-year-old Inciarte is signed to a five-year, $30.53 million contract that runs through 2021, with a $9 million club option for 2022. If the Braves traded Inciarte, they could hand over the reins in center field to NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr.

Red Sox listening on Bogaerts, Porcello, JBJ?
Dec. 11: The Red Sox just inked Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year, $68 million deal to retain the righty and shore up their rotation. Did that decision push the club into a position where it needs to consider moving current big league pieces -- and their corresponding salaries -- to get something else done?

Boston may be trying to cut payroll as a way to simultaneously address its need in the bullpen and stay under the highest tier of the luxury-tax threshold, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, citing a rival exec.

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: *Highest tier of luxury-tax threshold��� https://t.co/kmXZ5iekRZ

That matches up with what USA Today's Bob Nightengale is hearing, too - that the Red Sox are "openly listening" too offers on righty Rick Porcello and potentially could discuss shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.

Tweet from @BNightengale: The Boston #Redsox, trying to clear salary space for bullpen help, are openly listening to offers on Rick Porcello, and rivals insist also are willing to talk about Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.

Given that both closer Craig Kimbrel and setup reliever Joe Kelly are free agents, the Red Sox have been in the market for bullpen help. General manager Dave Dombrowski suggested Monday, however, that the club is unlikely to make a big expenditure to improve the relief corps, meaning it's unlikely Kimbrel will return. Some names that have been linked to Boston include Zach Britton, Andrew Miller and David Robertson, all of whom have late-inning experience and should be more affordable than Kimbrel, who has floated an initial asking price of six years.

The big question here, then, is how much the defending champs feel the need to unload a key player like Bogaerts, Porcello or Bradley in order to gain some financial relief toward enhancing the bullpen. Dombrowski himself addressed this by saying he's "not driven to trade core players for the purpose of shedding payroll," according to MLB.com's Ian Browne.

Tweet from @IanMBrowne: Dave Dombrowski said he is not driven to trade core players for the purpose of shedding payroll. Added that he would like to have the catching situation resolved before Spring Training.

Both Porcello, whose 2019 salary is $21 million, and Bogaerts, who is projected to earn almost $12 million in arbitration per MLB Trade Rumors, are due to become free agents after next season. Bradley, whose projected arbitration figure is just shy of $8 million for '19, is under control through '20.

The luxury-tax threshold -- officially known as the Competitive Balance Tax -- is set to be $206 million for next season and Boston's projected payroll calls for north of $230 million. The Red Sox surpassed the $197 million threshold this past season on their way to winning the World Series.

Are Twins, Rays the front-runners for Cruz?
Dec. 11: Given Nelson Cruz's role as a full-time designated hitter at this stage of the 38-year-old's career, it's not surprising that the teams most often linked to the free-agent slugger are in the American League. In recent days, the Rays, Twins, Astros and White Sox have emerged as the four likeliest landing spots, but is there a chance that batch of clubs has been whittled down even more?

Cruz's agent, Bryce Dixon, tells MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi that there still are ongoing discussions with teams beyond the Twins and Rays.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Nelson Cruz���s agent, Bryce Dixon, tells me he���s talking with additional teams beyond the Twins and Rays. @MLB @MLBNetwork

That seems to throw a little cold water on an earlier report that Minnesota and Tampa Bay are the two front-runners for Cruz.

Tweet from @hgomez27: SOURCE: The race to sign DH Nelson Cruz is down to two teams - the #Twins and the #Rays.#ZDigital #ZDeportes @z101digital @ZDeportes

It's hard to tell, then, whether there has been any real development here. One thing does seem pretty clear, though: The number of clubs in the mix for Cruz likely can be counted on one hand.

White Sox considering Grandal
Dec. 11: While the race for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto has taken center stage at the Winter Meetings, the market for Yasmani Grandal has yet to develop. Some teams, such as the Mets, are seemingly viewing Grandal as more of a fallback option rather than a top target.

However, ESPN's Buster Olney reports that the White Sox, who aren't believed to be in the running for Realmuto, are considering Grandal.

Tweet from @Buster_ESPN: The White Sox pushing to take a step forward in 2019. Nova improves the rotation, and they're looking at Yasmani Grandal as a possible catching upgrade.

The White Sox traded Omar Narvaez to the Mariners earlier this offseason for reliever Alex Colome, leaving Welington Castillo and Seby Zavala as the only catchers on the 40-man roster. Castillo has his share of value, but his lifetime .708 OPS vs. righties (.846 OPS vs. LHP) suggests he's better suited for a part-time role. The 30-year-old Grandal is a switch-hitter who does his best work against righties, so the two could fit well together.

Chicago is reportedly looking to expedite its rebuilding process with a big-name free agent or two and could be in on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado in addition to Grandal.

Yankees open to trading Andujar
Dec. 11: Miguel Andujar was one of the Yankees' most consistent hitters during a year in which he finished second to the Angels' Shohei Ohtani in American League Rookie of the Year voting, but he may not be a long-term fixture with the club.

According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, rival executives say that the Yanks are open to moving the 23-year-old.

Tweet from @Ken_Rosenthal: Name to watch with #Yankees: Miguel And��jar. Rival execs tell me and @ByRobertMurray NYY open to moving him. Would make sense as #Marlins��� ask for Realmuto; MIA wants established young MLB player as headliner. Also would line up with NYY pursuit of Machado. Torres could play SS.

That's not entirely surprising, as the Yankees are reportedly discussing a three-team blockbuster with the Mets and Marlins that would see Noah Syndergaard join the Yankees and J.T. Realmuto land with the Mets, as well as another trade that would bring Realmuto to the Yanks. It would make sense if Andujar was one of the young pieces being offered to Miami.

The Yankees are also considering signing Manny Machado, who would presumably become the club's starting third baseman once Didi Gregorius is ready to return from Tommy John surgery, leaving Andujar without a place to play. Even if New York doesn't sign Machado, Andujar's defensive struggles give him a questionable future at the hot corner.

Yanks GM: There's 'no spot' for Harper in New York's outfield
Dec. 11: The Yankees continue to be mentioned as a team that could be a fit for Bryce Harper, but could the club actually fit Harper?

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

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

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

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

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

Nationals discussing Roark trade
Dec. 11: After signing Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million contract, the Nationals have tons of money tied up in their "Big Three" of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin, which may explain why the club is reportedly making Tanner Roark available.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Washington has engaged in multiple discussions regarding a Roark trade, though Passan also notes that the Nats are still looking at free agents to supplement their rotation.

Tweet from @JeffPassan: Sources: The Washington Nationals have engaged in multiple discussions to trade starter Tanner Roark, who is a year out from free agency and could make upward of $10M in arbitration. The Nationals continue to look at free agent pitchers to supplement their rotation.

The 32-year-old Roark is one year away from free agency and should see a generous raise from his 2018 salary of $6.475 million in his final season of arbitration eligibility. While it would hardly be an untenable salary for a pitcher who has made 30-plus starts in three straight seasons and owns a career 3.59 ERA, the Nats may be looking to save some money at the back end of their rotation while also attempting to get something in return for Roark before he hits the open market next offseason.

The fact that Roark has been a slightly below average starter over the past two seasons (97 ERA+) is likely another reason why the Nats are considering a trade, as Washington might be able to bring in a lower-cost free agent to do a similar job.

Twins, Rays, others in on Nelson Cruz

MLB.com

Although he is approaching his 40s and spends most of his time at designated hitter these days, Nelson Cruz is still one of the top sluggers in the game and should draw plenty of interest on the free-agent market this offseason.

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

Although he is approaching his 40s and spends most of his time at designated hitter these days, Nelson Cruz is still one of the top sluggers in the game and should draw plenty of interest on the free-agent market this offseason.

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

Cruz negotiations 'progressing'
Dec. 12: Nelson Cruz's negotiations toward a free-agent contract are "progressing" on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, a source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, but a deal isn't necessarily expected to happen Wednesday.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Source: Nelson Cruz free-agent negotiations are "progressing," but a deal is not expected today. #Twins, #Rays and at least one more team are still involved in the talks. @MLB @MLBNetwork

The Rays and Twins, who have emerged as two of the chief suitors for Cruz in recent days, still are both involved in the talks, per Morosi. So is at least one other mystery team. Which team could that be? Besides Tampa Bay and Minnesota, other clubs that likely would be in on Cruz include the Astros and White Sox.

The Rays' reported two-year, $30 million contract with righty Charlie Morton shouldn't preclude the club from staying in the hunt for Cruz, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, who says the veteran slugger "fits the Rays perfectly."

Tweet from @JeffPassan: One free agent to keep an eye on: Nelson Cruz, who fits the Rays perfectly. With a lefty-heavy lineup (Kiermaier, Meadows, Wendle, Bauers) and need for power, Rays see Cruz fitting with a short-term, high-impact deal. Cruz's history of production is leading him to seek two years.

The small-market club still has some financial resources to play with this offseason, and another short-term deal -- like the one for Morton -- makes sense for Cruz, too, especially at this stage of his career and given his limited market as a full-time designated hitter. 

Are Twins, Rays the front-runners for Cruz?
Dec. 11: Given Nelson Cruz's role as a full-time designated hitter at this stage of the 38-year-old's career, it's not surprising that the teams most linked to the slugger are in the American League. In recent days, the Rays, Twins, Astros and White Sox have emerged as the four likeliest landing spots, but is there a chance that batch of clubs has been whittled down even more?

 

Cruz's agent, Bryce Dixon, tells MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi that there still are ongoing discussions with teams beyond the Twins and Rays.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Nelson Cruz���s agent, Bryce Dixon, tells me he���s talking with additional teams beyond the Twins and Rays. @MLB @MLBNetwork

That seems to throw a little cold water on an earlier report that Minnesota and Tampa Bay are the two front-runners for Cruz.

Tweet from @hgomez27: SOURCE: The race to sign DH Nelson Cruz is down to two teams - the #Twins and the #Rays.#ZDigital #ZDeportes @z101digital @ZDeportes

It's hard to tell, then, whether there has been any real development here. One thing does seem pretty clear, though: The number of clubs in the mix for Cruz likely can be counted on one hand.

These are the four primary suitors for Cruz
Dec. 10: Although Nelson Cruz became a free agent more than a month ago, his market doesn't seem to have changed all that much. According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the Rays, Astros and Twins are in on the slugger, and the White Sox possibly could be as well.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: #MNTwins are a new team in the mix for Nelson Cruz. The Goldy trade may have helped clarify things. Astros, Rays also in. White Sox possibly.

All along, those clubs have been viewed as four of the likelier suitors for the slugger, whose role as a full-time designated hitter limits the number of teams that could realistically sign him. The list became even smaller when his former team, the Mariners, opted to rebuild.

Of those suitors, the Rays have been linked to Cruz more than any other team, as the club has an opening at DH after waiving C.J. Cron (who was claimed by the Twins), seeks a right-handed slugger and can fit Cruz into its modest budget. The club has maintained a "running dialogue" with Cruz, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

Tweet from @TBTimes_Rays: #Rays have maintained "running dialogue" and discussed some parameters with free-agent DH Nelson Cruz. Agent Bryce Dixon says Cruz very much interested, calls it "a perfect fit.'' BUT ... Cruz has 3-4 other teams interested, #Rays looking at other options besides a DH-only bat.

It's uncertain how aggressive Minnesota will be when it comes to Cruz, as La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the club prefers to rotate multiple players at the DH spot in 2019. Neal noted that the Twins could still pull off a surprise by signing the 38-year-old, but only if the price is right. To that end, MLB.com's Do-Hyoung Park reports there is "mutual interest" between the Twins and Cruz, who could provide a different look for an offense that hit 166 home runs (fourth fewest in the AL) in 2018.

Tweet from @dohyoungpark: According to source, there is indeed ���mutual interest��� between #MNTwins and Cruz, with DHs seeing MN as an attractive destination. Thad Levine said yesterday that Twins are comfortable with in-house options but see DH as possible way to improve/diversify lineup. https://t.co/I58mjb7myO

The Astros and the White Sox, meanwhile, also have an opening at DH, but the latter may view Cruz only as a fallback option if it can't land a bigger-name free agent.

Bowden: Rays should sign Cruz
Dec. 5: The Rays have been linked to free agent Nelson Cruz throughout the offseason as a club with money to spend, and former MLB general manager Jim Bowden writes Cruz could be a perfect fit in Tampa Bay in a column for The Athletic (subscription required). 

Bowden included Cruz to the Rays in a column listing the transactions he'd like to see completed by the end of Winter Meetings next week, suggesting a one- or two-year deal at $15 million per season for the 38-year-old slugger.

Cruz may be limited to American League clubs looking for a designated hitter, so the Rays may not have much competition to acquire him with only the Rangers, Twins and Astros among possible destinations.

Cruz's veteran presence could benefit a developing Rays team, Bowden says, and he fits their need for a middle-of-the-order bat as he's hit 37 or more home runs for five consecutive seasons.

What might be the exact date Cruz signs?
Dec. 4: Given the limited needs in the designated hitter market, his 38 years of age and the throng of other coveted players available in this year's loaded free-agent class, the market for Cruz may take some time to manifest. 

In a detailed post for Cut4, Jordan Shusterman of Cespedes Family BBQ looks back at the top 50 free agents of each of the last 10 seasons and created a speculative formula for dates that each free agent will sign. 

He lists Cruz for Jan. 14. 

"This is Round 3 on the open market for Cruz. Five Hot Stoves ago, he committed to the Orioles on Feb. 24, 2014, as one of the last top free agents to sign. A year later, he signed relatively early, agreeing to terms with the Mariners on Dec. 4, 2015. Look for a January signing this time around for the Boomstick -- Jan. 14, to be exact," Shusterman writes. 

Cruz has been linked most prominently to the Rays, White Sox and Astros -- all of whom have needs more paramount than DH. As such, whether he signs with one of those three clubs or another, the dominos will likely need to fall before a more clear market for Cruz takes shape. 

Making sense of a Cruz reunion in Texas
Dec. 3: Cruz may have played his most formative years over the last four seasons in Seattle, during which he led the Majors with 163 home runs and was a three-time All-Star, but it was in Texas where the 14-year veteran made his mark. Could a reunion with the Rangers be in the cards? MLB Network's MLB Tonight panel weighed in recently. 

Tweet from @MLBNetwork: Nelson Cruz back in Texas. Kimbrel returns to Atlanta. #MLBTonight looks at some homecomings that could make sense. pic.twitter.com/KM7X9sWwKq

Cruz was originally brought up by the Mets, A's and Brewers, but he spent nearly all of his first nine years in the Majors with the Rangers, and he was a critical cog for the club in their run to back to back American League pennants in 2010-11, winning the AL Championship Series MVP Award in 2011. 

"I would love to see him go home," MLB Network analyst Ron Darling said. "Remember through some of their greatest times -- I know they lost two World Series in a row -- but that team was so good, so talented, and he was a big part of that."

Cruz will turn 39 on July 1, yet he still remains an elite hitter. Over the last two seasons, Cruz has posted an .889 OPS and averaged nearly 40 homers per season while driving in 216 RBIs. Fellow analyst Tom Verducci likened Cruz to another icon who played at a high level into his 40s. 

"He's like a smaller David Ortiz," Verducci said. "The impact in the clubhouse and the fact that he hits now at 38 and he'll continue to hit. It's not like it's a charity signing. He'll help the team."

According to FanGraphs' Steamer projections, Cruz is on par for a 35-homer, 2.5-WAR season. That would be a huge for a Rangers club that will need to allocate the plate appearances that would've gone to Adrian Beltre, who retired last month. Should it sign Cruz, Texas may need to get creative in how it would utilize All-Star DH Shin-Soo Choo. 

Rays are "big-name hunting." Is Cruz still an option?
Dec. 1: With money to spend and a flexible roster, the typically frugal Rays are "big-name hunting" this offseason, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, with team officials talking about "exploring the top shelf" and "considering high-end upgrades."

Per Topkin, the club is looking at a wide range of options, including trade targets Paul Goldschmidt, J.T. Realmuto, Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner, and free agent Nathan Eovaldi.

Nelson Cruz also remains a possibility, though the Rays will need to determine if the 38-year-old represents enough of an upgrade to make it worthwhile for the club to spend its resources on him.

While Cruz produced an .850 OPS overall last season, his mark vs. right-handed pitchers was .819 (.932 vs. LHP). As Topkin notes, Cruz may not be worth adding if he's not providing a significant upgrade vs. righties, especially as a full-time designated hitter who won't be contributing value on the defensive end.

Signing Cruz would likely mean a reduced role for multiple players from the group of Austin Meadows, Jake Bauers, Brandon Lowe and Ji-Man Choi, who all bat from the left side. Tampa Bay may be better served spending big in another area and adding a less-expensive right-handed hitter who can play the field.

Granted, Cruz belted 37 homers in 2018 and is far more accomplished than any of those players, but the Rays front office needs to consider every angle given the team's limited budget.

Nelson Cruz